I’ve enjoyed writing about the Drobo experience last month. I hope some of you enjoyed reading it. I’ve decided to keep posting about some of my tussles with the technology of digital photography. Jerry Pournelle used to call his column in Byte “Chaos Manor”. I think I’ll call mine “The Bleeding Edge.” It’s not that I plan to be very far ahead of the curve in my use of technology, but you can get figurative blood on your hands even without consciously being a heat seeker. When things go smoothly, I probably won’t write about it.
It all started when I had a bunch of photographs in Lightroom that needed a little touch of Photoshop. The first one worked just fine. The second one was a little slower. On the third one, things really bogged down. I found the disk light on the front of the computer (why are they making these things smaller and dimmer?) and, sure enough, it was swapping. I checked the memory settings I of Photoshop, and they looked OK. I shut down Lightroom. Photoshop hummed right along. I shut down Photoshop. Lightroom’s response was positively zippy. Conclusion: not enough main memory.
Over the last few months, I’ve gotten used to using Lightroom for browsing, minor editing, sorting, printing, and web publishing. In fact, I haven’t been using Photoshop much at all. Now that I have a group of pictures that need Photoshop’s abilities, I don’t want to give up the use of Lightroom. Neither program is easy on memory. To use both of them simultaneously, I needed more RAM.
For my main computer, I’ve been using a Dell XPS 710 that I bought about 20 months ago. At that time, 64-bit operating systems were still uncommon. They had spotty driver support. Users weren’t all that happy. I figured I’d wait for things to steady down in the 64-bit world, so I opted for 32-bit Vista. (Vista wasn’t without its tribulations, but that’s another story.) Vista 32, like all 32-bit OSs, is limited to directly addressing a bit over 3 GB of RAM. I ordered the XPS with more memory than the OS could use, but, as of a few weeks ago, that wasn’t enough. So, I needed a 64-bit OS.
That meant I needed a new computer. Sure, I could probably cram some more RAM into my old computer, wipe out the OS, and start over. But that’s a lengthy process, and I don’t want to lose the use of my computer that long. I could partition the OS drive, install a boot manager, and alternately boot to the old and the new OS. I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve not have great experience with the process. I usually replace my main computer every two or three years. I figured I’d just do this replacement a little early.
For the past six or seven years, I’ve been getting water-cooled gaming computers for photographic editing. They were both quiet and powerful. In the last couple of years, industrial workstations have gotten pretty darned quiet, so that’s what I bought this time. Generally, workstations can handle more RAM than gaming computers, and you’re not paying for fancy case designs and colorful LED lighting. On the downside, you nearly always get Xeon processors in workstations, and I’m not sure they’re worth the extra cost.
As long as I was upgrading, I wanted a little margin for future growth, so I started looking for a 16GB machine. I found likely candidates at both hp and Dell. I’d had good experience with Dell’s on-site service in the past, so I favored their computer. But Dell wanted $1500 more for the memory than hp, which seemed outrageous. I called them up and whined, and they knocked $1500 off the price, making the two machines pretty much a wash. I bought the Dell, spec’ing a middling-clock-rate quad-core Xeon, and springing for the 12 MB of cache. I got a single 1 TB SATA drive, and 512 MB of RAM in the graphics card.
As I was finalizing my order, the Dell rep announced that they were going to send along a couple of freebies: a color laser printer and a backup device. Neither was of much use to me. I asked if I could get a bigger discount, but they said that I could take the freebies or not, but they wouldn’t knock anything further off the price. Both the printer and the backup device are notable for the high cost of consumables relative to the cost of the hardware. That coupled with the fact that they wouldn’t trade them for a bigger discount makes me think that they were shipping me the hardware believing that they’d make their costs back on my eventual purchase of consumables.
Next: Setting up the new machine.