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Author Topic: Priorities in new PC specs?  (Read 3579 times)
walter.sk
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« on: September 22, 2008, 10:56:19 AM »
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I'm currently running CS3 Extended and LightRoom2 on an aged XPPro PC with a 1.7G processer and 1G of very expensive RDRam, and suffering greatly.  While I would love a MacPro it is out of the question financially, and I will in all likelihood get another PC, with a budget of about $1700 plus after-market RAM.

What I need is some updated suggestions about which aspects of a PC contribute the most to saving me from suffocating from the slowness I now experience when opening files, applying Focus Magic or Nik Software, etc.  What can I reasonably expect, and which features are most important:

1) Processor: Should I go for quad core? duo quad core?  What speed?  Size of L2 Cache?  Bus speed?

2)  Memory: DDr2? DDR3?  How much RAM?  WHat speed RAM?

3)  Hard Drive:  SATA is probably what I could get, as RAID is probably out of my financial reach.  Should I look for 7200 or 10000 RPM drives?  I already have a full stable of 500GB external drives, and they will have to do for the forseeable future, as backup and file storage.  I am thinking of getting a second, large internal drive with whatever PC I end up with.

4) Video card:  how much video ram?  ATI Radeon or nVidia?  I also use two monitors.

5) Anything else that you can suggest that would help get the best performance for the money I've got for this.

6) Brands of PC worth getting:  I've always got Dells, but I'm open to other choices that may have a better performance/price ratio but still have really good reliability.

The reason I can't go over about $1700 is that my NEC 2060u is long in the tooth and now requires 99% settings for contrast and brightness when I profile it, and I anticipate a monitor funeral coming soon.  I probably will have to spend $1500 to get a monitor that will give me as good results as this one has.
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bjanes
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« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2008, 11:43:52 AM »
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I'm currently running CS3 Extended and LightRoom2 on an aged XPPro PC with a 1.7G processer and 1G of very expensive RDRam, and suffering greatly.  While I would love a MacPro it is out of the question financially, and I will in all likelihood get another PC, with a budget of about $1700 plus after-market RAM.

What I need is some updated suggestions about which aspects of a PC contribute the most to saving me from suffocating from the slowness I now experience when opening files, applying Focus Magic or Nik Software, etc.  What can I reasonably expect, and which features are most important:

1) Processor: Should I go for quad core? duo quad core?  What speed?  Size of L2 Cache?  Bus speed?

2)  Memory: DDr2? DDR3?  How much RAM?  WHat speed RAM?

3)  Hard Drive:  SATA is probably what I could get, as RAID is probably out of my financial reach.  Should I look for 7200 or 10000 RPM drives?  I already have a full stable of 500GB external drives, and they will have to do for the forseeable future, as backup and file storage.  I am thinking of getting a second, large internal drive with whatever PC I end up with.

4) Video card:  how much video ram?  ATI Radeon or nVidia?  I also use two monitors.

5) Anything else that you can suggest that would help get the best performance for the money I've got for this.

6) Brands of PC worth getting:  I've always got Dells, but I'm open to other choices that may have a better performance/price ratio but still have really good reliability.

The reason I can't go over about $1700 is that my NEC 2060u is long in the tooth and now requires 99% settings for contrast and brightness when I profile it, and I anticipate a monitor funeral coming soon.  I probably will have to spend $1500 to get a monitor that will give me as good results as this one has.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
I can't answer all your questions, but you can get the best bang for your buck by building your own workstation class machine. I am considering such a move for my own Photoshop work. Here is one suggestion for an 8 core machine. For your price point, you would have limit yourself to 4 cores.

[a href=\"http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=942&tag=nl.e550]Build a Mac Pro Equivalent for 1/3rd the cost[/url]

As to the number of cores, I would suggest a quad-core processor of the more recent Intel 45 nm process such as the “Harpertown” as described in the above article. John Nack has written about multicore in his blog, but I think that his information regarding memory access with Intel processors is outdated .

One can't directly compare Mac and Windows performance, but here are a couple of reviews that give Photoshop benchmarks with the Mac (here and here). It would appear that 8 cores offer a minimal advantage in Photoshop, but multitasking might be improved.

Since Lightroom v2 is available in 64 bit as will be Photoshop CS4, you might consider 64 bit Windows and 8 GB more of RAM. Again, John Nack has discussed the 64 bit issue. With smaller files 64 bit it won't be much faster than 32-bit, but with large files it will be dramatically faster. He also has posted information on video cards for CS4.

Bill
« Last Edit: September 22, 2008, 11:50:13 AM by bjanes » Logged
David Sutton
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« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2008, 05:36:53 AM »
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This is a bit of a minefield. I've just been through this and spent I guess about US$1,000 for something big enough and fast enough for my needs.
The problem is that one's information can be out of date in weeks. But these were my conclusions. Things may have changed now.
Getting more and bigger follows the law of diminishing returns. Two cores do not give you twice the speed of one. Most of my software does not support multicore CPUs: I don't do gaming or video editing. DDR3 performance gains over DDR2 are minimal when benchmarked. High clock speed really matters.
With a PC you can pick your components and have the shop assemble them for a minimal cost. Shop around when you have your specs.
(BTW: I went for an Intel 8400 2 core processor. The video card I was going to get was already outdated by the time I got from my home to the shop. Got a Nvidea GeForce 9500 Gt {I really hate these names}. It works fine and supports 2 monitors, though I had to update the driver to get Lightroom to work. No doubt ATI have something just as good, but check how much heat all these things put out. Probably having your scratch disk on a separate drive is more important than drive speed. I went for 4 gig of ram with the 3G switch on the boot.ini file. I'm simply not convinced 64 bit operating systems (and Vista for that matter) are so much faster for what I do, compared to the price of the extra ram and the risk of having to spend time making it all work. I mean by this that I'm used to XP Pro. If I have to spend an extra day making some other system work, it won't matter how much faster it goes, I won't get that lost day back in speed gains. I also put in a 500 W power supply. It's very quiet.)
I think I could have upped the speed by maybe 15% by spending another $400, but I'd rather put that money into a second monitor. If the monitor is not up to scratch then everything else is a wasted.
My 2 cents worth, David

Edit: How fast is fast enough? I like to do the odd panorama. Out of curiosity I just opened 5 images in Autopano and set it to render them in smartblend. This would shut my old computer down completely and I'd need to go away and do something else entirely for a good while. As soon as I started the render process I opened my browser and went back to this page. No sign of anything slowing down. Before I could reach this post there was a 300mb panorama sitting rendered on my desktop. This is a fast enough computer for my needs.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2008, 06:29:04 AM by Taquin » Logged

giles
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2008, 08:08:51 AM »
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1) Processor: Should I go for quad core? duo quad core?  What speed?  Size of L2 Cache?  Bus speed?
Quad core seems the sweet spot right now; I don't know how much software can use two cores effectively nevermind more, so I wouldn't stress about more than a single dual or quad core Intel processor right now.  (Fingers crossed AMD get back in the game, but I don't think they're competitive at the moment.)

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2)  Memory: DDr2? DDR3?  How much RAM?  WHat speed RAM?
DDR2 is still cheaper, or was last time I looked a few weeks ago.  I'd be dubious that you'd see any speed difference between DDR2 and DDR3 or even different bus speeds (but could be wrong; the answer to all computer performance questions begins "Well, it depends ...").

Buy memory to match the bus speed of your processor and motherboard, and perhaps prefer DDR3 if your budget allows ... but more DDR2 memory will be better than less DDR3 memory.

How much RAM is important.  For a PC it depends on what operating system you're planning to run: for a 32 bit operating system, you can't use more than 4GB (or even all of 4GB, but the reason for that gets technical).  For a 64 bit operating system the limit will be defined by the hardware (usually the motherboard).

If you are planning to keep this system for a few years, I'd recommend that you look at a 64 bit OS and think about getting 8GB+ of memory.  (Yeah, I know, who needs more than 640KB?  ALL OF US!)

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3)  Hard Drive:  SATA is probably what I could get, as RAID is probably out of my financial reach.  Should I look for 7200 or 10000 RPM drives?
SATA is all you'll be able to buy; serial attached SCSI (SAS) and similar will be outside your price range; parallel ATA (a.k.a. PATA a.k.a. IDE) is too long in the tooth to worry about, plus has become more expensive than SATA anyway.

Consumer drives are 7200rpm.  I would be concerned about heat and noise from a 10,000rpm drive, but maybe they're OK now.  I have no personal experience to judge; the fastest drives I've run have been some 500GB Western Digital SATA drives.

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4) Video card:  how much video ram?  ATI Radeon or nVidia?  I also use two monitors.

I don't think the amount of video RAM much matters ... it's gamers looking for high end 3D performance and textures who want the high end cards.  For 2D applications such as Photoshop the requirements are relatively modest (although I see that CS4 may start using the graphics processing unit (GPU) on video cards more, so that may change).  (One thing about the computer industry, it keeps changing!)

Note you have a choice between two video cards, or a single card with two outputs.  I'd lean toward two cards (but you don't need SLI or Crossfire or whatever it is unless you're also into games) since you can calibrate two monitors connected to individual cards, but often (usually?) only one when connecting two monitors to a single card.

Just now I would not buy a Nvidia anything: they've a reportedly serious quality control problem on just about everything they've manufactured in the last year or so(?) according to some industry sources, e.g. www.theinquirer.net.  The worst problems seem to be with notebook video adapters; I'm waiting for my MacBook Pro to break.  (It's already had the faulty LED LCD, and Apple's service was atrocious -- so bad that I'm dubious that I'll buy any Apple equipment again.)

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6) Brands of PC worth getting:  I've always got Dells, but I'm open to other choices that may have a better performance/price ratio but still have really good reliability.
That really depends on what your local service is like from the different vendors.  All the major vendors produce OK systems -- with occasional lemons -- but not all service is equal.  In Australia I would never, ever buy any HP consumer equipment due to multiple dreadful repair experiences, and I'm rather off Apple too. (While Apple's problems are exacerbated locally by their largest reseller and outsourced repairer being under financial stress, Apple's arrogance in never admitting that they've built something wrongly no matter how well documented the problem is within the industry is very irritating).  I have no experience with Lenovo.

Dell locally are tolerable, although their hardware quality isn't any better than you pay for, and you want to wait for a special that suits you -- their regular pricing typically isn't great, at least in Oz. They do offer warranty extensions at reasonable cost to cover next day on-site hardware service, and don't argue unduly about providing such service.

The trouble with buying any system from one of the name vendors is that you don't know what's in it with any degree of certainty; building your own system no longer saves much or any money, but you do get to choose all the components.

For third party memory I like http://www.crucial.com better than I like the lower tier memory suppliers the major vendors usually use; Kingston are also highly regarded and recommended.

Good luck,

Giles
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soboyle
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« Reply #4 on: September 23, 2008, 09:13:14 AM »
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For about $1250 I built a very fast PC; quad core processor, 8 gigs ram, very good video card, 750 gig storage HD, and a 250 gig C: drive HD, and a copy of Vista home premium 64 bit so I can use all that ram.  No monitor included in that price.
Very happy with the system, fast, and all the complaints i've heard about vista, no problems at all here.

Some Specs here for reference.

ASUS P5Q LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX Intel Motherboard
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 Kentsfield 2.4GHz LGA 775 Quad-Core Processor
OCZ Reaper HPC 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)
EVGA 512-P3-N801-AR GeForce 8800 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0
Antec earthwatts EA500 500W ATX12V Certified Active PFC Power Supply -
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geotzo
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« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2008, 09:36:15 AM »
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Quote from: walter.sk,Sep 22 2008, 10:56 AM
I'm currently running CS3 Extended and LightRoom2 on an aged XPPro PC with a 1.7G processer and 1G of very expensive RDRam, and suffering greatly.  While I would love a MacPro it is out of the question financially, and I will in all likelihood get another PC, with a budget of about $1700 plus after-market RAM.

What I need is some updated suggestions about which aspects of a PC contribute the most to saving me from suffocating from the slowness I now experience when opening files, applying Focus Magic or Nik Software, etc.  What can I reasonably expect, and which features are most important:

1) Processor: go for the cheapest quad core

2)  Memory: DDR3 4Gb speed... the fastest you can buy

3)  Hard Drive:  SATA II is what I you need, RAID has to do with multi HDs and motherboard support. There are no RAID Hds along. 10000 RPM drives? That's nice but it costs more, so if you can buy a small one (74Gb are the smallest Raptors) just to run the op. system on it.  Get a normal 7200 750gb internal which are very cheap at the moment, for data storage.

4) Video card: The cheapest you can get for dual monitor. It ll not make difference for 2D work.

5) Get a Intel extreme moboard cause they are stable and hardworking and fully compatible with vista or xp os imo

6) Built it yourself if you can use a screwdriver you can do it

You should not spent more than 1200 Euros for all these
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walter.sk
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« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2008, 09:40:41 AM »
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Thanks, Bill, David, Giles and Geotzo:

From all of your responses, I at least have a starting point of how to think about my options.  

I've found a Dell XPS 630 and 730 for $1700 and $1800, respectively, that seem to be in the ballpark.  They come with an Intel Core 2 Q6600 Quad-Core processor with 8MB L2 Cache and a 1066Front Side Bus, dual nVidia GeForce 9800 GT 512MB video cards, and the 730 has Vista Ultimate Bonus(32bit? 64 bit?).  The 630 has Vista Home Premium, SP1, 64 bit.  Both haveSoundBlaster sound cards, which I regret, but the integrated sound is not an option.  

The 730 has a 500GB Seagate 7200RPM, 3Gb/s drive while the 630 has a 300GB WD 10KRPM SATA drive with 3Gb/sec speed.  RAM on the 730 is 4GB DDR3 at 1067MHz while the 630 has 4GB of the DDR2 at 800Mhz.  If I were to want more RAM I would pretty much have to dump 2 or 4 GB, as there are only 4 slots for RAM.  If I need to get more, I think I'd be better off with the DDR2, which is substantially cheaper at Crucial.  

Neither includes a monitor or speakers, but I have both, so that is a plus.  They both come with a 16X CD/DVD/DVD DL drive, which is fine for me.

Would I be able to run 32-bit software on both of these machines?  I have several plug-ins such as Focus Magic and Nik Software filters, Viveza, Dfine2 and Silver Efex, and I'm not sure if they would work in a 64-bit environment.  My CS3 and Lightroom2 are also 32-bit.

At any rate, I'm using these machines as a starting point to compare with other manufacturers' offerings.  (Meanwhile, I'll try to hit the lotto and go for an 8-core Mac Pro, which seems to be quite the fast machine.)
« Last Edit: September 23, 2008, 09:54:16 AM by walter.sk » Logged
giles
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« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2008, 05:35:13 PM »
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Would I be able to run 32-bit software on both of these machines?  I have several plug-ins such as Focus Magic and Nik Software filters, Viveza, Dfine2 and Silver Efex, and I'm not sure if they would work in a 64-bit environment.  My CS3 and Lightroom2 are also 32-bit.
64 bit operating systems will run 32 bit applications just fine.  Such applications can't take full advantage of >4GB of memory, but you can run more than one such application at once with less contention for memory.  (If you don't buy more than 4GB of memory and only have 32 bit applications the advantage of a 64 bit OS is limited, but on the other hand if you are planning to keep this machine a while, IMHO you might as well jump to 64 bit now.)

Where the 32 bit v. 64 bit sometimes matters is in driver software, but you should be OK now as 64 bit support is now prevalent and if you're buying a pre-built machine with a 64 bit OS then you would expect it to come with all needed drivers.

A future question (when a 64 bit version of Photoshop ships) is whether older plugins will work or whether they will need to be updated.  I don't know the answer to that (if someone does, please speak up!).  Adobe may decide it's too hard to let 32 bit plugins play in a 64 bit version of Photoshop.

Giles
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David Sutton
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« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2008, 05:42:28 PM »
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The Dell will certainly do the job for you. But you could probably shave a good $500 off that price with a bit of shopping around. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors around specs for computers. For example, Intel's 3GHz Core 2 Duo E8400 has far more overall application speed than its 2.4 GHz Core 2 Quad Q6600 chip. Cheaper too.
And don't forget to go for two hard drives if you can to get your access speed to your scratch disk up. David
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walter.sk
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« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2008, 05:48:45 PM »
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64 bit operating systems will run 32 bit applications just fine.
Giles
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Well, after looking around for a day, I decided on the Dell XPS 730.  What I got with it is:

Intel Core2 Q6600 Quad Core (8MB L2, 2.4GHz, 1066FSB)

4GB dual channel DDR3 at 1333MHz

Dual nVidia GeForce 9800 GT 512MB (the cheapest video card I could choose)

500 GB Seagate 7200RPM SATA 16MB cache, 3Gb/s

I had to take the Soundblaster X-Fi Xtreme Gamer (D) sound card.  I would have preferred integrated sound, but it was not available.

XP Pro installed, with a disk with Vista Ultimate (32 bit? 64 bit?  I don't know.)

No monitor, no software except the default McAffee.

With a 21% discount from WWW.edeals.com, the price was $1700, including the upgrade to 1333Mhz memory.  It didn't hurt as much as I had anticipated, and my old computer (bought in 2000!) will be retired.

Thanks again for all of the suggestions.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2008, 05:49:25 PM by walter.sk » Logged
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