Updated: January 2017
With the release of Intel’s exciting new Kaby Lake processors along with the new 270 chipset, there is definitely some room to upgrade here for a few extra dollars per component. If you aren’t already running a Skylake Processor, the upgrade path to Kaby Lake is a no brainer. However; if you’re already running a Skylake processor, the gains you would experience from the jump to Kaby Lake are minimal and probably aren’t worth the premium price point at this time. Having said that, AMD Ryzen also looks very impressive and would provide a nice jump up in cores also. I’ll update the price and parts listings below as prices stabilize on these components, and when more information about the new AMD Ryzen processor is available.
In today’s tech world, we’re blasted with creative marketing campaigns trying to persuade us to loosen our wallets and buy into their latest and greatest products. While a lot of these off-the-shelf products perform amazingly, there is often a hefty premium associated with them for gimmicky things like ‘aerodynamic vents’ not to mention the labor and production overheads that all need to be accounted for in the retail pricing.
I’ve always been passionate about building my own PCs, and it’s really not as daunting as it may seem; especially with today’s hardware. The purpose of this blog is to provide you with 3 custom PC builds for Photography and Gaming that you can put together yourself, at budgets to suit almost any buyer. All of the components selected here are a combination of performance-for-price and also personal opinion, so please feel free to switch and swap any components. If you’re uncertain about something, or need some assistance – you’re welcome to contact me.
Before we start, there are a few things you should know regarding the two most critical pieces of hardware used by photoshop; CPU and GPU.
|Photoshop does not work well with multiple physical CPUs||Photoshop does not take advantage from more than one physical graphics card.|
|The majority of actions in photoshop are single-threaded or lightly threaded. For these actions, a CPU with a high frequency is best||Having multiple cards/drivers can cause conflicts with graphic processor accelerated features in Photoshop.|
|Multi-threaded actions usually achieve peak performance with 6 cores, and often show very little/no improvement with 8 or more cores||If you’re using multiple monitors, it’s best to have them plugged into one card.
Lets look at the 3 Custom PC builds for photography and gaming and the price points we’ll be building to (click to jump to each build):
[info_box]Note: These pricing and builds above are purely for the tower and main system. The pricing above does not include monitors and other peripherals like keyboards, mice etc. I will cover production monitors in another post.[/info_box]
Entry Level – $1500
Parts List: https://au.pcpartpicker.com/list/hg926X
CPU: Intel Core i7-6700 3.4GHz Quad-core Processor – $439
The i7-6700 is a robust CPU that offers respectable performance at 3.4GHz. While the i7-6700 isn’t unlocked, thus preventing any overclocking – The CPU is one of the most critical pieces of hardware used by Photoshop and the i7-6700 fits the bill nicely.
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper TX3 Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler – $30
Keeping your CPU temperatures under control is important, especially when you venture into the realms of overclocking. The Cooler Master Hyper TX3 is an extremely cost effective, air cooling solution that will keep up with some entry level AIO water coolers. For this price, it’s a must have.
Motherboard: Asus H110M-K Micro ATX LGA1151 – $79
With an impressive feature set, the Asus H110M-K Micro offers great value for money. It comes with DD4 Support, ultrafast transfer speeds with USB3.0 and a range of advanced hardware safeguards to keep you safe from surges and tolerance from static electricity.
Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16gb (2x 8gb) DDR4 Memory – $128
16gb of speedy corsair memory allows you to do complete more tasks simultaneously. It will also give you the flexibility to work within photoshop on larger files without running into ‘out of memory’ errors. The motherboard above only has 2 DIMM slots with a total of 32gb. These 2 8gb sticks will occupy both slots.
Storage: Samsung 850 EVO 256gb SSD / WD Black 1TB Sata3 – $124 / $98
Storage. The one thing you can never have enough of. While we could have removed the SSD to buy more space on mechanical drives – the performance you get from an SSD is just incredible. They’re getting in the realm of affordable so I’ve made sure to include an SSD in each of the builds. You’d typically want your OS and main applications (photoshop, games etc) installed on the SSD and use the WD 1TB drive for all data storage.
Video Card: Gigabyte Radeon RX 480 4GB G1 Gaming Video Card – $349
Provided you aren’t using high-end 4K monitors, the Gigabyte RX480 G1 Gaming Card is going to allow you to play games in full HD and also WQHD (2560×1440). It’s also the high-end performer of the RX series cards which will provide you with plenty of performance in Photoshop.
Case: Cooler Master Masterbox 5 ATX Mid Tower Case – $95
When it comes to cases, it really boils down to personal preference. I’ve had hands-on experience with all the cases listed in these builds. The quality is great, they’re modular and allow plenty of customisation for things like cable management or any other accessories you might want to include (LEDs).
Power Supply: Corsair CSM 750W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX PSU – $148
Here’s another part that can come down to personal preference. I know the 750W power supply i’ve included is a little overkill for the components (as most of the PSU’s recommended will be) but I really like paying the extra couple of bucks for things like Gold Certification and Modular cabling. The good thing about investing in a decent power supply is that you can re-use it in future system builds.
Entry Level Total: $1490
Enthusiast Level – $2500
Parts list: https://au.pcpartpicker.com/list/nDRJpb
CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K 4.0GHz Quad-core Processor – $457
We move up to the 6700K in the Enthusiast build which still provides us with 4 cores, but with a slight increase to 4.0GHz and also the ability to overclock the CPU. This essentially means we can push the CPU beyond it’s limits gaining even more performance. Overclocking isn’t as dangerous as it used to be, but you can still risk damaging components if you’re not familiar with it. You can find a great overclocking guide for the i7-6700K over at Overclock.net
CPU Cooler: Corsair H75 54.0 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler – $117
There have been extensive studies regarding cooling performance between air and water coolers, but generally – water coolers will offer slightly better performance. The Corsair H75 offers a compact all-in-one cooler that works straight out of the box. You don’t need to worry about any of the things that come with custom water cooling loops. You simply plug and play. Having a decent cooler will allow you to push the CPU a little harder in overclocking without hitting thermal throttling.
Motherboard: Asus Z170-AR ATX LGA1151 Motherboard – $209
The Asus Z170-AR Motherboard offers 5-way-optimization that allows you to optimze your entire system with one click, plus a dedicated water-pump header that will work well with your H75 above. Crystal Sound 3 provides flawless audio and board also boasts onboard USB 3.1 connectivity for lightning speeds.
Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (2x16gb) DDR4-3000 Memory – $285
The Corsair LPX 32gb gives you a huge amount of usable memory in the form of 2x 16gb DDR-3000 sticks. You’ll need to play with your RAM timings and Profiling in BIOS to fully appreciate the speed of the RAM as the Z170-AR supports DDR4-3400 with overclocking. These sticks also come in white which work perfectly if you’re theming around the white shroud on the Z170-AR. You’ll have 2 spare DIMM slots to expand up to 64gb in the future.
Storage: Samsung 850 Pro 256gb SSD / WD Black 2TB Sata3 – $163 / $168
Similar to the Entry level build, we’ve included an SSD for your OS install/main applications in the form of the 850 PRO which yields increased read/write performance. The secondary data drive we’ve bumped up to 2TB for even more storage.
Video Card: Gigabyte GeForce GTX1070 8GB Windforce OC – $569
Fitted with a high-end Pascal GP104 based GPU, this mid-to-high-end card packs plenty of punch. Despite the GPU being slowed down a little compared to it’s bigger brother, the GTX1080 – it still has 1920 shade processors. This means it has 15 out of the 20 SM’s active (15 streaming multi-processors x 128 shader cores). The GTX1070 comes VR Ready, for those interested in Virtual Reality and will handle essentially any game on the market currently.
Case: Corsair 450D ATX Mid Tower Case – $165
Corsair, in my opinion, have always made great quality cases. The 450D, although not one of the brand new cases on the market, provides plenty of room for all of your components, in a relatively compact mid-sized tower.
Power Supply: Corsair 750W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular PSU – $219
We’ve kept the same wattage as the Power Supply listed in the entry build, but we’ve moved up to a platinum certified unit that is fully modular. No more cable mess!
Enthusiast Level Total – $2352
Parts list: https://au.pcpartpicker.com/list/ncXP8K
CPU: Intel Core i7-6800K 3.4GHz 6-Core Processor – $598
In the high-end level build, we shift gears and move away from the 1151 socket. The 6800K is a workstation grade CPU that sits in the 2011-3 socket. It’s a larger socket and offers 6 cores. Personally, i find that the 2011-3 socket is a much safer option if you are looking to future proof your system. There are 8-core CPUs in the 2011-3 socket that we could have included, but the cost compared to the slight performance increase between 6-8 cores in photoshop isn’t worth it in my opinion. The 6800K is unlocked and has great overclocking potential, with the ability to easily achieve 4.5GHz or higher provided you adjust your timings and core clocks safely.
CPU Cooler: Corsair H110i 113.0 CFM Liquid CFM Cooler – $164
The H110i is a powerful all-in-one water cooling system by Corsair. I have one of these running in one of my workstations and the overclocked CPU barely scrapes 60 degrees celsius under full load. It’s probably the most effective solution you’ll find before moving to a completely custom loop. There are alternatives in the market that work well. The Kraken range is also very good.
Motherboard: Asus X99-Deluxe II ATX LGA2011-3 Motherboard – $659
The X99 Deluxe II is certainly that, Deluxe. It offers 802.11AC wifi which can be a huge help in studio environments (where a lot of my product photography is done) when you’re unable to run ethernet cables all over the place. It also has one click overclocking features, onboard lighting, and next generation connectivity like USB 3.1, ThunderboltEX 3 and more. While high on the price spectrum, you won’t be needing to change your motherboard for a long while after you get your hands on the X99 Deluxe II.
Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4 series 64gb (8 x 8GB) DDR4-2800 Memory – $538
This system includes 64GB of series 4 Ripjaws DDR-2800 RAM. This will provide massive amounts of memory for complex tasking and production work.
Storage: Samsung 950 Pro 256gb M.2 SSD / Samsung 850 EVO 1TB SSD – $229 / $435
Unlike the other two builds above, we’ve gone purely for SSDs. The speed advantage over mechanical drives really warrants the upgrade and as someone who uses only SSDs, I can’t recommend them enough. The 950 Pro would be the OS drive in this instance and you can purpose the 1TB SSD however you’d wish. At this end of the pricing scale, you would usually have something like a NAS (network attached storage) to archive all of your imagery or files.
Video Card: Asus GeForce GTX 1080 8GB ROG STRIX Video Card – $999
Go big, or go home! While the GTX 1080 isn’t going to offer a substantial increase in GPU performance within photoshop over the GTX 1070, it’s certainly going to guarantee multi display 4K gaming and handle VR with no issues whatsoever. If you’re spending big on all of your other components, you might as well treat yourself to the best GPU currently on the market.
Case: Corsair 740D ATX Full Tower Case – $199
The Corsair 740D is a full tower case, and it’s BIG. Plenty of room for expansion, cable management, customisation and airflow. It comes highly recommended all over the internet, but at this price point, there are going to be A LOT of options for you to pick from should you want something a little more flashy. Just make sure that whatever case you pick has enough room to mount your H110i radiator and fans.
Power Supply: Corsair 850W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully Modular ATX PSU – $249
Keeping in line with the Corsair range of power supplies, we’ve kept the same platinum certification as the enthusiast build but have increased wattage to 850W. This will provide enough juice if you decide you wanted to add a second GTX1080 into your build fora dual-gpu SLI setup. Keep in mind that Photoshop will not benefit from having a second graphics card, and that often – SLI causes more headaches than it’s worth.
High-end Total: $4070
That wraps up my suggestions for 3 custom PC builds for Photography and Gaming. As discussed earlier in the post, I’m more than happy to discuss any questions you might have about building your own custom PC, or point you in the right direction if you need some guidance. Building your own custom PC can actually be extremely fun, rewarding and addictive! If you’re someone who buys complete systems from retail stores, consider building your own custom PC for Photography and Gaming when you next upgrade.