So, this camera hobby started when I took a cheap Panasonic point and shoot to Vancouver with me where I proposed to my wife. Vancouver was as it always were wet and gray. Naturally, if you know anything about using a point and shoot at places that are not well lit, you’d know the pictures, for the most part, came out pretty badly. Cameras with lesser sensors and lenses have to compensate for the lack of light by slowing down the shutter speed and increasing light amplification. This resulted in blurry and grainy vacation/proposal pictures. And, this is how it started, the camera photography hobby that is so that this will never happen again.
Just two minutes ago, I packed up my Nikon 17-55mm that I bought back in 2008 for $900 on ebay. It just sold on ebay for $666 (I kid you not). Not bad of a depreciation for 7 years of use. It could’ve sold for more a year ago, but the Nikon DX cameras are not nearly as popular now as it were, so the market is now inundated with used DX lenses such as the one I just sold. Nevertheless, I got very good use out of it during the past years. It has been with me through many continents both east and west and held it’s composure through varied conditions. Although it’s quite heavy, it was a great travel companion.
What has happened is camera sensor quality reached a renaissance during the past few years. Camera manufacturers had prioritized hiking up camera’s megapixel count to ridiculous levels where it started detracting from quality image captures and, instead, started prioritizing things that actually produced great pictures such as sensor sensitivity and faster lenses. This coincided with fatherhood, and with both the want and the need, I’ve switched cameras a many during the past few years. Not only were I tempted by the technological advancements but also the necessity to up my hardware when I needed to take pics of my daughter from dimly lit mornings before she wakes up to trying to chase her around with faster shutter speeds as she started to transition from walking to running.
This leads to the subject of this blog post which is PCs. I’ve not cared about PCs for quite some time, and, recently, I’ve taken the time to re-educate myself about PCs mainly because of the camera adventure. As I upgraded my camera, I also had to upgrade/update my picture editing software so it supports the camera I am using. And, as I upgrade/update the software, so do I also need to upgrade my PC in order to run the software as they have become more demanding with each iteration. Hence, for the past few weeks, I planned to build, for myself, the sleekest no-nonsense CS6 Photoshop PC one can buy without busting the wallet.
What components prioritizes Photoshop that a PC makes? That is the question.
So, let me tell you about my problem first. I’ve upgraded to Photoshop (PS) CS6 from CS3 recently. However, my 4 year old laptop doesn’t like it so much. PS would freeze every time I even try to zoom. Forget trying to save a file after I’ve edited. PS would just tell me it has ran out of ram. So, after upgrading the ram from six to ten which is the max my laptop would support, I can at least edit and save up to about two images before it now runs out of ram now. And, workflow is never smooth. Reaction time to any sort of editing such as adjusting contrast and exposure are always choppy therefore making editing very much a chore or it is very much a test of my patience.
I started looking into something that I never thought I’d do which is researching PC cases. Never built my own PC before but have purchased components here and there to upgrade the PCs I had in the past. But, it always seemed extremely geeky to me to have to shop around for a case in particular. Mainly/probably because most PC cases are marketed to gamer freaks who pimp their cases out with LEDs, plexiglass and whatever shiny bits that is supposed to make your PC as ugly as possible. So, my search for an aesthetically pleasing case was the start of my PC endeavor and has led me to a few choices.
Fractal Node 202
The Node 202 first caught my eye because of the lack of anything except for the ugly logo, phone jacks and usb ports at the front of the cast. The overall dimensions are pretty good as it could be stood up vertically or lied down horizontally where I could put my monitor on top of the case if I were so please to because I don’t want the case to be lying around on the floor or taking up desk space. However, the 202 has just released in Europe and hasn’t come state side yet. So…
EVGA Hadron Hydro
This case caught my eye as the stout but not so big case seem to be able to sit smartly on my desk. Also, it has a special “reservoir” for a radiator if you want to cool your PC down with water power. Yes, you could cool your PC down with water cooler just like your car engine. Neato eh? Well, this was the best I could find but didn’t particularly strike my fancy (especially with that plexi glass window) until I found…
NCASE M1 v4
So, the lore goes that two guys on HardForum got together to make the “ultimate” small form factor PC case that isn’t ugly. They crowd sourced the designed, and they crowd sourced the funding to produce the first production run of 600 units which sold out in less than a week. Lian Li of Taiwan OEMed the case built to the HardForum guys’ specifications. And, they are on the 4th iteration of this case thus far which is the one I ordered.
NCASE is attractive because 1) material used is not crap sheet metal/plastic, 2) it doesn’t look like crap sheet metal/plastic, 3) it tears down to the frame and leaves the building to the builders imagination, a blank canvas if you will. Other than the PSU and motherboard, you can put anything anywhere you want. This is the next best thing to designing your own PC case! (What do I know, I never even built a PC before).
So, the case verdict: NCASE M1
Pretty much sticking with Intel as, either it’s true or not, Intel processors provide updated drivers for software/hardware compatibility and enhancements. So, since my PC case is a small form factor, I wanted to keep low voltage/heat into consideration. So, my initial selection was the 4th gen i7-4790T with the T signifying lower wattage (I think) as it only consumed 35W TDP which is the lowest of the core i7s. And, not only is the processor power efficient, it ought to be heat efficient too. Think, with this processor, I could skimp on PC coolers both expense wise and size wise.
Of course, doing my due diligence, I found something called Skylake. What the hell is that you say? It’s the newest generation Intel processor’s code/family name. And, with the newest iteration came many improvements that could be useful for my CS6 PC build. 1) Skylake utilizes more and faster RAM. This is important for a small form factor PC, because the Skylake motherboard only has two dim slots. And, with the Skylake processor/motherboard, I could install up to 32gb ram at clock speed topping out at 2133 mhz. If I use an older generation Intel processor, I could only install up to 16gb ram at 1600 mhz clock speed.
Furthermore, the Skylake compatible motherboard utilizes a newer generation of PCie slots for the new SM951 M.2 SSD. So, with all these advantages and MSP$ on Skylake processors is not much of a premium over previous generation processors, it seems prudent to start with the newest architecture to better avoid the eventual obsolescence. For now, the i5-6600 processor is available. However, lower voltage itinerants such as the i5-6500 or i5-6400 are just around the corner. Why not go with i7? Simply because the processing speed available on the i7 might not be a meaningful upgrade for Photoshop relative to i5′s processing speed.
In fact, according to this Tom’s Hardware article, the Skylake i5 is actually faster than the Skylake i7 for many of Photoshop’s processes.
This new SM951 SSD storage device has 32gbs i/o bandwidth which is about 3 times faster than M4 SSDs the type of SSD drives that are more prevalent this year which is about 5 times faster than last year’s 7200rpm spindle drives. However, currently, SM951 devices are designed for laptops and not desktop PCs. So, PC motherboards do not recognize SM951 device in order to plug and play. So, installing the OS onto SM951 could be a chore. You have to first create a boot disk on a flash drive, boot the PC from the flash drive, then install the OS onto the SM951 SSD drive. Some instructions are here:
Boot Disk Creation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
UEFI USB Win10: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
M.2 Installation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
For the OS, applications and working files, they will be stored on the SM951 SSD. After the work is finished, they will be transferred and stored on a Lacie Raid Quadra storage.
The Skylake processor and compatible motherboard could support up to 64gb of RAM. However, since I am going to use the smaller mini-ITX motherboard form factor, the motherboard would only support up to 32gb of ram since the mini-ITX only has 2 dim slots for RAM while a full size ATX motherboards has 4 slots. So, I have to max out the RAM inserted into per dim slot. Further, since the Skylake processor only supports up to 2133 mhz clock speed, that’st he fastest RAM I could use.
Finally, since I will be using a small form factor case, space will be an issue, so I will be choosing a low profile RAM. This leaves me with fewer choices of RAM which actually makes it easy for me to narrow down what RAM to purchase:
Corsair Vengeance LPX
Last thing on the RAM topic, according to Puget System’s article, RAM clock speed has very little effect on Photoshop processes.
E. Graphics Card
I actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out what graphics card to get in order to optimize for CS6 Photoshop. First, I wasn’t sure what monitor I wanted either a 21:9 aspect ratio monitor or a 16:9. Also, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to take advantage of Photoshop’s Adobe RGB 10bit color space which means I have to acquire compatible monitor and graphic cards. Either way, I had to get a discrete graphic card in order to support the 21:9 aspect ratio monitor and in order to utilize Adobe RGB color space. However, after reading about sRGB vs aRGB by Ken Rockwell, and this article by Ted Lansing, aRGB might be more trouble than it’s worth. So, were I to utilize aRGB, I had to use a Quadro graphic card which I could now nix.
And, after living with the Asus PA248Q for the past two week, I am quite happy to keep at a 16:9 aspect ratio. More on this later.
So, two charts helped me narrow down what graphics card to get.
1) This chart from Puget Systems tells me that for most Photoshop processes, the integrated graphic chip is only marginally worse than discrete graphic chips. The HD 4000 is compared with lower tier discrete cards, and the performance level variance between the two is relatively marginal albeit significant if you spend a lot of time in front of the monitor editing photos:
2) This chart from Digital Trends tells me that the latest HD 530 graphic chips from Intel are comparable to lower tier discrete graphic cards and about twice as powerful as the HD 4000 integrated chip that was tested and compared against other graphic cards in the Puget System’s chart:
The HD 530 integrated graphic chip is the latest iteration of Intel graphic on the processor chip that is fully compatible with CS6 as it supports DirectX 12 and Open CL as well as satisfyingly powerful to modestly play modern games. Together, these charts tell me that I should be happy without buying a discrete graphic card.
I have been editing pictures mostly on laptop screens. I do this on purpose because I think most monitors that came out during the past decade or so emphasize more on producing over saturated pictures that might be good for gaming or movies. Plus, most monitors have that irritating glare and reflection issue. There are some matte screen monitors out there, but most are LED instead of CFL backlit. And, these monitors usually produce overly high contrast pictures. However, my eyes are getting old. My far farsightedness is getting noticeably worse during the past year, so I forced myself to invest in a proper monitor finally.
Actually, I’ve been eyeing some of the budget photographer friendly monitors by Asus for quite some time mainly the PA246Q. It has been in my Amazon cart for over a couple of years. It finally was discontinued, and two new models replaced this one. The PA248Q and the PA249Q. Tha PA249Q is actually the direct replacement while the PA248Q is a budget version using a lesser quality IPS panel. The main difference between the two are that the 9Q utilizes an AH-IPS panel capable of producing 10bit color (that is 1024 x 1024 x 1024) whereas the 8Q utilizes the E-IPS panel that produces 8bit color (that is 256 x 256 x 256). I was tempted to go with the 9Q, but, decided to stick with the 8Q.
The 8Q has been on my desk for about two weeks already, and I’ve been tempted to return it in order to upgrade to the 9Q. However, the 8Q I received is a real cherry. It has no stuck pixels and has no clouding issues whatsoever. This is rare as it is very prevalent for IPS panels to suffer from clouding. Plus, as explained above somewhere, 10bit aRGB color space is more difficult to deal with than sRGB.
What’s left are the PSU and motherboard. The PSU will be the Silverstone 450 SFX Gold because this is what everyone else who has the NCASE M1 case uses, and I don’t see why not. The Skylake compatible motherboards are still coming off the production line as the processors are also just coming out of the starting gate. So, there should be more motherboards coming out of the pipeline. However, I am leaning towards these two Gigabyte motherboards. The main difference between the two that potentially matters to me is the more expensive one supports USB 3.1 rather than just 3.0 which I will need to do more research on the matter, but, right now, I don’t think I need 3.1.
So, there will be further updates as I do more research and actually start buying components and start putting them together. The waiting game might not be a bad thing since more Skylake compatible components are coming out and prices might drop during Q4 especially during Black Friday. Plus, I already ordered the NCASE case, and it’s coming very slowly from Taiwan. Therefore, I have no choice but to wait before I can start building the PC out.
In the mean time, editing photos on my Toshiba ultrabook is a total chore. Time to research fans….
There seems to be a HD 530 and Adobe Raw compatibility issue.