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Thread: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!

  1. #1
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    Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Hey everyone...


    I'm going to break out of my usual habit of talking only about cameras here and start a discussion to find a new computer/workstation solution. [] I'm considering a pretty serious PC upgrade and have my priorites pretty much straightened out. I need guidance in making hardware and software choises for my new system (see below).


    Before I cut to the chase, here is some background information that you may find useful.



    I've been working with my LG laptop (2.10GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce G 105M Graphics) for the last year or so. It's been a great tool and has until recently met my performance needs for the media-related work I do on an almost daily basis. It handled my 40D's (when I owned it) 10MP files nicely, and I kept up with the wait as I rendered HDR or Panoramic images in Photoshop.



    However:
    []


    Recently I have been finding myself more and more frustrated with the current setup. Why?
    • I bought a 5D Mark II - The 21MP Jpeg's and especially RAW files wreck havock on my PC. Editing them in Photoshop and importing them (via a USB card reader) is a painfully slow process, considering their relatively massive size.
    • I can't really "touch" the Mark II's video files - I can play them back in Quicktime or iTunes after a few tries, but Premiere Pro is very performance taxing and editing the 1080p files (for playback on our HDTV or for school-related work) is pretty difficult. Not to mention the render times for MPEG-2 codec. YIKES!
    • I'm sending images over the Internet to clients (Yes, clients![]) via my site and e-mail, and frequently to my local colour lab. The transfer times for the large files I handle is pretty slow. I know this doesn't really depend on my computer hardware (it's more of an Internet connection issue - Which I plan on tackling by using a hardwired connection to my router and home network), but I figured I mention it anyway.



    In short, I want more performance. I want to be able to work with my images (and other media) efficiently at my PC.



    Here's the part that I need help with: What components will be necesary to keep up with my photo editing work (and occasional video editing)?
    • What processor should I look in to? I was looking at the Intel Quad Core i7 processor. What speed? How is AMD in comparison?
    • How much RAM should I get? I was looking at 8GB RAM (I heard using 3-channel RAM (instead of 2-channel) in Windows 7 64-bit is better - Is this true?)
    • 1TB hard drive (What speed? Any specific details to look out for?). I already use several external drives, so its capacity doesn't need to be overly large.
    • What kind of graphics card would I need? I want support for one (or possibly two) 1920x1080 monitors. I'm currently looking at 20-24" models from LG.
    • Is FireWire that much better than USB? I.e. does it transfer data at speeds significantly faster than a typical USB connection? How do "built-in" (by the OEM) CF card readers compare to USB and FireWire card readers with respect to their transfer speeds?
    • How should I go about acquiring my setup? I can (a) Purchase a ready-to-go system from a manufacturer or store, (b) Purchase a "barebones" system like this one and add components to it myself, or (c) Start from scratch and purchase all of the components and assemble the computer myself.

    • And finally, how does this setup look? Will it suit my needs? It looks like a good deal (I'm in Canada).



    Sorry for all of these questions - I'm 17 and this is the first computer that I'm investing in myself. I'm still grateful for the laptop my parents got me last year, but, needs change... []


    Even if you can answer one of my many questions, please chime in - I appreciate you help!


    Alex

  2. #2
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    I'm considering a pretty serious PC upgrade

    What fun! Every time I upgrade my computer (about every six months) I feel like a kid at Christmas.\


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    What components will be necesary to keep up with my photo editing work (and occasional video editing)?

    It depends a lot on the software. For example, some software will take advantage of multiple cores pretty well (e.g. Lightroom), while others do not. Some will bottleneck on disk I/O, others on ram, etc. But since we can't build a separate computer for each task you'll be using it for, we'll go for a good all-rounder.


    First things first: make sure your backups are up to snuff. You should have at least two on-site backups of everything you care about, and a third off-site backup. You never know when fire, lightning, or fatfinger will blow away all your data.


    The other thing you didn't mention is budget, so I'll just go by my own personal standard of what a photographer would get a lot of benefit from.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    What processor should I look in to?

    I'd go with the Core i5-760 for $175 USD.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    I was looking at the Intel Quad Core i7 processor. What speed?

    Core i7 is a lot more expensive than the i5 for only slightly more performance. If you still have money left over after everything else, upgrade the i5 to an i7-960, but certainly get an SSD first. I'm very happy with my i5 2.67 ghz.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    How is AMD in comparison?

    I haven't checked recently, but in general they are something like 10% slower and 20% cheaper, so a better value.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    How much RAM should I get?

    I suggest getting 16 GB, or at least making sure you can get 8 GB now and another 8 GB in six months.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    I was looking at 8GB RAM

    Minimum.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    1TB hard drive (What speed? Any specific details to look out for?).

    Here is an important consideration that people forget when considering hard drive speed: A large, slow hard drive, when only partially filled up, can be faster than a small, fast hard drive that is more filled up. For example, if you buy a really fast and expensive 1 TB drive and fill it up to 900 GB, it's going to slow *way* down, because the inner area of the platter reads so much slower. But put the same 900 GB on a 2 TB drive and it wont slow down as much. The 2TB one will slow down too if you fill it up, but at least you have the option to choose between capacity and speed.


    Right now, I highly recommend the Western Digital Caviar Black 2 TB. It has a 5 year warranty - which is not important because it saves you money if the drive fails (though that's a nice side benefit), but because it means the manufacturer thinks the drive will be reliable, and anything you can do to get more reliability of your data is always worth it. Plus, WD does free advance shipment, which I've used and enjoyed a lot.


    But more importantly, you should *definitely* get an SSD in addition to the HDD. If you can fit your operating system, applications, and currently-active projects onto the SSD, you will be amazed at how much it improves your speed. More than any other component. When you're done editing the photos, move them to the slower HDD or to an external.


    I got an Intel X-25m because at the time I bought it, it provided the most consistent performance and reliability -- other manufacturers were good in some areas but very bad in others. Check tomshardware.com for the latest information.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    What kind of graphics card would I need?

    Unless you're planning to use GPU-accelerated software, I'd go for a budget card under $100. Most video cards will have no trouble driving two 1080p monitors


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    Is FireWire that much better than USB?

    Yes, but only if you use very fast cards. My Lexar 8GB 300X transfer much faster on the Lexar FW800 reader than any time I've used a USB-2 reader. But even if USB-2 was the same speed, it will use a lot more CPU (which only matters if you use the CPU while transferring files).


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    How should I go about acquiring my setup?

    I recommend building it yourself. It's so easy these days that almost anyone can do it. It would still be good to have a friend that can help you, or at least try to get help online so you avoid making a mistake like getting the wrong CPU cooler for your motherboard type, etc. In the olden days, you had to configure jumpers, type in sector counts, configure IRQ settings, etc. Now it's almost foolproof.

  3. #3
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Daniel already gave you some very good answers, I'll just add some quick comments:


    All modern processors are much faster than their memory, which is why they have caches; the more data you are handling at a time, the less likely it will fit into the cache, and the faster your memory should be.


    More memory channels are generally faster, but you'll need to (a) get an i7 from the expensive 9xx series because only they have 3 memory channels, and (b) get a more expensive motherboard that supports such a CPU and has at least 6 memory slots, 2 per channel.


    It's probably not worth the cost, so I'm with Daniel on the cheaper i5 or i7 with "only" 2 channels; but if you really want to burn some money, get an i7 980 with 6 cores and 3-memory channels and put in 12 GB RAM, just don't expect it to be (much) faster in most normal use-cases.


    Regarding the hard-disk, if you don't just fill it up, but keep adding and deleting files, it's also (again) a good idea to not fill the drive up too much, because a very full drive robs the operating system of the possibility to defragment files; at current price levels, it shouldn't be hard to just "get more than enough".


    The graphics card should perhaps not be the absolute low-end, generally speaking there's more and more software that uses it for image-manipulating tasks, although using a Mac for such tasks I'm not quite sure how the state of the art is on Windows (my i7 PC is running Linux, and I don't use it for photos or multimedia). Check what the fastest card is that doesn't need an (often loud and prone to failure) cooling fan!


    A shame you aren't in central Italy, otherwise I'd help you put the thing together from the individual components ;-)


    Ciao, Colin

  4. #4
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Great post, Colin.


    Quote Originally Posted by Colin500
    More memory channels are generally faster, but you'll need to (a) get an i7 from the expensive 9xx series because only they have 3 memory channels, and (b) get a more expensive motherboard that supports such a CPU and has at least 6 memory slots, 2 per channel.

    Aha, so that's how that works. Thanks.


    Quote Originally Posted by Colin500
    my i7 PC is running Linux

    Yay, a fellow Linux user!



    <meta content="text/html; charset=utf-8" http-equiv="content-type" />


    Quote Originally Posted by Colin500
    Check what the fastest card is that doesn't need an (often loud and prone to failure) cooling fan!

    I neglected to mention it, but for the last 7 years or so this is exactly what I've been doing.

  5. #5
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Hey Alex,


    I'm with Daniel and Colin on most things.


    However I think you should also take a look at the AMD Phenom IIX6 1090T processor.It does a very very good job in the multithread applications like rendering and video-editing. But it does for a lot less than the expensive Intel counterparts.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    I was looking at the Intel Quad Core i7 processor. What speed? How is AMD in comparison?

    I myself own a i7-920 and it's great, but it costs as much as the AMD X6 1090T and it's slower in most multi-threaded applications. Plus the mainboards for AMD are generally speakinglots cheaper than the high-end Intel boards.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra


    How much RAM should I get? I was looking at 8GB RAM (I heard using 3-channel RAM (instead of 2-channel) in Windows 7 64-bit is better - Is this true?)


    6-8GB is more than enough. I use 6GB triple channel myself and I only rarely fill it up entirely. Video-editing on Premiere-Pro CS5 is good with the 5D files that I have.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra


    1TB hard drive (What speed? Any specific details to look out for?). I already use several external drives, so its capacity doesn't need to be overly large.


    I use a smaller disk for my programs and all the media, photos and video is stored at separate disks. This provides quicker editing times, because the files you edit are not on the main-disk and so it doesn't need to be stressed any more.


    I use Samsung disks. The F3 versions are really good and fast. A 500GB disk is very cheap and will do fine for your programs. (Provided you use other disks for storage)


    An SSD is also a great idea, but it's very expensive. Too expensive if you ask me. A raid set-up of multiple disks would be just as fast in reading and writing, but a lot cheaper.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    What kind of graphics card would I need? I want support for one (or possibly two) 1920x1080 monitors. I'm currently looking at 20-24" models from LG

    Since you're 17.. I assume you also like to play the occasional game? Anyway a Ati Radeon card out of the 5000 series or later will be very good. I have a 5770 myself and it's more than fast enough to drive two displays of 24". However for die-hard * all settings maxed* gaming you might want a bigger brother [A]


    Be sure you don't buy the cheapest you can find. Adobe's Premier Pro and Photoshop for example have more GPU-support these days.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra


    Is FireWire that much better than USB? I.e. does it transfer data at speeds significantly faster than a typical USB connection? How do "built-in" (by the OEM) CF card readers compare to USB and FireWire card readers with respect to their transfer speeds?


    I'm not sure about the card readers, but I highly recommend you to look at USB 3.0and SATA-600 mainboards. It will keep you future-proof. USB 3 is getting more and more developed and currently the market gets more and more USB 3 drives, cases etc etc. And in theory it's way faster than USB 2, eSataand the current Firewire.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra


    How should I go about acquiring my setup? I can (a) Purchase a ready-to-go system from a manufacturer or store, (b) Purchase a "barebones" system like this one and add components to it myself, or (c) Start from scratch and purchase all of the components and assemble the computer myself.


    C definitely!!! It's very very very easy to install a system yourself. Even for the first time. You spare a lot of money which can be put to an even better PC. You can buy a case that you like and prepare for future-upgrades by doing this all by yourself.


    Only if you're very a-technical with 2 left hands, you might want to have someone else build it for you. But still then you're cheaper off than option A or B. However since you're a skilled photographer I'm sure you'll do fine [] Some companies offer to build it for you for a small price. If you don't feel comfortable about doing it yourself, have this service.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra


    And finally, how does this setup look? Will it suit my needs? It looks like a good deal (I'm in Canada).


    I have no clue what prices are in Canada so I'm sorry cannot comment on that one.


    Jan

  6. #6
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    WOW!


    Thank you Daniel, Colin and Jan for your replies.


    After seeing the bank of knowledge I have access to via TDP (ie. You three!), I feel very comfortable taking on the task of building my PC. I

  7. #7

    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    This should be one of your guide


    www.tomshardware.com/us

  8. #8
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Now, I think I'll l take up Daniel's recommendation for the i5-760 processor, It runs for $262 CDN at a major online computer store (TigerDirect.ca). With the current exchange rate, I may try to pick it up from a US retailer - But that's an entirely seperate issue.


    What else is on my shopping list? I know I have to find, in addition to the processor, a:


    * Motherboard


    * Hard drive/2 hard drives - One 2TB and the other solid-state, if I can afford it (I hope I can)


    * Graphics card


    * Sound card


    * Power supply





    * RAM


    * A case to put everything into []


    * An OS - I am currently running Windows Vista Home Premium. I'm looking at Widows 7, but if you guys can somehow convince me to use another OS like Linux, I'll do that instead - Let me know what you think about my OS choices. []


    * A monitor (or two), Probably 23" or 24". My laptop's is 15", so I'm looking forward to a "real" workstation display. I feel like that will make my work alot easier.


    * I won't need a network card to connect to the Internet via Ethernet if my motherboard supports a LAN connection, right?


    Is there anything I should add to (or omit from) this list? My initial hopes were to keep this whole thing in the $1000-1200 range, but I feel that I might need to expand my budget.


    On a more specific note, I started looking at [b][url="http://www.tigerdirect.ca/applications/searchtools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=4914876&amp;csid=_25]this[/url][/b] motherboard.
    <div class="post-content user-defined-markup"]



    It's the Intel DP55WG motherboard. The specs look good to my
    untrained eye - Supports up to 16GB of RAM, 8 USB slots, FireWire
    connection, and a LAN connection (This is what I can use, in my case, to
    connect to the internet, right?). And the price is right.



    What do you think of this one? Also, what are the PCI slots used
    for? I assume the 3 available SATA connections can go to my HDD, SSD
    and CD/DVD/(Potentially Blu-Ray[img]../../../../../emoticons/emotion-14.gif[/img]) reader/burner. Am I correct? It also seems to have a built-in audio card. Interesting.



    Thanks for your continued guidance. I'll refrain from giving you guys any more questions until you can get back to me!


    -Alex
    </div>

  9. #9
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    Let me know what you think about my OS choices.


    <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
    I recommend Windows 7 64-bit. Linux has a steep learning curve and a lot of the photo editing software would have to run in an emulator or virtual machine. OS X is fine, but their hardware is too expensive, IMHO. Windows 7 64-bit is just the best of all the Windows versions right now.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    (This is what I can use, in my case, to
    connect to the internet, right?)

    Yes. I recommend saving money by using the motherboard's sound card and network interface rather than buying separate cards for them.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    What do you think of this one?

    Looks good to me.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    Also, what are the PCI slots used
    for?

    Add-in cards. For example, if you add a second video card in a second PCI-x8 slot (for faster video games or GPU-accellerated apps), or for dedicated raid hardware cards, video capture cards, and lots of other things. I think most users don't really need a lot of PCI slots.


    Quote Originally Posted by Alex Niedra
    Am I correct?

    Yes. That motherboard has six connections.


    I took the liberty of building two computer configurations for you: one for $600 and one for $1150. The $600 computer is still a blazing fast 4-core processor, 8 GB ram, 60GB SSD, etc., but it leaves you more money for monitors. The $1200 just takes it up a notch to i5, 16 GB, 120 GB SSD, etc., but then you'll have to wait on getting new displays. These are all USD from newegg.com. Type the components into newegg and you should have no trouble finding them.





    ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM


    $19.99


    NZXT GAMMA Classic Series GAMA-001BK Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case


    $39.99


    Seagate Barracuda LP ST32000542AS 2TB 5900 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Hard Drive -Bare Drive


    $69.99


    MSI 760GM-E51 AM3 AMD 760G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard


    $69.99


    Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D Green 380W Continuous power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power ...


    $44.99


    G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1066 (PC3 8500) Desktop Memory Model F3-8500CL7D-8GBRL


    $109.99


    AMD Athlon II X4 645 Propus 3.1GHz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor ADX645WFGMBOX


    $117.99


    G.SKILL Phoenix Pro Series FM-25S2S-60GBP2 2.5" 60GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)


    $114.99


    Subtotal:<span> $587.92





    Antec Mini P180 White Steel MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case


    $79.99


    GIGABYTE GA-P55-USB3 LGA 1156 Intel P55 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard


    $94.99


    GIGABYTE GV-R575SL-1GI Radeon HD 5750 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card


    $139.99


    Antec TruePower New TP-650 650W Continuous Power ATX12V V2.3 / EPS12V V2.91 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE ...


    $69.99


    Intel Core i5-760 Lynnfield 2.8GHz LGA 1156 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80605I5760


    $174.99


    G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1066 (PC3 8500) Desktop Memory Model F3-8500CL7D-8GBRL


    $219.98 (two at $109.99/each for 16 GB total)


    G.SKILL Phoenix Pro Series FM-25S2S-120GBP2 2.5" 120GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)


    $186.99


    Western Digital Caviar Black WD2001FASS 2TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive


    $179.99


    ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM


    $19.99


    Subtotal:<span> $1,166.90
    <div>Kind regards,</div>



  10. #10
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    Re: Looking to Upgrade My Workstation - Need guidance!



    Woah, thanks for those ideas, Daniel.


    I

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