LightRoom PC

Background

I have always like photography, and as a child even developed Black and White film at school, but with the cost (or complications of self) development, I moved away from deep photography, and into general picture-taking of vacations, holidays and events.

When technology brought us a 8mm CamCorder with a Firewire port for digital video production, I jumped into this as a hobby for quite a few years. In 1999 with PC and Adobe Premier / After Effects, I was having fun.

Then came OS X on a new line of Macintosh computers, and I moved to Apple, with Final Cut Pro (back when it was $1000s not the $100 of today).

Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras started to become cost-effective in 2000, and I jumped back into SLR cameras with a Nikon D50. No longer did I need to buy a roll of film, be cautious of what 24 items I would photo, and no longer need to wait a week for the results to learn from. Instant has met professional equipment.

Seventeen years later, many Nikon Camera Bodies later and I am fully hooked.

At first the use of software was to take the image and ‘print’ it, and to catalog it (organize). I started to use Digital Asset Management Software such as Apple’s Aperture to help ‘refine’ the image, and to keep track of the good, from the great, and toss the bad. today Apple has exited this and Adobe is king, with Lightroom. The name a omage to the Dark Room used to develop film in the past.

With Photography, the capture of the light, and composition is just the start. How it is developed is also part of the art. “In much the same way that photojournalism must be created by a journalist who carries a camera, a photography artist therefore must be an artist who happens to use a camera. “ Though composition is a major part of the hobby, the development of the image is also. This was done in the dark room, now in software.

With Apple exiting the DAM business and Adobe becoming the defacto standard, when I decided to invest in upgrading my iMac, no longer was I limited to Apple’s world, and I decided to look at a Windows PC. After all, it is not the operating system that I seek, but the application.

Research

Why not a Mac

First why not stay with Apple. They have IMHO, the best operating system, I have a solid work flow, and own the applications.

The last item was the first in the move away. Today I do not own the software (we really never did it always was a End USer License agreement EULA). I now own a subscription to a cloud service Adobe Creative Cloud, that I cna install on any platform. So what was $100.00 to $1000.00 of dollars of the investment is now very portable.

Next the upgrade. Apple builds very stable products, that are upgraded (hardware) very infrequently. They really do not have the ‘prosumer’ line. They have a high-end consumer product, built for beauty and stability, and a Pro line built on Enterprise grade equipment. They also limit the build choices.

In the wild, wild world of Windows, with blue screens of death, there is also choice and price pressure.

You can build a PC with your ingredient spending and saving money as you feel your needs are. Needles to say this is not for the non-technical. For them, buy an Apple, or a system from Puget Systems.

Application Needs

What I have learned from my work in Information Technology is that applications use hardware differently from one to the other. Just trowing more CPU cores, or more memmory does not always yeild the desired results. My first step in building the Lightroom PC was to get a handle on what the applciaiton needed, or how it used the hardware.

This was not easy. Adobe lists the MINIMAL requierments for Lightroom, but now why, or what is better. The team over at Puget published many results of bench marks on different aspects of Adobe products and the performace on differnt hardware. Their report on Recommended System for Adobe Lightroom is GREAT.

From my research I descided  base on price, avialbility, performace and work flow. The last was an eye opener. A great system on importing, could actually be worse on exporting than a cheaper system? Where do I want improvements? Can I wait for exports, or do I need them as fast as posiable to move to the next task. Can I wait on imports while I grab a coffee, or am I staring at the screen waiting.

Ofcource everything instantaniously is all that is really requiered, and though price was the first in the consideration, it turns out that you can not build an ultimate LR system for EVERY part of the work flow.

For me I descided on this;

  • CPU – i7 7700x (over clocked)
  • Memory – Maxed out at 64G
  • Storage – Mixture based on work flow. From NVMe to HDD
  • GPU – nVidia P4000 (Quadro line)
  • Monitor 1 – Asus PA328q 32” 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) (100% Rec.709 & 99.5% Adobe RGB true color reproduction) 10bit Color
  • Monitor 2 – Asus PA248q 24.1″ 16:10 (1920×1200) (100% sRGB)
  • Accessories

CPU

Biger is not always better. For LR it seemed to me based on my reading that more than 6 cores, was not a large advantage, and may slow down parts of the work flow. The CPU speed on the other hand has a positive impact on almost all parts of the workflow.

Though the 8800 would have been better, the 7700 motherboards were more mature, and dropping a few core, was OK for me. I built it on a ‘Gaming’ mother board from Asus (Republic of Gamers / ROG). This permitted me to easily over lock the 4ghz CPU to 5ghz.

The GPU debate

After the CPU the next is the GPU. Here I went overboard. This is a ‘heated’ debate on many threads. This is (my opinion) the net of it. Lightroom barely uses a GPU, having one is good, and meet the minimum Adobe states. What does bigger GPU get you, minor improvements. What does a nVidia Quattro get you beyond a GTX? This is the parts of the debate that is the heated.

Wikipedia states that it is just a driver difference (not hardware), that permits nVidia to charge more for the Quattro line. This probably is true, but does that change the end effect. If you want graphic drivers that are stable, certified by Adobe, then you need the Quattro. It might be the same GPUs (CUDA) that is on the GTX, and cheaper on the GTX, and works to accelerate Lightroom, they are not certified. Note the GTX is on the Adobe card list.

Why else pay the premium for the Quattro? 10bit video support. If your going to invest into a high end monitor, one of the things you pay for is 10bit graphics. The latest GTX now support 10bit, but not for Adobe.

For the last few weeks I watched the GPU usage and Lightroom basically it is about 7% – 12% on the P4000. I could definitely used the lower end Quattro and save money and seen the same performance improvements in Lightroom. Now Photoshop, with 3D, it sees spikes of 100%.

Storage

So, put everything on the FASTEST drive, YES! —– BUT—- I can not afford this. So I built the following;

For my work flow, the import and export is irritable when slow. Only second to the image not being clear on the second monitor. Here is my storage setup, and why;

Boot – (D1 in above) Dual NMVe in a RAID 0 (Stripped). This is ridiculously quick. Not only does the computer boots almost as fast as it wakes from sleep. The boot drive is also where the application is executed from. This is lightning quick launch of the program. Lightroom also stores it’s catalog on this drive. The LightRoom catalog is the database. You can during importing, create previews. With previews, you can edit/adjust photos not connected to the computer, then when exporting, re-attache the drive, and create the exports. If your using a laptop, you can import your photos to a portable HDD, the catalog on the Laptop HDD is smaller than the portable, and so is the catalog. The large originals are on the external. You jump on a plane and edit on your laptop, but do not need to dig out the portable HDD. GREAT system, but not, not my work flow.

I import to a disk that is always available, the catalog is still needed as it hold the non-destructive adjustments, but the previews are not as valuable. This is actually a lot of reading and writing. The storage for the originals are just used during import and export. The Catalog is used for the development (assuming previews). For me with no previews, the adjustments are placed against the actual original file, and having quick access to the original does improve the ‘speed’ of Lightroom.

Storage (Long Term NAS) – This will be eventually where the overflow (late years) will be moved to my NAS. Drive Mapped as a letter, and gigabit Ethernet attached. For me this is years 2014 and earlier. I very seldom access these photos.

Storage (Medium Term D4) – This will be on a accelerated HDD. With a ‘Marvel’ RAID controller, I am using a HyperDuo array. There is a SSD merged with a HDD. The 256G SSD increases access speed to ‘hot’ data while giving me 4TB of storage. This will be 2017 (last year – 2015). This does not fill the drive, and will permit this years photos to migrate to this drive.

Storage (Short Term D2) – This will be this year’s photos. The ones that I am currently working on. This is for me a dual SSD RAID 0 array. With dual 512G SSD I get about 1TB of storage for this level.

Storage (Export D3) – Staging spot for the exported photos. I export to this drive, then copy to where the final destination. So Export to Folder, then copy to Dropbox, and Export to a different Folder, then copy to Facebook. The key is to get out of Lightroom, and I can not do that until after Lightroom finish publishing the photos.

Details on the performances are in this post

Backup

The above storage is all volatile. Any RAID 0 array will fail if ether drive fails. This increases the chance of failure, so back up. I am using EaseUS ToDo backup. This is creates a backup to the NAS, Incase of failure.

NOTE:::: At the time of writing this EaseUS ToDo Version 11 can not restore the boot drive. The PXE boot USB can not see the Intel Rapid Storage Technology NVMe Boot. I have a case open with them, and hope to have this resolved.

Accessories

Wacom Tablet – I had a a fairly new one and added it to the system

Elgato Stream Deck – This is a cool little device. There are a lot of key shortcuts, especially in PhotoShop that can speed up your work flow, if you know them. You can program buttons on this device to execute a keystroke, then change the image on the key to a picture of what will remind you of what the key does. The latest beta software also will switch keys based on which application your using, automatically.

About the Author

Kevin Cossaboon

A networking profesional located in Northren Virginia, USA. My hobbies are Technology and Photography. Love playing with the latest technology, and will try to post reviews of them. Also love my life long journey of learning to capture light, to trigger emotions, through photography.

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