The best computer for photo editing

So there’s a lot of debate on the internet about what the best computer is for editing, with many preferring Apple, supposedly for it’s superior editing capabilities. But since the move to intel architecture, the internals of an iMac are exactly the same as a PC. There is no performance advantage at all, just less flexibility on specifications.

Now that’s not to say you *shouldn’t* choose a Mac, you might be tied into their OS, or just really love using it. Which is fine! But don’t think you’re getting any more bang for your buck. In fact, you’re more than likely getting a lot less.

Important specs for editing

The most important things for editing are:

  • CPU Clock Speed
  • RAM
  • Hard Drive Speed

Any all-in-one solution, regardless of whether it’s Apple or Windows, laptop or iMac, suffers on the first. This is because of the lack of good heat management. So the CPUs run slower than they would in a full size desktop, simply because a full size desktop can move air around better.

RAM is much of a muchness, you want a minimum of 16GB and I’d highly recommend 32GB

And ideally, your main drive wants to be as fast as you can get it. I’d recommend an m.2 NVME SSD, these are 6 x faster than a normal SSD. The idea being that your operating system and the software you’re using along with images you’re currently editing goes on the faster drive. And you can then use slower drives for storage.

So why a PC?

Well, for me, several reasons. But the big one for photography is the additional storage you can have! It’s really easy to get a PC built that ticks all the boxes and costs way less then the equivalent Apple. You can combine a fast NVME drive with additional internal storage, and a colour-accurate monitor. To get the best of all worlds, and save £££ at the same time.

The other upside of a proper desktop PC, is the cooling. CPUs in all-in-one solutions such as laptops, iMacs and similarly designed PC systems have one big disadvantage: They can’t move the air around properly. This lack of cooling means that your chip hits it’s “thermal throttle” easier and slows down, or comes shipped already clocked down to avoid this issue, meaning you don’t get the full power of it.

Yes, a big black box doesn’t look as pretty. But it’s function over form.

Self Build vs pre-built

You’ll save a bit more money doing a self build, or finding a local PC Builder that might do it cheaply for you. Or you can buy a custom machine that comes already built by avoiding the usual bricks and mortar stores and going to some PC Specialists.

The Spec

My good friend Nina Mace needed a new PC recently and so I worked with her to come up with a fantastic spec for photo editing, combining a powerful CPU with lots of RAM and proper cooling.

So we went for:

The Case: Be Quiet! Pure Base 500. Fantastically made case, easy to build in and soundproofed panels – Around £70 –
The Motherboard: MSI Z390 Gaming Motherboard – lots of upgradibility, fantastic chipset, m.2 ports for NVME drives – Around £130 –
The CPU: Intel Core i7 9700k – unlocked octacore CPU – Around £300 –
The Ram: 32Gb Corsair Vengeance DDR4 – Around £110 –
The Power Supply: Be Quiet! Pure Power 600 – will cover future upgrades to graphics cards should you choose – around £90 –
The SSD: Samsung Evo Plus NVME – 6 times faster than a normal SSD, requires an m.2 slot – Around £180 –
Bulk Storage: Western Digital Blue 3Gb – Slow but it’s not for editing on, it’s just for storage, we added two of these – Around £77 each –
The GPU: GTX 1660 – Fast, more than you’ll need for any photo editing will also handle 4k Video Editing – Around £180 –
The CPU Cooler: Be Quiet! Dark Rock 4 – BIG, quiet and keeps your CPU running cool no matter how hard you push it – Around £60 –
WiFi Card: TP Link – stanardard wifi, does everything you need it to – around £12 –

You could make it even more powerful by swapping out the CPU for this one – The Core i7 10700K – and swapping the Motherboard for this one – The z490 – but this CPU is £375 and Motherboard is £260

Now you’ll need to add your own keyboard and mouse, they’re personal choice so I won’t pick those. And you’ll need a monitor. For photo editing and general use the Dell Ultrasharps are fantastic for the money. So I’d recommend one of those, they’re matte finish with good colour accuracy too!

Take your pick:
24″ FHD – Around £190 –
27″ UHD – Around £340 –
32″ 4K – Around £820 –

So the spec we built for Nina Mace (and the same one I have) comes in at: £1209 without a monitor. So £2000 would you get one with a 32″ screen! Even picking the latest components and getting the 10700 CPU would mean a total cost of £2229 with the 32″ screen or just £1409 without a monitor!

Let’s compared that with an iMac..

Core i7, Matte display, 32GB Ram, 1TB SSD. But, the PC will still have a more powerful graphics card, less storage, and better cooling, as these aren’t options from Apple, and it comes to:

£3899…. Bit of a price difference.

So why should anyone choose an Apple machine?

Well, let’s get one thing straight:
There is no performance benefit to an Apple machine, the displays aren’t even rated particularly highly for colour accuracy.

The reason you should buy a Mac, is that you prefer using the Apple OS to Windows, and that’s about it. And I’d suggest if you haven’t used a recent version of Windows, you give it a go before deciding because it’s slick and stable these days!

Do I have to build it myself?

Nope! You can either find a local builder. or get one prebuilt for you from Overclockers.

Head over to this system here

IMPORTANT: change the following:
Processor to Core i7
Memory to 32GB
Primary Solid State to 1TB Samsung Evo Plus M.2
3.5″ Mechanical Drive to 6TB Seagate

And you’ll get a fully built system for under £1500 🙂

If you do want to build it yourself, there’s lots of tutorials, this one is pretty good:

NB: All links are affiliate links so I’ll get some pennies if you do buy anything!

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  1. Andy,

    Great blog post. Can you do an update ? Do you recommend anything different to build a PC nie – I’m sure new components have emerged to the market since 2020.
    Thank you in advance!

      1. Hey, Andy! Just wanted to do a follow up and see you’re newest recommendations. I’ve been doing my own research, but the market is so saturated that it is really difficult to choose best options when it comes to PC components.

  2. Hey, Andy! Just wanted to do a follow up and see you’re newest recommendations. I’ve been doing my own research, but the market is so saturated that it is really difficult to choose best options when it comes to PC components.

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