Looking to build a SFF Lightroom Machine

ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
Hey there! I'm new to this site and looking for help in building a small form factor PC for photo editing in Adobe Lightroom.

I've done computer repair before but have never built one from the ground up. I've been using PC part picker to try and build something I like, but I'm having trouble even deciding on a case or chipset. Any advice would be appreciated!

Requirements: As Lightroom mainly is affected by CPU, I want at least a 7th gen i5 or AMD equivalent - the faster the better though. I want an SSD for speed as well (at least 480gb), and I'm thinking 16gb of RAM. Lightroom doesn't really use a dedicated GPU so my thought is I'll skip that for now but would like the space to add one later. USB type C is a must for future file transfers from external hard drives.

My reason for posting here is that I'm looking to build something with a small form factor. If I build a PC I want it to be small and sleek - much smaller than a standard tower, not much bigger than a router (or a small toaster?). I've looked at barebone mini PCs and mini ITX cases, but I'm having trouble finding something that won't take up very much desk space but still would be in my budget and has decent reviews. I do have a limited budget, hoping to spend in the $600-$800 dollar range if at all possible.
 

IntoxicatedPuma

Customizer of Titles
Editorial Staff
Silver Supporter
Feb 26, 2016
984
1,249
Have you checked out Puget Systems benchmarks (and also this one) for Lightroom? They do a pretty good job of testing. I think you could probably get something like a NUC, many of them have SD card readers built in which may be to your liking. Likewise something like a Zotac Magnus or other Zbox would be a good solution. If you are planning on transferring to an external hard drive, Type C won't be that important as most current gen boards have USB 3.1. If you are needing Thunderbolt then you'll be forced to go with Intel, but TB3 doesn't really have a speed advantage over USB as most drives aren't fast enough.
 

Bshoults

Caliper Novice
Sep 20, 2017
21
11
The 8th Gen Intel i5 chips (8400) is a 6 core processor for about $175. The jump from 7th gen to 8th gen was pretty significant. If that's not in your budget, heck, even the bottom of the line i3 (8100) is only $120 with 4 cores at 3.60ghz. Have you considered the Streacom W1C WS? It's about the size of a mac mini (a bit taller though). For an SSD, I would get a 960 evo m.2 drive. The new SSD technology is WAY faster. Based on your requirements, you might be stretching your budget a bit, but might be possible.
 
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ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
Thanks for sharing the Puget Systems benchmarks. From reading that and other forums I've seen, it does sound like the intel chips still have a slight performance edge for Lightroom compared to AMD.

The NUC boxes are promising but it sounds like they run very loud under heavy workload. The Zotac options have better reviews, so I'm considering the zotac Zbox MI553 with an i5-7300HQ. I haven't heard of anyone using a Zbox for photo editing though, and I'm not sure if going the barebone route would be too limiting for future upgrades.

It's just slightly more than I want to spend, but I also am considering a full build from this part list I built, with an 8th gen i5 in a Cougar QBX mini ITX case. Does anyone have experience with that case? (Note: PCPartPicker says the motherboard is incompatible with 8th gen, but that's incorrect.)

@Bshoults, that Streacom W1C looks very slick... do you have experience working with it? I love the look but I would question whether the recommended fanless power supply would stay cool enough while handling a heavy workload.
 

Bshoults

Caliper Novice
Sep 20, 2017
21
11
@ajh24 I don't have personal experience with it. There are a few builds on this forum with this case. It was also used for the now famous $682 hackintosh. I just noticed that you were wanting space for a GPU in the future.
 

smitty2k1

King of Cable Management
Dec 3, 2016
919
456
I gotta tell you, I built a beast rig in part to do Lightroom and in part to game. Lightroom is so horridly optimized, even with the supposed GPU acceleration and storing all files on a local SSD. Don't even bother with anything high end.

Your requirements for a small footprint, USB-C, and 16GB RAM make me think you should buy a NUC. Either the 7th gen i7 or i5 has Thunderbolt.

i7: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N0RL8Q4/?tag=theminutiae-20

i5 (my suggestion): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N2UMKZ5/?tag=theminutiae-20
 

Duality92

Airflow Optimizer
Apr 12, 2018
307
330
If you're interested, I have a special ECS Liva Z Plus with i5 7300U I'm looking to part with. It has 2*4GB of Kingston Impact 2400/14 and 128GB Transcend SSD. Shoot me a PM and we can try to arrange things :)
 

ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
Thanks all for the suggestions, I've been doing more research and think I may be close to finalizing the design. I like the small size of a NUC/barebone type but feel like that would hold me back from future upgrades. Or at least that's what I'm telling myself... maybe I just want the challenge/freedom of building from scratch :D

Right now my build list (here on PCPartPicker: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/WVnTJ8) is complete and within budget, and I've already bought the RAM and SSD. Leaning towards 8th gen intel, either a basic i3, i3 8600k or the basic i5.

My lead case right now is the Raijintek Metis Plus. (https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA66Z5X06957) The Silverstone FT03S is too pricey, and I like the looks of the Metis better than the Cougar QBX. I've been reading other threads here where people have built with the Metis and Metis Plus, and the common complaint is ventilation. With what I'm considering - especially since I don't have a graphics card - do you think cooling would really be an issue? My plan would be to add 1 fan at the top of the case, I guess that would be the exhaust since it sounds like the included back fan is wired to be the intake.
 

jmarin

Airflow Optimizer
Mar 8, 2018
260
187
Before I put a dedicated GPU in my Metis Plus, the CPU got plenty of air flow with the top fan pulling air in and the back fan sucking it out
 

ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
Hey everyone, I wanted to share an update and ask for some advice. I had hoped my next update would be a completed build - but instead I am stuck in troubleshooting!

A week ago I finished gathering up all the parts for my build - final list here: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/tNrhkd

I assembled it quickly, and was excited to power up into bios and see that everything seemed to be working great - all hardware was detected and functioning normally, CPU temp between 34 and 39 C.

Then I went to load Windows (via USB), and the system shut down only a few seconds in. Screen goes black, fans shut off, power is still going to the mobo according to the led indicator, but this happens every time I try to load Windows. There is no error message or beeping, just a rapid shutdown.

So far I've tried loading from another Windows flash drive, using a different power supply, isolating the RAM, resetting CMOS, checking the CPU cooler tightness, wiping the SSD, swapping sata ports, running a mem test via HIRENS, and the result is always exactly the same.

Any advice/ideas? I'm at a loss! (Also, is there a different forum/thread I should post in for troubleshooting?)
 

smitty2k1

King of Cable Management
Dec 3, 2016
919
456
Hey everyone, I wanted to share an update and ask for some advice. I had hoped my next update would be a completed build - but instead I am stuck in troubleshooting!

A week ago I finished gathering up all the parts for my build - final list here: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/tNrhkd

I assembled it quickly, and was excited to power up into bios and see that everything seemed to be working great - all hardware was detected and functioning normally, CPU temp between 34 and 39 C.

Then I went to load Windows (via USB), and the system shut down only a few seconds in. Screen goes black, fans shut off, power is still going to the mobo according to the led indicator, but this happens every time I try to load Windows. There is no error message or beeping, just a rapid shutdown.

So far I've tried loading from another Windows flash drive, using a different power supply, isolating the RAM, resetting CMOS, checking the CPU cooler tightness, wiping the SSD, swapping sata ports, running a mem test via HIRENS, and the result is always exactly the same.

Any advice/ideas? I'm at a loss! (Also, is there a different forum/thread I should post in for troubleshooting?)

Try loading MemTest86 on a USB thumb drive and boot into that and let it check out your RAM for a while.
 

ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
I actually a full check via MemTest86 overnight, it comes as part of the Hirens Boot CD package - it did a full scan and didn't find any errors :( I've also tried using both sticks one at a time in case one is bad...
 

ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
Have you tried to install via an external ODD instead of USB

I did... this morning I burned a Microsoft CD and tried booting that way, same result. I also tried Ubuntu and got the same result.

To further try to troubleshoot, I booted into Windows safe mode. This worked longer - I was able to work through the process a bit, even past the point of detecting the hard drive, creating partitions, and copying files. It made it all the way until the final restart- upon rebooting for the full install it died again. I tried this twice with the same results.
 

ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
Do you have another SSD/HDD to try and install on?

I don't, but I could buy one at Best Buy.

I did wipe the hard drive using bios, and it appears windows safe mode was able to transfer files to it... here are some screenshots:
 

ajh24

Cable Smoosher
Original poster
Apr 16, 2018
12
4
I guess so...? It was wiped before and that appeared after the safe mode install.

Tonight I went to Best Buy and bought another hard drive to try. Same exact thing happened!