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 III

With the background of Parts I and II of this series behind us, I thought it might be useful to discuss what components I personally picked for my "Photoshop Optimized Computer".

In the 'digital age', all of our processing is done on a computer and, for many, prints are made at home on an inkjet printer. For as much time as we spend out in the field, we likely spend as much time, or more, working on our images in the digital darkroom. For this reason I feel it would be foolish to spend money on cameras and lenses and not put forward the investment in a computer system that makes finishing the job efficient and pleasant. In short, I don't think it is wise to buy expensive equipment and mate that equipment with a computer that is underpowered and which makes the processing portion of image making an unpleasant experience. If you have waited and waited for a file to open in Photoshop or had your system crash while using a memory intensive plug-in, you know exactly what I mean. If one can afford to make the investment, a good computer system will make post-processing a much more pleasant and productive experience.

I don't mean to insinuate that one needs to go on a wild spending spree for a computer. In fact, as we shall see, some high end components are well worth buying but there are others, such as the graphics card, where pouring more money into a higher end card is not going to significantly enhance the Photoshop experience.

So, lets get down to particulars. What components did I choose for my new computer? Again, some of these choices are personal and I don't mean to imply that this is the best or only worthwhile configuration.....I just thought I would share my decisions and why I made them.

RAM: I'm starting here because I knew how much I wanted (12 GB) and the way to get to this amount at a reasonable price was to have 6 memory slots on the motherboard so that I could purchase 6 x 2GB as opposed to 3 x 4GB. RAM comes in several varieties and speed. I bought Kigston ValueRAM (DDR3-1333). While one can pay more for 'faster' RAM etc, I am not convinced it will make much difference for still image editing. It may well make a difference for gaming and video, but I am not planning to use the computer for much of either. Therefore, it seemed to me that this RAM would do the trick. Obviously, once one is over 4GB it makes no sense not to get a 64 bit OS in order to utilize it.

Motherboard: There were some limitations here, as any builder is only going to carry a limited number of makes and models. In order to get a 6 memory slot board I went with the Asus P6TD DDR3 motherboard.

Processor: I was originally planning for an Intel i5 750, which sits at a nice price/performance point. The i5's don't have hyperthreading but, to the best of my knowledge, Photoshop doesn't utilize hyperthreading at this point in time. Nonetheless, because of the motherboard choice, an i5 was not an option and I went for the arguably more powerful (and a bit more expensive) i7 920 (which is actually due to be replaced by the 930 soon) which does have hyperthreading. Perhaps in the future (I expect to use this system for at least 5 years) Photoshop will utilize hyperthreading.

Graphics Card: This is one component where, if one were building a computer for the express purpose of gaming, you could go hog wild and really drop a bundle on a high end video card. However, while one wants a reasonable video card, the best of the best is really a wasted resource if it is to be used for Photoshop alone (as opposed to gaming or video editing). For this reason I went mid-range with a Gigabyte GeForce 9600GT with 512 MB of video RAM.

Sound Card: This machine is for Photoshop and Lightroom primarily....I went with no dedicated sound card, just the motherboard sound processing.

RAID: A discussion of all the varieties of RAID is far beyond the scope of this blog. However, for the scratch disk, I did go with RAID 0 (as I had discussed in Part II of this series) using 7200 RPM disks. One worthwhile issue to touch on is the use of on-board RAID controlled by the motherboard vs a dedicated RAID controller card. Again, this goes beyond the scope of this blog, but suffice it to say that, based on what I was able to learn, having a separate RAID controller card is well worth the investment in order to remove the RAID function from the motherboard. I went with a two disk RAID 0 array and a RAID card. I had the two disk array partitioned into a smaller first volume for the scratch disk. This volume resides on the outer, faster portion of the disk while the remaining volume will be used to store files on which I am still working in order to allow rapid opening and saving of the file. When the processing of these images is completed, they will be moved to storage on a non-RAID hard drive given the increased risk of data loss if either of the disks in the array were to fail.

Hard Drives: As I mentioned, I went with two 7200 RPM disks for the RAID array. I also wanted a fast boot drive so that the computer would boot quickly and applications would also launch very fast. Though this was clearly a 'luxury item', I decided to go with a solid state disk (SSD) for the boot disk to hold the OS and applications. In addition, a Western Digital 1TB Caviar Black hard drive is to be used for storage. The motherboard and case will allow for the addition of 2 more disks, should the need arise.

OS: Windows 7 Home Premium

Monitor: Discussing this component of the system is really opening a can of worms. A quality monitor can be expensive, but is also a mission critical part of the digital imaging system. It is used to assess the image, process the image, soft proof the image etc. Clearly, a low quality monitor that is poorly calibrated and profiled can make producing high quality images and prints a nightmare. If one's budget allows, a high quality monitor together with a hardware calibration system is optimal. Some names to look into (and I don't mean to imply that these are the only worthwhile monitors) include Eizo, NEC, Apple, and Lacie.

Well, I hope that this series of three posts will be helpful to others that might be interested in putting together their own 'Photoshop Optimized Computer'.