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Seeking Upgrade Advice

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  • Seeking Upgrade Advice


    I retouch photos for our wedding company and my boss recently authorized me to spend about $1000 (might have a little flex if I can really convince him it'd save time) or so to make my system faster. I'm currently running a Dell Dimension 4700 with 1.5gb ram, 2.8ghz Intel cpu, ATI All in Wonder 9800 (or some such, I'm not at my work computer at the moment) PCI-E vid card, and a serial ATA 70gb drive.

    Some of the slowest things going on are:
    1) Downloading of pictures to the computer. (Seems same whether I download them directly from our Nikon D70 or from our 12 in one card reader.)
    2) Creation of thumbnails and previews in Adobe Bridge
    3) Conversion of files from RAW to jpg

    My thoughts are that, since I've recently upgraded to a nicer vid card it may be time to look into CPU upgrades. Or memory perhaps? Not really sure. Whatever would speed up previewing and batch processing of files would be a real help.

    Should I bother going 64-bit? Would I find anything that supports it yet within a reasonable price range? (I currently use Photoshop CS2)

    What about dual-core processors? Better that way? Or should I look into a dual CPU motherboard perhaps?

    Any input would be appreciated.



  • #2
    ah, the old hardware upgrade question. i'm a bit out of the loop right now, being that i havent upgraded in a while, but i'll throw some bolts in the works.

    you actually have three things to consider here; hardware, software, and net connection since you mentioned downloading speeds.


    you can never have too much ram, especially in image editing! make sure you check motherboard specs closely here. a motherboard might say something like 'up to 4 gigabytes of ram'. make sure you look closely at the type of ram and how they're going to configure it.

    windows now has a 64 bit windows XP and it appears to work.

    next to ram, cpu speed and vid card are of comparable importance in speed. a slow vid card can kill you no matter how fast your cpu is, and vice versa.

    the pci-e (pci express) cards were originally used by alienware. they consist of TWO pci-e vid cards (when used correctly) and a third controller device to sync the two cards. you MUST have a compatible motherboard! one vid card controls the upper half of your monitor and the other vid card controls the lower half. the controller keeps them synced. thus, if one card were broken or turned off, you'd only see half of your display on the monitor. these are without question the FASTEST vid cards currently on the market.

    if you're not using pci-e, then use agp 8x, 16x. you wont really get 16x, but make sure it allows for this.

    with agp vid cards, i wouldnt go for anything less than a 9800 ati or the comparable nvidia card. the 9800 ati is a solid card. your 'all in wonder' card is a 9800 that has tv tuner capability and live capture capability. it's more pricey than a stock 9800 and most dont need it. but, it is handy for capturing live video off a tv, vcr, dvd, cd player and so on.

    part of the reason for the pci-e cards being so fast is buss speeds on the motherboard. but this also applies to other hardware. one thing to look for in any motherboard is it's FSB speed, or front side buss speed. the faster, the better.

    to get the full use and speed of a 64 bit motherboard, you'd preferably run 64 software. this is somewhat lacking still. most is still 32 bit. you should see some slight increase regardless of whether you're running 64 bit or 32, however, but it may be very slight.

    to run 64 bit you need a 64 bit processor. a 64 bit processor needs a 64 bit motherboard.

    motherboards come with a lot of bells and whistles these days. a number of things to look for are read ahead buffering, auto-heat monitoring and monitors, auto-fix POST, usb, firewire, and audio ports on the front side of the computer, dual monitor capability, overall number of usb ports (lots of scanners use usb now and so do other devices. i wouldnt want anything less than 4, with 6 or 8 being preferred), and probably a host of other things i'm forgetting.

    sata and ide support. the newer sata drives are faster than ide devices for the most part, but dont buy a motherboard without ide ports. you might also be interested in RAID. there are a number of RAID types. study the types and get what you really want. or, dont use them all.

    generally speaking, if you can build your own computer, this is the way to go. you'll know EXACTLY what's in the box. OEM computers tend to cut corners and you may not always like what they cut. if you do go OEM, make sure you ask ALL the questions!


    whenever possible, buy the windows disk. OEM windows is sort of like a cul-de-sac and you can end up with nowhere to go but re-formatting.

    you can have all the greatest hardware in the world and still run like a chihauhau at a greyhound race. the biggest culprit is usually windows itself, especially XP (pro or home). windows is a hog! plain and simple it just has too much junk going on. NOBODY needs it all. it's a hog. a stock installation of windows puts about 50 things running in the background whenever you boot up. most if it is not really necessary to most people. the first thing i do whenever i install a new windows o/s is to go to and look at their trimming service. they list all those idiot processes and services that windows runs and tells you what you can just kill permanently and what to set to manual and what to leave on auto.

    photoshop and paint shop pro are fairly large programs. i dont know anything about bridges. but software can kill hardware or at least make it so seem so slow that the hardware wishes it were dead check out your software. turn off features you never use. look at user groups and see what they have to say about speeds and loading times and so on. check review pages on the net also.

    for things like batch processing, check out dedicated programs for this sort of thing. Irfanview is probably one of the best and there is a free version. and i'm sure there are others.

    for thumbnails follow the same general tips as the batch processing. look for something faster.


    generally, you're dealing with two types of networks these days, the internet and LANS. since you didnt mention LANS, we'll skip that one. your downloading woes are not the fault of your computer, most likely, but rather your software or more likely your net connection. net speeds are dependent on several things and not just 'my modem sucks' your basic top end is determined by your isp and what type of connection you've paid for. you can get anywhere from 56k to the new EXTREMELY fast connections running 10 mbits or better. you didnt mention what you have, so i'll save all this for later. i did mention that software can slow your net connection. an improper installation of isp net software can kill you. poorly configured net settings can slow you. active virus checking can slow things a great deal when dealing with file downloading.

    'throughput' can also slow you to a crawl. when you connect to somewhere you are going through any number of 'hops'. these are nodes or terminals which route you hop by hop to your final destination. net traffic through those various terminals can slow you. just the number of hops you have to make can slow you. this isnt quite as bad as it used to be. routing technology has gotten better. but you can still get 'jammed up' going through some hubs and even smaller connections. and, the server on the other end may just have a very small pipeline. you may have a 5 mbit connection, but if the guy on the other end is running 56k, you're going to go at, guess what, 56k; at least when connecting to him.

    ok. that's enough. i'm sure gary or someone else is more up to date on this and is going to correct about 50% of what i just said so, i'll just close with do comparitive shopping. there is a real war for your business going on in the tech area. shop around and i'll bet that $1000 will get you a pretty good machine.



    • #3
      Thanks much for the info. Only part that didn't mesh w/ what I was asking is the "downloading". I had meant downloading pics onto my computer from a flash card or directly from a camera, not over the net. Any input on that would be appreciated. I've heard conflicting stories about how to speed that up and don't want to waste company funds on verifying them if I can manage to get some tips from those who've already been around the block.

      I'm currently downloading from a "Universal Flash Card REader" over a USB 2.0 connection. (reader doesn't list a brand name) Downloading directly from our Nikon D70 doesn't seem to increase the speed any either. Have heard conflicting stories about firewire. Any insight welcome.

      Hmm lots of ram eh? Didn't see that I'm paging a lot but perhaps I'll look in that direction. As a gamer I am used to the idea of 1.5gb of ram being sufficient. But if more would help w/ speed on this then I'm certainly all for that.

      When it comes to processors, I'd still appreciate if anyone has any insight into what is better between single core, dual core, or dual processor setups. (Yeah I'm reading reviews, but few of those are directed right toward our needs so I was hoping to hear from some pros with similar system demands to my own.)

      Again, thanks for the great start. Any other input will be much appreciated.




      Oh yeah, checked my vid card. It's a single (board only supports one ) pci-e. But it's an ATI x600 all in wonder. Seems to do a good job.

      Anyone know how much diff the actual speed of your ram makes for our purposes? Should I be buying premium ram? Or does value ram, and lots of it, suffice for our purposes?



      • #4
        hi noah,

        the reason your flash card reader might seem a bit slow in comparison to some other hardware is most likely the usb. usb is a bit slower than firewire. i dont recall the exact bit rate for x-fers, however. i had a talk with an audio engineer once about midi and usb and he was not impressed with usb at all for speed. i believe he preferred parallal port midi instead of usb midi, the point being usb isnt the fastest hare in the pack.

        and yes, 1.5 gig of ram is great for gaming. and it shld be fine for photoshopping also. i use psp and only have a gig and in most cases that's sufficient. where you run into problems isnt so much the ram speed, but the fragmenting. windows isnt the best at handling fragged ram. windows xp is certainly better at it than win98 ever was, but it's still a bit of a problem at times.

        there was one of these techie arguements running around about ram and how much you shld have and that in a windows based machine you really didnt get any increase in speed by having more than X amount and that in fact, after a certain point of adding more ram, speeds would drop. i dont know if this is true or not, but these are all nano-second type arguements and not real world use type arguements. the simple fact is that ram fragments just like a harddrive fragments. you load something into ram, work on it, unload it while loading something else and eventually your ram gets so fragged that even if you've got 75% of your ram available, it's in such a fragmented state that windows starts choking on it. and that's the arguement i'm talking about for more ram is always better. the more you've got the harder for it to get fragged up.

        sure, you can always reboot and clear it all up and there are even manual ways to clear ram on the fly, but in a business workflow environment this just gets annoying and the simple solution is add more ram. the more you've got the harder for it to become so fragmented that you risk a machine crash.

        so, it's not so much the paging or the ram speed that is the problem with ram.

        as for ram types, unless you're running an alienware gaming rig, it tends to be a bit of a moot point. yes, there are differences. and yes, you want to be a bit careful. the way these things are labeled, SDram, RDram, RDSDram, you can easily get a headache. last i looked RDSDram is the same as RDram. but RDram is not the same as SDram. and RDram is the newer and faster. you'll also see ram labeled as pc 3200, pc 2800, pc 2400, and so on. the higher the number, the faster the ram. but again, for a graphics editing machine, ram speed isnt the big choke point for the most part.

        your choke points, those things which slow you down the most are, too little ram, buss speed, and especially your vid card. that you've got a pci-e ati x600 is good. the pci buss was reworked for the pci-e cards and is much faster and more efficient in the way it handles video. in fact, the whole internal communication system between cpu, gart, vid card and so on was re-worked. that's why you have to have a motherboard that supports pci-e.

        so, you didnt mention if you were going to salvage parts from your current machine and use them in the new one. if you are, your $1000 budget is going to get you further.

        as for processors, again, i'm a bit out of the loop. 'dual core', if i remember correctly, is similar to having a dual processor, except it's all internal. so, yes, it shld be faster. dual processors are a nice gimmick, but i've never used one so cant really comment too much on these. the theory sounds good and i've heard one or two comments that they are faster, but i'd ask around. you might also want to check out some place like Tom'sHardware on the web. these guys seem to know their stuff.



        • #5
          You have more PC than I .... With the PC you are working with you said nothing about "Power Supply" .... You need at least 350watts to run your Graphics card. Since you are a Gamer you may have this under control. Not sure what Dell uses on that Model. There is a free program I use allot called "Everest Home Addition" That will give you temperature's of HD, Mother Boards, and CPU and all the info on your PC. Have not found a power supply link on it though. My game is MS F9 Flight Simulator. I use Compaq SW1123, came with 256MB of DDR ram, 2.6 GIG P4 processor. I instantly ordered a GIG of ram from and now PS7 is much faster. You can find the max ram you can use at Cruial. I would max it out. Power supplys are cheap ... ram is cheap ... you may have a lot of money left over. I am not an expert by no means, just a thought about PS. I used to use 128MB on PS7 and it was way slow let me tell you working with just 3 MP pics. I put a game in and my PC would heat up and shut down. What I have now works great. Your download problem seems would go better with the max ram in your PC. Thanks for reading !!!!


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