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Best Custom Computer Build for Photo Editing 2015

Updated on February 9, 2017

Building a Computer for Photo Editing for 2015

Building a photo editing computer for your photography, graphic design, or video editing business allows you to choose high quality parts that will perform well for a long period of time. This not only gives you better performance than pre built systems, it also allows you to save some money in the process.

As someone who reviews computer hardware and does a considerable amount of photo and video editing I've got a pretty good idea of which parts give you the best overall value for what you spend. Here are my thoughts on each.

Dell UltraSharp IPS Panel Monitor
Dell UltraSharp IPS Panel Monitor

Why Build Your Own Computer for Photo Editing?

Why not get a Mac?

While you can certainly go out and buy the latest iMac, in my opinion it's a better idea to choose your own hardware and parts and build a better computer for the same amount of money. I like the speed of Mac OS as well as the quality of their machines; however, again in my opinion, it's not worth limiting myself in that manner. In addition, I need a monitor that has a wider color gamut than what the iMac comes with.

What type of computer is right for your photo editing business?

The type of machine that you build depends completely on the types of software and applications that you plan on using. As I go through each component below I'll explain which components are most important for various types of photo and video editing software you might be using.

In the end some of you may need a more expensive machine than others; however, I suggest you go with anything that will give you the performance you need in order to save you time. In my case I have just about as much work as I can do in a day, so any way I can save myself time allows me to do more work in a shorter period of time. More work means, of course, more money. While going through the components below I'll list them as good, better, and best based off of a photo editing computer build under $1000, $1500, and $2000. In most cases you'll want to mix and match what I've listed based on your own personal needs. Those who have a budget significantly under $1000 should still be able to do so.

Choosing the Parts

Don't Skimp on the Processor

No matter what work you do in photo editing your processor is the most important piece to the overall puzzle. Intel i7 series processors have hyper-threading which allows for better multitasking by allowing each core to operate as 2 threads. This helps greatly with tasks like rendering.

Intel's Haswell Integrated Iris Graphics

While an older processor can provide significant value, you'll definitely want to go with one of Intel's newer Haswell processors if you plan on using integrated graphics. Intel's integrated Iris graphics are good enough for many who use more basic software and programs.

Best CPU Processor for Photo Editing 2015

Why the new i7-4790k is my favorite: No, it's not the absolute best processor right now. You could go out and spend nearly $1,000 on the Intel i7-4960X Extreme, or about half of that on a i7-4930k, but most will find that Intel's new i7-4790k anniversary is more than adequate. It's also an incredible overclocker for power users.

If you need a more extreme processor, then I recommend you save money and go with the i7-4930k over the i7-3960x as they are very similar in benchmark tests. Both of those processors would need a LGA socket 2011 enthusiast motherboard.

FX 8350:

AMD's FX-8350 is just about as good as it gets when it comes to a fast rendering option under $300. If that's your focus, then this might be the processor to get.

Intel Core i7-4930K Processor - BX80633I74930K
Intel Core i7-4930K Processor - BX80633I74930K

While the i7-4790k should be more than adequate for most there are some that need additional processing power. Unless you absolutely need an extreme edition processor, this is what I'd get.

Gigabyte Z77 Motherboard
Gigabyte Z77 Motherboard

Best Motherboard for Photo Editing 2015

Compatibility is a lot easier than it used to be. Intel's new Haswell processors need an 1150 socket motherboard while AMD FX series processors need an AM3+ option.

Ram for Photo Editing - G. Skill
Ram for Photo Editing - G. Skill

Best Ram for Photo Editing 2015

With programs like CS6 and Lightroom I use every bit of 16GB of ram while I'm working. Whether you will or not really depends on the types of files, layers stacks, and editing that you do. For those of you in a similar situation I recommend at least 16GB of ram and if you can afford it, more. You should purchase all of your memory at the same time so you can take advantage of dual or multi-channel memory which increases the transfer speed of data between the DRAM and the memory controller.

Without enough ram programs begin to run slow and at times stop responding altogether. That's the last thing you want when you're in the middle of a project. For the fastest ram available look for ram with low latency and if you start with low voltage ram, then it's easier to overclock as well.

TitanZ Graphics Card from NVIDIA
TitanZ Graphics Card from NVIDIA

Best Graphics Card for Photo Editing 2015

Whether you need a graphics card for your computer depends a lot upon the tasks and software you're trying to run. If you do a lot of rendering or use a graphically intense program, then it's most likely worth it. Otherwise Intel's new Iris integrated graphics might well be good enough for what you're trying to accomplish.

I also recommend a dedicated GPU for 3D content creation, Cad Cam medical imaging, game design,or high speed or high capacity work if you're a videographer.

I've listed a few high-performance graphics cards below. These are not workstation-type graphics cards, but if you need that type of card, then most likely you'll have a good idea of what you want already.

OCZ Vertex 3 SSD
OCZ Vertex 3 SSD

Best SSD and HDD for Photo Editing 2014

It's still not feasible for photo editors to put all of their data on solid state drives. That being said putting your operating system as well as some of your software on it are potentially a good idea. You could also add and remove data from it as you're working on it.

The fastest solid state drives will use a SATA III connector and have upwards of 500MB/s read and write speeds. Many of today's most popular SSD are a little bit cheaper but don't have fast write speeds. If you save a lot of data, then make sure you get solid speeds for both.

Another option is for you to use Intel's smart response technology. This allows you to use up to a 64GB SSD as "cache" and make everything on your hard drive have solid state-like speeds.

Whether you purchase an SSD or not I recommend several good hard drives to store all of your data. The fastest hard drives have a large amount of cache for faster read and write speeds and 7200RPM. An example of this would be the Western Digital Caviar Black or Seagate Barracuda. I personally have 4 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black drives in my machine and at times I have to find another place to store data. I'd love to know what setup you use, so be sure to leave a comment below if you have any additional ideas.

My Pick for This Month

Samsung's 840 EVO is currently my favorite way to handle storage. If you need to store a ton of information on a budget, it might be worthwhile to go with a tradition hard drive; however, solid state drives have come down in price quite a bit over the past year.

HAF 932 Full Tower PC Case
HAF 932 Full Tower PC Case

What Case Should You Choose?

There's a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to cases and materials. You may have heard that an Aluminum case helps to keep your components cool. This is not the case. The difference between an aluminum case and steel is more about weight than anything else.

If you have multiple hard drives or GPU, then I definitely recommend a mid to full tower case. This will give you more air flow and make it easier to put everything together and upgrade later on.

For Silence go with the Fractal R4

If you're like me and need silence where you work, then I highly recommend one case in particular; the Fractal Define R4. It's relatively inexpensive at around $100 and includes silent fans and a noise dampening material that pretty much makes it soundproof.

For Value, the Haf 912 makes sense and on the performance side the HAF 932, for me, is one of the better values.

Additional Parts and Accessories

Below I've listed a few other parts and accessories you might find beneficial. If you plan on overclocking, then a CPU Cooling fan or water cooling kit is a good idea as well.

What About the Power Supply?

It's easy to want to skimp on a device that isn't known to directly improve your computer's performance. That being said the power supply you choose is one of the most important pieces to the hardware puzzle. If you want to calculate your computer's power needs, I recommend you see this post on power supplies. Or, you can go here for my thoughts on the

While I don't know exactly how many watts you'll need for your build I highly recommend you go for a higher-end power supply option. Manufacturer's like SeaSonic give you power that's not only extremely efficient, but keeps your components safe as well.

My IPS Monitor Recommendations

What type of monitor you need really depends on what type of work you're in. I've written another lens on the best IPS monitors for photo editing that might be interesting to you if you'd really like to go in to detail on what you should look for in a monitor.

My favorite mid-range photo editing monitors come from Dell's UltraSharp series. Those looking for a high-end monitor should look at various NEC, Eizo, and HP displays. You can also see this lens on monitors for photography.

Need help with your build? Use the open discussion area below and I'll respond as quickly as possible. You can also follow me on or for more information.

Comments - Open Discussion and Commentary

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This review is very helpful. I'm looking to build my first custom PC for photo editing. In the section of your article on motherboards, you mention that there are two that you recommend, however there is a link to only the AMD board. What do you recommend for the Intel i7-4790k?

    • profile image

      Razvan Bestea 

      4 years ago

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      Razvan Bestea 

      4 years ago

      Can I put a fast SSD in this for windows, Lr and Cs?

    • profile image

      Razvan Bestea 

      4 years ago

      I have a Dell U2410 wide gamut monitor and looking for a under 500 euro computer to run Lightroom 5 and CS6. Nothing more! I have found this old graphic work station at this price... do you think it will do the work? Will this throw 10 bit per chanel with the quadro fx 4800 GPU? Will this be fast enough to use the healing brush with a wacom and occasionally some blur?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      should have added it's usage.......

      Huge ever - growing archives of music and movies (well over 3,500 VHS donated to charity to date lol)

      lots of work (low end novice but learning a bit more each day) in Photoshop and also wanting to dabble in Autocad Inventor but current system (as well as my brain!) can't cope....

      Hoping to use 10 x Western Digital RED 6TB drives in the 10 internal bays and a couple of SSD's in 2 of the 8 bay and 6 max capacity 2.5" to the remaining 6 hot swap

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I'd truly appreciate some input here..... I intend an imminent build and seeking input as what I've chosen has bells n whistles up the kazoo that aren't required so perhaps I'm going overboard and you may know how to save loadsadosh to spend on the HDD's that are going to have to wait 'til much later on down the line!!!........ and HOPING you can hit the brakes and suggest a diff route?

      Note: don't need bellz n whistles, no water, no overclocking...all too far over my noggin leaving me floundering at the bottom of the ocean


      JouJye GTX-U322D-FD Super Gaming Tower Chassis (EEE-ATX no probs!!!)

      I've switched out the 3 vomit green fans and installed 10 x jelly14 fandango's (GELID Wing14 140mm UV Blue fans) removing the case top and cutting off the plastic packers placing three in-line fans in the cavity and using TWO (Linked as Master & Slave) 620W JouJye Power Supplies

      Installed 2 x DVD writers and an 8 x 2.5" hot swap caddy the the remaining two 5.25" bays

      STILL TO PURCHASE: this is what I've decided on purchasing...but would luv some criticism or input.

      ASRock Z87 Extreme11/ac (Scary but the SATA prots make the diff as add on cards are rediculously overpriced and their cost to reach maximum port connectors makes this board not seem so nutty!)

      Intel Core i7 4790K and G-Skill TridentX 32GB (4x8GB) DDR3 2666 Memory

      As for the cooler, much as the top of the pile is the Noctua NH-D14 and as I'm not into flashy lights (more prefer clean line aesthetics and functionality) it really DOESN'T go with everything else (and I really dislike the cruddycream) so ANY advice on a decent cooler for this set up that might not look so icky but function as quietly and as efficiently?????

      here's hoping you can help me pass this brain strain freeze up hurdle I'm stuck at


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