September 03, 2010

How to set up a great Photoshop machine

At Photoshop World this week, performance testing lead Adam Jerugim presented a performance guide with hardware recommendations and information about the CS5 performance preferences.  I’ve put his notes in this post’s extended entry.

Operating Systems: Mac OS 10.6.4 and Windows 7 64-bit

CPU: Intel Core i7/Xeon or AMD Phenom II/Opteron with 4 cores. More than 4 cores gives diminishing returns.

RAM: Enough to keep Efficiency readout at 100%. If Efficiency is low (<95%), adding RAM will provide biggest benefit. 4GB will cover most digital photography uses. 8GB leaves room for other apps and fits huge documents in RAM.

Video Card: Any modern card with at least 512MB VRAM; 1GB if doing heavy 3D work.

Disk: Use a separate disk for Photoshop scratch. If you spend a lot of time opening / saving large data files, another separate disk for data files will speed that up. Faster disks are better. RAID0 is faster. SSD is faster yet. RAID0 of SSDs is fastest but super expensive. If you have plenty of RAM (meaning your Efficiency readout is 95% or more), separate/faster disks for scratch provide minimal benefit. If Efficiency readout is low, a separate SSD for Photoshop scratch will be a big win. SSD boot volume will speed booting and app launch, but not Photoshop operations.

Memory Usage: this should be no higher than 70% on systems running 32bit Photoshop or with less than 4GB of total physical RAM. On systems with 8GB or more, use 70% if you plan on running other applications at the same time as PS, or higher (up to 90%) if you only plan on using PS on your system.

Efficiency %: can be found in the document window drop-down options. Operations fit in RAM when this 95% or greater.

History & Cache: if you work with small documents with lots of layers, start with the Tall and Thin button (which will set cache levels = 2, tile size = 128K/132K). If you work with large documents with few layers, try the Big and Flat button (which will set cache levels = 6, tile size = 1024K/1028K). Using more history states uses more scratch disk space.  More history states may also use more RAM, particularly when running actions or scripts on large documents. If you see Efficiency drop below 95%, especially after running actions, try reducing history states or adding RAM.

Scratch Disks: a separate drive for Photoshop scratch disk will avoid slowdowns from Photoshop and the OS trying to access the disk at the same time. If your Efficiency number often drops below 95%, the gain can be large. Faster disks are better. A RAID0 array is faster, an SSD faster still. If using a RAID or SSD, try setting the Tile Size to 1024K – AMD CPUs prefer 132K / 1028K sizes, but 128K and especially 1024K are more efficient for RAID and SSD use regardless of CPU type.

GPU Settings: you can change GPU settings by clicking on the Advanced Settings button. For more more modern video cards there will be three options: Basic, Normal, Advanced. Changes to this setting will only take effect after PS restart, and would be worth experimenting with if painting performance is sluggish.

Posted by John Nack at 7:10 AM on September 03, 2010
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