I, like many of you, have dealt with technology for quite a long time. I can understand how confusing (or even difficult) it can be upgrade or a replace an already expensive machine, but let me tell you that now is the time to upgrade!
An upgrade from a four year old machine to a new machine can yield a pretty impressive performance boost if you choose the right stuff! Choosing the right stuff for the performance you want can be a little confusing. So time for me to geek out and hopefully get you on the right track for a good investment!
It’s important to be somewhat up to date as technology evolves. It’s a sad realization, but the right investment at the right time will yield some good benefits that are tied into each other. Money placed into the right technology will save a lot of time. That time equates into money. So speed and performance is what we need to focus on! It isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got better things to do than sit in front of a computer for a whole night. The less time you spend waiting on your machine, the more money you can be making (or the more memories you can be making with your family), and quite possibly more hair remaining on your head.
As similar as each computer looks, not all of them are the same and will perform the same. The main thing that you’ll want to understand is the CPU, Central Processing Unit, otherwise known as the processor. After we understand the differences between processors and which ones we should look into as photographers and videographers, we can look into faster ways of transferring data– something we all should be doing to save time. That time is cut down by technologies such as USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, and flash storage. All of which are the great reasons why we should upgrade!
As a general rule of thumb, the newer hardware is going to be faster than the older hardware, that’s just the nature of the beast. But to really gauge what CPU performance increases are available, we need to compare apples to apples… and I’m not talking about the brand.
To do so, lets get some general education about today’s processors. As there are many different processors out there, I’m going to focus on Intel’s famliy of processors. I’m quite familiar with Intel’s products and find them to be a tad more expensive than the competition, but also better performing in most cases– so it is worth it. Also Intel products and are found in both PCs and in Mac’s!
In this section, we’re going to touch a couple of subjects and terms including number of cores, clock speed, family, generation, brand of processors.
You’ll find that most consumer computers now have either 2, 4, 6 or even 8 or more cores on a processor. The number of cores doesn’t always relate to how fast a computer will be though. Having multiple cores just means that your processor can handle a couple small tasks at a time, or perhaps even powerhouse one big task more efficiently, if it is supported. As both hardware and software develop, we will most likely see more even cores and added support for those additional cores in the software.
People on the internet have been saying that programs like Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5, don’t necessarily take advantage of multiple cores, but I’ve found that on my computers, current versions of both Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5 are taking advantage of all the cores available, and are speeding things up in processes like applying filters in Photoshop and generating previews and browsing in the Develop module in Lightroom. Those added cores definitely help out in video processing in Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premier/Encoder.
I feel that people over simplify this by interpreting the clock speed, (i.e 2.2 Ghz, 2.5 Ghz, 3.5 Ghz, etc..) as pure speed– simply because clock speed is more than a number. Typically they’ll end up recommending that “a higher number is better”, while in most cases it is true, there’s a whole lot more to performance than just that. It depends on the way that a processor actually processes data as quad core processor handles data quite differently than a dual core processor. Dual core processors are typically clocked faster than quad core processors simply because having more cores means more power consumption and heat generation, although a lower clocked quad core could very well finish certain heavier tasks faster and more efficiently than a higher clocked dual core.
The more efficient processors (and more expensive) typically have higher clock speeds and are also higher on the family hierarchy (which I’ll explain soon) than their less expensive brethren.
Intel has a technology called Turbo Boost, which dynamically changes the clock speed of the cores in the processor based off the workload. If a program can only utilize 1 core out of a quad core processor, Turbo Boost allows the processor to shut down those three cores and supercharge the clock speed of that one core that the program is using!
Family of processor
I personally like Intel’s processors. Overall, they are pretty simple to understand once you are familiar with it. Intel has several families or brands of processors. Here’s is the current hierarchy of processor families listed in order of awesomeness in photography, from least to greatest.
- Core i3
- Core i5
- Core i7
Not every Core i7 performs the same across every laptop, even though they share the same brand name. Lets take processors in Apple’s line of computers, for instance. They’ll all be the best at what they do, but they’re really meant for specific applications. The 2014 MacBook Air has an optional Core i7 processor that really is built on a platform specifically made for maximizing power efficiency. The 2014 15″ Macbook Pro with Retina Display has a Core i7 that’s built midrange for graphics and performance, and the 2014 27″ iMacs have an option for a performance Core i7. The MacBook Pro’s Core i7 shares its power with an onboard graphics card, while the iMac has a dedicated and discrete video card to handle heavier loads graphics, although specific higher end MacBook Pro laptops have discrete graphics as well.
If you have a Core i3 or below, you will more than likely feel a pretty great increase in performance overall if you moved to a Core i5 or Core i7, the two that I recommend. If you can spend the money to get a Core i7 processor over the i5, DO IT.
Generation is just like you’d think of it to be in regards to a family being established in a country. The first generation born would be the originals, the 2nd generation would be those that followed the first, and the 3rd generation would come after the 2nd, etc… It is the same with processors in the Intel line of things. The younger the generation (larger number), the newer it is!
Intel has generations (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and currently 4th) of families for processors. The newer generations processors will generally supersede the previous generations and will also provide better performance overall. That’s not to say that an older generation’s processor should be overlooked. At a good price, a top of the line processor from last year may be worth getting over this year’s top of the line.
What should you get?
You should get what you can afford. I highly recommend using current generation quad-core Core i7 processors if you can afford it at the time of purchase. If you can’t shell out the cash for a Core i7, get a higher clocked Core i5, but at least find a quad-core. These typically are things that you can’t upgrade after you make your purchase on most laptops. In many desktops, an upgrade can be made. Major editing programs for photographers and videographers will utilize the four cores of the processor. It’ll cut down some processing time and in many instances, some lag that occurs while editing. Just remember that your overall experience will be a lot quicker when you upgrade to the i7.