This article has been a long time in coming! But with my move to New York and New York Fashion Week, I think I can be forgiven this time!

Thinking about this version of the article was a tough one: The future of my computing needs. The problem with this article is that the industry changes so much every 2 or three years. You’re sometimes better looking into a crystal ball! But I’ll do my best here.

Production Machine

Currently, I use a Macbook Pro with a non-4k, 24″ monitor. It works. Actually, it works very well. Processing power is very capable for all but the most demanding workflow. Possibly, there is a 3rd party option which will double both capacity and performance of the internal SSD that will give me even more practical life with the laptop. Two USB 3.0 ports. And it has two Thunderbolt 2 ports. In terms of technology, the system should have lots of practical life in the years ahead. The only bottleneck is the CPU. That would be a big problem if I were doing lots of video. But not right now.

Mac Pro. It’s the most versatile and future-proofed. You can upgrade the processor. Huge plus! Hopefully the CPU can be upgrade several years down the road. It’s also the most expensive.

Apple Mac Pro 2013. Image: Apple.com/uk

Apple Mac Pro 2013. Image: Apple.com/uk

Yes, the internals are great. It’s the only Mac that can take 128GB of RAM. It’s the only Mac with six Thunderbolt 2 ports allowing you to use 6 devices at full TB2 speed. It’s the only Mac that has dual video controllers. The machine has a lot going for it.

As a video machine, it’s obvious. As a photographer who also does some video and not sure how much I’m going to do in the future: not so simple. It’s a $10,000 computer with the upgrades I want.

27″ iMac with Retina 5k Display. The problem with the Mac Pro is that many apps don’t utilize multi-threading and multi-core technologies as well as they should. If I was batch processing several hundred images in Lightroom and editing an image in Photoshop, I don’t think it would make a big difference whether it was on a Mac Pro or iMac. And if you’re editing video, you generally don’t wan to do anything else when you are rending it.

Apple iMac 5k Retina. Image: Cnet.com

Apple iMac 5k Retina. Image: Cnet.com

So here is where the 27″ iMac with Retina 5k display is a really great photographer’s machine. When compared to the Mac Pro: the processor is faster, very decent graphics car

d and an included Retina 5k display. The display alone is worth about $1000 dollars.

Just a few days ago, it was discovered that the newly updated versions of these iMacs can support 64GB of RAM. Which for photographers should be just fine. Even with my 16GB on my Macbook Pro, it does very well. The processor is the real bottleneck on my laptop. Even with the smaller videos I’ve done, completely capable. The video card included in the iMac should easily handle anything I throw at it.

Great review by Youtube’er Johnathan Morrison. Really hits some great points.

The only little nagging issue is that there are only two Thunderbolt 2 ports on the iMac. This should not cause any issues that I can think of. One of the ports I’ll connect to another 4k display and the other to a high-speed RAID system. I can’t daisy chain one port as all the bandwidth would be used to support the 4k display and the RAID wouldn’t be fully optimized. Or vice-versa. Or neither would work.

It’s not future-proof like the Mac Pro. But it’s half the price and would probably last at least 70% if not more of the Mac Pro’s life and give me at least 80% – 90% of the useable power of Mac Pro. And by the time the iMac dies, you can get something new that’s at least 4x as fast and still come out ahead. A maxed out iMac with the special 64GB upgrade kit will run me about $4700. A relative bargain.

Before I started writing this article, I thought for sure my next workstation would be the Mac Pro for sure. Now, the iMac is looking much more attractive. I mean, I’m running a business. Cheap rarely wins. But I love being frugal!

Displays

4k is definitely on the board. I’m currently use a 24″ Asus PA249 for my editing monitor which supports 1920 x 1200 resolution. It was the best I could afford at the time and frankly, completely fine to use. But the price on 4k is dropping like a rock and in a year or two, should be standard issue. If my next computer is the iMac, I’d connect it to the iMac and use it for work that doesn’t involve editing an image on it. I don’t see the need for two 4k monitors unless it was so cheap to do so. It might be in a few years.

There is talk of 8k and some prototypes, but it’s just too far away for now. At least 5 years when computers can handle that kind of data with relative ease. We’re still getting used to 4k on tv and theaters!

Mobile

I’ve thought about this a lot. And it’s been tough. Apple has been changing the game! But I think I have a good grasp now.

Carrying my current laptop all day is a drag. It weighs you down and is completely over-kill for simple, daily work in-between client visits and such. What I’m thinking is the new Macbook. With the weight and performance, it would be a great daily driver in transit. I would use it only for work that doesn’t involve photography. I just saw a video where the laptop was measured to support only 75% of the Adobe RGB color gamut. Which is horrible. Even with sRGB, it would probably support about 80%. Still horrible. But for office type work, it would be great.

Macbook 2015. Image: Cnet.com

Macbook 2015. Image: Cnet.com

I’ve played with the computer at the Apple Store and I absolutely love it! Like I’ve said, not the most powerful but for what it is, it’s damn nice. The only glitch is the webcam but I won’t use it much. By the time I get around to getting one, version 2 should be available and address the issues that I have. I hope. A little more power, drive capacity, battery and another USB-C port and it would be perfect.

Here is a great review of the 12″ Macbook by Youtube’er Dave Lee. Unfortunately, I think he focuses too much on the negatives. Yes, they are negatives. For him. I used a Lenovo X200 for years and it’s about the same size as this laptop. You’ll see it in Part 1 of this series. Loved it! I simply don’t think he really is as mobile to appreciate a computer like this.

I thought possibly about using an iPad Air instead of the Macbook, but it can’t use the applications available on the desktop. So I had to nix that idea. But I use my current iPad Mini a lot! But my big test with using the smaller version really hasn’t worked as well as I hoped and will be getting the next version of the iPad Air which should have the Force Touch technology now available on the iPhone. How do I use the iPad?

  • Reading all my necessary books and magazines. I’ve read more with my iPad than in any 10-years of my life. Seriously.
  • Showing my portfolio. Print portfolios are still king for viewing because of the colors available. But that’s changing.
  • Quick proofing of images at remote locations.

    Apple iPad Air 2. Image: Apple.com

    Apple iPad Air 2. Image: Apple.com

I have so many goals even outside of photography and the iPad makes things so much easier and better. Having it lighter and faster than the iPad 2 which was my first, is all the better!

This next item is a bit of an afterthought for many. It was for me as well honestly. But I think I needed to touch on it: Mobile Storage.

I put this under the Mobile category as it’s specifically designed for use on the road. You can’t take them seriously as desktop units. They also don’t get the attention they deserve. They have come a long way in the last few years with being faster and more durable. But in terms of really long-term plans, I only see faster, bigger and cheaper. Which is a great thing!

The LaCie 250GB Rugged Thunderbolt External Solid State Drive has gotten lots of attention. In the past, they’ve had the reputation of being undependable units. I do remember those times. But that was 20 years ago! From my recent research, they’ve been doing very well. What makes these so great?

  • SSD-based storage.
  • Rugged Design.
  • Integrated Thunderbolt cable.
  • USB 3.0 port.
  • Bus-powered. No external power needed
  • 4x the speed of a standard hard drive.
  • Reasonable price.

    LaCie 250GB Rugged Thunderbolt External Solid State Drive . Image: Amazon.com

    LaCie 250GB Rugged Thunderbolt External Solid State Drive . Image: Amazon.com

The only thing that can be better is if it came in a dual drive unit that can be configured in RAID 1 (Mirroring). If they did that, this unit would be perfect. It’s fast enough that I would consider taking two of these units: one for my main external work drive and the other as a backup.

If I really want mirroring, the Western Digital My Passport Pro would be my first choice. It’s a pretty unit and comes with two built-in drives, built-in Thunderbolt cable and it’s bus-powered. The only problem is that it uses disk-based hard drives which for a portable unit, is just not good.

Western Digital My Passport Pro 4GB & 2GB. Image: Cnet.com

Western Digital My Passport Pro 4GB & 2GB. Image: Cnet.com

Or really, I could get a couple of SSDs, put them in decent, bus-powered enclosures, velcro them together and then configure them in the system as RAID 1 on the computer. It wouldn’t be pretty but would totally work. How much are the enclosures? $20! Cheap. USB 3.0 but the speed would be sufficient to fully utilize the SSD performance.

Storage

Remember I created a special article, 2.5 for storage? Well, I got some updated news: Some good and some bad.

The QNAP TVS-871T was released a few weeks ago and according to preliminary tests, is everything I was hoping it would be. Reviewers who have tested it have practically drooled over its performance and potential. There is no doubt, it’s an incredible system that is going to start a new market for NAS systems. You can bet there will be other systems offering Thunderbolt in their NAS systems soon.

Now the bad news…. $3,200!

QNAP TVS-871T. Image: QNAP.com

QNAP TVS-871T. Image: QNAP.com

I was hoping for a price of around $2200 – $2400. But considering that it’s a one-of-a-kind system and pre-orders are already sold-out, QNAP priced its product well! It won’t lasts as other manufacturers will jump on the bandwagon. I’d say in a year we’ll have another 3 to 4 makers for this type of NAS. Then the price will drop to something more to my liking.

The QNAP is probably an 18-24 month deal. I will re-evaluate in a year and see where I’m at with everything. If I can justify the drive in a year, I know I’m doing extremely well in my photography business to need the performance! It would be a great measure of my success!

For now, I think I will go with a much less expensive option which will include the Other World Computing ThunderBay 4. It’s a much simpler RAID system that’s basically an enclosure with a Thunderbolt 2 connection. That’s it. While it gives up the functionality of the QNAP system, it doesn’t sacrifice much in terms of speed. It will be at least 5x faster than my current drive and will handle anything I throw at it. For the next 12 months, it will be more than sufficient. At $399 for the enclosure, it’s a bargain as far as RAID systems go.

OWC Thunderbay 4. Image: OWC

OWC Thunderbay 4. Image: OWC

Though I already have four 1TB drives available that I got from a Trade some time ago, they just aren’t going to work even with this system. In RAID 5, I’ll end up having 3TB of space that is the same I have now. A 2TB drive is pretty inexpensive and 3TB is only $20 more than that drive. I’m thinking in about 4 – 5 months, I’ll get the OWC enclosure and four 3TB drives which will give me 9TB of RAID 5 capacity and performance! Then a year later, I can upgrade to the QNAP with 4 brand new drives in it. I can transfer the data in the OWC to the QNAP and then move those drives to the QNAP. Then I’ll have 21TB of insane performance! This setup will be 10x faster and 7x the capacity of my current setup!

What to do with the OWC unit? I would install SSDs into it that would give me a 30% increase performance over the QNAP! I would use the OWC at this point strictly for current projects and because it’s such a simple device, maybe for location work. I think I would have 3TB of RAID5 space available which will be plenty.

Long Term Planning

My first big IT job really introduced me to thinking long term for getting the best ROI with computer equipment. At that time, personal computers were extremely expensive to what they are now. It was pretty easy to spend $2000 on a computer, which is probably around $4000 in today’s dollars. So we really wanted to do as much as we could with any system. Whether the older computer went down to the next employee in line or do something as simple as control a printer, we found a use for it.

I would say that barring a systems failure, all this future gear will keep me and my staff extremely productive for at least 5 years and possibly seven. Even though some of this is pricey equipment, the long-term investment and productivity is top-notch. I always see people go cheap and it simply doesn’t save them money over the long haul. I’ve never seen it.

Years ago, an IT colleague and I installed similar server systems with two different companies. His company went with Brand A that was 25% cheaper than the brand I went with. I knew my brand was simply the best in quality. Guess what? Within two years my colleague had to replace all the servers his client had due to failures! So in those two years, his client not only paid an additional 50% in computer gear that I spent with my client, but also pay my colleague to replace all that equipment! No matter how much you spend, 50% is a lot of money.

You don’t need to get the best or most expensive. But there’s a point where the quality is more than sufficient. I just have to shake my head in disbelief when someone complains about a $50 hard drive that fails. What do you expect?

The Future

When it comes to the computer industry, you can only plan so far in advance. It changes like San Francisco weather! But unless you’re NASA, you can pretty much stick to your plan for the next 3 – 5 years. Technology changes but not to the point where you have to drastically change the way you work. No technology will remain tops for very long, but definitely useable. Hell, I know people who have 10-year old Mac Pros that still perform well.

There are times when I wish I had better computer equipment. But you know what? My computer gear is far greater than what some people get to use. I know there are some people who dream of having my setup. I know I did a few years ago. Like cameras, you only need a certain level of technology to create photos. The rest is how best you can use it.

 

About the author

Ricardo Gomez is a Fashion Photographer based in New York City.

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