The single most important aspect of a system
worthy of digital photography is memory
: you need a lot, it has to be fast, and the system board needs to be able to move data between the CPU and memory swiftly (the latter speed is known as memory bandwidth
). To figure out what a lot
means to you, as a rule of thumb, you want to make sure you have at least three times the memory as the size of each image you'll have loaded into memory--that's on top of the memory required to run the OS and any applications you use. Remember to base the calculation on the uncompressed
image size, not the file size on disk; applications expand the image to work on it. For instance, an 8-megapixel camera produces a 47MB (16-bit) or 23MB (8-bit) photo, regardless of whether you start out with raw or JPEG. I'd recommend at least 2GB of RAM, using as few DIMMs as possible so that you have some upgrade latitude. As for speed, the current fastest architecture is the Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core (socket 939), which you'll want to match with PC3200 memory. The CPU speed isn't quite as critical, so you don't have to pay top dollar for the very fastest processor. The hard drive's size and configuration
is the second key factor. I'd go for two big-as-possible drives and arrange them in a striped RAID array. Ironically, the graphics card doesn't play much of a role in performance--it's been years since the manufacturers tried to eke any more performance out of 2D operations. Any recent card with stable drivers will suffice, though if you want to use and independently calibrate two displays, check to make sure the card supports that. Finally, you'll probably want to equip the system with the appropriate flash-media readers, a DVD+RW drive, and external hard drives for backup and archiving. The good news is that this configuration should support Vista when it ships
, a version of Windows that finally adds some pro graphics sophistication to the current version's horribly outdated bitmap-graphics engine. You should consider your purchase timing carefully, though; Intel will be shipping its much-anticipated Conroe CPU sometime this summer, and rumor has it the new chip will give AMD some competition.