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Computer - Best for Photoshop Elements

Which computer should you buy?

If you're a casual user of Photoshop Elements, you don't need this section.

But, if you're often editing with many layers, stitching panoramas, or doing other pixel-intensive activities, read on.

This section will get you started with some basic tips.

PC v. Mac

When you look at a photograph, you can't tell whether it was made with a Nikon or a Canon camera.

Likewise, Photoshop Elements works largely the same whether you're using a PC or a Mac computer.

Therefore, use the platform that you prefer in regard to ease of use, price, support, and the like.

New & Upgraded Operating Systems

When a new operating system is released, wait to purchase a computer until:

• More of the bugs have been corrected.

• Manufacturers of ancillary products, such as graphics boards, have caught up to the new operating system, such as with new drivers for their products.

The same advice applies when there's a major upgrade to an existing operating system.

2nd or 3rd Best

When you purchase a top-of-the-line computer, you're probably getting less bang for the buck.

The better value is often the model that's one or two down.

Processor

AMD

Intel Core Duo

Resources

What's the story with Photoshop & multi-core? John Nack

RAM, RPMs, Multiple Hard Drives,

Efficiency, & RAID

RAM

The more RAM, Random Access Memory, the better.

RAM is where your computer performs it's activities.

In contrast, the memory on the hard drive is largely for storage of the operating system, programs, and your files.

Think of RAM as the office, and a hard drive, as the warehouse.

Photoshop Elements takes over a portion of the RAM for use as a scratch disk (swap file).

By default, Photoshop Elements uses 55% of the RAM in a PC, and 70% in a Mac.

A scratch disk is any memory space set aside for temporary storage.

Photoshop Elements creates temporary files as you edit.

For example, let's say the file for your photograph is 700 KB.

When you open the photograph with Photoshop Elements, 700 KB of space is needed immediately.

If you apply the Gaussian Blur filter, Photoshop Elements needs another 700 KB of space to store the blurred photograph.

If you use the Unsharp Mask (USM) filter, you need yet another 700 KB of space.

These temporary files are placed in the RAM.

RPMs

Get a fast hard drive, such as 10,000 RPM.

Additional hard drives used for storage can be slower.

Multiple Hard Drives

If there isn't enough RAM, Photoshop Elements uses the hard drive as another scratch disk.

The hard drive is much slower than RAM, and the hard drive is also being used by the operating system, Photoshop Elements, and other programs.

If you're often editing with many layers, stitching panoramas, or doing other pixel-intensive activities, purchase a second internal hard drive.

Designate the second hard drive as the scratch drive by going to Preferences.

A third hard drive can be used for the Windows page file.

RAID

If you have more than two hard drives, you can use a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) disk controller card.

RAID improves performance with striping, in which data is spread across multiple drives, so that more than one disk is reading and writing simultaneously.

RAID also provides increase crash protection via mirroring and parity.

Mirroring is the duplication of the data on two drives.

Parity calculates the data on two drives and stores the results on a third.

When a hard drive crashes, the RAID controller card automatically rebuilds the lost data from the other two hard drives.

Efficiency

Photoshop Elements uses the Efficiency percentage as a measure of memory performance.

In the lower left, just below the image of your photograph, click the black triangle, and select Efficiency.

Normal efficiency is 95 to 100%.

If the efficiency is often lower, a second internal hard drive may be helpful.

LCD Monitor

• Bigger is better.

• Two are better than one.

Use one for the palettes, and the other for the photograph.

You may be able to use an old monitor as the second monitor for the palettes.

Or, get a widescreen monitor, and put the palettes on the sides.

• If you don't have one already, get a colorimeter.

LCD monitors out-of-the-box are often too bright with too much contrast.

Specifications

Native Resolution

LCD monitors only display at a single resolution—their native resolution.

Your photographs are best displayed at the native resolution of the monitor.

If you choose a different resolution, the monitor will have to use interpolation, which reduces image quality.

WS = Widescreen

Size Native Resolution Abbreviation
14" - 15" 1024 x 768 XGA
17" - 19" 1280x1024 SXGA
20"+ 1600x1200 UXGA
19" WS 1440 x 900 WXGA+
20" WS 1680 x 1050 WSXGA+
24" WS 1920 x 1200 WUXGA
30" WS 2560 x 1600 -

Pixel Pitch

The pixel pitch varies according to the size of the monitor.

All monitors of the same size have the same pixel pitch.

Dot pitch, in CRT monitors, measured the sharpness of the dot.

Pixel pitch, in LCD monitors, is a measure of the distance between the pixels.

Size Dot Pitch
15" .297 mm
17" .264 mm
19" .294 mm
19" WS .285 mm
20" .255 mm
20" WS .258 mm
21" .270 mm
22" WS .282 mm
23" WS .258 mm
24" WS .270 mm
30" WS  .250mm

Contrast Ratio

700:1 is a common contrast ratio.

Higher contrast is not needed.

Brightness

A common brightness is 300 to 400 cd/m2 (candella per meter squared).

A higher brightness is not needed.

Response Time

25 ms is common.

This specification is more relevant for games and video editing.

Rise-and-fall response time specifies the time required for a pixel to change from black to white (rise) and back to black (fall).

A low figure indicates a LCD monitor with few motion artifacts during games or video.

A fast response time, such as 12 ms or faster, may indicate that 6-bit color is being used.

6-bit color degrades the color quality (see below).

A slower response time, such as 20 ms or slower, may indicate that higher quality 8-bit color is being used (see below).

Image Processing

8 bit is better than 6-bit.

In order to increase the response time for games and videos (see above), a LCD monitor may use 6-bit color instead of 8-bit color.

6-bit pixels can turn on and off faster than 8-bit pixels.

However, 6-bit monitors display far fewer colors than 8-bit monitors.

They can simulate the missing colors by using dithering, such as Frame Rate Control (FRC).

Here's a further explanation of dithering.

Bits & Bit Depth

Each color pixel on a monitor can have either 6 or 8 intensities, which are called bits.

The bit depth is either 6 or 8, respectively.

There are three colors for each pixel, red, green, and blue.

So the bit depth for all three colors is 18 (6 + 6 + 6) or 24 (8 +  8 + 8).

A 6-bit (or 18 bit) monitor can display 262,144 colors.

An 8-bit (or 24 bit) LCD monitor can display 16.7 million colors.

8-bit color is often called true color.

Here's the math.

26 x 26 x 26 = 64 x 64 x 64 = 262,144

28 x 28 x 28 = 256 x 256 x 256 = 16,777,216

Connectors

Look for VGA and/or DVI connectors.

DVI-A is analog only.

DVI-D is digital only.

DVI-I (Integrated) is designed for both digital and analog.

LCD monitors are digital devices, unlike CRT monitors, which are analog.

VGA connectors are the traditional analog monitor connectors.

DVI and dual-link DVI connectors are digital.

Image quality may be better if your monitor uses DVI connectors.

Check to make sure the graphics board (video card) and monitor use the same type of connectors.

Some monitors may come with composite video connectors for functioning as a TV.

Pixel Defect Policy

Pixels become defective.

Manufacturers will replace monitors, for a period of time, when x number of pixels become defective, or when a cluster of pixels (such as 3 pixels in a one inch circle) becomes defective.

HDCP Support

HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection.

HDCP is a content protection system for HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs.

HDCP protects the content when it's sent over DVI connectors, which are digital.

Without HDCP, VGA connectors, which are analog, must be used.

Manufacturers

Eizo

Lacie

NEC

Samsung

Viewsonic

Resources

flatpanels.dk

PC World - How to Buy a Monitor (11/06)

prad.de

Tips for Buying FPD TVs

TFT Central

Graphics Board (Video Card)

Most graphics boards are fine for using Photoshop Elements.

High end boards are for games and video editing.

Make sure the graphics board:

• Is compatible with your monitor.

If your monitor uses DVI connectors, get a board with the same.

Ultra-high resolution monitors (over 1920 x 1200), may require a dual-link DVI connector.

If you want to have two monitors, you need two DVI ports on the board.

• Has enough onboard memory, such as 128 MB.

By having its own memory, the board is not using RAM.

Manufacturers

ASUS

ATI

BFG

eVGA

Matrox

MSI

PNY

XFX

Resources

PC World - How to Buy a Graphics Board (11/06)

Mouse

In addition to a high-end mouse, consider getting a Wacom tablet.

By drawing a selection with a pen on a tablet, you can be more precise.

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Or, instead of a mouse and tablet, consider a trackball mouse, such as a Kensington trackball.

External Hard Drive

Get an external hard drive for backups.

Go to Backup Your Computer.

Resources

Forums

Perform separate searches for computer, cpu (the processor), and monitor in the forums below.

Adobe Photoshop Forums

Luminous Landscape Forums

Select Digital Image Processing in the Search Where menu.

photo.net Digital Darkroom Forum

Computer Thread

Monitor Thread

Reviews

CNET

HardwareCentral

PC World

Tom's Hardware

ZDNet