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Author Topic: Computer Upgrade Dilemma  (Read 4710 times)
JayM
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« on: May 16, 2012, 11:25:16 PM »
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My old iMac is groaning under the demands I am placing on it with Lightroom and Photoshop. The big files from the D800e I have ordered will only make matters worse. Time for an upgrade.  This machine is used principally for image processing.

I guess my dream system would be a Mac Pro with a wide gamut NEC monitor.  But, by the time I load up the Mac Pro the way I would want, the cost of that system would top $6,000, which is past my choke point.

So, I have been looking at a new iMac loaded up with a the fastest processor available, plenty of RAM, SSD drive and a 1 or 2 TB second drive. That prices out at a little over $3,000, which is acceptable.  I think the iMac would have adequate power, but the monitor would be ok but not ideal in terms of accurate color.

Just for grins, I went to the Hewlett Packard web site and configured an HP desktop more-or-less like the iMac I have been looking our.  It priced out just under $2,000, which means I could add the wide gamut NEC monitor and still be within my budget.

Other info: I travel with a 13" Macbook Pro and use an iPad to display images, so if I move to a Windows-based desktop I would lose a bit of compatibility.  I don't use Photoshop on my laptop but I do use Lightroom (mostly just for organizing images and key wording while on the road).  But, I understand that the Lightroom license allows me to install LR on either OS.

So the questions is, for purposes of image processing, would it be worth migrating to a Windows-based system to gain the advantage of the wide gamut NEC monitor?

I would appreciate any thoughts and advice.
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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2012, 01:45:34 AM »
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So the questions is, for purposes of image processing, would it be worth migrating to a Windows-based system to gain the advantage of the wide gamut NEC monitor?

I would appreciate any thoughts and advice.
When working within a budget, you can almost always get more performance from a Windows machine.  Keep in mind, that HP you're looking at has a desktop CPU where the Imac has a mobile CPU.

Have you considered a Hackintosh?  I've been hearing good things about them.  Basically, you could build a nice quality Windows system within your budget, partition your system drive, and have both Windows and OsX available if that's important to you.  And have the NEC monitor.. Smiley
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sbay
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« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2012, 10:39:23 AM »
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For reasons of having a hardware backup, consistent software, consistent processes etc. I would pick one system and stay with it for both of your computers. Although lightroom and photoshop are the same on win/mac other software you use may be different (mail, calendar, office suite, backup software, etc.). This is just my preference and you can certainly make a heterogenous environment work albeit with slightly more hassle. 
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Thomas Krüger
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« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2012, 01:17:06 AM »
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Building a windows machine with the Intel i2500K processor and a mainboard like the AS Rock Z68 Pro3 you can use the integrated graphic processor of the i2500K. Instead of a graphic card get a SSD. 16GB Ram is also cheap. Add the rest you need and you will have a mid-range computer for under 1000$.
Together with a monitor like the NEC PA271W you will have a good system for Windows.
http://www.anandtech.com/show/5752/nec-pa271w-when-accuracy-and-consistancy-matter

Check the buyer + build-your-own guides, if you have questions use the forums and you will get plenty of help.
http://www.anandtech.com/tag/guides
http://forums.anandtech.com/forumdisplay.php?f=4
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/How-To,4/Build-Your-Own,16/
http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/forum-13-322.html
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Rhossydd
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« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2012, 02:12:09 AM »
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So the questions is, for purposes of image processing, would it be worth migrating to a Windows-based system to gain the advantage of the wide gamut NEC monitor?
I'd say YES. Without a good monitor you're never going to really know what's in your files.

Switching to Windows 7 ought to be pretty painless and you'll avoid the continual colour management issues that have afflicted recent Mac OS upgrades.
Building a system from scratch using your own choice of components is the best value option. Inter-component compatibility is far better these days than 10 years ago and installing W7 from scratch is pretty straight forward too, but I can appreciate not everyone wants to get involved with that.
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Pete_G
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« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2012, 07:03:21 AM »
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Building your own PC simply isn't an option for most people, if it was everybody would do it. I prefer PC's but in this case I don't understand why the OP would want to swap to PC. Is the iMac screen that bad?

http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/content_page.asp?cid=7-11532-11564

Rob Galbraith doesn't think so.

Don't get HP desktops, HP make good computers but I think that is limited to the Z series workstations, which ain't cheaper than Macs.

You can always add an NEC later as a second monitor, when funds allow.
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JayM
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« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2012, 02:51:48 PM »
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That you all for your very helpful replies. I still haven't made a decision, but you have given me some good thoughts to consider.

--Jay
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tastar
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« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2012, 08:18:58 PM »
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I would recommend a 21.5 inch iMac with a 2.8GHz Ci7 (which is a desktop processor, not a mobile one - 2600S), 256GB SSD and 1TB hard drive and AppleCare - list price 2468. I would then add 4 x 4GB of Crucial DDR3 1333 SODIMMs for about 100.00 (or 4 x 8GB SODIMMs for about 320.00). Total cost 2568 with 16GB of memory (or 2788 with 32GB of memory). Then add a color accurate NEC display of your choice using a mini DisplayPort to DVI-D cable.. Very nice and fast machine at a very good price point. Slightly slower than a 27 inch 3.4GHz Core i7, but who needs a 27 inch very mediocre quality display anyway?
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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2012, 04:59:48 PM »
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That you all for your very helpful replies. I still haven't made a decision, but you have given me some good thoughts to consider.

--Jay
Jay -

If you've never built your own computer why not take the plunge and give it a try?  It's really not difficult and if you post a list of components we can offer suggestions.. or if you just post a budget we can come up with some different build lists with links to Newegg.  There's a lot of helpful people in this forum and that gives an added value to any computer you decide to build if you accept their help.

As far as putting it together.. a small set of screw drivers is usually the only tool required if that, and if you follow some basic rules and maybe watch some builds on Youtube you'll become more comfortable with the idea.

Help is here if you want it.

Steve
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Chris Pollock
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2012, 08:14:01 AM »
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Building your own PC simply isn't an option for most people, if it was everybody would do it.
Assembling a PC isn't rocket science. You need to know what you're doing, but it's not hard to learn. On the other hand, there isn't really a good reason for most people to do so. If you just want a basic Windows machine you can buy one from a company like Dell at least as cheaply as you can build it yourself. The advantage of building your own is that you can choose exactly the components that you want. It's also probably easier to upgrade your own build than something from Dell.
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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2012, 02:59:14 PM »
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Assembling a PC isn't rocket science. You need to know what you're doing, but it's not hard to learn. On the other hand, there isn't really a good reason for most people to do so. If you just want a basic Windows machine you can buy one from a company like Dell at least as cheaply as you can build it yourself. The advantage of building your own is that you can choose exactly the components that you want. It's also probably easier to upgrade your own build than something from Dell.
Agreed on all points but I'd add that while you can usually buy a low-mid range PC from Dell for not much more than you can build one yourself (and yes, upgrading a factory PC can be problematic and hold surprises), when you get into the realm of higher power workstations you can indeed save considerably by building it yourself.  And even at this level Dell and HP and others can still through you some surprises when trying to upgrade like an odd number of memory slots or a non-standard power supply.

Custom builders on the other hand use standard size cases, power supplies, motherboards, etc, etc.. so at least if you're paying for this level of build you can be confident upgrading won't be much of an issue in the future.
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JayM
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« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2012, 07:37:02 PM »
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I would recommend a 21.5 inch iMac with a 2.8GHz Ci7 (which is a desktop processor, not a mobile one - 2600S), 256GB SSD and 1TB hard drive and AppleCare - list price 2468. I would then add 4 x 4GB of Crucial DDR3 1333 SODIMMs for about 100.00 (or 4 x 8GB SODIMMs for about 320.00). Total cost 2568 with 16GB of memory (or 2788 with 32GB of memory). Then add a color accurate NEC display of your choice using a mini DisplayPort to DVI-D cable.. Very nice and fast machine at a very good price point. Slightly slower than a 27 inch 3.4GHz Core i7, but who needs a 27 inch very mediocre quality display anyway?

What an interesting idea. Why didn't I think of that? It's only a little more than I planned to spend and I don't have to change platforms. Definitely an option I will consider.  I haven't used a dual monitor setup before, but I can't think of any disadvantages other than loss of desk space (physical desk, that is).
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Farmer
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« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2012, 10:38:23 PM »
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Dual monitor setups are awesome - do some Google searching and you'll find figures quoted from 7% to over 100% improvement in productivity.  It depends entirely on what sort of work you do, but having the image on one screen and all your tools on another, for example, is extremely useful and works extremely well.
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JayM
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« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2012, 07:04:44 AM »
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The main use will be photo editing using photoshop and Lightroom.  So, if I connect the NEC to the iMac I will obviously want to calibrate the NEC. Does that present any problems?
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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2012, 08:19:18 AM »
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The main use will be photo editing using photoshop and Lightroom.  So, if I connect the NEC to the iMac I will obviously want to calibrate the NEC. Does that present any problems?
I've used dual monitors for well over a decade and even recently bought a Lenovo USB powered/ran laptop monitor so I could maintain my work flow while mobile.. just having two monitors is only part of the solution, the two monitors need to be the same size/shape/matte/gloss, fit on a dual stand that angles them properly (or have like stands you can position carefully(time consuming), and ideally be able to be profiled properly so what you see on one monitor (for instance the first screen of Lightroom) is the same as the second monitor (second screen of Lightroom).  Having the first screen profiled but not the second or having them display your image differently in any way greatly reduces the benefits of using two monitors.

There is 'some' benefit to having a second monitor for tools, but the experience can be so much more.  And should be.

As to your question about calibrating both with an Imac.. I suspect this will be problematic as recommended unless Imac's have recently went to one of the ATI Mobile eyefinity video boards.  The NEC will use it's internal LUT so that might solve the problem using any video card.. maybe someone who uses a Imac/NEC combination can share their experience.  I personally cringe when I consider using two different type monitors, one gloss one matte, different sizes, etc.. and where one uses one profiling utility and the other uses another.  Unnecessarily complicated.   You might be trading one inconvenience for another.
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Pete_G
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« Reply #15 on: May 21, 2012, 02:19:31 PM »
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I don't know how it works with an iMac but it shouldn't be different to a PC, I had an NEC attached to a Thinkpad laptop for quite some time and the Spectraview software (Basicolor in my case, since I'm in Europe) calibrated the NEC using it's internal LUT's and also would do a software calibration of the Thinkpad screen, using the video card adjustments. I have a similar system now with an HP workstation, where the NEC is as it was and the second HP monitor is software calibrated as before. The MUCH cheaper HP screen is not a million miles away from the NEC, so it's not off putting. Once you have dual screens, going back to a single screen setup is no fun.
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Chris Kern
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« Reply #16 on: May 21, 2012, 05:50:14 PM »
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I have been looking at a new iMac loaded up with a the fastest processor available, plenty of RAM, SSD drive and a 1 or 2 TB second drive. That prices out at a little over $3,000, which is acceptable.  I think the iMac would have adequate power, but the monitor would be ok but not ideal in terms of accurate color.

Just for grins, I went to the Hewlett Packard web site and configured an HP desktop more-or-less like the iMac I have been looking our.  It priced out just under $2,000, which means I could add the wide gamut NEC monitor and still be within my budget. . . .

So the questions is, for purposes of image processing, would it be worth migrating to a Windows-based system to gain the advantage of the wide gamut NEC monitor?

As others have pointed out, at any given price-point you can get better processor specs with a machine designed for MS-Windows that you can with a Mac.

Having said that, if you want to stick with Apple hardware, it's fairly clear to me from some monitoring I have done on my own machines that the performance constraint which most affects both Lightroom and Photoshop on Apple's OS X is the speed of demand-paging: how fast the operating system can move data between solid state memory and a disk ("swap" space), rather than anything to do with image processing, per se.  In other words, I think it's the large size of the image datasets that is most likely to slow things down.  I'm not claiming that you can't run out of CPU when working with Lightroom and Photoshop, but I think that's not likely to be the problem on any recent desktop Mac.  Some people with credible UNIX and Linux backgrounds believe OS X's memory management is broken.  I'm inclined to agree that it's not up to the standards of other *NIX variants I have used.

Having sufficient unallocated RAM seems to dramatically alleviate the symptoms, however.  With enough free memory, it doesn't matter how badly the OS X kernel manages it.  There are pretty severe limits to how much RAM you can stuff in a current iMac or Mac Mini.  However, both of those desktop systems, as well as the Mac Pro, are due for product refreshes before the end of the year.  I have no inside information, and there are some power and heat dissipation restrictions on how much memory the smaller Macs can reasonably absorb.  Using third-party upgrades, I believe the current limits are 16 GB for a Mini and 32 GB for an iMac.  However, I am quite confident the next generation of both systems will have improved specs—my guess would be 32 GB for a Mini and 64 GB for an iMac.  (Although you might have to use a third-party upgrade to reach the real limit.  Apple is rather conservative about how much RAM it will support in a small machine, probably out of concern for overheating.)

So how much RAM do you need?  I haven't done any rigorous tests, but my instinct—and I've done a lot of performance tuning of UNIX systems over the years—is that a good metric would be a minimum of 8 GB per CPU core.  That seems to be a reasonable but not excessive amount of RAM to make available to each hardware processor on a 64-bit machine, although you might need to go as high as 16 GB/core before you reached the point of dramatically diminishing returns.

Again, as others have said in their responses to this thread, for any given price you can buy or build a faster box to run MS-Windows.  If you don't mind spending most of your time in post in a Windows environment, that might be a reasonable alternative.  As much as Apple pisses me off at times, that's a non-starter for me, but your mileage may vary; I believe it was Jeff Schewe who said recently in one of these forums that current versions of Windows don't suck as much as earlier ones.

On the other hand, if you want to stick with OS X, my recommendation would be to hang on for a while.  I suspect the next generation of Apple desktop products may well be interesting.

Chris
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