Hello Triggers and welcome to geekstogo,
As a fellow photographer I know where you are coming from in terms of needs of applying filters and the such in CS3, lightroom, photomatrix and so on. I'll try to help you the best I can
Fast processor, ideally with a multiple processor chip so I can do simultaneous tasks - but how fast do I need? What do I ask for?
There are numerous processors out there at the moment, all of which a better at different purposes. There are processors that use different manufacturing processes which will determine a variety of things such as the energy efficiency of your processor. While there are newer processors out (45nm), I think a 65nm processor will be ideal for you. Something like the quad core Q6600 would be ideal for your needs, but if you want to spend a little more money on a Q9400, that'd be fine as well. The Q6600 has the best performance for your dollar.
Intel or AMD? No idea what's best for image editing or are they much of a muchness?
At the moment, Intel is on top and I'll suggest you go with them.
Lots of RAM: Minimum 3GB but what's optimum? I tend to work with 15 - 50MB multilayered files
To be honest, I've had 20MB of multilayered files in CS3, but never 50MB, if you want I can get multiple images loaded (50MB worth) and see how my 4GB of RAM reacts to it, so that you have a better idea of whether or not 8GB would benefit you. That being said, 4GB should be sufficient, but I suggest you purchase a 64bit OS, this'll allow you greater flexibility and allow you to use up to 8GB of RAM on current Intel desktop motherboards. You can also purchase the 32bit version of the OS, but you'll be limited to using approximately 3.5GB of RAM.
Powerful video card - no idea what's powerful and what's not, so not really sure what to look for.
To be honest, when it comes to photography, all you need is something that'll put accurate color reproduction on your screen, essentially anything on the market will do. I'd suggest something with two DVI ports, to give you the flexibility of using multiple monitors. I have a dual setup of 22" monitors and couldn't imagine doing photography work without two monitors.
OS - I'll probably go for Vista but confused about 32 or 64 bit. Which is best for photoshop CS3? This will be my only PC so I will need to run other programmes on it so don't want any incompatibility issues. Other programmes include microsoft Works, database, Accounting software, itunes, Lightroom and possibly Steinberg Cubase
I briefly mentioned this above, with the positives, but the negatives are often forgotten. It'll be up to you to verify whether or not all your hardware (e.g. webcames, fax machines, scanners, printers etc.) have 64bit drivers, otherwise you'll have serious issues, if you need help doing this, I'd be glade to do so, but you'll need to provide model numbers for the devices in question. As far as programs go, most are backwards compatible within the 64bit environment, therefore you shouldn't encounter any issues. I encourage you to take the 64bit route as photography programs are going to take advantage of the newer 64bit OS in the near future. Such advantages will include faster loading times and more efficient uses of resources.
Hard disk space - how much GB do I need to run CS3 and a few other programmes without going overboard as I'll have separate external drives for storage. I also need this partitioned so that I can separate scratch disk. I've also read a little bit about RAID 0 and RAID 1 and leaning towards RAID 1 as I think it automatically backs things up and doesn't lose everything if one of the harddrives packs up. Is that right?
This is where it gets iffy, I'm actually going the expensive route and building a 6-8TB server to store all my information on a RAID5 array as I've been having downright terrible luck with hardware recently (turned my PC on yesterday to have the powersupply short and then my hard drive died at the beginning of the month for a few example lately). You are going to have to make some personal decisions here that I cannot really help you with. A RAID0 array is the way to go if you want something that'll be more responsive due to it's quicker access time, that being said it's very unreliable and I do not recommend it if you wish to store information on the drives as it becomes more and more risky as you add more and more drives to the array. You need to remember that if one drive fails, you lose everything and data recovery isn't cheap. RAID1 is a good option, but you also lose a significant amount of your overall capacity. So it's a bit of a toss up, the hard drives I'd recommend are the Western Digital 640GB drives. Lastly, doing a RAID array does add a level of complexity to the build, so you need to familiarize yourself with it. As far as external drives go, I recommend building your own if you want assurance that you are getting quality parts.
What is SATA - is that something I need to consider?
This is the most recent connection type and if you purchase a hard drive that is relatively new to the market, chances are that it'll be SATA exclusive and you will not have a choice of getting IDE (the older format) over it. Either way, SATA is better then IDE.
separate WD external drives (500GB each) - one for working on images and another for backing up.
Again, I recommend you build your own external drives, it's cheaper this way and you'll be getting better parts. All you need to buy is a hard drive enclosure and a hard drive.
High quality monitor - but not sure what's a good or bad one.
You are going to want to devote a larger chunk of money towards your monitor, unless you already have a CRT. While you can purchase a cheap LCD, they have poor color reproduction and chances are your prints will look different then what you see on your monitor. Do you have a specific size in mind? If so, it'll help me decide on what model to suggest to you.
I'm being a bit vague at the moment, but I want you to get a better understanding of what you are getting yourself into. Lastly, do you have a specific retailer in mind? I'm not familiar with anyone in Europe.
I was also wondering whether this is something I should get a PC specialist to custom build from scratch or can I easily buy this off the shelf?
This should definatly be custom built, you will not be satisfied with anything you buy of the shelf. I can give you a full list of products later on if you wish, therefore you won't forget a thing and if you need help building it, I as well as others can help you step by step if required.
Edited by james_8970, 04 September 2008 - 01:51 PM.