When it came time to do serious work on 'The Trick on the Tain' module, I knew that the equipment and software I had been using was just not up to the task despite having made a good go with it with the previous releases. My computer was also about 5 years old and I was running into memory problems as I tried to manipulate larger images not to mention the time the processor needed to process some of the changes I made to a layer or additions I brought to images I was working on. I also knew full well the countless time I lost and wasted by not using dedicated software for my layout work. So, despite not quite having the cash I needed, I began to shop around and look at what Dell had to offer as far as hardware was concerned.
I have to be clear here, prior to this, all my previous PCs were dedicated gaming computers but the reality was that the additional money I would spend on video cards and a dedicated soundcard was no longer a priority. While my last computer had a great SLI video card setup, a pair of video cards didn't make much of an impact if doing something OTHER than gaming on the PC. On the other hand, more and more applications were taking advantage of multiple core systems and, in some cases, coded to take advantage of a 64 bit based OS.
It didn't take me long to zero in on the Studio XPS line from Dell. Some people will consider the quality with Dell to be a bit of a hit or miss but in my experience, this line was always solidly and reliably built and still delivered a bit of a punch when performance was a concern. The system I ended up picking up was an Intel i7 (quad) core and was loaded to bear with 12 gigs of ram. The memory was more than I needed but I got it because of a special sale -- the same sale which landed me a 1 terrabyte harddrive and a blu-ray upgrade at no additional cost. The actual cost of the system was good price but, since I had to go through Dell Financing, any savings I got were quickly eaten up by ridiculous interest rates. Interest was to the tune of 27% and it was on a 36 month payment plan. I paid it down in 2 years and saved a bit of money that way. However, given the circumstances and what I got out of it, I would have done it again. In subsequent months, to complement this purchase, I also invested in a new scanner as well as a monochrome laser printer.
So, with the hardware concerns out of the way, I turned my attention to my software needs. For this, John and I looked at various options and we both thought it would be immensely practical if we both settled / invested in the same software since we were doing various projects together. Neither of us could really afford to consider a Adobe suite of products either and I knew full well that such a program suite would cost me more than the new computer did -- even after the interest I knew I had to pay. We eventually came across a company called Serif and decided to give their software a try and were both sufficiently impressed with a program called PagePlus X4.
PagePlus X4 was not resource heavy but enabled one to do layout work in a very easy and intuitive manner. It had tools built in to do work on images and stuff you were porting in and had decent options to output straight to PDF as well as some really handy publishing options. You could create templates and import other files easily enough and best of all... the price was right! The regular price for the program is $100 which is a fraction of what you would end up paying if shopping from the Adobe catalog. It should be stressed that this wasn't what I paid for the program. Fortunately, there was a way I could try a feature-light version of the program but in order to do so, you need to register your email address with them. About a week or so later, I get an email from the company offering the latest version of the program at a 50% discount. I took the bait.
I have since bought other programs from them including DrawPlus (vector drawing program), PhotoPlus (photo editing), and WebPlus (as you may have guessed by the name theme... website design). The great thing about PagePlus is that it will interface with the full versions of the program from within itself if accessing the context menu options -- such as editing and fixing up a photo you're putting into your layout. If you don't have these extra programs, you have basic functionality to do rudimentary work without the need of additional programs as well. These programs similarly retail around $100 each but I also got these at a discount.
That would be the one 'hassle' with dealing with the company... expect emails from them regularly with alternate offers and such. If you also end up with the phone with them for one reason or another, they are also a company that does 'hard selling'. New versions of their programs seem to show up around 18 month intervals and they will always have give offers and they do have upgrade pricing. Each of the programs I've mentioned I have now all been upgraded at least once. It isn't necessary and all the work I was able to do with earlier versions of the software I still do with newer versions. However, they always seem to add in very nice features which make an upgrade something to consider -- at least for me. Still, it is possible to buy the previous older version from them as well (though it tends to be a bit more buried on their site -- a good google search will help you secure this deal from them). From what I've seen an older, discontinued version will sell for anywhere between $20 and $30.
If you are interesting in the slightly older version of PagePlus X5 ... follow this link HERE to for a chance to pick it up for $30
I have had great success using the Serif suite of software products and they are good value for the money. With this software and the hardware, I can get all the work I need done. I also have a few other tools here and there to help me out such as a PDF specific editor and a mapping tool to do the maps as the ones from the Ruins of Ramat and the Trick on the Tain but these are minor compared to the ones I've already mentioned.