advice on new laptop
This is more of an hardware question, but since pretty much the only hardware intense thing I am going to do with my computer is going to be photoshop, it is also, in a way, software.
The question is: in your experience, how much does an SSD improve performance over a traditional hdd in comparison with the improvement of a better cpu?
The context is that at present I have a 2010 15" macbook pro, which struggles a lot when my city maps gets big. I am in for a replacement in the next few months, and from a pure work-related perspective (mostly academic writing) a 13" macbook air would be probably better than a 15" retina mb pro. It would cost less and have better portability and battery life. Of course the bigger and higher resolution display of the MBpro would be nice, but it would not in itself justify the higher $$$
However, I am wondering, would the 2013 air, thanks to its SSD, be an improvement over my current laptop, for working on large photoshop files, even though if the cpu is comparable if not slower?
Having both a small laptop and a desktop is not an option since I am often travelling back and forth for long periods. Also not-a-mac is not an option because of preferences and softwares I actually use.
Memory is the number one improver of performance for Photoshop and large files. Max out RAM first. An SSD is helpful compared to a spinning platter, but (again) only if you're swapping to disk. Photoshop is a little bit of a pathological case because it manages its own memory file (meaning that the OS doesn't have to seek back to the directory areas when writing to the disk as much). I haven't noticed too much of an improvement for an SSD over a spinning platter with Photoshop because I don't normally have to swap to disk. I tend to work on fairly small files that don't make the system swap a lot, though.
I think there must be a lot of swap, I can definitely hear the disk spinning. Plus it takes forever to save big files (~300mb and up).
Though it's true that there is also quite a bit of general unresponsiveness when working on those files, which could also be due to cpu.
However, in both cases I would get 8gb (now 4), so the ram would not be a difference between the two options. If cpu and gpu aren't that relevant I might as well get the air.
The new air based on the Haswell CPUs has a decent GPU built into the CPU. It should accelerate some of Photoshop operations and the CPU is fairly beefy as well in terms of raw numeric performance on things like Photoshop if you have the current versions. I wouldn't try to use a system with less than 8GB or more these days.
My ballpark assumption for Photoshop and many other image processing programs is that the OS takes 1GB, the program takes 1GB, and the user data will require 10 times the size of the saved file, including undo, workspaces, and other housekeeping. So that 300MB PSD would be hitting very roughly 4GB of RAM. If you've got the 32-bit version of Photoshop (I don't know if that's still a problem for Mac users these days), then the program will have a maximum of 4GB of memory (likely far less) before it starts to swap.
http://anandtech.com/show/7113/2013-...-core-i7-4650u may also be relevant. It's a CPU discussion, but there are other benchmarks there that show good differences.
I have the standard high-end early 2013 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (from then on forth, abbreviated as rMBP). It has 16GB RAM. Yes, I know that it creates a huge hole in the wallet, but I do not regret buying it at all.
Note that once you buy an rMBP, you cannot upgrade its RAM (it is soldered). This is why it is recommended to buy an rMBP with as high RAM as possible in the first place for futureproofing, which is what I did.
The Retina Display is so good. I can see so much of what I am drawing. I can create detailed maps without needing to zoom in or out with my Wacom Bamboo Create graphics tablet.
If you need to store large Photoshop files for your cartographic needs, it is wise to invest in a Thunderbolt external hard drive (which can also double as a Time Machine for backups just in case you accidentally overwrite the map you made a few hours ago). I have a 1TB Thunderbolt portable external hard drive.
Yes, I have Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat Pro.