dual-display & more RAM vs. new iMac?
November 2, 2007 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Which would be more beneficial for a Photoshop user: dual-display + more RAM, or a new iMac with a faster processor?

At work, I am due for a computing upgrade. I use my current 17" iMac 1.83 GHz Core Duo w/1.5 GB RAM mostly for Photoshop, Illustrator, and Firefox.

Here are my upgrade options:
-Add a 20" cinema display, and upgrade RAM to 3GB total (<$1000)
-Get a new 24" iMac with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, and 2GB RAM (<$2000)

Price is a strong factor. Obviously, screen real estate is a huge bonus. In either option, CS3 and Leopard would be used.

My ultimate broader question is this: For graphical work, is it better to spend your money on more RAM or a faster processor?
posted by blastrid to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
I would say that the dual-screen and more RAM option is more attracive to me, though it's always tough to argue against a faster processor.

...for me, the dual-monitor thing seals the deal, though.
posted by Pecinpah at 1:00 PM on November 2, 2007

Screen/RAM combo will feel like a much bigger improvement. I switched to dual monitor with my G4 dual core and will never go back.
posted by mrmcsurly at 1:06 PM on November 2, 2007

Unless you're into zillion layer stuff, I'd go with the extra screen real estate. Next up I'd go with RAM. Then I'd think processor. YMMV.
posted by dws at 1:06 PM on November 2, 2007

Just a word of warning though - once you go dual-monitor you can never, never, ever go back to single without getting thoroughly frustrated.
posted by meech at 1:09 PM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dual-monitor and more RAM can change your life. A faster processor just lets you do the same old things faster.
posted by foobario at 1:11 PM on November 2, 2007

With the new iMac, you’d be getting around 30% increase in CPU speed. I don’t have a source, but I’ve read that 30% is about the lower limit for an increase in CPU speed to be perceivably faster. In my opinion and experience, you’ll be getting a much larger perceivable benefit from the additional screen space. Trust me, and the others who said it before: once you’ve started working with a dual-monitor setup, you will not want to work any other way.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 1:31 PM on November 2, 2007

Oh, and for your broader question of RAM vs. CPU, for Photoshop, more RAM means you will be able to work with larger files and more layers. More CPU speed will enable filters and editing operations to process more quickly. Choose the one is more important to you in that sense.
posted by breaks the guidelines? at 1:38 PM on November 2, 2007

It depends entirely on what you're doing. Just telling us the name of the program isn't enough.

Are you primarily batch-processing 100 MB RAW files to color and contrast correct? Then you want a faster CPU. Are you doing lots of detail work to create images directly? Then you want dual displays.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:43 PM on November 2, 2007

meech is 100% right. I went from dual 17"ers to a 14" laptop and am constantly finding ways to get a sense of dual monitorship going. Extra real estate and ram is my vote.
posted by wile e at 1:47 PM on November 2, 2007

Response by poster: In Photoshop, I often use many layers (10-200) creating advertisements with a grid of featurettes full of text and images. I don't do much batch-processing, converting, or image-correcting. My saved PSD's range from 15MB to 100MB, and output almost always as PDF's. I'll handle multiple files in Photoshop at the same time.

How nice it'd be with my tools and finder windows on one screen, and my working space in the other...
posted by blastrid at 1:49 PM on November 2, 2007

I say go for the new iMac. You'll enjoy the speed bump, and the 24" iMac has almost (75%) as many pixels as the 17" + 20" setup (1920x1200 vs. 1440x900 + 1680x1050).

My impression is that you'll eventually feel hemmed in by your 17" iMac monitor. Stepping up to 24" will give you a better basis for upgrading to a sweeter setup later on.
posted by aparrish at 2:15 PM on November 2, 2007

How nice it'd be with my tools and finder windows on one screen, and my working space in the other...
I used to think this, but then I got dual screens, and my second screen mostly just shows iTunes. I'm too comfortable with tabbing Photoshop palettes out the way
posted by bonaldi at 2:32 PM on November 2, 2007

Yeah, putting the floating tools windows in another window never really seemed like a benefit to me, as I had the then travel so far with the pointer to switch tools. I tended to learn the keyboard-equivalent for switching between common tools. Working with multiple documents concurrently is where you will really see the benefit of more screen space. Tufte mentions in one of his books that people can comprehend different data more easily when they are separated by space than when they are separated by time. That is, it is generally a bad idea to put two related figures on opposite sides of the same piece of paper. When you don’t have enough area for for documents to sit side-by-side on a computer display, they overlap and having to switch between them creates that undesirable separation in time.
posted by ijoshua at 2:49 PM on November 2, 2007

Correction: “the floating tools windows in another window on another display,” and “had the then to travel.”
posted by ijoshua at 2:53 PM on November 2, 2007

Response by poster: Just discovered my RAM capacity for this 17" machine is 2GB. I'm currently at 1.5GB.
Doesn't seem like enough of a boost any longer.

I've got MemoryStick running, and it chimes quite frequently when I have pageouts.
posted by blastrid at 3:37 PM on November 2, 2007

Two monitors is usually great if it's two identical monitors, but even a slight difference in height / shape (both of which you'll have here) can be annoying. Also, there's something to be said for having TOO MUCH screen real estate. As others have pointed out, having to travel from one side to the other can be a pain unless you turn mouse acceleration up, and then lose fine control. Any setup where you have to physically turn your head is also a no-go in my mind.
posted by rollo tomassi at 3:39 PM on November 2, 2007

My suggestion would be buy a Windows XP PC with dual 24" monitors and 3GB for the same price (or less) than the new iMac. But that wasn't an options, so I guess I'd probably go with the upgrade. I find that even on a 22" widescreen I still want more width for Photoshop.
posted by sycophant at 2:26 AM on November 4, 2007

Response by poster: You're correct, sycophant, PC is not an option. nor will it ever be

I think my best option is to go for the new iMac, and plea for a second monitor down the line.
posted by blastrid at 8:19 PM on November 4, 2007

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