Computer Spec for Digital Photography

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by richard_clow, Jan 17, 2012.

  1. Hi, I wonder if anyone could give me some advice please.
    If I was looking to purchase a DSLR in the region of say 28-36 megapixel in the near future, (hopefully the latest high megapixel offerings from Canon, Nikon or Sony), what kind of computer specs would I require, using one of the latest photoshops, say CS4/5, (I know 6 is on it's way), and maybe windows 7 or windows xp operating system. I would only probably use the machine for digital imaging at one moment in time and maybe listening to mp3 music while doing this, and on my main hard drive I would just have my operating system, photoshop, then maybe a few other bits of software like DXO pro and maybe one for HDR etc.
    For operations to run smoothly, fairly fast while image editing I was wondering the following:-
    duo core or quad core, or just one processor?
    4gb or 8gb, or higher?
    Windows 7 or Windows XP (I heard that windows 7 can slow your PC down but XP can't take 8gb of ram?)
    A solid state drive? with the operating system and image editing software(s) on, for downloading pictures onto, working on them, (probably one at a time), then saving to normal moving parts external hard drives connected to PC via usb etc. I would be mainly tweaking RAW files or NEF files etc and HDR tasks, processing 2-5 images at a time etc.
    I know the solid state drives are more expensive so I guess either 60gb or 120gb, surely 60gb is enough even with full Windows 7 ? Full photoshop suite, a HDR programme like HDR Darkroom or Photomatix etc and room to spare if photoshop needs to grab any more hard drive?
    Graphics card - I don't want to play any computer games or do any artist/animation stuff so a basic graphics card? Could this come built in to the motherboard or should I buy it separately?
    Sound card - Sorry, slightly off topic, (not image related), again built in or if I want quality buy separately?
    Monitor - TFT/LCD?, are these on a par with the old CRT monitors for clarity/sharpness etc and how much might I pay for one that will do the job adequately for digital imaging purposes, I know there are many sizes and could probably spend £80 to probably well over a £1000 for a state of the art monitor but just want to see what other people are using.
    Thankyou for your time.
  2. Hello Richard,
    I understand your questions and know that the Computer world is full of options and it can be confusing. You sound like you have a grasp of the important parts in a system, so I'll try to keep this short and simple. First saving a little money now, could cost you time and energy later. Buy the best you can afford, and always look for the best "bang for the buck" in every component. If an i7 Processor at 3.4ghz is too expensive, it is likely that an i7 at 2.8Ghz will suit just fine, and you would probably never even notice the difference.
    Windows 7 64 bit is a fantastic OS, but you must keep in mind when you purchase other software, get the 64bit versions. Go with a Solid State drive if you can find a decent deal on one... the are fast and reliable and the prices have come way down in recent years. Again find the best value in terms of size, no less than 60gb though, in my opinion. Your second drive will be your storage drive, get at least a 1TB, but storage is so cheap getting a 2TB is not out of the question if it fits your budget. You may consider getting a RAID set up for backup purposes, however you have many options there to consider. Backup is it's own issue.
    Graphic cards are tricky. There are some decent on-board graphics cards nowadays, but I would look into an actual card. nVidia makes a lot of good ones, I would get one with at least 1gb memory... lots of choices here, just do some research. I speak in dollars, but you should be able to find one around $100 that will suit your needs.
    Sound card is not necessary, but are affordable. If it fits your budget, get an affordable one now when you have this built.
    You have lots of choices in the Monitor department... LEDs are gaining popularity... Dell makes some great ones... look for the UltraSharp ones.
    Final note about this... be sure whomever builds this supplies you with a proper Power Supply. Spend a bit extra here so it is not always running at 100%. If you over strain your PS it will fail quickly.
    Hope this helps.
  3. Search the Adobe site ... they have a page dedicated to the optimum hardware config for running Photoshop and Lightroom at their maximum efficiency. When it comes to hard drive space and RAM, buy as much as you can afford, not what you think you need ;-)
  4. I was thinking of moving back to Windows just beacuse the hardware is less expensive than a similarly-equipped OS X machine, so I was also doing a bit of research on the topic. I'm not a computer expert, but here's what I would suggest:
    Go with a 64-bit version of Windows7. I would forget about WindowsXP--it only addresses up to 4GB of RAM (but only really uses 3GB). While the 64-bit version of WinXP addresses up to 128GB, my money's on the more modern OS, Windows7. Win7 Home Basic tops out at 8GB; Win7 Home Premium 64-bit tops out at 16GB. If you need more, you have to move to Windows7 Professional, which tops out at a whopping 192GB of maximum addressable system RAM. For detailed memory specifications refer to this Microsoft link:
    System RAM:
    Get a minimum of 8GB, but I would get 16GB, since it's fairly affordable (however, first determine the maximum amount of system RAM your motherboard of choice supports, and exactly the ways in which you're allowed to populate it).
    Choose your CPU according to budget:
    You can build a ridiculously fast, second-generation (Sandy Bridge), Core i7, quad-core PC, complete with multiple SSDs, and a stupid amount of system RAM for about $2,500. If you're more budget-conscious, you should be fine with as little as a Core i3 with 8GB of system RAM. Most opt for i5 systems. Note that the faster CPUs tend to require more expensive motherboards.
    Display adapters:
    Don't spend more than about $150. Most 1GB video cards are fine for 2D apps like Photoshop. Any display adapter priced at $100 or more should still be wicked-fast for 2D. Rumor has it that Photoshop favors GeForce over Radeon-based boards, but I don't know if there's any validity to this claim. Graphics-specialized, Quadro cards have actually proven to be slower in some 2D applications. To find the most-currently recommended display adapters, specifically for CS5, try spending some time in a popular Photoshop forum.
    These devices are getting cheaper by the minute. I would buy at least one large enough to house both Win7 and Photoshop, although I'm not sure how large that needs to be to do that. A second SSD would be great for working files and scratch disks.
    I would go with an LED-based display, if for no other reason than its excellent contrast ratio and superior energy efficiency.
  5. FYI:
    Here's the Win7 computer I happened to be spec'ing out at Newegg:
    Key components:
    Microsoft Windows 7 Professional SP-1 64-bit (OEM): $139
    Intel Core i7-3930K Sandy Bridge-E 3.2 GHz LGA 2011, six-core CPU: $599.
    ASUS PX79 WS LGA 2011-socket motherboard (supports up 64GB): $379.
    ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB, PCI Express 2.0 x16 display adapter: $249.
    Thermaltake TPG-750M 750W power supply $149.
    I was planning on getting a Thermaltake case, that's why I chose the Thermaltake power supply. I also like pairing the display adapter with the motherboard manufacturer (ASUS). I was also planning on getting 32-64GB of RAM, plus two 256GB SSDs (one for operating system files and applications, the second for working files and scratch disks). The extra RAM and SSDs push this system closer to $3,000 USD.
  6. One more thing . . . the ASUS PX79 looks great on paper, but some users have been complaining of POST problems (power-on, self-test). It's a newer board, so there may be a few rough edges still. I may just throw in the towel, and save myself any system-building headaches, and buy a build-to-order, Core i7 iMac instead.
  7. hopefully the latest high megapixel offerings from Canon, Nikon or Sony​
    Since this is primarily a photography forum, I couldn't help but notice that statement. As an aside, you should know that the MP count is certainly not the be-all and end-all of fact, a higher count can lead to a decrease in image quality. But I digress...
    Regarding your computer, I agree, RAM and storage space are probably the biggest considerations. Processor clock speeds (with the now-prevalent multi-core offerings) are basically a non- issue any more.
    I run a Win XP64 machine with 4GB of RAM. My tools of the trade are Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5. I can comfortably run them both simultaneously (although, admittedly, LR gets far more airtime than CS5)...
    What I realised I run out of fastest is storage and backup storage space, so I supplemented my PC's HD with an additional 2TB worth of internal and external drives.
    A good monitor would also not go amiss. I bought a Dell FP2007 monitor (was budget-limited at the time). It is significantly better than a "regular" LCD/TFT. There are several types of LCD monitors. Look for those with S-IPS panels. The Dell U2410 is not too badly priced ;-) There are also offerings from Eizo and NEC which are highly spoken of. You may also want to consider a hardwar-based calibrator. I'm eyeing the Colormunki myself.
    Let us know how you fare...
  8. Richard, before getting to the beef of your question, some slightly offtopic remarks:
    The above warning on megapixels is a fair one. It's not clear if you already have a camera today, and if so which (since you contemplate 3 brands, it seems like you are starting out with regards to a DSLR?). The extra pixels can come in useful, for sure, but I've printed quite large (40*60 cm) from a 6MP DSLR - and that looked perfectly fine. With 24-36 MP, you have to start wondering whether the increased filesizes (and the computer power needed for it!) are worth it. I know I am seriously asking this question for myself. It's also the lenses that you need to be up to the job, and then money starts to add up extremely fast. Just for consideration.
    Do not consider Windows XP anymore. Support is running out, and new technologies will soon no longer be ported to XP. I know a lot of people still think fondly of this OS, but really, it had its day. Go for Windows 7, x64 editions. End of this year Windows 8 will launch, though. Not much you can do today to prepare/consider it, except holding off a little to wait for confirmed shipping dates and upgrade programs (and determine whether it'll be worth it to you).
    Good, hardware. You got the basics quite right, and the details is something there will always be some debate on. Personally, I'd look at:
    • Core i7-2600 or i5-2500; best value for money and plenty fast. Both these are quad-cores.
    • Mainboard with Z68 or P67 chipset, make sure it has at least 4 memory banks.
    • Memory: 16GB, prices are low-ish at the moment, so get 4x 4GB. It will be more than enough for quite some time to come.
    • SSD: 128 or 256 GB (mainly a budget constraint choice); look at the Crucial M4 for great performance at a decent price.
    • HDD: 1.5TB or 2TB is the sweet spot at the moment, but the Thailand flooding still has prices very high on hard disks. Ideally, 2 HDDs, but with the current prices, it might be better to get one, and add one later on.
    • Graphics cards: the integrated Intel is enough for most things; if you are not going to play games, it will do. Else, a simple card like a Radeon HD6450, which is passively cooled to bring noise levels down. Sound card: if you are not going to use the PC for recording sound and/or work intensively on sound, the integrated audiochips are good. No need to spend extra.
    • If you can still find CRTs.... they're rare these days. Seriously, get a LCD screen with IPS panel, and hardware calibration, as already suggested.
    • As OS, I would get Windows 7 Home Premium, OEM version. The extra money spent on Pro version isn't worth it for the vast majority of people at home, and 16GB of RAM is not a limitation that's worrying today.
    The tip on a second SSD for scratch files and working files - I would not go for it, even though Adobe recommends it (more or less). Yes, it's fast, but both these two operations mean a lot of read/write actions, and this SSD will detoriate quite a lot quicker. It simply won't last all that long that way. With 16GB of memory, the need for scratch disks is a lot less anyway - I wouldn't spend the money on a second SSD which will have a relatively short lifespan.
  9. I have a i5 2500k 3.4ghz, 8g ram, AMD 6850 1g, Raptor 160g 10k,Win7 64, Samsung 23.6" . I can run Modern warfare @1080 on high, and have PS and LR open , without breaking a sweat. with that said , I do most of my editing from my laptop lol , (i3, 8g ram, 7200rpm HD, Win7 64)
    Point is, photo editing isn't as demanding as video editing/gaming. So get the best you can afford
    Windows XP is obsolete, I have it dual boot with window 7 , but haven't used it since.
    While running SSD will speed up opening programs, wont do much during the process, better choice would 1Tb + external backup drive , or a RAID 1 configuration(1Tb+1Tb).
    Save up and wait till your "36 mp camera" comes out , computer technology gets old real FAST! what cost you $1000 today will cost you $500 in 6 month.
  10. Point is, photo editing isn't as demanding as video editing/gaming.​
    Video gaming is primarily dependent on the graphics card. Photo editing will be dependent on a good overall system, but Ram will be a huge factor. Even more so if going with a huge megapixel camera. And even more so on top of that if you start working with duplicate layers. 4GB or even 8GB of Ram for gaming is fine. For an 18mp, multi-layered file, 8GB would be slow. 16GB would be better.
  11. I would say that any dual core CPU with at least 3GHz will be more than adequate for photo processing. Of course more cores and faster CPUs is always better. You want at least 16GB of memory as Photoshop can be a memory hog once you start using layers and layers is very useful. By doing your editing on duplicate layers you can do many things while leaving the original image untouched. That is very useful for exploring the results of different edits. You will want large disks but with a 2TB drives for about $100-150, that is the least expensive component of your system.
    The most critical component to get is the monitor. You want a monitor with a wide viewing angle. Otherwise the colors will shift significantly with the position of your head. The only way I have ever found to check this out is by eyeballing monitors in a showroom or getting a recommendation from someone who has done it. There are some very expensive monitors specifically made for photo work but I have never seen one in any local store.
    The most important component is a calibration device for the monitor to make sure that it displays the color correctly. Spyder and Colormunki makes such devices. The basic device does only the monitor. The more advance one will also create custom printer profiles. X-rite makes one that even creates a custom profile for your camera.
    If you go PC the OS is 64 bit Windows 7. XP is going to be off support life fairly soon especially as Windows 8 is coming out soon. Also, Win 7 is a faster. Whoever told you that XP is better is giving you bad information. There are different editions of Windows 7 and I recommend an edition that included Windows backup. That is actually a decent back software now and an external disk drive makes an excellent recovery backup media.
    Danny Low
  12. Yes, as Wouter suggested, a Core i7-2600 Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz CPU is half the price of the fancy six-core i7 CPU I spec'ed for my previously posted "dream system," and the LGA 1155-socket motherboard to go with it is also half the price of the P9X79:
    Intel Core i7-2600 3.4GHz quad-core: $299
    Asus LGA 1155-socket P8P67 motherboard: $149
    Pair the above with 16GB of RAM, and you have a wicked-fast system for not too much money. Regarding the use of an SSD as a scratch disk, while opinions vary, modern SSDs now have very high "write endurance," and still outlast mechanical HDDs by a significant factor. Here's the set-up I would use:
    1. Primary SSD: Windows/applications (CS5).
    2. Secondary SSD: working files/scratch disk.
    3. HDDs: storage.
    While SSDs do have a finite write endurance, that number is fairly high (several million write cycles or several years of typical use). I would consider a modestly priced/sized SSD for use as a scratch disk, knowing that its life is limited. But by the time I'd reach the SSD's end-of-life, I'd probably be upgrading the drive, or the entire system anyway. So my vote would still be for a second SSD for use as a scratch disk. A small, inexpensive SSD could even be considered as an "expendable."
  13. Also, even far more modest systems are still useful for casual users. I'm currently running a 2009-era, 3.02GHz iMac Core 2 Duo with only 4GB of RAM (the maximum RAM this iMac supports). I can run Photoshop with multiple layers, PhotoMechanic, as well as other imaging apps concurrently with little noticable slow-down. It's an older, more modest system, but it's perfectly serviceable for casual photo post-processing work.
  14. So, now, I have a question for all of you. I was planning on getting the Asus P9X79 WA motherboard specifically because it has a Firewire 800 port (the 'WA' version of the P9X79 has FW800. The "normal" P9X79 doesn't have FW800, but adds built-in Bluetooth and WiFi). I still have and use multiple, identical external Firewire HDDs (I think I have about eight), all daisy-chained to my iMac's FW800 port. What is the current PC generation's (for a system I want to build today) most commonly recommended, high-speed, external HDD connectivity standard? SATA III?
  15. The two common external HDD interface for the PC are USB and eSATA. However based on what I see offered, you are far more likely to find USB HDDs than eSATA. Both interfaces are standard with the motherboard.
    Danny Low
  16. Thanks, Danny. Yes, I see that most external HDDs at Newegg have dual, USB 2.0/eSATA interfaces. I know that the real-world throughput of USB 2.0 is less than ideal, so I would favor eSATA over USB. However, they all seem to be eSATA II, not III. I haven't built a new PC since 2005, so I guess I'm a bit behind the curve here. I guess FibreChannel never really took off?
  17. think the "new" standard is going to be USB 3.0, atleast its replaced most of the firewire ports in some of the newer PC motherboards. has a theoretical 5Gbps speed compared to firewire 800Mbps and usb 2.0 480Mbps .
    so near future , external Large capacity SSD, 500MB Read/Write with USB 3.0 should be good :D
  18. Now I'm looking at external, multiple-drive enclosures. The four-bay, IcyDock looks pretty cool, albeit at bit pricey at $199. Supports up to four eSATA drives: hot-swappable; integrated power supply (no wall-wart); and has an Apple-like, aluminum case--looks nice! Unfortunately, while overall user reports are very positive, Windows 7 still has sleep/hibernate issues with external enclosures.
    The two-bay, drop-in, Thermaltake "BlacX Duet" also looks pretty neat. Accommodates two eSATA drives, up to 2TB each, that "drop-in," apparently without the use of trays. Cheap, too: $50.
  19. currently running a 2009-era, 3.02GHz iMac Core 2 Duo with only 4GB of RAM... it's perfectly serviceable for casual photo post-processing work​
    I use to think that. We have a newer 2011 iMac that comes stock with 4GB of Ram. My main workstation has 16GB, and I really thought that 4GB would be enough for what we use the iMac for. Well, my Christmas present to our iMac was 8GB more Ram (less than $50). I can't believe the difference. It is truly night and day. Much more responsive.
    Between USB and eSata, I would opt for eSata. USB will always have more overhead as the computer needs to reassemble the information (something like using ethernet). Firewire was/is a good compromise. Between the BlacX Duet and a tower enclosure fan cooling the drives, I would opt for the tower. THe BlackX Duet is nice for switching out a drive quickly (say putting a back up drive in a "slot" to do a back up) but I wouldn't trust leaving a bare bones drive "out" in the open for any length of time.
  20. Thankyou for all your replies, much appreciated.
  21. Hope all that that helped, more than confused, Richard! Try to find a good computer shop, not a box store. In Southern California, we have a chain of stores called PC Club (they'e also in a few other states as well, but not yet nationwide). They'll help you piece together compatible components, and then build it for you for a modest fee. Buying a PC this way gets you a super-machine that'll blow the doors off of any off-the-shelf, branded PC, for less money. With today's components, you can build a very nice i7 machine for as little as $1,000.

    External HDD/SSD interfaces:
    Well, after reviewing eSATA and USB 3.0, I think my money's on Thunderbolt. Not sure when this interface will surface on Intel motherboards for Win7 PC builders, but since Apple products already support the interface, I may stay OS X after all. Thunderbolt RAIDs claim to produce SSD-like performance--wow! Will probably get an internal-SSD iMac, and a 1TB Thunderbolt external drive to start.
  22. Kind of off-topic, but since I was talking about drive enclosures, I wanted to clarify my strategy, and mention what I'm now planning to use instead. I found the Synology DS212J, two-bay NAS (driveless) at Newegg to be highly recommended. It supports all standard RAID configurations as well as a "hybrid" mode which can support two dissimilar drives. The new model supports up to 3TB drives in each bay. Priced at $199 (without drives), it's reasonably priced, and comes with an excellent (according to user reviews) user interface. My planned connection is to its gigabit-ethernet port. I've found peer-to-peer file transfers in my in-home gigabit network to be very fast, so hopefully, this NAS is reasonably speedy as well.
    So, if I'm able to talk myself into buying a new i7 iMac, I'll attach a Thunderbird 1-2TB HDD for local storage (since only Mac Pros can support eSATA drives via an adapter card), and use the Synology NAS (which uses eSATA drives) for back-up and archival storage in a mirrored array.
  23. Lastly, and just to re-state some of the above more clearly, I think an important part of any new system build or upgrade, regardless of choice of OS, is the choice of external drive interface (and, if desired, choice of RAID configuration):
    1. eSATA
    2. USB 3.0
    3. Thunderbolt
    Secondly, and this may or not be related to your first choice above (in my case, it's not), is your back-up hardware choice, choice of RAID array, and connectivity method. I've chosen the NAS route, as below:
    1. Mirrored NAS (eSATA).
    2. Gigabit-ethernet over network.
    Thirdly, your general back-up and archival procedure:
    1. Manual drive rotation (failure-induced, or timed replacement).
    2. Blu-ray.
  24. Finally found some news on why I cant find any Intel PC motherboards with Thunderbolt I/O:
    I suppose, we have to wait for Ivy Bridge Intel processors to debut before we see the bi-directional 10Gbps interface reach Intel PC motherboards (the article reports that Asus and Acer are on-board). Asus does make a Thunderbolt-capable PC motherboard, but it's only for AMD processors (Asus' Crosshair V Formula/Thunderbolt, $324). So, at least for right now, the only non-AMD Thunderbolt option available to me is an OS X machine. Don't get me wrong, I love OS X, and much prefer it over Windows, it's just that Apple's a much pricier way to go for what you get.
  25. I said:
    . . . I'm currently running a 2008-era, 3.02GHz iMac Core 2 Duo with only 4GB of RAM (the maximum RAM this iMac supports) . . . It's an older, more modest system, but it's perfectly serviceable for casual photo post-processing work.​
    John replied:
    I use to think that. We have a newer 2011 iMac that comes stock with 4GB . . . and I really thought that 4GB would be enough for what we use the iMac for. Well, my Christmas present to our iMac was 8GB more RAM (less than $50). I can't believe the difference.​
    Pre-2009 iMac owners: There's more speed in store for you than you may have thought!
    Well, I thought I was stuck with the 4GB "maximum" system RAM on my 2008-era Penryn iMac (model 8,1). It turns out that the 8,1 models, although have a stated maximum RAM capacity of 4GB, can actually support 6GB of system RAM: one 2GB stick, and one 4GB stick! Other World Computing, a favored vendor among Apple forum members, sells a matched 6GB set for 8,1 iMacs for about $129. Yes, a little pricey, but it's my only option with this older iMac. I'm ordering mine today!
    As an aside, last night, I just finished my first install of Snow Leopard on my 4GB 3.06GHz Core2Duo iMac (yeah, I know--welcome to 2009!). First, I deleted the entire internal drive, performed a clean install of Snow Leopard, and then downloaded Aperture 3 from the AppStore (yeah, I was using Aperture 2!). Then, I put my nearly 300GB Aperture 2 library on its own 500GB external Firewire drive, and . . . voila! The speed increase is amazing--it's like having a new computer. Hopefully, I'll see a similarly noticeable increase from the added 2GB, with the 6GB upgrade next week as well!
    If you haven't performed a clean OS install (Windows or OS X) in the last year, do it, and you'll feel like you have a new computer! To make life easier, I now make it a rule to keep all user-created files on external drives, and only install the OS and main applications on the boot drive, making this process rather painless.

Share This Page