Many of us have had no option but to work from home lately, and it helps to have the best computer hardware you can afford and to be conducting business in an ergonomic environment. Mike Jennings reports.

IT’S BEEN A VERY CHALLENGING time for so many of us, with home working becoming the new norm. Of course photographers and videographers might have been working from home in any case, but even so they would normally have been out and about shooting for much of the time. With this activity curtailed by lockdown office tasks were on the agenda and any shortcomings on the hardware front would have been glaringly highlighted.

All round then it’s been a good opportunity to take a more considered look at the hardware you’re working with to see if it’s up to scratch or whether it’s time to upgrade. The good news is that there are some terrific machines out there, several of which have been designed from scratch specifically with the imaging professional in mind, and we’ve taken this opportunity to check out two high-spec models from Chillblast and Overclockers.

Of course, if you’re spending hours on end working on your files you need to be thinking about your personal comfort and here is where you can benefit from the tech that’s going into gaming chairs. Many of the requirements of a serious gamer are the same as those for a photographer so take a look to see if these could work for you.

THE PHOTO LITE ZEN is Chillblast’s entrylevel photo system, and it’s an ideal starting point for people who want to tackle photo editing in a more professional way without spending a prohibitive amount of money.

The Cooler Master Silencio S400, as its name suggests, is a case that’s designed for unobtrusive operation, with sound-dampening material and quiet fans deployed throughout. So, while the Chillblast is not silent – the stock AMD processor cooler sees to that – it’s close enough. When tackling easier tasks, the Zen is actually extremely quiet, and when the CPU or GPU are stressed it’s barely louder. If you’ve got the PC under a desk or if you’re working with quiet music or in an office you simply won’t notice this PC.

The interior is extremely neat, and there’s space to add four 2.5in drives and four 3.5in drives – ideal for storage, because this PC only includes a sole SSD. The chassis meanwhile features two USB ports and an SD card reader of its own, and Chillblast has added a couple of extra USB ports at the rear and a card reader behind the door at the front. That door is reversible, and the fan cover behind is easily removable for access and cleaning.

The Silencio looks smart, and it’s only 210mm wide and 408mm tall, so it doesn’t take up much space. The crucial component for photo editing, of course, is the CPU and the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is deployed here. It’s a six-core chip with multi-threading, and it’s got base and boost speeds of 3.6GHz and 4.2GHz. The CPU is paired with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, an entry-level card with 4GB of memory.

The specification is rounded out by 16GB of 3,200MHz memory, a 512GB Intel 660p SSD and an Asus PRIME B550M-A motherboard. The board has WiFi 6, two spare memory slots and loads of USB ports, but it’s a micro-ATX product – so PCI expansion options are limited, and there’s no extra M.2 connector. There’s no USB Type-C or Thunderbolt on board either.

The Ryzen 5 3600 is a capable mid-range CPU. Its Geekbench 5 single- and multi-core scores of 1,250 and 7,022 are solid – barely slower than the Ryzen 7 3700X. Impressively, the Chillblast’s multi-core result actually beats Intel’s new Core i5-10600K, and you’d have to pay more than £1200 for that CPU inside a similarly-specified PC.

The Chillblast virtually equalled Intel-based PCs in Cinebench. In SiSoft Sandra’s image-processing and multi-media tests and in the intensive SPECviewperf CAD and modelling tests, though, the Chillblast returned unsurprisingly middling results. The Chillblast isn’t necessarily the best option if you want to exclusively use Adobe software, either: in Puget System’s Photoshop and Premiere Pro benchmarks, the Core i5-10600K was marginally faster. While the Ryzen 5 3600 is able to handle mainstream photo editing and everyday work tasks simultaneously, there are limits to what this CPU and GPU can do. It’s good enough for mainstream photo editing, for example, but it won’t be able to tackle high-end photo tasks – you’ll need at least a Ryzen 7 or Core i7 CPU if you want to seriously get into that. It’s not powerful enough to handle video work either. Chillblast’s photo range does cater for this, with more expensive systems on the way, and this PC is protected by an excellent five-year warranty.

While this rig might not have the grunt to handle high-end photo-editing work and more demanding content-creation workloads, it’s still a highly effective entrypoint for mainstream photography work and everyday computing.

Overclockers UK Renda G5-CC9
PRICE: £2599

THE RENDA MIGHT HAVE A HEFTY PRICE TAG, but it does include hardware that’s designed for photo editing alongside other creative tasks, such as high-end video work, modelling and simulation.

The Core i9-10900K is a Comet Lake chip with ten Hyper-Threaded cores, and the chip used here has been pre-selected by Overclockers for its performance – it can be easily overclocked to a stunning 5.1GHz, with a lower performance level of 4.9GHz used in certain AVX situations.

Graphics power comes from an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super, which has ample ability for graphical workloads – including 8GB of memory. The specification is rounded out by a hefty 32GB of 3,600MHz memory, a 1TB Samsung 970 EVO SSD and a 4TB hard disk. Quite simply, it’s excellent hardware for creative work.

The Asus ProArt Z490-CREATOR motherboard has a lightning-fast 10Gbps Ethernet card and a rapid 2.5Gbps Ethernet port, and connectivity is great elsewhere on the machine. It has two USB Type-C/ Thunderbolt 3 ports, loads of USB ports, two free memory slots, a spare M.2 socket and vacant PCI-E x16 and x1 ports.

It’s a great basis for expansion, and the case duly follows suit: the Phanteks Eclipse P600s has rom for three 2.5in drives and three hard disks, and it’s possible for cages for six more disks to be fitted.

Meanwhile the Phanteks chassis is tidy and its side panel has sound-dampening material. Optional roof and front panels can be installed for added noise reduction, and build quality is superb. The case has two USB ports and a Type-C connection, and the side panels are on hinges, which makes access easier.

There are downsides. The case is 240mm wide and 520mm tall, so it’s large, and there’s no card reader. Overclockers hasn’t added wireless internet to this PC either. However, performance levels are superb. In Geekbench 5’s single and multi-core benchmark the Renda scored 1,426 and 12,046, with that latter figure almost twice as fast as the AMD chip included in the cheaper Chillblast. In Cinebench R20 the Overclockers returned a score of 6,348, and it was reliably fast in SPECviewperf.

This Intel-based PC squares up against machines with the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, which is a twelve-core chip that is available in slightly cheaper PCs. In Photoshop and Premiere

Pro benchmarks the Intel PC was quicker than AMD. It was quicker in other tasks that require single-threaded speed, so other photo editing apps will clearly benefit here, alongside other, more conventional, everyday utilities. However, the AMD chip is faster when it comes to coping with video and CAD-based workloads.

The whopping 360mm Asetek cooler in the roof keeps the CPU temperatures down, and noise levels aren’t terrible – there’s a noticeable rumble when tougher software is deployed, but the noise isn’t ruinous and remains relatively easy to mask. If you need extra cores for video-based work, then you’ll find that a PC with the Ryzen 9 3900X will be faster and cheaper.

However, the Renda’s Intel CPU is faster  in photo editing tools and Adobe applications, and the rest of the hardware is excellent. The case is rock-solid and versatile, and the motherboard has excellent features. It may not beat its rival in every single benchmark, but this is a well-built PC that will scythe its way through photo editing, along with most other productivity software.

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