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Yes, it sure would be nice to have that custom-configured $20,000 Mac Pro system, with more RAM and processing cores that you can shake a stick at, a couple of 30" Cinema Displays, and a few terabytes of storage. Photoshop would run like the wind, and you'd not have to worry about upgrading any time soon.
Unfortunately, as we are all aware, times are a little tough right now. We haven't gotten to the point where folks are selling apples on the street in Manhattan as of yet, but purse strings have been tightened. So if you are in the need of some new, shiny computer stuff – but don't want to break the bank, please consider the following suggestions.
Yes, the new aluminum unibody Apple notebooks are sleek, pretty, and fast... but they're also a bit pricey, and you have to spend close to $2000 to get a FireWire port. If you're anything like me, you really, really need that FireWire port.
Thankfully Apple has recognized the need for a $1000ish notebook. The classic MacBook, with a white polycarbonate case, features a 13.3" widescreen display, a 120GB hard drive, and 1GB of RAM. It's powered by a 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, and features integrated GMA X3100 graphics, also by Intel. And yes, it has FireWire.
This system doesn't have the most screamingly fast graphics processor, but it's suitable for use with Photoshop and Lightroom. The 1GB of RAM may not be sufficient for every task, but the computer can handle up to 4GB – a rather inexpensive upgrade.
If the MacBook isn't quite up to your processing needs, you may want to consider the entry-level MacBook Pro. These systems will set you back a bit more, around $1999 to start, but offer Apple’s newest aluminum unibody design
The system is a great choice for those who aren't happy with the graphic processing capabilities of the standard MacBook, or would simply like a larger screen. Housed in a 15" widescreen form factor, the notebook features a 250GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM. It's powered by a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU; graphics are handled by an nVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with 256MB of dedicated memory.
Having a desktop around is a sensible option from a price to performance ratio… and there are few desktops out there that match the sleek lines, high-quality display, and cool factor of the venerable iMac.
Apple's entry-level all-in-one iMac features a glossy 20" widescreen display, housed in a polished aluminum case. It is powered by a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, offers 250GB of storage, and sports 1GB of RAM. Graphics are handled by an ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT card, with 128MB dedicated memory. And yes, for those of you paying attention at home, the iMac can be upgraded to 4GB of RAM with the same inexpensive upgrade kit as the aforementioned notebooks.
Photographers understand the importance of properly calibrating their computer screen. While it isn't the most inexpensive calibration device on the market, the Xrite ColorMunki Photo delivers results that are on par with much higher priced calibration tools.
The ColorMunki allows you to calibrate both your screen and printer, and can even read a color value from any physical surface. It takes the ambient light of a room into account during calibration, and features user-friendly software. For more details on the device, please check out our review, originally published in an earlier newsletter.
Not everyone who is enthusiastic about taking photos is a professional photographer. This might seem like an obvious statement to make. However, it is a common misconception that hobbyists and enthusiasts need the full version of the latest and greatest Photoshop CS4. Don't get me wrong, Photoshop has a slew of fantastic features, and is robust enough for use in demanding professional environments.
Chances are, even for those of you shooting RAW, a tandem of Photoshop Lightroom 2 and Photoshop Elements will suit all of your needs. We've previously taken an in-depth look at Lightroom; in short, Lightroom is a nondestructive RAW photo editor and image management application. This means that it allows you to catalog, tag, and search through your photos. You can also perform adjustments to the images – without altering the original files.
Photoshop Elements, on the other hand, is a destructive editor: files are altered when edited in Elements. There are times where Lightroom's tools are simply not robust enough to make necessary adjustments to an image.
Elements features the ever-important rubber stamp tool, allows you to correct lens distortions created by wide-angle and fisheye lenses, and can even create a composite image from multiple exposures. You know, for those times when Uncle Conrad has his eyes closed in photo #1, and Aunt Ginny turned her head at the last moment in photo #2.
Elements 7 is currently available for Windows, while Elements 6 is the current version for Mac. Adobe offers trial downloads of both versions of the software, allowing you to determine if Elements suits your photographic needs.
If you've read this article from start to finish, you've probably noticed RAM upgrades mentioned quite a bit. Adding the maximum amount of memory to an older system can really help to improve its performance. This, of course, depends on just how old your system is. It's pretty safe to say, however, that for systems that are a few years old, maxing out the RAM is a frugal way to improve performance.
Check your system's manual to see what upgrade options are available to you. Aside from adding memory, most notebooks will allow you to upgrade the internal hard drive. Most desktop users will also be able to upgrade the system's graphics card.
While we all may admire the work of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, none of us want to be out there recreating their subject matter anytime soon. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas on how to improve your computer, without breaking the bank.