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Building New PC...looking for advice

August Iaia

New member
About to build a new PC because my current one just can't handle Photoshop CS4. Would love feedback on the following preliminary decisions:

(1) Going 32 bit XP Pro with 4 GB. I understand I may not get full use of all 4GB, but my understanding is 64 bit OS's are still a bit buggy, and I just don't want to go the Vista route if I can help it. My PS files are small to moderate size (nothing near the 300MB range--yet LOL).

(2) I'm thinking about using two large 7200 RPM hard drives, one to store work files and another for backup only, and a small/moderate size 10,000 RPM hard drive for the OS and program files. I've read that keeping the photoshop swap file on a drive separate from the one the Windows uses for a swap file will improve performance. I see four choices:

  • Run the OS and photoshop on the 10k drive, and the photoshop swap file on the work files hard drive in a separate partition.
  • Run both swap files on the 10k drive, and just use the large drives for storing working files and backup.
  • Get a second small 10k hard drive (which wouldn't be to expensive) just for the PS swap file.
  • If I'm going to have two 10k hard drives, why not just run them in a RAID array and have both swap files on the RAID drive. Since it's RAID, I have twice the throughput to make up for having both swap files on the same volume.
Do you think I'm going to get much of a boost from getting the second 10k hard drive. The case I'm getting will have the room, and the small drives don't seem to cost that much. But I don't want to overthink this either.

(3) I'm going Intel, and will pick a CPU chip one generation back to maximize price vs. performance. I haven't picked a chip yet, but I understand maximizing data transfer between RAM/CPU/hard drives is the major consideration as opposed to multiple cores?

(4) Going to use a motherboard with an Intel based chipset.

I'd be very grateful for any feedback you could give me. Thanks.

Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to OPF! It may help for you to share what you do and what photography needs you have. Also what's the work load and type of work you envisage in the next 18 months? That's the lifespan of most software and computers, unfortunately!

Things have changed and are moving rapidly. Have you purchased CS4 yet? If not, why do you need it? I use PS 7 on one computer for a lot of jobs. I can do almost anything including some pretty sophisticated editing. It happens to be on my wife's iMac and also on my G4 Tower. So when I'm using the G5 or my Intel MacBook Pro for rendering a long stitch job, and I have no access to CS2, PS 7 works fine!

CS2 gives highlight/shadow tool and that's a miracle. So yes, CS2 is worthwhile, but why get CS4 and Windows if you are not going to multicore system with several 64 BIT processors and a fast bus, a great graphics card at 8-12MB of RAM? It's hardly worth the trouble. Sure, if you are prevented from getting your work done, then you need something new. If one is stitching large Panos, have a large amount of pictures to process, or wish to shrink the width of pictures and get marked people you no longer like to simply vanish and a few more tricks, CS4 is brilliant. Today, however, the sophisticated graphics card has become more important as CS4 tasks are handed over to the card that were done before on the main CPU. RAM is not used sufficiently but PS is very RAM dependent. Drive speed is important for your swop disk. I do not know that the extra money for the 10,000 rpm drive will justify itself. Taking two or more small firewire or USB2 drives you already own and RAIDing them, may do just as well.

One HD for OS and Programs, another for scratch and another for backup of your files the minimal. You need a drive to store precious files and put it in your bank vault or you mother's bank vault or your son's apartment or wherever, off site. That's more important than having extra drives on your desk.

I'd really like to know what your current system is and where the choke points are in your workflow? After all, why get something you may not really need? I think there are many computers that can do what you want that are already built and available used! If you are not going to go first class, why not get the next level computer that someone else has already taken the loss on?

To me, going with a PC right now means you need 64BIT, with the fastest photoshop and you are going for speed. if not, a used Mac would be the best, and I haven't met many folk yet who really need anything more than CS2 and would be satisfied with the system you outlined.


Daniel Buck

New member
I would Highly recommend that you go 64 bit and run 8 gigs of ram (or more). I think you'll see more of a difference by moving to 8 gigs of ram and staing with 7k drives, than by moving to 10k harddrives and staying with 4 gigs of ram.

I've recently started doing all of my photoshop work on a laptop, 64 bit, 2.5ghz core2 duo processor (not fast in terms of full size workstation machines), and 8 gigs of ram. I can tell you, the 8 gigs of ram makes a good difference with photoshop, especially with larger photoshop files. I process 4x5 and 8x10 film scans with no problems at all, same with my digital photographs, having like 10 of them open at the same time, bouncing between them.

I've honestly not seen any of the 'bugs' that people talk about with 64 bit. I think all of the driver issues have been resolved, but the bad taste left in peoples mouths about 64 bit is still lingering. :) We're 64 bit xp, and 64bit linux at work (mostly linux) with 8-16 cores and 8-32gb of ram, and I'm 64 bit vista laptop at home with 2 cores and 8 gb of ram :)

If you are going to be working with large photoshop files, I can't say enough good about 64 bit and plenty of ram :) If you won't be doing much heavy photoshop work, then you probably could do just fine on 4 gigs.

Ken Tanaka

pro member
Welcome August;
I have no advice for you, but had to remark that your "building a computer" note really was a blast from the past for me. I'm one of those dinosaurs that dates back to the earliest of early days in "personal computing" ... the first computers I "built" were a Cromemco and an Imsai 8080 as part of a club in college (circa 1976).

With computers so dirt cheap I'm surprised to see anyone build one from scratch any more...it must be some type of labor of love, eh?

I made my way in the information systems business ... exclusively along the lines of designing and implementing enterprise-wide Windows/Unix in investment shops over 20 years. But as soon as I stopped working several years ago I ditched Windows, took up Mac and never looked back. It felt a bit uncomfortable at first. But life with computers has never been so persistently blissful for me as it has been since that change. I was just getting too old to screw around maintaining the computer...I wanted to devote all of my time to actually using it.

Just recounting a personal story, not advertising for Apple.

Good luck, and have fun, with your PC project. May you find the same bliss (if that's what you really want).
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August Iaia

New member
Hi and thank you all for the feedback. I'll try to get to all the points in one post

What I Do: I'm not working right now, mostly by choice, ex-executive type, and for a while I'm going to pursue photography full time to learn, as a hobby, and maybe who knows? I live in San Francisco, and I'm taking a couple of photography courses at Cal extension, so I'm using Photoshop quite a bit.

Current PC/Software: I currently have CS4 (thank you Adobe educational discount). My PC is a six year old refurb Dell Pentium XP Pro with 1.5GB RAM and a 60MB and a 150MB hard drive. It lived a happy life, but now it's time to let go. Any PS file over 30-50 MB with more than 4 or 5 layers just grinds things to a halt. Plus, it's agony watching Bridge initialize a new batch of photos.

I'm going to recycle the box to be backup machine and maybe for storage as well. It's just not worth spending money/time to upgrade it. Every several years it makes sense, IMHO, to upgrade your PC as long as you do it reasonably.

Building My Own PC: There's an old joke about an experienced, well respected carpenter. A man came up to him and asked, "How much would it be to build this house for me?". The carpenter thought for a second and said, "$20,000." The man said, "Well, how much would it be if I helped you?" The carpenter said, "Well in that case, $30,000."

LOL, there's a great computer repair place in SF that is extremely well regarded on the review sites. They will build a computer for me with my components very cheaply, and for an extra $60 will let me watch and help. It's like getting a free education. And, building my own PC is something I've wanted to do for a long time. It's just that now I have a reason and the time to do it, with expert supervision. And, even though I've have been a loyal/satisfied Dell user, I detest the bloatware that comes with the machines nowadays. Plus, I can choose off the shelf components that will allow me to upgrade memory/OS in the future, so this box should have a long life.

Finally, I want to build something with some headroom. I'd rather spend a little more now, even if that capacity is underutilized, versus putting up with constraints and then having to upgrade later on.

OS: Well, you guys have given me something to think about regarding 32bit vs. 64 bit. For my immediate needs 32 bit would suffice (I think), but if I thought I was going to upgrade in a year to 64 bit, I'd have to reconsider not going 64 bit now. I'm going to do a little more research on 64 bit. Daniel, I'm sure I'm not going to have files as large as the ones you deal with (those large format scans), but it's impressive that your laptop can handle them.

One factor that's in favor of 64 bit....I see I can still buy 64 bit XP online pretty cheaply, so I can avoid Vista. I think I'm going to research driver availability and give 64 bit a second thought.

Hardware: For a processor, I know I can get a higher end quad core chip for under $300, just need to figure out which one. It looks like 150GB 10,000 rpm drives go for about $170 for 150GB, and $100 for 74GB, so I'll figure in the price point vs RAM, but point taken that more RAM is better than faster drives. While the drive price isn' t to bad, if I go 64bit I'm likely to just skip the faster drives.


Asher Kelman

OPF Owner/Editor-in-Chief

Now I'm much more interested in your project, especially if you do go for the 64 BIT CPU and have a fast bus. If there's a place in S.F. then that's even better, as I visit there and who knows, perhaps it is a worthwhile route. It all depends on the quality of the components and how much it all costs as the Dells and Gateways of the world do give good prices. Bloatware can be removed in 5 minutes but they do have on site service and warranties! However, if your price is substantially less, I'd like to learn more from your experience.

At present, Macs can't, AFAIK, take advantage of 64 BIT in CS4.So that's what makes the PC interesting to consider. The graphics card is an important consideration. I'd love to know what your components are and what it will cost v a standard branded machine.

Keep us informed.

Just remember that you might get hooked to do panoramas of stitched images and then you will pat yourself on the back for having a more robust architecture from the start!


August Iaia

New member
FYI, thought I'd post a quick follow-up. I had an Intel Core i7 desktop built with Vista Ultimate so I could run 64bit Photoshop. Couldn't be happier with it. I probably saved $600-$700 over an Apple workstation, and I got features well in excess of what would even be available on an Apple......12GB ram, 4 hard drives (I was able to dedicate a cheap, approx $75, hard drive for a scratch drive), and a power supply with enough power to support the configuration I choose.

I'm running two monitors and don't have a problem maintaining separate ICC profiles for each one.

The only problem is with Colorburst. I just bought a 3880 (incredible printer) and thought I'd splurge and get the RIP. So far this has been a mistake since Colorburst's support for Windows is unacceptable and I haven't been able to print effectively with the RIP.

Other that the above relatively minor problem, I love my desktop. I probably spent about $1,900 and have a machine that well outperforms the Apple workstations I have used. I had a local company build it for me, and they let me observe so not only am I sure it was put together well, I am better able to to simple maintenance myself. I can't tell you how nice it is to not have all the Dell supplied bloatware, and boot-up is very quick.

Net net, I'd highly recommend going this route if you need to run 64 bit Photoshop and need a higher powered workstation, provided you have access to a tech support company you can rely on.


PS: If you are in the SF area the company is Tech Collective, located in the Mission District of SF>