Okay, first the disclaimer: I'm a hack. I assembled my first, and maybe my second computers from parts, my memory is a bit cloudy here, back in the 80s. But yea, that was 30 years or so ago. Back then I was an Engineering / Tech dude and I needed real computing power. But as time went by, my computer needs got less and less. Mostly email, spreadsheets and the like. 

But that started to change as my photography business grew and I moved to a full frame, high mega pixel sensor and started processing time lapse videos. I needed a "real" computer again.

My first foray back into the desktop world was a Late 2012 Mac Mini This is actually quite a great little computer and mine had the following specs.

  • 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz) with 6MB L3 cache
  • A   512GB solid-state drive.
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3 memory

But the Mac Mini started to struggle when I move up to the Sony A7Rii 42mp full frame camera and I started processing more and more time lapse videos. It was time for an upgrade. And since I'd grown tired of replacing my whole computer every time one component became "obsolete", I decided I wanted to revisit building my own.

Fortunately about this same time I stumbled onto the resource that best helped me figure this all out and help me build the confidence I need to pull it all off, Linus Tech Tips. Here's a taste of what you'll find in their reviews.

Much of the info from the Linus' various channel is directed towards gaming so I also needed to find some info to help pick components for my Photo / Video processing needs and one of the best turned out to be Puget Systems. These guys build custom PCs and Workstation and aren't too shy about passing their wealth of knowledge to the home builder.

I would recommend that anyone getting a new computer for photo or video editing read these articles of theirs first.

And here's one last video that I found quite helpful and the one I watched right before and during my PC build

Design Goals

As I state earlier my design goal was to build a very capable desktop machine for photo, video and timelapase processing. A computer that was very, very capable now but could be easily upgrade as my needs change.

 So after studying this for about six months I prioritized my build in the following order.

  1. Fast working SSD drive.
  2. A balanced multi-core cpu.
  3. Enough ram to remove bottlenecks during multi-tasking.
  4. An adequate graphics card.
  5. A well designed, small form factor case.

Here is my complete parts list.

  • CPU - Intel Xeon E5-1650 V3 3.5GHz 6-Core 
  • CPU Cooler - Noctua NH-D9DX i4 3U
  • Motherboard - ASRock X99E-ITX/ac Mini ITX LGA2011-3 Narrow Motherboard 
  • Memory - Crucial 32GB (2 x 16GB) Registered DDR4-2133
  • Working Drive - Intel DC 750 1.2TB 2.5" Solid State Drive
  • Image Archive - Hitachi Deskstar NAS 4TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive
  • Media Archive - Seagate Desktop HDD 4TB 3.5" 5900RPM Internal Hard Drive 
  • Incremental Backup Drive - Seagate Archive 8TB 3.5" 5900RPM Internal Hard Drive
  • Video Card - Asus GeForce GTX 960 2GB Video Card 
  • Power Supply - Silverstone 600W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular SFX Power Supply 
  • Optical Drive - Panasonic UJ-265 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer 
  • Operating System - Microsoft Windows 10 Home OEM (64-bit) 
  • Case - NCASE M1

I won't go through every component in detail, but here are the main components that I designed my system around.

Intel 750 Series 2.5" 1.2TB PCI-Express SSD

The best reason to build your own computer is so that you can put your money were your needs are. And even though I found this extremely fast SSD on sale it still represented at least 1/3 of the total cost of my computer build. The biggest problem I had with building my own computer was Adobe Lightroom. It doesn't use multiple cores well. And it doesn't really support high end graphics cards. And it doesn't need a lots of ram. So spending a bunch of money of those high end items doesn't help speed up my Lightroom workflow.

But Lightroom does perform a fair amount of i/o, disk reads and writes. So I decided to go all in on one of the new generation of SSDs.

My normal workflow is to load my photo shoots on my working SSD. I then do all my processing, exporting and printing from there. When I'm done I move the shoot to my image archive drive. Which then gets backed up and also cloned. Since I will also be installing Windows and applications on this drive I opted for the 1.2 TB to ensure that I wouldn't be tight on space for my working files.

And a quick benchmark just to ensure that my installed Intel 750 was performing close to specs. And this is some blazing fast  i/o.

CPU - Intel Xeon E5 Hexa Core Processor 3.5 6 LGA 2011

Picking a CPU was one of the toughest parts of this build. And most of the challenge was because of Adobe Lightroom's limited use of multi core processors. From my research, LIghtroom seems to want the fastest quad core processor you can throw at it. But other tasks, video editing in particular, work well with multiple cores. So I choose what I thought was a reasonable middle ground between speed, number of cores and cost.

My feeling here was to pick a excellent mid range cpu and work with it to find out if I needed something better and what that something might be, faster speed, more cores or both. So far I'm finding the 6 core Xeon is working well.

Crucial 32GB (2 x 16GB)

Not really much to say here. I had 16GB of ram in my Mac Mini and sometimes it just wasn't quite enough. Mostly during multi-tasking when I was running LIghtroom, creating panoramas and processing a time lapse in the background. So far 32GB is plenty.

Asus GeForce GTX 960 2GB Video Card

I am hopefully that Adobe will continue to expand their support of the Video Card in Lightroom and Photoshop. But right now it is pretty limited. So I chose a middle of the road, small form factor card for this build. And I hardly use it's capabilities at all.

Case - NCASE M1

This case was high on my lists of wants / needs. One of the things I quite like about Apple computers and my Mac Mini in particular, is their design aesthetic and small size. So I knew that my new PC build would have to be relatively compact with a very pleasing industrial design.

I could have gone smaller but I want to consolidate a 4 bay external hard bay and an external blu-ray drive into my new case. The NCASE M1 was the smallest, cleanest case I could find that met those requirements. It's quite well made and a bit expensive. But I plan to use this case as the foundation of my workstation for some time and expect that parts will be upgraded as needed. 

Conclusion

So in the end this went off just about perfect and has exceeded my expectations. I'm sure building your own computer isn't for everyone but the process isn't too bad and there is much more info and guidance available now then there was some 30 years ago during my last build.

Disclaimer

My build came off without a hitch, but everyone is on their own with their own build. Do your homework and follow directions cause some of these parts are expensive. But by doing it yourself, you can save some money and pick up some skills that will save even more since you will be able to check under the hood of your own computer. Good luck and feel free to ask questions in the comments. I'll answer any that I can.

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