At nearly every stage in the Photoshop workflow, graphic designers and photographers often experience delay. From launching the app to loading images, applying effects, rendering, saving and outputting files to clients, waiting on your computer is a normal part of the day – but it doesn’t have to be.
By simply upgrading your computer’s hard drive to an SSD and maxing out your memory, you can speed up every step in your workflow and spend less time staring at spinning cursors and more time getting projects done. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Adobe recommends the same solution: here’s how and why.
Everyday actions that rely on memory: Processing images, manipulating images (adding layers and effects), rendering, reverting files, running Photoshop and other applications
What Adobe says about the role of memory in Photoshop: “Memory has a direct connection to the size of images you can work on—both in terms of pixel dimensions and in bit depth (color accuracy). Larger amounts of memory are also often required to composite multiple images together, or to perform certain operations on them. If you don’t have enough memory to hold the images being manipulated, the system must “swap out” portions of memory to and from your computer’s hard drive, which slows down your computer considerably.”1
Why memory is so important: In order to run Photoshop (or any application), the program must be copied and held in the computer’s memory. In similar fashion, every image you’re working on must also be copied and held in RAM. More memory means you can handle more images and programs at once – and work on them in real time, not lag time. Oddly enough, more memory also often means you can save and revert files faster. Since most Photoshop files are extremely large, they consume a lot of DRAM which must be converted (“swapped”) into storage. The more memory you have, the more resources your memory has to swap into storage. Using an SSD helps, too, as data gets written faster into long-term storage.
Everyday actions that rely on storage: Booting up, opening Photoshop and other applications, loading images, saving files, rendering and manipulating media when your computer runs out of memory and has to dip into virtual memory (use the storage drive in place of memory, or as a “scratch disk”)
What Adobe says about the role of storage in Photoshop: “If you are unable to add more RAM to your computer, then install or connect a fast drive and designate it as your scratch disk. An SSD (solid state drive) or the PCIe flash storage in the new generation Apple Mac Pro are the fastest solutions ...”1
Why an SSD is so important: Your system’s storage drive is what loads and saves every image and document you’re working on. It’s also what loads Photoshop, and it’s what your system uses to manipulate images and render when you run out of memory (a common occurrence when multitasking). Switching from a hard drive to an SSD in Photoshop is like moving from dial-up Internet to broadband – it’s that big of a jump and the speed never lets up. Imagine doing things in seconds that used to take minutes. That’s the power of an SSD, and it really kicks in if you frequently save incremental versions of a project. When you factor in ever-increasing resolution requirements, growing file sizes, and the need to save projects constantly in case a client changes their mind, the ability to save and call up files quickly is a gift to yourself that never gets old. It’s also a gift that keeps on giving because SSDs have no small moving parts, meaning they’re less prone to failure – and less prone to crashing and losing a client’s files.
While it’s well known that more memory and faster storage speed up graphic design, we wanted to put theory to the test and quantify the impact you might see. By testing four configurations of the same base system, we were able to isolate performance variables and assess how DRAM and SSDs impacted a typical graphic design project – creating a poster. Our design team took one of our finished files and created a script that delineated 72 steps that culminated in the finished poster. These steps were then turned into a script, which would allow us to remove the human element from poster assembly and look at pure component performance.
Before running the script, however, we launched six other applications and left them running in the background because we’ve found that most designers are constantly multitasking between project elements, and we wanted to simulate a real-world design scenario as realistically as possible. While the system we tested was an older model that was only capable of installing 16GB of memory, it provided a good baseline to assess the role memory and storage plays in completing a sample workflow.
How we did the testing: With the exception of the 4GB hard drive system, each configuration was tested three times and the numbers reported above are averages. We only tested the 4GB hard drive configuration once because it was the base system configuration and had an unusually low amount of memory for design work – the test was for representational purposes only. All tests began with a fresh boot so that other factors and applications didn’t affect reported results. Only the files and applications that were used for testing were installed and stored on the drives. Testing conducted in February 2016.
*Programs we opened and had running in the background: Illustrator®, InDesign®, Acrobat Reader®, Microsoft® Word®, Excel®, Outlook®
The results speak for themselves, yet likely underestimate just how much of a speed gain you’ll likely see. The reason? Our Photoshop test script involved manipulating images and applying effects that had already been pre-loaded and created. Essentially, we just had Photoshop assemble a poster by executing a series of pre-determined actions. In the real world, you’d have to load all of the images associated with your project and edit them, which consumes a lot more memory and hits your storage drive hard because it’s loading and saving every project component. Also, the system we tested was an older model, and your system is likely faster and capable of holding more memory. While we didn’t test beyond 16GB, we know from Adobe that more memory means you can do more before dipping into virtual memory. And since virtual memory takes such a massive toll on performance, we recommend as much DRAM as possible – typically 32GB – though the amount you install should match the intensity of your workload.
No matter what type of computer you’re using or what your workload entails, more memory and an SSD is a proven way to help speed up your workflow – especially when it comes to multitasking.
Most designers spend a lot of time multitasking between Photoshop and other applications. Usually, it’s a necessity. Most projects require referencing client emails, switching between multiple images, creating vector graphics in Illustrator, doing layouts in InDesign, researching ideas online, and streaming music to enhance your creativity. If you do even just a few of these activities at once, you’ll really benefit from maxing out your memory, since RAM is what’s used to run all your open applications. It’s what makes multitasking possible. Keep in mind, though, that multitasking isn’t just about running multiple things at once. It’s also about getting into multiple things at once, and that’s why an SSD helps, too.
Software may enable digital design, but it’s your computer’s hardware that determines the speed of design. Max out your hardware’s performance by ensuring that every upgradeable component is performing as fast as possible. It’s not enough to just use a fast CPU. You need enough memory to continuously feed every processing core – and lots of SSD storage to instantly load and save everything you do. How fast you’re able to work hangs in the balance. Are you waiting on your system, or is it waiting on you?