What PC to build for Photoshop & Lightroom use?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Macinposh, Jun 24, 2013.

  1. Macinposh macrumors 6502a

    Jun 7, 2006

    You heard me!

    So, after 20 years of mac+photoshop useage it is time to go to the dark side...
    Working as a photographer I have been using the combo since quadras and 1.05.

    Has been a lovely relationship, I have gotten my work done.

    Now it seems that it is time to move on.

    Switched to the adobe cloud few months ago and my MP 1.1 is still ticking along...hell...soon comes 7 years of continuous work with the machine.
    Lovely piece of kit but it starts to show its age, especially as
    I switched to Hasselblad few months ago.

    Phothoshop can handle files up to 500-700megs quite well, but you start to
    take performance hits over that.
    And lightroom...well...there the bigger file sizes start to show.
    Rendering 500 preview frames...well...it is not blazingly fast anymore!

    In short, I have come conclusion that it might be time to hop on to the
    PC side. Faster hardware, better gfx card situation, ease to switch with the cloud and Win 8.1 coming up soon.

    So, via what route to go?


    I have been looking at some prebuilt "workstations" with

    - i7 4770K 3.5
    - 16Gb

    They would run around 2400€.

    Some i7 workstations with lower spec cards could be had for 1800€ish.
    So basically the same price as some Xeon E5 workstations like
    HP Z420 1P Xeon E5-1620 (+ gfx card).

    What route to go?
    Have you found some good readups from the interwebz?
    Tried to browse the usual forums but didnt see any articles that would have been deep & thorough enough.
    Your opinions?

    As I am from europe I dont have the possibility to buy the present Macpros
    and as I need a lot of firewire peripherals & internal expandability,
    I will not go the TrashCanPro way either.

    ps.I know,I know...it is kind of blasphemous to jump the boat..but..oh well..

    Thx in advance!

    Damn, forgot the part of of building a pc. That is a possibility as well.
    Been tinkering and building stuff a bit so going that way is an option as well.
    It is just that the saving in the money is not that big, 200-300 € and the time
    to build+test+troubleshoot would not be that profitable.
    And I would not basically have any support either, which I would have with the
  2. simsaladimbamba

    Nov 28, 2010
    Have you thought about a Hackintosh? I build my Ivy Bridge Hack with an i7 3770K and Asus GTX670 and 32 GB RAM for around 1400 € and it works quite fine, all you need is a compatible board like many from Gigabyte and you are almost good to go. Though as of now, Haswell Hackintoshes are not that supported yet, as there is not that much Haswell support built into OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

    There are also some OS X compatible Firewire 800 PCIe cards out there.

    I run PS and LR quite fine on it, though if the Titan can give you a considerable boost over a 670 or 770 or 680 or 780, then go for it.
  3. GermanyChris macrumors 601


    Jul 3, 2011
    I wouldn't buy a Titan for Ps/Lr


    i7 3820 (3930K if you want a Hex)
    Your choice of x79 MoBo's
    32GB of your favorite flavor of RAM (I like to color match)
    GTX 770/780 (670/680 if on sale) w/Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid
    Nice Case in 150 range with a door to cover the opticals and keep sound at bay
    800+W 80+ Platinum PS
    H100i CLC with push/pull gentle typhoons
  4. Lunfai macrumors 65816


    Nov 21, 2010
    Another +1 on "don't buy Titan unless you really need the power, a high end Nvidia card 670+ or 7950 should be fine. I would invest mainly on a good display that's professionally calibrated by factory, a dell for example. - D
  5. Steve121178 macrumors 601


    Apr 13, 2010
    Bedfordshire, UK
    You don't need to spend 2400€!

    Get 16GB RAM with any high-end i5 CPU or i7 CPU. Any mid/high end workstation class GPU should be more than sufficient. You don't need a Xeon CPU. It looks like you are underestimating how good "standard" i5 & i7's are.
  6. Macinposh thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 7, 2006

    Sry, wont go the hackintosh route... Worst of both worlds!! :D

    Too much trouble with the updates breaking stuff and troubleshooting.
    At one point I contemplated that but then I read up on the forums...

    It is my production machine and there is enough stress with the deadlines

    Good point there.

    I have to try to find some charts with PS + LR and tests with 670 vs Titan.
    No point of bying that card if I can get similar performance from the gaming cards...and I would have the benefit to buy another further down the road and SLI it?

    And thanks for the headsup on the 3930K.
    Will do some reading about that vs 4770K.

    I have a Apples ACD30" +23" as monitors.
    We calibrated them about year ago and they were starting to show their age a bit, brightness had gone down.
    The colors were still ok but yeah, I know I have to udpate the display(s) to
    EIZOs or NECs in the next 1-2 years.

    Thx for the suggestions guys!
  7. guzhogi macrumors 68030


    Aug 31, 2003
    Wherever my feet take me…
    Just out of curiosity: why not get an iMac or wait for the new Mac Pro? I'm not sure what your budget is, but you might make up a bit with not having to rebut software. Plus, Apple has consistently had the best support if/when something goes wrong. Just my 2¢
  8. Macinposh thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 7, 2006
    Have used iMacs now and then for work.

    I personally dont like them because :

    - everything is in one box. something breaks, you are shafted.
    display, gfx card, powersupply... take the machinefor repairs,
    fight for a replacement computer, install all the necessary programs
    (a LOT) and shortcuts...
    With desktops I have enough spares and whatnot that I can fix them on site...hell, I have gotten my MacPro 1.1 up and running under 5 minutes
    after my old gfx card gave up or when one of the memory combs ****
    the bucket.
    With iMacs that is minimum of 2 weeks of waiting for repairs..
    With my production schedules...well...that is just not possible.

    - displays have not been particulary good. seen a lot of color anomalities
    and uneven pictures.

    - lower performance compared to desktops

    - non upgradeable, gfx,HDD

    - glossy display, it is absolute no-no

    And no, the new Macpro dont fit the specs either.

    I have a lot of third party firewire peripherals that I have to use.
    Scanners, cameras (teethered) etc..
    To struggle with Thunderbolt - Firewire adapters, fight latency and
    other problems...naah...

    And apples support.

    Well, I have been very lucky that I have had to use them only on couple
    of occasions.
    My experience with them have been a bit split.
    Sometimes they have been helpful, and couple of times they have
    been totally useless.

    Best thing for me would have been a new MacPro with the new processors, with FW ports, in the old box.
    AND with good choice of gfx cards.



    The reason why i posted in the Macpro section is that I want technical
    beta on my possible switch!!!

    I want the info from the tech freaks, guys that know the insideouts of
    the processors, gfx cards and whatnot.
    With all due respect, you dont have that info in digital photo forums.

    This is silly.
    Change it back to macpro forums.
  9. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    The specs are completely jumbled together! You're really missing the two most important ingredients in your situation: RAM and a storage solution. You make no mention of an SSD, and given your requirements, both is a must. On the other hand, you allocate tons of money on a graphics card that is plain useless for what you do.

    If you want your machine to handle large files, you need more than the paltry 16 GB of RAM you have suggested. I'd probably start with 64 GB or so. Second thing is tiered storage: you need SSDs for speed and some form of slower storage for older projects. Just to give you an idea how fast modern SSDs are: the SSDs in the MacBook Air (Apple's slowest computer), for instance, are faster than any €€€€ RAID solution you can buy today which uses spinning platter hard drives. The Air's SSD manages a sustained throughput of 700~800 MB/s and its seek times are ~100x fast than that of hard drives. That's more throughput than any SATA SSD on the market (because there the throughput is limited by the SATA interface whereas the Air uses a direct PCIe interface). The new Mac Pro's SSD which according to Apple's claims can shovel 1.2 GB/s over PCIe (~50 % more than what the Air's SSD can do) has more throughput than a RAID0 of two of the fastest SATA SSDs you can buy today. If you either work with few very, very big files or many very small files, you really benefit from SSDs more than from a faster CPU.

    Also, you need to be very, very careful when you throw out buzzwords like Core i7 and Xeon: a Core i7 you find in a MacBook Air has different capabilities than a Core i7 in an iMac. Moreover, Intel uses Core i3, i5 and i7 across generations, you always need to include the generation (are you talking about Haswell Core i7s, many of them aren't even available?). Ditto for Xeon. To go from confusion to utter madness, Intel has even identical part numbers for some Sandy- and Ivybridge Xeons (e. g. the Sandybridge Xeon E3-1280 was replaced with an Ivybridge Xeon E3-1280)!

    I'm also confused by your mention of Windows 8.1: if I were using Windows professionally, I'd definitely stick to Windows 7. I'm also not sure what you mean by »the cloud« situation, because the file sizes you mention pretty much prohibit any sort of sensible cloud storage solution.

    Honestly, if your job is to process 40+ MP images from Hassy digibacks, you need a professional machine, you need a workstation. You spent as much as a very nice car for your photography gear, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that you can get by with consumer grade computer hardware. Not necessarily for performance's sake, but for reliability's sake. And if you configure a proper workstation tailored to your use case (proper amount of RAM, SSDs), you quickly find that you will not save money by switching away from Apple. Personally, I think you should use whatever you think is best to get the job done, but the machine you suggest in your post is miles away.

    Here's a list of specs I roughly suggest:
    - Go for a single socket Xeon workstation.
    - Prioritize clockspeed over the number of cores.
    - Add 64 GB of ECC RAM (error corrected RAM, standard on workstations), but make sure you have free RAM slots left. No less.
    - Minimum amount of SSD storage: take the storage needs for all active projects at a given point. Double that number. Add the storage for all apps, mail and other frequently used files (with the possible exception of music). Now configure the appropriate number of SSDs. If you need to go for a slower CPU to buy a sufficient amount of SSD storage, do that.
    - You will probably need some external (slow) storage for completed projects.
    - Having Thunderbolt is highly desirable. A lot of high-speed peripherals are using Thunderbolt these days.
    - Get a midrange graphics card, nothing too beefy, Photoshop and Lightroom don't tax the GPU much. Just make sure you have enough ports to connect all your displays to (according to your post that's 2 right now, so essentially any graphics card will be fine).

    I'm sure that €1,800 you mentioned are nowhere near enough, without going through the configurators (there are still some open questions surrounding storage), I'd expect that you need to spend €3k-5k for a workstation, no matter if it has an Apple, Dell or HP badge on it. You would definitely not save money by switching away from Apple. You will also notice that the specs I suggest match the specs of the new Mac Pro very well (with the possible exception of internal SSD capacity), it's not coincidence that Apple has chosen to configure the Mac Pro the way it did.

    The other alternative I'd consider if I were you is to coax more life out of your Mac Pro by upgrading the RAM to 64 GB and adding pure SSD storage of sufficient capacity. If you have money left, you can also upgrade the CPUs.
  10. cupcakes2000 macrumors 6502

    Apr 13, 2010

    Excellent advice.
  11. Macinposh, Jun 24, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2013

    Macinposh thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Jun 7, 2006


    True dat!

    This goddam summerflue has taken the best of me, sry for all this confusion..
    And thanks for well written post.

    Just to clarify :

    I am going with 32, probably 64Gb of memory.
    I just put the price+memory amount so people could get a baseline
    of what I have been looking at.

    And no, I didnt mention the SSD as it is still open.

    I probably would go with :

    SSD 1 : Os + programs
    SSD 2 : OS + programs (copy of SSD1)+ acting as cache nro 2
    SSD 3 : Cache Disk nro 1

    Solution would be similar that I have in my MP at the moment, but
    it is done with HDDs.
    Some might ask why i dont go with Raid1s?
    My reason is : unreliability. Either by raid controllers corruption
    or worse and more probable, user f*uk ups!
    In my mack I have two identical HDDs that I clone & keep up to date daily via CCC.

    That way I have my backup up and running after a reboot.

    Backups are not under NAS due to their unreliability.
    Seen and heard about too many broken NASs.
    I use the old fashioned "copy data manually to two separate disks".
    One stays where the workstation is and the other disks are
    taken offsite. It is more laborous but it is working.

    I would have to think of more centralized solution if I would need constant access to my picture archives, but as I almost solely do editorials & advertisement, I very rarely need access to the pictures after they have run.

    And workstation or not?

    I know the total budget would run around 3000-3500€, about the same
    as my MP1.1 was when I got it.

    AFAIK, Phothoshop benefits most from high clockspeed, even the CS6 seems to have relatively poor utilization of 4+ cores what I have seen.
    Lightroom seems to scale much more effectively and handles more cores.
    And, both nowadays has CUDA support so the GFX card is getting more and more important as well. At least I noticed performance difference when I went from 4870 to Gtx560Ti.

    So, basically, I am a bit torn between Xeons and "regurlar" i7s, like the performance seems to be on par...or, in some cases the i7s are actually faster?

    Yes, on Xeons you would have ECC memory, but how beneficial that would be for me...well...confused there as well.
    I know if I would make hour long renderings or doing some day long math calculations, the ECC would give a safety margin, but PS CS6 & LR5???
    I just dont see the neccessity of that. What am I missing?

    Oh, these questions!!!


    Oh, about cloud : I use adobe creative cloud,so it would be very easy for me to jump the ship..
  12. OreoCookie, Jun 24, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2013

    OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    I think 32 GB is too little, you should go for 64 GB.
    Oh boy. I don't mean to insult you, but your current and plapned storage solutions are catastrophic.

    Your current strategy involves the worst you can imagine: it relies on cloning (the worst backup strategy) and lots of manual operations prone to user error. Most data loss is due to user error (yes, that's you and me), not hardware error. There are professional NAS systems (which cost serious money) that are robust and will do the job just fine. But even the best hardware can fail.

    First of all, you haven't answered the most important questions to us -- or seemingly yourself:
    (1) How much fast storage do you need? I gave you a rule of thumb (2 x active projects + data), this is the minimum amount of usable storage space.
    (2) How much slow storage do you need? You need to think how many years worth of data you want to store on a given volume. If you don't know, triple the number of used space.
    (3) Double the amount of slow storage from (2) -- you need an on-site backup after all. ;)

    As an offsite backup, you could think about Amazon Glacier which is quite cheap and meant for data you don't need to access (access times for reads are measured in minutes to hours). Alternatives are Amazon S3, Crashplan or Backblaze. Some services allow you to send in a hard drive. In any case, you will need a very fast internet connection, because the initial backup will take weeks to months (unless you can send in a hard drive).

    I have also noticed you simply intend to copy the setup you have now, thinking that SSDs are just like ordinary hard drives. They are not. The reason you used to put the OS and apps on a different drive than your data is to speed up random access. This is a waste with SSDs, completely unnecessary, their access times are 100x faster than hard drives and it doesn't matter whether two blocks of data are »close« or »far« (which was of paramount important with spinning platter hard drives). If you upgrade your Mac Pro with SSDs and enough RAM, your 7-year-old Mac Pro will be faster at many tasks than the new machine with spinning platter hard drives. SSDs are that important.
    I think €3k is rather the low end. Three 480 GB/512 GB quality SSDs alone will set you back over 1,200 € (more expensive if you configure them). If you want enterprise class SSDs, they'll eat up your whole budget in one gulp. ;)
    I think you overestimate the boost that GPUs can give you.
    You buy workstation hardware for reliability. It seems to me that all you see is »fast« and »shiny«. Big CPU. BIG graphics card. But you forget to deal with your current setup's bottlenecks properly. I have the impression you're overwhelmed by choice, and I get the vibe that deep down you want to cheap out on hardware (getting desktop-class hardware instead of workstation-class). My recommendations were very clear and given the information you provided quite explicit. But of course, it's your call and your money.
    That doesn't make sense: Adobe Cloud just means you have licenses for Windows versions of Adobe apps. What about other apps, you mention lots of peripherals? What about the cost and time to migrate user data (e. g. e-mails)?

    Again, I don't think the move to Windows will save you any money. Just to be clear: I'm not saying this, because I want to keep you in the fold of Mac users, I don't care what OS you use. I'm just saying that switching to Windows is cost neutral (given your software is cross platform), this takes the OS out of the equation.

    The only way you will only »save« money is if you replace workstation-class hardware (your Mac Pro) with cheaper hardware that you find in desktop PCs and iMacs.
  13. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    Wait to see what the new Mac Pro selling price will be.

    If you want to BUILD something build STORAGE. This is where you can not only save some seriouls money but get a better product too. Build a FreeNAS system into the PC server chassis and you can use it as a backup server. Or use it as primary storage if Gigabit Ethernet is fast enough for you

  14. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I think it is a great idea that you build a PC. Get all the parts you want, play with it, and sooner or later might even get some work done on it (not being sarcastic).

    I have built, more than I can count, computers for myself and friends and a few business jobs. I have worked with AT on up and have loaded - DOS, Windows 3.x on up, OS/2, Unix and Linux. Ultimately, the end result was a machine that worked and worked well.

    Give it a try.

    On the other hand, you can also load up a present to recent Mac Pro and get pretty good results. Whether you use SSD internally, on a PCIe or even some WD Raptor drives striped together along with plenty of RAM and a good Vid card should do the trick.

    As for me, I'll probably get the new Mac Pro depending on pricing and what will finally be the guts of the machine or what is BTO. I always wanted a Mac Mini Pro.
  15. Laird Knox macrumors 68000

    Jun 18, 2010
    When I built my PC I did a lot of searching for information on using PS with i5s and i7s (Sandy Bridge). My takeaway was that PS doesn't really benefit from the hyperthread cores provided by the i7. I don't know if the Xenon is any different in regards to Photoshop.

    With my i5 and 32GB RAM I've been able to work on 60MP files that save out around 4GB. The saving takes a bit of time but Photoshop's performance is good.
  16. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    I don't think this is a good idea in the OP's situation: if you're not experienced building a PC, and you need the first PC you ever build for critical business stuff that your livelihood depends on, it's failure waiting to happen. If the OP wants to get into building PCs, he should start with a small side project as a hobby, not with a €3k+ machine he needs to function perfectly.

    This is even more true because one of the advantages of building a PC yourself is that you can really determine every last aspect of the hardware configuration yourself. And especially here, I don't think the OP has a good idea what kind of hardware he needs.
    A single run-of-the-mill SSD will shred any array of Raptors you throw at it.
    That's very easy: look at what you can customize in an iMac or a 15" MacBook Pro and you have the answer. The Xeon CPU is socketet, so that'll be BTO (and replaceable). RAM and SSD storage are also BTO. I also expect that you have some options when it comes to video RAM and perhaps you have an option as to what GPUs you want.
  17. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    First - to each their own.

    A Mac Pro loaded with plenty of memory is a great contender for a Photoshop user. Akin to finding in Digilloyd, I find that turning off much of the graphic card abilities isn't a real hit considering that Photoshop is more CPU intensive.

    A 4 drive system with one SSD and 3 larger raptors striped is a great combo for work where larger scratch size is needed. 3 larger raptors raided properly for strip would include finding the best combo - i.e. 64kb, 128kb, 256 etc. For Photoshop going with slightly larger (256k etc.) increases speed for the raptors.

    When I see someone talking about using 16 megs of RAM and then asking about what to buy or build, the build comes to mind because it should teach those less tech savvy what really is important to a given dedicated task (Photoshop and Lightroom) vs what is a "wow" factor. I have found that a good quad or hex core with lots of RAM is as fast if not faster than a 12core set ups with less RAM and also there is no real value for Photoshop for super multi-cores as it really is not that good at exploiting them.

    Often, finding the bottle necks is a good place to start. SSD as you and others mention is a great place to start for volume space. Perhaps a 2nd large SSD drive for scratch space and at least 32 gigs of RAM would help.

    The size of the files hitting upwards into 700 mb demands the extra RAM. Some might argue 64 gigs of RAM is ideal given that one might want "history" at 4-8 levels and fast recall.

    In the work I do, I often scan photos at 300, 600 and 1200 (depending on size and what type of restoration). These files get large quickly and more so while being work upon. I will be the first to say that Mac Pro is really the only offering of the Mac line that can handle (if set up correctly) very large files. The iMac is not quite there and the Mac Mini (higher end and 16 gigs RAM with SSD internal) is a second choice given that real image work would do best with a 3rd party monitor that can be calibrated and calibrated often. The iMac while having a very nice screen is just overhead that isn't really needed (unless someone wants to put their palettes on the iMac and the 3rd party screen is dedicated to calibrated work.

    Again, its subjective. I like OSX and I loathe MS operating systems. I do have issues though with Mac computers and Apple's strategy for marketing position that impedes my ability to get the best options for work. If Photoshop ever went to Linux I would be out the Apple door for image work. Until then, I'll stay with Apple and bite my lip as many do as I can still get work done which is what it is all about.
  18. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    I find Raptors this day and age are a waste of money: SSD have >10x the throughput and ~100x times faster access times. They also come in reasonable sizes (up to 512 GB for reasonable amount of money). I think the combination of SSDs with large, NAS-grade harddrives is a better solution in every respect.
    To me, the real advantage of workstations is reliability: they have overbuilt hardware, higher-quality components on the motherboard, ECC RAM and a cooling system that's designed for systems that are under full load 24/7. Put another way, if your livelihood depends on a working machine and you have invested €€€€€ into camera equipment, you need a computer to match it.
    The 27" iMac is a real alternative for many: you can connect up to two additional monitors (including high-quality monitors) out-of-the-box and you have fast storage options with Thunderbolt. If you don't trust glossy displays, use it for palettes and e-mail. Or to list your photos in Aperture while the accurate monitors show the selected photo full screen. And a 32 GB RAM ceiling is plenty for most applications.
  19. MCAsan macrumors 601


    Jul 9, 2012
    Running photo editing software is not a serious workload on a computer. But to do it well, you want at least one large high res monitor. Narrow gamut, like ATD, is OK.
  20. spacedcadet macrumors regular

    Mar 5, 2009
    Quick solution

    Buy a 2010 MacPro secondhand and upgrade it.
    You should be able to get a 2.8 Quad for £800 or so if you're lucky. The CPU is easily upgradeable to 3.46 Hex, RAM can go up to 48GB, SSDs etc.
  21. phoenixsan macrumors 65816


    Oct 19, 2012

    on how big are the files you will be using, you will need RAM and HDD space (or storage). Top of the line quad-core CPU and over. And yes, you will save a chunk of money building yourself the computer, if you have the techno prowess to do it....just saying.....:D

  22. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I don't think we are that far apart on thinking other than raided raptors.

    The Apple screens to me are very nice screens but then again, they (my opinion and a few reviews that tend to agree) just short of being a good photography monitor if serious work is required. We concur that the iMac screen could be a good second screen for palettes and of course the connectivity. 32 gigs of RAM is a nice amount but when dealing with very large files, the more the better on RAM.

    For Photoshop, I am less worried about graphics cards as the harnessing of the GPU via Photoshop settings is of little value except for a couple of filter render operations.
  23. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    I think when Apple does release the new Mac Pro they will also release some other products at the same time. For example did you hear the statement in the keynote "You all really should be using OpenCL"? I think that is as clear as Apple gets about future directions.

    Notice also the use of TWO graphic cards in the standard Mac Pro when only one card is needed to drive three monitors why is the second card there?

    The way Open CL works is it does a test and tries several methods do some function. It tries using a CPU, several CPUs and then GPUs and picks the one that is after and then remember which was faster. So if your software uses OpenCL it will adapt to hardware upgrades and can use all 12 cores or that spare GPU.

    I think at least Apple will announce new Pro Apps, like Logic and Aperture that have been re-written to use OpenCL. They will announce these at the same time as the new MP. I'm also counting on a new 4K monitor, why else all the fuss over supporting a 4K monitor?

    OpenCL has the potential to make some parts of your software THOUSANDS of times faster but it really do require a large effort to use OpenCL. It is pretty much a re-write of the core functions. I've been in software development a long time, I'm talking "man years of labor" but they will get it done.

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