Boring, geeky computer post

Boring, geeky computer post

You have been warned 😉

Recently I upgraded my home computer from the oldish HP workstation I was using to a new Dell Precison 3640 workstation that I posted about last week. So I though I would do a post with a little more detail about the new machine…

It always amazes me when I compare the computer I am currently using with the first computer Jackie and I bought back in 1994. That was an Apple Macintosh LC 575 (the education version of the Performa), an all-in-one machine with a 33MHz processor, 5MB of RAM and a 160MB hard drive. My new machine has a 4.1GHz processor that ramps up to 4.8GHz when necessary (145 times faster), 128GB of RAM (25,600 times more) and a combined internal storage of 7.5TB with another 8TB of external storage via USB 3 and access to a further 2TB of RAID storage on a NAS. for a total of 17.5TB (109,275 times more)!

I got the new machine from Dell’s Outlet website (well worth a look if you’re in the market for a new machine!). It was a toss-up between this and an Alienware gaming machine, but I decided to go with a workstation as they are specc’d with slightly lower end, but much more reliable hardware. The processor, for example, is not one of the new AMD Threadrippers with a gazillion cores, it is a Xeon with 6 cores (and so 12 threads), but its single core speed is fast– 4.1GHz and a turbo speed of 4.8GHz. Most of the intensive work I do on this machine will be in Lightroom or Photoshop, both of which are far more reliant on a fast single core speed than utilizing multiple cores, and the Xeon processors are workstation grade- carefully chosen processors and architectures designed to work hard and fast, and reliably, day in and day out.

I moved the operating system off the 512GB NVMe it came on onto a 1TB Evo NVMe I added to the machine (slightly faster), which leaves the original NVMe available to act as a fast scratch disk for whatever programs I’m running. I moved the 2 1TB SSDs and the 2TB regular hard drive over from the old machine with all my stuff on it, and am using the new 2TB 7200 hard drive that came with it for new storage. I also added a sound card (it has on-board audio, but I always find a dedicated sound card is far superior!).

When looking at the various refurbished workstations available on the Dell site when I bought this, I had the option of a couple with Nvidia Quadro graphics cards (I had a Quadro P1000 in the previous machine), but I ended up going with this one that came with an RTX 2080 Ti. This is really a gaming card, but the 2080 Ti was the best performing gaming card you could get until the new 3000 series came out, and the “Ti” version is a whole different chip with features and performance for rendering that leave it’s regular brethren in the dust. And it comes with 11GB of video RAM compared with the 5GB the equivalent Quadro card has; and while I will not use it for gaming, Lightroom can take advantage of that extra power and RAM, and I do like to run 4 monitors- 2 of them at 4K 😉

And talking of RAM, I did get a bit silly. This machine came with 64GB (and honestly, you only really need about 8GB to run Windows quite happily), but I doubled that up to 128GB! Why would I do that you may ask? Well, it’s partly because Lightroom actually does like to be able to stretch itself out a little with a bit more memory than you might ordinarily need, but mostly coz I’ve been fooling around quite a bit recently with RAM disks…

RAM is the temporary memory your computer uses to run, it loads everything you need into it very fast, but it is volatile- when you turn off the computer everything in it disappears. Your hard drive(s) on the other hand are non-volatile (when you turn off the computer they remember everything), but slow (in comparison). A RAM disk is using a section of your computer’s RAM as if it is a hard drive to store frequently used information that would normally be found on a regular hard drive so that you can get at it much faster- and it is much faster, a RAM disk is at least a 1,000 times faster than even a fast NVMe drive! They have many advantages one of which is that you can use them to store all the usual temporary files that Windows collects, which leads to a small speed boost and less wear and tear on your hard drives (NVMe drives for all their speed can only be written to a finite number of times, but RAM can be written and re-written infinitely). And with the software I am using it will actually back-up a RAM disk to your regular hard drive when you shut down and re-load it when you next boot up- the best of both worlds in return for a tiny extra delay on shut-down and boot times!

I am running 3 RAM disks: a backed-up one of 8GB for Windows temp files and browser caches; an 8GB volatile one for Photoshop’s cache, and a 25GB volatile one for Lightroom’s cache. And it is this last one that is really cool- when Lightroom is working, even if you give it all the RAM it could ask for, it still writes little bits of information to disk, like it is making notes for itself, in a cache file, and the conventional wisdom, if you want to speed up Lightroom, is to make this cache significantly bigger than the default 1GB and put it on the fastest drive you have. Mine is now 25GB and is on a RAM disk that is 1,000 times faster than any of my other drives, and as this is just notes for what it is currently doing, if it gets wiped when I reboot, who cares?

So, with all of this is Lightroom now any faster than it was on the previous machine- yes, and significantly so! I noticed when I had finished editing the pictures that I took yesterday that I had not had to wait for Lightroom to do anything. It still takes a little time to import the pictures, but that is a factor of the speed of the SD card and the ridiculously huge 61MP files from my Sony A7Riv, but once I started working none of the adjustments I made had any lag from my twisting the knob on my controller to seeing the result on the screens (2 x 4K, remember?). It’s not like it was super slow before, but now it just gets out of the way and lets me do my thing 🙂


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