What Mac Pro setup should I get for serious amateur photography?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Capt Crunch, Jul 22, 2013.

  1. Capt Crunch macrumors 6502

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Cleveland, OH
    #1
    My wife, IMHO, is an excellent photographer and I need to get her collection off a laptop and on to an actual workstation with color-calibrated monitor.

    We're a mac family and I've struggled with the lack of a high-end i7 desktop in the mac lineup. I was planning on the hackintosh route, but I've gone that way once before and I ended up selling it due to reliability issues. The post here:

    http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1609476

    is making me seriously consider an old mac pro.

    Here's the list of things I want it to do:

    1. Make quick work of lightroom and photoshop and last me several years. I'm ok replacing the RAM and processors if it makes financial sense.
    2. Have sufficient storage to handle her half-gig of photos and our very slowly increasing 3TB media library (I'm selling our HTPC to partially fund this)
    3. Back up everything
    4. Be as cheap as possible

    I'm thinking of the following setup:

    1. MB535LL/A - I don't know if this dual-proc machine is the model to buy. I've read on macperformanceguide that for lightroom the single 6-core is the best bang/buck. I don't know if that's compatible with the older machines.
    2. 128-256 GB SSD boot drive
    3. 1x 2TB drive for photos
    4. 3x 3TB drives in RAID for media and Time Machine
    5. 32 GB of RAM
    6. Graphics card? Do I need it?

    What do you guys think? I'm mostly hung up on what mac pro/processor combination to get. I really like the idea of a $1200 powerhouse that I can spec out.
     
  2. flat five macrumors 601

    flat five

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    #2
    that's nice of you to support a hobby/passion of hers in this way.
    #


    (i'm sure some others will pop in shortly to spec you out)
     
  3. mrichmon macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2003
    #3
    At the risk of stating the obvious, "last me several years" and "cheap as possible" are somewhat conflicting goals. But based on your questions, it seems that you are aware of this conflict.

    With the soon to be released revision of the Mac Pro there is some uncertainty of what the price point of the new model will be and how it will impact used prices. However, it certainly will be higher than your $1200 target price-point.

    I'd suggest that you just get a another 3TB drive to replace your photos drive and just use 4 drives in your RAID-set. Or, if disk performance while running Lightroom is a concern, stick with a 2TB drive but get a second drive to support the photos volume so you can run a 2TB mirrored RAID set.

    For a Mac Pro you do need a graphics card since there is no video output built into the motherboard. For Lightroom, Aperture, and Photoshop get the best graphics card that fits into your budget since these photo apps will off-load processing to the video card. This also gives you a potential for a performance boost in future when current high-end cards have fallen in price. That might be a reasonable strategy to keep the machine usable for a good number of years.

    Lightroom will run fine on a MB535LL/A.

    Try to give yourself some spare RAM slots to allow for future upgrades. RAM, disk mirroring, and GPU are realistic options for improving photo application performance for the long haul. Additionally, adding a second graphics card rather than replacing the card is completely practical since the photo applications will consume the available GPUs.
     
  4. Macsonic macrumors 65816

    Macsonic

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    #4
    Hi Capt Crunch. Thoughtful of you to help with your wife's photography hobby. If $1200 is your budget, MB535LL/A would be fine. For the videocard, I think the Nvidia 285GTX or Radeon 5770HD would do just fine. You don't need a high end videocard with the type of task to be performed. Your advantage with the Mac Pro is the added storage and having a scratch disk. There is an article on optimizing Lightroom HERE.
     
  5. designs216 macrumors 65816

    designs216

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    #5
    I bought the hex for the reasons you mentioned and outfitted it with a 128GB SSD boot. It has three 1TB platter drives in RAID-0 for scratch/projects and one 3TB drive for TimeMachine. Although I could get larger modules at this point, the RAM was maxed at 32GB at the time of purchase. It has the 1GB VRAM card.

    The machine is required to bounce back and forth between Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator to crunch art for tradeshow signage with file sizes that approach a terrabyte. It rarely beachballs and I've been very happy with performance. The only minor nit I can think of is the lack of USB3.
     
  6. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2010
    #6
    It depends somewhat how much is lightroom and making multiple edits to be applied to large numbers of photos as opposed to PS. Assuming we're talking about a 2009 or newer mac pro, the 6 core is faster than the quad models. The quads might be fast enough. Ram is immensely important. I would go with a minimum of 16GB to start. You can go straight to 32 if you prefer. Make sure to memtest it in case of bad sticks. It might take a while in single user mode.

    For me the display would be the other significant concern. I think NEC is one of the best. It depends on your price sensitivity. In the US you can get a PA271w for $950 or so new. The spectraview kit adds $300 or so and only works with the NEC, but colorimeters eventually get replaced too. If you spend a lot on a display, make sure you don't leave it on when not in use. Most people seem to find 100cd/m2 -120 measured to work okay. If she will be printing these, I suggest matching to where prints compare well with the display under controlled lighting. The 24" NEC models are cheaper. At a lower budget I would probably try Dell, although I've never spent much time with one.

    GPU isn't that big a deal. I mean you won't find yourself being held up by it much in PS, and currently LR still doesn't seem to make use of it. SSDs are nice, but you won't notice them as much with enough ram. I would keep your backups external.

    I hope that helps.
     
  7. Macsonic macrumors 65816

    Macsonic

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    #7
    The hex is a good machine and still holds up its value in the marketplace and not easy to find. For USB 3.0 you may want to consider putting a USB 3 card
     
  8. Capt Crunch thread starter macrumors 6502

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    Location:
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    #8
    Just curious, why?
     
  9. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

    Joined:
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    #9
    I usually prefer them to be tied to a different power source. It can be annoying though given that cheaper DAS/NAS solutions can be pretty bad. It might be partly paranoia on my part. Regarding what I said about the gpu, it's not a huge factor today. They might make better use of it in the future. Adobe is weird though. I think they've tried to keep development costs down on Lightroom to ensure it remains a solvent product at its current price model. Photoshop to me still feels like such an early 1990s application. It's not at all how it would be done today.
     
  10. SadChief macrumors regular

    SadChief

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    Jan 15, 2010
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    Montpellier, France
    #10
    Risks to data go far beyond drive failure:

    1) theft (your computer disappears, along with everything attached to it);
    2)natural or unnatural disaster: a fire or wildfire or flood or tornado or hurricane or lightning strike or electromagnetic pulse vaporizes your computer and everything near it or in the same building or neighborhood - it’s all gone;
    3) file system — the file system (catalog) for the drive goes bonkers. Files are corrupted or lost;
    4) ...
     
  11. tuxon86 macrumors 65816

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    #11
    5) $$$ Profit!
     
  12. deconstruct60 macrumors 604

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    Mar 10, 2009
    #12
    Those last three are three conflicting goals with the primary objective.

    If looking for a Photograrphy + high color calibration system then why saddle it with HTPC duties? If both HTPC and photography duties are part time and highly non-concurrent activities that perhaps. But if not, this raises complexity rather than lowers it.

    Same thing with saddling it with back up duties.

    RAID for a highly static media library that isn't highly concurrent and 1 GbE (or higher) based doesn't make alot of low cost sense either.



    If saddling it with concurrent HTPC server duties that will run concurrently with Lightroom/Photoshop/etc duties then perhaps. Otherwise no. Don't really need a dual processor package machine for this.


    Back up inside the box that being backed up is questionable. If there was a full time RAID-0 set serving as OS/App/User Files perhaps as an up to the last hour mirror, but that isn't present here.

    Combo NAS server + Photography workstation can work as long as they don't overlap on workload much.

    With a photo library of only 500GB it is highly doubtful 32 GB RAM is necessary at all. 16GB is probably more than sufficient. 32GB RAM is necessary if have a library of 1+ GB photo files. A library of those would have blown right past 500GB limit relatively quickly.

    If the household TimeMachine backup target and there is always multiple clients the machine is file serving on constant then perhaps. The high level of current processes is driving the RAM though; not the individual apps.

    Does the current HTPC have any direct video output duties ? That may drive specific card duties or purely a media file server?


    If not saddling this system with NAS server duties seems like an iMac would be a more cost effective fit. Or minimally a singe CPU package used 2010 Mac Pro.
     
  13. -hh, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013

    -hh macrumors 68020

    -hh

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2001
    Location:
    NJ Highlands, Earth
    #13
    My broad comment is that a current-configuration Mac Pro is probably your better bet to build from. For LR, Photoshop, iPhoto you don't need overkill of dual CPUs or a superior graphics card...these apps aren't really optimized for that level of hardware. Put your money into RAM, HDDs and SSDs instead.

    For RAM, just buy 3x8 = 24GB.

    For your boot drive, get it onto an SSD.

    For your data, RAID0 on two good HDDs.

    For data backup, you still should have 1 or 2 empty bays left for one that's onboard, and you can then make CCC clones of it onto cheap USB externals that you can store off-site (local safety deposit box, etc). As these can run in the background (overnight), you don't necessarily need to be too worried about USB2 vs USB3 bandwidth.

    For data management, you can keep OS X's user directory completely intact on the SSD boot drive...this keeps the OS X configuration stock bone standard...and then within each relevant folder, add a symbolic link out to another folder of the same topic (Pictures, Movies, etc) out on your RAID0...this will help alleviate "SSD too small" concerns while still making stuff relatively easy to navigate.


    Hope this helps,

    -hh
     
  14. Tesselator, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013

    Tesselator macrumors 601

    Tesselator

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    Japan
    #14
    Hey Captain, nice to see you here!

    I also do a lot of photography. I shoot RAW almost exclusively and deal with 12 to 36 megapixel images. I've done extensive research and testing with regard to system spec and speed in LR, PS, and C1P (CaptureOne Pro) so maybe I can offer some help.

    First for those apps you want the fastest clocked CPU you can get. Number of cores are not so critical so 4 or 6 ores is fine. I'm convinced that 3.2GHz or so isn't fast enough and something more along the lines of 4.5GHz is what's called for. I think 4.5GHz with 6-cores is the ultimate sweet spot but 4.5GHz with 4-cores is extremely close to that - and cheaper I think. The critical factor is the speed tho and not the number of cores. Only about one third of PS/LR tools are or can be threaded in a way where they benefit from multiple cores.

    Lots of memory helps but the cut-off point seems to be 24GB. After 24GB adding more doesn't increase performance significantly. I guess 32GB is a good target for "future proofing" the system. I've tested with 4, 8, 12, 16, 24, and 32 gigabytes. Faster RAM speeds actually helps with photo editing and general PP.

    GPU is currently not all that important for stills. For example you won't see any noticeable speed increase between an 8800GT and a GTX 680 - even when using PS's 3D tools. But that's "currently" and "for stills". I doubt that PS or LR will utilize GPU cores via OpenCL or CUDA but it might. And some video editors already offer this if she shoots video. Some DSLRs and EVILs crank out video which is on par with $30K to $60K camcorders and heads from just 5 years ago or so (pre-RED).

    For storage I would go with two fast SSD drives. One for Boot and Applications and one for Home, scratch, and cache. I would DL and PP on one of those too then offload to a rotational RAID0 where all three were TimeMachined to another (external) rotational RAID0. Another option would be an SSHD hybrid drive for the boot and an SSD for DL, PP, scratch, and cache. The size of the drives you use for the rotational RAID0's is of course dictated by your needs but the Seagate Barracuda drives are great performers where cost is a consideration. The 1TB, 2TB, and 3TB models actually deliver a full 200MB/s in my tests. The 4TB models are close but slower at around 185MB/s

    In conclusion if I were building or buying a machine just for Photography it would be a Hackintosh or straight Windows with the above specs. 2nd best IMO would be a workstation from Boxx, HP, or DELL, and third up would be a MacPro4,1 with all the firmware and CPU upgrades in order to get the fastest RAM and CPU clocks. Single processor would be fine I think.
     
  15. crjackson2134, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013

    crjackson2134 macrumors 68020

    crjackson2134

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    #15
    I couldn't agree more. There are a few USB options on the market now, but I'm loving the RocketU 1144CM so far. I was apprehensive about it at first but I totally love the thing now. I only connect storage devices and it's been great so far. The only nit I can pick is that Sleep Mode isn't FULLY supported.
     
  16. designs216 macrumors 65816

    designs216

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    #16
    I know. I've just been leery of the various third party solutions out there. Seems like every time I read about a promising candidate, the info is closely followed by a bevy of cautionary complaints. I guess I'll roll the dice eventually.
     
  17. khollister macrumors 6502a

    khollister

    Joined:
    Feb 1, 2003
    Location:
    Orlando, FL
    #17
    I am a photographer, and in my opinion you don't need a hex MP. If it were me, I would get an i7 rMBP and a NEC PA271 monitor. The current i7 MBP are more than fast enough for Lr, CS6, etc. For that matter, the latest Mini's are as well.

    I have a hex MP, but the justification is for music production, not photography. My 2.2 i7 MBP with 16 GB and a SSD feels just as fast on LR4 as my MP for most operations.
     
  18. macmesser macrumors 6502a

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    Aug 13, 2012
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    Long Island, NY USA
    #18
    The setup described above is similar to what I run for PSCS6 and Canon RAW processor software. Graphics card should be fine. I have a 30" Dell which is about 2500 px wide and wide gamut. No problems at all with my standard equipment (on a 2009 Mac Pro 4,1 ->5,1) GEForce GT 120 card. I have a 256GB boot SSD and a 128GB PS scratch disk. Optimal size for scratch disk is 4 X GBs RAM, and I have 32GB Ram. I only have quad core 2.4GHz processor which I may eventually upgrade to 6 core, but my system tears through Photoshop files really fast. Boot, scratch and memory are the charm I think. Your plan sounds good as you will get more than decent performance and save bucks to put towards the most important thing for color-critical work- a nice big wide-gamut monitor (and Spectraview profiler).
     
  19. macmesser macrumors 6502a

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    Aug 13, 2012
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    Long Island, NY USA
    #19
    What do "DL" and "PP" refer to?

    Also, how did you put your home folder on the scratch SSD? Any problems with that?

    Thanks.
     
  20. Varmann macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jan 3, 2010
    #20
    Do not forget a "real back-up". Most people would not count a clone inside the computer as a good backup, it is however convenient when (not "if") you get drive failure.

    A backup should IMHO be on external drives outside the computer, and preferable also outside the house. Theft, fire or water can otherwise reck more havoc than necessary. Having two external backups cycling between online at home and out-of-house is a rather robust strategy.
     
  21. Tesselator, Aug 4, 2013
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2013

    Tesselator macrumors 601

    Tesselator

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    #21
    DL is DownLoad. I guess I was referring to DLing the images from the camera onto the SSD or whatever.

    PP is Post Process or sometimes Post Production. Typically for stills it's Process and for video it's Production. Either way it's basically the same thing: CC (color correction), cropping, contrast, FX (effects), and so on - post acquisition.
     
  22. barmann macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
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    Germany
    #22
    Look here .

    Basically, get a fast CPU and a bunch of Ram, a fast SSD scratch disk for Photoshop, possibly fast-ish data storage if large image libraries need to be accessed a lot .

    Personally, I'm a pro photographer, but don't need apps based on image management . Huge headache avoided right there .

    As for Photoshop, I strongly suggest using the CS5 or later version in 64bit - amazing how many people still run older versions - optimize settings as detailed on the website linked above, and Bob's your uncle .
     
  23. hudson1 macrumors 6502

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    Jun 12, 2012
    #23
    A Mac mini can handle this pretty easily -- probably the i7 being the best and it meets the budget. Put the money into the monitor.
     
  24. liquid stereo macrumors regular

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    Jan 21, 2005
    Location:
    Saint Paul
    #24
    Exactly - hardware addicts are replying

    I don't know if any of you do photography, serious or otherwise, but pretty much any machine that Apple makes will suffice. I'm a semi-serious photographer — used to shoot weddings, still do juried exhibits, weekend trips, etc. — and my 8 core MacPro or "8-core" i7 Imac are more than fast enough. All you need is memory and a large monitor. Any more than that and you're just doing it because you want to. Not because you need it and not because it will help.

    If you want to spend cash, then purchase your wife some photography excursions.
     
  25. -hh macrumors 68020

    -hh

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    #25
    YMMV. It doesn't do one much good to have an "8 core" i7 if you're bottlenecked to get data to/from it.

    A lot can depend on how you want to manage your portfolio for how much data storage you want to have, and similarly how responsive you want it to be. At present, the price per GB for an SSD is still higher than a pair of HDDs in RAID0, so while one may choose to spring for 0.25TB or a hybrid, if your portfolio is large, even the simple "bulk storage" may become a consideration to maintain sanity and productivity for your workflow.

    For example, for a "semi-serious" who is going to rely on iPhoto, when the image count gets high enough to put the iPhoto repository to around 1TB, what's the load time climb up to for initial start-up, etc? If it is unacceptable, the options are typically limited to cash for faster IT (hardware or software), some workflow changes, or some purging of "unwanted" images (drive to a smaller database to support)...choose your poison.


    -hh
     

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