Buyer's Guide 2007: Ultimate Systems
Speed through digital darkroom work with these powerful computers
This spec used to be the benchmark by which manufacturers marketed the power and speed of their systems, but this practice has fallen out of favor in recent years. Measured in gigahertz (GHz), processor speed does play an important role in intensive imaging work, so you want to pay some attention to this spec. Faster is always better, but the difference between 2 GHz and 2.16 GHz isn't significant.
Most of the high-performance computers today—both Windows and Mac—use dual-core processors. This means each chip is essentially two processors in one. The result is a huge gain in performance. Apple takes it one step further with the Mac Pro, putting two dual-core processors together for what's commonly referred to as a "Quad," or four-processor system. In the future, expect to see even more
execution cores on a single chip.
How Much RAM?
Off-the-shelf computers are typically configured with too little RAM for enjoyable photo work. This essential spec directly affects your system's speed and overall performance. To handle big image files and the software to edit them, you'll want at least 1 GB of RAM, with 2 GB being preferable. If you're trying to keep to a budget, forego other features but don't sacrifice RAM.
Smart RAM Upgrades
When you're ordering a computer, you may be given a choice of RAM configurations. Computers have a fixed number of RAM slots, and how those slots are filled can make upgrading RAM at a future date more or less expensive.
For example, the Apple MacBook Pro has two available RAM slots. To get 1 GB of RAM, you can choose two 512 MB memory modules or one 1 GB module. The latter choice is a little more expensive up front, but it leaves one slot open for future expansion. If you choose two 512 MB modules, you'll end up wasting one or both of those modules if you decide to upgrade your RAM later.
We recommend spending the extra cash up front for fewer, larger-capacity modules, leaving empty slots for future expansion. RAM prices tend to drop over time, and you can usually get a better deal on RAM from third-party vendors.
USB 2.0 + FireWire
USB 2.0 is essential for photographers. All modern printers and most digital cameras use these ports. It's nice to have several USB ports so you can leave multiple devices connected, such as a printer and card reader, and still have ports open for use.