Monday, October 8, 2007

Buyer's Guide 2008: Ultimate Systems

Upgrade the core of your digital darkroom for a faster, smoother photography workflow


With the Windows Vista and Mac Intel transitions behind us, now is a pretty safe time to consider replacing an aging computer, no matter which platform you prefer. Ample RAM for most photographers' needs is affordable, and many off-the-shelf systems boast solid digital-imaging specifications.

Whether you're in the market for a laptop or a desktop, the two key specs you should focus on are RAM and hard-drive storage. For the best digital darkroom experience, we recommend at least 2 GB of RAM—more if your selected system (and budget) permits. RAM is essential for imaging work because Photoshop and similar software rely heavily on it when crunching numbers behind the scenes. One thing to note about RAM, however, is that it's usually cheaper to buy RAM upgrades from a third party rather than the computer manufacturer. If your new computer has user-serviceable RAM—and most do—you can save a considerable amount of money upgrading it yourself.

Hard-drive storage is one of those things you can never have too much of. 100 GB is a minimum here, and that's really only acceptable for a laptop. Desktop systems should offer at least 250 GB, and preferably more, or at least have an extra expansion bay for additional drives. With most new digital cameras delivering 8 megapixels and up, and all kinds of digital media from music to movies competing for space, hard drives can fill up quickly.

In addition to RAM and hard-drive space, consider the ports you'll need. Most new computers have at least a couple of USB 2.0 ports, which covers just about every digital still camera. However, some external hard drives, video cameras and other peripherals use FireWire, so be sure to check that your new computer has the ports you need for your devices.

Dell XPS 410 Desktop

Solid performance, nice upgrade options and a 20-inch LCD thrown in for good measure make this Dell workstation a good choice for Windows users. As of this writing, Dell is still offering configurations with Windows XP in addition to Windows Vista. Add up to 4 GB of RAM and 1.5 TB of internal storage. Bluetooth and FireWire are optional.

Base Configuration
Processor:2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad-Core
Memory:2 GB
Video Card:
NVIDIA GeForce 8300
GS (128 MB)
Hard Drive:
320 GB, 7200 rpm
Optical Drive:
Double Layer burner
Ports:8-USB; DVI and
S-Video; FireWire (optional)
Gigabit Ethernet
List Price:
$1,199 (as configured;
20-inch LCD included)




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