The $4,000 Digital Imaging Station was great - how about a "half-price" sale?

One of the most popular articles we've ever posted at the Photo/Image News Network has been "The $4,000 Digital Imaging Station" in 1997.

Now I've built an up-to-date version and surprise - it's not only possible to make it a lot better, it's possible to do it for about half the price.

As always the key to good prints is a good print engine - a dye-sublimation printer. In 1997 the best value was the Fargo Primera Pro. In 2001, the best value is the Olympus D-400.

The computer came from Staples. It's got an Intel Celeron processor at 667MHz, a 20 GB hard drive, and 64MB of RAM. 

The CPU, after all the rebates, ended up costing me $355. I watched the sales like a hawk and here's how it figures:

Purchase price: $574.99
Staples instant price cut: -$50.00
Staples mail-in rebate: -$100.00
HP mail-in rebate; -$50.00
Staples free merchandise card: -$20.00

Effective price: $354.99

Memory is relatively cheap as of this writing. 64 MB may be adequate for home use, but graphics require lots more. I ordered a 256 MB PC100 card from Micron's Crucial Memory for $131. This weekend I could have bought a 256MB stick for $99 after rebates.

You can buy a good monitor - a Trinitron would be nice- or you can start with something cheap. A Pixie 17" monitor was $79.98 from Staples after a $60 mail-in rebate.

My choice for a mid-range scanner at this time is the Epson 1200U. CompUSA had them on sale for $199 at Christmas. It plugs right into the USB port, which is a lot easier than trying to configure a SCSI interface.

The printer has a street price of $799. If you're an Olympus dealer or buy wholesale from the distributors, it can cost less…

Adobe PhotoShop 6.0 is the latest version of the industry standard for manipulation of photographs. It's about $600 if you buy it outright. Upgrades from previous versions are much less.

However, for purposes of this article we've assuming you have nothing and have to buy it. PhotoShop LE offers many of the capabilities of the full version including layers. Get it free with the purchase of certain hardware or buy it. Sometimes it can be as little as $60 after rebates. The latest replacement for PhotoShop LE is Adobe Photo Elements, which is even better.

OK - now you're ready to put it together. 

Here's the final analysis of costs (after rebates and before sales tax):

  • $355 HP Pavilion Computer 6736

  • $79 Pixie 17" monitor

  • $199 Epson 1200U scanner (came with Photoshop LE)

  • $999 Olympus D-400 printer

  • $99 CD-Rom writing drive

  • $69 dual card reader for SmartMedia and 

  • $99 additional RAM (256 megabytes) 

  • $99 Computer desk

  • Adobe PhotoShop LE (free)

Total: $2,056

Let's see how this system stacks up against the $4,000 station:

Specifications: $4,000 unit in 1997 $2,056 unit in 2001
CPU 200 MHz 667 MHz
Hard Drive 2 GB 20 GB
RAM 128 MB 320 MB
CD writer no yes
Card reader no yes
Print surface matte gloss
Results are great, although the print speed is less than I had anticipated. The Olympus only takes 90 seconds of print time, but is slower processing the image. Big files = longer print times. We'll be working on that. 

Updated recommendations as of February 2002:

Computer - E-machines 4165 has Pentium 4 at 1.6 mhz, 60 GB hard drive, nVideo video card with 64MB RAM, CD-RW drive, DVD drive, 256MB ram, costs under $800.

Card Reader: Dazzle 6-in-1 reader retails about $45 and has a mail-in rebate of $25. Reads CF, SM, Sony Memory Stick and more. Comes with OnDVD software that allows you to write picture CDs that play back on customer DVD players!


And so what will I do with all those outdated computers, you ask? The answer is coming…