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Best PC for photo editing 2021: top desktops for Photoshop

best photo editing PC
(Image credit: Shutterstock)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

If you’re looking for the best PC for photo editing, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re a hobbyist looking to take your photo editing up a notch or a professional needing a serious machine, you have to be on the lookout for certain things when it comes to finding a computer that can handle your projects.

The best PC for photo editing needs to be able to handle high res files with ease, since you’ll most likely be working with high resolution photos. And, though a dedicated GPU is very helpful, it might be overkill for some people’s needs, so make sure the integrated graphics is powerful enough. With that said, you won’t need a top-of-the-line GPU, unless you plan on also doing 3D rendering or some video editing.  However, you should consider a capable mid-range or higher end graphics card to keep up for years to come.

Other key factors to consider include having enough RAM to run several programs at a time as well as having multiple images open at once, not to mention a large hard drive to save all your photos. Getting the best PC for photo editing with enough storage saves you the hassle and cost of dealing with additional external hard drives down the line. For these two specs, we suggest at least 16GB RAM and 1TB of storage (preferably SSD).

There are also some top all-in-one PCs on this list. That’s because these machines are very easy to set up and save a lot of desk space, since all the internals are hidden behind the screens. The ones we’ve included here come with gorgeous, rich screens with accurate color representation for photo editing. If you choose to go with a desktop computer, use one of the best photo editing monitors to keep that screen bright, vibrant, and accurate.

For something a bit more portable, also make sure you check out our pick of the best laptops for photographers and photo editing.

  • In search of a photo book to store your edited prints? 

Best PC for photo editing at a glance:

  1. iMac (24-inch, 2021)
  2. iMac (27-inch, 2020)
  3. Mac mini (M1, 2020)
  4. Lenovo ThinkCentre M900
  5. Microsoft Surface Studio 2
  6. Apple iMac Pro
  7. Lenovo Yoga A940
  8. iMac (27-inch, 2019)
  9. HP Pavilion Wave
  10. Intel Hades Canyon NUC

iMac (24-inch, 2021)

(Image credit: Apple)

1. iMac (24-inch, 2021)

The iMac gets a welcome redesign

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 7-core – 8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory
Screen: 24-inch 4.5K Retina display
Storage: up to 2TB
Reasons to buy
+Excellent screen+Striking new design+Fantastic webcam
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of ports remains-Mac mini may offer better value for some

If you think that the new iMacs couldn’t possibly be as good as they look, you’d be wrong. They are not just an improvement over their 21.5-inch predecessor externally, touting a fresh new face that comes in several different colors. They also come with fresh new specs, rocking Apple’s new M1 chip that makes it much more powerful than the previous Intel iMacs. In fact, we’d go as far as to say that the new iMac (24-inch, 2021) is the best all-in-one PC we’ve ever tested, and has certainly earned its place in our best Macs list. You’ll also be happy to know that you’re getting great value here, as you’re getting the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse included – in matching colors, we might add.

Read the full review: iMac (24-inch, 2021)

iMac 27-inch (2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

2. iMac (27-inch, 2020)

A formidable AIO for photo editing

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i9
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300 - Radeon Pro 5700 XT
RAM: 8GB – 128GB 2666MHz DDR4
Storage: 256GB – 8TB SSD
Display: 27-inch (diagonal) 5120 x 2880 Retina 5K display
Reasons to buy
+Improved internals+Can be configured to be very powerful
Reasons to avoid
-Design is getting old-Just two Thunderbolt ports

Even though the iMac 27-inch’s last update was only recent, Apple couldn’t help but step up in the upgrades department with its follow-up. Specs-wise, this model sports some massive improvements while also upgrading its webcam and microphones for a felicitous update. More people are working from home these days, and this seems like the best all-in-one PC to invest in without being forced to make some considerable space in your existing area. Sure, its overall design hasn’t seen so much as a tweak, making it look a bit tired, but power trumps design for photo editing.

Read the full review: iMac (27-inch, 2020)

Mac mini (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Mac mini (M1, 2020)

Small, but with big ambitions

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 64GB unified memory
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Dimensions (W x D x H): 19.7 x 19.7 x 3.6 cm
Reasons to buy
+Same lovely design+Very good performance+New M1 hardware has potential
Reasons to avoid
-Can't use eGPUs

One of Apple’s biggest surprises of the year is the update to its smallest Mac. The brand-new Mac mini now touts Apple’s M1 chip, while keeping things the same in its much-loved design. It’s more powerful than ever – with more than decent video editing performance, even at 8K, and can now run iOS apps and games, thanks to this new chip, but it still keeps its title as the cheapest Mac ever – terrific news for budget-minded Apple fans. 

Read the full review: Mac mini (M1, 2020)

4. Lenovo ThinkCentre M900

High end components for a good price

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7
Graphics: Up to NVIDIA Quadro K420 2 GB DVI + DP
RAM: Up to 64GB
Storage: 1TB HDD
Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Dimensions (W x D x H): 175 x 413 x 406mm
Reasons to buy
+Powerful CPU+Dedicated GPU
Reasons to avoid
-Not the biggest amount of ports

The Lenovo ThinkCentre M900 is an excellent desktop PC for photo editing, as it combines speed and power with an excellent build quality and reliability which is essential for PCs used for heavy duty image manipulation. Best of all, the Lenovo ThinkCentre M900 comes in a range of configurations, with the top-end model boasting a huge amount of power. This flexibility lets you build a Lenovo ThinkCentre M900 that suits your needs, and there's plenty of room to upgrade and expand this desktop in the future. 

Surface Studio 2

The Surface Studio 2 ups the power significantly, making it a much more future-proof device. (Image credit: TechRadar)

5. Microsoft Surface Studio 2

An artist’s dream come true

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 - GTX 1070
RAM: 16GB – 32GB
Storage: 1TB - 2TB SSD
Display: 28-inch 4,500 x 3,000 PixelSense display
Reasons to buy
+Powerful+Nothing like it
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive

If you’re looking for an incredibly powerful, yet stylishly designed, all-in-one computer that’s not made by Apple, then Microsoft’s brilliant Surface Studio 2 will be for you. It comes at a price, but for build quality and performance, you’ll not want to look any further, especially if you work with photo editing applications. Microsoft's all-in-one PC fits comfortably on a desk, and it's built-in screen makes your photos look fantastic, even before you've edited them. As it run Windows 10 you get a huge range of comparible photo editing apps as well.

6. Apple iMac Pro

A stylish addition to any office

Specifications
CPU: Intel Xeon W
Graphics: AMD Vega 56, Vega 64
RAM: 32GB, 64GB
Storage: 1TB ssD
Connectivity: Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Dimensions (W x D x H): 65 x 20.3 x 51.6cm
Reasons to buy
+Most powerful Mac ever+Excellent design
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Non user-upgradable

If you're a professional photographer and digital creative, then the iMac Pro is one of the best PCs money can buy. This is a seriously powerful all-in-one that was released last year with cutting edge tech, and a choice of powerful Intel Xeon W processors, bags of RAM and hefty graphical processing power. All of this in an iconic Apple design. If you have the budget for it, the iMac Pro is one of the best PCs for photo editing money can buy. However, for some people, you may find it has a level of power that you do not require, so read on for more modest (and affordable) PCs for photo editing.

Lenovo Yoga A940

Lenovo Yoga A940 is plenty powerful to meet the needs of creative professionals. (Image credit: Future)

7. Lenovo Yoga A940

An iMac alternative

Specifications
CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i7-8700
Graphics: AMD Radeon RX 560 4 GB
RAM: 32 GB DDR4 2666 MHz
Storage: 1 TB 5400 RPM + 256 GB PCIe SSD
Display: 27" 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS Multi-touch
Reasons to buy
+Good price+Stylus included
Reasons to avoid
-Older components-Screen not great in direct light

Lenovo’s latest all-in-one offering isn’t as powerful as Apple’s premium AIO, the iMac Pro, or even the recently updated iMac, which now offers a 9th-generation Intel Core configuration. After all, the 8th-generation chips and Radeon RX 560 graphics are aging at this point. However, it is still plenty powerful to meet the needs of professional photographers who can't afford Apple's more pricey machines. It's one of the best PCs for photo editing thanks to its screen that offers 100% Adobe RGB support and Dolby Vision, plus a stylus and dial as well, for better control over your photo editing work.

iMac (27-inch, 2019)

8. iMac (27-inch, 2019)

Now with 8th-generation processors

Specifications
CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – 9th-generation Intel Core i5
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 570X – 580X, Intel UHD Graphics 630
RAM: 8GB - 64GB
Screen: 27-inch Retina 5K 5,120 x 2,880 P3
Storage: 1TB – 2TB Fusion Drive
Dimensions (H x W x D): 20.3 x 25.6 x 8 inches (51.6 x 65.0 x 20.3cm)
Reasons to buy
+Stunning 5K display+Quiet under load
Reasons to avoid
-SSD upgrades are expensive

If the iMac Pro above is too expensive (and offers a level of performance that you simply don't need) but you want an Apple all-in-one, then the standard iMac is more than capable of helping you with your photo editing. While the iMac 2019 doesn’t feature a touchscreen or an adjustable stand, the option for a 4K P3 wide color gamut display means it will accurately display your photos. Plus, there’s the fact that because the iMac (27-inch, 2019) is no longer the latest model, so it should be getting some tempting price cuts.

HP Pavilion Mini

9. HP Pavilion Wave

A great Windows alternative to the Mac Pro

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i3 – Intel Core i5
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 530 – AMD Radeon R9 M470
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 1TB HDD
Reasons to buy
+Unique, stylish cylindrical form factor+Clever and effective audio solution
Reasons to avoid
-No optical audio port-Unflattering specs

Though at first you might confuse it for a fabric-woven Mac Pro refresh, the HP Pavilion Wave is anything but. This compact Windows machine packs in 6th-generation Intel Core processors and optional discrete AMD graphics with a uniquely integrated Bang & Olufsen speaker. Wrapped in a handsome fabric exterior, this is the perfect PC to have on the desk. If you love listening to music while you edit your photos, then this is a brilliant – and stylish – PC to consider.

10. Intel Hades Canyon NUC

Don’t let its size fool you

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-8809G
Graphics: Radeon RX Vega M GH graphics (4GB HBM2 VRAM), Intel UHD Graphics 630
RAM: N/A
Storage: N/A
Reasons to buy
+ Lots of ports + Easy to upgrade 
Reasons to avoid
- Expensive 

If you’re looking for a great desktop experience for photo editing, but don’t have a lot of space, look no further than the Intel Hades Canyon NUC. In this tiny bare-bones PC, you have an insanely powerful 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, and discrete-class Radeon graphics – once you throw in some RAM and storage, you've got a small and easily portable PC that can handle photo editing with ease. If you often travel around and want a powerful and dependable PC for photo editing, then this is definitely worth considering.


Below is an excerpt of “The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing” by James Abbott, published by Ilex Press (£17.70 on Amazon.co.uk). James talks briefly about the differences between Apple and Windows-based devices when it comes to photo editing.

"With two major systems available in Apple and Windows computers, which one is truly better for photo editing? All professional photographers use Macs, don’t they? And aren’t Macs simply much better at running photo editing software than Windows PCs? When Photoshop 1.0 was launched back in 1990 it was Mac-only software, and it wasn’t until 1993 with version 2.5 that it became available for Windows computers. Macs remained the favorite option for graphic designers, and this, alongside the fact that digital typography began on Macs, helped to create the idea that Macs were best for running Photoshop.

The reality is that running Adobe and Affinity Photo (ed: probably the most potent rival to Adobe's hegemony) - is identical on both Mac and Windows PCs. There really are no differences in performance, features or functionality, although faster and more powerful computers of both types are preferred. This means that you don’t have to switch from Windows to Apple when you first begin editing – you can use whichever system you prefer.

I used to use Macs, but once Apple made it difficult to upgrade components such as RAM and hard drives, I switched to a Windows PC because I knew I’d be able to upgrade all components when I wanted to. The switchover was seamless, and while I miss the clean simplicity of the macOS operating system, the versatility of the Windows PCs I’ve owned since I switched has been well worth it.

Just one more thing: with improvements in the processing power of both Android and iOS tablets, it’s now possible to edit images using these smart devices. The ability to use touch can provide a highly tactile approach to editing, and with Affinity Photo and different versions of Photoshop and Lightroom available for tablets, there’s huge scope for using these devices. 

From a workflow point of view, computers remain the best devices for image editing because of their greater processing power, larger screens and increased space for storing image files. Tablets, however, are a great option when travelling for image editing on the go.