My little sister is due to start a graphic design course at college after the summer and as much as a desktop is better for the task she needs an inexpensive design laptop. The program they will use is adobe cs6 and some photoshop. Due to budget limitations I've advised her not to look at the MacBooks but I need something which is fairly fast and capable of using these programs well. So... Laptop with a semi decent graphics card for under £400. Any ideas?
Your budget is going to limit your options - CS6 is a beast, it requires at least 4GB of RAM (but 8GB would be better), it needs a lot of storage space (probably recommend a 1TB hybrid laptop drive to get you storage but with a little speed boost) and it's both processor and graphically intensive so you need a quality processor and would benefit from having a dedicated graphics processor. That's why the words "graphic design" and "laptop" aren't very friendly - for that budget, you're probably going to have to use an AMD APU like the A10 series because I don't think there are many laptop builds for that price that include an i5 & a GPU. If you have some wiggle room in the budget, I would go with this model and customize it to include the GT740 (couldn't find the UK equivalent site):
You could also upgrade to the 1080p display since she will be designing and that's fairly standard as well as the system memory and storage capacity if you felt so inclined. It's unfortunate that the cost difference for buying the drives from them - that's my two cents.
The best MacBook alternative ive found is the Samsung ativ book 8. But that's $1200 US dollars. If you drop half the battery, specs are the same, you get the ativ book 6. Which regularly goes on sale for $900 US.
Both out of budget. But both MacBook pro replacements at half the price
But with your budget, I feel just get the best you can with what you have. Because honestly that's all you can do. Programs she will be using, put more emphasis on CPU power and ram, i5 at least and 6gb ram. If its a dual core i7 id pass, get a i5 with best other features and more importantly find one she will enjoy using. Some keyboards people like more than others, screen, stuff like that.