Digital Darkroom Computer Builders?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by gannet___, Oct 20, 2002.

  1. I'll apologize right up front for the cross-posting, in case you see
    this same question elsewhere. My excuse is that I'm not doing this
    because I'm lazy or in a hurry. Rather, I've been poking at this
    question for a while in various places and I'm getting zero answers
    or leads. I also think this question may be of interest to many
    besides myself.

    The question is: does anyone know of any PC builders who are offering
    machines specifically tailored for the digital darkroom (DD)?

    You can get specialty gaming machines, digital audio workstations, 3D
    graphics workstations, digital video workstations, etc., etc., but
    I'm not seeing any PCs optimized for DD work.

    Yes, I can certainly spec out my own machine from a custom builder,
    and in fact I'm looking around at various builders to do just that.
    The problem is that there is a dearth of machines and options
    applicable to DD work. For example, massive RAM and massive storage
    are a given. Data redundancy and dual processors are highly
    desirable. Absolute max CPU speed is nice but not really that
    important, and 3D graphics speed is not important. The usual "custom
    machine starting points" you see on websites simply aren't geared for
    this. Server class boxes are usually the only ones that come close,
    and they often have other unneeded features.

    As an editorial comment, I think these vendors are missing out on a
    market. Why is it that we have lots of people lined up to pay multi-
    4-figure and 5-figure amounts for digital SLR systems, and yet these
    same folks are expected to limp along with an inadequate computer or
    else learn to be a hardware guru themselves and put one together? I
    think there's money laying on this table.

    Maybe I'm all wrong and these vendors are out there. If so, please
    point me to them.

    TIA

    Gannet
     
  2. Gannet, there's nothing special about a digital darkroom from a computer point of view. For years graphics artists have used "multimedia workstations". These are really nothing more than high-end Macs or PCs with memory, disk, CPU, CD-ROM, DVD-RAM, etc maxed out. With lots of connectors such as firewire, USB, SCSI, etc. The upper-level Macs were (and still are) optimized for this kind of work but you can spec a Windows PC to the same level. Both Mac OS and Windows XP have built-in multimedia toollets. Mac is still in the lead IMO, but I use PCs due to cost constraints.
     
  3. Most all the HP computers hawked at the local SAM club are marketed for digital photography. They run from 599 to 2100 bucks. The boxes, computer cases and signage is plastered with references to digital photography. the computers are on the same row as their digital cameras; printers; and ink cartridges. It looks like SAMS and HP have a good system; they computers turn over very quickly. The mid range systems have alot of front ports; 2 USB ; 1 firewire; and 1 gig ram; and are labeled on their cases "for digital photography".
     
  4. Here there is no local store that has ever sold MACs; so PC's rule the roost for the average persons needs. The nearest MAC dealer is a 4 hour round trip away. The local newspaper and many advertising companies us MACs; and they mailorder all to get their systems.
     
  5. You can get specialty gaming machines, digital audio workstations, 3D graphics workstations, digital video workstations, etc., etc., but I'm not seeing any PCs optimized for DD work.
    You are a victim of marketing, and PC's are a lot like print films; most of them suck, and you need some experience to pick the ones that stand out. There is very little difference in the machines you mention except perhaps the video card, case, cheap speaker system, and 10% faster processor you pay 2x as much for. The difference between the $3,000 AlienWare game machine vs the $800 Dell desktop used by an office secretary is the video card being used (which cost $100 more) then fancy speakers (which cost $50 more), and the 10%faster processor (which cost $200 more). Do the math. AlienWare essentially charges you $1,500 for the the ugly plastic case.
    With PC's, the basic fundamental variables are integrated vs non integrated components and dual vs single processor. The rest is baloney marketing or a case of simply getting what you pay for, which in one respect I envy Mac users for because they don't have to deal with this.
    The only difference with servers vs PC's is data/hardware redundancy in the case of RAID configs and storage. Most servers all use the same chipsets and motherboards anyways and there's actually less diversity under the cover than standard PC's.
    My old Celeron 333 with 1gig SDRAM makes a better Photoshop workstation than a 2.5ghz P4 with 256 meg of RDRAM. So, why should there be a specialized market? The absolute cheapest E-machine with a gig of RAM and a generic GeForce3 card makes a better Photoshop workstation than IBM's top of the line E-commerce server.
    Paying somebody to build a PC for you assuming it's a technically daunting task is like paying somebody to wash your car because winding up a garden hose requires a Ph.D. If you can wire a home theater system without blowing a fuse or put together 90% of your kid's christmas toys without requiring a hacksaw and plumbers drill, you can build a PC. If your still not comfortable doing this, I can guarantee you have a relative with a highschool kid who's be more than happy to do this for free and can do the same quality work as any specialized shop. The kid might at least know to slipstream Win2K SP3 into the operating system install before hand saving an incredible amount of time.
    FYI - Dual processors are a near waste of time for Photoshop work. They are great for multitasking, application servers, and power desktop users, but inefficient and expensive horsepower on a PC platform for single tasking Photoshop work. If you have cash to burn on a dual 2.8ghz P4 Tyan i7500, be my guest, but most people are on a budget and it doesn't make sense to go this route unless you have a really good deal.
     
  6. If you do want to go with a dualy, I suggest that you have photoshop 7 to do so. It appears to make better use of a multiprocessor system than its predecessors, in both PC and mac. What little comparison I've done of this does indeed confirm it.

    I wouldn't suggest a pentium 4 for photoshop however. A pentium 3 will far surpass it in cost effectiveness for a capable processor for graphics. In some ways a P3 can even surpass the P4 for photoshop. The Athlon processor is also an excellent choice.

    HP does make some fairly respectable machines, however their stability has dropped recently. Regardless, if you can get an HP without integrated graphics that has respectable RAM handling, it would suffice. I ran a Celeron 466 HP for quite a while doing more than most people I know with their shiny new macs and pcs were doing.
     
  7. I agree with Carl that the P4 in many respects was a paper tiger upon initial release, but the continued belief that a P3 is faster than a P4 is now a fairy tale.

    With prices dropping so fast on processors only a fool would buy a $100 1ghz-'ish P3 vs a $150 2ghz-'ish P4. The higher bus speeds, faster chipsets and more state of the art motherboard of the P4 is going to run rings around the P3 for Photoshop use. If you are on a really tight budget, go older Athlon vs P3 and a Motherboard that still supports SDRAM. SDRAM is running about 1/3 to 1/4 the price of DDR, and still gets the job done.

    A dual processor Athlon motherboard costs at least double the price of a single one, and a dual P4 Motherboard costs 4x as much, which doesn't make the price/performance ratio worth it for Photoshop use if you ask me. Buy the fastest processor you can afford first, then start playing with dual CPUs for digital imaging if you have money left over.
     
  8. I'm having a custom box built next week, and while I don't think it's "over-priced" for what I'm getting, I'd appreciate some of the "experts" here input. BTW, my main use is digital imaging running PS7:
    • PIV 2.4 Ghz, 533Mhz bus
    • 1 Gig RAM
    • TWO 120 Gig Hard drives
    • Matrox G550 Dual DVI Graphics card (I want be able to run two DVI monitors)
    • DVD ROM
    • CDRW
    • Floppy, but you have to wonder why ;>)
    • Firewire card
    • NIC card
    • Win XP Pro
    • Total cost is around $1500.
      TIA for your comments,
     
  9. Overall system performance wise however scott, I've found every P3 machine I've run for photoshop to be much smoother and more stable than any P4 machine. The P4 is faster, but I'll take the stability that's been proven to me by the P3 any day.

    However, if you should choose a P4, there are some excellent systems available from Dell actually. P4s are more readily available and their prices are dropping. Another thing to consider is that for the majority of what most people do in Photoshop, once you get above 1 ghz, you're not going to see drastic improvements in performance with a faster processor. Some things will improve, but again, I continue to run a P3 because I simply find it to be more stable and reliable than any P4 machine I've used. My next step is to build an athlon system.
     
  10. Carl,

    I'm still deploying mostly P3 Tualatin based servers, and even have two dual P3 servers to set up and integrate next week. Fun to load Photohop on them for, er, uh, software compatibility testing, but single P4's above 2ghz are simply faster for Photoshop use than any P3 I've used - first hand experience.

    I know what you mean about stability and have seen it first hand, but it has nothing to do with the P4. A lot of the hardware produced at the start of the IT recession suffered from really bad quality control because of emergency cutbacks, and it took awhile to get this junk out of the system. Everything from power supplies to motherboards and floppy drives. First generation P4's were coupled with really sloppy chipsets, mediocre motherboards, and other issues not due to the chip itself. For that reason higher end P3s can smoke your typical 1.7ghz P4 in terms of Photoshop speed and system stability. With mature chipsets and improving quality control I'm seeing the tables turn though and the P4 is starting to crush everything in it's path as I expected. I'm hoping that VIA or SiS soon come out with an economical dual processor chipset for the P4. That would cover the bases for both digital dark-room'ing and general desktop.

    Jack - gig of RAM, XP or Win2K...it's fine for Photoshop.

    You need to get a case like this though. Aids in color management.
     
  11. Steve:

    LMAO! Yes, that sure is a snazzy case, and I bet it will make my images lok a whole lot better than they otherwise would if processed within an ordinary case ;>). Seriously though, I did look at the all aluminum Titan gaming chassis. It looked as though it could survive a tumble over Niagra falls, which could be important when I start kicking the box under my desk because my images suck!

    Cheers,
     
  12. Err excuse me, I mean *Scott* not Steve. One too many martinis...
     
  13. I've been working one computers for 10 years now, including building and networking. For a good Photoshop station you need to start with a reliable system - I'd suggest a Dell and NOT an HP, e-machine, or Compaq. Then add LOTS of RAM. Start at about 512mb but 1gig is better. Processor is a little less important. Try to get at least a P3 1000 or a P4 1000. Athlons are also great. I'd try to avoid Celerons. Video card is reasonable important but not as critical as you might think - get at least a Geforce2 - a good card is useful but going all out for the top Geforce 4 is a bit of overkill.

    The last thing you need to focus on is the Hard Drives. Two considerations there - speed and size. Speed is very very important on overall photoshop performance. Make sure to grab at least 7200rpm drives. In terms of size - if you plan to store all your images on the system get the maximum amount of space the system maker has to offer.

    Side items you might want are Firewire ports or USB 2.0 ports. Some computers come with these but if they don't you can add these easily for about $50. DVD or CD-Burners can be available if that's what you want but that will vary depending on the workflow.
     
  14. We have three Emachines with celerons; the only problem is that the maximum RAM on the emachine usually is fixed at 256Meg; a hardware limit. In the cost versus performance; they were really good deals.
     
  15. You are a victim of marketing, and PC's are a lot like print films; most of them suck, and you need some experience to pick the ones that stand out. There is very little difference in the machines you mention except perhaps the video card, case, cheap speaker system, and 10% faster processor you pay 2x as much for. The difference between the $3,000 AlienWare game machine vs the $800 Dell desktop used by an office secretary is the video card being used (which cost $100 more) then fancy speakers (which cost $50 more), and the 10%faster processor (which cost $200 more). Do the math. AlienWare essentially charges you $1,500 for the the ugly plastic case.
    I'd say that is more than just a bit of an exaggeration. First of all, the vast majority of AlienWare machines are under $3000, and some are well under $3000. But lets compare the systems. The Alienware Area 51 system costs $2469. Are there Dells available for $800? Yes, the Dell 4550.
    What are the key differences between the two systems? The Alienware has an ATI 9700 video card which, despite what Scott says, costs between $300 and 400. You get a 3.06 GHz P4 instead of a 2.0 GHz P4. The retail difference between the two is $500. The Alienware has 512 MB of RDRAM, compared to 128 MB of DDR Ram. The Dell comes with a CD-ROM drive. The Alienware comes with both a DVD-ROM and a CD-RW drive. The Dell includes a 15 inch monitor, the Alienware doesn't include any monitor. Is the price difference reasonable? Yes. Do you need the extras provided by the Alienware? No, not for image manipulation. The Alienware is a gaming machine, though it can, of course, run Photoshop. (Alienware does sell cheaper configurations, though.)
    Anyway, back to the original question. All you need is a computer with a good amount of memory (512 MB or so), enough hard-drive storage, and a CD-RW. Practically any computer you can buy for about $1000 meets this criteria (though most don't come with 512 MB standard, and you have to ask for it).
    I do agree that building a system is not that difficult. It is not for everyone, though, as it does take more time than just opening the package Dell sends you, but I wouldn't call it difficult. All you have to do is stick part A (CPU) into one socket, put RAM into another socket, attach a few disk drive cables, and set up BIOS and install the OS.
     
  16. You could check out Smart Machine in Toronto. They seem to specialize in graphics.

    http://www.smart-machine.com/

    Im not sure if their website is updated or not. Some stuff seems abit old but maybe their worth calling.

    As for the system performance, I have seen a couple of benchmarks around that suggest the dual athlon handles photoshop faster than anything else. Unfortunately I cant recall the URLs and I dont know if the testing was reliable. I cant speak from experience since my system grinds to a halt if i try to work on anything bigger than 40 megs (sigh).
     
  17. If your looking for great custom built PC's that are reasonably priced check out http://buttuglycomputer.com/
    Please accept my apology if I am breaking forum rules by posting this link. I am a customer of Butt ugly and I love my P.C.! It's awesome!
     

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