Computer Help forum

General discussion

New PC recommendations needed for graphic-intensive programs

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / March 21, 2008 3:42 AM PDT

I need to upgrade my PC because I am using graphic-intensive programs including Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Illustrator. I intend to stick with Windows XP (I have no interest in Vista at this point) and do not want to change to a Mac. Do I really need 3GB or 4GB of RAM, or is 2GB enough? Will an Intel dual-core processor work well enough, or do I really need the more expensive quad-core? I have never spent more than $1,000 on a PC but realize that my current requirements push me close to $1,500, including a wide-screen monitor. I have looked at the Dell Inspiron 530 and XPS 410. I welcome any and all suggestions. I do not want to spend for more than I need but I am having trouble figuring out the necessary essentials. Thanks so much for your suggestions!

Submitted by: Joan P.

Answer voted most helpful by the CNET Community newsletter readers:

Joan, good news, you get to save money!


Well, first, you are suffering from a common mis-conception about graphics programs: In general, the programs you list are not "graphics intensive", and you could do quite well with a low-end video solution. Programs become "graphics intensive" when the video card has to CREATE 3-D content. This does not happen when processing photographs, video (DVDs, video editing, video capture from, say camcorders ... with one exception, that being very fancy scene-to-scene transitions) or creating web pages. It does happen when playing games, using CAD software or doing video editing involving CGI or a lot of fancy transitions from scene-to-scene. You didn't mention any of those. In all of your applications, the "image" comes from the file (e.g. the JPEG or TIFF files from your video camera directly contain all of the pixels in the image), and is not CREATED by the video card. This is classical 2-D video, it is not demanding, and you would do quite well even with just a modern low-end "chipset" integrated video system (in the case of Intel chipsets, AT LEAST GMA950 or later, but any current product will have that), or a low-end dedicated video card that is at least powerful enough to run Vista WITH the Aero interface. Note that being capable of running Vista with Aero is a threshold test of minimally acceptable video card "power", without regard to (and having nothing to do with) the entirely separate question of whether you actually use XP or Vista.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets talk about CPU: The "dual core" pentium has been created by Intel to go in-between the very low-end "Celeron" and the more powerful "Core 2 Duo" line of CPUs. A dual core Pentium might work well enough, but get a Core 2 Duo, which is still a dual-core CPU, but more powerful than the "dual core Pentium" CPU line. However, you don't need, and probably would not even benefit from a quad core CPU. Look for one of the Core 2 Duo CPUs with the larger cache memory system (say 4MB instead of 2MB) and you will have a fine system at a reasonable CPU price.

As to memory, 2GB should be plenty, especially if you are sticking to XP.

You didn't mention the hard drive, but I'd go with a 500GB drive, it won't cost much more than anything smaller, but going larger will really push the cost up and probably isn't necessary.

I don't see any reason why you can't get a system like this for WELL under $1,000, and perhaps more like $600, exclusive of an exotic monitor, however. I see nothing in your post that suggests a need to spend anything like $1,500. Or probably even $1,000. One other suggestion, if you are considering a Dell system (and even if you are not), check out a web site by the name of for deals on Dell computers. They come and go, and some of these deals literally last only hours. You have to be patient if you want to save money, but by watching this site for a period of about 90 days, you will likely find a deal that will save you nearly half of what you would otherwise pay for the exact same system.

Barry Watzman

Submitted by: Watzman

Many additional helpful answers within the discussion thread below, so please check them out as well.

If you have any additional recommendations for Joan please click the reply link and submit your answer. Please be as detailed as possible in your submission. Thanks!
Post a reply
Discussion is locked
You are posting a reply to: New PC recommendations needed for graphic-intensive programs
The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Please refer to our CNET Forums policies for details. All submitted content is subject to our Terms of Use.
Track this discussion and email me when there are updates

If you're asking for technical help, please be sure to include all your system info, including operating system, model number, and any other specifics related to the problem. Also please exercise your best judgment when posting in the forums--revealing personal information such as your e-mail address, telephone number, and address is not recommended.

You are reporting the following post: New PC recommendations needed for graphic-intensive programs
This post has been flagged and will be reviewed by our staff. Thank you for helping us maintain CNET's great community.
Sorry, there was a problem flagging this post. Please try again now or at a later time.
If you believe this post is offensive or violates the CNET Forums' Usage policies, you can report it below (this will not automatically remove the post). Once reported, our moderators will be notified and the post will be reviewed.
Collapse -
wide screen monitor
by mdayger / March 21, 2008 12:02 PM PDT

You cannot get a better bang for your buck than the Hanns-G Full HD 1080p monitor.

Collapse -
by puma / April 11, 2008 10:31 AM PDT
In reply to: wide screen monitor

why would anyone want to stick with windows for graphic-intensive programs?

Collapse -
Why?/Joan P.
by lois228lois / April 11, 2008 11:37 AM PDT
In reply to: why?

I used both and went to Mac because rendering playback. PC was always choppy and slow, and couldn't solve the problem of programs kept loading on tool bar in use on toolbar. Claiming that I am using them when I wasn't, even when I closed them. I tried all the reccomended fixes.
I chose Mac because I have less problems all around. Both have problems upgraded operating systems with old software. So if you already have to buy new software then why not go Mac?

Collapse -
Actually that's what I did.
by jpachner / April 11, 2008 12:30 PM PDT
In reply to: Why?/Joan P.

I am writing this on my iMac, but my pc is still here and I use it, especially for my academic word processing.

Collapse -
graphics programs
by PhotoMan / April 11, 2008 1:01 PM PDT
In reply to: why?

Because all the major players in graphics write their programs for Windows first because that it where the business is.

Collapse -
who cares?
by puma / April 11, 2008 2:32 PM PDT
In reply to: graphics programs

who cares if applications are written for whatever OS first? i'd rather have the same application running on an OS that is much more mature, stable, secure, and robust. i refuse to deal with a glitchy OS, and you should too (if you want to be efficient & productive)...

Collapse -
by PhotoMan / April 11, 2008 5:14 PM PDT
In reply to: who cares?

Don`t get me wrong, I`m not Mac or Linux bashing. I`m referring to the market shares between all of the OS`s out there. With Windows being the predominate OS, it seems to always get the "First Crack" when a new piece of heavy duty software arrives.

Any OS can run efficiently written software and any software can run on an efficiently maintained computer. Neglect in code writing and maintenance knows no boundry.

Collapse -
by puma / April 12, 2008 9:30 AM PDT
In reply to: clarification

market share is an inaccurate barometer because many people and businesses purchase systems with windows pre-installed only to remove it and install Linux or Unix... the least expensive Mac Mini will outperform the most expensive pc as the Mac OS is much better suited to handle the latest and greatest in today's technology. the windows OS just has too many limitations even for the average user

Collapse -
what ?
by PhotoMan / April 12, 2008 10:07 AM PDT
In reply to: agreed

You don't actually believe what you just said, do you ??

Anyway, I'm not going where you wnat it to head to. Enjoy yourself.

Collapse -
by puma / April 12, 2008 11:13 AM PDT
In reply to: what ?

obviously you never used a Mac before...

Collapse -
Let's not be nasty
by nevido / April 12, 2008 11:33 PM PDT
In reply to: what ?

I have used Photoshop and Illustrator since version 2 came out so have some experience, actually making a living mostly from Photoshop.

There are two companies I am a big fan of, because they have devoted years of R&D to making my work easier, Adobe and Apple.

Earlier in the thread the PC "market share" was put forth as a reason for doing graphics on a PC. The one field where PCs have never matched the Mac's market share is the Graphics industry! All of the ad agencies I've worked at/visited were Mac based with maybe a few PCs to run accounting programs. The last agency I was at with maybe seventy Macs, the IT guy spent most of his time working on the 3 PCs and everyone loathed working on them.

I have worked in non graphics oriented companies where PCs were the rule and I was surprised how few people were really proficient on them even after being sent on numerous training courses. The word intuitive really does translate into dollars and cents. Did you know that Microsoft used to use Macs for its advertising?

Enough of that. Let's talk money. Illustrator has never made much of a demand on my computer. Maybe there are processes I don't use that would hit the processor harder, but in a pixels vs. bezier competition, bezier is way ahead, just look at the file size for a clue. I have had Photoshop poster files reach a couple of gigabytes where an equally large Illustrator file might be a couple of megs so I think if you get a setup designed for Photoshop, the other software will be well taken care of.

Since time is money, moments where I wait for my computer to catch up are big irritations and I think they relate to three computer parts, RAM, processor and hard drive.

Starting with the last, opening large files can be a sit and wait, and Photoshop loves writing/reading temporary files as you go so the faster the drive system, the better. Macs used to have faster SCSI drives compared to the PCs and that was one of the reasons they cost more; now it looks like SATA drives or a good RAID system is the way to go.

When I do a gaussian blur or use the smudge tool with a huge brush size you can sit while you watch the blocks of pixels being rendered one after another till you reach the bottom right corner of the image. This is probably a combination of processor and RAM. I'm told that many new graphics programs are shifting processing from the CPU to the graphics card so while people usually say a high end video card is more for gaming and 3D, I'd recommend putting money there. You don't want to wait when you're turning an effect on and off to see the difference.

I'm enough of a techno geek to know how a longer processor pipeline with "Complicated Instruction Set Computing" is slower even with faster processors than RISC and short pipelines, I haven't had to learn that stuff as a Mac user. I've just concentrated on the magic of Photoshop. I was pleasantly shocked to find my new MacPro has eight processors as standard equipment, that it can access more RAM than I can afford for a while, that I can just slide in a new hard drive and it's so quite I don't know if it's on unless I'm looking at the screen, but when Apple and Adobe have been working hand in hand to make software and hardware play nice together, I shouldn't have been so surprised.

Collapse -
hold on here
by Budo7 / April 18, 2008 11:40 AM PDT
In reply to: agreed

While I am not knocking Mac, there are a ton of PC gamers out there who would love to get Mac's however since most Game company's are just now coming out with games that can play on both Mac and Windows, there are more then a few gamers who are not going to throw away their 3-5K machines, to buy a Mac.

I was excited when EA announced they were going to release some of their tittle for Mac, so I could play against my brother. Since both of us, do about the same thing for work, (web design & graphics) he went with the Mac and is limited on what he can play.

Collapse -
by puma / April 18, 2008 1:58 PM PDT
In reply to: hold on here

i see your point: windows are good for kids who like to play games. Mac is for productive power users

Collapse -
You are a closed minded jerk!
by b_laur14 / April 19, 2008 2:34 AM PDT
In reply to: games?

Games are not just for kids! It is a multi-billion dollar industry, that employees thousands of programers and graphic artists (both 3d and 2d(photoshop) and programers, designers, orchestras, musicians, actors,producers, etc...) It cost millions to make triple AAA games. I am not talking solitare here. You mac people don't know crap and think games are for kids, its a laugh the most costly games are rated M which means 17+ age, basically an R rated movie rating. I am 29 and have been gaming and using pcs since I was a kid (although my first computer was an appleII which had tons of games back then) The mac sucks it limits you, stop sucking on jobs people are such fanatics on your dinky closed system clone pcs(yes that is what a mac is) that you believe anything. And you make lies to make you look right. Stop it already! And buy the way, i work as a web designer for a company that specializes in sites for real estate and mortgage. All our computers are PCS, we have one mac system for special cases for tech support with mac customers and testing...that mac is hardly if ever used, and basically sits there collecting dust. You and your non tech, one mouse button steve jobs loving cronies need to get with it and stop blindly following a company like you don't have a brain, and can't think for yourself. I had to rant here, as you pressed a nerve. I am a pc gamer and professional designer/ hobbiest coder, and needed to clarify things as most of you are just sour that you can't play games so you say things like that to make yourselves feel better.

Collapse -
typical angry windows lover
by puma / April 19, 2008 2:44 AM PDT

for a little kid who plays games, you seem to be very angry... relax and go see a psychologist, LOL

...tell the truth, you never even touched a Mac Wink

Collapse -
by msrtech9 / April 21, 2008 1:52 PM PDT

Somebody had a bad day at the office...
Just got beat during a challenging quest in WOW...
Please Calm down drink a beer or take a chill pill...

I never had a Mac but I have sold software for them for years.

The things I know about Macs are:
Most people who buy them are very creative
Are not interested in tinkering with them to get them to work.
They pay top dollar for a machine to work out of the box
They get a new one when thet can't use it to make money creatively anymore. Macs are intuitive the interface is friendlier.
If they could sell them as inexpensively as Pcs more people would buy them.

Collapse -
Your mac people need to get off your high horse and learn!
by b_laur14 / April 19, 2008 2:18 AM PDT
In reply to: agreed

Seriously, you mac people think because you overpay for a computer, a mac, that its better at running programs, I say bullcrap! Apple uses the same parts that can go into a pc. Except they make their own motherboards and cases. The difference is that apple does the assembly and ups the price tenfold! You could build a pc with the same hardware as in a mac for a quarter to half the cost! That is an incredible savings! Also you get to actually use a library of million plus applications and games. With a mac, you are limited to what apple allowed to be developed for their system(but not before they take a cut of the money) Apple is a lying two-faced company, that specializes in fooling the average non-tech person into thinking they are superior, while taking their money.

The fact is you can do anything on a pc you can on the mac, you can't do everything you do on a pc on a mac, because mac is a closed system. There is a lot of programs that aren't on macs. And if you are a gamer, apple has a tiny library of games, mostly 5+ year old titles. You are also limited to hardware that mac allows, so upgrading is very hard, they would rather you ditch the machine and pony up the cash for a whole new system, while on a pc you can upgrade old parts for new and save a lot of money! Graphic programs don't work better on the mac. Maybe they loaded faster when mac used power pc's but who knows, that is not the case today, as both machines use the same parts...they both do a good job. Don't buy into apples horrible tv marketing. If you do, you must be very gulable and buy into anything you see on tv.

For gaming apple sucks there are 10000's of games on windows pcs, not to mention content creation and programing, your options are limitless on a pc and you can use 3ds max, all the adobe products, visual studio and every other content creation product out there. Mac limits what they want you to buy. You are also limited in what you are allowed to access on the platform in terms of programing, apple is stingy with everything and wants to keep it a closed system so they can rob people of hard earned money. The last good apple system was from the era when Wozniak was still on board and that computer was the apple II series, ever since the Macintosh, its been run by Jobs who is not a tech person, but a marketing person, and hence the super closed system, and lack of content. All so they have complete control. Its ironic as that was what they criticized IBM for doing in the early 80's...Look how things have changed.

If you had trouble with your pc, you probably bought a junky pc with low ram and integrated graphics, you can't say all pcs are bad because you don't know what you are doing or bought a crappy rig. Do some research, use your head and build it yourself or have a friend give you advice. Just buying a mac because you are brainwashed from advertising, is not being smart. And if you are going to buy a pc, please don't buy an overpriced dell!(they are almost as bad as mac for overcharging!) If you must buy a p rebuilt then at least get an HP, sony or acer if on a budget.

Collapse -
it's the sw
by puma / April 19, 2008 2:32 AM PDT

you're right that the hardware is pretty much the same. the problem is that you are running apps on a flaky windows OS. once MS rewrites the flawed kernel, windows will be considered a decent OS

Collapse -
OS`s ?
by PhotoMan / April 19, 2008 11:04 AM PDT
In reply to: it's the sw

And Apple's OS is like a piece of swiss cheese. Nothing is perfect ! That's the unfortunante nature of the beast. At least Microsoft doesn't run silly TV ads that insult all with an IQ higher than their shoe size !

Collapse -
pimple-faced script kiddie
by puma / April 19, 2008 1:18 PM PDT
In reply to: OS`s ?

any pimple-faced script kiddie can exploit xp or vista, and you defend microsoft software as 2nd to none? take your head out of your anal cavity, LOL!!! the topic is about the best solution for graphics ware, not ways to spread the microsoft agenda...

Collapse -
Typical, typical
by PhotoMan / April 19, 2008 3:27 PM PDT

What an typical, defend-to-the-death useless response ! Guess I should not have expected much better. Take the blinders off Junior, no one has said that we should bow down and kiss the feet of XP or Vista in blind reverence. You're the only one kissing anything.

You keep going out of your way to prove my point about the shoe size and IQ comparison. Your immature rants and responses, totally ignoring the original question(s) asked, lack of any sense of deciency or respect towards anyone and mindless fanatism about something that is only a tool to be used to accomplish a task with, paints a pretty poor picture of yourself.

Your constant tirades are an insult to Mac users as well...but you obviously have not figured that out. At times I think of selling mine just so I can distance myself from your type. Grow up Junior. Untill you can show some objectivity and reality about the tools you are using and able to contribute in a positive manner, you do a disservice to all that use the forum.

My apologies to those within the forum for the utter waste in bandwith and web page resources that I have contributed to while lowering myself to other peoples' level by even bothering to reply to their off-the-question posts. Hopefully taking a shower will help to wash some of "that" off and I can, again, become a member of the human race.

Good night and pleasant dreams.

Collapse -
by puma / April 19, 2008 3:53 PM PDT
In reply to: Typical, typical

please don't apologize for any mistake...

to discount Mac as a viable solution for high end graphic apps shows your lack of knowledge of the industry so please don't take it personally when i call you out on the misinformation you spread. no hard feelings bud...

Collapse -
get off our high horse?
by chappejw / April 19, 2008 5:00 AM PDT

It's not that Mac people are on a high horse, so much as Windows users are on a slow one... with a broken leg... with some viral infection... It only seems high in comparison... All about the perspective my friend...

Word69Star is right Mac can't do everything Windows can do. You can't blue screen of death on a Mac... oh and you also can't get about 240,000 viruses either

Collapse -
get off our high horse?
by lois228lois / April 19, 2008 9:35 AM PDT

That is true. But if you learn about your computer and learn what you need you have a lot less headaches. I found that when I tried to fix things inside my computer, it wouldn't work and would have to keep taking it into have a technition do it having to leave over night or longer. I work with animation and movies and I hate having to fix my computer every time I turn it on- (I started with a PC-graphics ready was top of the line off the shelf without the monitor, was all I could afford), with old rejected new monitor-13 inches.

Then while still going to school learned that life would be less wasted using a Mac for making movies or video diaries, slideshows, music, web graphics sites. I usually just write text using Text Edit, by the way found it does not mess me up like MS word when I would rewrite (inserted line), a line it would suck away the next line, any other annoying time consuming things. I also use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, GoLive, Director, Garage Band, iTunes, iPhoto more than the others.
Which ever one you need, you need to take care of it. But don't take my mac away though, which I now use most of the time.

Collapse -
Mac's are real nice However
by Budo7 / April 18, 2008 11:31 AM PDT
In reply to: who cares?

To blame Windows for having problems on some systems is bogus. Windows will run on just about everything. My system has never had a problem running windows. Mac's claim to fame is that it designs the entire thing. On both my Brothers and my Sister's Mac, they have to run Windows to use certain programs. While on my Window machine, I can run any OS I want to. Not because I have to use a certain program, thats not compatible with windows, but just because I can. While Mac rules the roost for Video editing, at least IMO, that's about all it rules. The rest is ruled by the other OS's.

Collapse -
by puma / April 18, 2008 1:51 PM PDT

you are correct that windows will run on almost anything, even on Macs, but windows is ok for an OS. however you are not telling the truth that you "never had a problem running windows." nice try...

Collapse -
Re: Macs are real nice however
by chappejw / April 18, 2008 3:36 PM PDT

I sentence you to life in Vista... with no chance of support for 15 years.!

Collapse -
graphics programs
by Kenneth.cnet / April 12, 2008 7:52 PM PDT
In reply to: graphics programs

Mac all the way.

You say all the major graphics programs developers choose windows to be their main OS?
Among graphic designers mac is known to be the better player on this market.
Every professional working with grapics chooses for a mac. (or should :))

I myself own a macbook which runs all cs3 programs easily.
At first i thought it wasn't a good idea choosing for mac (OS), i feared incompatibility with some of my programs.
thing is that with an intel mac in case of incompatible software you can still run XP.. BUT
I have to tell you, once your used to mac you'll stay away from pc's as much as possible:)
the thing about mac's is .. THEY WORK, they get the job done.
I was sick of wasting my time with pc problems (although i can solve a lot of them)

so i suggest to get yourself an iMac with a good amount of RAM, lets say 2GB
Choose a screensize you can afford, and enjoy!

Collapse -
graphics programs
by chappejw / April 12, 2008 7:54 PM PDT
In reply to: graphics programs

could not be put any simpler... I think even a Windows user could understand

Collapse -
iMac - No thanx
by IanMatthew / April 21, 2008 9:08 PM PDT
In reply to: graphics programs

An Imac is a consumer Mac. Not a bad machine at all. However, the iMac is a laptop on a stand. Limited expandability, the memory being the only upgradable item. Good job the hard drive is reletively roomy.

As for graphics work, you'd best stick with the 24" iMac then, not so much the bigger screen size. More the fact the the 20" iMac has a poor screen displaying just 262,144 colours compared to its 24" brother's 16.7 million. Guess which is best for publishing and graphics folks?

See below:

I would NEVER buy an all in one Mac OR PC for that matter. Why? Well, what if your hard drive in your iMac went pop? You'd have to take it to you're local neighbourhood Apple dealer, have tham ship it off to Apple. And you're without a computer for 1 week - 2 weeks??? Hope you make regular exernal backups!!

If that happened to my PC, I can order a new Maxtor, Seagate, WD, Samsung or Hitatchi disk online and install it myself the next day. If I can't wait less than 24hrs, I know of 3 PC hardware vendors within walking distance and a couple within driving/bus distance.

Or how about the screen/monitor? Any defects, and back to Apple the whole lot goes. Do Apple promise to give you back the same iMac or is is a straigh replacement? Either way, you're probably losing all you programs and more importantly, your files. This happened to me fairly recently. Even though i build my PC, my monitor is a 20" HP model (very nice it is too). It stated to develop a white spot on thebottom let-hand corner of the screen. I contacted HP and a couple of days later I got a replacemant monitor. Nor interuption to my PC, programs or files. The same advantage is afforded to the Macpro tower systems too.

Popular Forums
Computer Help 51,224 discussions
Computer Newbies 10,453 discussions
Laptops 20,090 discussions
Security 30,722 discussions
TVs & Home Theaters 20,937 discussions
Windows 10 1,295 discussions
Phones 16,252 discussions
Windows 7 7,684 discussions
Networking & Wireless 15,215 discussions

Finding the best 360 camera

GoPro, Pixpro, or Ricoh?

You can spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a 360-degree camera. We tested three of them to find out what kind of quality and ease of use you can expect at each price point.