Computer Attributes for Digital/Photoshop Manipulation : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

What are the attributes of a computer who's primary purpose is to work with digital images (e.g. 250megabyte scans) using Photoshop? I've been thinking about upgrading my computer, and I want it to have the capability of digital. For example:

Monitor: Screen size? Does one really need an ultra-high resolution monitor, or an ultra-big monitor? It seems monitors that come with computers these days are pretty good. What characteristics are important with respect to the monitor?

Graphics Card: How much memory? What kind of memory? How fast must it be? I'm not interested in a gaming graphics card and monitor, I'm interested in one designed for still photography. What's important in the Graphics Card?

Memory: What kind of RAM, or SRAM, or RDRAM, or etc. How much? I would think about 512M for 250megabyte files.

Processor: It must be Intel. Is 1.6GHz enough? Are there special chipsets that one should have? Pentium IV is the most recent CPU. How much cache?

Mass Storage Device: I imagine a read-write CD.

I ask on this forum, because I'm sure there are other LF photographers who have vigorously pursued finding a computer for their photography. So, I'm asking about what kind of computer that can meet LF PHOTOGRAPHIC needs. And, customers (i.e. LF Photographers) are the best judge of those needs.

Don't feel that responses need to encompass all of the above. If you have good info on a graphics card, the type of memory, etc., then your reponse on that portion would be appreicated.

I hope I've asked a question that relavant to other photographers, as well as myself. I think the possibilities are really expanded by combining the best of digital and silver, and I want to consider how I might explore those possibilities.

-- neil poulsen (, December 08, 2001


I'd venture that your estimates of what you need are correct except the monitor. I finally went to a 21" and would not go back. I use it at a medium resolution for everything but photoshop and high resolution for PS. Some PS users use two monitors: one small cheap one for the tool palettes etc and the big one for the image. One thing you have not mentioned is monitor calibration hardware and software. You need them but I can't offer much help on specifics.

You may find the 512 memory a little anoying with that size of file. Dell sometimes has two for one memory sales on new computers.

Have you tried your question on:

This whole set comes up often there.

-- John Hennessy (, December 08, 2001.

Neil... I work with big files and can offer some insight...

First you have to deal with Mac vs. PC... I don't want to start a war here, so my comments will be breif...both will work fine, there is still a small % of the graphics users who beleive that Macs color engine, Color Sync, is superior than Windows.

Monitor - The most important issue is screen size. If you plan to use PS a lot, it is much more economical to use two monitors side by side vs. one huge one. The larger the monitor, the more disproptioniate the cost is... The top of the line CRT monitors is still Barco, at about $5k, whereas the Mitsubishi line, or LaCie is considered the next best and cost a whole lot less, < $2k. If you use two monitors, only one needs to be an expensive one. In PS you can put your palletes on the second smaller monitor. If you do landscapes, the difference in these monitors is not an issue, whereas if you do color matching work, like trying to produce Coke reds for advertising work, then you may want to consider the more expensive monitors. I personaly swtiched over to LCD's as they are much more friendly to my eyes, they do NOT inflict the "sub concious flicker" effects which cause headaches and fatigue. All CRT's are vulnerable to this effect and effects many people after viewing them for 10 hours straight. New LCD's are close to the color capabilities and Dmax of CRT's, but CRT's are still a bit superior in this area. Almost all high end graphic card will suffice, this is never a bottleneck in graphics... this issue becomes critical when doing 3d modeling and gaming. If you are considering the two monitor approach, then if you use a PC, they make dual head monitor cards to drive two monitors. I beleive in Mac, you still need two graphics cards.

PC, the new dual processors seem to speed things up a lot in PS. But not double. Processing speed is usually not the bottleneck, its memory! The rule of thumb is 4x the amount of your file sizes, so if 250 MB is the norm, I would get atleast a Gig, or 1.5 gig to prepare of future use. As for the type of memory... which ever type runs the fastest in the machine you are buying

Hard Drive, get the fastest one made...accessing large files is very time consuming. If you plan to store a lot of images on your hard drive, you can fill 40 GB real fast! Consider a larger HD or a second one... A fast CD burner will be mandatory... or if you want to be bold, get a DVD burner...but the industry still needs to shake out the format of choice for years to come. CD readers are on every PC...

You should consider in your budget, how much you will spend on your profiling package. As all the expesnive gear is useless with out good profiles... this includes, monitor, scanner and printer. In addtion to profiling, you should utilize monitor software package that can keep your monitor calibrated. There is many packages on the market.

-- Bill Glickman (, December 08, 2001.


I use Intel machines at work for remote sensing image processing, and at home for photographic work in PS.

I would recommend at least a 1.8G Pentium IV. Clock speeds between Pentium III and IV cannot be compared since the IV takes about 1.3 times as many clock cycles for many instructions due to a longer pipeline. You pay a real premium for the fastest processors (>2G) so the "sweet spot" in price-performance is usually the middle clock speeds. I have a couple of 1.8G machines and find them quite responsive.

More RAM is better, but 512 will do nicely if you are planning to work in PS without much else going on at the same time. Right now, RDRAM is faster than SDRAM, but Intel is releasing the new 845D chipset this month which will allow the use of DDR SDRAM with Pentium IVs. Look for machines with this technology from Dell and others later this month or next. A year ago, RDRAM was much more expensive than DDR SDRAM, but the recession and impending release of the new motherboards have driven the price of RDRAM way down.

For one user, EIDE drives are fine these days, no need to splurge on SCSI hard drives, but get at least a 7200RPM ATA100 drive.

Definitely need a CD-RW.

As for graphics cards, most are optimized for 3D gaming. The early gaming cards were poor at 2D operations used for image processing. We used to buy Matrox boards because they specialized in 2D performance. For general use, I would recommend the NVIDIA chipsets. The GForceMX and GForceMX400 chipsets have excellent 2D performance, and the latest drivers are very stable. GForce3 is more expensive and won't improve PS much.

You definitely want an aperture-grille monitor (Trinitron or equivalent). These phosphors are the best for calibrating for image applications. One way to save money is to get a good 17" or 19" monitor for the image windows, and use a cheaper 15-17" monitor on a second graphics board to hold the PS palettes.

Finally, invest in a good color calibration system. ColorVision has their "Monitor Spyder" system available with software for under $300 these days.

That said, I work with a 900MHz Pentium III system with 384MB of SDRAM and a 19" monitor at home, and work with files up to 300MB and do preflight preparation for output to a LightJet. While faster and bigger would be nicer, that system works fine and I don't feel compelled to go out and replace it this year.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (, December 08, 2001.

I'm considering the same issues.

I expect to be working with 500MB+ files so here's what I'm considering.

Dual AMD MP 1800+ processors, Tyan Tiger MB, starting out with 1GB of DDR PC2100 ECC RAM. According to Tyan the MB will support 3GB total of RAM. I've heard that with a BIOS upgrade this is increased to 4GB. I expect in the end to have at least 3GB of RAM, just can't afford 3GB from the start. I can tell you that even using a dual 800MHz MAC G4 with 256MB RAM, it starts to crawl when you open 5-6 18MB files and start making manipulations. So be prepared to wait a bit with 250MB files. Also, don't expect to open many files simultaneously and expect the speed to not be affected.

I'm going with a GeForce 2 video card with 64MB of SDRAM or ... I've also considered the Matrox G450 dual head card and am still debating which card.

I'll be starting with two 60 GB drives (one for Windows XP-Pro, the other for Suse Linux). I expect to add RAID at some point, there are many single processor MB's (Pentium 4 and AMD) which support onboard RAID, so definitely consider that. Besides the benefits of faster access/write/read. etc. you can stripe the drives in different ways for data protection. Just check carefully to see if striping using different methods is allowed. Also consider SCSI in place of IDE, just be prepared to spend more for the HDDs.

It's true that using a dual processor doesn't double the speed, you can expect roughly a 1.6x improvement only on apps which are WRITTEN WELL to specifically support SMP (symmetric multi-processing). Other tasks are sometimes slower than using a single processor. Fortunately, Photoshop supports SMP. Linux also is designed up front to support SMP.



-- S Ratzlaff (, December 08, 2001.

Sorry to rain on the Windows parade but I still think you'll do better and at an ultimately lower cost in time and frustration if you go with a fast G4. Do an honest omparison and ask the graphics and printing houses you know in your area and also your potential clients about this, especially regarding color space and photoshop issues. I also fully expect the Apple OS X to be running on Intel processors within a year or two.

As for my objectivity about this: I work on a "quicksilver" Apple G4 but own Dell and Intel Stock.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, December 08, 2001.

Hi Neil

I agree with Ellis on this one. I have been using both platforms for many years professionally, for photography and graphic design work, and although the PC enviornment performs well, the Macintosh system is the better chioce for your application. It is still the favoured platform used by the majority of those working in the graphics and printing and photography industry.

If you only intend to use the equipment inhouse, then the choice becomes a more personal one, but if you intend dealing with outside sources then compatibility with other Mac users IS important.

I use a 19" La Cie and a 17" Apple for tools and although the 19" is a lovely monitor I wish I could have afforded a larger one. The larger monitor will be especially beneficial if you use panoramas or do a lot of 'portrait' orientated images.

For memory get as much as you can afford - the more the better.

A fast graphics card is a must.

Dual processors are a definate benefit (expensive) but with a fast single processor, large amount of memory and a fast, large capacity hard drive the differences will not be so noticable.

Bill is absolutely correct with his comments on HD storage and removable media. You will use up a 40 gig HD in no time with 250 mg scans, once you start working on them and using layers, etc. That 250mg will turn into 1 gig in no time at all. So get a fast (firewire maybe?) HD with lots of space.

The advice to get a CD re/writer is sound as DVD is not yet widely enough accepted and DVD rewriters are still too expensive. Make sure you get a REWRITABLE CD so you are able to rewrite to the CD multiple times.

As far as advising on specific products, you would be best to seek advice from local print shops, other local photographers, etc and it will depend on which platform you choose. Just like with LF lenses and cameras, most of the larger, well known companies have very good quality equipment.

Hope this helps

Kind regards

peter Brown

-- Peter L Brown (, December 08, 2001.

Since I have never considered this question I don't know much about this, but if I was in your shoes I would go with the equipment that the people who do this for a living use. I have a good friend who is the one that initiated the digital negatives for alternate printing and I know he uses an Aplle G4, apparently so does Ellis, who makes his living with photography.....I would say a G4 sounds like better choice. I hope this helps...:-))

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, December 08, 2001.

If you do decide to go with Apple, consider buying the machine from Apple with the smallest possible memory configuration then buying lots of memory from a third party vendor. A few Apple users I know have recommended The Chip Merchant ( as a source of good yet inexpensive memory. They sell a kit specifically for the G4 that includes 1.5 GB for $248.00. The same amount of memory purchased from Apple will cost about $1100. (Note that the G4 can hold 2 GB but 1.5GB is the max that OS 9 can use.)

People always say that if you're working with big files in Photoshop then "get as much memory as you can afford". If you can afford $250 then you can get the maximum amount of memory that the machine can handle, which is quite a bargain.

-- David Bradley (, December 08, 2001.

For memory, I purchase mine from Data Memory Systems. Most recently I paid about $60 for 512 MB chips of RAM. It works great, at least on my G4. Make sure to budget for color profiling software, as Bill explains. I've been using various RAM chips I bought from DMS for about 5 years now, never a failure, knock on wood.

-- Howard Slavitt (, December 09, 2001.

Neil, I dont want to repeat the good things that have been said, but I too would strongly advise you to take the Mac option. Here is what I use: Dual processor G4 500 MHz with 1,5 GB Ram (3x 512) and two ATA Harddisks (40 and 75 GB IBM), Sony W900 24" monitor (Apple Cinema is a nice screen, still expensive). I would now choose the Pioneer DV-03 (Superdisk) option. It can also be found as external FireWire for less than $700 and will allow to save 4,7 GB of data on a $10 DVD-disk in the time required for burning a CD-ROM at 4 x speed (20 min.). It also has the CD-Write and CD-Rewrite features. (I have DVD-Ram but is not a good option as it is very slow). Calibrating the monitor is important. I use the Spyder and OptiCal from Good luck!

-- Paul Schilliger (, December 09, 2001.

In the origianl post, Neil says: "Processor: It must be Intel".

-- Michael Feldman (, December 09, 2001.

Hi Neil

Are you sure it must be Intel? Here in Switzerland most of the graficfreaks and photostudios work with Mac and they have a reason for thad I think. My wote is apple not windows! But of course it can be done with windows also, I know both plattforms, but I prefer the Mac, but with a giga of ram! Much RAM for all users!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, December 09, 2001.

Neil, I think that there are many good options out there, but I will give some points that helped me.

Consider a custom-built machine over the ready-built ones. This way you will ensure that the components you get are what you wanted.

Consider using two monitors. As someone mentioned, two 19" will serve better than 1 bigger one. My experiance with 21" monitors is that my viewing distance increased to take in the size (to the point where I was virtually observing a 19" monitor). With two monitors, the toolbars are kept on one monitor and the image is kept on the other. Having both monitors from the same manufacturer is helpful as the same setting can apply to both.

Regarding processing power, the key is RAM. RAM is cheap now so get at least 1 GIG for your application. Go with the "faster-speed" RAM.

As for components, it is more important to consider their transfer rates over their size (ie. motherboards, hard-drives and RAM). The motherboard should support about 3 GIG of RAM. For hard-drives, don't look at their rpm's, you want to look at the tranfer rate.

These days, you can get an incredible fast custom-built machine at super prices.

-- dave (, December 09, 2001.

As mentioned above, and it can't be mentioned enough, as much RAM as the machine can hold, 1-2 gigs, is a necessity. Everything else is icing.

-- Donald Brewster (, December 10, 2001.

If you are prioritizing your budget, you should consider maximum RAM as your top priority. If I recall correctly Adobe recommends 5 or 6 times your file size for RAM. More is even better.

If you are going Intel, some Motherboards offer an onboard ATA RAID controller (rather than a non-RAID). Get it! Then put two 7200 RPM drives in a RAID0 config.

If you go Mac (or get a non-RAID mobo), check out the ACARD ATA RAID card.

Monitors: big is good! Make sure that your monitor has separate controls for adjusting the R, G, and B guns so you can calibrate it. If you cannot calibrate your monitor, it is worthless. Budget in the $225 to buy PhotoCal and the Monitor Spyder. It is essential!

-- Michael Chmilar (, December 10, 2001.

I won't claim to have as much experience as others here, but here's my two cents' worth anyway. At school in the computer lab we use Mac G3's with 128 mb ram and who knows what the processor is- they're all a few years old. Anyway, when working on those, I regularly work on files in the range of about 80 MB. Things are kind of slow, but not so much that you're going to be pulling your hair out. Within the last 3 weeks or so, I bought a brand new Mac G4 w/512 MB RAM, 733MHz processor, Zip 250 drive, CDRW/DVD drive, 15" studio display, and an Epson 1280 printer. I bought my computer for doing photographic, web design, and desktop publishing purposes, and I think the system will work out quite well.

All in all spent about $3,700.00 w/ student discount. Software was about another grand. I haven't been doing a whole lot of heavy duty stuff yet, since not all my software is in yet, but even doing the limited amount of things that I'm doing now, I can already see a huge difference in performance from the G3's I'm used to. Those same 80mb files aren't a problem at all, as far as I'm concerned. I can see how some extra RAM and a faster processor would be nice, especially if I start working with larger file sizes, but from a practical standpoint with everything I work with (Photoshop, Illustrator, Golive, Flash, Quark, InDesign, etc), there's no overwhelming reason to go any higher on the specs. My budget is limited as a student- as it is I'll be paying this off for the next 2 years- and if you're budget isn't exactly unlimited, I don't see any reason to go with the absolute max that technology has to offer at this point in time.

I've always found the Mac interface to be a lot easier and more logical than anything Microsoft, but that's largely a matter of personal preference and just the fact that it fits how I think better, if that makes any sense. I'm working on Mac OS X now, and it's different enough from 9 that it took some getting used to, but I still think its great. Before you decide for sure, I would recommend working with X and whatever is Microsoft's most recent offering if at all possible. I know a lot of people tout Macs as being the champions for graphic design and photo work, but if you can't get into the OS, then heresay is a dumb reason to go for Mac.

Good luck with your decision.

-- David Munson (, December 10, 2001.

Here's my 2 cents... being an art director, photographer and in charge for 30+ mac computers ... All the above opinions are valid...Unless you're already have a set up with Pc, in the graphic and photography field, the Mac are the machines of choice. Below is the description of my set up which I use every day (I also have a Pc which I used to the check the Web Color...) - Mac G4 dual 800Mhz, 1,5Gig of ram - 80Gig ATA-100 hard drive - 2 graphics cards with 16mb of video ram each - 1 Tempo ATA-100 card + two 80Gig hard drives This G4 was bought in basic configuration snd others items was added later. Monitors are twin LaCie 22' (the 2nd monitor could be anything from 17' on...). Also, setting up the scratch disks in Photoshop preferences is important (usually not the one whith applications and system). Another good monitor is the Apple Cinema Display but expensive... I hope this will help...Good luck

-- dan n. (, December 11, 2001.

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