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Pro photographer looking for best possible build for my needs under 6k

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August 16, 2012 3:41:19 PM

(Sorry ahead of time for a pretty detailed, lengthy post)
I'm a professional photographer in desperate need of a new desktop computer and am hoping to get some help with a custom build here. I've got literally hundreds of thousands of photos that I've shot with my Canon 5D Mark II (as well as HD videos) that have been piling up over the last few years because my computer can't keep up with the editing/processing and I haven't been able to afford a new machine until recently now that I've saved up some money.

These are the specs of my current 4.5-year-old machine. The biggest problem is that using any of my photo editing/managing software (Photoshop CS5, Adobe Bridge CS5, Photomatix Pro 4.2, Lightroom 3.6) will often result in a crash, even when run alone with nothing else open. Here's an example of what I run into on a daily basis with this computer. That's a screenshot from earlier today while I was researching PC components, none of my photo editing software was open during that, but that's the sort of thing I get all the time while using Photoshop etc.

Even besides the crashing, the computer I've got now is painfully slow at everything. Turning it on and fully booting up takes nearly 6 minutes, loading a folder of 480 photos in Adobe Bridge takes 7 and a half minutes and my scores with the Photoshop benchmark tests are pretty terrible (94.4 seconds on this test while most others seem to be getting results between 9 and 19 seconds, and 343.5 seconds with this one that most seem to get results between 135 and 165 seconds with). With hundreds of thousands of photos to edit and process, in addition to hundreds of 1080p HD videos from my camera that I can't even come close to editing or viewing, I need something *MUCH* faster, which is why I need a new machine and am willing to shell out a fair amount for one that's quality.

I'm looking for a build that will be ultra reliable, last a long time and will be as fast and effective as possible for my needs (primarily professional photo editing/processing/management, HD video editing and generally being able to efficiently handle terabytes of DSLR photo and video) while keeping the total cost of everything under $6,000 USD -- including a professional level monitor since mine is pretty aged at this point, but I'll leave that for another thread. Unfortunately I'm not all that knowledgeable with custom built PCs or technical specs...after meeting with a company that builds custom PCs and doing plenty of online research on my own I've got a list of components and a vague idea of what I need but I still need help, especially before dumping all of my savings on this stuff. Here's what I've come up with so far; what I'd like to know is whether or not these components will be enough (or possibly too much) and if there are any better alternatives available.
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1. Processor
Intel Core i7-3930K Sandy Bridge-E 3.2GHz Six-Core Desktop Processor: $569.99

This is the processor I've seen most recommended and seems the best suited of anything out there (under $1,000) to handle the massive amounts of photo and video editing work I've got for it. The selection for many of the other components is based off of this.

2. Motherboard
Asus Sabertooth X79: $329.99
-or-
Asus P9X79 WS: $364.61
-or-
Asus Rampage IV Extreme: $429.99

I found these to be the three most recommended motherboards for the 3930K processor but am still unsure which of the three would be best suited for my needs. The custom PC builders I met with gave me a quote that included a different motherboard (the Intel BOXDX79TO) which is cheaper at $210 but the reviews for it are pretty bad and I didn't see any recommendations for it anywhere.

3. Memory
CORSAIR Vengeance 32GB (4 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 Desktop Memory Model: $199.99

Without knowing much about RAM (other than I need a lot of it) this seemed to be the best choice and the most recommended online. The custom PC company's quote was also for 32GB of RAM but was for this model instead, which is double the price and doesn't have any reviews anywhere online: (4x) Crucial Ballistix 8GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600

4. SSD
Intel Cherryville 240GB Internal Solid State Drive: $269.99

I've consistently heard people recommend a SSD for installing the OS, applications and caches and 240GB should be plenty of space. I don't know if this particular 240GB SSD is better or worse than any others, but it's the model that was included on my custom PC quote. If there's a better option out there, definitely let me know.

5. Graphics Card
EVGA 012-P3-1570-AR GeForce GTX 570 (Fermi) 1280MB 320-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card: $259.99
-or-
EVGA SuperClocked 012-P3-1572-AR GeForce GTX 570 (Fermi) 1280MB 320-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card: $259.99
-or-
EVGA 02G-P3-1568-KR GeForce GTX 560 Ti (Fermi) 2GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card: $249.99
-or-
EVGA SuperClocked 02G-P3-1469-KR GeForce GTX 560 (Fermi) 2GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card: $179.99

I got pretty lost when it came to researching graphics cards; I'm aware these are all "mid-range" and I could do better but I don't know how necessary a better graphics card would be for me. Also, I can't tell the difference between the first two cards and the second two cards...the specs seem to be the same, and for the first two they're the same price, but for the second two the "SuperClocked" version is $70 less, so if someone could tell me what the difference is and which would best fit my needs that would be great.

6. Internal Hard Drive
(2x) Seagate Constellation ES.2 ST32000645NS 2TB 7200 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive: $479.98 ($239.99 each)

Right now all my terabytes of photos and videos are on a variety of old-ish USB 2.0 external hard drives and I'd like to get them all in one place and on something significantly faster and more reliable. This is what the custom PC company recommended. Again, if there's a better alternative please let me know. Also, could someone tell me what exactly the difference is between that model and this one? Other than the $10 price difference they seem identical.

7. Optical Disk Drive
LG Internal Blu-Ray Writer BH14NS40: $103.99

I need something to read and write CDs and DVDs and play Blu-Ray movies; again, this was the custom PC company's recommendation and although the reviews are mixed for this one, I'm not sure what a better option might be or how much it matters.

8. Computer Case
Antec SONATA IV System Cabinet with 620W Power Supply: $142.23

I've never built a PC before so I'm pretty clueless on what case is needed for all of this to work in. This was the model I was quoted but I'm open to other suggestions.

9. OS
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional SP1 64-bit: $119.99

Pretty straightforward.
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The total cost of these 9 components is $2,396.14 if I go with the least expensive options or $2,576.14 if I go with the most expensive. However, that's if I buy them myself online -- the custom PC company quoted me roughly $100 more per component for a total cost of about $1,000 more than if I ordered them online, but their price would include putting it all together as well as a 1-year warranty on everything and technical support, none of which I'd get if I ordered it myself. So roughly $2400 - $2600 if I get it myself or $3400 - $3600 if I let the custom PC guys do it for me.

But there are still other things which I wasn't quoted, namely:
A.) A professional level monitor with calibration software: $500.00 - $1,500.00
B.) A 3TB USB 3.0 External Hard Drive for back up: $160.00 - $200.00
C.) Software: ~$150.00 - $500.00
D.) Decent speakers: $270.00 - $350.00
E.) Sound card (if necessary): $80.00 - $200.00
F.) Other necessities: (???)

I won't get into those since this post is long enough already, but that's another $1,080 on the low end or $2,750 on the high end, bringing the grand total for the least expensive options (without any help from the custom PC builders) to just under $3,500 and the grand total for the most expensive options (assembled by professionals + warranty, tech support) to just under $6,000. Ideally I'd rather not have to pay the $6k price tag, but that's the max amount I've got set aside in case it's absolutely necessary.

So, this is what I've come up with so far, but I'm in no means an expert so I'd really appreciate some feedback on this set up and what I can or should do differently. If I'd be better off with different components, please let me know which ones and why. Thanks in advance for any help, info and advice!

More about : pro photographer build

August 16, 2012 4:36:27 PM

CPU - should be great.

Motherboard - Don't bother with the Rampage. It's a gamer board, so you're paying the gamer premium for features you won't use. Can't really speak to the others, but any X79 board by Asus, Gigabyte, or Asrock should be solid.

Memory - G.Skill's just as reputable as Corsair. This should do you just fine for $40 less:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

SSD: The Samsung 830 and Corsair M4 have the best reputations of current SSDs, and the Samsung's going for about $210.

Graphics Cards: Again, you're looking at paying a gamer premium for features you won't use. I'd go with a Radeon 7-series for the Eyefinity in case you decide you want to use multiple monitors. A 7750 will run you about $110-150 and do everything you need.

Hard Drive: Here you're paying the 'enterprise' premium for drives that have met enterprise reliability testing standards. That doesn't necessarily mean they're higher quality (or even more reliable). I'd get WD Blacks for performance and reliability:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
You could get 3 of those right now for the price of the two you were quoted.

Optical Drive: That's not what you're looking for, unless I'm misreading you and you actually do want to write Blu-Ray discs. If you want to write DVDs/CDs and read Blu-Ray, get a $20 DVD-RW (any will do) and a $50 Blu-Ray reader (any will do).

Case: You just need a box with good cooling. It's an aesthetic choice, really. But power supplies in cases that include them are usually total garbage (although that case is made by Antec, so it might not be that awful). Nonetheless, if I were you, I would spend the extra $50 to buy them separately - get a Corsair 650W power supply and a nice $120-150 gamer case by Corsair, NZXT, or Fractal Design (this is the one area where I would go with the gamer product, because it's actually superior.)

Oh, and you don't need a soundcard unless you also do audio editing or you're a serious audiophile.

As for the custom build: The 1-year warranty isn't going to save you $1000 even if something major does break. Even if a lot of major things break. You're going to be buying parts with their own warranties, and you can even buy extended warranties for the expensive bits at far, far less than $100/item (At Newegg I'm looking at $25 on the CPU, which is the most expensive part).

So it's really a matter of whether or not you think it's worth $1000 (and the loss of control over parts selection) to have someone build it for you (roughly 3-6 hours of work for a newbie builder). Personally, I'd spend that money on a better monitor. Or two. If you really can't handle doing the build yourself, you can get someone on Craigslist to do it for under $100.
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August 16, 2012 6:46:06 PM

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Is a good motherboard, pretty much anything with 8 memory slots will be good. I suggest a dell ultrasharp for your monitor, they have extreme resolutions and are top end monitors, and getting high end headphones will do you better than speakers. Also building it yourself is very very easy, you should have absolutely no problems doing it yourself.
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August 19, 2012 7:19:10 PM

Thanks for the replies, they've helped me fine tune my choices. I still have a few questions about some of the components however:

Would there be any appreciable difference between the Corsair Vengeance and the G.Skill Ripjaws Z Series for memory, other than the G.Skill being a better price?

Similarly, would there be a noticeable difference between the Intel 520 and either the Crucial M4 ($209) or the Samsung 830 ($199)? Intel has the longest warranty and seems to offer the best performance, but I'm not sure if it's worth the extra 60 - 70 bucks over the other two.

I'm still pretty clueless about what cases might be better (roomier with more airflow) but, looking through the best reviewed cases on Newegg these three seemed like good possibilities: Antec 1200 V3 Full Tower ($174.98), Cooler Master HAF 932 Full Tower ($154.98) and Antec 900 Mid Tower ($79.99). Would these work with the components I've selected? Could I get away with a mid tower like the Antec 900 or would I be better off with a full tower like the Antec 1200 or HAF 932? Also feel free to recommend any other model out there instead, I'm not sold on any of these three models by any means.

And I really have no idea what PSU would be best for my needs...assuming I need something between 700 and 800W (and that's pretty much just my random assumption plus a little extra to be on the safe side -- please tell me if I need more or less), and looking at only models with good reviews on Newegg, there are still tons of choices and I'm having a hard time telling the difference between a lot of them. For example, there's the ENERMAX Platimax EPM750AWT 750W for $229, the Corsair CORSAIR CMPSU-750HX 750W for $134, the CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W for $109 or the Diablotek PSUL775 775W for $55 and I don't have any real sense which would be best suited for me or how much it really matters. Any help on this, especially recommendations of specific models, would be much appreciated.

Thanks again!
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August 19, 2012 9:05:01 PM

Both Gskill and corsair are extremely reputable brands, and are very high quality. They'll both work completely fine. Go with the cheaper SSD, the performance gain isn't really high enough. A full tower will give you more room to work with, but they'll all fit fine in a mid size tower. One thing i'm not sure if you know or not, the 3930k does NOT come with a heatsink, you have to buy an aftermarket one. I personally use a H100 with my 3930k, there are better choices out there though. Just make sure your case has enough clearance for your heatsink. I have a 3930k, GTX 670, 2 HDDs and an SSD running off of 650 watts, while 6 series does a lot more power effiecent than the 5 series, you won't need a ton. I would go with a seasonic PSU, they're pretty much the most reputable brand, you can get it modular or nonmodular, whichever fits your needs better.
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