Computer recommendations needed

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    I think the time has come for me to get a new computer. My current laptop is 5 years old, so I should open up my wallet and let the moths fly out. I’m thinking a desk top this time, since the laptop is still functional and travel worthy. So, now I’m looking for suggestions and recommendation: manufacturer, retailer, processor, ram, disk, monitors, software,… Is there anything specifically I should be looking for to make it photo friendly?


    It’d probably be helpful if we knew what you already had licenses for – I doubt you want to replace all of your software on top of buying a new computer…


    NEC’s SX-10 should be coming out next year. If you’re able to spend a little more, Cray has some very nice options available.


    Custom homebuilt.


    Custom homebuilt.

    If you’ve got the scratch, that’s not a bad way to go… sort of (follow me on this).

    If you don’t know what you’re doing, almost everywhere has at least one local shop that builds and services their own label to order. You will definitely get better product and service from them.

    They tend to cost a little (lot) more, however…

    Now… if you’ve got the confidence and/or experience… your own custom build is good, too. I’ve got the confidence and experience, but not necessarily the knowledge of the individual interior parts to buy the right ones. I’d likely get either some seriously inadequate parts to mate to some over-adequate parts, or some of the connections would be wrong….

    Give me a box with the parts, and I would be fine.


    I’m in the same boat, but I know I’ll be going custom again as I’ve been building my own since the Pentium II days. I’ll say that the new Dells around the office have been nothing but problems (mostly hard drives), while the old HP I’m currently dealing with (I opted not to upgrade at the time the rest of the team got the Dells) has been rock solid. On the flip side, I hear nothing but horror stories from people I know who work for HP, and the last HP laptop I had was a PITA.


    How about we bang out which things are handy?

    Backing up photos is important, what’s a good back up medium these days? BD-Rs? external hard drives? tape drives?

    I think a nice mouse is worth it.

    Maybe an IPS LCD with at least 8 bits of dynamic range per color.



    ‘Nother vote for homebuilt. You’ll lay out more initially, but the cost over the next 5-6 years is lower as likely all you’ll be doing is upgrading the video card and adding storage.

    Load it up with RAM, shoot for 16gig or more. High resolution RAW files expand considerably when converted to 16bpc TIFF; a 5DII image makes for a 120meg file. If you get into anything fancy such as a 12 image HDR panorama, you’re suddenly looking at over 4gig of raw image data, and that assumes only 3 bracketed shots per frame. It’s better to go with more, slower, RAM than less, faster RAM in cases like that if money is an issue as overflowing into swap or pagefile will mean heading off to bed and hoping something gets accomplished by the time you get up in the morning. My laptop has 4gig, and I don’t even bother trying to do panos with it, as I routinely wind up overflowing into, and then eating all of, my 10gig of swap space and crashing the OS. I know, make a bigger swap partition; but it’s not worth the excruciatingly slow progress you wind up with when dealing with swap.

    An SSDD on the main OS/swap partition will considerably speed things up all around, so if you can spare the scratch think about one. Main storage can still be standard HDs, but your system will be MUCH more responsive running on an SSDD.


    I’ll just leave this as a warning, my dell’s best feature was its 3 year warranty.


    I have been firmly entrenched in the DIY build camp since 1991, however as many
    of you know, if you leave the camp for a year, little of what you knew remains relevant
    besides very basic skills.

    Having said that, last September when I jumped at a 7D body at price you still can’t get
    the 25 megabyte images were too much for my two year old system. I asked a friend
    who stays closer to “the camp” than me and he pointed me here:$1K

    I used this as a basis for parts selection and am quite pleased. Running Win7 64 bit.
    If anyone wants the specific part numbers, post the request here and I will follow up.


    Are you looking for a computer specifically to handle photos as it’s primary job? Or is it multipurpose/multiuse?


    Hardware: Um… I haven’t been “camping” since around 1994. My current HP laptop was bought at an chain office supply store as the display model. I could assemble one from parts, but part selection then become the difficulty. The last time I stuck a chip in a slot it was an 8087 (8 MHz).

    Software: This is one of the things I dislike about the current state of affairs of computing: the incessant automatic upgrades. For two reasons: 1. While my hardware remains the same, why would I need new software or be capable of running new software, 2. It allows coders to be lazy and put out buggy code. Anyway, I’m really not very software invested. MS Office is the only thing I’ve spent money on. I’ve been sticking with free software for imagery manipulation so far. What’s this Photo Shop thing I keep hearing about? From that little company that makes Page Maker? It that really necessary, and which version? Buy or lease?

    Plugs, ports, peripherals: USB, SDHC, CF, SCSI, WTF? How do I do all this DIY? Are the part of the case, are there plug in modules, wtf? I’m good on selecting my own mouse and keyboard, and I just picked up a new (low-end) Canon inkjet (is Nikon ever going to “close the loop” on digital? 🙂 ). I was thinking more exotic peripherals like a tablet.

    Storage: 1TB? 3TB? Twins? Back-up capability? Blue-ray burner? 9 track tape drives (for that circa 1980 movie look)?

    Monitors and video cards…? Single, twins,… three-way? Calibratable? (At least w/ CRTs all you had to do was take the case off and screw with the color channel amplifiers to calibrate.)

    Last, but certainly not least: desk and chair. I like the sound of the Herman Miller Aeron chair, but I might like something with a bit more padding. I could see my self in a dual pedestal desk with overhead storage as well.


    After looking at my local Mom & Pop’s PC store and deciding that they were slightly out of date, I used the following sites for building my latest PC:

    Purchase Parts – NewEgg ( You might be able to find a better place if you search harder, but this is where my friends suggested I start. I bought a bundled kit and then upgraded from there. More memory, disk space, video, etc. I have dual ATI Radeon HD 5850 video cards, but I did that more for gaming than photography. Not really sure I am getting my money’s worth yet.

    Build the PC – – I had built one previous computer, but that was a little while ago (10 years +). Found this place on the web that asisted me in putting together my PC. Not exactly the same as mine, but close enough that I felt safe putting it together.

    Installing Win 7 – – Software should be easier to install, this page made it simple.

    Monitor – 36″ LG flat panel from Best Buy. Probably find better / cheaper online, but I found this one on sale when I was looking for something else.

    The external ports are usually built into your motherboard and case.


    If building your own is just too much to do, I do love my HP Pavilion desktop. It’s about 6 years old now but it runs intensive MMO games well and has no problem with resource hungry photo editing software like Lightroom. Obviously something new is going to have better internals, but I bought it because it had expandable RAM slots and at the time 250GB of memory was a lot. I replaced the video card on it with a Nvidia geForce 5100 Professional and added more RAM. I have a Samsung 26″ flat screen monitor that I got from CostCo, which is a great place to get a deal on that sort of stuff. Then, I have a Razr Lycosa keyboard and DeathAdder mouse which aren’t needed for photography but they’re comfortable, durable and look cool.


    I typically build my own computers too since I like picking exactly what components go into the system. And I also enjoy turning a bunch of boards, cables and random crap into a working thing. But the last time I went out shopping to buy parts to build a desktop, the guy at the shop told me that for another $45 they would assemble whatever I bought and give me a 12 month warranty on it. OK, I don’t love assembling things THAT much….

    So you might want to ask the local computer shop how much they charge to build a system from the parts you purchase. If it’s $45 in Silicon Valley, it might be even less in less insane parts of the country.

    As for backup devices…. IMO disk is pretty inexpensive these days and it’s really simple to setup USB attached external backup disks with adapters that just let you push/pull disks on the fly, or buy multi-disk external adapters. So you can just keep the disk from your old computer as external backup drives when you upgrade, or buy cheap/slow drives when you see them on sale. Your backup disks don’t need to be fast, they are connected via USB anyway.

    And another thought on SSD’s instead of traditional disks… They are much, MUCH quieter and don’t use as much power either. So it’s definitely worth considering.

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