Buyer's Guide 2007: Ultimate Systems
Speed through digital darkroom work with these powerful computers
FireWire (or IEEE 1394) is another high-speed connection that's commonly used to connect digital video cameras and high-capacity external drives. If you want to edit video, get FireWire, too.
Apple + Intel
Apple's transition from PowerPC to Intel processors is now complete. One of the best parts of the switch is that the new Macs can run Windows in addition to Mac OS X, so you're not limited to made-for-Mac applications. Apple's Boot Camp software, currently a public beta, lets you choose which operating system to launch at startup. OS 10.5, expected in early 2007, will incorporate this technology. So, the Mac may be the only computer you need to run practically any application.
There's a temporary caveat here, though. Heavy Photoshop users should note that until Adobe releases its upcoming Universal Binary version of Photoshop, you'll take a considerable speed hit running CS2 or earlier versions, which were designed for PowerPC chips, on the new Intel machines. If you use Aperture or iPhoto, those apps are already converted to Universal Binary, so you're good to go. To learn more about Universal Binary applications and the transition to Intel processors, visit www.apple.com/universal.
WiFi is standard on most notebooks and optional on many desktops as well. It allows you to connect to wireless networks for cable-free Internet and file sharing and can transmit large quantities of data quickly.
Bluetooth is another wireless connection that's good for transmitting smaller amounts of data over short distances, and allows you to use a wireless keyboard and mouse.
Drive Speed: Why It Matters
The most common drive speeds are 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm. Gigabyte for gigabyte, the slower drive will be cheaper. But you may want to sacrifice size in favor of speed. Drive speed is important for two reasons. First, faster speeds mean quicker loading times for applications and large image files and less waiting when using the drives as scratch disks for Photoshop. Secondly, drive speed is essential if you want to work with digital video. You need a 7200 rpm drive to be sure your system can keep up with the video-importing process. Slower drives may drop frames if they get bogged down.
While not as important as system RAM, the onboard memory capacity of your video card can affect the overall performance of your system when doing heavy graphics work. Video RAM determines the speed at which your screen "redraws" or reflects the changes you've made to an image, such as applying a filter or effect. For users of Apple Aperture, video RAM is even more important-Aperture loads images directly to the video card and uses video RAM for image adjustments.