Building a PC optimized for Photoshop and other graphics use

My old notebook won’t last much longer, I imagine, so I guess I should start thinking about a new PC (I’ll go with a larger LCD screen and a desktop PC this time). I’m clueless about processors, memory, accelerators etc., so let me ask this:

If you were building a PC with frequent Photoshopping in mind and wanted it to be able to have scores of hi-res pics open at the same time, perform complex processes like liquify and so on, what setup would you pick? Do I need something like a graphics card or accelerator, or is an excellent CPU enough nowadays? :help:

I’m looking at peak performance within an ordinary person’s budget, preferably under $60,000 or so for the whole system including monitor. Reliability and longevity are also desired.

And as an afterthought, if I wanted to plug a VCR into the computer so I could convert old tapes into DVDs, what kind of equipment would I need? And to get good stills from DVDs and videos?

Any advice? Thanks!

I’ll give it 5 minutes before someone posts telling you to buy a Mac.

Yeah, and I used to swear by Macs too, but when I came to Taiwan I had all kinds of trouble getting service and software. And since I have important files to work on using three different computers and two of them are and always will be PCs (at work), I really want to be running the same OS on all three, to avoid having to convert, learn different shortcuts and so on. So this is a PC-only request. :frowning:

I did a bit of research for you, and from what I gathered, the Photoshop engine doesn’t really delegate much work to the GPU (graphics processing unit), so perhaps get a mid range PCI express graphics cards with ~512MB memory. Don’t get a cheap one, but its not the most important part of the setup.

What you want is an f’ing good processor (never get the best one because its always too expensive). Stick with Intel. If you can afford it get a Core 2 extreme, otherwise Core 2 duo, and get perhaps 2 Gig of system memory. That will set u good for at least 2 years, possibly 3.

DB -
An Intel Core 2, 2gig of DDRII ram memory, a good graphics card - 256 or 512 or so(NVidea or ATI), with a HD of 250g @ 7200 with a good 18 - 20" LCD monitor will easily fall into your budget. With mucho change left-over.

Also consider an AMD dual processor as an alternative.

Working with images needs load of RAM. 2GB at least to be on the safe side. I wouldn’t have thought the graphics card is that important, most of the work is done on the CPU. You just need it able to run high resolutions, and on multiple monitors is probably useful.

I find having a second physical drive for a scratch disk makes a lot of difference to performance.
I’d still take a big CRT monitor for the finer dot spacing and more accurate color, especially if you produce work for printing. I haven’t yet seen an LCD that matches a good quality CRT. Get a graphics card that will support the highest resolutions at full color and still run high refresh rates. Avoid eye-strain.

What’s that? Who makes it and how does it differ from the above-recommended Intel?

Now that you mention it, I remember that’s key to improving Photoshop’s performance, acc. to something I read.

I don’t; this is just for fun. I Photoshop as a hobby, and am sick of having to wait so long for certain processes to run, especially when I’ve got a lot open. The better LCD’s are probably ok for what I’m doing, and my desk space is limited.

So there seems to be quite a bit of disagreement over whether this is needed or not. Photoshop will pretty much be the only software I’m using that has intensive graphic demands, and I don’t play video games anymore (way too addictive :smiley: ). So I guess I’d like to hear more about this graphics card issue – and if I DO get one, any recommendations? I’m gonna have some trouble communicating “support the highest resolutions at full color and still run high refresh rates.” in Chinese at Guanghua, I’m afraid. My Chinese in technical areas is quite lacking. Are the cards expensive? If Photoshop isn’t using it much, in what other applications or areas would it be helping?

I wouldn’t be surprised if all I need is that hot processor y’all mentioned; after all, I’m doing okaaaaay on the current machine, which is probably about 5.5 years old, and which wasn’t top of the line at the time anyway. No idea what’s inside it, really. :laughing: How do I check that, anyway? :blush:

Anyway, thanks to all for your kind advice!

I just build a monster gaming system a few weeks ago, so hopefully am still current on what is good to get.

Get an Intel Core 2 Duo for sure, but not an Extreme. They are expensive, and the lesser ones will overclock to the same speeds. My E6600 easily overclocked from 2.4 Ghz to 3.2 Ghz, above the stock speeds of the Extreme. The 6300’s are currently about $7000, and should easily clock to 3.0Ghz on stock air cooling. By the way, expect price cuts from Intel at the end of April.

What operating system? If Vista, 2GB of memory minimum, 3 is even better. I bought an excellent set of G.Skill HZ series DDR2 PC 6400 4-4-4-12 memory for only about 7700nt for 2GB. MUCH cheaper than Corsair.

Get a motherboard with Intel’s 965 chipset. Asus builds good ones. Look for enough firewire, usb, and sata ports.

For hard drives, 320 GB seems to be the sweet spot now for price vs. capacity. I am very happy with my Western Digital HDD’s, quiet and fast.

A crazy gaming oriented video card won’t help your photo editing much. Any mid range card can support high resolution monitors, and they all provide comparable image quality. nVidia’s 8600 GT just hit the stores. It should provide pretty good gaming performance if that is important to you, supports DX10 (but this needs Vista), and will probably be about 6000.

Get a good power supply, something from Enermax or Zippy or Corsair. You will regret a cheap one.

I really like my 22" monitor. Maybe not as accurate as a CRT, but BIG. Lots of real estate for your image, plus all the toolbars.

Hope this helps.

Oh, my computer is in a room without AC (I’ve never really liked AC). Are there options like bigger or multiple internal fans which I should be considering?

[quote] By the way, expect price cuts from Intel at the end of April.

Very valuable, since I’m not in a hurry unless this one dies tomorrow. Thanks!

XP Pro for now.

[quote]Get a motherboard with Intel’s 965 chipset. Asus builds good ones. Look for enough firewire, usb, and sata ports.

Yeah, I’d like four or more USB ports. But what are ‘firewire’ and ‘sata’?

[quote]I really like my 22" monitor. Maybe not as accurate as a CRT, but BIG. Lots of real estate for your image, plus all the toolbars.

Yeah, the PS tool bars and having multiple images open requires a lot of space!

Look for a graphics card that has both DVI and VGA inputs for the monitor (which should be almost all cards). Then hook 2 monitors up to it - 1 for the image, and the other for all the Photoshop toolbars and palettes. Ensure that the main monitor at least, if not both, are true 8-bit screens - look in the specs. If it says 16.7million colors, it’ll be 8 bit, if it’s 16.2million, it’ll be 6-bit. You’ll probably need to spend at least $15K for the main monitor, but you’re 2nd one can be a cheapy - mine 2nd monitor is a widescreen Acer which cost about $6K, whereas my main editing monitor is a $20K Viewsonic.

Almost any graphics card should do, unless you plan to do any 3D work. For photo’s and other images, Photoshop doesn’t really care what graphics card you’ve got.

As others have said, 2GB RAM. If you can afford more RAM, then get more. Photoshop is a memory hog, it likes a lot of RAM.

[quote]Yeah, I’d like four or more USB ports. But what are ‘firewire’ and ‘sata’?[/quote]Firewire is a bit like USB but for connecting to video cameras, probably not useful to you. SATA is a connection from the motherboard to the hard disc, it’s a replacement for IDE. I imagine there aren’t many motherboards around without them, but you might want to make sure you get a motherboard and hard disc with the latest and fastest one, SATA 2 ?

I agree with wanting digital connections from your video card to monitor, you want DVI instead of (analogue) VGA. Image quality is important.

If you are really not into gaming, the new nVidia 8500 GTshould be great. Should be cheaper and in stores right away.

Regarding cooling, get a good case with 120mm fans, I bought this one for 3900: … x=4&type=b , has big fans and is all aluminum. The stock Intel fan should be fine, but if you want something quieter that has much better cooling and better for overclocking, get a Thermalright Ultra 120 for 2200. Better than a cheap water cooling system.

Better motherboards should provide 8 USB ports. Firewire is similar to USB, but mostly used on video cameras and external hard drives. SATA ports are on the inside, new hard drives plug into them. Most mobo’s have at least four, will allow for 3 hard drives plus a DVD burner running on the fourth.

Defiantly lots of ram! Like Cfimages says it is a memory hog.

I saw a big difference in aplication load times between IDE and SATA but not much difference in image load times. That point is mute anyway just try and find an IDE only motherboard.

Setting up Windows on 1 partition (80gb) and then setting the scratch disk and all your image saves to a different partition is best for many reasons, most being when windows goes wonky and you need to reformat.

As a personal note I had 2 Western digital drives burn out on me in under a year, both were produced in Malaysia and both were 320gb. Granted they were under HEAVY load during the hot months here but even with the A/C on it was to much for them. Lemel now holds the service on WD in Taiwan and they DO NOT give you new drives only refurbs (even after 1 month). Currently very happy with Seagates (course the hot months are not here yet :astonished: )

Memory just went up in price a couple of weeks ago…but I hear processors are coming down now.

Any video card capable of resolutions of 1600x1050 (for the widescreen) is going to make you a happy photoshop guy.

[quote=“Blackrobe”]Setting up Windows on 1 partition (80gb) and then setting the scratch disk and all your image saves to a different partition is best for many reasons, most being when windows goes wonky and you need to reformat.[/quote]I disagree. Setting a different partition from the system drive for the scratch is better, but a separate physical drive is much better. I’ve tried it both ways on the same system and PS runs much faster with two physical drives, especially when large images are open, or lots of them. If you’re using IDE drives you get even better performance if the second drive is on a different IDE channel.

I’ll agree with redwagon here. A scratch disk on a separate physical drive is best. Consider a small (30Gb) fast (10000rpm) disk to use as a scratch disk and a scratch disk only. Don’t put any data/aps on it. Just an empty drive for use as a scratch disk.

You can get small fans that attach to each physical drive and provide cooling for the drive only. They require a bit more space in the box, but are a cheap and easy way of keeping the drives cool. That said, I don’t use them, as I don’t have enough space in my box, and I’ve had no problems with my PC in a non-AC room.

There’s a lot of good info on about computers built for image editing and Photoshop.

Have a read of a few threads in the link, you should find some good information.

Beautiful responses, thanks all! :notworthy:

As for the scratch disks, my main info, now that I recall, was actually from the Help file in PS, which reads as follows:

[quote] When your system does not have enough RAM to perform an operation, Photoshop and ImageReady use a proprietary virtual memory technology, also called scratch disks. A scratch disk is any drive or a partition of a drive with free memory. By default, Photoshop and ImageReady use the hard drive that the operating system is installed on as its primary scratch disk.

  You can change the primary scratch disk and, in Photoshop, designate a second, third, or fourth scratch disk to be used when the primary disk is full. [b]Your primary scratch disk should be your fastest hard disk[/b], and should have plenty of [b]defragmented [/b]space available.

  The following guidelines can help you assign scratch disks:
      * For best performance, scratch disks [b]should be on a different drive than any large files you are editing.
      * Scratch disks should be on a different drive than the one used for virtual memory.
      * Scratch disks should be on a local drive. That is, they should not be accessed over a network.[/b]
      * Scratch disks should be conventional (non-removable) media.
      * Raid disks/disk arrays are good choices for dedicated scratch disk volumes.
      * Drives with scratch disks should be defragmented regularly.[/quote] 

For what it’s worth. :idunno:

All good advice here DB. The only thing I’d be concerned about is the lack of A/C. There’s a reason why heavily used PCs are usually stored in well air-ed and cool environments. It prolongs shelf-life. These things run really hot and need the cooling. Protect your investment if only have a small dedicated external fan blowing on the casing instead of external A/C.

Key components - industrial grade case to support industrial grade cooling fans internally. Don’t skimp on the mobo. Loads of RAM - Transcend, Kingston have been very reliable in TW (Apacer ok). 2 physical HDs - not necessarily >250GB but fast (and never WDs), I’d recommend storing finished files onto an external USB HD, rather than on the same PC as your working files.

If you built it, it should be come out to around NTD 30-35K with the components.

You could also ask Nam for advice as well. He’s always great for resourcing for parts and builds great machines. Highly recommended.

EDIT: Don’t forget to have the proper power supply. Usually minimum 300 or 350W but depending on how many periphals and fans inside, you probably have to go bigger on the PS. So revised cost would be around NTD 35-40K IMO.

Good advice there – actually I do have a 6" fan blowing right on my notebook for this reason.

Wazzat? :saywhat:

Oh, file transfer speeds are way too slow via USB! When I save a 10mb PSD file onto my USB flash, it takes eons. Or is that a flash and not a USB problem? :eh:


I may just do that this time, thanks!