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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Photoshop Optimized Computer: Epilogue

Several weeks back, I wrote a series of three posts about a "Photoshop Optimized Computer". Those posts can be read here, here, and here. Just this last weekend I received a comment from photographer Mike Mundy (see his blog and website....great stuff) who said....

"It is probably time for a follow-up report on the computer . . . what worked, what didn't. And why didn't you get an Apple product, as everyone else seems to be doing? I have a feeling that Photoshop CS5 is going to be too much for my aging low-end PC to handle . . ."

So here is the follow up on what worked and what didn't.

1) Puget Systems Computers - This is the company that I decided to purchase a custom computer from, as I had discussed in Part 1. I couldn't be happier with that decision. When they say technical support responses within 24 hours, they mean it! I had several occasions to contact them and each and every time I got a thoughtful response in less than 24 hours from folks that obviously knew their stuff .

The computer came exceedingly well packaged with supplemental information provided by Puget Systems, including benchmark testing results, as well as all the spare parts and instructions from each of the individual components that were used for the build. In addition, they included the original Windows 7 OS disc as well as a system image/restore disc for the system as it was configured at the time of shipping.

There was absolutely no unasked for bloatware as you get with Dell. They made good on their offer to include certain free downloads and have them pre-installed. The only one that I had chosen was Microsoft Security Essentials, given the reviews stating that it was an excellent piece of software (from Microsoft????)....elegant in its simplicity and not a drag on the system (from Microsoft????). Not only was it installed, but the computer came with all current Windows updates as well as security essentials updates already applied, so the system was totally up to date and ready to go. I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending Puget Systems!

2) Windows 7 OS - I like it. I like the way things are organized in libraries, I like the Windows system imaging, and I like the Windows search. Coming from Windows XP it took a little getting used to, but I now prefer it. The only part of the OS that I don't like is the portion that controls tablet functions. More on that in a second. I have had no problems finding drivers for my hardware and they all seem to function normally, save one.

That one, unfortunately, is my Wacom Intuos 2 graphics tablet. There is a Windows 7 driver for it...so, given the age of the Intuos 2, kudos to Wacom for that. The tablet initially started functioning normally, but soon started malfunctioning even with a system image restore to a point in time when it had worked. What do I mean by malfunctioning? When you boot up and try to use the pen, the cursor moves about a mm and then freezes. If you go to the tablet software by right clicking on the Wacom icon in the control panel, remove user presets, and then load the presets again it functions normally until you reboot. It has to be done again with each fresh boot. The whole maneuver literally takes about 20 seconds to do and you just have to do it once when you boot, but, nonetheless, I wish it worked correctly.

That said, I'm not quite sure where the fault lies. It could be the OS but could also be the motherboard USB controllers or the driver itself. Searching the internet, I'm not the only one with this problem. The workaround I describe is the result of Googling the problem. I did contact Wacom and they claim it has to do with a motherboard USB problem, but I am not convinced.

As I mentioned, the tablet functions of Windows 7 are also a bit odd. When you use a pen you get a distracting ripple effect as well as a small Windows Tablet interface. You can turn these off (and I did), but you have to do a bit of research to find out how....it isn't intuitively apparent.

Overall, I think that if one is going to venture into a new OS as an 'early adapter' there are always going to be some issues. I think I encountered a number of these issues (including the fact that I can't get Firewire or e-SATA drivers/drives to function correctly and, again, I'm not sure if this is related to the OS or motherboard) but overall I am quite pleased with Windows 7. I have the 64 bit version to prepare for the future!

3) Internal Components - All seems in order. Did I need the RAID 0 system for the scratch disk and files being worked on that I described here? I am not at all convinced that I did. The system seems so fast that even large files approaching 500 to 750 MB load into and save from Photoshop very quickly.......much, much faster than in my old system. In that system I could open the file and walk away for a minute or two. Not so anymore. I honestly don't see a huge difference between opening or saving the files from the standard Western Digital 1 TB Caviar Black hard disk compared to the RAID 0 system. I haven't timed it and there may well be a difference, it just doesn't seem all that significant in 'real life usage'.

A volume of the Raid 0 array is also being used as the primary scratch disk, as described here. I have not compared the speed of the RAID 0 array used as the primary scratch disk to the regular hard drive used as such, but perhaps it is of some benefit. These benefits might be further magnified if the RAID array consisted of more than 2 disks, but that would start to get even more expensive. Overall, however, if I were designing the system again, I might well pass on the RAID 0 array, which would have saved some cash and kept more internal SATA drive bays open.

I outfitted the computer with 12GB of RAM....it is quite fast. Had I not included as much RAM perhaps the effect of the RAID 0 array might be more apparent.

As you can see, I have not tested these issues in a quantitative fashion but am just commenting on my 'real world' usage experience. If anyone has more quantitative experience and wants to chime in on these issues I would be most appreciative!

4) Monitor - I sprung for a 'lower end' wide gamut Eizo monitor . Not at all cheap, but after using it am really amazed at the increased sharpness, saturation, and soft proofing ability that it offers once calibrated. The difference is dramatic and I wasn't using a bad monitor before (it was a LaCie CRT). I think it was a worthwhile investment. An alternative monitor which has gotten excellent reviews, can be obtained for significantly less, and which I considered is the NEC with integrated calibration.

5) Photoshop / Lightroom - I have the 64 bit versions of these running as well as the 32 bit version of Photoshop installed and have not run into any problems even though CS4 is not officially supported on the Windows 7 platform. I do wish that Nik Software would make all their plug-ins available in 64 bit versions. Viveza 2 is available in a 64 bit version, but Color Efex and Silver Efex are not, and it is a bit of a pain to use two versions of Photoshop. My PixelGenius, OnOne, Topaz, and Neat Image plug ins are all available in 64 bit versions and I have not had any difficulty with any of them.

6) Why didn't I purchase an Apple? I strongly considered it. I ended up with a PC because the price for a machine with similar 'power' seemed significantly lower to me and I already had multiple programs that were Windows 7 compatible that I did not want to repurchase in Mac versions. Also, despite the fact that Apples 'just work', I have read on various forums about problems that people are also having with the Snow Leopard OS.

So, that is the update on the new system.