Geeking-out with a ground-up build.

As you can see above, I have a pet Dalek that handles all my color calibration needs. Ok, not really, but “CALIBRATE! CALIBRATE!” was the first thing that popped into mind when I set about taking the newly-calibrated workstation for it’s first edit run after an absurdly long, four-monitor calibration process. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…


Many of you know I’ve done photo edit for a certain premium magazine for the last few years. Unfortunately, due to some recent eye-health concerns, I need full control over my environment (especially lighting) to get any significant amount of time at a computer—a difficult feat in an office space shared with a half-dozen other employees. I had access to a fairly decent workstation on-site, but it had three fatal flaws:

  1. The iMac’s built-in monitor is notoriously difficult to properly calibrate. Note: none of the Apple displays offer wide gamut or accurate color reproduction.
  2. The Mac OS, from Lion to Mavericks, is horribly bug-ridden and inefficient (Yosemite isn’t half bad).
  3. It wasn’t mine, so I couldn’t exactly move it to a dark cave during edit sessions.


My creative consulting business picked up around the same time, and as generously accommodating as the magazine was: working for Client B while on-site at Client A’s facility is just plain awkward. A home studio was the answer, and that new studio naturally needed a new workstation at the center of it. Some of HP’s latest offerings sounded enticing, but a $5,000 investment before approaching the specs I wanted did not…time to go custom.

Things haven’t changed much since I last built.
Things have change a lot since I last built.

The last time I did a chassis-up build AGP was the standard for performance graphics. Other than my custom notebook—which was really just a matter of swapping drives, memory, and wireless cards—my last custom build was over a decade ago. That’s a lot of time for old technologies to die off, and new complexities to be invented. Fortunately, the new hardware is more forgiving of incompatibilities, and there are great sites like PC Part Picker to help minimize such issues before purchase. The best change I’ve noticed? It’s easy to find blacked-out hardware and components.

Here’s the PCP Build Sheet, but in a nutshell:

  • Liquid-cooled Intel Core i7 4790K 4.0GHz quad-core processor (running at 4.4GHz)
  • 32GB of DDR3-1600 memory
  • Twin EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti “For The Win” Edition (I couldn’t resist) video cards
  • 250GB M.2 Samsung 850 SSD for boot and apps (a touch slow less fast, but more reliable for the long haul…and Photoshop still opens in under four seconds)
  • Twin 4TB Western Digital Black (Raptor) drives in a RAID1 for file storage
  • LG Blu-Ray Burner
  • Built-in USB3.0 multi-card reader (yes, I found one)
  • ASUS PB278Q primary, ASUS VS229H-P secondary, and an AOC 16-inch side monitor for tool pallets; plus a 40-inch up top for media work and the occasional movie
  • An X-Rite ColorMunki to keep the monitors in check
  • SteelSeries Apex wired keyboard, and a Wacom Intuos Pen+Touch for a mouse
  • All tied up in a sleek Thermaltake Soprano case with a hot-swap drive dock built in for easy offsite backups
crucial 4790k rear


wd raptor samsung 850 ports and dock

Never half-ass two things…

I don’t multi-task, ever. There was a time when I did, and it was made quite obvious by the diminished quality of my work. In the immortal words of Ron Swanson: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

So what am I doing with 10.1 square feet of screen real estate? Multiplying my productivity with extremely efficient single-tasking. If I’m photo-editing it’s distraction-free full screen work with each photo on the center monitor, tool palettes on the right monitor, and the original photo or color-matching target to the left. When writing code the editor and browser sit in the middle, files and FTP left, and my library of code snippets to the right. The big one up top acts like a chalkboard—catching any miscellaneous notes or items I might need to reference, and displaying them big enough to view from the work table across the room. Writing this article was no different: editor and preview front and center, references to the left, photos to the right…


desk 3Aside: The Desk.

Yes, the desk is custom built as well. It was once a pile of shipping crates discarded by Client B after safely carrying a stack of Eezi-Awn roof top tents across the ocean. Not one to let quality wood go to waste (Eezi-Awn uses manufacturing scrap for shipping crates), I snagged it and turned it into a 7′ x 5′ workspace. If you look closely, you can still make out Equipt’s address, Eezi-Awn’s address, and the U.S. Customs import stamps.

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