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Which hardware for digital imaging



there is an old thread of 2002 here:


about the hardware required for good digital imaging. Since technology changes so fast, I would like to ask a similar question now in 2005

I have currently a PC and unfortunately I have to stick with PC, so Mac is not an option.

I currently use:
- AMD Athlon K7 XP 2200+ (Box),
- 512 MB RAM (expandable to max. 2GB)
- 1x internal (old) 20GB HD (do not know the speed)
- 1x internal 160GB DH (Samsung, 7200 speed, 8.9ms, 2MB)
- Windows XP home edition
- very cheap CRT

I guess the first thing I have to add is RAM. I thought about buying 1GB RAM additionally.

Both internal HDs have divided partitions. Each one has 2 differnt partitions. Windows XP is installed on the one of the 2 partitions of the old 20GB HD, Photoshop CS2 is installed on one partition of the 160GB HD.

So my question is, besides of 1GB RAM additionally (would then be a total 1.5GB of RAM), what else should I consider?

Will I see a speed improvement with a faster processor? How fast has the "new" processor to be to really feel any speed improvements?

Do I have to add fastser HDs?

Do I have to install PS CS2 in a different way to optimize performance?

I will scan with 4000dpi slides and I will import RAW images from DSLRs with that system. So I expect photo-file sizes between 5MB and 120MB.

(I will post another question specifically for the computerscreen later...)

Thanks in advance
Hi Dirk,

The best way to solve this question would be to upgrade the computer. It should be a minimum of an AMD64 3000+ to make it run smoothly and quickly. You should also be looking at at least 1 Gb preferably 2 GB or more, of DDR400 ram (as it is quite cheap now) and 200 Gb+ of (SATA) hard disc space, maybe 2 x 200 Gb discs run in a Raid configuration. Don't forget to include a good graphics card as well. One of the most important parts that people forget is to use a good motherboard, Most people go for CPU power and ram alone. Would they put a Ferarri engine in a Fiat Punto and expect the best performance?

If your present computer will take a 3000+ (socket 457) then slot it in as they are a fine PCU. Putting in extra ram will be very helpful but you will have to see if the number and size of the memory module you want to put in will be an allowed configuration. It would be better to put in 2 x 1 Gb modules and remove the 512 one. The way your computer is set up with the XP on the old small disc will also make the system slower as the newer hard drives, ie your 160Gb one, are far faster in accessing data. WIn XP should be on the 160 Gb drive and use the 20 gb as a scratch disc for PS and storing images.



I would break your hardware up into three areas and then decide upgrades in each according to need:

1. Processing speed: CPU and memory, the more the better. Keep in mind Windows doesn't currently recognize anything above 3GB memory. Photoshop will use as much of it as you provide - it won't go wasted, including multi-processors / multi-cores.

2. Display: video controller card and display device. Notice there are currently three main possible card types: PCI, AGP, and PC-Express which is the newest motherboard interface. The device is very subjective. I still feel CRTs will definitely get you the best look for the buck, and the best blacks / shadow detail unless you spend megabucks for Apple HD displays.

3. Disk storage: start thinking of migrating to a RAID configuration. External configurations may be easier to implement, but will be slower in performance, which will count when you start backing up dozens or hundreds of GBs. RAID can buy you two things depending on configuration: speed and fault tolerance (losing a drive will slow it down but not lose data, and after replacing it the system heals itself to full performance).

The motherboard glues all of this together, so it's the cornerstone of your selection for your future expandability. If possible try and have some kind of health monitoring facility that lets you keep track of voltages and temperatures - CPUs get VERY hot when they start chugging away at image processing. An uninterruptible power system with batter back-up would be nice, but at the very least get a good line conditioner. Here in NYC the power during the summer has temporarily gone to as low as under 90 VAC at times.

Quite frankly I feel anybody serious about their images who is not considering RAID storage is playing Russian Roulette. Thinking some back-up program will save you is iffy at best. First, how often do you back up? You will lose anything you did after your latest back-up. Second, how reliable is your back-up/restore process? How many people have actually done a full-cycle test? How reliable is your back-up media? How many years will it remain reliable?

RAID should not replace a reliable back-up process. Basically, RAID is your first line of defense against system problems. The back-up process is your second line of defense, and also something you need to use for maintenance purposes, like moving to another system, upgrading / replacing your current hardware configuration, etc. Also consider keeping back-up copies, i.e. drives, off-site from your house, just in case something REALLY bad happens

I don't really trust any passive removable media that nobody can really guarantee. I believe in redundant active drives, which I will immediately know when they're no longer functioning and thus they can be immediately replaced. The alternative is to hope something you create now will be readable when you have to use it in the future. There are ways of insuring this but they are tedious and time consuming.

Even if you don't start with RAID, think in terms of redundancy. Use a volume for the system and applications, another one for the data / images, and a third one to back-up to. The third one can be slower and larger cheaper disks. Remember image files are usually compressed already - don't think compression will save space when backing them up.

You should be looking at SATA drives, nothing else (unless you want to spend really high-end $$$ and use U320 SCSI, not really worth it at this point for this application). Consider using a drive bay that allows quick replacement / swapping of drives, as well as allowing more drives to be installed.

Get a real beefy power supply. Don't skimp on power.

Sorry for the long-windedness, but hopefully I gave you some food for thought so you can make compromises that suit your current situation, and can start a system you can grow over the coming months to suit your evolving needs.

Remember there's no such thing as too much CPU, too much memory (up to 3GB with 32-bit Windows
), or too much storage - this is your darkroom / gallery / photographic life

That's very helpful to me too DJ. Thanks.
I use the idea you mention of having OS and applications on one drive, data on another internal one which I am soon to upgrade and backing up to a separate external drive.
I did find that when I changed my computer this year to my current AMD Athlon 64, the improvement in Photoshop was amazing. I can now do other things as well, rather than it siezing up as it did with my old computer.
Also scanning works much better but at full blast, the computer still doesn't like me to do much else, even opening Outlook tends to crash Outlook.
I have 1GB memory and was thinking of buying another 1GB.
That's interesting Paul.
I thought I would allow the local PC shop to install my extra RAM when I get around to it, in case I bought the wrong sort or did it otherwise wrongly.
Hi John,

A lot of motherboards only have two slots for memory modules and quite often pc manufacturers fill both slots as two smaller modules are normally cheaper than one big one. That is 2 x 512 mb rather than 1 x 1 gig. That means that you will have to forgo the 2 x 512's if you want to go to 2 Gb, you should get a trade in for them or sell them on. Also some boards say they take DDR 4400 ram but if you use the 2 x modules route they default to DDR333, so that is another thing to check.


Hi Paul,
Thanks for that information. It would be a pain to have to buy 2GB instead of 1. I will certainly check and also if it defaults as you say.
Thanks again,
Hi John,

As you may have noticed I made a boo boo. I mentioned DDR 4400 ram, it should have been DDR 400.

Hi Paul,
I hadn't realized anything was amiss.
Thanks for letting me know.