Dell Inspiron 530 & Vista 64-bit Home Premium

A few months back, I faced the decision of purchasing a new computer for my photographic needs.  My old iMac G5 at 1.8 GHz was maxed out with its lowly 250GB hard drive and 2 GB of RAM.  I was processing my Lightroom Library off of an external hardrive and was at a breaking point in user-friendly functionality.

My first steps in looking for a replacement centered around the pretty and new iMacs with 24″ monitors.  Man, they’re pretty.  The price tags, however, are not so pretty.  I wanted enough horse power to run Lightroom 2 and Photoshop simultaneously, in addition to Firefox and/or Safari.  To get what I wanted out of my new Mac, I would have to put together an iMac with a $2000+ price tag, or step up to the Mac Pro where I was looking at $2500 to $3000.  Ouch.

While I understand that many pro photographers out there (and I’m sure many amateurs as well) will pony up whatever Apple is charging for its great user interface and intuitive operation, that’s not necessarily for me.  As I thought more about it, I realized that Lightroom is the program that is the most important to me.  Second, would be Firefox.  Third, is Photoshop.  All three of these programs are available on Windows as well.

So, I started pondering the possibility of going back to Windows for my next box.  Then, when I started looking, I noticed the huge price differential for essentially the same specifications.  The price difference pretty much convinced me that I needed to go with a Windows machine for my next computer.

What About Vista?

If you’ve watched TV, browsed the Internet, or opened a magazine in the past year, you’ve likely heard that Vista sucks and sucks bad.  There was no way I was going to buy a computer with Vista on it – no way.

I started looking at specs for computers with Windows XP Pro, something with which I was familiar.  I couldn’t seem to find anything that offered more than 4GB of RAM.  When I asked a friend that works in IT why this was, I found out that Windows XP and Vista 32-bit didn’t take advantage of the extra performance offered by anything greater than 4GB of RAM.  I don’t know why this is, but it was a deal killer for me.  It also made me second guess my decision to find a Windows box.

Then I started looking a little closer at Vista.  The more I looked, the more the idea of using Vista seemed palatable to me.  I couldn’t really find any complaints or reviews that should prevent me from using Vista.  To be fair, my experience with OS X, while great, hasn’t been without problems.  I’ve had plenty of cursing sessions with OS X, as I have with past Windows-based computers.

So, Vista 64-bit seemed like a viable option.  It offered support for tons of RAM.  It is supported by Adobe Lightroom 2.  Photoshop support is there as well.  Firefox, same thing.  I couldn’t find a must-have program that wasn’t supported by Vista 64-bit OS.

Decision: Dell Inspiron 530

With an OS and a rough spec-list decided on, I set out to find the best deal.  I checked a number of online retailers, including Amazon.com (one of my favorites), but I found the best deal on a package at my local Best Buy.  I picked up a Dell Inspiron 530 with 64-bit Vista Home Premium, a 2.5 GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 processor, 6GB RAM, 750GB hard drive, a 256MB video card and a 22″ flat panel monitor for under $1100.  It was actually cheaper at Best Buy than it was through Dell.  Go figure.

User Experience and Performance

I had my doubts about Vista; however, I tried to approach it with an open mind.  As a result, I have very few negatives to point out about Vista itself.  The only software issue that has been troubling is video playback and some Java functionality on Firefox.  For some reason, embedded videos do not play well with Firefox.  This appears to be a known issue.  While I can restart Firefox to fix the problem, I usually just open the given link in Internet Explorer.  I imagine that this hiccup will be fixed in a future update and I only consider it a minor gripe for now.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with the way Vista works.  Lightroom and Photoshop are smooth as can be with the RAM and video card in the Inspiron 530, which was the goal I hoped to achieve.  I can run batch operations in Lightroom and jump over to any number of applications while the batch is processing.  This is something I can’t do on my old iMac G5.

I’ve kept my G5 though.  It is sitting on my desk to the left of me, while the Dell occupies center stage.  I still use a handful of Mac programs like iMovie and iTunes, but most of my “work” is done on the Dell.

I’ll also point out a hardware problem that I believe is driver related; however, I’ve been unable to pinpoint the problem to date.  This is primarily due to poor customer support in my opinion.  The built-in media reader on the Dell is pretty fancy.  It supports a number of memory cards and offers front-panel USB ports.  It worked like a charm for several weeks, then began to intermittently fail to recognize a CF or SD card when plugged in.  I searched for solutions online and couldn’t pin it down.  I called Dell tech support and they refused to help me troubleshoot the problem because I purchased the computer from Best Buy.  Dell told me I had to call the Geek Squad to received support.

I was frustrated by this response; however, I took my medicine and called Best Buy’s Geek Squad.  The geek that I spoke to on the phone refused to help me troubleshoot the issue and offered absolutely no assistance other than telling me I needed to bring the computer in to the store in order for them the help me.  I declined.  If I had a laptop, I might consider doing this. However, I’m not about to unplug all the stuff from my tower and load it up to take to Best Buy.

This has been the most disappointing aspect of buying a Windows computer.  Every time I needed support from Apple I got it over the phone and they usually got it right.  Additionally, in my experience, my tech support call was never outsourced to India, which is apparently where my phone call to Dell went.

Now that I’m off my soap box, I’ll tell you how I solved the problem.  I just plugged in one of my USB-based memory card readers in the Dell and it works like a charm.  It’s silly that I am using this as a workaround, but it works and I don’t really notice a difference in speed or otherwise from the external reader.

Again, the Dell machine on Vista 64-bit handles all of my photography software and functions as good or better than they worked on my Mac.  While I prefer the user interface of the Mac, I’m more than happy to work with Vista at less than half the price of a similarly spec’d iMac or Mac Pro.

I’m not saying that Mac users need to switch to a Vista machine or even that a Vista machine is better than a Mac for photo processing.  However, for cost conscious photographers, a fast PC running Vista 64-bit is a viable option to the graphical glory of the Apple machine.

To learn more about the Dell Inspiron and other Dell PCs, you can visit Dell online: Special Deals from Dell™ Home

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Comments

  1. Fedka the Convict says

    Its too late now but you could have saved considerably more by purchasing from http://www.ibuypower.com

    In my opinion iBuyPower is the best alternative to building a Windows PC for yourself. And a self-build would have cost even less and since you’d be picking the parts yourself you’d have the confidence that they would work as expected. Given the lack of support from Dell/BestBuy/Geek Squad you’d be better off building for yourself.

    Assembling a PC is slightly harder than putting together TinkerToys or Legos.

  2. Peter C. Krieger says

    I bought a new-build PC w/ VISTA last year, and I cannot fathom why so many people are anti-VISTA. Admittedly, I am not a power-user, and I don’t even have Photoshop. But I do store and process a lot of images, an I have not had either a crash or a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) in the year that I have owned it.
    Strangely enough, every time that I go to http://www.apple.com I keep trying to justify purchasing a laptop for travel purposes. One of these days….

  3. Stephen Steele says

    So I have faced this problem many times. I do video editing as a living, and I need to have final cut pro to work with a lot of my clients. I have two other suites that work just as well, and in some cases better, than final cut pro, but the client is boss. So a few years ago I bought a Mac Book Pro and liked it. I enjoy the user experience, but the cost just makes no sense to me.

    There are several arguments about the reliability of a closed system. To a point I can even accept them. But, the mac is no longer really a closed system in a lot of ways. They realized that the PC hardware done by Intel was outpacing them and went that direction.

    So recently I my mac book pro is pretty close to being dead, as well as my desktop PC. The PC gave up the ghost first so I figured it was best to replace them both. I build my own computers, so I am pretty cheap when it comes to cost. I got to the point I could build an equivalent power PC for 1/4 the cost and use parts and manufactures I trusted. So I built my PC and it was fast and slick and did everything I needed it to do. Then I was reading on lifehacker dot com, about a make a hackintosh. So I pulled the hard drive from my new computer and put a spare one in. I bought a new copy of OS X Leopard. I used the instructions give by lifehacker. Within three hours I had a newly working “Mac” that ran just as well, if not better, than what I could buy in the store. I was amazed. So I built a second computer with the same specs, and now I have a hackintosh.

    I love Mac’s OS X. I hate their cost of hardware, which should never be as expensive as they make it. I hate that they have always tried to be a lifestyle brand, and not a competitive brand. I need final cut pro, and that is the only reason why I stick around.

    Oh and that Firefox issue can be a little more easily remedied. If you download an extension called IE Tab it essentially opens the IE browser in a specific tab without having to leave Firefox. It actually uses it’s rendering engine. You just set a specific website to always be loaded with IE Tab, or you can switch between rendering engines on the fly.

    Good luck.

  4. says

    1) I have yet to find a good internal card reader. I think they don’t exist. No decent brand makes one. I just stick with the fast san-disk externals and be done with it.

    2) It varies with the month, but last year, it was possible to get an awesome machine with almost everything built onto the board. This is the only way that Dell/HP/Gateway make a machine that doesn’t suck. Wait a month or two and you might get a similar model with sub standard parts for the same price. Premade computers are always a gamble. I wish you luck with your new one.

    3) I think I’m going back to firefox 2. It was just as fast on my fast machine, and some of my plugins are still buggy in three. What was wrong with FF 2.x? Nothin.

    4) Macs are a fashion statement. It’s a shame that some software developers and users have been cowed into the hype. They’re not bad–but they’re overpriced. And with the pace of technology, you don’t get what you pay for with them these days.

  5. Adam says

    Looks like a good rig. I have been running Vista 32 bit on my home PC and my work laptop since it launched and have had not problems except on the work laptop with the network performance. This was a known issue and we would not put Vista on other systems at my work (as I do I.T. support) due to this network problem. SP1 resolved this and my laptop has worked flawless since SP1 and a few of the systems at work that run Vista as well (more recently purchased and came with Vista) have ran fine as well. My home PC gets the workout and it runs well. I have had some driver challenges with my home rig as it is a performance system but that is the problem of the hardware manufactures not releasing quality drivers for their products (looking at their support forums shows that!). But so much time has passed now that they all offer solid Vista drivers so the devices are fine (around the time of SP1 did the drivers for hardware seem to reach the state of maturity they should have shown when Vista launched).

    I have had people say to me ‘Vista sucks, blah blah’ so I ask them why they say that and they all say ‘because that is what i heard’!!! LOL I inform them of my experiences and what is needed to know (such as there is a good chance your Windows 98 PC won’t run it …) and they usually walk away with a new attitude.

    It was the lack of hardware vendors not having proper drivers for their video cards and sound cards, etc… that really hurt Vista when it launched but after a year and SP1, it balanced out fine.

    I am still with 32 bit because there is still software released that isn’t 64 bit friendly (such as some Photoshop plug-ins). If you are 4+ gigs of RAM you need 64 bit to address it, however if you are < 4 gig, 64 bit is not the correct way to go and simply Googling it and learning why will explain that.

    Have fun with the new rig. New hardware is always fun!

  6. brian b says

    I had the same problem with my Dell that was listed above. The SD card reader started to act up on me & it didn’t recognize the sd hd card when I put it in. I had to use the usb adapter that came with my sd card. Pain in the butt that I had to do this (because I didn’t know where I put the adapter after I put my trust in the card reader, so after hours of searching, I found the reader), but at least I could get the files off my card again.

    Otherwise, I totally love the machine!