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DHill

What's the current thinking about a PC for image processing?

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I'm looking to buy a new desktop PC (definitely PC - although I like Macs as much as PCs, for a number of pragmatic reasons this one has to be a PC, and also not an all-in-one).

What is current thinking on specs? My photo workflow mainly involves Lightroom, but I also use Photoshop and various plugins. While working on images, I usually have a considerable number of browser tabs, word docs, etc open at the same time. I already have a screen.

In the past, I've always had machines custom-built in local shops. However, due to early problems with my current machine which the shop didn't resolve well, and the fact that such shops seem to be going out of business at a fast rate, I'll probably go with one of the mainstream brands (eg Lenovo, HP, Dell) this time to get a good solid warranty, despite them being more expensive than local builds. I'll spend whatever it takes to get a decent machine and am aiming for something reasonably future-proof without going over the top. 

I'd love to hear any helpful suggestions, recommendations and/or experiences, but I have some specific questions as well:

  • Are there any pitfalls in buying mainstream brands? For example, do non-standard cases mean that future expansion is more difficult? And would adding an extra HDD or more memory (things I'm used to doing myself) invalidate the warranty anyway? 
  • I get the impression that it's a good idea to put the OS, programs and Lightroom catalogue plus previews on an SDD. But do people find 256GB enough, or is it better to go to the (considerable) expense of 512GB?
  • More RAM is better, I know, and I'm thinking of getting at least 24GB, but does the law of diminishing returns kick in beyond that? Is there a noticeable difference between, say 24GB and 32GB?

Many thanks in advance!!

David.

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Hi David

 

There's really nothing wrong with the brand names. I think that the monitor may be the only area worth worrying about from the point of view of colour calibration and whether you want 1 or 2 monitors.  Also watch out for the components but really nowadays, it's more a matter of your 3D games, rather than photo editing.

 

On the memory front, you're way over the top. The question is more a matter of 8 or 16GB, I only have 8 in the laptop I'm using and have had no problems with massive panoramic Photoshop images.

 

Looking at the HDD - yes, an SDD improves performance dramatically but you can always have a second HDD with much larger capacity and move your images off there and potentially into a NAS for backup/archive purposes, so 256GB is ample.

 

Best of luck,

 

Mike

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Another cost effective option is to build your own. There are lots of great tutorials in books and on the web.

Building your own gives you complete control over the specs and how the machine can be upgraded. It's remarkably easy to do. My 12 year old daughter built a graphics machine. Here in the US we have suppliers like Newegg.com which offer all the parts, with customer reviews, at good prices.

Something to think of... I used to buy Dell and other machines and pay a lot for the specs I wanted. But for years I switched to building our own and it saves a whole lot of money.

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Thanks, Mike. Interesting what you say about memory. My current computer has 10GB, and with an early i7 processor is sluggish when I'm running Lightroom with a few browser tabs, email and word docs open. Even when I shut down everything but imaging software, D800 images take minute or two to open in Photoshop from LR, and then another minute or two to open in Nik. It really doesn't take much before the computer starts messing around with the page file, which really bogs things down. Perhaps an SSD by itself would solve that problem. 

 

I thinking of specifying a couple of 2TB or 3TB HDDs in addition to the SDD - that should be enough to put my images on. As I tend to go back into archives a lot, I don't want a slow connections to a NAS. I'd rather have everything on the computer. My archive is less than 2TB but I want room for expansion. 

Edited by DHill

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Another cost effective option is to build your own. There are lots of great tutorials in books and on the web.

Building your own gives you complete control over the specs and how the machine can be upgraded. It's remarkably easy to do. My 12 year old daughter built a graphics machine. Here in the US we have suppliers like Newegg.com which offer all the parts, with customer reviews, at good prices.

Something to think of... I used to buy Dell and other machines and pay a lot for the specs I wanted. But for years I switched to building our own and it saves a whole lot of money.

 

I agree, something I have done for many years and it means you can transfer disks etc to the new machine. I upgrade incrementally so it is not that often that I do a full ground up new build - usually only when I have had a motherboard fail or it will no longer take the latest processors.

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Thanks, Cribb - I like the idea of building my own, but one factor is a matter of time and another is that I want someone other than me to be accountable if something goes wrong ;-) My last PC was hand built in a shop, and had problems with intermittent crashes and had to be completely rebuilt - fortunately at their expense - and even then still hasn't been perfect. That was probably just a very unlucky experience, but I do know that things can go wrong. 

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I don't use Lightroom so my help here is limited. I use iMatch in place of Lightroom and it, Win7, and Photoshop with multiple images open I can approach 8GB of RAM in use. The only time I bumped into the RAM limit was when I mistakenly tried to open 100 images in PS at the same time. So 16GB could well do for now. I just added to my 8GB and decided to fill the 2 slots with sticks to make a total of 24. Not that I needed it today but didn't want to toss out memory sticks if I ever did want to get to 24.

 

An SSD is worth it's weight in my book for the database chugging of new files and adding keywords and descriptions into image files. Likely not needed for Photoshop editing unless you run a lot os scripts/actions. It does make opening Photoshop, programs, and PC boots very nice and fast. I went with 500GB and can do all my photo work without an additional drive. I do have a 1 TB D drive but I currently use it as a backup copy of my main drive. I have had 2 occasions where the SSD lost it's cookies and having a full bootable backup was a bonus.  A month or so back my database said I had 15,000 images (JPG and Photoshop) on my SSD.

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I agree with TokyoMike that the most important thing is the monitor you use and to be sure its calibrated properly.

 

I just use my bottom of the line Acer laptop. I added 4 gigs of RAM so it now has 8, and that made a distinct improvement in processing a lot of photos in PS,  or ACR.

 

I am looking at getting a new desktop for the PP. Ideally I want 16 gigs of RAM and a decent video card.

 

But the Acer has done well.  A large HD is good, but I store most of my photos now on Zenfolio online and on 3 different HD's at home. Keep very few on the actual computer itself.

 

Jill

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Actually I don't think you need anything very special in the way of graphics cards unless you are editing video or are a gamer. I use two low-end ones (under £30/$50) in my box - they have no fans so quieter and having two means I can calibrate both my monitors (I could also have 2 other uncalibrated monitors!). From memory I think they have 512Mb, certainly no more than 1Gb, and they are each driving a 1920 x1200 px screen and hope to upgrade to 2560 x 1440px monitors shortly. It would have cost quite a bit more to have same calibration capability in one card. I don't run much video, only clips and rarely full screen.

Edited by Martin P Wilson

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My last PC was a custom-build in a local computer shop in 2003 (long since gone). I went for the fastest processor available, maxed out the ram etc. Unfortunately the fan used was not up to scratch for keeping the processor cool and it was damaged art an early stage (the guy who owned the shop was more used to building low-end budget PCs). It kept crashing when using Photoshop. I must have taken it back to the shop 10 times swapping in and out every bit of hardware until we finally changed the processor, now adequately cooled. It lasted some years (until I finally went back to Mac). My point is that brand PCs will have been tested for all parts working together whereas self-builds can be risky.   

 

As far RAM, get twice as much as you think you will need now and you will probably have half as much as you actually need a few years down the line with a few new camera and OS upgrades. It's always more expensive to buy older RAM. I would say 32Gb min.

 

EDIT: Just to add - the SSD really does make a difference to speed starting up the machine and copying files and I've seen it's strongly recommended to have the Photoshop scratch disk on the SSD. I'm talking Mac from experience but I'm sure PCs are the same - my MacOS, programs, Lightroom catalogue, previews etc are on the SSD and are using about 140Gb and will only get bigger, so that is not leaving a lot of room for the scratch or anything else. It's not a good idea to fill a disk of course. I got a 500GB SSD for that reason. Also I tend to find it less painful to do the big spend all at once than have to remove stuff and replace at a later point. Of course SSDs will come down in price I expect.

Edited by MDM
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Actually I don't think you need anything very special in the way of graphics cards unless you are editing video or are a gamer. I use two low-end ones (under £30/$50) in my box - they have no fans so quieter and having two means I can calibrate both my monitors (I could also have 2 other uncalibrated monitors!). From memory I think they have 512Mb, certainly no more than 1Gb, and they are each driving a 1920 x1200 px screen and hope to upgrade to 2560 x 1440px monitors shortly. It would have cost quite a bit more to have same calibration capability in one card. I don't run much video, only clips and rarely full screen.

 

I'm not fully up to date on this and I forget the technical terms but many modern programs use the graphics card extensively for non-graphics functions  and a card with lots of RAM is essential for this. Also gone are the days when Photoshop needed only a basic graphics card - the new graphics engine introduced in CS6 I think has far greater requirements from the graphics card but with very definite speed benefits. 

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I so rarely use Photoshop (CS5.1) that I never think about it. You are probably right and I must check whether Capture 1 Pro (>95% of my editing) exploits the graphics card processor for more than graphics functions. Then I do have an 8 core processor but it starts to work hard when I run a batch convert (my fans start working as heat is obviously being generated. That could, in part, be because of graphics processor work being offloaded.

Edited by Martin P Wilson
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Guest

A half decent graphics card is needed these days even for Photoshop post CS6, small Nvidia ones are not expensive. I've always bought name brand PCs but had them configured by a local builder, my current one is a Fujitsu Celcius Workstation but specced up to my requirements i.e. a stonking big Nvidia card with 4 GB of memory for CUDA core rendering....and lots of fans as well.

 

Next one I will build myself. You can use one of the online builders to test out what you need, i.e. input the things you want and their site will give hints on power supply etc.

 

Don't know if you have the equivalent of HotUKdeals.com in Aus' but a great way to pick up the parts you need.

Edited by Guest

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I so rarely use Photoshop (CS5.1) that I never think about it. You are probably right and I must check whether Capture 1 Pro (>95% of my editing) exploits the graphics card processor for more than graphics functions. Then I do have an 8 core processor but it starts to work hard when I run a batch convert (my fans start working as heat is obviously being generated. That could, in part, be because of graphics processor work being offloaded.

 

There is a long list of features which use the graphics processor given under CS6 (and presumably CC) performance prefs. Most of these I don't use but the flick panning and zooming are indispensable when you get used to them. Lightroom graphics are way behind - they feel like walking through thick mud in comparison to Photoshop. I'm sure Geoff gets a lot more use out of the graphics processor for the sort of stuff he does. 

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A lot of this depends on which OS and version of photoshop you're using. 32 bit versions of photoshop, and/or running it on 32 bit Windows, severely limits the amount of RAM that photoshop can use. But if it's CS4 64 bit or later, running on Windows 64 bit, it will use as much as you can afford, and it does make a difference.

 

See the table here . . . I tried to paste it here but it loses its formatting. There's also some good info on hard drives and SSDs too, as they relate to photoshop.

 

. . . and as for "invalidating the warranty", you have no real worries there, Australian consumer law affords you much more protection that the stated "limitations" on any generic warranty would have you believe :-)

 

dd

Edited by dustydingo
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Guest dlmphotog

David,

 

I just built my second computer for image processing and normal office work. Both builds were very easy. I notice with my latest build that computer component manufactures are making it as easy as possible for the home builders with better information, instructions and WEB resources.

 

It had been about five years from my first computer build and I had to re-learn a lot of the lingo and the latest tech. I think it was harder choosing the correct components then actually assembling the computer. Building your own computer is not normally the cheapest solution at least for me as I tend to overbuild for my needs.

 

I have my operating system (Windows 7 64 bit) and programs on a 512GB SSD and my data/images on a separate 512GB SSD I also have a 128GB SSD as a dedicated scratch disk. To round out the storage there are 7 2TB SATA-3 hard disk.

 

Here are the specs on the latest build

Motherboard: ASUS X99-DELUXE LGA 2011-v3 Intel X99 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel

CPU: Intel Core i7-5930K Haswell-E 6-Core 3.5GHz LGA 2011-v3 140W

Memory: 16GB (4 x 4GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2666 (PC4-21300)

Video Card: GeForce GTX 760 2GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0

Case: LIAN LI PC-A79B Black Aluminum ATX Full Tower Computer Case

 

Like I said I tend to over build…

 

I understand that assembling a computer is not for everyone and it can feel like performing on a high wire without a net but if you’re the bit handy and have the time and money it can be fun and rewarding experience.

 

boxes-of-new-computer-components-and-an-male-teenager-installing-288-pin-ddr4-sdmale-teenager-using-a-screwdriver-to-ins

 

David L. moore

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Hi David, I'm a computer engineer so build my own personal pcs. I had to upgrade my pc for PS/Lightroom & have this spec:

 

Intel i7, 16gb RAM, 256gb SSD, 2tb hard disk, AMD Radeon HD5700 2gb, Windows 7 64bit Pro. Backup to USB drive + Cloud.

 

I have the main RAW+JPG files on the 2tb disk & currently the Lightroom catalogue also on the 2tb, but I intend to move that to the SSD.

 

As already suggested, you could build your own, but if you're not confident, off the shelf would be fine. HP have a business range separate to their consumer models found in stores. Within the business range are the Workstation models. These are very good quality computers & the installation does not need to be "de-crapified". I supply these models for clients using CAD or photo/video work.

 

Here's the Aussie link: http://www8.hp.com/au/en/campaigns/workstations/overview.html

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Some great info here - thanks very much, everyone!

 

I'm thinking, like David M and MDM, it's probably better to err on the side of over specifying rather than under. Buy right, buy once ;-)

 

I won't be building my own after having to lug my most recent purchase to the shop several times to have parts swapped out to try to determine what was causing frequent crashes. If I'd built it myself, I wouldn't have been able to do this without buying new parts, and even with the shop having built it, it cost me several days of lost productivity in the end. Like MDM suggests, I'm looking for a consistent, reliable build and on-site service if things go wrong.

 

That same computer still has the occasional random crash (momentary static across the screen which then goes blank, fan and motherboard lights stay on but computer doesn't respond to anything, disappears off the network etc). Thus I'm now considering lower-end workstations with Xeon CPU and ECC memory for the additional stability over i7 etc. Perhaps a bit obscure, but does anyone have any thoughts on this? Doesn't seem to cost a lot extra. The computer tends to be on 24/7.

 

I'm currently looking at possibly a Lenovo P300 or even S30 with 2 x 256GB SSD, 2 x 2TB or 3TB HDD. From some reading I've done, I understand that it's best to have the system page file and Adobe scratch discs/catalogues on different drives because if they're on the same one, they tend to clash - and 2 x 256GB seem to be about the same price as 1 x 512GB. These computers come with Nvidia Quadro NVS 315 graphics card; this isn't mentioned on the Adobe graphics card page, and it's not clear whether it meets the criteria that Adobe give there of any card released after May 2013 being OK. Anyone any ideas? Lenovo didn't know when I spoke to them.

 

Further learning from today: Dell and HP increase their prices dramatically when specifying extra storage and memory, at least here in Aus, whereas Lenovo seem much more reasonable in this regard.

 

Dusty Dingo: Lenovo say they only allow users to fit parts they've tested, otherwise the warranty is 'invalidated'. Any pointers as to haw Australian consumer law can override this?

 

Thanks again, all!

 

David. 

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Dusty Dingo: Lenovo say they only allow users to fit parts they've tested, otherwise the warranty is 'invalidated'. Any pointers as to haw Australian consumer law can override this?
 
Thanks again, all!
 
David. 

 

 

David, under Australian Consumer Law, a manufacturer cannot restrict legislated Consumer Guarantees in any way. It doesn't matter what their company warranty says, it cannot lessen or restrict in any way the legislated protection . . . which as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission states:

 

"goods come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. You are entitled to a replacement or refund for a major failure and compensation for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage. You are also entitled to have the goods repaired or replaced if the goods fail to be of acceptable quality and the failure does not amount to a major failure". Note especially the phrase "that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law" . . .

 

It's like some car manufacturers insisting on having their cars serviced by "authorised" service-centres, or insisting the warranty on their cars was invalidated by use of non-"genuine" spare parts . . . all poppycock, and actually illegal to so claim/insist.

 

Same as the old "oh sorry, it's two months out-of-warranty" . . . no such thing under Aus Consumer Law :-)

 

dd

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Some great info here - thanks very much, everyone!
 
I'm thinking, like David M and MDM, it's probably better to err on the side of over specifying rather than under. Buy right, buy once ;-)
 
I won't be building my own after having to lug my most recent purchase to the shop several times to have parts swapped out to try to determine what was causing frequent crashes. If I'd built it myself, I wouldn't have been able to do this without buying new parts, and even with the shop having built it, it cost me several days of lost productivity in the end. Like MDM suggests, I'm looking for a consistent, reliable build and on-site service if things go wrong.
 
That same computer still has the occasional random crash (momentary static across the screen which then goes blank, fan and motherboard lights stay on but computer doesn't respond to anything, disappears off the network etc). Thus I'm now considering lower-end workstations with Xeon CPU and ECC memory for the additional stability over i7 etc. Perhaps a bit obscure, but does anyone have any thoughts on this? Doesn't seem to cost a lot extra. The computer tends to be on 24/7.
 
I'm currently looking at possibly a Lenovo P300 or even S30 with 2 x 256GB SSD, 2 x 2TB or 3TB HDD. From some reading I've done, I understand that it's best to have the system page file and Adobe scratch discs/catalogues on different drives because if they're on the same one, they tend to clash - and 2 x 256GB seem to be about the same price as 1 x 512GB. These computers come with Nvidia Quadro NVS 315 graphics card; this isn't mentioned on the Adobe graphics card page, and it's not clear whether it meets the criteria that Adobe give there of any card released after May 2013 being OK. Anyone any ideas? Lenovo didn't know when I spoke to them.
 
Further learning from today: Dell and HP increase their prices dramatically when specifying extra storage and memory, at least here in Aus, whereas Lenovo seem much more reasonable in this regard.
 
Dusty Dingo: Lenovo say they only allow users to fit parts they've tested, otherwise the warranty is 'invalidated'. Any pointers as to haw Australian consumer law can override this?
 
Thanks again, all!
 
David. 

 

 

Not sure about all the storage, it's always best to store work on externals and programs on the computer.

 

The graphics card is very low-end but it's modern in that it's CUDA core technology, so useful for some tasking. The mercury graphic engine thing mentioned with CS6 etc doesn't need a spanking card, only need that for CGI rendering or video. You've not said how much RAM, a Dutch colleague of mine has 32GB and his LR zips along far, far quicker than my 8GB even though I'm using an i7 processor. That will be my first must have when I get a new system running.

 

EDIT. just happened upon this blog entry from one of my favourite photographers. http://erikjohanssonphoto.com/blog/building-photoshop-computer/#more-1094

Edited by Guest

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SSDs are notoriously unreliable.  Keeping any data on an SSD is risky, IMHO.   I've had 2 SSDs fail.  Luckily I hadn't stored any crucial data on them.  I used the SSD as the boot drive, program drive and scratch disk.  When the boot SSD of my PC failed less than a month after it was out of warranty, I was unable to get Windows to restore the disk to anything but an identical drive (So I had to reinstall everything on a bigger, non SSD drive. Just my opinion but, if you go with an SSD make absolutely certain that you have really current backups of everything.  The SSD will speed everything up but for me, it's not worth the risk. As to size, Windows always tries to put everything on the boot drive - get the biggest you can afford.  If you don't you'll run around of room and have to go searching for what to move and what to delete. More RAM is never a bad thing.  I almost always run Lightroom, Photoshop and Chrome at the same time.  In Photoshop I use a lot of NIK plugins.  The bottom line is I'm frequently using 80% or more of my 16GB of ram. More ram means less swapping to disk which also helps performance.

 

Just my 2cents. :-) 

Edited by clupica
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Clupica - I think that the message should be stronger than that. No drives are 100% reliable. If you have the machine turned on all of the time you really should have server-type drives that have a large MTBF ("mean time before failure" - but remember that that is just an average, not a guarantee) and are built to run continuously. I personally keep a backup on a NAS with redundancy built in using a RAID (up to 2 of the drives can fail without losing data) - all of those drives are server drives. I don't rely on my SSD at all.  My HDD backs up to my NAS daily, without my intervention and I have confirmed that I can recover my photographs from the backup if necessary.  When storing everything in one PC it's also worth considering that you can get electrical faults ... very occasionally. I have had a drive "nuked" by a power supply failure in the past.  A cup of coffee tipped over the machine may not help either!

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DHill and all,

 

The Windows machine that I am working on now is running 64bit 7 using an I5 processor and Gforce card with 1GB, I currently have 16gb of RAM and two TB drives.

it is a Dell (XPS), but I found a guy on eBay that built the machine to my specs for less than $1,000.  I've been very pleased with it and I am now a working photographer again,

shooting daily with Nikon D800's in RAW and it runs along very well.  Now I just need to figure out how to upgrade my Lenovo T-62 running XP?

 

Chuck

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I'll go with 32GB RAM.

 

Geoff: I'm intrigued by your comment about storage, and would love to know the rationale for only using externals. I'd have thought that keeping everything you might need to access inside the computer would allow faster access. The Lenovo chap I spoke with said that even an external drive connected through an eSATA port (which is about as fast as you can get, isn't it?) is slower than an internal. I can imagine assignment photographers having their current and recent assignments on the computer and the rest archived to a NAS or similar, but I tend to access my early photos nearly as often as my recent ones. I have around 1.6TB of images (growing rapidly as I use a D800) and around 1TB of other stuff that I access regularly. Currently I only use externals for backups as speed doesn't matter there.

 

As for graphic cards, unfortunately Lenovo seem to be quite restricted in what they offer, which leads to some weird sounding dilemmas - eg choice between NVS 315 (1 GB) or slightly more expensive Quadro 410 (512MB), or Quadro K2200 (expensive but reviews well) but only available as a second card, not a first!) This is quite a can of worms (Open CL, CUDA etc - I guess not worth trying to predict how it will go in the future), but I use LR much more than PS and my most demanding use of PS is likely to be stitching. So I'm guessing a relatively standard graphics card (the 315 or 410) will do for now; I can always add one as a mid-life upgrade in a few years. Sound reasonable?

 

As for SSD's, I understood they're relatively unreliable, especially for data that changes frequently, but that the situation is much better than a year or two ago. Currently I use SyncBack to do regular automated backups to an external drive, and for the other work I do (consulting/writing), Dropbox very effectively provides almost instant backups of Word docs etc to my laptop and the cloud. I figure if I use SyncBack to back up the LR catalogue from SSD to an external drive every few minutes, I shouldn't have to worry about data loss. And an on-site warranty would minimise downtime - while it lasts, at least.

 

Thanks,

David. 

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