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Need suggestions on hardware set-up due to some editing concerns #1
Mary D's picture
by Mary D
November 26, 2013 - 7:43am

I could use some suggestions on my hardware configuration.

My workflow - download to Aperture 3.4.5 and allow Aperture to manage my images. I use NIK software as an external editor, and would like to get Photoshop Elements. I have a 16 MP camera, and will download up to a hundred photos a week, 800-1000 for a 10 day trip, which happens 6-10 x/year. So, moderately heavy usage, but not extreme.

Currently, I use a 2009 MacBook Pro, 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo w/ 8 GB ram. I have my aperture libraries on an external 2 TB hard drive w/ a Firewire connection. When I add up the GB on my 7 libraries, it adds up to 325 GB. I use a 2 TB external HD w/ a 2.0 USB connection for my vaults. I have a NEC 21” monitor that I use for my main editing, and the MacBook as a secondary monitor. My operating system is OS X 10.7.5.

My problem - when I spend a few hours editing, I start to hear my hard drive working hard (how else to describe it?). Sometimes when I go from NIK back to Aperture, my images in full view will disappear, or get blocks of color on them. NIK seems to download the preset previews (those little images on the left side of the NIK interface) slowly, and it takes a while for changes to appear. That’s when I just exit and shut everything down. It’s frustrating.

My questions -

  • do I have enough hardware capability for what I’m doing and I just need to update to the new OS and Aperture 3.5?  
  • Is the use of external hard drives causing my problems of slowness and hiccups w/ the image view? Or is it more likely the processing capability of my Macbook?
  • I’m considering a new computer - what would be the ideal configuration to continue w/ my editing w/ NIK and Photoshop Elements (perhaps Photoshop CS instead).  I can afford a new configuration, but don’t want to go hog-wild. If I could just upgrade to fancier external hard drives, I’d do that, but if it’s the processing capability, obviously I should upgrade the computer.

The guys at the Apple store are helpful, but they don’t really understand photo editing. Please give me any suggestions you may have. THANK YOU.

G Mitchell's picture
by G Mitchell
November 26, 2013 - 9:38am

Mary D

I use a iMac late 2007 , 2.44 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo w/ 4 GB ram. My work flow is Nikon D90, Aperture.3.5 and Nik suite. I run a managed library on my iMac HD and My vault is on a Firewire 800 External drive. I get quite frustrated lately with the spinning wheel. But I understand my machine is long in the tooth. In my opinion the only fix “for me” is a Hardware upgrade.  It time but I’m just waiting to take a hands on look at the new Mac Pro next month or the specked out iMac 27”. Im gonna be going to referenced and using a Thunderbolt external drive for speed and keep my firewire for the vault. Photography is not as intense as video on the hardware and external drives but the CPU and the GPU upgrade and 16 G ram verses the 4 G , Firewire 800 vs Thunderbolt should bring me up to speed. Writing and reading from external drives definitely effects the work flow speed,  Just my 2 cents.

G. Mitchell

Mary D's picture
by Mary D
December 15, 2013 - 1:04pm

Thanks G. Mitchell. Sounds like what I’m experiencing, and am curious which way you decided to go with the hardware upgrade. Also, is there an easy way to switch to referenced when you’ve been using managed? Do you think referenced will decrease the drain on the CPU? Anyone else have ideas?

Gary with a big Mac's picture
by Gary with a big Mac
December 15, 2013 - 5:30pm

Hi Mary,

How much space do you have on your HDD? would be like at least 20-30% free

16GB ram would be a good starting point

Naturally managed files are nice as you do not need external drives to accommodate the files except for back-up

I only have a 750SSD and only have the current year as managed and have the rest referenced, admittedly, I have to hook up the external drive for my referenced files but soon found out that the USB3 external drives are very fast.

I have found moving files to “referenced” wasn’t a big deal, I just used the option relocate and all worked well. The point to remember here is that “referenced” filled are not backed up, so, IMHO I would be having those future referenced files on 2 drives at least before you make the move, and I always backup on import

lastly, if your computer system is looking a bit unstable I would make sure everything is backed up to external drives, about a month after i did this, my old computer died

For your 10 day trip, I give you a quote from an old fly fishing journo of mine, “always carry a hat full of cards and leave the images on there until they are backed up” he fell in at a river crossing in NZ, lost most of the camera gear but just dried out the cards, all good!


I have a photographic memory but never got it developed

Sherwood's picture
by Sherwood
December 16, 2013 - 6:31am

Snap up a 2010 Mac Pro while you can.  The 2013 while fast is going to be *reallly* expensive to set up, and has no expandability to speak of.

1.  USB 2 is slow.  For external drives you want at least firewire 2, USB 3, eSATA or Thunderbolt.

2.  Use external (referenced) files and keep them on an external MIRRORED drive. 

3.  16 GB ram is minimum.


My setup:  3.2 GHz 4 core 2010 Mac Pro, 24 GB ram with a 250 GB solid state boot drive, mirrored 1 TB drives for /Users; Mirrored 3 TB drives for picture storage triple Dell U2413 IPS monitors.  (Aperture doesn’t handle the third monitor very well.)

I am a strong advocate of mirrored drives.  Consumer grade drives fail – I’m guessing about 1-2% per year.  EVERYTHING must be on two drives.  This doesn’t count your backups.

Another thing you can do:

When it gets slow, start a new library.  Work in it, then merge into the main library as needed.  You can export a folder as a library so in principle you can keep the current two years in a library, and at years end export last year’s as a library, and merge it back.

Mary D's picture
by Mary D
December 19, 2013 - 10:09am

wow, these are great suggestions and very helpful! Excuse my ignorance, but what is a mirrored drive?

I didn’t realize the new MacPro didn’t have expansion capability, and that does make a difference to me.

I’ll also start moving to referenced libraries.

Sherwood's picture
by Sherwood
December 20, 2013 - 2:06pm

Mirrored drives is Raid 1.  Everything you write, is written to two drives.  So on my mac pro, drives bays 3 and 4 have a 3 TB drive each.  But they are mirrored (Set this up in Disk utility) so my mac sees them as only a single 3 TB drive.  Twice in the last 5 years we have had a drive fail.  In each case it was a soft fail: Reconstructing from the other drive fixed it, but that takes about 2 hour per terabyte.

In general the two drives to mirror should be the same size.  Do NOT buy them on the same day however, or if you do, go to different shops.  Trouble travels in herds, and if there is a problem with a drive, it’s common for that to be a problem with all the drives made that day.  I’ve heard many tales of a big raid with 12 drives, two hot spinning spares and it had 3 drive failures within hours of each other.  (Not as surprising as you think:  When a drive in a raid group fails there is a LOT of disk reading going on while the missing drive is reconstructed onto a hot spare.)


Another approach you can take if you are tech savvy:  Put another machine – it can be an elderly mac – in the basement with LOTS of storage on it.  Every night use a program like rsync to copy any changed files from the active computer to the backup in the basement. 


The downside:  You can lose a whole days work this way.  The upside:  You’ve got a better chance of surviving a fire, tornado, earthquake or flood, because not all your eggs are in one basket.  (Do not put it on the floor in the basement.)

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