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Archive 2012 · Help with dedicated photography computer
  
 
thr1961
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p.1 #1 · Help with dedicated photography computer


I have decided to stop fighting with storage and processing issues on my macbook air, which is a perfect business computer, but less than perfect for using Lightroom, Photoshop, and having ready access to large amounts of fast data storage.

I am lucky to have access to two other machines, either of which I can set up as dedicated photography devices. Each has their benefits; each has drawbacks. I am hoping to benefit from the significant experience here at FM and see what the community has to say.

My choices:

1. A Mac Pro, circa 2006. This has two 2.66 dual-core xeon processors, 4 GB of RAM, a NVIDIA GeForce 7300 graphics card with 256 mb of RAM and currently one 500 GB SATA HD.

The plus on this is that I can easily add a very large second HD (say 3TB at 7200 RPM) and bump up the RAM. It also allows me to use two monitors that came with it: both HP, one a 24" and the second a 20".

The downside, of course, is that it is very old and I am not sure that putting money into a 6 year old machine makes sense. If I were to update it, how much RAM would you add?

2. An early 2011 MacBook Pro. This has a 2.3 intel Core i7 and 8 GM of RAM, an Intel HD graphics 3000 card with 512 MB of RAM and a 250 GB SSD. The plus on this machine is that it is obviously much better hardware.

The downside is that I am challenged with storage. I don't want to spend a ton of money on a fancy Thunderbolt disk for storage and so I am then looking at using firewire and an external disk. This is not necessarily a downside, but I will need to spend some time learning how to set this up properly for working files, processing, storage etc. I also can't use both monitors (I think) but I suppose I could use the 24" and the laptop display as a second.

Bottom line is that I want to spend no more than $500 getting this whole system set up: either upgrading the Mac Pro or figuring out fast storage for the MacBook.

What do you suggest? If you have other questions or suggestions, I am happy to consider other options or provide more details.

Thanks!



Jan 20, 2012 at 01:44 PM
hondageek
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p.1 #2 · Help with dedicated photography computer


I'd say the Mac Pro with dual monitors is a no brainer. Dump some RAM into it and go. I don't see how anyone can be very productive (with photo processing) on a laptop, no matter how fast it is. The limited screen real estate is like working on an etch-a-sketch.

The other option if the MacBook will support it: plug the HP 24" into it, hook up a real mouse, get an external HDD.

I think I would still go with the Mac Pro if it was mine.



Jan 20, 2012 at 05:00 PM
thr1961
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p.1 #3 · Help with dedicated photography computer


Thanks for this.

If I went with the MacBook, I would use the 24" monitor and the notebook monitor (15") and have a full keyboard and mouse. I can add a 2 TB firewire 800 external drive for about $350.

I guess the question is around performance of the processors, graphics cards, and RAM. This is not my area of expertise, especially with regard to LR, so I appreciate all thoughts and help.



Jan 20, 2012 at 05:06 PM
aubsxc
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p.1 #4 · Help with dedicated photography computer


The 2006 MacPro uses technology that is 6 years old, and likely runs DDR ram (not DDR2 or DDR3). For performance, your 2011 MacBook with a first generation i7 quad processor should be an order of magnitude faster running PS/LR, so its really a no brainer to stick with the newer cpu/chipset hardware. For storage, if you need a work drive, one that will be accessed constantly by PS/LR, you need an external drive connected using either eSATA (preferred) or USB 3.0. A network attached storage drive on a server will also work fine, provided your Macbook has a high quality gigabit network adaptor (all NICs are not created equal) and you have a gigabit switch/router. The home server storage is obviously more expensive, but provides significant advantages over a simple external drive, as it can be used to serve as a central repository for the computers in your home, and to store media (music and high definition video) that can be accessed by any networked device (like your tv, receiver, phone or mp3 player). If you need storage simply to backup and store your files, a USB 2.0 connection to an external drive will work also, but given the lower bandwidth of the older USB standard, file transfers will take much longer.


Jan 20, 2012 at 05:44 PM
thr1961
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p.1 #5 · Help with dedicated photography computer


Thanks for this.

It does not seem possible to make an eSATA connection to a 15" MB pro. I can use firewire 800, which is not bad, but the only way to get eSATA is to pull the optical drive and add a second HD.

What experience have folks had with FW 800 speeds for working in LR?



Jan 20, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Ken_K
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p.1 #6 · Help with dedicated photography computer


I bought one of these from OWC last month and have been very happy. http://eshop.macsales.com/item/Newer%20Technology/FWU3ES2HDK/
I'm using it for backup so can't comment on how it performs with LR. I like the idea of being able to swap out drives for off site storage. I'm using it via the firewire 800 interface.



Jan 20, 2012 at 07:44 PM
 

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Alan321
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p.1 #7 · Help with dedicated photography computer


eSATA can be added to a 2011 MBP via a thunderbolt-to-expresscard adapter and an expresscard-to-eSATA card. So can usb 3.0 but you cannot boot from a usb 3.0 drive.

fw800 or to some degree any single external hard drive will be slow when dealing with many small files - and even slower if the cache is on that drive too. Using a striped RAID will speed up data transfers but not initial file access.

You can keep your Lr catalog and cache on your SSD for best performance. If there is a group of images - such as those just freshly imported - that you will spend a lot of time working on then load them onto the SSD until you are finished and then use Lr to shift them onto the external drive.


The laptop is far more convenient for portable use but the Mac Pro is far more convenient for its bulk storage options for your system + backups + time machine. And you can add cards for speedy external eSATA or usb 3.0 storage. I'd go for the Mac Pro if portability was not required.

You can add a single external monitor to your MBP via the display/thunderbolt port, but if you then want to use a thunderbolt device be sure to buy one that has a thunderbolt output port as well as an input port - the monitor has to be at the end of the tb chain. You can add other monitors via a usb 2.0 port with a cheap adapter from OWC.

Check out www.macperformanceguide.com for general advice about setting up Macs, including how to make the most of the drive storage options.

- Alan



Jan 22, 2012 at 07:27 AM
thr1961
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p.1 #8 · Help with dedicated photography computer


Thanks for this detailed view. I agree with your thoughts on how the Mac Pro is well positioned for expansion, but I am still leaning towards the MBP due to the i7 processor. I can add a second internal drive to the MPB and end up with a primary SSD at 256 GB and a secondary eSATA of 750 GB at 7200 RPMs. I can also bump the RAM to 16 GB.

WIth all that in place, I should be able to push LR about as far as possible and not spend just about $600 doing so. This will give me 1TB of fast disk and then I can always use FW800 for storage etc. Using the MPG link you kindly sent, I can set up the machine to work well for LR and PS.

What do you think?

Thanks.



Jan 22, 2012 at 04:44 PM
aubsxc
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p.1 #9 · Help with dedicated photography computer


A 2006 MacPro is not a realistic solution for use as your primary LR/PS workstation. You don't have to take my word for it, just download the trial version of either program and install it on the MacPro and see if you can live with its lack of speed. The 2011 MacBookpro will run rings around the older machine for pretty much anything you do that is CPU and RAM intensive.

If storage is your only concern, and your MacBookpro does not offer eSata or USB 3.0, or another bay to add a second SSD or hard drive, you can go with the second route I suggested, which is to buy or build a dedicated home server. You can buy a small server like the HP Proliant N40L for about $250 and load an OS like Windows Home Server or Freenas on it. Add a couple of fast hard drives to it in raid 1 (Western Digital Black 2TBs are nice but pricey these days) and you have a pretty workable solution. You will be limited by the bandwidth of your gigabit network, and will likely end up with sustained read/write performance in the 80 to 100 MB/sec range, which is not bad at all, but obviously not as fast as a current generation SSD hooked up to a 6 Gbps sata port in your computer. You can use the SSD as your workspace with the files you are working on at any time and the LR catalog and cache, and store other files on the server. Using a server also has other advantages which I pointed out in my earlier post, and if you feel up to the task, you can build one with high grade hardware (like Intel gigabit NICs) for not very much money or effort.

EDIT: just noticed that you have a second hard drive bay available on your MacBookpro. I would add a second SSD or 2.5" hard drive and be done with it. You can still use external drives or servers as a backup option, but this becomes less critical now.



Jan 23, 2012 at 01:52 PM
morganb4
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p.1 #10 · Help with dedicated photography computer


Why are you buying?:
Storage and expandability = Mac Pro
Doing work and being productive = MBP (also allows mobility and will take about 10 years off you in a trendy cafe)

Your not challenged with storage at all with the MBP. I did exactly this and it was perfect for my needs. On the 2011 models you have thunderbolt which will sort you out for external storage wont be too exy but until then, firewire 800 is not such a bad solution, especially if it has an SSD. Use the SSD as workhorse and the FW as storage.

I had an older i5 MBP for editing and it was as fast as my older i7 based 1366 Hackintosh. A new i7 will be very good indeed. Also you can add a USB to DVI converter adding a second screen via USB, just beware that its refresh rate is slow. It really depends what you were using that second screen for.

I ended up dumping the second screen and went with a 27" in the end.

In short I can assure you that the MBP will perform.



Jan 23, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Jeff Donald
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p.1 #11 · Help with dedicated photography computer


The MacBook Pro is at least twice as fast as the Mac Pro. Depending on your Air, it may even be faster than the Mac Pro. FireWire 800 is plenty fast for Lightroom. I use a Drobo with about 4 TB of images, connected via FW 800 and no hit in performance.


Jan 24, 2012 at 03:28 AM





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