[08/2018] Build a PC Made for a Photographer: We’ll Help You Choose the Parts

Nobody wants to spend all day editing their photos. And yet a lot of people struggle with this kind of problem. The reason is simple—an old and slow computer. So take a look at how to put together your photo computer right.

It’s clear that everyone has slightly different demands and options when they’re buying a photo PC. We’ll provide you with two setups that will serve you as basic starting points in your journey towards the perfect machine.

This article was last updated in August of 2018. We’ll start by noting that not even these two quite-modern setups include an AMD Ryzen processor. In our opinion, the performance of Intel processors is better suited to how the setups will be used (processing photos in Zoner Photo Studio).

Likewise the recommended setups don’t contain a dedicated graphics card, because of these cards’ excessive prices. So you won’t be able to play demanding games on these machines, but they will save you time when you’re processing photos.

You also won’t find an optical drive. You can of course add one to either of these setups.

A Basic Photo Editing Machine—Your Small and Cheap Workhorse

Choose this setup if you don’t have a lot to spend, but you still want the best performance possible. You’ll get quality components, and as a bonus a small size for the overall setup.

This machine’s foundation is the latest generation of Intel processors: Coffee Lake. At its heart you’ll find a Core i3-8100 processor. It contains 4 physical cores with a frequency of 3.6 GHz and an Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics card.

I’ve decided to give this setup a size that’s smaller than a classical computer case: the Mini-ITX format. This brings advantages, mainly in how much space it will need. However, you also need to take into account the limited space inside of it. That’s why I’m definitely not trying to find room for a separate graphics card—or a third hard drive.

Build a PC Made for a Photographer: Size comparison between an ordinary Mid-tower computer case and a Mini-ITX case.

Size comparison between an ordinary Mid-tower computer case (16.1 inches high) and a Mini-ITX case (10.6 inches high).

A Tip for Connoisseurs: Although it’s hard to find, computers based on the Mini-STX platform are a very attractive option. Its dimensions are only slightly larger than those of the Intel NUC—a computer that, while popular, is very expensive relative to its performance. You can place a standard “desktop” processor on a Mini-STX motherboard and get the output of a large desktop computer at a miniature size for a relatively low price.

The ASRock H310M-ITX/ac motherboard is a truly inexpensive foundation, and yet it has everything you need, including an integrated wifi network card. Keep in mind that your expansion options will be limited by the number of expansion slots and the size of the case.

Build a PC Made for a Photographer: An ASRock H310M-ITX/ac motherboard.

An ASRock H310M-ITX/ac motherboard. Source: www.asrock.com

In a basic photo editing computer like this one, you can make do with 8 GB of RAM (Ballistix Sport LT 8GB DDR4-2400 CL16). Even though it may seem that 8 GB isn’t much in our day and age, you don’t have to worry that it won’t be enough. If you’re not planning to run lots of demanding applications at once, you won’t encounter any problems.

For data storage, use the tried-and-true combination of a small SSD system disk and a larger HDD storage disk. The SSD will guarantee that your computer starts quickly and edits photos fast, while the HDD will serve as your photo archive. For the SSD, reach for a Samsung EVO 850 with a capacity of 250 GB, and use a Seagate 1 TB BarraCuda as your larger storage.

Watch out: two versions of the BarraCuda exist. In this article, we’re talking about the 3.5” version, with a speed of 7,200 RPM. (For a couple dozen dollars extra, you can also enjoy this disk’s 2 TB version instead.)

Build a PC Made for a Photographer: The Samsung EVO 850 SSD disk.

The Samsung EVO 850 SSD disk. Source: www.samsung.com

As usual, the computer case is a matter of personal choice. Inside the case that we picked, the Apevia X-Fit-200, you’ll find an integrated power supply with sufficient voltage (the supply will never be maxed out, so you’ll never be stressing it and overheating it). You can also choose from among other cases and then supplement your setup with a suitable power supply. (Based on our check of one of the power calculators out there, the absolute minimum will be 200 W—but we recommend never pushing your power supply to its limits.)

The monitor is an important part of any setup. Naturally you might make do with one that you already have, but for completeness we’ll include one in our selection. To serve you well, a monitor needs to be large enough, have at least Full HD resolution, and have an IPS panel. These parameters will ensure that you can see your monitor well, even from bad viewing angles.

And when you’re planning your setup, don’t forget to count in the price of a license for Windows 10 Home.

You can find all of this setup’s parts in the table below. All of the setup’s parts can be upgraded at any time. After all, the Mini-ITX platform is well-established, and so you can rest easy that it will still be with us in the future.

Component typeSpecific exampleApproximate price
ProcessorIntel Core i3-8100$120
MotherboardASRock H310M-ITX/ac$79
MemoryBallistix Sport LT 8GB DDR4-2400 CL16$75
Main disk (SSD)Samsung 850 EVO 250GB$95
Storage diskSeagate BarraCuda 1TB, 7200 RPM$47
PC case with
Power Supply
Apevia X-Fit-200 250W Mini-ITX Case$70
Monitor25″ AOC Q2577PWQ$253
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home 64-bit (OEM)$100
Overall price with monitor$839
Total price without monitor$586

When You Can Spend More and You Want Performance

With the setup below, you’ll be able to handle even a large number of photos and complex retouching quickly and conveniently. Naturally, if you can, and want to, reach even more deeply into your pockets (or your piggy bank), many opportunities open up for editing photos even more quickly. You just have to ride the wave of rising prices for the higher models of the individual parts.

A Note for Power Users on Overclocking: At the moment, the best price-to-power ratio seems to be an “unlocked” Core i5-8600K processor and a motherboard with the Z370 chipset. This combination lets you overclock your processor and squeeze out more performance. However, you’ll pay something extra for this solution, and you’ll have to struggle with overclocking and sufficiently dissipating heat out of the case. That’s why our recommended setup uses a non-unlocked version of this processor and a motherboard with a cheaper chipset.

Component typeSpecific exampleApproximate price
ProcessorIntel Core i5-8600$230
CPU CoolerARCTIC Freezer 33$29
MotherboardASUS TUF B360M-PLUS GAMING$88
MemoryKingston 16 GB KIT DDR4 2400MHz CL15 HyperX Fury Black Series$160
Main disk (SSD)Samsung 970 EVO 250GB M.2$108
Storage diskSeagate BarraCuda 3TB, 3.5” 7200 RPM$79
PC CaseCorsair – 200R ATX Mid Tower Case$60
Power supplyCorsair CX550M$55
FanARCTIC F12 Silent$9
Monitor25″ AOC Q2577PWQ$253
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home 64-bit (OEM)$100
Overall price with monitor$1,171
Overall price without monitor$918

The Options Don’t Stop Here

Naturally you can also edit photos with less powerful setups than what we’ve proposed. But you may find that it takes significantly more time. At the same time, cheaper but similarly powerful parts can also provide you with good performance.

For our proposed photo editing computers, we worked with components with which we’ve had good experiences, or ones that we’ve tried and seen Zoner Photo Studio X performing well with them.

The prices here are approximate and are based on data from price comparison tools in August of 2018. Keep in mind that components can vary slightly when made by different manufacturers, so confirm their compatibility before making your purchase. If you’re not confident about building your own computer setup,  ask your parts dealer to build it for you.

Last updated 21. August 2018

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Author: Joseph Halicek

I’ve been forging marketing plans for Zoner Photo Studio since 2013. In my photography I concentrate on portraiture, but I also like to experiment. You can find my work on Zonerama.

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