When it comes to creating photo and video slideshows on your computer, the last thing you need are technical problems. Slow frustrating components can really put a damper on the creative process. If you find yourself at odds with your machine, it might just be time for some new hardware.
Whether you’re looking for a brand new computer or just want to upgrade a few components, here are some things to consider when prioritizing those changes. You might be surprised just how big an improvement you can see without breaking the bank.
The workhorse in any computer is the CPU (central processing unit), which generally controls how quickly things happen on the system. CPUs from the most recent generation often outperform previous models by a significant margin. The key here is generation, not expense. The best performance for your money is often found just below the top of the line model. A quality Intel i5 CPU, for instance, can be a better buy than a more expensive Intel i7, especially if the latter is from a prior generation.
It’s important to note that newer CPUs may not be compatible with your current system. Always check with your computer manufacturer, or motherboard documentation, to see if a newer CPU is available for your machine.
Many websites provide CPU benchmarks (performance evaluations) along with price estimates and can be quite helpful in determining which CPU is right for you. Here is one example: http://www.cpubenchmark.net/
Processing power, as important as it is, doesn’t mean much if your system slows to a crawl when running multiple applications. While a program is running it resides in RAM (random-access memory), so it can be accessed quickly. Run too many applications and your RAM fills up. Run additional applications and the system has to start swapping data back and forth from RAM to the hard drive, drastically slowing things down.
The bare minimum amount of RAM for any serious multimedia work is 4 GBs. For anything over that you’ll need a 64-bit version of Windows, which is fortunately very common these days. I recommend at least 8 – 12 GBs of RAM in order to keep things running efficiently, although more is always better. Unlike swapping out a CPU, which requires a bit of care, RAM upgrades are usually very easy.
For certain applications, like ProShow version 6, the video card (GPU) is a key component in providing high resolution playback without sacrificing performance. A modern dedicated video card, rather than an integrated GPU, is the key to a great playback experience and it may be cheaper than you think.
Modern video cards typically come in a tiered product line where the lowest-end (ex. GeForce 610) is appropriate for basic computer operations and the highest-end (ex. GeForce 680) is designed for intense tasks like video games. A video card from the middle of the pack (ex. GeForce 640, Radeon R7 250) is typically sufficient for multimedia applications like ProShow. Here is a resource to put these tiers, generations, and brands in context. http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/
The key thing to keep in mind when upgrading your Windows OS is to get the 64-bit version. A 32-bit OS is going to limit you to 4 GBs of RAM and that’s not a limitation you want. It is also worth noting that support for Windows XP, including new security updates, has been discontinued. This makes it a great time to consider making the jump to Windows 7 or Windows 8, both fine operating systems.
Hard drives provide long term storage for everything from the OS to photos. They are also a common point of failure and frustration. Getting the right storage solution for your computer can greatly mitigate these concerns and put you on solid worry-free footing.
Start by determining how much storage you’re likely to need. For a lot of people, several hundred megabytes (MB) is a great start. People with more demanding needs (prolific photographers, videographers, etc.) should instead be looking at storage in terms of terabytes (TB). Assessing your current storage situation should give you a good idea of how much additional space you’re likely to need.
It’s also helpful to look at drive speed, as it can have a big impact on overall system performance. A traditional (platter) hard drive (HDD) is relatively cheap but also a bit slow by today’s standards. You’ll see HDDs rated in terms of RPMs where 5400 is slow (common in laptops), 7200 is faster, and 10000 is about as good as they get. For a system with snappier response time, and lower power consumption, consider getting a solid-state drive (SSD). Installing your main OS (i.e. Windows) on one of these drives can really help. Add a larger HDD for general storage and you get the best of both worlds.
Hybrid drives are also a great option, wherein SSD and HDD technology are combined into a single unit. These drives tend to be faster for a lot of operations, relative to HDDs, but also provide a large amount of storage.
While you’re thinking about added storage, keep in mind that HDDs and SSDs can fail. Keep your data backed up on another drive (typically an HDD) in order to prevent data loss. External HDDs are a great option for this particular use. Investing in a few TBs of external storage can really save the day when something goes wrong inside your computer. Don’t be caught unprepared!
When purchasing a laptop it’s important to make sure you get exactly what you’re looking for with the initial purchase. Unlike a desktop computer, laptops can be tricky to upgrade and some components may not be user-serviceable at all.
Invest in a good CPU, lots of RAM, and storage that fits your needs (speed vs. capacity). An SSD can really make a laptop much snappier, relative to the standard 5400 RPM hard drive found in most models, but you won’t get nearly as much space. This may be an area where the faster drive, coupled with an external storage solution, makes the most sense. It’s also a great place for hybrid drives.
Getting a good dedicated video card in a laptop often requires a premium investment. If you’re looking to replace your desktop computer with a laptop, this upgrade may be well worth the cost. For most people, the laptop does lighter work than their desktop so they can save a few bucks on this component. One area you don’t want to skimp on is battery life, so be sure to know your options before heading to the checkout.
Using a Mac
If a Mac is in your future then you’ll need to consider how you want to run ProShow Gold or Proshow Producer, which are only available for Windows. Fortunately, there are some very workable solutions. Applications like VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop allow you to run a full (virtualized) installation of Windows on your Mac pretty seamlessly. Take a look at how this works in this Knowledge Base article.
Just make sure you have enough RAM, and storage space, to accommodate the extra OS. It’s good to have 16 GB of RAM, so you can dedicate 8 GBs to Windows when it’s running, and 1+ TBs of storage. Features like Unity mode (VMWare) and Coherence (Parallels) can even make ProShow looks like it’s running natively on the Mac, for an extra seamless experience.