A while back, I had a PC growing up. It was a decent computer, given to me from my uncle. After buying a monitor and some other software, I had a pretty good computer for 10 yr old me. Fast forward two weeks leading up to college at age 18. I was grateful when my parents bought me my first laptop, a 15” Macbook pro with a 2.5GHz intel i7, 16GB of Ram, and an integrated graphics card. For 5 years during college, it was a workhorse for my needs: writing code for my original major, surfing the internet, writing too many documents, some video editing, and editing photos. During college, I always thought of building my own PC. While Apple worked well for my original needs, its Macbook Pro was restricting my speed and performance for photo and video editing. (This is speaking strictly of desktop computers.) For a long time, I researched the newest iMacs but was never satisfied. Even their newest iMac Pro, as cool as it looks, is hardly upgrade-able. With my budget, the price of a specked out iMac or even a basic iMac Pro was way too much $$$.
I looked at building my own PC for many reasons. First, it is much cheaper. Second, I could add my own parts to get the specs I want, without breaking the bank. During October of 2018, I really looked into building my own PC by going to YouTube, and watching a ton of videos to get a feel for what I might be jumping into. Then came the google searches for “how to build a PC” and “how to build a PC for photography”. For the most part, I knew about the basics of PC, but there is a lot still to learn to build one.
I started with a jump to a fstoppers article to give me the details on building something other than a gaming optimized PC. They start with some details on how they pick their parts. A site to immediately look up would be PCPartPicker.com.
Excuse the background mess. Lots of parts and gear in a small space.
Intel vs AMD question
For power to price comparison, AMD sometimes wins, but Intel has better processors for Adobe software. Intel can be expensive, so for non Adobe optimized machines, AMD might be the way to go. Puget Systems had a comparison on Intel i9 vs comparable AMD processors. Intel won.
After researching plenty of processors, I finally went with the Intel i7-8700k that a couple of sites mentioned. With 6 Cores, a 3.7 GHz processing speed, and up to 12 threads for multi-threading, the Intel seemed to be a no brainier, for the price point. It was around $360, vs say an i9-9900k around $500, which is about the best processor for Photoshop work. And if you are looking to do any VR gaming with either the 8700k or the 9900k, either work. In an article on Puget Systems.com, they only compared Intel vs AMD for the best processor for Photoshop CC 2019. In that, they compare a bunch of i9s and other AMDs. For the most part, the top winners are Intel, with the lesser core count. With the i9 9900k having 8 cores, it beat out the others with more than 8 cores.
Now with 6 cores on the i7 8700k, it can hyper thread up to 12 cores, which means a core is essential two logical CPUs that the operating system recognizes. This can speed up the core by allowing resources to be shared if one of the processes is waiting.
Additionally, the “k” at the end of the i7 8700k means it is an unlocked processor and can be overclocked, pushing it past its factory settings.
CPU Cooling Choices...air or liquid cooled?
Today there are solid choices for Air cooling and Liquid cooling for your CPU. Air coolers work by having a heat sink that draws away the heat from the CPU and cooling the heat sink with a fan. Liquid cooling uses a pump, radiator and fans to circulate liquid from the water block and pump on the CPU to a radiator that dissipates that heat.
Liquid coolers have been getting more reliable recently with All-in-One solutions, but they still have more moving parts than a traditional air cooler, meaning more of a problem to solve if your cooler stops working.
There are trade offs with air cooling having a larger mass directly attached to the MOBO, while a liquid cooler only has a small heat sink attached to the MOBO, keeping the radiator separate to be attached to the case. Radiator sizes can take up a few case fan slots, while the air cooling just takes up the CPU, but with a larger CPU air cooler, it can take up more space and block essential DIMM slots and other MOBO slots.
Choosing my Motherboard
The main 2 deciding factors in any motherboard or MOBO, is finding the right socket size so your CPU fits, and picking the size of the MOBO(ATX, micro-ATX, and mini-ATX). After this, researching how many DIMM (Dual in-line memory module) slots you will need for RAM, SATA ports for HDDs and SSDs, as well as IO ports(USB 3.0, USB 2.0, audio, etc) can be useful for your needs. Newer MOBOs also support the M.2 Socket for M.2 2280 SSD drives. The best part about M.2 is having a SSD directly connected to the MOBO and CPU for faster speeds. There are also some smaller features that MOBOs have like the video chip set, Intel Optane Ready, and being capable of RAID.
RAM or Memory, is where short term data is stored. In 2019, 16GB is good enough for most people, but 32GB or 64GB will increase speeds with heavy tasks.
Today, you have the choice of SSDs or HDDs. With prices getting lower for SSDs, it is a good decision to go with a SSD as your main storage. SSDs are faster, quieter and because of no spinning disks, they are more reliable. The MOBO I picked supported M.2, which means I have one SSD directly connected to the MOBO(and faster than the SATA SSDs), while I picked another SSD, a 2.5” SATA drive, to store my active files with the M.2 holding the Operating System, necessary program files, and all my applications.
Choosing a Video Card or GPU
For a while, with the bitcoin rush driving up GPU prices, they were pretty expensive… and they still are. With that in mind, there is a difference in need for a GPU with what you are doing. Lightroom and Photoshop might not utilize graphic cards, while Video editing programs like Premiere, After Effects, and Davinci Resolve will. Also, any 3D applications will make great use of the GPU power.
Nvidia recently released their RTX lineup, which introduced ray-tracing(better light performance in VFX work and gaming) and Tensor cores(for deep machine learning), but Adobe has not announced anything on how they would use this new performance tech. The previous lineup for Nvidia was the GTX lineup. I personally went for a newer GTX card, because I did not feel the need to future proof and could save a few bucks.
Another feature of GPUs is how many monitors and what resolutions it can support.
Cases...what seemed to be the most difficult part.
From all the researching and browsing, I got lost in looking for the “right” case. There are three main sizes: full tower, mid tower, and mini tower. With full towers, you can get a lot of room and space to expand you build, but the cases are usually massive. The mid towers I found to be a good size. Small enough to fit on my desk, but enough internal space to fit all my expansions and get good airflow throughout.
There are many good case brands out there, but my favorite brands to look at for the price were Corsair and Cooler Master. I favorited the second brand because of the clean designs yet very practical for what I wanted. With a glass side window, grab handles, good airflow, and modular internals, the Cooler Master case I chose was a perfect fit.
For a lot of the parts above, I used PCPartPicker to make sure everything worked together. That website will figure out the power you will need for your build. After knowing your minimum power, it is always good to have an overpowered Power Supply to potentially make the PSU and PC last longer.
In order to keep the internals of your case at a relatively cool temperature, having a few case fans to circulate air throughout your case can keep your computer lasting longer. There are a few different fan sizes and aesthetics to look into.
The most common sizes are 120mm and 140mm with options such as RGB and quieter designs. The two top case fan brands at this point from all the reviews are Noctura and Corsair. Noctura may not be as flashy as Corsair, but they have high quality fans that will last longer, quieter fan noise, and have better airflow. Corsair’s new LL series are good with high airflow and has nice RGB lighting.
Fan airflow can vary with each case fan, but size makes a massive difference. A larger 140mm fan will crank out more air than a 120mm at the same speed, which means that you can spin the 140mm slower at a lower RPM to get good airflow and have a quieter fan operation.
One thing that most articles forget to mention is that your motherboard only has a certain amount of 4 pin slots for your fans and PWM fans. Therefore, if you have more fans than than the PWM slots, you will have to plug your 4 pin fans into non-PWM 4 pin slots, which will keep the fans going at a continuous high RPM and creating more noise than a PWM fan.
The two common Windows operating systems are Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. Pro has a few more business and security features that for most people are never needed.
For photo editing, I recommend BenQ for accurate colors and quality. Some Dell, Samsung, and LG monitors are good, but you will need to make sure they are built with color accuracy in mind. My current monitor is a BenQ 27” 4K that looks gorgeous and also has some eye care technology embedded. My next ideal monitor, with efficiency and video in mind, would be a 34” LG ultrawide curved monitor.
Mouse and Keyboard
Before I even built my PC, I picked up a new keyboard to make working with my Macbook Pro as a desktop, much more efficient. I found a Corsair K70 Low Profile Keyboard and a Logitech G502 Hero to be a good combination for ergonomics and the “cool” factor.
Some random accessories I learned to love after researching and implementing them were the Elgato Stream Deck and Logitech Z625 Speaker System.
The Elgato Stream Deck is a 15 programmable LCD button device that lets you map out shortcuts to websites, open applications, and other shortcuts that can save a lot of time. Traditionally, the stream deck is used by streamers, but the steam deck is starting to find its place among power creative users.
The logitech speakers seem to be a must. Having high quality music at your fingertips is a godsend for working on longer projects or blog subjects like this one. With THX sound, the Z625 speakers are great for the occasional late night movie after work.
Below are the specs from my saved list on PCPartPicker.com .
Now for me having my first build, it took more hours than I thought to put it all together. Much of that was you-tubing parts I was hesitant to put 100% effort in until I knew 100% what I was doing. I am not going to lie, I was so nervous that I forgot to take the seal of the bottom of the CPU Cooler when I first put the thermal compound on the CPU. I was green, but after all the research and actually building it, I have a much better knowledge of how to fix and upgrade components.
In the end, I have always been an Apple user and recently haven’t been satisfied with Apple and not being able to upgrade. Building a PC has let me add the parts that I want, while understanding how my computer functions. I did this whole build for $1800 with the monitor, Elgato stream deck, and peripherals being separate. So far, it has been a rock solid build, capable of overclocking, and enough space to upgrade down the road. If you are looking for a cheaper build, you could save some money with RAM size/speed, smaller graphics card, cheaper case, cheaper fans, and smaller SSDs.
I highly recommend taking the chance to build a PC. I was still unsure of my decision for the week following, but I am learning to love my PC and Windows.
The following links are all the resources I mention or have used.