One of the critical pieces of equipment if you are planning to make money from photography is to invest in a reliable computer. I'm a PC guy so I'm not going to go into PC vs Mac and I'm not going to debate the merits of one versus the other. Lets face it; I'm three years and 363 days away from 50, so to learn a whole new system is not going to happen. I’m a PC guy to stay.
Now I have had the benefit of having three computer systems crap out on me from which I lost thousands of photos which has set me back quite considerably. None of which were the fancy customized computers but were straight out of the box systems which I highly recommend that you not do. These systems may be fine if you are a hobbyist photographer who maybe shoots just for the fun of it but when you're working through 200-300 plus shots per shoot and editing in batch or are editing a 50 minute video heading for YouTube; you just will not have the time for a pokey machine that takes 3 hrs to blend a 25 shot image stack for a high resolution final image in Photoshop or 18 hrs to render a 50 min video in Premiere Elements or Sony Vegas Pro. As the saying goes in professional photography; time is money. Your best bet if you're at the stage where you're starting to amass a suitable portfolio of images and are planning on making money from photography: invest in a custom computer suitable to your photography needs. Personally, I will be going to NCIX for my system when I build it.
In this post I'm going to go into the breakdown of what kind of system that you should seriously consider getting to give you the biggest bang. Let's just say that you are going to easily be looking at near four grand (that’s nearly $4,000.00) for a suitable computer. Don't skimp. You'll need that horsepower. I'm breaking down my dream high performance system to give you guys an idea of what sort of performance is necessary for photo/video editing. And again the high horsepower your system has the faster your turn-around is. And you need that in a high turnover of product business like photography. I live with two gamers (my wife and my other son – they both are into computer games. But I’m focusing on photo/video editing) so these systems will also do well for gaming if you are into that sort of thing. The benefit of a good customizable computer is the upgrade factor. If you pick out your components well, all you will have to do to upgrade down the road is to purchase three things; a CPU, a motherboard and compatible RAM and you will be able to transfer all your other components into the next system.
So welcome to my dream hi-power photo/video editing rig:
CPU: the CPU is the one of the two most important processing components of your whole system. The CPU is the beast that turns around and crunches your data that you put into it when you shove that memory card into the memory card reader. You want it to be fast the higher GHz the better; the more cores the better. In the high-end CPUs you got the Skylake processors then you got the even more powerful Xeon processors which will not only break speed limits but will break your pocketbook unless you're stinking rich (In that case can I get your support on a Kickstarter campaign I have planned called "buy me a 600/4 for wildlife? just kidding). My choice for a CPU is the Intel Core i7-6700K: this beast of a processor runs at 4.0 GHz (Turbo-boosted to 4.2 GHz); the CPU has 4 cores, an 8MB cache and benchmarks run on Photoshop and Premiere beat out almost every other CPU on the market with the exception of the i5-6600K. But that may get into the build characteristics of that particular processor and not so much that it may seem better. There are a lot of factors that can go into performance of a CPU and I'm suspecting that Creative Cloud has a lot to do with it. I am old school and prefer my programs kept on my computer and a CD for backup but that's another argument for another day.
CPU pick: INTEL CORE i7-6700K
Motherboard: the motherboard is the part that ties all the internal components of your computer together and you are able to add in storage as necessary. Also, the motherboard is where your slots are for your memory. You need to make sure that your motherboard can support at least four slots for memory to give you the most flexibility – in computer lay-terms – the more the better which also goes for the other components on this selection. You also need to have as many PCI slots as you possibly can – Peripheral Component Interconnect slots or otherwise known as PCI slots enable you to attach video cards, sound cards and other components of your computer system and frankly, you don’t know just how many different things are going to come down the turnpike as far as storage or processing information is concerned. Different means of storage may mean different types of connection to the motherboard and some could potentially utilize PCI connections. The motherboard is the base of your flexibility for attaching external components to your computer for storage as well, so you need to have as many USB 3.0 slots as you possibly can. Also there are HDMI connections and Lightning (an Apple creation, but also now available on PC as well). I’m picking the Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 5 because of the fact that if it’s meant for gaming it’ll have more than enough power to tackle video editing which will be the most CPU/MB taxing thing that this system will do. I have no interest in playing Fallout 4 which is one of gaming system’s benchmarks.
Motherboard Pick: Gigabyte GA-Z170X-Gaming 5
Memory: You want memory. Memory is the second component that is going to make your system purr like a kitten and do the things you want it to do. (Yes, I know, there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere). You want at least 16GB of memory; I’d go for 32GB of DDR4-2400 288 pin memory. You want memory to spare because when you’re trying to compile a video of your latest and greatest successful tracking of the golden-eyed teal bunting (or whatever bloody I don’t know what the hell songbird) that you went to some out of the way bird sanctuary in Eastern Malaysia dodging Malaysian kraits and electric eels to find; you don’t want the computer to hang and freeze on you. And on top of that you don’t want it to take eighteen hours to compile either. So the more memory the better.
Memory Pick: G.Skill Ripjaws V Series DDR4-2400 288-pin DIMM 4x8GB for 32GB
CPU Cooling System: With all that horsepower running through your computer, like a car engine, that CPU and case will run temperatures worse than the tropics. And when that system gets hot, meltdowns will occur. If your system overheats, you run the risk of seriously damaging your computer’s CPU and then you’re going to end up having to replace it if lucky; if not, you may even need to replace your whole motherboard and CPU. So if you don’t want that, invest in a cooling system; you want your CPU running cool while processing video in Premiere or Vegas Pro and extremely large focus or image stacks in Photoshop. People either talk running massive amounts of air with a lot of fans through the case but that restricts your amount of storage – fans take massive amounts of space. So the next best way to go is liquid-cooled. All that runs into problems. If you’re talking liquid cooled, you’re also talking potential leaks because no liquid cooled system isn’t prone to punctures. Which ultimately means that you’re going to have to have as stable a platform as possible. In other-words no stampeding cattle herds through the room where your computer is located – that means children and pets. My pick is the top rated Deepcool CAPTAIN 360 273.4 CFM Fluid Dynamic Bearing Liquid CPU Cooler which pumps 2200 RPM through the case and practically deepfreezes the CPU to a tolerable operating temperature level in any weather. The main control unit has three fans that will pump air through the case to keep the rest of the case at a cool internal temperature.
My Pick: Deepcool CAPTAIN 360 273.4 CFM Fluid Dynamic Bearing Liquid CPU Cooler
Storage: If you are shooting every few days, I would say for a storage drive, your best bet would be at least 2-3 TB of storage with additional storage by means of an external hard drive. The more storage that you have, the better, but all that costs money. For economy and speed, choose 7200 rpm. That will be your main internal storage drive on which you will put your week’s shooting RAW files with which you process. From there after the week is done, you will transfer your RAW files to an external storage drive, which you will label as your storage drive. Your main 7200 drive and an SSD working file drive will be your two main drives on which you will do most of your work. Externals should be your storage drives. Trust me, if you shoot prolifically, you will probably end up having to have a server with multiple removable internal docks eventually and a climate controlled drive storage room (scare you yet?) For your working drive (the drive in which you do most of your editing on), you should invest the money in a solid state drive (SSD – which contains no moving parts). Solid State Drives are faster on boot-up and boast at least a 40% speed increase in processing. For this drive you need at minimum a 1TB drive which will cost you, but well worth the added expenditure in time saved while working on photos and video.
Storage Drive Picks: Samsung MZ-7KE1T0BW 850 Pro Series 1TB SSD (main operating drive internal)
Western Digital Red Pro 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive (main storage drive internal)
Video Card: When you are photo/video-editing, you need to have at least two monitors, one for the compiling and editing video/photos; the other for a display of the video or editing in full-size. Hence the reason why I am considering a video card with at least three display ports; because I will be doing editing on one display and viewing the end result of that edit on the other so that I know that there are no defects when viewed at full-size. The view sized monitor will be a 32” TV; I’d like to get myself a full-size 32” 4K monitor, but I don’t have that kind of $$$ lying around. So for my video card, I’ve selected the MSI GTX 980 4GD5 OCV1 GeForce GTX 980 4GB – this will allow me to attach three monitors as well as having a processing cache of 4GB exclusively on the card itself to prevent hang-ups while compiling video.
Video Card Pick: MSI GTX 980 4GD5 OCV1 GeForce GTX 980 4GB cache.
Uninterruptible Power Supply: (UPS) When your power cuts out, what are you going to do if you’re currently working on an important file. At least a UPS allows your computer enough power to keep it running while it gives you enough time to save your work and power the computer down. So in my books, it’s important for someone to have one of these. Get one…it will save your hard work.
UPS Pick: CyberPower CP1350AVRLCD UPS
Internal Power Supply: Like Home Improvement’s Tim “The Toolman” Taylor’s “More Power!!!!” grunt; I like power. The more the better. And the less likely it is for you to end up with a over-drawn power supply than if you stuck in an anemic 750W power supply. I’m going for 1500W – this is what’s known as server power supply territory. And you want plenty of power with a photo/video editing rig. ~grunt~ More power!
Internal Power Supply Pick: Corsair AX1500i 1500W 80+ Titanium Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply
Case: For your case, you don’t want to try to jam all this into a piddly mid-tower case. You want the genuine article. A monster that will sit on your floor and take up plenty of real estate. Lots of space means lots of air circulating through the innards allowing all your components to stay cool (provided you have enough fans in the case or you've liquid-cooled the CPU). And the Corsair 900D ATX Full Tower Case has that in spades in a layout that won't make your system anemic in data storage. Your CPU and motherboard do not need to get overheated. So with plenty of air-circulation, that a full-tower has, your system won’t over-heat even if you overclock your CPU to holy-hell light speed.
Case Pick: Corsair 900D ATX Full Tower Case
Other essentials that you can’t do without: Go Blu-Ray writer – spend the extra money and get a Blu-Ray writer because those Blu-Ray discs will damned near write your whole OS drive onto one disc. Get one that can actually write BD-R XH. Also a memory card reader is essential: With Nikon introducing a new memory card format: XQD, in nearly all of its new professional grade cameras; it’s essential to have the three main memory card formats in a card reader on your computer. CF (CompactFlash), SD (Secure Digital) and XQD (don’t ask me what XQD stands for; I’m clueless).
Now with all this technical information, you’ll probably be surprised that I consider myself a techno-troglodyte. When I get told to boot the computer; my response is usually, “with which leg?” Put it simply, I hate change, especially in the tech world. My wife usually says that any sort of tech-change usually results in a lot of grumbling, screaming, tantrum-throwing and finally giving in and buying the damned thing that I was so adamant against in the first place.
But one caveat: They’ll never get me used to downloading software!!! Adobe…YOU HEAR ME?!!!