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Computer Spec for Digital Photography

RICHARD CLOW , Jan 17, 2012; 08:16 p.m.

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.


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Marc Compton , Jan 17, 2012; 08:38 p.m.

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.

Peter Cohen , Jan 18, 2012; 12:59 a.m.

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 ;-)

ralph oshiro , Jan 18, 2012; 02:10 a.m.

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.

ralph oshiro , Jan 18, 2012; 02:38 a.m.


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.

ralph oshiro , Jan 18, 2012; 02:51 a.m.

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.

Mark Anthony Kathurima , Jan 18, 2012; 03:13 a.m.

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 cameras...in 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...

Wouter Willemse , Jan 18, 2012; 05:11 a.m.

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.

Garcia Jeovanni , Jan 18, 2012; 06:52 a.m.

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.

John Deerfield , Jan 18, 2012; 10:47 a.m.

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.

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