Most computer reviews you find online are geared to gamers. When you search for terms like ‘best office laptop’ or ‘best office desktop PC’, most sites push the same options. Expect overpriced Apple computers and so-called ‘business computers’ that cost more but give less. This article summarizes the best computer specs for non-gaming pro purposes. Content creators, video editors, number-crunchers, and programmers can use these specs for reference.
These days, the gaming industry drives computer innovation. As video games reach new levels of visual and AI complexity, hardware makers race to keep up. That’s where the money is.
If you’re a non-gamer seeking a high-end production PC, many online searches are misleading. Laptopmag’s best business laptops recommends the same overpriced, underpowered models that many others do.
For instance, the Macbook Pro is a top choice in many ‘best of’ reviews. Compared to a mid-range gaming laptop, it has a brighter screen and faster, more versatile ports. It also has inferior graphics (not suited for gaming), and an older-generation processor. The Lenovo Legion comes in at half the price. It offers more storage, a better graphics card, and a CPU with more cores.
|Macbook Pro 16"||Lenovo Legion 5i|
|Processor||2.3GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9||2.60Hz 12-core 10th-generation Intel i7-10750H|
|Graphics card||AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory||GeForce RTX 2060 6GB|
|RAM||16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory||16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory|
|Storage||1TB SSD||512GB PCIe SSD + 1TB HD|
|Ports||4 x Thunderbolt 3 ports||USB-A 3.2 Gen 1; 3 x USB-A 3.2; USB-C 3.2 (DisplayPort); HDMI|
|Display||16-inch Retina (3072 x 1920), 500 nits, 60Hz||15.6" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS, anti-glare, 300 nits, 144Hz|
The bottom line is that non-gaming office workers need computing power to serve their needs. High-end gaming laptops stretch the limits with peak-performance hardware. High-end “business computers” cost a premium but offer less computing power. Some like the Macbook Pro offer extras like a super-bright screen.
This high-end computer specs guide is for non-gaming purposes. Skim through to get the gist of what components to look for in your next laptop or desktop computer.
Luckily, there are only a few specs you need to know. The processor drives the brain of the computer. The graphics card powers the visuals. The ports determine what addons are compatible.
2020 processor power user specs
There used to be only one option, but now there are two. More competition is better than a monopoly for consumers, as it drives innovation. For the past few years, longtime leader Intel has lost ground to AMD Ryzen chips. The latter offers processors that run cooler with more power at lower prices than Intel chips.
This section summarizes the 2020 processor landscape for non-gaming pro computer users.
Intel i7 or i9 processors
In 2020, Intel offers two high-end processors for both laptops and desktops. Lenovo offers a great breakdown of the differences, which we summarize below.
The Core i7 is a high-performance processor. It offers raw speed and multitasking capabilities. 10th-generation Core i7 processors are for users who need to do more. For casual computing and light gaming, a Core i3 and i5 models is enough.
Consider an office worker who opens dozens of tabs in a browser. Doing so with an i5 or i3 will cause processing delays and a spinning blue progress ball. In contrast, an i7 can handle dozens of open tabs plus several programs running at once.
At present, the Core i7-1087 is the top of the line. It offers eight cores and 16 threads plus a 12-16MB chip cache. The gist is that you can run several demanding applications at the same time without delays.
The Core i9 is a processor for hard-core gamers and video editors. This chip has the power to handle 4K video editing. It also has the power to run live action, multiplayer VR-based computer games.
Modern i9 chips pack in as many as 18 cores and 36 threads. Outside of VR and 4K editing demands, few users need this kind of power.
AMD Ryzen 7 processors
AMD Ryzen CPUs beat Intel quad-core with eight cores, 16 threads, a significantly lower prices.
A thread is a string of data from a program to the processor. When a computer multi-tasks on a single-core CPU, it can only manage one thread at a time. Multiple cores let a computer run more processes simultaneously, with greater ease. The result is a computer that can multitask several powerful programs at the same time without delays.
In 2020, the Ryzen equivalent of the Intel i5 9600 is the AMD Ryzen 5 3600. The equivalent of the i7 9700 is the Ryzen 7 3800x. It has eight cores, 16 threads with a base clock of 3.9GHz, and a max boost clock of 4.5GHz.
The laptop equivalent is the AMD Ryzen 7 4800H. It has the same cores and threads but runs a bit slower at 2.9GHz base and 4.2GHz boost.
Head-to-head with the Intel i7-9700K, the Ryzen 7 3800X has double the thread count. The AMD variant also offers 166% more L3 cache, and draws less power than the i7-9700K. As a result, you needn’t go overboard on cooling requirements. In fact, if building your own machine, the Ryzen 7 3800X includes a stock cooler.
Intel tends to beat the Ryzen 7 on gaming benchmarks. But in other areas where having more cores in advantageous, The Ryzen 7 shines. It beats the Core i7-9700K in almost every multi-core workload. That includes general productivity, rendering, encoding and data compression.
2020 graphics card specs
These days, there are gaming graphics cards, and workstation variants. The former are optimized for speed and performance. Gaming graphics cards deliver high framerates (FPS) is games to ensure super-smooth gameplay.
In contrast, workstation GPUs are built for accuracy and stability. These are optimized for 3D Modelling, CAD, and professional graphics application.
Unless you’re an architect or 3D modeler, a gaming graphics card is cheaper and faster solution. These cards are ideal for gaming, HD video editing, and feeding multiple independent screens from a single computer.
2020 graphics card hierarchy
Non-gaming professionals gain the most savings in the graphic card area. You can bypass the latest and the greatest, and even go back a few generations for an older card. Here is a summary of gaming GPU specs in 2020:
- High-end: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 ($699)
- Mid-range: RTX 2060 ($295)
- Low-end: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 ($160)
Benefits of a lesser-powered GPU
The difference between the GTX 1650 (4GB RAM) and RTX 2060 (GB RAM) has to do with gameplay. The GTX 1650 is capable of playing modern video games, but at reduced settings. In contrast, the RTX 2060 can play AAA titles at 1080p or 1440p smoothly at 50-60 FPS.
For most non-gaming uses, the lowest-end card delivers plenty of power. For instance, photo editing isn’t GPU-intensive. A fast, high-core count CPU provides more advantages than a GPU. The GTX 1650 also works fine editing 1080p HD video (upgrade the card if you need to edit 4K video).
The GTX 1650 also has impressive power efficiency, running at just 75W TDP. That helps your PC run cooler, which helps with long-term durability.
Other contemporary computer specs
Beyond the processor and GPU, there are two other sets of specs to keep in mind when assessing a modern computer.
Ports can be confusing. There are several variants of USB 3. Those include USB 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2. All come in Type-A (old-style) and Type-C (small mini-connection). There are also Thunderbolt ports that look the same as USB Type-C.
Different ports do different things. For gamers, a Thunderbolt port is the most useful. Any laptop or desktop with a Thunderbolt 2 or 3 port can power multiple displays or connect to an external GPU.
For non-gaming pros, ports are essential for two things. First, to connect multiple screens to your computer. Second, to connect high-speed storage devices. Here is a super-simplified explanation:
Whether you have a desktop or laptop, the types of ports will determine how many external monitors you can connect. All modern computers tend to come with at least an HDMI for connection to one external monitor. To connect with more than one, you need another HDMI, Displayport, Thunderbolt, or a Displayport-enabled USB Type-C. If not sure what your USB Type-C ports can do, look for the symbols. “SS” indicates a data transfer speed of 5 Gb/s. “10” added means a transfer speed of 10 Gb/s. If you see a Displayport symbol at the end of the port, it means that USB also connects to external monitors.
A popular pro-tier desktop or computer setup is to run a dual-drive system. As the boot drive, run an ultra-fast SSD, PCle SSD, or M.2 SSD. As a second storage drive, the most cost-effective solution is to run a 1-2 TB spinning plate hard drive.
An old-school HD reads and writes slower than SSD drives, but works fine storing games, photos, and files. That allows you to keep your boot drive clean, using it only for apps and important data.
The old HD system has been in use since the 1950s. HDs have moving parts that can fail under cold, hot, or shaky conditions. Solid-state drives (SSDs) use NAND Flash or DRAM memory chips instead of spinning platters.
Today, there is a choice between SATA drives or NVMe drives, with the latter running 4x faster. In between the two options is an M.2 drive option that can run either as a SATA or NVMe drive:
- SATA SSD: this is the same size as a 3.5″ desktop or 2.5″ laptop hard drive.
- M.2 SSD: M.2 is the name for a small form-factor drive. These come in SATA and NVMe versions. SATA M.2 drives run at the same speeds as SATA SSDs.
- NVMe PCle SSD: non-volatile memory express cards (NVMe) directly access the PCI-express bus. That enables PCle drives to run at the speeds flash memory is capable of. 4x faster than SATA SSD drives.
For non-gamers, gaming computers offer exceptional power for discount prices. Gaming computers are in a constant push to meet the growing demands of modern AAA games. As new technology emerges, older generations drop significantly in price.
Today, modern gaming processor and GPU hardware go beyond what non-gaming professionals need. That gives non-gaming pros the chance to scoop up hardware a generation older that what pro gamers use. For multitasking, 1080p video editing, and even HD gaming, going a generation back will save you money yet still deliver staggering power.
To see the results of these specs in action, check out this feature. It covers the best mid-range gaming computers that can also serve as high-end workstations. Non-gaming content creators, office workers, designers, and programmers can use these as high-powered yet affordable computers: