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Help me pick computer for photo editing

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by Darin Berdinka, Apr 25, 2019.

  1. Darin Berdinka

    Darin Berdinka Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Nov 30, 2018
    Bellingham, WA
    Hello. Our family computer (a 2011 macbook pro) has grown a bit long in tooth. Only thing we use it for is web-surfing, word processing and photo editing (LR6). Time to replace! with an emphasis on photo editing.

    Basic Requirements
    • Getting a windows machine. It's what I use for work and just never got comfortable with the Apple operating system.
    • Currently using LR6. Could seee upgrading to subscription model for PS.
    • Since it rarely leaves the house I think my money is far more effectively spent on a desktop and a good screen.
    • Would like to get good hardware but want to spend ~$1500 max.
    • I figure 16GB of ram and a 1TB hard drive meets my needs and my price point.
    • I don't want to overthink this.
    • I don't see the value in a touch screen. I don't do a lot of complicated masking and if I did a wacom type interface seems like a better option. Am I missing something?
    • How important is a graphics card if you don't really spend anytime at all editing video or gaming?
    • Harddrives? Desktops still seem to all be hdd. though some have a smaller ssd drive attached. Confused....any recommendations here?
    • BenQ sw2700pt monitor seems like the one to get. good choice?
    • desktops all seem to same to me once you match processor, ram, hard drive. How to differentiate?
    Currently leaning to
    • Dell XPS Tower (because why not?)
    • BenQ sw2700pt
    • Some sort of color calibration hardware.
    • Maybe a wacom at a later point in time.
    Any and all input much appreciated!
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2019
  2. DanS

    DanS Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 8, 2016
    Central IL
    $1500 for everything is going to be difficult.

    Touch screens are very much a personal preference, some people swear by them, others hate them.

    LR GPU accelerates some tasks, so your best bet is a mid range model with 4GB of vram or more.
    Adobe Lightroom GPU Troubleshooting and FAQ

    an m.2 nvme ssd will give your machine the most performance, specially if the light room database is on it.

    the BenQ sw2700pt should be fine. The SW240 is just as good if you are ok with HD and want to save some money. The SW271 is also and excellent UHD option but it's $1100.

    For a computer the devil is in the details.
    • when it comes to ram the number of channels, speed, and latency are as importants as the amount.
    • for drives old school spinning drives are the slowest, sata ssds are faster and m.2 nvme drives are the fastest.

    IMO, the best bang for your buck is when you buy components and custom build your machine. It requires knowledge, but you get a lot of bang for your buck that way.
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Like Like x 1
  3. John M Flores

    John M Flores Super Moderator

    Jan 7, 2011
    Spend 50% of your budget on a nice monitor - 27" + 1440p minimum + 100% sRGB + as much Adobe RGB that you can afford. Look for Dell refurbs.

    Spend the other 50% on a computer with an i5, 16GB RAM, and an SSD boot drive. Try to get USB-C for expandability/future-proofing. LR doesn't really use the GPU all that much. Check out Intel NUCs if space is a concern.

    Then budget about $200 each year for incremental upgrades to RAM, HD, backup, etc... to keep things fresh.
    • Agree Agree x 4
    • Like Like x 1
  4. phigmov

    phigmov Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Apr 4, 2010
    Get something with an SSD for the OS & Apps. Even the data if you can swing it.

    Use spinning disks for backups and bulk-storage (or things you can easily re-install like games which chew up space but can always be restored). If your family data-stash is relatively modest, you may even be able to get a couple of SSD external drives to pop your backups on too.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  5. Lawrence Beck

    Lawrence Beck Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 15, 2018
    Those who have posted before me and will undoubtedly post following my comment are more qualified to advise on what to choose. My only suggestion is this: Keep your 2011 MacBook Pro exclusively for web use. Don't use your new replacement for any online activity and you'll avoid the eventuality of viruses that can wreak havock... especially if you haven't dealt with them before.
    One thing I would advise is to make sure that your chosen gpu has at least 4gh VRAM. More is better. Software is moving more and more in the AI direction and AI programs are gpu intensive. Topaz Gigapixel AI, Sharpen AI and DeNoise AI crawls on my 2015 MacBook Pro Retina with just 2gb VRAM. A 4gb or better gpu will help to future proof your computer for a while. Dan's suggestions above are spot on!
    Best of luck with your decision! I'll be following this thread with interest.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2019
    • Like Like x 1
  6. ToxicTabasco

    ToxicTabasco Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 2, 2018
    South West USA
    One option is have a custom computer built by your local shops or big box stores. A custom gaming PC for $1500 will have the ability to do photo editing, and 4K video. If you've never been into shooting video, having a good workstation computer is essential. And, now would be a great time to learn how to shoot 4K.

    Intel and AMD sell new processors every 2 to 3 years. With that change comes different motherboards, memory, and other hardware. Thus, you can get a custom made older high end processor and computer for a good price. And, the other components that are going to be replaced will also be on sale. Thus, for $1300 you can get a good system that should last a decade. Avoid planning for upgrades, as it will cost you more in the long run. And, in 3+ years, a lot of the components will be outdated, and you'll need a new Processor, mother board, and OS to upgrade. Thus, the upfront cost may be higher, but you'll have a more powerful system that will last a decade without any upgrades.

    If money is a concern, go with a cheap keyboard, mouse, and monitor. These can be upgraded as time goes on.

    If you're totally against shooting video. You can get by with a much lower priced custom computer for about $600 for a low level processor, low power GPU, and low speed HD, and no need for SSD. This will save money on the purchase, and save pennies on the electricity bill.

    Good luck on your new build.
  7. rumplestiltskin

    rumplestiltskin Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 16, 2017
    El Paso, TX
    Display: Top of the line Viewsonic (2560x1440) 27", about $500 on Amazon. 3 year warranty standard. This is essentially an iMac screen but not glossy. (I prefer glossy but others may not.)
    Computer: Z390 motherboard, Core i7 9700, 16GB RAM (32GB is better still). Almost any video card that a system builder would want to stuff into that box is fine; you don't need any sort of high-end video card. SSDs are a must. The newest mobo's (like the Z390) can boot from an M.2 NVMe SSD (which is radically fast) but is probably not necessary. 500GB SATA SSD (Samsung EVO 860) for booting and LR catalog, 1TB version of the same for your photos (assuming you even need something that large). 2TB SSDs are also available but are eye-wateringly expensive. Consider dividing your catalogs (and their photos) into sub-1TB chunks.

    Hitting a $1500 price point for the computer may require a Core i7 8700 or even an AMD Rysen7 (the AMD CPU is pretty nice). Of course, that CPU requires a different motherboard.

    I'll suggest you visit ibuypower.com and send them off an eMail asking if they might suggest a nice "Lightroom Build" of a machine which would have 16+GB of RAM and SSDs with the fastest CPU in a machine they could sell you for about $1500. I've had some communication with their tech folks and have been pleased with their response.

    Edit: Regardless of mobo or CPU, the 16GB of RAM (or more) and SSDs are absolutely essential. As others have written, backup drives may be of the spinning variety.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. ac12

    ac12 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 24, 2018
    A gaming PC is actually a decent quick solution.

    I have the experience of using a laptop to do photo editing, and I did NOT like it.
    IMHO, here are some of the things you want
    • Mini-tower form factor. In my experience, it is the easiest to upgrade and maintain.
      • A laptop or all-in-one is usually not upgradable, and is "what you buy is what you have forever."
      • The new "thin" laptops are even worse, like your cell phone, you can't even change the battery without surgery to open the case.
    • CPU, FAST processor, 4 cores. Helps on editing SW, and you don't know the requirements of tomorrows SW.
    • GPU, I am totally ignorant on if and how much an editing SW will use a GPU, so will leave that to others.
      • A video card can always be added to a mini-tower later.
    • RAM, at least 8GB on a laptop 16GB on a desk/mini-tower.
      • Warning, some laptops have soldered in RAM, and CANNOT be upgraded.
    • SSD, rather than spinning HD. File saves during RAW to JPG conversions go much faster. And so will the Windows updates.
      • An alternative is to have a SSD as the primary drive, and a spinning 7200rpm HD as secondary storage. Work on the fast SSD then move the processed files to the slower HD. This lets you get a BIGGER data storage drive.
    • USB3 ports, so that you can backup your data FAST. Most new computers will have USB3 ports.
      • Caution, many external USB3 drives are marketing gimicks, to sell at a low price. They have a fast USB3 interface, but a slow (cheap) drive that does not make use of the speed potential of the USB3 interface. Although if you backup overnight, it may not matter.
    • Video, the mini-tower lets you change/upgrade the monitor later, if needed. Or, to use two monitors.
      • With a laptop, you are stuck with the screen that you bought. Many laptops will drive a 2nd monitor, but not all work well using both at once as an extended desktop.
      • A separate monitor allows you to position it at the correct height, so that you won't get a sore neck or back from leaning down looking at the laptop screen.
    • OS and SW notes:
      • Each version of MS Windows has placed more burden on the hardware, so older computers cannot run the current OS. So you have to plan to have enough computer resources that you won't be stuck at the next OS upgrade.
      • Similar with new or updated software, you don't know what the computer requirements will be.
        • Example, I have a 2-core PC that is just fine for most stuff I do, but when I run a certain SW, the CPU is up at 95-100% (on both cores), and the computer slows down to where I cannot do anything else. So much for multitasking.
  9. Brian Beezley

    Brian Beezley Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    My last computer cost $120. My current computer cost $145. My 100% sRGB display was $27. Speed has never been an issue. I've processed thousands of RAW images with these computers.

    • Like Like x 1
  10. John M Flores

    John M Flores Super Moderator

    Jan 7, 2011
    Do an Amazon search for "adobergb 27 1440". There's a 25" Dell UP2516D for $399 and other affordable options. There are 4k monitors for similar prices but they won't be 100% AdobeRGB. That's important for photography.
  11. ac12

    ac12 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 24, 2018
    It all depends on what your tolerance level is.
    And how long you are willing to wait for that processing bar to move from 0 to 100%.
    I did a dozen for my nephew of his wedding on the laptop, but the rest had to wait till I could come home and do it on the faster desktop.
  12. Darin Berdinka

    Darin Berdinka Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Nov 30, 2018
    Bellingham, WA
    All of this is much appreciated. Thank you. Will try and make sense of it all and report back once I commit.
    • Like Like x 1
  13. retiredfromlife

    retiredfromlife Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2016
    Sydney, Australia
    Does the choice of graphic card make a big difference when trying to calibrate your monitor or use a non calibrated one?

    I remember back in my gaming days there was a huge difference in on screen colours between AMD & Nvidia cards. Especially for blue water or showing fog [semi transparent areas] etc.

    Is one or the other better for photography?
  14. mnhoj

    mnhoj There and back again and again Subscribing Member

    Dec 3, 2011
    Los Angeles
    John M
    • Agree Agree x 1
  15. morphodone

    morphodone Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 27, 2018
    I haven't read all the posts but you should consider building your own pc. Just start watching youtube videos from Bitwit and Paul's Hardware. They have builds every month that pick out components and have complete tutorial videos on how to build systems. Theses are fantastic resources and very helpful.


    Paul's Hardware
    • Informative Informative x 1
  16. ac12

    ac12 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 24, 2018
    There are people that should NOT be allowed to touch the inside of a computer. :eek: 
    It is easy for a techie, but I cringe when I watch what some people do.
  17. Linh

    Linh Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Apr 14, 2009
    Maryland, US
    It has been hammered already... a boot/catalog/workspace-to-an-extent SSD is a must today. Even a cheap one (but not too cheap).
    • Agree Agree x 1
  18. snaimpally

    snaimpally Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Dec 31, 2012
    I'd get at least an i5 processor. If you are on a budget, consider Dell refurbs. You can get an i5 small form factor desktop with Windows O/S for $110. These were leased to corporations and have been returned after the lease is over to Dell. You can upgrade to Windows 10 for free.
    Dell Refurbished Desktop Computers, shop daily deals from Dell Refurbished Store - 7010

    I have seen an 32" QHD (2560x1440) IPS Display on sale for $220 several times. Keep an eye out for sales (dealnews.com is a good place to keep an eye out for deals).

    Gaming computers are designed for heavy duty graphics output so check your local Craigslist etc. - gamers are always trying to get an edge and are constantly upgrading so you may be able to buy a used gaming machine cheap.

    Upgrade the machine to use an SSD - you will have much faster boot times and operations will fly. Most of the time it is not the processor but the disk I/O that is slowing the computer.
  19. jdcope

    jdcope Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    May 21, 2015
    Your price point shouldnt be a problem. But honestly, just buy something from Dell. They are really solid machines.
    Your monitor is what you need to be picky about, as its what you will be looking at when editing.
  20. jdcope

    jdcope Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    May 21, 2015
    The monitor is going to be the part you want to worry about for calibration.
    You dont need a dedicated video card for photos. Maybe for video. But the newer Intel and AMD cpus have pretty capable video hardware built right on the cpu die now. And almost every mainstream PC you would buy from a manufacturer is going to use that for video output.
    • Informative Informative x 1
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