Jeff talks with computer building expert Matt Bach of Puget Systems about the best choices for building a Lightroom computer in 2018. They talk about all of the decisions to make to custom build a Windows computer, as well as the recommendations for where it is worth spending the money if you are buying a Mac or a PC from a big box store.
Update: 2018 MacBook Pro Buying Guide
If you have found this page looking for advice on running Lightroom and you are a Mac user go ahead and read through the information here as it is still very applicable to Apple computers but be sure to check out my mid-2018 MacBook Pro Photographer’s Buying Guide.
Episode Sponsor: Duggal
Visit Duggal Vision Solutions for all of your photo printing needs and support the show by going to ShopDuggal.com/master and use coupon code MASTER to get 25% off your first order!
If you don’t want to have to read all the way through the article and just want a list of Jeff’s choices for custom building a Lightroom computer running Windows, here is the list. If you use these links before ordering your parts on Amazon it won’t cost you any extra but is a great way to support the show. Read on below to get the why on each of the components and what to look for in Mac and big box PCs.
- CPU: Intel Core i7-8700K 6 Cores up to 4.7GHz Turbo Unlocked LGA1151 ($350)
- CPU Cooler: CORSAIR Hydro Series H115i ($130)
- Motherboard: Asus ROG Strix Z730-E LGA1151 ($200)
- RAM: G.Skill 32GB (2x16GB) TridentZ PC4-25600 3200MHz ($370)
- Primary Storage (for OS and Applications): Samsung 960 EVO 500GB NVMe – M.2 ($200)
- Secondary Storage (for photos being edited): Samsung 860 EVO 250GB 2.5″ SATA III ($80)
- Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Windforce OC 6GB ($300)
- Case: Fractal Design Define R6 ($130)
- Power Supply: Corsair HX Series, HX750 750 Watt 80+ Platinum ($140)
- Operating System: Windows 10 Pro 64 bit ($150)
- Monitor (if you don’t already have a large IPS): Dell Ultrasharp U2717D 27″ IPS LED ($420)
Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of Photo Taco on the Master Photography Podcast Network. I am your host, Jeff Harmon, thanks so much for spending a few minutes of your day with me. As I have said many times on the show, when I don’t feel like I can cover the topic of episode sufficiently I invite an expert on to go over it with me and today as we talk about computers to run Lightroom here in mid-2018, that expert is Matthew Bach from Puget Systems. Thanks so much for joining me Matt! How are you doing?
Before we get too far into the episode I want to tell the listeners that this one is going to be long and have a lot of really technical information in it, but even if you aren’t interested in those nitty gritty details, try and hang on in the show because we will make sure there is advice for everyone including those who are going to buy a Mac or a pre-built PC like from HP or Dell.
Photo Taco Subscription Contest
Before we get dive in, I have to take care of a little Photo Taco business. If you have been listening to the show for the past few months you know that I have been running a contest for those who subscribe to the show and sent me a screenshot showing they are subscribed. I had hundreds of entries into the contest and I think you all so much for subscribing to the show. Subscriptions are the single best way to help make sure Photo Taco keeps going, so thank you and I hope you will share the show with other photographers to help keep it going. The contest has ended and the winner of a 30 minute Skype post processing session with me is Fraser Bordeleau. I have already reached out to Fraser and am looking forward to scheduling that 30 minute post-processing Skype session. Thanks to everyone who entered and keep listening because I plan to do similar contests in the future.
Matt, now that I have take care of things, let’s dive into the reason we got together today by first having you provide a 2 minute introduction into yourself and the company you work for, Puget Systems.
Building vs. Buying a Lightroom Computer
Matt and I are going to geek out for the next hour or so on custom building a Lightroom computer running Windows, going over things one component at a time. I am going to have Matt give his suggestion on what he would choose for each component and Matt I want you to recommend the very best Lightroom computer regardless of the cost. Then I am going to provide recommendations on what I would go with if I was building a Lightroom computer with a hobbyist, budget conscious objective.
My recommendations won’t be the most inexpensive option to barely get it done for running Lightroom, but I will make some choices to save a few dollars, or in same cases a few hundred dollars. I will also be making my selections based on the capability to do some overclocking, something that is 100% not for everyone as it can bring instability to the system and if you don’t know how to troubleshoot it then you could have a problem.
Don’t feel like you have to write everything down as we go along, not only will I have really detailed show notes along with links to a couple of other interesting sites with their takes on Lightroom computer builds, but there will be page over at phototacopodcast.com that will have all of the details for the Photo Taco 2018 Lightroom Computer Build along with my affiliate links to Amazon.
If you are going to build a Lightroom computer or even upgrade a few of the pieces in your current computer, it won’t cost you anything more but if you use my affiliate links I will get a few dollars sent my way. I will include two build options, one that allows some room for overclocking and one that saves even more money and wouldn’t have quite as much headroom as far as dealing with heat in particular for overclocking but would be more stable. Actually, if you are looking for stability the thing to do is have Puget build you a system, right Matt? You guys put builds through a significant amount of testing before sending them out the door?
One last thing before we start with the components, I have to briefly touch on the Mac vs. PC battle that continuously rages anywhere you talk about Lightroom computers. I am not a hater of the Mac. I use a 2015 MacBook Pro for all of my mobile computer needs and continue to be a devoted user of the iPhone for mainly a security reason. There are things with the Mac that would make my life easier with the integrated ecosystem I wish I could have. I choose to custom build a Windows based Lightroom computer for doing the majority of my post-processing because I know how to do that and it truly does save me a lot of money. That isn’t the case for the majority of the listeners, and if you choose Mac, that’s great.
As we go through the components if it is one where a photography gets to choose an option for that component when buying a Mac, I will ask Matt to provide his recommendation on what a photographer should choose. A budget conscious recommendation, meaning a max out of the configuration is not in the budget.
As we do that, it should also make the choices applicable to those of you who don’t want to build a PC but still want to use a PC from Dell, HP, Lenovo, or the like. Even better, you can hire Puget Systems to build one for you, which will have the added benefit of getting you a system that has been battle tested before you use it. To be clear, this not an ad for Puget Systems. Matt is very kind to come on the show and help me tackle this topic with more experience and expertise than I have in building a PC and if I didn’t know how and enjoy doing it myself I very likely would have Puget do that for me.
Chipset and CPU
Matt, first on our list of components is something where your choices are only really open if you custom build. By the way, I decided to have the order of components be based on how the really good pcpartpicker.com has them, mostly because that is a tool I used extensively as I researched the components I am going to recommend and it made it easier to build up the discussion. It is NOT the order of priority or importance for making Lightroom run well and I’ll be sure to point out along the way what my experience has shown is most important. Matt, let’s talk chipset and CPU first. What are the current options as of June 2018, which would you choose for a Lightroom computer and why?
- Matt: Before I really get into CPUs and chipsets, I think it is worth talking real quick about just how much better Lightroom Classic is for desktops than the normal version of Lightroom CC. The main difference is that Lightroom Classic is optimized purely for desktops and in particular made a bunch of improvements for CPUs that have a higher core count. Just to put it in context, with Lightroom CC 2015.12 a Core i9 7940X 14 core took about a minute to generate 100 smart previews in our testing. The first version of Lightroom Classic dropped that down to about 14 seconds and version 7.2 dropped that even further to just 8 seconds.
This really changed what CPUs we recommended for Lightroom. We used to really push whatever the Intel Core i7 CPU was that had the highest clock speed since that was all-around better for Lightroom, but now there is an argument to be made for one of the higher core count CPUs.The way I generally break it down is that for most Lightroom users, the higher cost of the high core count CPUs like those on the X299 platform is probably not going to be worth it even with the performance improvements. So for them, a Core i7 8700K using the Z370 chipset is going to be the best. You can drop down to a i7 8700 or i5 8600K if you really need to to stay within budget, but I wouldn’t recommend going much lower than that.The people who will really benefit from a more expensive CPU are going to be those that deal with huge image sets. I’m talking about importing, exporting, and generating previews for thousands of photos at a time. For this kind of user, I would recommend either the Core i9 7900X 10 core or the Core i9 7940X 14 core CPUs using the X299 platform. There generally isn’t a need to go with any higher of a core count, but the 7940X in particular can be more than twice the speed of the Core i7 8700K for things like exporting and generating previews.AMD fans might not like hearing me recommending only Intel CPUs, but while AMD has been doing some great things recently and really pressuring Intel, the fact is that Intel is still simply better than AMD in applications like Lightroom. If you want to support AMD and get a Ryzen or Threadripper CPU, absolutely go for it, but if you are looking for the best bang for your buck, Intel is still where it is at right now.
- Jeff’s choice: First off, I have to say that for me CPU isn’t the most important factor in having a fast Lightroom photo editing computer. I think the speed of your storage is the most important factor, but we will get there and when you are going to custom build a PC this is where you start.15 years ago I was an AMD fanboy. I wasn’t doing photo editing back then, but I was still building custom PCs and I could get a lot more for my money with AMD than I could with Intel. While I love what AMD is doing with Threadripper now and hope that they can really make Intel work harder and bring down prices, as of June 2018 Lightroom just doesn’t take advantage of multiple cores. It did get better with the release of Lightroom 7.2 back in February 2018 in some aspects and Adobe is working with Intel to make even more improvements, so for now I just can’t recommend an AMD based system but I am cheering for AMD.For me the choice was between the Intel X299 and the Z370 chipsets. Intel X299 has advantages like a max of 128GB of RAM vs 64GB max for Z370, 44 PCIe lanes vs 16 for Z370, and supporting Intel X CPUs with 4 to 18 cores vs the K series CPUs that max out at 6 cores. All of that sounds pretty good to me and should mean this is an easy choice to go with X299, but there is a cost difference ($350 or about 60% more) which I would pay for if the more cores made a massive impact to the performance of Lightroom Classic CC, but it doesn’t in the areas I care most about. Plus, the K series CPUs is also better to overclock, which I plan to do. So my choice is the Z370 chipset and the Intel Core i7 8700K CPU.
- Before we leave CPU, let’s speak to the choices the Mac and big box PC listeners out there want to know. Matt, based on the testing your team over there at Puget has done, what CPU upgrades are worth spending your money on and what are not?
Not a component you can choose in your Lightroom computer unless you are doing a custom build, so let’s do this one a little more quickly. What do you choose Matt and why?
- Matt: We really value quiet operation and reliability here at Puget Systems, so we almost exclusively use Noctua heatsinks with 120mm fans. Traditional air-coolers like these don’t have any pump noise or risk of leaks or pump failure and since we don’t do overclocking we really don’t need to use something like a closed-loop liquid cooler. The fans are a… unique… bandaid color that can be off-putting to some, but they are really some of the best fans you can get.
- Jeff: My current custom built Lightroom computer has a closed loop liquid cooler. It has worked well, though I can’t say for sure if it has mattered much between doing that and fan cooling because I never ran the system with fan cooling to know if on my system one had an advantage over another. I feel better about liquid cooling when doing overclocking, which I already mentioned I want to do, so I am going to stick with it and go with the Corsair H115i because I have Corsair in my system now, which has worked flawlessly, and it has a large 280mm radiator.
Again, not a component you get to choose when you buy a Mac or a PC from a big box store, but this is one of the reasons I really like building my own Lightroom computer because I can kind of choose what is important to me and what is not in a motherboard. So let’s start of Matt with where you would recommend listeners go on this.
- Matt: A lot of choosing a motherboard comes down to what features you need. Do you need Thunderbolt? USB 3.1? Are you planning on doing a full tower or a small mini-ITX system? Really step one is identifying what boards out their meet your needs
A few general recommendations I can make is that I would hold Gigabyte as the top brand at the moment. Asus used to be our go-to for a long time, but over the last few years we’ve had a lot of BIOS-related issues with their boards. So all other things being equal, I would go with Gigabyte first, followed by EVGA and MSI as a close second with ASUS and Asrock after that..
- Jeff: I have to admit I am an Asus fanboy. I have done builds with other motherboards, trying to save some money, and it has worked out the very best for me with Asus. Gigabyte would be a close second, but I am most familiar with Asus and love the extra utilities they provide to help someone who wants to overclock like me. Makes overclocking dead simple, and that process can be extremely complicated. I am going with an Asus board but there are many choices with the Z370 chipset. It came down to the ROG STRIX vs. the ROG Hero and I am going to go with the STRIX Z370-E to save $50 and to have the M.2 heatsink. Should be able to do some good but safe overclocking with this board, probably near 5.0 GHz.
Next up is memory, often called RAM. Before we get to our picks for our custom Lightroom computer, this is an area where you can usually customize a Mac and big box PC. So Matt, what do you recommend as photographers are doing that over at Apple, Dell, HP, and the like? Is it worth spending the extra money to max out the memory as a photographer is ordering a computer?
- Matt: It really depends on what you are doing. Pretty basic Lightroom use will be fine with even 16GB of RAM, but as you get into more and more complex workflows you might want 32GB or even 64GB of RAM. The thing with RAM is that having extra doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t help either. If you only ever need 20GB of RAM but bought 64GB, all you really did was pay for twice the RAM you actually could use.
OK, now what is your pick for the Lightroom computer build?
- Matt: The biggest thing I can recommend about RAM if you are building your own system is to not really worry about too many of the specs. It is much more important to get enough RAM and from a solid manufacturer than it is to get some “high performance” RAM with high frequency or tight timings. RAM is one of the parts in your system that is most likely to have issues over time and in my experience trying to get another percent or two faster performance from that kind of faster RAM generally isn’t worth the extra risk of bluescreens or crashes. A single crash that sets you back several hours of work I don’t think is worth that small performance gain.
There are a lot of great brands out there, but for me I would go with Crucial, Micron, or Samsung. Most of what they make isn’t flashy, but it is highly reliable and to me that is more important than anything else.
- Jeff: I have 32GB of memory in my custom Lightroom computer today, and with the way I post process I run out of memory frequently. Now it isn’t happening with the basic edits I do in Lightroom. It is when I am running Lightroom and Photoshop at the same time and doing a composite of 15-20 photos or 25-40 HDR panorama merge that it becomes a problem. It is enough of a problem I often have to shut down everything else, like my browsers, to make sure I make every bit of the memory available to Lightroom and Photoshop. That isn’t a use case I think every photographer will run into, but since it is a situation I run into I really want 64GB of memory. The problem is that will somewhat limit my ability to overclock the CPU. For overclocking the best place to be is 2x16GB memory sticks. That puts less pressure on the memory controller in the CPU and helps with heat. Then there is the problem those cryptocurrency miners have caused where they are building PCs with massive amounts of memory in them limiting the supply and therefore the price of the memory. It is a terrible time to be buying a lot of memory. So I am going to go with 32GB of memory, though I am glad I have the room to go to 64GB REALLY easily at some point in the future if I choose. I am going with 2x16GB G.Skill Trident Z DDR4-3200 memory. G.Skill because it seems to be more friendly to overclocking. The thing that stinks here is that this is the most expensive component of my build, which is not at all what I thought would happen but is the problem today. Thanks crypto miners!
Remember earlier, it was my contention that the speed of the storage was the single most important factor in a Lightroom computer today. There are some caveats that go along with that. You can’t go with an Intel Core i3 processor and really fast storage and expect great performance. These things do work together and doing that would make the CPU the bottleneck. I contend that storage is this important because I have seen how upgrading a computer with faster storage has brought a computer back to life.
This is one of the things you get to choose when you are ordering a Lightroom computer, and I am going to make sure it is clear right up front I think this is a place to make sure you spend some money and get fast storage.
With Mac, get an SSD and not the Fusion drive (Apple doesn’t offer anything else in their mid-2018 MacBook Pro). It is worth the extra $300 to buy the 512GB SSD, may not be worth more than twice that to add $700 to buy the 1TB SSD. I would probably put that money into the memory or the CPU of a Lightroom computer.
Matt, what do you think here for Mac or other big box PCs?
- Matt: Pre-build systems whether Mac or PC seem to really skimp on storage drives. I definitely agree about avoid the Fusion or Hybrid drives. They let you launch the OS and programs at near SSD speeds, but they aren’t going to do much for performance inside applications like Lightroom. My biggest recommendation here is to make sure you get an SSD. Ideally you would actually have two drives in the system, but I don’t think too many pre-built systems are going to give you that option – at least not at a reasonable price.
Now to our custom build recommendations:
- Matt: There are basically three different kinds of drives out there right now I would consider. The first is the traditional platter drive. These drives are very cost effective, but are relatively slow so I would only use them for backup or archival purposes if you can help it.Next are the tried and true SSD or solid state drives. These drives are great all-around drives that we pretty much exclusively use as OS and program drives and storage drives for active projects.
Last up are the newer M.2 NVMe drives. These drives are crazy fast – 3.5GB/s read in many cases – but a bit more expensive than a normal SSD. In general, Lightroom won’t be able to utilize the extra speed of these drives, however, so there isn’t much of a reason to have your photos on an NVMe drive. They can make a great OS drive if you want your OS and applications to launch as quickly as possible, however.For platter drives, any brand is generally fine. We tent to use Western Digital (or WD as they are called now), but HGST is also a great choice. For SSDs, we recommend Samsung hands down. Their failure rates are ridiculously low, performance is excellent, and the pricing is great as well. I honestly wouldn’t personally consider using anything other than Samsung drives in my own personal system.
- Jeff: I have done a lot of reading about SSD drives and there is no question in my mind Samsung is the way to go – though I do have to say Intel has some very compelling stuff going on here and I could be convinced to go that way in the future. Anyway, I know I want to connect the SSD via the new M.2 connection that will really take advantage of that SSD speed, and even though the Samsung 960 Pro is the best of the best, I think I can save $50 and go with the 960 EVO without giving up much in the way of performance. This will be the drive where I will install Windows, all of my applications, and put my Lightroom Catalog but not the photos I am editing. I am living on a 256GB SSD today and it gets a little tight when there are Windows upgrades so I am going with a 512GB Samsung 960 Evo M.2 drive. I will also add a Samsung 860 Evo 256GB SATA SSD to store the photos I am actively processing. We won’t get into the longer-term storage in this episode, check out the Ultimate Backup for Photographers episode to get more information about that.
Let’s start here again with what photographers should do with Mac and big box PCs here Matt. What is your advice with regard to video cards for a pre-built Lightroom computer?
- Matt: It’s hard with Mac and big box systems actually. A lot of the times, they are using custom models and really don’t list their actual specs, just marketing things that often don’t mean anything. The most I can really say here is that you ideally want a GPu with at least 4GB of VRAM, but I wouldn’t put too much worry into the GPU. You definitely want an actual GPU from NVIDIA or AMD, but I wouldn’t go overboard with it.
Now let’s talk about our video card picks for custom Lightroom computer:
- Matt: Lightroom is able to utilize the GPU to some extent, but I would definitely put it fairly low on your priority list. Like I was saying before, you definitely want at least 4GB of VRAM, but after that it comes down more to how many monitors you want to use and at what resolution. We typically recommend the GTX 1060 as a good starting point or a GTX 1070 for people wanting to do 4K or have multiple displays. Going beyond that, however, typically isn’t worth it. You would get much more for your dollar by upgrading the CPU or getting more RAM.
- Jeff: I am thoroughly disappointed with how Lightroom barely leverages the video card today. There has long been an option to enable video acceleration in Lightroom, but it was designed, engineered, and intended to help with 4K+ displays. My experience with it has been horrible and I have long preached to disable it unless you have a 4K or higher display – and even then you need to see if turning it on is actually helpful. Photoshop does a better job taking advantage of the video card, but it still isn’t stellar. I am convinced that most photographers OVERSPEND on video cards. Especially these days when the crypto miners once again have made our lives worse by buying too many of them and limiting the supply. I highly recommend NVIDIA graphics here over AMD/Radeon. Radeon may do pretty well with games, but unless you are talking about Macs where there is a special case, Adobe has optimized their software to work with NVIDIA graphics cards. So I am going to save some money here and go with the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Windforce OC. Should be overclock friendly with good cooling and provide plenty of video card performance to drive a 2560×1600 display.
Not something a Mac or big box buyer has a choice on, let’s get straight to our picks for a custom Lightroom computer:
- Matt: I’m partial myself to Fractal Design for full-sizes towers and Silverstone for micro-ATX or mini-ITX. We have to look at things like hard drive mounting and whether it would survive shipping or not when choosing the cases we use, but if you are building your own you can really do whatever you want here. My only recommendation is that if you do get one that looks like a glowing UFO, make sure it has a switch for the lights. You don’t really want that glowing in the corner of your room while you are trying to sleep.
- Jeff: You can go crazy here and apparently gamers want some kind of alien looking case with lights and things all over. I don’t care about any of that. I want one that supports my 280mm closed loop liquid cool radiator, good airflow, numerous bays to hold hard drives, and one external 5 ¼” slot for a DVD drive (I still use it occasionally). I was going to go with the NZXT-H440 and pay a little extra to get it in matte black instead of white or some other strange color. The case has room for 11 3.5” drives and 8 2.5” drives plus 7 expansion slots for a very reasonable price. But it doesn’t have the spot for the DVD drive. So I am going with the Fractal Design Define R6 Black TG ATX Mid Tower case.
Something only custom builders can choose, let’s get to our power supply picks for a custom Lightroom computer:
- Matt: Capacity is usually the first concern, and for a Lightroom system 500W is generally going to be plenty. However, we typically start our systems at 650W to allow customers to expand in the future if they really want. I think the bigger question is actually what brand to get. We’ve used a lot over the years and the hard part with power supplies is that quality tends to change very suddenly. We’ve seen that with a ton of different brands, but for the last few years we have been using EVGA power supplies and they have been excellent. Seasonic is probably a close second, but if I had to recommend a single brand then EVGA would be it simply due to the reliability we have seen with those units.
- Jeff: The system build to this point has an estimated wattage of 350, so in theory I could go with a 350W power supply and be good to go. But I want to overclock, so I need to go higher. I want a modular power supply so that I can configure it the way I need to power up all of the components in the computer, tends to make things a little more tidy inside the build, which is nice. I also want one that is efficient. I want efficiency not so much for the power savings, that is a nice benefit, but because the efficiency measurements tell you well the incoming power is limited from converting into heat and since I am going to overclock here I want to take out every bit of heat I possibly can at a reasonable cost. I have a Corsair PSU in my 2014 build and it has been really good, so I am going to stick with that brand and choosing the Corsair – HX Platinum 750W 80+ Platinum.
I have a pretty strong opinion when it comes to a monitor for a Lightroom computer, but I want to let Matt provide his advice first:
- Matt: So much of monitor choice is going to come down to what you personally want – just like keyboard and mouse really. I know some people really like huge monitors, but myself I prefer a pair of 27” 2.5K screens. 4K I think is great if you are doing video work since so much of video is now being done at 4K resolutions, but for photography I think it is more of a luxury than a need. But I would definitely encourage you to at least consider using multiple displays. I use two at home and at the office, but there are some people here who use three or even four monitors at the same time.One thing to think about it whether you need 10-bit color or not. It usually isn’t a big concern in Lightroom, but if you are the kind of person that also does graphic design you may want to get a screen that supports that. Just be aware that you will also need a video card that supports 10-bit which means getting a more expensive Quadro card from NVIDIA.As far as brands go, I think the top ones right now before you get into crazy pricing are LG, Samsung, and Dell.
- Jeff: 4K displays are all the rage, I have listeners asking me constantly about which 4K monitor to buy and they are surprised when I tell them I don’t recommend a 4K monitor for photographers. My advice is based on how Adobe has explained their graphics acceleration works, something we talked about back with the video card component of our builds. Adobe had a problem when 4K monitors started to be made available because Lightroom was performing very poorly when you ran it full screen with a monitor with resolution that high. The import previews weren’t really made for resolution that high and the develop module really struggled to keep up with you. So they turned to graphics card power to improve that. Even today, I continue to see a lot of negative feedback in the Adobe forums about how things aren’t working well with graphics acceleration on or off.My recommendation here is a 27” display of 2560×1440, or if you can get it 2560×1600. I used to recommend a monitor from monoprice.com for the seriously budget conscious, but monoprice has changed a lot over the past couple of years and their selection of monitors isn’t there anymore for me to continue recommending that. I also recommend you look for one that has IPS technology and a DisplayPort for the connection from your computer. I don’t have a brand to recommend, but I am a little partial to Dell monitors. Looking around as I prepared for this episode I decided to go with a Dell U2717D for the colors it can show in comparison to other displays with similar specs.
Windows 10 Home or Pro?
One thing I nearly forgot to add in here is the operating system for a custom Lightroom computer. Obviously there is Windows, but before we talk Home vs. Pro, I want to say here that I strongly advise against doing a Hackintosh. As I have said, I am by no means a Mac hater. I really like the ecosystem of the Apple products and honestly I would love to give it a try to us macOS on my main editing workstation. I personally just get more value out of doing a custom build than I can from buying a Mac and being on a hobbyist budget I have so many things needing my dollars I can’t do it.
You would think Hackintosh would be really perfect for me, and I did too at one point, so I gave it a serious try a couple of years ago. There are a lot of resources to help you build a Hackintosh computer where you run macOS on a custom built computer, including what hardware has worked well for others. But it was not stable enough to actually use for photo editing. There were major issues with nearly every update, issues as I tried adding other applications, it just isn’t worth it. Unless you are up for a constant project nursing your Hackintosh along every few weeks and having that disruption to your photo editing, stay away.
Matt, what is your advice in which version of Windows a photographer should choose? Seems like Windows 10 is the best option to stay current on everything with drivers for your new computer and such, is that right? And do you recommend Home or Pro?
- Matt: Yea, definitely use Windows 10. Windows 7 was great, but it is going to be hitting the end of its support cycle in the next few years. And personally, I really like Windows 10 – I think it is the best OS Microsoft has made since Windows XP. It does unfortunately come with some junk pre-installed, but that if pretty easy to get rid of.Between Home and Pro, I would definitely shell out the extra money for Pro. We’ve actually completely dropped Home as an option from our systems and the reason why is because with Pro there is an option to “defer upgrades”. You still get security updates immediately, but anything that is non-critical gets delayed for a little while. This is very important because anyone on Windows 10 Home is going to essentially beta testing a bunch of these “upgrades” from Microsoft.We used to get a massive number of support calls due to broken Windows updates, but since we switched entirely over to Pro and enabled the defer upgrades by default, things have become much, much better. It basically lets Microsoft test the upgrades on other people, then fix most of the problems before you have to deal with them.
Now let’s talk about the costs of these custom Lightroom computer builds. This is something I really want to make sure the listeners take away from this episode. Editing digital photos takes a pretty good computer, especially running Lightroom. As Matt mentioned, Adobe has just this year in 2018 made some pretty good improvements but just like lenses and most camera gear, it is going to take some investment in a computer to have it really work well. I get questions for a listener or two a week pointing me to some pre-built, big box computer that has been put on sale asking if it looks like it could do well with photo editing. Most of the time it is a machine that has too little CPU, too little RAM, and slow disks. Sure, Lightroom will run, and if that is all you can afford then dive in. But I want to encourage you to consider your computer another piece of camera gear and invest in something that will help you rather than discourage you.
I speak from experience there. As a developer for over 20 years, I have always custom built my computers. I was never a gamer though, so prior to my 2014 build they had always been really modest. When I first started into photography I was using GIMP because I didn’t know anything about Lightroom and Photoshop and at the time Photoshop was so expensive I couldn’t even consider buying it. As months ticked by and I got more and more interested in photography I finally decided I had to dive into Lightroom because everything I was doing to learn was pointing me there. I downloaded the trial and started to use it on my computer and it wasn’t long before I realized that the machine I was using just wasn’t enough to make it something I could enjoy doing. It was more frustrating than anything. So I saved my dollars, delayed getting other pieces of camera gear and I spent more money on a computer than I ever had to that point, and it has served me very well for 4 years. Even today, it is definitely running well enough that I don’t have a need to replace it. I want to, because 4 years is an eternity in computers and I really want the new shiny things.
Matt, let’s talk about the price of your build. Are you going to refer to the Puget Systems website for the costs of a Lightroom computer build?
- Matt: A lot of pricing comes down to how much storage you need actually, so the systems we sell can really vary quite a bit. In general, however, the systems we sell for Lightroom tend to run between $2,500 and $3,500 for the system itself. Keep in mind that that does include our lifetime labor and support warranty and things like a through hardware testing and burnin process to make sure you don’t have to deal with any hardware issues after you receive the system. We do also have financing and leasing options available if that is something someone is interested in.
- Jeff’s Build: The total on my build comes in at about $2,000 without the monitor so you would need to add the $500 for a good one there and get up to about $2,500 if you don’t have one. That also leaves me to do testing to validate I don’t have a component that is bad and figure out the overclocking. All of that takes time and know-how. Still, $2,000 amounts to a significant portion of my hobbyist budget. Actually, it is more than is in the budget right now, so as much as I want to pull the trigger on refreshing my 2014 custom build, I am going to wait.The crypto miners seem to have calmed some now that it costs more in electricity in most places than the currency is worth, so supply of video cards and memory is started to catch up and the price is lowering. I think I want to give it more time for that to happen and maybe I will do a refresh of my main photo editing computer in 2019. What do you think Matt, want to come back in 2019 and do this again?Incidentally, there really isn’t an equivalent Mac for me. I have a good 27” IPS monitor, don’t need another one, but the Mac Mini and MacBook Pro can’t get more than 16GB of RAM so it would have to be an iMac. It would have a 5K display, which I consider a negative, but the price would be $3,300 and it would be hardware that is more than a year older than the custom build here. I am not saying they are bad machines to use for photo editing because they are great. If you want to run Mac, they will definitely do the job. It just doesn’t make sense for me specifically to go there and I don’t see myself going to a Mac for my main workstation anytime soon because of it. I hope Apple makes that choice harder for me with the new Mac workstation style computer they are promising in 2019, but I am guessing the numbers still won’t work.
Matt, thanks again for spending the time to go over this with me. I thoroughly enjoy the information you guys have over at pugetsystems.com. There are some great blog posts on these topics with a lot of detail coming out from the testing they do over there. I will put a few of the links in the show notes for those of you who want to really geek out on this stuff. Again, though this is not a paid ad for Puget Systems, if you want a really well built and war tested computer that is going to get you through the next 5 years and don’t have the technical knowledge to do that yourself then I highly recommend you give Matt and his team over a Puget a call and see how they can help you out.
All right, that is all the time we have for this episode. I hope you all enjoyed it. You can now find everything Photo Taco related at the new home for the podcast over at phototacopodcast.com. Searchable show notes are there, a link to the Photo Taco Listeners Facebook group, and a few other goodies I am working on that are only available to visitors of the website. I would love to connect with you through Instagram where the show’s account is @phototacopodcast, on Twitter where the show is @PhotoTaco, or you can drop me an email at email@example.com. No question is too basic or to complicated for the show. If I don’t know the answer to the question, I’ll see about bringing an expert guest, on the show to go through it. Photo Taco is part of the Master Photography Podcast Network and you can find everything about the network at masterphotographypodcast.com. Together we want to help you master your photography!