Computer Hardware Setup

Building Your New Computer ? Here Is How To Start From Scratch

To some degree, all artists are digital artists these days. It’s not so much whether or not you actually create the art on the computer — eventually, it needs to get there.

While this series is entitled “How I Work”, I am going to be a bit less specific here because the specifics aren’t as important. That said, my current rig is a 2014 MacBook Pro 15”. I just upgraded from my trusty 2008 Mac Pro tower. The MacBook Pro ships with 16GB of RAM which is plenty for my needs (and most likely yours as well — but we will get to that shortly). I run the same dual monitor setup I had on the Mac Pro, using some adapter cables. It’s quite amazing that a laptop can run dual monitors, and if I open up the laptop — three! I usually run it closed and I have an external keyboard attached, along with my Wacom Intuos4 medium graphics tablet.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what you might want for your own digital art studio.

The right tools can make a huge difference not only in the efficiency of your studio, but also in the enjoyment of the creation and sharing of your artwork. That said, there’s little reason to go overboard with the most high-end system if you aren’t outputting HD 3D animated renderings. These days you can get a more-than-sufficient setup for a much lower percentage of your income than in years past. For us early adopters, there was a time when it was quite pricey to go digital. Thankfully, that is no longer the case these days.

The number one rule for working for yourself is to spend as little money as possible, but when it comes to your tools, be sure you find a good balance between spending the least possible and buying quality tools.

Windows or Mac?

I think we need to start off this discussion with the eternal “Mac vs. Windows” debate. For the record, I’ve been a Mac user for my entire computer career and these articles will be heavily Mac-focused. That said, there is very little difference when it comes to speed, power, functionality and software between the two.

The Macintosh computers, back in the 80s and 90s, used to be the only platform one could run graphics software like Quark Xpress or Photoshop. It wasn’t a “Mac is better” argument, it was a “Mac is the only way to do these things” situation. Suffice it to say that these days regardless of the operating system you choose, you can create art on it. You may find that more creative types gravitate towards the Mac, but these days that is no more than a preference — unless of course we are talking about highly specialized software. Some is only available for Mac OS X, some only for the Windows operating system. That said, many design studios are Mac-based, so knowledge of the Mac may be required or desired. But since we are talking about working for yourself, it’s really up to you. Don’t think you must get a Mac if you want to create art digitally.

If you are purchasing a computer today, you can pretty much guarantee that anything you buy will be powerful enough to run the software you want to run. Film editors and 3D rendering artists might be excluded from this, but anyone working in a 2D format is going to find that you probably can’t find a new computer that isn’t powerful enough for your needs.

What you do want to keep an eye on the the RAM (a.k.a. the “memory”) your computer has. In short, the more RAM the better, and this especially applies to your old behemoth sitting under the drawing table — most likely that beast has some life in it if you’ve never upgraded the RAM.

How Much RAM?

So what is RAM anyways? RAM stands for Random Access Memory. Think of it like your brain’s short-term memory. When you run software like Photoshop, it is loaded into the RAM. When you open files, they are stored in the RAM. The long-term “memory” is your hard drive, where files are stored and saved. They are loaded into RAM because files loaded into RAM can be accessed much faster. it’s all about speed. A Flash drive or a smartphone both use RAM exclusively (part of the reason they are so fast). Even computers are starting to get equipped with RAM-based drives instead of hard drives. These are called SSD (Solid-State Drives) Drives. Yes, that D in SSD seems to be redundant!

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