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Computers for Photographers

A free guide on how to shop for your next photo-editing computer.

September 23, 2020

I’m a photographer and I love building computers. Here is my free guide designed for other photographers looking for a new computer. Need further advice after reading this guide? Reach out! Always happy to give advice.

 

Basic Terminology

Processor (aka CPU)  

This is the brain that makes your computer think. Intel CPUs are usually a bit more expensive than AMD, but are more recommended by Adobe. Photographers want a fast CPU, speed is measured in GHz. 3.5GHz is a good speed for photographers. Intel i7 and i9 CPUs are the best. 

Memory (aka RAM)

Memory is what allows your computer to run many programs and complete many tasks all at the same time. More RAM allows you to multitask (for example, exporting a bunch of photos while having a billion tabs open in Chrome). A good computer has 32GB of RAM.

Storage 

Storage is where your files are stored. Storage can be either a hard drive disk (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). HDDs are a physical disk that spins, they are slower, but you can buy huge amounts of storage (multiple terabytes, TB) for less money. SSDs are newer, faster, and more expensive. SSD are the type of storage that is in your phone or SD cards.

There are two ways to connect a storage drive to your motherboard (the part that links all other parts together): SATA (the older, slower one), and M.2. HDD can only be connected via SATA. SSD now has two forms: SATA or M.2. M.2 is way smaller, even faster and plugs directly into your motherboard (instead of using cables)! The most common type of drive that connects via M.2 is NVMe, which is faster than HDD and SSD. The benefit of having faster storage is that your computer can write changes to files faster (important for editing photos)

Most modern computers (especially desktops) have one small SSD and one (or more) larger HDD. The SSD is used to store your operating system (OS), and your program files, this makes your computer boot up (start) really fast, and helps your programs run faster. The HDD is used to store all your files (like photos, documents, and music).

Here’s a much more in-depth article about storage options specifically for photographers here.

Bonnie’s Top 6 wishlist stats for photo-editing computers

  1. High GHz Processor, at least 3.5GHz, if not 4.0 (look at the regular speed, not the overclocked speed)! Go for high clock speed over number of cores (Photoshop and Lightroom don’t benefit from extra cores – video editing does though). 
  2. Get 32 GB of RAM (16GB is not enough and 64GB is overkill), and make sure that RAM has a decent speed! You need DDR4 (the newest format of RAM), aim for 2600+ speed
  3. 512GB SSD for Windows + Programs 
  4. 4 TB HDD for files (photos), make sure the write speed on your HDD is sufficient, because this is where the photos you are editing are stored! 7200RPM is the top speed.
  5. Windows 10 Pro (Pro is more versatile and future-proof than Home). DO NOT get a computer that runs Windows S, this is a very limited OS.
  6. Make sure it has USB-C or USB 3.1 connections.

The Best PCs for Photographers

If you can swing it, Puget Systems make rigs specifically designed for certain programs like Photoshop and Lightroom! They are really nice (but really expensive). Even if you can’t afford it, you can look at their specs to see what they’re recommending (pay special attention to the processor, memory, and storage) they even have data and articles about specific parts:

https://www.pugetsystems.com/recommended/Recommended-Systems-for-Adobe-Lightroom-Classic-CC-141/Buy_158

Recommended Pre-Built Computers

I know Dell the best, so that’s what I’ve included as examples below. These models, specs, and pricing changes way too often for me to keep this list updated regularly. For more specific advice, see my contact below.

Other brands I recommend: ASUS, Lenovo

Brands to stay away from: HP, Acer, and any Chromebook (they won’t run most programs a photographer needs)

Microsoft Surface has become a really popular, portable option, but I’m not convinced that it’s powerful enough to be a photographer’s main rig.

Budget Laptop

The Inspiron series of laptops don’t have the best screens or video cards, but they have decent enough processors and RAM (memory) to run Lightroom on the go.

https://www.dell.com/en-us/work/shop/dell-laptops-and-notebooks/sc/laptops 

High-end Laptop

The XPS series could be your only computer, no desktop needed at home. If this is the case, I’d recommend also getting a dock to connect it to a separate monitor, mouse, and keyboard.

These laptops have fantastic screens, great processors, and all the memory and storage you need.

dell.com/en-us/work/shop/dell-laptops-and-notebooks/sc/laptops

Budget Desktop

This desktop has great specs for photo editing. It is also small enough to fit almost anywhere.

dell.com/en-us/work/shop/desktops-all-in-one-pcs/sc/desktops-n-workstations/precision-desktops

High-end Desktop

This is a very nice desktop. This is very future-proof and will run lots of programs all at once.

dell.com/en-us/work/shop/desktops-all-in-one-pcs/sc/desktops-n-workstations/xps-desktops

Custom Build and Advice

Need help putting together a custom machine? Need help setting up and organizing your files?

Bonnie can help you buy a custom machine from Dell. Email Me (bonnie@bonnie-photo.com) to get started. We will start with a video chat to discuss your budget, requirements, and intended use of your desktop or laptop. I will then put together a document that outlines a couple of options for you. I will also create an account for you on Dell.com with these recommendations in your shopping cart to make purchasing easy!

This basic service starts at $100, with the option to purchase continued mentoring.

 

My #1 piece of advice, don’t buy from Apple! 

Macs always have inferior or outdated parts for way more cost. With Apple, you’re paying a premium for a status symbol, not premium parts. I recognize that macs are often easier to use and have some benefits over PCs for personal use, but I would not recommend them to creative professionals.
(note: I am not trying to start a flame war, and will not reply to arguments about this)

 


Need more specific advice? Connect with Bonnie

I offer free consultations, and computer building and ordering services starting at $50.

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