Digital Imaging Computers; A Dedicated Setup For Your Work

These days, digital minilabs from Agfa and Fuji have made producing inexpensive, good looking prints directly from memory cards as easy as shooting film, but just as the person who wants to create more expressive film images needs the creative control afforded by a darkroom, any digital imager who wants to produce photographs that sin, needs a digital darkroom. If the center of the traditional wet darkroom is an enlarger, the heart of that digital darkroom is its computer.

Price Points...All Over The Map
The aluminum-bodied Apple Computer ( Power Mac G5 starts at $1799 plus monitor but if your imaging needs are modest an eMac costs just $799 including a 17" monitor.

WalMart sells some eMachine computers for Microsoft Windows for $600 (plus monitor) but if ya want cheap, I'll give you cheap. For the terminally thrifty or geeky, the Linare PC ( is $199.95 and includes 1.3Ghz AMD Duron microprocessor chip, 128MB RAM (Random Access memory), 30GB hard and
CD-ROM drives, Ethernet interconnectivity, mouse, keyboard, and speakers. What's the punch line? It runs Linux. (See sidebar.) While laptops may be fast and work well for some on-the-go imagers, their limited expandability limits their usefulness in the digital darkroom.

The Linare PC from costs $199.95 and includes 1.3Ghz AMD Duron microprocessor chip, 128MB RAM, 30GB hard and CD-ROM drives, Ethernet interconnectivity, and runs the Linux operating system.

Some Specs To Consider
The formula for building a successful digital darkroom computer is simple: fast processor, big hard drive, scads of RAM, and a quick video card that can handle lots of colors. If you're shooting with a digital SLR, you'll need a recordable DVD drive. CDs are nice but unless you have Fort Knox-like storage, a single recordable DVD disc will hold almost seven CDs worth of image files in the same space.

How fast a processor? How big a hard drive? There's a simple answer: How much can you afford? For Mac OS users with hefty budgets, that means working with a Dual 2Ghz Power Mac with prices starting at $2999. For Microsoft Windows, stop looking at all the usual hardware suspects. Instead, take a look at what gamers, graphic designers, and video producers--real power people--use.

Need a computer that is powerful, portable and expandable, take a look at Voodoo PC's Doll.

The gamer's hot rod of choice is the Canadian-made Voodoo ( computers whose merely fast Rage machine costs $1700, while their high-performance model, the Rage F:50, starts at $3350. Take a look at Alienware (, a Florida-based company that offers fast, rugged computers designed specifically for digital content creators. Falcon Northwest ( Talon 6.0 costs $995 and has a 2.8Ghz AMD AthalonXP+333Mhz FSB processor, 80GB hard drive, 512MB RAM, and 16x DVD. OK, it lacks a recordable DVD drive. Add one. But there's more to it than specs; with mass produced computers, only one of 100 is pulled from the line for testing. All Falcon's computers are individually tested and are given a three-day burn in before shipping.

Operating System Dos And Don'ts
As far as operating system choices go, don't be swayed by traditional geeky rationale; it doesn't hold water any more.

Don't get the kind of computer your kids use at school. Let 'em have their own, otherwise all you'll be able to do is fight with them to get on.

Don't get the kind of computer you use at work. Unless your work is photography, it won't always translate into a computer that's usable for digital imaging.

One of the gamer's hot rods of choice is the Canadian-made Voodoo computers whose fast Rage machine costs $1700, while their high-performance model, the Rage F:50, starts at $3350.

Don't get the kind of computer 90 percent of the corporations in America use; they're not photographers either.

Do get a computer that photographers use and like.

Do get a computer that allows you to do simple, easy and inexpensive color management.

Do get a computer that you can afford and one you understand how to use. If you spend all your time troubleshooting software and hardware problems that's less time you'll have to make images. And isn't that what got you into photography in the first place? (If you like to tinker, buy an old British car. That's what I did.)

PC Vs. Mac
The Mac OS vs. Windows comparisons are like the classic Nikon versus Canon debate. My Dad was a "Chevy man," but other than one Blazer, I've owned more Fords than any other domestic make. Make up your own mind based on what you know, not what you hear--or even read.

Alienware is a Florida-based company that offers fast, rugged computers designed specifically for the digital content creation, such as this striking purple Plasma model.

In your quest for the perfect digital imaging computer, don't lose sight of what imaging is all about: What do you need in order for you to get the best quality images that you can afford? Just as a truly great photographer can create wonderful images no matter what kind of camera he or she uses, the quality of a person's digital photographs isn't measured by what kind of computer they use.

Linux, Linus, But No Blankie
Once upon a time, there was a brilliant findlandssvensk (Swedish speaking Finnish) college student named Linus (pronounced Lee-nus) Torvalds who was born in Helsinki, Finland. He wrote the kernel, or essential part of the operating system, for Linux. It was his implementation of Unix, written without proprietary code that has been made available to the world, essentially free, as part of the open source movement. Open source is a method of licensing and distributing software that encourages people to copy and modify computer code freely. Implementations of Linux are available for much less than the cost of a simple upgrade from Mac OS X 10.0.3 to 10.0.3. Today, a Google search for Linux yielded a total number of 93,600,000 hits. A similar search for "George Bush," which I guess also included W's daddy, only yielded 2,610,000 hits.

Advanced Micro Devices
(800) 538-8450

(305) 251-9797

Apple Computer, Inc.
(800) 776-2333

Falcon Northwest
(888) 800-7440

Intel Corp.
(800) 548-4725

Microsoft Corp.
(206) 882-8080

Voodoo Computers
(888) 708-6636

Falcon Northwest has been around a long time producing intense computers that really fly.