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IMAC for photographers
August 4, 2011 12:31 PM   Subscribe

What spec to upgrade on the new IMAC for professional photography?

Going to purchase a new Imac for my wifes Photography business. She uses Photoshop CS5, Lightroom3, Photo Mechanic and works mostly with RAW files We are going to purchase
27-inch: 3.1GHz
3.1GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5
2560 x 1440 resolution
4GB (two 2GB) memory
1TB hard drive1
AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 1GB
We are curious if its better to spend the additional $100 to upgrade the Video card to 2GB or if we should spend the money on additional RAM?

She may dabble in Video editing as well in the near future.

Thanks Much!
posted by slowtree to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I'd go for (much) more RAM. I'm using LR3 and CS4 on a mid 2009 Mac Pro 8-core 3.2 (?) and I found it to be sluggish with 8 gigs of RAM, and I upgraded it to 16 gigs. I think 4 gigs is a bit skimpy.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2011

Max out the RAM.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2011

Most of the apps you'll be using for professional photography will not benefit from the GPU (video card) in the near future. Tools like OpenCL (Core Dispatch on OS X) are working in that direction, but for right now, I'd agree with Haddock that your money's best spent on lots more RAM. If your wife also has a video gaming habit, that changes the equation, but for image editing/photo touchup, RAM, RAM and more RAM!
posted by Alterscape at 12:42 PM on August 4, 2011

(1) As much RAM as you can afford.

(2) The OS and your preferred applications and their swap files on an SSD.
posted by mhoye at 12:42 PM on August 4, 2011

RAM first, then external hard drive. All of my digital photos are on an external hard drive which I only turn on when I'm using them. Since your wife is a pro, setting up a RAID system would be even better.
posted by tommasz at 12:45 PM on August 4, 2011

Fyi, it's still always better to buy and instal RAM yourself, rather than have apple do it for you. Here's 2x4GB modules from crucial (a good memory company) that fit in your computer (as far as I can tell).

Cost from newegg for 2x4GB: <> Cost from newegg for 4x4GB: <$120. Cost from apple: $600.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 12:51 PM on August 4, 2011

(whoops, Grand Central Dispatch, not Core Dispatch, mea culpa. Also, GCD is bigger than just OpenCL, so basically ignore my errors and listen to everyone else saying RAM RAM RAM, and SSD!)

I'd actually disagree with RAID for backup. RAID can enhance reliability and/or access speed, but it makes recovering from catastrophic failure harder, even if you know what you're doing, in a lot of cases.
posted by Alterscape at 12:51 PM on August 4, 2011

Odd. The last sentence should read "Cost from newegg for 2x4GB: less than $60. Cost from apple: $200." at the beginning, but got borked.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 12:52 PM on August 4, 2011

4GB could be enough; Probably you want 8GB. But most of all you want an SSD.

I am a computer scientist. I also work extensively with Photoshop. Get a machine with an SSD.

Hard drives are the biggest bottleneck. SSDs alleviate that bottleneck. Upgrade to SSD over spending big money on RAM.

First configure for SSD. Then if you have enough money to buy 8GB ram from a third party (it's cheaper and just as good), go to 8GB. Don't overspend on the processor. The processor doesn't really matter.
posted by krilli at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2011

Just bought an iMac. I upgraded to an SSD + HD model, upped the processor to an i7 and upgraded to 12 gigs of ram (purchased from Amazon).

In order, my recommended upgrades:

1. SSD
2. Ram
3. Processor

It's crazy expensive to get the SSD + HDD model, but since it's not user upgradable I had Apple do it. The benefit is that your platter hard drive isn't bogged down by USB 2.0 connectivity, but rather has a SATA connection to the motherboard.

The RAM upgrade cost me 60 dollars from Amazon, it installs in seconds. Apple wanted 200 to take the computer from 4-->8 gigs. I went from 4-->12 for 60.

Word of warning though: lots of complaints about crashes with Lion and the new iMacs. Mine does this, but I've seemed to mitigate it by turning off the ability for the computer to sleep and keeping Flash 10.x off the computer.
posted by jz at 1:14 PM on August 4, 2011

n'thing everyone else who says "buy RAM". I'd also recommend doing the SSD+HDD configuration if you can - the SSD is way fast and a good place to store, say, Photoshop scratch files and whatnot. (it's also really expensive and not something that can be done by a third party yet. OWC does offer SSD upgrades for last year's iMac, though, so they might have 'em for the new ones eventually.)

for other things to think about: local backup disk, second backup disk that goes off-site and/or online backup. you really need the off-site backup. really.
posted by mrg at 1:51 PM on August 4, 2011

upgrading an imac to a third party hard drive is a very tricky proposition, as Apple now has them running custom firmware. details here. if you go for an SSD, I believe you're stuck with one from Apple.
posted by spindle at 2:29 PM on August 4, 2011

(Also: Instead of spending on a processor upgrade, spend on a bigger display or a second display.)
posted by krilli at 2:53 AM on August 5, 2011

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