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› Best Laptop for After Effects
  • Published on October 26, 2015

The best laptop for After Effects comes from an unlikely source that animation and effects professionals will likely find surprising. After Effects is an extremely processor intensive and graphics intensive application, making it challenging to find a good laptop for After Effects. You might expect the best laptop for After Effects to be from a hardware vendor that has been creating laptops for many years such as Apple, Dell, Lenovo, or Toshiba. Yet the best After Effects laptop comes directly from newcomer to the hardware business, Microsoft. They have recently released a computer that is much more than a general use computer that that simply runs Microsoft Windows and their Office apps or browse the web. With the Microsoft Surface Book, Microsoft has created a laptop that runs the most demanding third-party applications, such as CAD, Photoshop, and After Effects.  The Surface Book is a complete laptop that also doubles as a tablet.

The evolution of a powerful laptop for After Effects

The Surface Book is quite different from Microsoft’s first laptop, the Surface Pro, which was not well equipped for the needs of After Effects. There are similarities, with both including touch screens, digital pens, and the ability to operate as either a computer or tablet. The internal processors, ability to handle graphics-intensive tasks, and battery life are quite different.

The original Surface Pro did not include a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU). It also did not include dedicated memory for graphics related tasks. This left the primary processor and primary memory to be shared for both regular tasks and graphics tasks. This creates a bottleneck that slows down applications such as After Effects and certain functions in other Creative Cloud applications such as Premiere Pro and Photoshop. The Surface Book added a dedicated GPU.

Laptop with Dedicated GPU for After Effects

Microsoft added a dedicated Nvidia Graphics GPU, sometimes called a discrete GPU, to the Surface Book along with dedicated graphics memory. This was added into the detachable keyboard with additional batteries. When attached to the keyboard, the laptop with a discrete GPU helps After Effects to perform rendering tasks dramatically more quickly. Instead of waiting for animations or effects to render, After Effects is able to quickly perform the most demanding tasks. The GPU is important not just for laptops, but even in desktop computers. In the labs and classrooms where American Graphics Institute teaches After Effects classes, computers with GPUs are the norm.

Surface Book or MacBook Pro for After Effects

If you work exclusively in a Mac environment, consider the high-end MacBook Pro for After Effects. The 15 inch model includes a dedicated GPU, using the AMD Radeon R9 M370X instead of the Nvidia used in the Surface Pro. The 13 inch MacBook Pro does not include the dedicated GPU, which leaves the larger system as the only valid MacBook Pro to compare against the Surface Book as a suitable laptop for After Effects. The MacBook Pro has a larger screen and sports 2GB of graphics memory with the discrete GPU, but lacks the detachable keyboard, touch-screen, and pen, and has a shorter battery life. If you need a truly portable system, the smaller 13 inch Surface Book wins on both size and battery life for running After Effects.

About the author

is president of American Graphics Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the creator and editor of the Digital Classroom book series. At American Graphics Institute, he provides strategic technology consulting to marketing professionals, publishers and to large technology companies including Google, Apple, and Microsoft. He delivers workshops relating to digital marketing, web analytics, SEO, and SEM. He is also the author of more than 10 books on electronic publishing tools and technologies, including the Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies. Christopher did his undergraduate studies the at the University of Minnesota, and then worked for Quark, Inc. prior to joining American Graphics Institute where he has worked for 20 years.