Photoshop Blog

Photoshop CS6: The Need for Speed

Performance is now a feature in every new version of Photoshop and as Photoshop Architect, it’s my job to look for ways to make the software faster and more responsive than ever. We’ve heard from our customers that they perceive improved performance as a feature and a key reason to upgrade to a new version. This video by Senior Product Manager, Zorana Gee was a sneak peek we shared back in January which revealed a hint of the work we were doing for Photoshop CS6.

It used to be that when you bought a new computer, it would run all your existing programs a lot faster. Moore’s Law: twice as many transistors in the same amount of space every 24 months, translated pretty directly into performance: twice the CPU (Central Processing Unit) speed every two years. Moore’s Law is still going strong, but it no longer translates into performance the same way it once did. The additional computational performance provided by new computers now requires significant changes in most software to take advantage of it. There are several ways modern computers provide greater performance than those of 5 years ago, and each of them requires a different kind of change to software.

Multi-Core Processors: Is More Really Better?

The oldest and easiest place to find additional performance is in multi-core processors. All modern desktop and laptop CPUs are multi-core. When chipmakers found they couldn’t make a single CPU run significantly faster with each new generation of chips, they started putting multiple CPUs on a single chip (a multi-core chip is basically multiple CPUs on a single chip). They started with 2, and now 4- and 8- core chips are common.

Photoshop has been able to take advantage of multi-core processors since the mid-1990s, when it was first modified to take advantage of the rare high end computers with multiple CPU chips in them (each with only a single core at that time). But it gets harder and harder to take advantage of each additional CPU core. Photoshop takes great advantage of 2-4 cores. 8 cores doesn’t give you anywhere near twice the performance of 4 on most operations in Photoshop (or in most other programs either). Partly for that reason, the increase in the number of cores per processor is slowing. We don’t expect to see mainstream processors with 16 cores on them, because almost nothing would use them — they would just sit idle most of the time.

Each new feature in Photoshop has to be written to take advantage of multiple cores, and some features that were written when even 2 CPUs were a luxury must be modified or significantly rewritten to get any benefit from a 4- or 8- core machine.

Graphics Cards Give Peformance a Boost

The most dramatic performance increases in modern computers have come in the graphics cards — the circuitry to which the computer’s display is connected. Originally designed to accelerate the drawing of 3D scenes in games, they have become capable of taking on increasingly diverse computational tasks. However, GPU’s (Graphics Processing Units) must be programmed in a very different way from the CPU, and they are still unsuitable for many computing tasks — even those involving graphics. But when they can be put to full use, even a modestly priced graphics card has many times the computational power of the CPU — even one with 8 cores.

Zorana’s sneak peek video (shown above) is an excellent example of this, demonstrating the Liquify command in Photoshop CS6. Its image warping algorithm is ideally suited to the GPU’s capabilities. When running on the CPU and using a large brush (hundreds of pixels), Photoshop could only update the screen at 1-2 frames per second, or even less, making it very difficult to achieve precise results. But using the GPU, even a brush of several thousand pixels on a huge image is completely (ahem) fluid, responding in real time to brush strokes with pen or mouse. We kept the CPU version of the code around so that users without GPU’s capable of running the Liquify filter can still use it (at the same speed as before).

Accomplishing this was no small feat and often engineers spend the entire year just devoted to refining and improving performance. However, this is the reason why we say “performance is a feature.” We give it just as much attention as some of our marquis features, realizing it’s key to your workflow and can only help you bring your vision to life with more speed and efficiency.

Tell us what you think about the speed we’ve added in Photoshop CS6. Order it today to experience all that we’ve added in this new release!

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Join the discussion

  • By mike hoyle - 11:07 AM on June 7, 2012  

    how much is the upgrade?

    • By Jeffrey Tranberry - 12:08 PM on June 8, 2012  

      $199 USD for Photoshop and $349 for Photoshop Extended (Extended includes extra 3D features)

  • By Baback - 11:35 AM on June 7, 2012  

    This is amazing. I always felt like Photoshop could get a bit bloated or bogged down at times, so I love to see performance upgrades like these.

    My only question: will the standard brushes see increases in performance using the GPU as well or is it only Liquify/Photoshop filters that are going to see these performance upgrades?

    Often times when dealing with large files, using large-scale brushes can result in rather significant lag. If we could really see lag-free brush strokes at any size, I’d die a happy man.

    • By Jeffrey Tranberry - 12:10 PM on June 8, 2012  

      Standard brushes in CS6 do have optimizations in CS6, but they don’t have the same optimizations as Liquify (Liquify isn’t painting physical pixels it’s distorting a mesh).

  • By Ed Winters - 12:54 PM on June 7, 2012  

    Not that I am picking, Russell, but it’s “marquee” not “marquis”.

    This spelling moment brought to you by the letter “M”…

    • By Jones Tones - 11:21 AM on August 14, 2012  

      I think you mean picky, not picking.

  • By Josh - 4:31 PM on June 7, 2012  

    I love the new CS6, bought it right away, but I feel disappointed with the lack of Liquify support for my GT120 256MB on OS X.

    I’ve been trying the Windows version on the same machine and the GPU version of Liquify was running like a breeze. No issues at all! Does Adobe want to force people into buying new macs for no reason?

    • By graham - 7:26 PM on June 7, 2012  

      Josh, I’m no expert, but it sounds like the software and hardware are both capable, but maybe they aren’t talking together well.

      Have you tried new or different graphics drivers for your Mac Operating system?

      All the breast,

    • By Jeffrey Tranberry - 12:14 PM on June 8, 2012  

      That card is on the lower end of the spectrum. We recommend cards with 512mb of VRAM or greater. That said, you may be able to tweak the Advanced Settings to eek out some more performance. Setting the Drawing Mode in Advanced Settings of the Preferences>Performance dialog to “Basic” and restarting Photoshop or closing all open documents may help.

      • By Josh - 4:45 AM on June 13, 2012  

        That has nothing to do with GPU accelerated Liquify, Jeffery. Advanced is for the layout only. The GT120 is perfectly capable of handling this kind of operations! And like I said, it was working perfectly fine on Windows, but on the Mac it is capped for no reason.

        – 8.8 billion texels/s fillrate
        – Shader Model 4.0, OpenGL 3.3

        What else do you need for texture deformation? It’s one of the simplest operations you can assign to the GPU. You could limit the texture size for the preview window if the vram is an issue..

        • By Jeffrey Tranberry - 8:06 AM on June 19, 2012  

          I’d suggest posting more info to our site here so the engineers can look into it:

          • By Aaron Realms - 12:15 AM on September 3, 2012  

            Heres an idea, you may not have considered it cos it;s a bit out there, but maybe you could USE A PC?

  • By Sam Edwards - 11:22 AM on June 10, 2012  

    The programme is absolute shocking, this is not in a good way. Although the whole interface looks better the programme is very slow and some of the features in CS6 do not work in the same way as the features in CS5.1. I wouldn’t recommend that you buy this new one. If you have CS5 then stick to it.

    • By Jeffrey Tranberry - 8:11 AM on June 11, 2012  

      What parts/operations are you seeing as being “slow”? What specific changes in behaviors are you finding troublesome?

  • By Alfred Kueng - 1:33 AM on June 28, 2012  

    A decision to take (for a macbook Pro):

    For the need of speed:
    Is it better to use a new NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 512 MB VRAM and CUDA-Technology OR the older AMD Radeon HD 6770M with 1 GB VRAM.

    Which card uses the technology which is best supportet by Photoshop / Photoshop extended? Or is it mostly about VRAM?

  • By Leon K. - 8:44 AM on June 29, 2012  

    I like the new video capabilities of CS6. I am planning on upgrading my graphics card. Does CS6 video functions take advantage of GPU capabilities? Also, as Mr. Kueng asked, is VRAM the most important factor in deciding what graphic card to purchase?

  • By Louis A - 7:49 AM on July 4, 2012  

    I just installed CS6 and was shocked how slow it was.
    First: starting the program takes several seconds more time already than CS5 does.

    Loading a picture is really troublesome. Very, very slow indeed and once in every 3 or 4 files one loads, a block of the image, sometimes more than 1 block, isn’t filled in when the process is ended (showing the canvas checkerboard instead).

    This is true for jpg as well as psd files. One particular (simple, one layer) psd file I used as a test, opens in roughly half a second in CS5, but more than 10 to 15 seconds in CS6. It also shows strange “interleaving” behaviour: all blocks filled with blurry parts first, then “filled in” with the rest.
    (And when a block is missing as mentioned above, the second – even or uneven, I’m not sure – part of that block doesn’t load as well.)

    I already decreased the Tile Size from 1024k to 128k, but that didn’t help very much. And the frequent partial image (can be corrected by changing the magnification percentage to a different size and then back) is especially irritating.

    I will have to investigate this more closely, but for the time being I’m disappointed. This is not the way a new version should present itself.

    One thing I’m happy with: the installer program didn’t uninstall my copy of CS5.


    • By petegreen - 2:50 PM on July 4, 2012  

      Hi Louis,

      Sorry to hear you’re experiencing some performance issues, and disappointment. Most people are reporting CS6 as being faster, so your post makes me wonder what else could be causing this issue.
      I’d start looking to see if you’ve pointed Photoshop’s preferences to an additional Plug-ins folder, maybe specifically to CS5’s plugins folder perhaps?

      Some older plugins that aren’t optimized for CS6 can definitely cause load slowdowns, and other odd behavior while using the application.

      I don’t see if you’re using windows or Mac, so I’d suggest if in Win, to make sure that you have the most up to date video driver available for your video card via manufacturer website.

      The installer won’t remove your old install, but allows you to have multiple versions on the same machine as desired.

      I’d post about this on the forums to have some of our community professionals help you investigate the slowdown.


      • By Louis A - 4:53 PM on July 4, 2012  

        Hello Pete,

        Perhaps I posted too soon. I was really disappointed by the first results and it looked terrible. (I’m using Windows 7, BTW.)

        But I’m already getting much better result now!

        I noticed that an improvement could be reached by (1)not opening-CS6-and-loading-a-picture directly (but starting CS6 first, waiting until all initial activities have finished, then loading a picture) and (2)unchecking the ‘Use Graphics Processor’ option, as suggested elsewhere. The PC I’m now working on does have 8Gb of RAM, but not a terrific GPU (G 220), so I visited the NVidea site to see if there was a newer driver than the one offered some time ago by Windows Update.

        There was one, so I installed it. There was an immediate improvement of the picture loading time. Actually, loading seemed the same, but after the tab of the file becomes visible, the time to display the image is now almost immediate (like in CS5), before it was more like 10 – 15 secs.

        So,I turned ‘Use Graphics Processor’ on again, first with setting ‘Basic’: with still much faster result than before and only a flicker of the ‘interleave’ phase. In fact, I can now set the Graphic Processor option to ‘Advanced’ again, with hardly any noticeable slowing. Also, the image is almost directly visible in full resolution now – after the picture has loaded, which duration still isn’t fantastic, but certainly acceptable.

        Initial loading is variable. I’m now suspecting that CS6 builds a buffer the first time a picture is loaded after start of the program, which may take some time, but after that things certainly go smoother. I will dive somewhat more into the ‘click file and implicitly start CS6’ routine. Perhaps some tweaking of buffer space?

        I haven’t tested any real use of CS6 yet (and I haven’t removed CS5, so my normal work can continue whatever my findings are), but I’ll proceed with much more confidence than initially! 🙂


  • By del4yo - 8:00 PM on July 5, 2012  

    Is it speedy really? I installed my brushes and went back to CS5, CS6 is so slow. I’ve been using Photoshop for 21 years and really I find this version very, very slow. At the begining I wasn’t even able to go through my pattern library, it was too slow. I went to some drasting tweeking of preferences and memory handling. Patterns are appearing but my cool brushes are so slow I went back toCS5 were they are fast!

  • By Peter Kallos - 5:55 AM on July 26, 2012  

    Hi, I can’t find any information on GPU speed and memory over 512 MB and performance affect on CS6. I have an older 9600GT video card with 512 MB and was wondering what if any benefit I would get from moving to a GTX550 with 1 GB of memory. Performance is pretty good so far, but as I start to stack on the layers it gets a bit clunky. It’s a 3 year old machine with 4 cores and 8 GB RAM, so I’m not blaming photoshop, just curious if spending $140 for a better video card will give me anything.

    And performance is why I upgraded to CS6, and I appreciate Adobe taking the time to make things better instead of adding new features.

  • By Overfocused - 11:26 AM on August 10, 2012  

    I have 32GB RAM, and an AMD7970m 2GB DDR5 video card and Photoshop CS6 definitely has something holding it back. The extension manager in Bridge also chokes it and slows things down, too, especially on start up. It won’t even start initially unless run as admin as well.

    There have been folks mentioning that users with dynamic graphics (IntelHD + AMD or Nvidia) have been suffering because of the way it switches for operations. I experience VERY slow performance using image processor and sometimes it crashes. I have everything running within a RAMdisk too so the slowest disk photoshop is using has a 4GB/sec throughput yet it runs slower than a 60MB/sec mechanical HDD.

    CS4 doesn’t do any of this by the way

    • By Roberto Blake - 9:50 AM on January 31, 2014  

      Its been my experience that AMD Graphics Cards don’t work to their full potential on the Intel Chipset, when on Intel I get far better performance from NVIDIA Cards. Again this is just my personal experience.

  • By Salman - 4:20 AM on August 19, 2012  

    my 3d option is not working eventhough i have the 512 ram and a good havy system but will you please tell what is graphic software i can download to see wether it works or not.

    • By Pete Green - 11:49 AM on August 20, 2012  

      Make sure you have the latest driver for your video card installed. If the driver is not up to date Photoshop may not allow for the 3d and other GPu related functions.

  • By Sekula - 3:52 AM on August 21, 2012  

    Zorana, but with Asian eyes. How unordinary.

  • By Michele Nicholas - 2:50 PM on November 15, 2012  

    I will be replacing my very old computer soon. The only video card available on the off-the shelf computers I see for sale is 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 610. Is that enough for me to run Photoshop CS6 reasonably well? (I have CS2 on my old computer.) I would buy a good CPU and at least 12 GB of RAM.

  • By Jeff - 9:57 AM on November 19, 2012  

    Michele, check out the Magic Micro website at They have tons of options if you are looking to have a PC built for you and it is very reasonably priced. It’s an “off the shelf” computer with the benefit of picking and choosing what you want in it.

  • By Michele Nicholas - 1:10 PM on November 22, 2012  

    Thank you for the information, Jeff. I’m checking there as soon as I leave this site.

  • By Ernesto - 9:12 AM on December 17, 2012  

    My opinion is: move straight forward and optimize Adobe. Get stuck with my pc in the office. And a new one is far far away.

  • By Roberto Blake - 9:47 AM on January 31, 2014  

    Adobe Photoshop CS6 is the fastest and best performing versions that has been made, and big reason for that speed and performance is the Mercury Graphics Engine. Now that Photoshop can use more the GPU than before and use it more efficiently it frees up processor and ram power for other task. You now get more out of your hardware without the need to upgrade quite as soon. And now graphics cards truly actually impact Photoshop performance where as before they only mattered for extremely large images and for 3D. I actually wrote up some helpful information on the subject of how to choose a Photoshop Graphics Card since most people get it wrong by picking it the same way they would a graphics card for gaming.

  • By Chuck Choi - 11:36 AM on February 19, 2014  

    Hi–lately, I’m using the extrude filter a lot on very large files. This is turning out to be very slow. If I open the activity monitor it shows that the CPU on my quad core Mac is 84% idle. I read somewhere that certain filters’ algorithms must proceed in a linear fashion and their tasks cannot be split up between multiple cores. Thus only one core can be used. Is that what’s happening here? If not, can anyone suggest a way of speeding up my use of this filter? Thanks, Chuck

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