Hewlett-Packard just announced the next generation of their highly respected Z workstations—a range of computers designed from the ground up to meld high performance while running sophisticated content-creation software programs with rock-solid reliability and security along with upgradability over time. Nothing stands still for very long in technology, and tools like these integrate both backward and forward flexibility, at least until the next big breakthrough.
As always, it’s important to choose the proper tool for the job. Digital imaging now takes many avenues (still, motion, etc.), and personal workstyles and preferences inform choices regarding the best combination of components to run your software of choice in the most efficient manner. No one computer will do everything well, and establishing priorities is as important as ever. If you are primarily a still photographer using the latest versions of Lightroom and/or Photoshop, there are plenty of guides for making intelligent hardware choices to maximize software performance (such as this one at Puget Systems). But in a nutshell, the basics have not changed—one or more fast 64-bit processor(s), the fastest primary and secondary storage available, as much high-speed RAM as you can afford, and a high-end graphics card. (Similar component choices apply for video, though the emphasis will likely fall in slightly different directions. Serious video production requires a really serious computer system.)
Computers are incredibly complex devices. Thankfully, one does not need to understand all the intricacies and protocols at the chip level, but having a basic understanding of recent developments is beneficial. For example, storage—the non-volatile memory used to store the operating system, programs, and data files. Information is read to and written from storage, whether it is opening a program or saving an image file you’ve just optimized. The more quickly your storage does this, the more efficient your system is. Currently the highest performing non-RAID consumer storage devices (Samsung’s 960 Pro M.2 SSD) perform reads as high as 3,500 MB/s and writes as high as 2,700 MB/s, whereas the best 7,200 rpm conventional hard disk drives can achieve less than 250 MB/s. That’s a data rate difference most folks would appreciate.
There are plenty of nuances and tradeoffs in scoping a new computer for photography, including, of course, the cost. HP’s new Z workstations are elegantly crafted tools at varying levels of expense and performance that represent the cutting edge. If you use Windows and are anticipating a new system, take a long, hard look.