Want to buy a PC for photo editing? I’ll give you tips on the components and show you my top 3 recommendations for Lightroom and Photoshop!
If you don’t want to read it all, here’s the quick reference.
I’ve been involved with photographers for more than 15 years and PCs for more than 25 years. My recommendations in this article are based on my experiences throughout that time.
Why should you trust me of all people?
I have been dealing with computers for more than 25 years. For a long time I assembled and repaired PCs myself. I have been active in photography, image editing and Photoshop for more than 15 years. During this time I have used various PCs. Below I give you three recommendations depending on your budget, so that you can buy a good PC where the price-performance ratio is right.
What components should I look for when I’m looking for a PC for image editing?
The heart: The processor – i5 or i7 / Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7
The processor is something like the brain of the computer. It is also called the CPU (Central Processing Unit). The faster it is, the faster your PC will be. For a PC for image editing I recommend an Intel processor. Depending on your budget, I would go with an Intel Core i5 or i7, or alternatively an AMD Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7.
There are differences in how many cores the processor is equipped with. An Intel Core i9 or AMD Ryzen 9 processor is not absolutely necessary in my opinion. I have taken the number of cores into account in my recommendations.
Choose the RAM size with foresight – 16 or 32 GB
You can think of the RAM as the notepad of the processor. It is also called RAM (Random Access Memory). Whenever the processor calculates, it has to write down data in between so that it doesn’t forget it. This is exactly what it does in the RAM.
Here the size makes the difference. I recommend at least 8 GB RAM. So that you buy reasonably future-proof, I would take 16 GB RAM here, rather 32 GB.
Graphics card for image editing and Photoshop – AMD or Nvidia with 2 or 4 GB memory
The graphics card is responsible for the display of your image on the monitor. In addition, it now takes over certain computing tasks that the processor would otherwise do. The processor of the graphics card is also called GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). I recommend an Nvidia or AMD graphics card with 2 GB or 4 GB memory.
SSD for fast work – 250 or 500 GB
If you’re buying a new PC for image editing, definitely get one with an SSD. The SSD is what the hard disk drive (HDD) used to be. Only much much faster. SSD stands for Solid State Disk. On it you can store your pictures, which you then want to edit.
As a capacity I recommend 250 GB, if the budget allows it alternatively 500 GB. Especially if you work with Lightroom Classic, it makes sense to store the Lightroom catalog on the SSD. This increases the working speed enormously.
Large hard drive for many megapixels – at least 1000 GB
In the long run, not all images will fit on the SSD, so you still need a conventional hard drive. Here you can store your images. Accordingly, the hard disk should be as large as possible. I recommend at least 1000 GB.
Windows or Mac – a question of getting used to it
A basic decision is whether you should take a Windows computer or an Apple Mac. There is no right or wrong here. I recommend to use the system you are already used to. Since I am a Windows user and in my opinion the price-performance ratio is somewhat better here, I recommend Windows PCs for image editing below.
Findings of PC Games Hardware from their review on the ideal PC for image editing (06/2021) [PC for Photoshop and Lightroom]
PC Games Hardware (PCGH) fortunately published an article about the ideal PC for Photoshop in their 02/2019 and 06/2021 issue. There, various PC components were tested in terms of performance with Photoshop and Lightroom. In addition to their own benchmarks, PugetBench from Puget Systems was used as a benchmark tool.
The magazine focused on the price-performance ratio. The last percent of additional performance often costs a lot more money, but is usually not worth it. I have summarized the most important findings of the article below. The points coincide with my recommendations above.
As a recommendation, six physical CPU cores are a good choice. Here you get a good combination of price, performance and power consumption. More cores will also bring more performance, but this will only be reflected in certain Photoshop operations, such as batch processing. A high CPU clock may give you more performance than more cores.
Intel: An Intel i5 processor is a solid basis, an i7 or i9 is even a bit faster. However, we are talking about a maximum of 30% performance difference here.
AMD: A Ryzen 5 is also okay, but Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 only offer a maximum of 30% more performance depending on the clock rate. A Threadripper CPU is not worthwhile for image editing alone.
Conclusion: A processor with 6 cores and upwards should be the right choice, with more clocks depending on the budget.
Graphics card (GPU)
Newsletter lead 4 – Photo equipmentThere is a lively discussion on the net about how much a graphics card is worth for Photoshop, Lightroom and generally for image editing. The graphics card is far less important than the CPU. Interestingly, an entry-level card like the Geforce GTX 1050 Ti makes sense here, but the performance gain to a high-end card like the Geforce RTX 2080 Ti is only 14%.
Graphics chips that are already integrated on the PC’s motherboard are called onboard graphics cards. Onboard graphics cards scored between 19 and 46% worse than „real“ graphics cards in the review.
For normal Lightroom and Photoshop image editing, an onboard graphics card is sufficient. However, there are some features, such as Adobe Camera RAW, blur and sharpen. Which benefit from a proper graphics card. Adobe itself says that Lightroom, for example, benefits significantly from a graphics card, especially at high monitor resolutions of 4K and more.
Conclusion: An entry-level graphics card such as the Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050 Ti or AMD Radeon RX 590 makes sense, more is hardly worth it for Photoshop and Lightroom.
Working memory (RAM)
PCGH performed the reviews with the Puget Systems Adobe Photoshop CC Benchmark and Adobe Lightroom Classic 2018. When editing normal photos, 16 GB is reasonable. If you work with high-resolution RAWs, 16-bit HDRs or frequent panorama stitching, you should choose 32 GB.
Conclusion: 16 GB, if the wallet allows 32 GB or more.
SSD, hard disk, monitor and backup
SSDs are still recommended in the article, of course, because they are much faster than normal hard disks. The difference between NVME and SATA SSDs is no longer noticeable. An NVME M.2 bar is a bit more practical because it can simply be plugged onto the motherboard without power and data cables.
As a monitor, PCGH recommends an IPS panel. There are affordable models here, such as the 24-inch Dell U2419H, which delivers good color fidelity after calibration.
Mechanical hard drives should be used for backup. A NAS or Raid-1 system is recommended here. For backups in the cloud, a fast internet line with a higher upload channel (10 Mbit/s or faster) is recommended for large amounts of data.
Conclusion: An SSD should be installed in any case. The monitor should have an IPS panel, more about this at the end of my article.
PC for video editing / video editing PC
If you are looking for a PC for video editing or video editing, then you should look for similar components as for image editing. With one exception. I would choose a more powerful graphics card to avoid lags. If you want to use a really strong graphics card, then the PC I can recommend is this model.
My current top 3 recommendations (computers for image editing)
I have graded my recommendations for a PC for photographers by price. I revise these recommendations regularly.
Recommendation 1 – Small budget
PC number one brings an i5 processor with 6 cores and 16 GB RAM. Furthermore, it has a 240 GB SSD and an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card. A 1000 GB HDD is installed as the hard drive and Windows 10 Pro is also included. This computer for image editing has a decent configuration for its low budget, so you can edit your pictures smoothly.
Recommendation 2 – Medium budget
The second PC is in the mid-range in terms of budget. Here you have a very good price-performance ratio. It has a fast Intel i5 processor of the newer generation with 6 cores and 16 GB of RAM. Besides a 240 GB SSD, a 2000 GB hard drive is on board. So you have a lot of storage space for your photos. The graphics card is more than sufficient with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650. Windows 10 Pro is also included here.
The PC looks very colorful at first glance. However, you can also turn off this illumination if necessary or adjust the color according to your wishes.
Recommendation 3 – Big budget
PC number three for image editing is in the upper price segment. The advantage is that you won’t need a new PC for a while. It has a fast Intel i7 processor with 8 cores, 32 GB RAM and 480 GB SSD. A 2000 GB hard drive is on board for a larger amount of pictures. The Nvidia GTX 1660 graphics card is also good for image editing.
Don’t be put off by the colorful lighting. You can also adjust these colors to your liking or disable them completely.
Software – Photoshop, Lightroom and more
The PCs I recommend all work for Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, of course. Virtually all other image editing programs like Gimp, Affinity Photo, Paint.NET, and CaptureOne will run fine on them as well. You can find even more image editing programs in my Lightroom and Photoshop alternatives list.
The only note here: If you primarily work with Lightroom, then I would definitely choose a PC with SSD, because Lightroom works with a so-called catalog. This catalog has a lot to do with Lightroom’s performance and should be stored on the SSD for smooth work. All of my recommendations above have an SSD installed.
Get more image quality out of your photo gear without having to buy a new camera and lenses!
What else you should know
In addition to the actual PC, you should also consider a monitor for image processing. If you’re looking for something more portable as a computer, check out my article on laptops for photo editing. In any case, you should keep backup and data protection for photographers in mind. I use Photoshop for image editing and am very happy with it. You can find an overview of my articles about PC hardware here.
Do you have any questions about PCs for image editing? Write me in the comments! If you want, I can also let you know when a new post is published, so you won’t miss anything.