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What computer for photo editing?

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I have been using an old Dell Optiplex 380 with a Pentium Dualcore E6700 processor for all editing, and whilst it does the job, it is rather slow, meaning when applying some edits, I have to wait many seconds for it to take effect (excuse the pun).

Whilst many advocate that a minimum for editing should have an Intel i5 or i7 PLUS an additional SSD AND a graphics card, I feel this is rather over the top.

I see that a typical Intel i5 processor (such as an 8400) is quoted as being around 385 times faster than my current processor.

So my question really is: if I buy any basic model with such an i5 processor, will it stop me waiting, or will I still need an additional SSD or/and graphics card?

I use Photoshop Elements 13, Topaz Adjust and not much else.

Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thanks.

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there's not a generic answer to your question. Things to consider (IMO) include:

If you edit images professionally, you probably wouldn't ask this forum for advice in the first place. So let's assume, you're an amateur like most of us. In this case, you wonder if you should be trading money (which is an equivalent to the lifetime you spent earning it) for lifetime, which you are going to spend waiting for your edits to become visible on-screen. If you edit  _enough_  images, it's advisable to invest in a tool, which cuts down on the waiting time. If you edit only every once in a while, you'd probably be better off (financially and livetime-wise) waiting for the results. So much for the metaphorical part of it. ?

The waiting time itself consists of processing time  (which is dependent on the CPU power), the data loading time, which is dependent on several aspects like RAM size, RAM speed, disk speed (in case of insufficient amount of RAM) and even network bandwidth (in case of accessing data on a NAS). Finally, you have the display time, which is dependent on bus-width of the graphics adapter connection to the mainboard, plus of course the GPU power itself.

If I had only limited resources at hand (which I can easily imagine), I would put my preference on a good CPU and enough of RAM.

From a gut feeling, I would go for at least the twenty-fold of the size of a raw image (because of undo buffers, layers and similar stuff), plus enough for the OS and the image processing software itself. Since RAM isn't that expensive any more, 16GB would most probably bring you very far. Provided, the OS you're using supports that much RAM.

The rest (disk or SSD, network and/or graphics adaptor) seem rather insignificant to me in comparison. Because, let's face it: as amateurs, we'll be spending most of the time sitting in front of our screen, contemplating on how we could tweak that decisive little bit more to of our picture.

The waiting time for an edit to become visible becomes very insignificant, compared to the above. (My personal experience)

Hope that helps.


Edited by Chrissie
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Dear Chrissie,


Many thanks for your reply which is very helpful.

As you assume,  I'm a keen amateur, but I process around 100 RAW images every week, and if you saw how slow my present kit is, you would opt, I suspect, for an upgrade. I suppose that the questions I should be asking is this: Having decided something HAS to be done, will spending £600 on this Dell machine be adequate, or is this too little/too mcuch to be spending:  https://www.dell.com/en-uk/shop/desktops-and-all-in-ones/inspiron-small-desktop/spd/inspiron-3470-desktop/cd347007

Thanks again.

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24 minutes ago, flash harry 1 said:

is this too little/too mcuch to be spending


 from a quick look at the specs I think, you should be very fine with that machine. Just don't forget, that you may want/need a large screen to be editing high-res images. So set aside a little budget for that, too (i.e. on top ? )

Keyboard and mouse you should be able to re-use from your existing computer.

Good luck and please: do keep us posted.



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16 hours ago, Chrissie said:

The rest (disk or SSD, network and/or graphics adaptor) seem rather insignificant to me in comparison. Because, let's face it: as amateurs, we'll be spending most of the time sitting in front of our screen, contemplating on how we could tweak that decisive little bit more to of our picture.

Although the TO is already satisfied with my answer, I would like to rectify some of my above post.

The conclusion remains the same, but my reasoning was flawed.

The "edit" is computed within a CPU, after the raw image has been loaded into the RAM. The data loading happens only once per image, while the edit may involve 20 or more cycles, including undos etc. The computation time for each step of an edit may be in the order of several seconds. Swapping the CPU for another CPU which is twice as fast will give you a benefit in the same order of magnitude, which is still half of "several seconds".

The graphics adapter and/or disk have a much lesser impact, in terms of absolute time. We're talking here of a GPU being able to deliver 60, 80 or 100 fps, during ambitious gaming for instance. So these are refresh times in the range some hundredth of a second. Swapping a slow graphics adapter for another one which is twice as fast will give you a time saving in the same order of magnitude, which is still in the range of some hundredth of a second.

And that's the reason, why upgrading the CPU will give more "bang for the buck" than upgrading the graphics adapter and/or disk, when editing stills.

Speaking of hard disk vs. SSD, the reasoning ist the same: the data loading part happens only once per raw image, while the edits involve some tens of steps. Speeding up the steps (via fast CPU) gives much more benefit that speeding the initial data loading part.

Thanks for your attention.  8-)

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  • 2 months later...

Keep this short and sweet. You need the most up to date and most powerful machine you could find in your price range.

Mine is a W350 Thinkpad with i7. I think the T5 is the current flagship for Thinkpad????? but again I needed a workstation in mind. Something that can not fail and does work. I spent literally $200 more then what my sibling brought for our mother. That computer is terrible and sluggish.

About Hard drives you need SSD ASAP no matter what. You can keep a 7200RPM ( I think the RPM nowdays are better? ) drive for long term storage but remember they all will start to fail one day. SSD are worst because they could stop writing or reading and is very hard to recover from if possible.

I rarely edit from drive or network. I ( or you ) could network our project from a server ( the file ) and edit from file if the connection is fast enough. I network from my home network. I am still trying to boost the speed of the network and make it wireless.

Again SSD for big work and memory usage but regular RPM drives for storage and short term edits.

Otherwise the flagship of whatever brand you prefer to use. Even Apple flagships are the better option. More exotic brands are questionable but refurbish computers are better to save money.


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