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What is a good computer for Photo Editing? - Short Version


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What is a good computer for Photoshop?

Brian! Just tell me what to buy!

This is the short version of my really long article, which goes more in-depth of why I recommend the things that I do. I'm going to break things down into sections, that hopefully will make it easier to follow, which allow you to make better choices when shopping for a new computer.

Please note, at the time of this writing, July 17, 2020, COVID-19 HAS MADE VIRTUALLY ALL NEW COMPUTERS WAY MORE EXPENSIVE!! The reason being, at least from my personal opinion, is the manufactuers are trying to recover losses due to the global shutdown. This shutdown has affected more than just the computer manufactuers, but the companies that make the physical bits-and-pieces that make up the computer parts themselves. Things are behind production-wise, so there are less components, which drives up prices. So in reality, now is not the time to be in the market for a new computer. In fact, Windows-based computers are around the same price-point as Apple Computers, which historically have been more expensive than their Windows Computer Counterparts. Today's $1000 PC was last year's $400-$500 model. If you want something decent that will last you a bit longer than 18-24 months, you will need to increase your budget by at least $1000. Well, maybe not that high, possibly $500 or so, but in reality you are paying more for a computer today than you would have a year or so ago.

Now that's out of the way, let's get started.

As with any computer, there is no such thing as "Too Much," or "Too Fast," especially when it comes to RAM or Hard Drive Capacity. More is always better. The one thing has changed is the video card requirements. Adobe products from today are utilizing the Video Card's GPU and Video RAM to increase performance. In fact, they have become just as important as a CPU chip selection with the current versions of Photoshop CC.

Here are the current recommendations that I look for when helping members choose a new computer for Photo-Editing. This list is always evolving and is subject to change without notice.

  • Intel i7 / Intel i9 (or AMD Equivalent) - This is the brain of the computer.

Honestly for Photoshop-still work? An Intel i7 or AMD equivalent is fine. Intel i9 CPU chips, while faster...are a bit of overkill for Photoshop; the reason being that Adobe Photoshop is just now starting to take advantage of what made a i7 CPU much faster than a i5. I'd much rather see a person choose a slightly slower CPU chip, like an Intel i7 and to put those savings towards a better Video Card.

  • A video card that has is own separate and dedicated Video RAM. 4GB (Minimum) / 8GB (Preferred).

This is a very critical and can trip you up if you aren't paying attention. If the computer you are purchasing does not list the dedicated video memory that it contains, I can say with the utmost certainty that the Graphics Card is integrated into the motherboard and is using a portion of the RAM in order to work. For today's modern Adobe Products, you want to AVOID this type of configuration. The reason is that Adobe's software is taking advantage of the untapped Video Card GPU Power for a performance boost. So going forward, choosing the right video card becomes just as important as selecting a CPU Chip and you want one that has dedicated Video Memory. Period. It doesn't have to be ultra-fancy, just "enough." Video Cards that have 4GB - 8GB of video memory is "fine" for Photoshop work. I personally tend to look for video cards that contain 8GB of Dedicated Video RAM.

  • RAM: 16GB (Minimum) - 32GB or more (Preferred) This is probably the easiest thing for people to spot.

Do not buy a computer that comes with 8GB, unless you are planning on upgrading it right away. Today's 16GB / 32GB was yesterday's 4GB / 8GB. Soon, I'm sure that number will increase to 32GB / 64GB. For most people out there, I'd say 32GB is the "Sweet Spot" for RAM, unless you have a really high MP camera, like a Nikon D850. For cameras that contain 45-60MP or more, you really want to get a computer that has 64GB of RAM. Or at the very least, buy an upgrade kit to get it to 64GB after the initial computer purchase. 

If you do purchase a new computer that only has 8GB, it will run very slow; especially when you load Photoshop and a batch of Photos. Often, this is the primary reason on why a person's computer is "So slow..." at least the #1 answer for when they post a new thread here or on FB Ask Damien. So do yourself a favor, and be sure to get at least 16GB of RAM from the very start.

  • 500GB Main Hard Drive, preferably a SSD / m.2 model or better yet, a main Main Drive with 1TB capacity.

Likewise to the above bullet-point, choosing the correct HD capacity seems to be the biggest thing that people get wrong and the #1 thing I correct, besides the video card.

I understand, resellers want to make money and make things appear "affordable" to the masses. They also want to keep their COGS low, so often then will install a REALLY SMALL Main HD / Boot HD and then add on a second larger HD. In reality, this isn't a bad thing, it's just that people are so used to dumping all files, photos, and other miscellaneous data on the C Drive. With a 240GB or 250GB (or smaller) hard drive, a HD of that capacity is meant for the Windows Operating system ONLY. Maybe one or two programs...that's it! No files. No Photos. None of that stuff.

If you get a computer that has a HD that small, you will need to by HYPER-ANAL on what is installed on the C - Drive (OS) at all times. The days of clicking, "Next-Next-Next...OK...OK...Next, Next, Finish" are gone if you have a small HD. You will need to always go into the "Custom" installation routines to install programs on the D - Drive (Data). You will more than likely need to move the PS Scratch Disk over to it as well, possibly the Windows Swap-file too. (Pagefile.sys). All photos and data get stored on the D Drive, no matter what. In short, it's a real pain-in-the-ass for your overall computer experience if you have a Microscopic Main Boot HD. So whatever you do,  make sure you pay attention to what HD configuration the computer has. Often, it's the very first thing I look for. If I can't upgrade the HD to something larger, I skip that PC and move on.

  • A second hard drive, at least 1TB or larger, that is a 7200 RPM model with emphasis on "...or larger," meaning 8TB or more.

Now, if you get a larger main HD...say a 1TB m.2 Drive, you can skip this to help with the cost. 1TB is fine for today's modern computer, will allow you to install programs and keep the OS happy. It also allows you, within reason, to store data / photos / music-collections on it too. Now don't get me wrong, HDs are not dumping grounds, and you really don't ever want to go above 75%-80% full, but a 1TB HD will give you more wiggle-room than a 500GB model. Definitely a lot more than a 250GB model. Bottom Line: In my humble opinion try and get a computer that comes with a 1TB Main HD, regardless if its a traditional HD or a m.2 / SSD model.

  • A power supply that has enough wattage to support the video card and various components.

This is self-explanatory. Often manufacturer's websites will warn you to upgrade the P/S to a higher model when you choose a better video card. 850 Watts seems to be a good overall number, though is some cases you can go a little bit lower, like 650 Watts. Unfortunately, there is not "Bottom Line" recommendation for this, because it's really circumstantial on what is installed in the computer itself.

  • IPS-Based Display using a HDMI or DisplayPort interface.

Fortunately, this item is a bit easier to find when it comes to Desktop Computers. Why is IPS so important? The reason is an IPS Display Panel, which stands for In-Plane Switching, ensures that colors, contrast, brightness, and sharpness are consistent from edge-to-edge. Which is what you want for Photoshop work. Make sense? There are a lot of IPS Displays to choose from and aren't too expensive if you want something decent. No, you do not need to spend $3000 on a Eizo Display, unless you want to, a $300 Dell IPS Display will work nicely.

Oh, why a HDMI or DisplayPort interface? Because they are meant for today's modern / fancy flat-screens. The older 15-Pin Blue VGA Cable, that has been around since 1989 was only meant for CRT (Tube) Displays that went up to 20" or 21". Not a 27" flatscreen. When you use a Digital Connection, such as a HDMI cable or a DisplayPort, the image that appears is just so much better. Colors are more accurate, brightness is usually better and the overall sharpness is also better.

Now, if you are wondering the difference between a DisplayPort and a DisplayPort Mini type of cable...it really doesn't matter between those two. Just utilize the one your monitor has. As for what's the difference between HDMI and DisplayPort...DisplayPort is the future and is much better at 4K video displays. But a HDMI cable will work fine for your typical Non-4K 24" or 27" display. Bottom Line: Choose DisplayPort today if you can. It's going to become the new standard.

That's the basic specifications or foundation of what I typically recommend as a "Good Computer for Photo Editing." If you want to know WHY I've chosen these items, again...please give this article a read.

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