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


  • Armand — 7:41 AM on September 03, 2010

    I’m pretty sure 3D performance can be greatly improved. I’ve used 3ds max, Maya and Rhino on my laptop, they work great in both OpenGl and DirectX modes, yet Ps struggles with much simpler tasks and works only in Basic mode.

  • Logan Miller — 9:32 AM on September 03, 2010

    I’m in the market for a new machine. Thanks for posting this today. When you say that more than four cores gives diminishing returns, are you implying that the improvement isn’t worth the cost of the extra cores or that the extra cores are overkill or both? I’ll be sure to keep this list handy when I’m configuring my system.

    Thanks again!

    • Adam Jerugim — 2:47 PM on September 04, 2010

      When we say “diminishing returns over 4 cores” it doesn’t mean that those extra cores won’t be utilized, you just won’t see as much of a benefit as you’d see moving from 1 or 2 cores to 4 cores. There are some operations – for example Radial Blur or ACR to name a few – that do take advantage of as many cores as you’ve got in your system. Other operations are limited to run on a single core due to limitations of the specific algorithms we use for those functions. We will continue to look at ways to improve multi-core support in PS – it simply remains a work in progress.

    • Henrik Tived — 2:53 AM on September 07, 2010

      HI Logan Miller,

      Most new CPU’s in particular in the workstation class, such as AMD Opteron and Intel Xeon, are all 6 or more cores, with AMD using 8 and 12 cores per CPU, with 16 coming next year (eg. Bulldozer).
      (yes, there is still 4 core CPU’s out there)

      obviously on the Mac you will have max 6 cores per CPU or 12 in the dual processor Macpro and you are more limited to the amount of ram you can have (32GB), but given the above recommendation of only 8GB everyone should be fine for now.

      However if you need help with a PC build I would be happy to help you with questions


  • Tim Mackey — 9:47 AM on September 03, 2010

    For those that don’t already know about it, Lloyd Chambers has a great website devoted to optimizing performance on the Mac. He’s done in-depth testing with Photoshop CS4 and now with CS5 to find how you can squeeze the maximum performance out of your machine. I highly recommend perusing his site if you want to pump up your Photoshop experience. Here’s a direct link to his section on Photoshop CS5:

    • Henrik Tived — 2:55 AM on September 07, 2010

      Lloyds pages are excellent, a very good read.


  • Craig — 10:47 AM on September 03, 2010

    Nice synopsis. Nice way to simplify it man.

  • Antonio A — 12:18 PM on September 03, 2010

    Maybe I am missing a trick here..but what is the Efficiency readout? how does one get it?
    I’d be intrigued by the more than 4 cores assertion..also…is CS5 able to use hyperthreading? would that help?

    • Jeffrey Tranberry — 2:00 PM on September 03, 2010

      Open a document. At the bottom of the document window, there is a > menu. Inside that menu there is an option for “Efficiency.”

    • Henrik Tived — 2:59 AM on September 07, 2010

      Antonio A,

      in your info panel click the little arrow and select Panel Options, within here you can choose what the panel will display. A real little gem!
      One of them being the efficiency :-)
      I personally like to see
      My current color space, Document size, and dimensions and efficiency.

      When working with CMYK i find TIL very useful too.

      good luck


  • Tony Good — 5:10 AM on September 04, 2010

    Do these specs apply to Lightroom 3, if not are there similar recommendations for LR?

  • Eddy — 1:59 PM on September 04, 2010

    The problem with reducing the Cache Levels setting is that it drastically affects how well the Healing Brush and Patch Tool work. See Adobe bug ID #2518090.

  • Henrik Tived — 2:23 AM on September 07, 2010

    Jack and Adam,

    this must be a config for a good basic photoshop workstation.
    Now for us mortals who end up working on larger files,in the multiple gigabytes, what do you recommend here?

    Would there be no need for more then 8GB of ram here too?

    As someone who is contemplating 64GB or ram in my workstation coming from 8GB, I would hope that this investment will see me better off.

    Sorry is this for Mac’s only? Cos I would really like some more attention for the PC/windows based requirements for Photoshop usage :-) and what recommendations you could offer here.

    Also if Multiple GPU’s will help the overall Photoshop experience and if not so yet, if it will be improved in the future.

    Thanks for providing such a great source of information here.


    • Adam Jerugim — 4:33 PM on September 07, 2010

      When working with “larger files” more RAM is better. My recommendation is to get as much as you can afford, and as much as can fit in your system. 8GB is a good start, more is better – we’ll use as much as you’ve got in your system and RAM access is still faster than disk access.

      The hardware recommendations are for both Mac and Windows.

      Finally, two GPUs won’t improve overall performance, but more VRAM on your primary card will if you’re working with 3D in PS.

      • Henrik — 12:27 AM on September 08, 2010

        Thanks Adam,

        I was getting a bit worried.

        However it is a bit concerning to see Lloyds findings that PS is not able to utilize multi-cores any better then they currently do.

        Sitting on the fence here with a 2x six core!

        thanks – you still need a good Photoshop PC-performance guide! :-)


  • Charlie Nancarrow — 5:38 PM on September 07, 2010

    The recent MacPros have three-way memory interleaving, so installing RAM in multiples of three give a small speed boost. This is why Apple’s base MacPro comes with 3GB RAM, next one up is 6GB, then 12GB etc.

    2 x 128GB SSD in RAID0 for Scratch would be grand. Single SSD for the Boot drive. Another 2 x 500GB SATA drives (say Velociraptor drives in RAID0) would be perfect as secondary scratch.

    Does Photoshop take advantage of multiple GPUs in additional (unused for display purposes) video cards?

  • Mike — 2:26 PM on September 11, 2010

    John, it still continues to amaze me that you (Adobe) doesn’t promote the biggest performance improvement on modern machines – which is use uncompressed TIFFs rather and PSD. We are talking about typically a 10x disk reading and writing performance increase…. If PS defaulted to using uncompressed TIFF rather than PSD many users would benefit. Mike

  • Kevin Briggs — 2:14 PM on September 16, 2010

    Not sure if you’ve seen this:

  • lorin duckman — 10:27 AM on October 04, 2010

    I don’t know enough to understand most of this discussion.

    What is a scratch disk and when do I use it?

    How do I find out if my machine is efficient. I have a Mac Pro with 8 gigs of memory. Not yet at the raid level. Have a one t and two t external drive. Using Lr3 and cs5.

    Please forgive me.

  • Connell Smith — 7:03 PM on October 14, 2010


    If I have a machine that can only have two internal drives, am I better off configuring them as seperate drives and using one as scratch or configuring them as a single Raid0. Thanks.

  • simon — 4:25 PM on January 27, 2011

    can LR/PS utilize a new instruction set from new Intel’s processor /sandy bridge/? this instruction is called AVX. simon

  • Adam Jerugim — 5:07 PM on January 27, 2011


    The short answer is “no.”

    We are familiar with AVX and we are currently investigating whether or not to take advantage of this technology for future versions of both products.

  • Ben Philips — 5:18 PM on February 06, 2011

    I have spent the last 2 weeks trying to design a Win 7 CS5-centric machine with a budget of $3,000-$5,000. It has been difficult to parse through all of the “facts” that exist, and assemble a PS optimized workstation with any confidence that I’m on track. This thread is a life saver, thank you for the solid info without filler.

  • Mustafa Sazak — 11:08 AM on May 18, 2011

    Great tips indeed. Thank you very much. But I wonder, which one is better to use Photoshop on? Mac platform or Windows platform? Thanks.

  • Paul — 2:13 AM on August 03, 2011

    will ram drive set as scrach be an even better solution than a raid0 or ssd? in a home photoshop station with 16 gb of ram, if i would asign 8 gb as a virtual ram drive for win cache and temp and for PS primarily scratch would this be a good solution? or even 32gb of ram?

    so in conclusion what about virtual ram drive and what would be a optimal set up of it?

    • Chris Cox — 11:07 AM on August 03, 2011

      If you have a RAM drive on a card, maybe. (though I thought those died off years ago)

      But if you’re using your system RAM, no — that should be used by Photoshop as RAM. IF you have 32 Gig of RAM, assign 70% to Photoshop and let it use the RAM. It’ll hit the scratch disk less often, and won’t have the overhead of using the file system.

  • Jimmy Gonzalez — 11:54 PM on August 06, 2011

    Great information!!
    Question: If I was to use a second SSD drive as a scratch drive, could I partition that same SSD to also house the OS virtual memory?
    The reason I asked is because the Adobe Optimization article said that the scratch shouldn’t be on the same disk as the OS or virtual memory, but I was wondering if partitioning them actually separates them: “Scratch disks should be on a different drive than the one your operating system uses for virtual memory.”

  • Robert Knapp — 9:04 AM on August 25, 2011

    Jimmy Gonzalez:
    With a memory device, the bottleneck is in the I/O. Since data flowing into/out of the SSD has to go through the same channel, regardless of whether it’s addressed to the OS VM or the Adobe scratch area, it would be best to have them on separate devices. Partitioning only sets up software parameters directing data to certain addresses, and does not actually create a separate disk.

  • rajith — 4:23 PM on November 21, 2011

    I was wondering whats the better choice btw the following CPU for photo editing (there will be no video work)

    1. intel i5 2500k
    2. Amd phenom ii x6 1100t

    All though the AMD has 6 cores it’s cheaper than the 4 core intel CPU. So I’m wondering what’s better?

    Also I’d appreciate your opinion on a good graphics card for photo editing.

  • Joe — 10:06 PM on January 29, 2012

    Would using MicroSD be better than SSD for scratch disks?

  • ILLFLO — 8:59 AM on February 02, 2012

    hey. i’ve been looking at an 2008 MacPro 8-core/12gbs RAM as an upgrade to my 2006 MacBookPro core2duo/3gbs RAM to better run: CS5, FCP, & LOGIC.

    is this a good choice?

    considering my budget is about $1200 at the moment. Or should i just save up and get a 2011/2012 machine?

  • Linda McCarty — 5:04 AM on May 17, 2012


    I too am confused as I don’t understand most of the article.

    Would either of these machines below give me what I need for Photoshop cs6 and Lightroom 4?

    PS 8500 XPS 8500
    Chassis XPS 8500, White Chassis w/19:1 media card reader
    OPERATING SYSTEM Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64Bit, English
    PROCESSORS 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7-3770 processor 3.40 GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 3.90 GHz
    MEMORY 12GB Dual Channel DDR3 1600MHz – 4 DIMMs
    HARD DRIVE 2TB 7200RPM, SATA Hard Drive 6.0 Gb/s + 32GB SSD SRT Enhancement
    VIDEO CARD AMD Radeon™ HD 7770 2GB GDDR5
    OPTICAL DRIVE 16X CD/DVD burner (DVD+/-RW), write to CD/DVD
    WIRELESS Dell Wireless 1703 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0+LE
    SOUND CARD Integrated 7.1 with WAVE MAXXAudio 4
    USB 3.0 Integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet


    HP Z1 Workstation (ENERGY STAR)
    Operating system:
    Genuine Windows® 7 Professional 64
    Intel® Core™ i3-2120 (3.30 GHz, 3 MB cache, 2 cores)
    Number of Processors: 1
    Number of Processors: 1
    Intel® C206
    Form factor:
    Featured Model:
    Standard memory:
    4 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 non-ECC Unbuffered RAM
    Memory slots:
    4 DIMM
    Internal drive bays:
    One 3.5″ OR Two 2.5″
    Internal drive:
    500 GB 7200 rpm SATA NCQ
    Storage controller:
    Integrated SATA interfaces with RAID 0, 1 support (2x 6.0 Gb/s and 1x 3.0 Gb/s)
    Optical drive:
    SATA SuperMulti DVD+/-RW
    Display and graphics
    Intel® HD Graphics 2000
    Expansion features
    2 USB 3.0
    7 USB 2.0
    1 4-in-1 media card reader
    1 headphone
    1 microphone
    1 IEEE 1394a
    1 DisplayPort
    1 RJ-45
    1 optical S/PDIF
    1 subwoofer out
    1 audio line in
    1 audio line out
    1 MXM
    3 mini PCIe (full-length)
    Communication features
    Network interface:
    Integrated Intel 802.11 a/g/n Wireless LAN & Bluetooth Combo Card
    Integrated High Definition IDT 92HD91, SRS Premium Sound, HP Digital Mic Array

    Any thoughts would be appreciated, Thank you very much.

  • Dsel — 4:43 PM on May 29, 2012

    Tested video cards for Photoshop CS6
    Adobe tested the following video cards before the release of Photoshop CS6 . This document lists the video card by series. The minimum amount of RAM supported on video cards for Photoshop CS6 is 256 MB.

    Note: Adobe tested laptop and desktop versions of the following cards. Be sure to download the latest driver for your specific model. (Laptop and desktop versions have slightly different names.)

    nVidia GeForce 8000, 9000, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 series

    nVidia Quadro 400, 600, 2000, 4000 (Mac & Win), CX, 5000, 6000

    AMD/ATI Radeon 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000 series

    AMD/ATI FirePro 3800, 4800, 5800, 7800, 8800, 9800, 3900, 4900, 5900, 7900

    Intel Intel HD Graphics, Intel HD Graphics P3000, Intel HD Graphics P4000

    Note: ATI X1000 series and nVidia 7000 series cards are no longer being tested and are not officially supported in Photoshop CS6, but some basic GL functionality may be available for both these cards.

    Does anyone know where we can get a comparison of the performance of these cards for PS6? Contacted adobe and they say they don’t have the data……….Didn’t they test the cards?

    They range in price from a few hundred dollars to over $10,000. There must be a level that will suit most professional small business photographers vs high end advertising professionals.

    Which Geforce is comparable to what Qudro or why are they different pros n cons. etc etc

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