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What Computer Hardware Do Real Estate Photographers Need?

May 19th, 2013

HardwareLast week Andy in Aurora, CO asked me the following:

“I’m looking into buying a new PC. Have you done any research or polls on what system requirements work best for real estate processing applications. I’m thinking about something that would allow me to run Photomatix and Lightroom at the same time, and still do some uploading of images in the background. Recommendations on processor, video/graphics card, and RAM would be helpful. Also, ideas on pricing out such a system.”

Here is my answer:

  • Essential: Don’t skimp on the amount of RAM you get. In the overall scheme of things RAM is cheap and generally makes more difference that the speed of your processor. I always get 16 gig of RAM on any machine I buy. Maybe you could get by with 12 gig, I don’t know. But with 16 gig RAM there is NEVER any memory issues. I’ve tried 8 gig, and that’s not enough for Lightroom to perform well all the time.
  • Not essential but really makes life easier:
    • SSD drive: My last desktop I got with a 250 gig SSD drive ( 250 gig of RAM that that looks to the OS like a disk). Wow! I’ll never buy another computer without one! Instant booting and instant everything else.
    • Top of the line graphics card: My understanding is that while Photoshop  and Adobe Premier Pro use GPU acceleration Lightroom 4 does not. So a lot depends on specifically which software you use.
    • High Quality 27″ or 30″ monitor: Get two if you can afford it. Lightroom works really nicely with dual monitors. You get what you pay for here. I have a $1,000 monitor sitting along side a $400 monitor and the cheap one looks crappy while the $1000 one knocks my socks off.

I didn’t give Andy any specific recommendations because I don’t focus much on PC hardware and I knew you gentle readers would have plenty of detail advice for Andy. What do you think?

Update 5/21/2013: The question came up below, do Lightroom 4 and Photomatix Pro make use of a graphics card or GPU integrated into the processor? The research I’ve done indicates that Lightroom 4 does not make use of a graphics processor and the HDRsoft.com support people said the following: “Photomatix Pro does not make use of an independent graphics card; for that matter, it doesn’t make use of the main GPU either. If you’re looking to improve the performance in Photomatix Pro, the most efficient way to do so is to add more RAM to the computer. In case you’re concerned about the slowness with the Fusion/Realistic method, you may be interested to know that it will be much faster in the upcoming 5.0 version of Photomatix Pro.”

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16 Responses to “What Computer Hardware Do Real Estate Photographers Need?”

  • My experience with ssd has been that they nearly always slow down over time. Have used three of them and they all had the same trait. Search of Google finds i’m not alone but yes, at first they are a rocket! I used CrystalDiskMark for tests (recommend the Shizuku edition with no ads). Run it every 3 months or so with the same settings to see where your read/write speeds are going.

    http://crystalmark.info/download/index-e.html

  • For lightroom, cpu & ram are the most important, and like Larry mentioned, ram is cheap so feel free to max out your motherboard. For photomatix, gpu is important. If you’re using both programs simultaneously, make sure you have a killer graphics card for photomatix to take the workload off your cpu so it can be used more for lightroom. Uploading images doesn’t really task your computer in any sense, so for that you just want a good internet connection.

  • I didn’t see this point made and so I wanted to make it:

    SSDs should NEVER be used as your storage disks. Their performance will degrade rapidly with successive read/writes. However, when used as an OS and Program file disk with separate scratch disk and a standard drives for your photos and lightroom catalog, they can’t be beat and have a relatively long life span.

    As far as RAM goes, it is a good idea to go with the max amount that you think you will end up with right off the bat. This way you can get matched RAM that will give you a little more reliability.

    I would be willing to share my build list for my Hackintosh if anyone is interested in building a killer Mac workstation. I’m running a 3.5 GHZ i7 processor overclocked to 4.8 GHZ, 2 GB AMD Radeon GPU, 32GB 1600MHZ DDR3 memory, Two 256GB SSDs in a raid 0 (for speed) with multiple 3TB drives in raid 1 (for redundancy)

    I think my build cost was just under 2k for a machine that blows away my last mac pro costing over 8k

  • Would you mind sharing your hackintosh secrets. I am looking at imacs

  • @Mike – Umm, if what you say about not using SSDs for storage is true I’m asking for trouble. I have my Lightroom catalog, Aperture Library and other key files on my SSD. In fact, all my MacBook Pro has is a 500 gig SSD. I need to get better at keep it continually backed up!

  • For those using SSD and seeing them slow down over time, how much? Are we talking 10% over 3 years, or 50% the first year.

    I will also add an additional item to the list for those networking one or more computer together, 1G network card and 1G router. With those hardwired in, you can work on either computer just as if it was your own harddrive.

  • On my desktop I recently upgraded adding a new SSD, and actually a new harddrive as well. For the SSD, I limited it to operating system, Adobe and microsoft programs and those other programs that wouldn’t let me choose which drive. Photos, videos, secondary programs like QuickBooks, and documents are kept on the harddrive. You get lightning startup, and with the internal SATA3 connection file access of the hard drive isn’t bad. Need to upgrade my laptop and thinging about MacBook Pro Retina which only comes with an SSD, and no internal room for both drives, necessitating an external USB hard drive which won’t come near the performance of the SATA3. Would probably have a similar issue with an iMac as the fusion drive is as close as it comes to the internal solution.

  • I appreciate the comments, but since I’m not really into the tech such as RAID can someone advise me on what to look for in a graphics card? What specs are relevant for photo imaging needs? I do run Photomatix and Lightroom simultaneously, and like to upload completed images while doing so. I understand the need for 16GB or more of RAM and an i7 processor, plus maybe adding an SSD drive. I’m also trying not to bust the bank on a computer right now.

  • @Larry – That is what has kept me away from a retina MBP. For laptop, I am running a standard 17″ MBP with a dual drive setup from other world computing. I have an SSD in the standard drive slot and a 1tb drive where the superdrive was. The superdrive is now in an external enclosure. I also travel with those orange Lacie rugged drives. I never leave a shoot (be it an RE shoot, a wedding or an editorial job) without having 3 copies of my photos. It may seem obsessive but… yeah, it’s obsessive 🙂

    I LOVE the look/feel/performance of the retina MBP but everything is soldered to the board. It works better and allows the laptop to be lighter and smaller but you can’t upgrade the RAM and there is no way to do a dual drive setup (yet).

    @Jessica – What would you like to know? Also, those new iMacs are REALLY REALLY pretty… and tempting.

    @Andy, Lightroom does not utilize GPU but you will need it for photomatix. Unfortunately, I have no experience with photomatix. (I don’t do HDR)
    Check this out if you have time: http://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/optimize-performance-lightroom.html
    And if you use Photoshop at all: http://forums.adobe.com/thread/979969

  • @Andy I just built a new PC desktop a couple months ago.

    – i7 3770k (currently not overclocked)
    -16 GB RAM (2x8GB sticks). Can max out at 32GB.
    -256GB SSD for OS and applications
    -2 2TB 7200 RPM drives in RAID 1 for images (This is REALLY easy to do as long as you get a motherboard that has it on board. Read the simple instructions, make a couple clicks. Done.)
    -Video Card: EVGA SuperClocked 02G-P4-2662-KR GeForce GTX 660 2GB 192-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card (link, if allowed: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814130826)
    -Windows 8. Works great for me. Ignoring the UI that people love to hate, it is very fast. LR, PS and Photomatix all run in ‘desktop’ view anyway, so when I’m working it doesn’t matter that the ‘start’ menu is different.

    What I can tell you is that I can do anything I want, running LR, PS AND Photomatix at the same time. Aside from LR having that annoying lag (software limitation, not hardware), everything is SUPER fast. I shoot RAW on my 6D and it takes about 20 seconds to export 3 images to Photomatix and have them ready for me to work on. 8 Seconds back to LR. I used to finish a job and start the export process for the 20 – 40 files and then go do something else for a bit. Not now. Just a couple minutes and they are ready. (full size JPGs)

  • @Andy and Marvin. I built my i7 PC a year or so ago as the GTX 600 series didn’t exist. First, Adobe has tied their Mercury Engine to Nvidia cards with CUDA cores, so the AMD Radeon cards were ruled out. Adobe lists the various ‘tested and approved’ cards on their site in conjunction with Premiere Pro, basically GTX and higher, but GTX is affordable. Adobe doesn’t test all cards, so not being on the list doesn’t exclude it as there is a text file in Premiere Pro (and presumably other programs using the mercury engine) that you simply edit adding your card (Google for file location). On build, I installed the GTX 460, two generations behind Marvins, but the just release and more extensive GTX 560 was identical spec, but note the GTX ___ Ti models are lower spec despite titanium sounding more premium. I did have to do the text edit to add my card, and now the mercury engine is the default selection in Premiere Pro, where was originally grayed out.

    The only other consideration when building a PC at that level, the high end graphic cards require a more powerful power supply so I couldn’t transfer the power supply from the PC being disassembled. I am using an 800 watt, where I think the lowest minimum recommended was 600 watt.

  • @Andy- I’ve read several places that Lightroom 4 does not make use of a special graphics processor (like Photoshop and Adobe Premier Pro does), and I just got word back from HDRsoft about Photomatix using a graphics processor. They said: “Photomatix Pro does not make use of an independent graphics card; for that matter, it doesn’t make use of the main GPU either. If you’re looking to improve the performance in Photomatix Pro, the most efficient way to do so is to add more RAM to the computer. In case you’re concerned about the slowness with the Fusion/Realistic method, you may be interested to know that it will be much faster in the upcoming 5.0 version of Photomatix Pro.”

    So as long as you are just using Lightroom 4 and Photomatix Pro don’t worry about your graphics card just spend your money on RAM.

  • Mike I would love the details on your “hackintosh” sounds like a killer machine. I am slowing converting to a mac person. I was always windows growing up but was highly disappointed with windows 8, got a mac book air and haven’t looked back. I would LOVE to build one similar to yours. Any help would be appreciated as I don’t have much experience with Macs, but have built tons of windows based systems.

    “I would be willing to share my build list for my Hackintosh if anyone is interested in building a killer Mac workstation. I’m running a 3.5 GHZ i7 processor overclocked to 4.8 GHZ, 2 GB AMD Radeon GPU, 32GB 1600MHZ DDR3 memory, Two 256GB SSDs in a raid 0 (for speed) with multiple 3TB drives in raid 1 (for redundancy)”

  • If your SSDs or controller don’t support TRIM, then they will degrade over time – until you do a hard wipe of them that cleans them up. Most current drives and controllers support TRIM, so that shouldn’t be a problem, but if you run them in RAID – like Mike is – then that can block the TRIM operations – unless you have a special RAID card that handles it.

  • Looks like Mac OS has less TRIM support for third-party SSDs. See here for tools to enable it.

    http://www.groths.org/trim-enabler/

    http://www.macrumors.com/2011/06/27/mac-os-x-10-6-8-brings-trim-support-for-apple-ssds-graphics-improvements/

  • @Shawn – Oh good I was just in the process of googling TRIM for OSX when you answered my question. I’m glad I did this post… I’m learning a lot from it!

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