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What is a good Windows Computer for Photo Editing?

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What is a good computer for Photo Editing?

What is a good computer to buy?

I need a new Windows computer, what should I look for?

I just came off of hiatus as a Photographer and need a new computer, what should I look for?


These questions, or variations of them, are probably the #1 most asked hardware question here in Ask Damien, both on Facebook and the Website. Coming in at a close second is probably, "What is a good laptop for Photo Editing?" and finally, at third place is the Macintosh-based questions: "Are Macs better for Photo Editing?" "Should I buy a Mac? I'm told they are better...etc, etc." Often, I will state my minimum requirements, with an emphasis on my preferred suggestions, which are:

Minimum Requirements:

  • CPU - Intel i7 (or AMD Equivalent)
  • RAM - 16GB RAM
  • Main HD - 500GB, either a traditional platter-based 7200RPM hard drive or a SSD / m.2 model.
  • Second HD - A second "Data Hard Drive," either an internal or external, that has a capacity of 4TB or more, i.e. 6-8TB.
  • Video - A video card that has is own separate and dedicated Video RAM that contains 2-4GB Video RAM (emphasis on 4GB)
  • Power Supply - A power supply that has enough wattage to support the video card and various components
  • Operating System - Windows 10 Home
  • Monitor / Display - An IPS-Based Display Panel that uses a HDMI or DisplayPort interface. AVOID using the traditional Blue VGA 15-pin port.

Preferred Recommendations:

  • CPU - Intel i9 (or AMD Equivalent)
  • Motherboard that has a TPM 2.0 Module, which Windows 11 requires.
  • RAM - 64GB
  • Main HD - 1TB SSD / m.2 Drive
  • Second HD - A second "Data Hard Drive," either an internal or external, that has a capacity of 10TB or more, i.e. 12-16TB. 
  • Video - A Video Card that has it's own separate and dedicated Video Memory that contains 8GB or more of Video RAM
  • Power Supply - A model that has good airflow, is quiet and can support current and future components, usually starts at 650 Watts Capacity.
  • Operating System - Windows 10 Pro
  • Monitor / Display - An IPS-Based Display Panel that uses a HDMI or DisplayPort interface. AVOID using the traditional Blue VGA 15-pin port.

Why do I recommend these particular choices / items? It all comes down to this:

ALL computers today are "good" for Photo Editing. The difference between these choices boils down to one thing: REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.

When people normally ask "What is a good computer for Photo Editing?" chances are they are asking for a computer that has decent/fast performance, won't cause any issues/error messages, and should last at least a few years in terms of lifespan. I'm sure there are other reasons, but those are the three that pop into my mind as I type this. This is very similar to purchasing an appliance or automobile. My usual first response to this question is "What is your budget?" because this determines your ultimate experience.

As with most technology, you do truly do get what you pay for. Someone that only has $500 total to spend will get a computer that will run Adobe Photoshop and Bridge, but it might take longer to do certain tasks, especially when it comes to the fancy modules (Lens Corrections, Content Aware, Image Processor, etc.) Photoshop by itself, with your standard Layers & Masks, will run well even on older computers! The core of Photoshop really doesn't take advantage of the features that make a Intel i9 CPU (or whatever) so fast. It's all those fancy tools, the automated processes...THAT'S what forces you to purchase a "Fast" computer. Damien, "The Master Himself," as I write this article, is currently running Photoshop CS5, and he seems to do quite well with editing. A person who has a much larger budget, say $2000 or more to spend, will have a different experience then someone who doesn't. Always remember, SPEED IS RELATIVE. That "Super-Fast" computer that you just bought today will become "Too Slow" in a few years. The trick is to adopt a "Buy it Right - Buy it Once" mentality. Often, this will tend to get you out of your comfort-zone in terms of budget. OK, I'm digressing here, let's get back to the "Realistic Expectations" idea that I started with.


When it comes to Photography, your decision on what computer to purchase is largely dependent on your whole Ecosystem, and that starts with your choice of current camera body or future camera body.

A camera that has a lot of Megapixels in its Sensor, i.e. Nikon D850, Canon EOS 5DS R, etc., will have different requirements from your computer then say one that is a lower-end model, or even a model that was top-of-the-line a few years ago, but is still an older body. The more Megapixels you have, the larger the Raw files, and you should always shoot Raw, requires more "horsepower" from the computer.  My Nikon D850 creates around 100MB Raw files; my older Nikon D700 and D4s do not. For years, I used a 2009 iMac and was perfectly happy. It ran well. My D700 was from the 2009/2010-era and even my Nikon D4s images also worked perfectly. Things ran well and my overall experience was "Fine." I considered my trusty 2009 Macintosh iMac a "Good Computer for Photo Editing." It was only when I upgraded to a D850 did I find out how "slow" it really was, at least by modern standards.

The files that the D850 created were much larger than I ever experienced. My Raw files went from around 26MB to close to 100MB...each! My computer went from performing "normal" speeds to a "slow crawl" during editing. It "complained" and "struggled" to handle those massive 100MB Raw files. It forced me to upgrade my external hard drive from 4TB to 12TB and purchase a new iMac computer with 64GB of RAM. Yes, even having 40GB at first (I added RAM / upgraded from 8GB to 40GB at the very beginning,) wasn't sufficient, especially when I create Panoramic Photographs. Those 100MB Raw files were even hard to handle for my brand-new fancy iMac until I maxed out the RAM to 64GB!!

So there is that pesky "Realistic Expectations" thing rearing it's head again. The hardware that you use, and what you are planning on doing with the data that is created by said-hardware, determines your choice of computer, which is largely based on your budget. See how things are all inter-twined? A "Good Computer for Photo Editing" may not have the same configuration as one is meant for editing / creating video or even doing things like 3D-Rendering/CAD. Even something like "General Computing" will have different requirements than for a computer that is meant to edit Digital Images. I know, I'm rambling on-and-on and if you made it this far in the article you just want to scream...



And the funny part is, I'm going to respond with the answer, "Budget?" Or you can cheat and just jump to the Short Version of this article. :)

Unfortunately, at the time of me writing this, the United States is currently in a Tariff War with China and this directly affects our US Members. (UPDATE: The Trade War seems to have resumed, and there is about a 25%-50% increase on prices overall. Now that we have to deal with the implications of the Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, now is the WORST time to buy a computer since China is basically shut-down.) You see, the bulk of parts and components, and even manufacturing of whole computers, all those items come from China. Those extra costs when importing into the US have been passed onto the consumers, so from my observations, there has been a $300-$500 price increase over the same models as last year, or their current equivalents. To clarify, last years $500 models are today's $1000-$1200 models, computers that were around the $1000 mark last year run about $1500-$2000 this year. So right now, it's a really bad time to be in the market for a new computer, at least if you live in the United States. Thinking $1500 might be a healthy budget should really be closer to the $2000 mark, or even higher, I'm afraid. There also seems to be no-end in sight, at least until the current Administration changes their viewpoint or is replaced in the next few years. I'm not being political here in this hardware forum, I'm just stating things that I've noticed. 

The toughest part with What-to-Buy Articles is things change so much; hardware quickly becomes outdated & orphaned in this "Throw-Away Society." In decades past, you used to have a Spring Line-up and a Fall Line-up, and that largely doesn't exist today. Well, with the exception of Apple, they still have Spring / Fall Releases when it comes to their hardware/software. As far as the other manufacturers, it seems like they have a new model / configuration every 6-8 weeks, sometimes even shorter...especially when it comes to laptops. Over my tenure with being in this industry, I've noticed this trend:

  • At the 3 Year Mark: A new model of computer is released, that is going to "Revolutionize" or take things to the "Next Level."
  • At the 5 Year Mark: A person's computer usually starts becoming "Too Slow," and the result is some sort of upgrade, such as adding more RAM or replacing/adding a hard drive.
  • At the 7-8 Year Mark: The person's computer does not run the current software which renders it obsolete and the consumer is forced to purchase a new computer.

So by my observation, a consumer is out of the market for at least 7 to 8 years. That's almost a decade. Manufacturers want you to buy a new computer every 24 months. Heck, they'd love it if you bought one every 12-18 months! This is why things don't last / wear-out (planned obsolescence) and models are replaced so often. It's tough for me to keep up and maintain WTB articles, that's why I will often respond with the following:

  • Intel i7 / Intel i9 (or AMD Equivalent)
  • 16GB RAM / 32GB or more (Preferred)
  • 500GB Main Hard Drive, preferably a SSD / m.2 model or better yet, a main Main Drive with 1TB capacity.
  • A second hard drive, at least 4TB or larger, internal or external that runs at 7200 RPM. Preferably, a second HD with a capacity of 8TB or more.
  • A video card that has is own separate and dedicated and NOT "Integrated" Video RAM. 4GB (Minimum) or better yet, GET ONE WITH 8GB
  • A power supply that has enough wattage to support the video card
  • Windows 10 Home / Windows 10 Pro (Preferred)
  • IPS-Based Display using a HDMI or DisplayPort interface.

That's the basic foundation of what I typically recommend as a "Good Computer for Photo Editing." Yes, if you read the "Short Version" of what to buy, I highlighted the minimum requirements in that article of what I look for. The reason is just that, they are a minimum and are more friendly to people's budgets. If you really want to know what I truly desire in a computer, they are the higher-end/higher capacity and more often, higher-cost components. Everything that I recommend here, I would purchase myself. Often, that is usually the more expensive model that has better components. Just to warn you, I'm very good at spending other people's money. :D

As you have noticed, I generally don't recommend a certain model as I want people to use my recommendations and hunt for the information themselves. Well, that's not 100% true, I usually recommend the Dell XPS line, but more on this below. All you simply have to do is look at the technical specifications and compare my recommendations. If a computer has a 128GB Main Boot HD, and you ask me if it's a "Good Computer," chances are I'm going to say, "Skip It." If the RAM can't be upgraded (soldered to the motherboard) and you are stuck at 8GB, no matter how large the HD is, I'm going to say, "Skip It."

Just to clarify things, I receive no compensation or kick-back of any kind from any manufacturer. I'm not an Amazon or B&H affiliate and anything I link to is a direct link and not monetized in any way. People have told me that I'm crazy and should receive some sort of compensation for my recommendations, but the Tax Laws in my State are a little funny and I really don't want to pay more taxes than I have to. In addition, it keeps things honest; what I recommend is what I would personally purchase myself, with my own money.



The Dell XPS Line and why I tend to recommend them in almost every WTB answer.

Why do I always seem to recommend a Dell XPS System? Because overall, they are decent for what they are. They tend to have better components under-the-hood as compared to the consumer-grade Inspiron Line, are easily accessible world-wide, and are affordable to the majority. Basically, they are easy for me to link to and are pretty straight-forward in terms of their configurations. Not to mention I know who will be repairing the computer if things go wrong, I know what phone number you are going to call if you have a problem. That's the dirty little secret with technology, what happens when it breaks? Who is going to support it? Who is going to fix it? Where are the parts coming from? With Dell, I know they have a world-wide tech support telephone number. They all have at least a 90 Day (Usually 1 year standard with enhanced options) in terms of Warranty, and I know Dell is going to supply the parts. Same thing with Apple. Apple or and Authorized Repair Center is going to fix their products and supply the parts, within reason. A 10 Year old computer might have limited parts availability as to a newer model, but if you buy a Dell or Apple, chances are someone knows what you are talking about and can source the parts. This is why I recommend them. I purchased a Dell XPS for my wife a few years back. So I put-my-money-where-my-mouth-is. When it comes time for me to add a Windows Computer in addition to my Mac, chances are I'm going with a Dell XPS model, unless I get really crazy and build my own Virtual Machine Server. (Most likely the case.) If you have a bad opinion of Dell, or don't want to purchase from them, that's fine. Simply take a look at the technical specifications listed and try to find an equivalent model/brand.



Monitors - Monitors - Monitors!!

Finally, If you have made it this far, thank you. I just want to take the time that not only is the computer important, but your choice of display is important, if not more important, than the computer if you are editing photos. There will be a second article in where I go over monitors and which ones to look for / avoid. For this article, I'm keeping things more computer-based. Anyway, if you are using a computer for Photo Editing, and chances are you are since you are here, make sure you purchase a Display that has a IPS DISPLAY PANEL. This is imperative! If you are editing photos, you must have this kind of display, and it WILL state it in the model's description. If it doesn't mention IPS and goes on-and-on about the color gamut and how it's 97% of this or 100% of that, etc....no matter how pretty the advertisement looks, SKIP IT!! Remember, it always looks better in the Advertisement than it does at home. Retailers want to sell you product, they just want to take your money, they aren't worried about what is "best" for your interests as Damien and I are. So stick with the facts. Stick to the technical specifications. Read the fine-print. Resist "The Pretties."

Fortunately, there is one display line that Damien and I have recommended over the years, and our members had very good luck on getting them calibrated...and I'm sure you have guessed it, it's a Dell UltraSharp IPS Display. Now, there are only a handful of display manufacturers in the world, the the Dell Screens are just rebranded; with the exception of the overall look, menu structure, etc. The display panel itself is made by someone else, and it's my assumption they tend to be Samsung IPS Display Panels, at least from the ones I've been recently been linking to lately, though this could change. In either case, the Dell IPS Displays are usually excellent, easy to calibrate, are found world-wide, and are affordable. Sound familiar? Anyway, for a quick-and-dirty link, here is a Dell U2419H IPS Display that is a good choice for photo editing. As I've said, another article will cover the "Why" this is one of my choices for Photographers to buy and there will be more displays that I recommend on that list in that future article as well

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