I've shot a fair number of pictures this last year - mostly of my daughter's sports. My camera is a Canon 40D, and I generally use my 70-200mm F4L lens. The camera works well and is better than I am.
I shoot all my photos in RAW format, which basically means you get the information before the camera does any post-processing (white balance, exposure, sharpening, etc.) I then use Lightroom 1.4 to make the adjustments that I want, and then export them to jpeg and upload them to smugmug.
I'll typically shoot a full card of about 300 exposures at a game, and then when I get back, I need to delete the shots I don't like, crop all the keepers, and then do the adjustments I want.
My current laptop is pretty ancient and is slow at doing this, and I've wanted to start using Lightroom 2.2, which is nicer but takes more resources.
After a bit of thought, I decided that I'd put together a new system for our office and do photography on that rather than getting a new laptop. My plan was to build a new office system and then get a mid-range laptop rather than trying to get a pricey laptop that did everything I wanted.
I don't keep up on processors as much as I used to, so I set of to do some research. I started at Ars Technica, and looked through their current system recommendations as a starting point.
The first choice point was the processor. I've traditionally gone with AMD on price/performance and though I considered the Intel dual or quad cores, I ended up settling on an AMD Athlon dual core running at 3.1 GHz ($72.99). The quad-core Phenom looks interesting - and Lightroom does a good job with multiple cores - but it isn't that fast yet. I bought the retail processor which came with a nice quiet fan to make things easier.
For a motherboard, I got the ASUS M3A78-EM ($78.99). It has pretty much everything I want onboard, with decent but not great graphics, and it has the AM2+ socket, so when the Phast Phenoms are available, I'll just be able to slot one right in. The motherboard supports 8G of main memory, and it's full of DDR2 1066 memory from Kingston ($91.98).
For storage, there are two Samsung Spinpoint F1 750G drives ($159.98). I like having multiple disks so I can put system/swap on one and application data on another, and for Lightroom you can put the catalog on one drive and the pictures on another, spreading your I/O out.
Add in a DVD burner ($26) and a nice Inwin case ($65).
In the old days, I'd talk about all the cards I'd put in it, but the motherboard has a ton of stuff built in. I'll likely pull my Soundblaster Audigy out of the old office system and put it in the new one.
Oh, and a combination floppy disk and card reader, so that I can pull the pictures off the card as fast as possible ($25).
Putting the system together was pretty simple - a bit tight around the drives but not bad. The Inwin case came with a really nice adapter for all the front panel controls. You plug in the separate cables for power light, HDD light, power switch, reset switch into this little header that's labeled, and then the header plugs into the motherboard. Same for the USB cable from the card reader.
And, of course, SATA is more than a little easier to put together than IDE.
The system started fine, and was treated to an install of Vista Ultimate, 64bit version. That went fine, thought I needed to use the motherboard driver disk to get everything up and running.
Lightroom 2.2 went on tonight, and the system works very nicely, even with the adjustment brush feature which is known to be pretty slow, and I haven't gotten around to putting the catalog on a separate disc.
Total is somewhere around $600, which is pretty good. I still need to get a calibrator to calibrate my monitor so I'm seeing the right colors, and then it's time to move over all the other apps and data.