We Review a Computer Built for Photography and Videography

We Review a Computer Built for Photography and Videography

I finally upgraded my computer, and what a difference it has made to my photography workflow. Here’s how I worked out what to buy.

For the last year or so, I have been struggling along with my now nine-year-old computer. It’s been great, but it’s starting to get slower and slower. It started having a negative impact on my business, especially when I was culling and editing big photoshoots. Here’s what I have upgraded to and what I found out along the way.

Should I Build a Computer Again?

Historically, I’ve built my own computers. Compared to some of the work I did in the past, it’s relatively easy to do; everything just plugs and screws together. However, now I am busy with my photography work, and time is money. Building a computer takes time that I just don’t have, and I needed it relatively quickly. But I had to balance this with the extra cost of buying a pre-made machine, and the possibility that I would not find what I wanted. I did a lot of research, and this time I looked at the option of buying a complete machine.

This went against the grain with me a bit because there are components in my old computer that are perfectly serviceable and some parts I had replaced not long ago. For the sake of our planet, I’m a great believer in using things until they work no more. However, overall, it just wasn’t up to the job. Photography apps were slow as wading through mud, and downloading images from memory cards took forever. Also, it struggled when it came to using any of the AI-based tools like noise reduction and culling. Furthermore, working with large video files became impossible, and I had some video-editing work coming up.

Many cases had bright, distracting features, which I didn't want.

Two Strange Advantages of an Old, Slow Computer

There were two advantages to me having a slower machine. Besides giving me time to make a mug of coffee while it worked on my photos, it did show up the differences in speed between different programs, perfect for when I was reviewing software. For example, PhotoLab 6 still worked like lightning on that computer compared to Lightroom Classic, where the word "sluggish" was an understatement.

With a new computer that does everything quickly, would I be able to tell the difference in performance enough to write about it? I am very aware that a lot of readers here work with older machines and with far less capacity than it had, and I want to make sure they were aware of some programs’ deficiencies. I’ll answer that question a bit later in the article.

Working to a Budget

When choosing computer specifications, there comes a point when tiny increases in performance make a lot of difference to the price. But, in the real world, those tiny increases are not worth it. If you are a gamer playing at a high level, I can understand it, but if I must wait half a millisecond longer for a photo to load, it’s not going to make a huge amount of difference to me. Consequently, there is no real need to buy the very top-spec machines. However, the better the specifications, the more likely the computer will be future-proof. My last computer ran happily for nearly nine years because I over-specified it. I want similar longevity with the new machine.

The understated case I chose for my new computer.

Researching What I Should Buy

My first thought was whether to go with AMD or Intel. 

Checking speeds, number of cores, and number of threads, and reading lots of reviews, AMD gave me a better bang for my buck. There are, of course, those that will swear undying loyalty to Intel, but it’s a Canon/Nikon argument; they both work.

I had a fixed budget, so value for money was important to me, I needed to balance performance with cost. I wanted something like the 5th generation AMD Ryzen 7 5700X, 8 Core, 16 Thread, 4.6 GHz Boost AM4 chip. It performed respectably well in benchmark tests against similar processors. Furthermore, it had great reviews.

Similarly, the AMD-compatible motherboards were of better value too. The well-respected Gigabyte B550M DS3H Micro ATX Motherboard had some superb test results.

Importantly for future-proofing, it has four memory slots, which support up to 128 GB of dual-channel RAM that can run at up to 4,733 MHz. I was going to buy 32 GB Corsair Vengeance LPX (2x16GB) DDR-4 RAM, plenty for what I needed at the moment. I had considered going for a setup that incorporated DDR-5 RAM. But that pushed the system beyond my budget.

I would also need a powerful graphics card.

Seeking Expert Advice

Never be afraid to ask for help! I'm relatively knowledgeable about computers, but there are always plenty of people who know much more.

With this sort of specification in mind, I joined a Discord group for a UK retailer of computers and components, AWD-IT.co.uk. I previously bought the components for my son's machine from that company and had been very pleased with the price and the customer service. 

The members of the group were incredibly generous with their knowledge, and somebody called Keira suggested a customized machine built in a Fractal North case. That was the winner of the prestigious Red Dot Design Award 2023. It has three front USB ports including one USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C with fast charging support and speeds up to 10 Gbps, easy-to-unclip panels, and can accommodate up to four SATA drives.

The computer included a Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 12 GB graphics card. I had been considering an RTX 3070, but the 4070 was 20% faster. The power supply is a Gigabyte P650B 80 Plus Bronze certified unit.

The processor is cooled with an Arctic Freezer A35 CO Tower CPU Cooler. I considered a liquid cooler, but reading up on it, the air cooler was more than sufficient for the job, especially as I would not be subjecting the computer to a prolonged heavy load like gaming. Also, an air-cooled processor costs less. That allowed me to increase spending in other areas and stick to my budget.

What About the Hard Drive?

The machine arrived with a 480 GB SATA Solid State Drive with an unregistered copy of Windows loaded onto it; I already had a keycode. Its read speed was 550 MB/s and write speed 500 MB/s. As I would only be using it for Windows and installing software, that was sufficient. After loading everything I needed, it’s still only ¼ full.

I subsequently added additional solid-state drives to the machine for storing my images and documents. I had some 1 TB and 2 TB solid-state drives that I could transplant from the old machine to the new one.

What I Liked and What Could Be Improved With the Computer

The UK-based company I bought the computer from, AWD-IT, is very much focused on gaming, although it also produces business machines. USA readers can get great deals from B&H. I’ve always found that gaming machines have the same specs that we need for photo and video editing. However, there is a trend for gaming computers to be lit up with what my son calls “puke lights.” I don’t like them either. Through the glass panel on the side of this computer, it is dark.

It has a lower profile than my old machine and runs almost silently.

It’s so quick, too. It’s always been a bugbear of mine that I must wait for Photoshop to open an image from Lightroom Classic.  Now, from pressing Ctrl + E to Photoshop loading and the image appearing in there takes nine seconds. If Photoshop is already open, it is faster, of course: about three seconds. Switching between modules in ON1 Photo Raw 2023.5 is faster (less than one second), and ON1 NoNoise, Topaz Denoise, and Photolab 6’s Deep Prime are much quicker and better than Adobe’s Denoise.

So, the good news is that Lightroom is no longer a complete slug when it comes to processing raw files, and my caffeine intake has reduced because I am not waiting around for so long for things to happen.

I was worried that with the power supply not being modular, and there were a lot of cables hidden in the base of the machine. I thought it would make it a little awkward fitting the extra drives, but that’s not a major headache at all.

The GeForce graphics card is big. If I fit a fourth and final SATA drive, I will have to remove it to plug the cable into the socket. It also sits very close to the spare PCI socket. So, if I ever need to use that, it will need to be with something small. There are also two M.2 connectors on the board that are hidden behind the graphic card, but the card sits far enough away for NVMe SSDs to slide in between.

I didn’t choose a wireless option, as I have my computer hardwired into local area network. AWD-IT did offer a wireless adapter, but I am unsure how a wireless adapter would fit.

I am always concerned about my carbon footprint and environmental impact. Checking my new setup against the old, it uses less power, which is great. Sadly, the new computer arrived with no small amount of plastic packaging. Considering that almost all plastic that has ever been produced still exists and is gradually working its way into our ecosystems, that’s not great news. Most camera companies are catching up with this, but computer manufacturers still have a way to go.

My other concern on that front is what to do with my old computer. It is still serviceable for lesser tasks like writing and browsing the internet. So, I am loading Ubuntu onto it and trying to find it a home. In these days of increasing hardship, there must be a child somewhere needing a computer to do their homework on. So, my friends are searching for someone it would suit.


Overall, I am really pleased with my new setup. My workflow is now fast, and my blood pressure has dropped because I am less annoyed with Lightroom and Photoshop than I was.

Ivor Rackham's picture

A professional photographer, website developer, and writer, Ivor lives in the North East of England. His main work is training others in photography. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being. In 2023 he accepted becoming a brand ambassador for the OM System.

Log in or register to post comments

One possibility for the old one is to run UnRAID on it and turn it into a NAS. UnRAID is neat because it allows you to group several different sized hard drives together with either one or two parity drives.

That's a good point. Sadly, I just don't have anywhere to put it. I think it will get donated to a charity shop. Thanks for the comment.

For DxO DeepPRIME performance, you can't get more bang-per-buck than Apple Silicon. The Neural Engine on my $1099 M1 Mac mini runs DeepPRIME XD on a 42MP RAW in 30 seconds, fully 3.5x faster than Adobe's Enhance > Denoise (which leans on the GPU instead of the Neural Engine). Plain vanilla DeepPRIME takes just 10 seconds.

Also note that the SSD built into a modern Mac is about 6x-8x faster than the one mentioned in this article, which helps tremendously with caching and reduces the amount of RAM needed for many operations.

It's actually a valid question. You can, and it's still a free upgrade to Win 11 anyway. With my old computer's spec that wasn't possible. Thanks for commenting, John

That's interesting, John. May I ask why?

That's fair enough. It was taking me a little while to get used to the new Start button position, but then I discovered that it is possible to move it to the left where it was in Windows 10 and earlier. Apart from that, everything is quite similar and I haven't found anything yet that is incompatible.

Ha ha, I can tell! Sadly for you, technology changes.

Interesting. Are you using legacy apps from the Windows 7 or 8 days? I can't imagine anything more recent that runs on Windows 10 that won't run on Windows 11.

The UI changes in windows 11 are horrible. They ruined the task bar, it has fewer features and takes up more vertical screen space. They moved common functions behind more submenus, thus making many basic functions take more steps.

Right click, taskbar settings, it's possible to change the way it's displayed and what appears there. There is a registry hack to make the task bar smaller. https://www.howtogeek.com/759589/how-to-make-your-taskbar-larger-or-smal...

One of the main issue is they force a combined taskbar, no text labels, and the registry edits to make it smaller doesn't get it as small as the windows 10 small setting.
Beyond that, microsoft will often make changes that break the regedits in weird ways.
In regards to the TaskbarSi entry, microsoft blocked that edit from taking effect a few months after the that regedit was discovered.

Basically microsoft is treating UI tweaks that are not part of their basic settings, the same way a company would treat multiplayer game cheats or DRM bypasses, which is to block them from working as part of new updates.

From all previous versions of windows, they have never actively gone after UI tweaks. For example, regedits for windows 10 to reduce the padding/ negative space above and below the text on the taskbar, or make scroll bars thinner, would survive from an unpatched fresh V1 release of windows 10, all the way up to the latest update. On windows 11, once a tweak becomes well known/ widely shared, it will often be blocked within 1-2 months.

In the beginning, you could actually run Windows on an Apple computer. I also remember when the Lotus and Excel spreadsheets could be intermingled with full compatibility (except macros).

Jacques, yes I prefer Deep Prime too, I use DxO Photolab for my serious development work. Thank you.

i9 12900K + RTX 3070 here - DxO DeepPRIME XD / 20Mpx RAW from 1Dx Mark II / denoising + lens correction + convevrting to DNG / 9 second per file. Normal DeepPRIME - 4 second. Exporting 600 DNG files from Adobe Camera RAW takes just under 5min.

Yeah. Deep Prime is ace! I think it's the best out there.
Nice computer specs!

That's about half the time I get with 20MP RAWs. My M1 mini cost me $1099 2.5 years ago. A $1500 used Mac Studio would probably give results similar to yours. How much did you spend?

Hi Jaques, Thatnks for that thought. I've often weighed up the advantages and disadvantages for me between Windows machines and Macs. I spent aroud £1200 GPB. A Mac studio would cost me around £1900. But it would also mean switching over to iOS, and I don't like using it, nor its incompativitiy with some of the software I use. Then there would be no option of instlling the additional SSDs other than external USBs, I've now got 6TB of storage installed in this machine.

I spent around £2,5k on my rig. The thing is I also play games and not sure I could play them on Apple. But I will also need a laptop in the near future and I know it's gonna be Apple - recent PC laptops are just meh.

How noisy is the RTX 3070?

Most of the processing for DXO is handled by the GPU the faster the GPU the faster it processes. I run a AMD 3900x with a 6700x GPU and my 42 and 50 meg 12,000 iso files only take about 5-7 seconds each to process when using Prime in Photolab 6.

On Apple Silicon, DxO’s DeepPRIME processing leans on the Neural Engine, not the GPU. Much more cost- and power-efficient. Even a $699 M1 mini can apply DeepPRIME to a 42MP RAW in 10 seconds.

I just upgraded my computer 6 days ago, so I can add some recommendations and thoughts. I went from i7-2600k with 16GB RAM and Sata 6Gbps drive to i7-13700k, 32GB RAM, and NVMe drive. From my experience if you're running both lightroom and photoshop on a regular basis, having more than 32GB of RAM is almost a must (I still regularly use 85%+ RAM even now with 32GB). The biggest upgrade though is the NVMe drive. My new NVMe drive (Samsung 990) is ~10-12X faster than my SATA (Samsung 870) drive. In moving over my files, the old drive was pegged at 100% and my new drive was typically in the 8-9% usage range. Files open instantly, copying or moving files almost happens before the progress bar can appear. That internal SATA drive is limited to 6Gbps, and an external drive plugged into the USB-C on the front (like a Samsung T7) will run at 10Gbps. An internal NVMe will run at 64Gbps in slot 1 and 32Gbps in slot 2.

Thanks, Matt. Yes, I did look at NVMe, but it wasn't within budget. Plus 12x faster than pretty much instantaneous isn't going to make a difference to me.

I built my last editing rig and while I was mostly happy with the rig itself I found that Adobe software is so buggy and unreliable on Windows that it made me go back to Apple. Don't get me wrong, its no superstar on either platform but at least like 90% of my biggest gripes were gone instantly as soon as I moved off the Windows edition of Photoshop.

Thanks. That's interesting.

I have a whole raft of software on my computer for testing and writing about. I prefer other programs to Adobe's for editing but for different reasons. However, I haven't found it buggy.

For editing, I far prefer DxO Photo Lab 6, Capture One, and even ON1 Photo Raw's results. But, Lightroom has a far wider user base, so if is a useful benchmark for more readers. I think it's catalog is ahead of the game too.

I looked at Apple, but the big disadvantage for me was price. I worked to a budget and would not have got anything like the specs I have now for the same budget.

Thank you again for the comment.

Thats the same conclusion I came to about 5 years ago but just found the user experience so bad that it sent me back to Apple. On what was an elite-tier machine at the time I was having more trouble with large Photoshop documents than I did with an iMac from 2013. No issues at all with other apps like DaVinci which runs like a beast on it but anytime I used LR or PS Adobe would have one core at 120%, all my other cores idle, my 64gb of ram at absolute max, my GPU completely idle and brutal delays trying to use tools like the healing brush. I sat with Adobe support for 3 hours one day in a screen share and their conclusion was that my performance expectations were too high. (My expectation was that my new machine would perform better than my old one that was half a decade older rather than wildly slower)

I work with composite and suddenly was effectively unable to work with a PS document with half a dozen layer on Windows. Going back to Mac I can go back to working with 4-8gb files and not having any issues with it.

Why did you allow the system builder to include a sata SSD? A nvme-based ssd with some cooling on it would perform a lot better. I'm happy to read that not all photographers have switched to Apple though.
Apple is extremely expensive and not-repairable and not-upgradeable. That's something to keep in consideration!
When something goes wrong in the all soldered on motherboard solutions (including Apple, but also in certain a-brand laptop machines) - you loose your data. The most important detail of all! Your data may be falling in the wrong hands too... So i don't buy any machines where ram and storage are not retainable & replaceble by myself!
The major disadvantages with Apple and/or Microsoft is that both want to lure you into the cloud. And once they have your data - they can realy milk the cow!

It was partially my budget. Also, the performance difference although seemingly huge, in the real world would make only a tiny difference to me. Everything is speedy anyway. Was that extra speed that I would hardly notice worth the additional expense? I always have the opportunity to upgrade it later. Thanks for the comment.

It is overall a good build. If the current specs represents the max budget for the build, then it was a very good choice to save on the SSD rather than cutting costs elsewhere.

If you have a NVMe SSD, try clearing the cache in lightroom and let it rebuild from the NVMe storage. And in task manager look at the read and write throughput reached. You will notice that it rarely ever hits even 500MB/s, even with a high end CPU. If someone is focused primarily on working with stills and probably some entertainment (number of decent PC games), then putting the money towards the CPU, GPU, and RAM will have a far larger impact on photo editing and gaming than a faster SSD. For me, one of my working drive is a basic 2TB WD blue SATA SSD, while I could dump newly acquired raw files to an NVMe drive, the performance difference is just too small to matter. Lightroom and and Adobe bridge only gain a slight performance boost that is not enough to truly matter relative to other tasks that can use the NVMe. When working on a file in photoshop, there is no noticeable difference between a drive that can do 7.3GB/s and one that does 550MB/s.

This has overall left me dedicating my fastest SSD for working with uncompressed video exports from DaVinci resolve so that I can work on the files in Adobe premiere CC. Uncompressed video has very little CPU overhead, but it needs a lot of read throughput from the SSD.

While more performance is always better, if a budget is not unlimited, then choices have to be made to efficiently allocate resources.

As for Apple, there is no upgrade path, and they are the current most anti-repair company.
A good PC build makes many subsequent upgrades and builds cheaper, as you will likely use the same power supply for your next 3 to 5 builds (unless ATX standards change to break compatibility), you will likely also reuse the case and many other components.

At some point in the future I will upgrade to NVMe, but will want a much larger drive that I could afford now. That's part of the reason I chose a smaller SSD. It would be nice to have an unlimited budget, but sadly that isn't so.

When I built my last computer, I put in a fast high endurance NVMe drive (1TB) and used a SSD I already had for file storage.
How I have it now is the same NVMe drive, but images on a 1TB SSD, general on a 512GB SSD and games (guilty pleasure) on a 512GB SSD.

Having the apps on the NVMe makes a big difference - I've tried both approaches on other computers. Images though aren't going to benefit from using the faster drive.

I'm very devoted to my System76 Thelio, which has been rock solid for a few years now. If I needed a new desktop, I wouldn't need to think twice. I'd just get another Thelio with the latest specs.

System76 is a Linux shop, and their computers come with Linux (Ubuntu or Pop) installed. I don't know any reason why someone couldn't install Windows on them if they wanted to. To me, though, moving from a Mac to Linux was all good. Getting off Adobe was all good, too.

That's interesting, thanks, Zobeid. I've used Linux a fair bit in the past. Although I cut my editing teeth on Gimp and UFRaw, I soon found the photo editing software limiting compared to what's available for Windows. When I installed a Windows emulator, it was clunky. What do you use?

I can't spend all that time doing research and assembly. I want some expert to look at what I have now, and point me to an off-the-shelf system that would give me a big performance boost for photo editing, without blowing noney on things I don't need.

This could actually be done by an automated system, online. Is there one?

I don't know of any online service. However, there are plenty of businesses that will advise you. I don't know any in Minneapolis. Doing a quick Google, the local business to you that seems to have the best reputation is a company called Chipheads. https://www.chipheads.com/computer-sales-twin-cities-mn/

Chipheads has been around since forever. Never thought of them as a "consultant" in this sense, but that's a good suggestion.

Their website suggests they do just that. It would be good to know how you get on.

You heled me build my computer and WOW what a difference!

Glad it worked well for you, Michelle.

Never use SATA/480GB as main drive. That's just old stock clearance. You can simply increase speed by NVME/512GB with minimum additional cost.

Thanks, Carsten. As I've mentioned in replies before, the cost of a good quality NVMe would have sent me over budget. Furthermore, the computer is so fast I don't actually need it to be any faster. On paper, yes it's much faster, but it would make little difference to me in the real world because it's already faster than me.

For photoshop and lightroom, the difference between a decent SATA SSD and a higher end SSD such as a WD SN850x or Solidigm P44 Pro, are fairly small but noticeable (you will see high quality previews in lightroom and Adobe bridge generate slightly faster. The main time when you notice a huge difference is when dealing with work flows using uncompressed intermediate files for example, doing part of your work flow in DaVinci resolve, then exporting the project and uncompressed source files for completion in Adobe premiere CC (to avoid any quality loss). Uncompressed 4K will render the timeline insanely laggy, but on a SSD that can do 7+ GB/s, the timeline remains smooth. If using NVMe drives as a working drive that doesn't need long term storage, you can put 2 or more NVMe SSDs in RAID 0 and used them just as a working drive where completed work and source files are immediately moved to safer storage, while after a while the uncompressed intermediate files can be deleted.

For the lower VRAM AI workloads, it is hard to beat RTX 4070, basically reducing GPU compute tasks such as the AI noise reduction in lightroom and ACR to around 2 to 3 seconds per raw file.

The Ryzen 7 5700x benefits a good amount from PBO as well as the curve optimizer. Both are fairly simple to do, with PBO being the easiest, as you can simply increase the power limits, and max boost clocks, and it will use a higher but stable point in the fit curve. It is rare to encounter stability issues from going directly to the +200 option.

For curve optimizer which will offer the best improvements for multithreaded workloads, you can use the Ryzen master software that AMD provides, in order to have it determine curve optimizer values for you that you can write down, you can then use those as a starting point while testing a number of different stability tests and workloads. When done right, you will end up with lower power consumption and higher multithreaded performance.

As for the RAM, you can use Thaiphoon burner (free version) to pull up the DRAM I model numbers for your RAM, as well as full list of timings. You can then use that data with the Ryzen DRAM calculator to determine a good starting point for both RAM overclocking as well as tightening of the timings. The RAM overclocking combined with tightening of timings can take multiple days to do, since extended stability testing is needed.

All in all, you could get a 7% to 10% performance boost on the CPU side of things from PBO and curve optimizer. And depending on the DRAM ICs, a 20+% boost on memory bandwidth intensive workloads with a good overclock combined with tighter timings, sadly the RAM overclock doesn't really offer a noticeable improvement in photo and video editing. They will benchmark slightly higher but not enough to actually notice outside of contrived tests.

You can also overclock the video card if needed as well. The 4070 has a tiny amount of headroom, often granting upwards of a 2% performance boost. (not noticeable in photo and video editing, but when you are gaming, it is best to get as high of a frame rate as possible while maintaining your desired visual quality. While small, it is free performance, thus is hard to pass up.

More comments