What desktop configuration do you need to edit pictures & video?

You might have bought one of those fancy DSLR that shoots HD video, not to mention that sensors beyond 16MP are now quite common.
Last but not least, if you scan negatives, especially medium or large format, you easily produce 3x4 meters photos weighting up to hundred of megs. Edit that...
I once tried to rotate 90 degrees a 1.1GB picture from a 6400 dpi scan. (ok useless, just for fun), it took my Core 2 6750 pushed to 3.4Ghz + 2G or ram memory 4.5 hours...then it crashed.

Now I'm sure even my 3 years old desktop still beats some of your even older stuff, so I can hardly imagine how much you struggle with editing. My Macbook pro does a good job, but SSD + mobile i5 processor and all the Apple marketing (RIP Steve Jobs) cost an arm. If I am to spend 2700$, I'd rather it be in film and lenses, or plane tickets! Thank God the Macbook I didn't pay :)

What would be an ideal computer for a reasonable budget to edit photos and videos?

First of all, let's break the neck of a well spread yet totally incorrect idea: your graphic card has NOTHING to do with it. I know it seems like photos and videos are "graphics", but a graphic card is to calculate 3D images in real time. That is to say, create a dynamic 3D environment as you perform an action, such as, and 99% of the time, in a video game. Photos and videos are 2D files, and rather simple data in comparison.

You will need 3 things in particular:

  • A good processor. Intel core I5 or Intel Core i7  preferred, according to your budget. O/C fanatics can enjoy those, they have potential. AMD Phenom II X4 also do a pretty good job for cheaper. Count 185$ for a Intel i5, 250$ for an i7. Don't be cheap on that processor, especially for video editing.
  • RAM memory. The non geek among you might be confused by the difference between that and the hard drive. When the processor needs to work on data, he can't do it directly from the hard drive, which is simply where all your data is stocked. It needs to pull it from the hard drive and put it a working memory, the RAM. From there he can work the data. So see for yourself, if you only have 1G of RAM memory, and you are processing 10G of data...processor gets lost transferring data like crazy. See it like this: the hard drive is the closet where you store your food, the RAM is the kitchen work space where you prepare the dinner: if too small, you keep having to clean, put stuff back in the closet etc. It is simple: the more you get the better, 6 to 8G is a good idea. Keep in mind that if you still run window vista 32bit, it can only run up to 3.6G of RAM. Having super fast RAM is for show off, it won't impact your comfort considerably. 8G of really good RAM by Corsair costs about 55$, it's cheap, get plenty.
  • Hard drives. First of all, digital cameras produce tons of data, so get plenty of disk space. I fill up about 100G every month. SSD are very fast, but the storage space / $ ratio is not so good. Get a Western Digital Velociraptor 600 GB at 10000 RPM if possible (200$). If not Samsung does good 7200 RPM hard drives. 7200 RPM is a minimum, forget about the 5400. A good 7200 1T (1000G) disk costs about 65$.
How much all together?
With a decent mother board (no need for a fancy over-clocking device here), PC case and the rest, you can get yourself a great machine for about 900$. We're far from the Apple price tag. Screen not included of course. That is without a fancy graphic card, but if you want to play, that's on a different blog that you need to go to :)

However if your PC has a decent configuration, such as a Core 2 and 4G of RAM memory, and you still struggle to edit a 10MP photo, you just need to reformat and reinstall Windows !


  1. Ronan,

    Interesting article. I would have thought that people serious about photography would be recommending Apple gear hands-down. Does OS X not use memory more efficiently than Windows for image editing? For the ballpark price above, would it not be worthwhile considering a refurb'd imac?

  2. @ David: very valid comment indeed. Mac offer one major advantage, the screens. They are clearly superior, easier to callibrate. Now when it comes to the built in fire power, they are not the top you can get. I wrote those article for those who have to choose against a budget. If you don't, get a 27' full feature mac indeed :) But appart from the screen, what I recommend will work about the same