The other part of the gear

We love gear, I’ve already said that several times here (I know, I’m not the only one that says that!). We love lenses, we love gadgets, but we usually spend way more time in front of the computer, processing our shots than actually shooting and using all our gadgets!

I’m one, like many others, that complain about the back log, about how long it takes to process all the shots and as a non-professional photographer, I don’t have a lot of time to spend on processing.

Also as non-professional I don’t have a state-of-the-art workstation at home for my pleasure. Anyway, my computer was really too old to deal with my shots, actually too old to deal with anything! All the systems get heavier with time, they gain functionality and they get heavier, since the updated versions are meant to run with news and more powerful hardware. So you never have a faster computer, you have a computer that is able to do more 🙂

I can see that very clearly with my old (2007) laptop! It gets slower by the day. OK, Photoshop CS6 is way heavier than Photoshop CS3! But wait, even without opening photoshop it’s very slow! It used to be a flash when I’ve got it and now it’s so slow! Yes!! Safari/firefox/chrome are also heavier, they have way more features than before. Actually the OS itself is heavier! Now I can have spell check in a variety of languages (I work with at least 3 languages on a daily basis) automatically detected, but that has a price!

At the end of each year my wife edits a photo book of our son, for us and for the grand parents that live in the other side of the world. This is about 400 shots selected from the year shots to be included in the book. That means I have to process those 400 shots kind of quickly. The processing was not very complex, mostly the Lightroom basic processing, but I was getting very cranky every night after work. One day, for some reason, I didn’t worked on the pictures after work and I was not cranky … nice conclusion “working on the pictures was making me cranky”, mostly because the computer was so slow that it was taking all the pleasure of doing something I really like! That was when I decided to get a new computer.

We do need a minimally performant computer, otherwise you just can’t do what you need in a reasonable way!

Than the main question (after how much am I willing to spend) was “what should I buy?”. A notebook or a desktop, a Mac or a PC, which specs am I looking for!

Between notebook and desktop, I don’t really travel that much anymore and I mostly work at home. Desktops are still cheaper than notebooks, for a given performance level, and they offer more possibilities of customization. So desktop.

I love Macs, but the Mac desktops, when compared to the PC desktops are considerably more expensive and I’m trying to maximize the performance of my machine for the money I could spend. So PC.

Specs were the most complicated. After understanding how processors work today (number of “cores”, type of architecture, …) I narrowed it down on two options, one for each architecture and reviews, together with accessory of good friends in the field, I decided my processor. Then comes “which video card”, “how much RAM”, “normal hard disks or solid state ones (SSD)” …

Going backwards in this list.

Type of hard disk. According to Adobe, photoshop is not really impacted by disk performance, only for start up, since it loads everything into memory at once. There’s also several comments on how faster photoshop is running on a SSD, but I’d take Adobe’s word on that. Lightroom has some reading and database writing, that could benefit from a SSD. Found a nice benchmark showing an increase of performance of about 15% to 20% using a system where soft and images sit on a SSD, compared to a system with regular HDs. For the price, my decision was to have regular HDs, instead of less disk space and 15% more performance on Lightroom. Not a closed case, I can always upgrade!

For the amount of RAM and for the video card I took profit of being a NAPP member and consulted their Help-desk. They kind of know about Photoshop, don’t they? I guess so.

The answer was that 16 GB would be more than enough, being 32 GB a good option for the future, and that was my choice. For the video card information is more complex. The info on the web is that Adobe has transferred a lot of processing to the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), but according to Adobe’s website and confirmed by NAPP’s Help-desk, this is valid if you’re a hard 3D and video worker. For 2D imaging most of it runs in the CPU, so a 1GB video card would be enough and a 2GB a nice way to the future … again my option.

That brings the part of how much can you trust your computer shop. I didn’t go traditional already build computers, since they allow very little customization, like notebooks. I consulted a store the university I used to work buys from (but that is in the other side of the country) and a local store, with no special references.

The local store wanted to push me a pretty heavy video card, common from gamers, way heavier than the one I asked for “this will not give you the performance you need” and of course quite expensive. The store back in my old city came exactly the other way around “nah! You don’t need that much for image processing! You’d be fine with ‘this’ one” (which was like a third of the price of the one I was originally suggestion). Getting this info together with the one from NAPP, that’s what I did.

The machine arrived, I’m pretty happy with it, still trying to work on the family pictures back log. Soon I’ll get to “my nice shots” back log and start posting them here.

The main conclusion is that today, a good computer is as important as good photographic gear.

If you know otherwise from the informations I’ve got, please let me know! There’s still room for improvement!

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About Cris Da Rocha

Astrophysicist, DB manager, cyclist, musician and, why not, "photographer to be". Back to enjoy photography after many years ... it's cool. Might share something nice and get something new.
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