Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Photographer's PC

My dad's a photographer in need of a new PC. So this afternoon we sat down and ordered one.

The main goal of this PC is to process raw files into jpegs quickly.

Raw files are analogous to digital negatives, they contain *all* the information the sensor sucks in once a picture is taken, unlike jpegs which remove non-discernible information to keep files sizes small. Raws can be very handy once you are editing your pictures, raws give photographers way more room to manoeuvre when editing, e.g. tweaking a picture's exposure or recovering a picture from under or overexposure.

First thing to choose was between Apple, Windows or Linux.

I use Linux so I'm biased toward it (check it out here!) but unfortunately you can't get any pro quality raw processing software for it. Bumber!

So, it's that old chestnut again, Apple vs. Windows!!

I loathe Windows. I work on XP everyday, this OS is 7 fscking years old already (my Linux OS gets refreshed every 6 months, it's beautiful software btw...) and from all accounts Vista is like XP ME. Yuck!

I haven't used OSX all that much, but it's lovable! :)

So why then did I choose Windows over Apple? Well before I answer that, let's deal with another choice, dual core vs quad core processors.

A key ingredient necessary for quick raw file processing is cores, lots and lots of cores. Dual cores are great for everyday use, they're really snappy for users who do at most two heavy load tasks at a time, basically 95% of users.

Raw file processing is different though. My dad could have 20 files upwards being processed at one time! 5 files per processor will be gobbled up much more quickly than 10 files per processor, even if the individual gigahertz per processor is slower.

The problem with Macs is that however sweet they are, their quad core Mac Pros have a starting price of €2,000. iMacs are great machines, but are limited to dual cores.

So Windows it is. Did I mention how much I hate Windows?

Dell, Acer, Lenovo, HP all make good quality machines. Problem is, they never give you exactly what you want, and if you want something (like extra RAM or hard disk) you'll have to pay through the nose for it.

That's why I build my own PCs. Building your own PC is really simple, and pretty interesting. What you end up with is a tailor made PC for less than you would pay for an off-the-rails Dell model.

I used this guide to get an idea about what components to look out for at the moment and tweaked from there. Vital statistics:

Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 2.50GHz 6M. Pretty much 2 iMac or MacBook Pro processors in one machine, sweet!! :) Interestingly Dell are still selling the older model to unsuspecting customers!

4GB Corsair RAM for €80. RAM from Apple or Dell is expensive - e.g. a 3GB RAM upgrade for a Mac costs €240, that's 4x more expensive!

1TB hard disk. Only an option on top end iMacs which start at around €1,900. And then the upgrade from 500GB costs €200. This Samsung 1TB hard disk cost a meagre €130 on the other hand! Lots of big image files means lots of storage is a must.

150GB 10,000 RPM hard disk. This baby isn't even an option with Dell or Apple as far as I could see. We'll install Vista on this disk as it runs 33% quicker than 99% of hard disks out there, giving Vista and all the other programs running off this disk a boost.

ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics with 256MB memory. This is the graphics card in the €2,500 Mac Pro. Graphics cards aren't a huge deal for raw processing, this will more than suffice, and it only costs €75, yikes!

With the other bits and pieces we kept to top quality brand name components - another advantage over Dells or Macs -- you know you're buying good components from the ground up, not just shiny cases!

Everything including Windows Vista 64bit cost €1050 (from Dabs) beating similar systems from Apple and Dell on price /and/ on specs - my dad is getting /exactly/ what he needs to do his job as efficiently and cost effectively as possible.


Anymatters said...

it's good to use another competing operating system as long as it's compatible with some softwares.

anyway, thanks John. i think i still have a couple of stubbies for you, mate. :) cheers

David said...

I've been wanting to build my own PC for a while. I'll do it for sure when I get back to Australia next year - not for photography, but for home recording - that's a music studio in a mattress-lined bedroom with a Pro-Tools M-Box and second hand condensor mics which will bust the budget necessitating the home-built PC :)

johnorford said...

what's an m-box and what are condenser mikes?

johnorford said...

also, anymatters, what r stubbies??

David said...

ahaha...M-Box is the name of a popular model of all-in-one audio-digital converters which sends the signal from the condenser mic (a type of microphone used in recording studios and expensive)into the PC where an application (Pro-Tools) is used to mix and edit the now digital signal.

johnorford said...

aha, so u can't just get a decent soundcard and do the same thing? well obv not...

btw linux has a pretty neato sound editing program: jokosher.

Dominic said...

I'm envious John! Bought my comp a few months ago and its seems like its already way outdated!
These are the specs:

Ah well, guess I'll have to start saving up again!