Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

How To Build A Photoshop Optimized Computer - 2015

I recently wrote a post about purchasing my new computer and mentioned that back in 2010 I had written a series of posts about optimizing a computer for Photoshop usage.  I also mentioned that some things have changed since then and that I would write a new post about the current status of optimizing a computer that is mainly to be used for editing images in Photoshop.  Please note however that, while I have some degree of computer literacy, I am certainly not an expert and this post simply compiles data from several locations. I would welcome any further comments or updates from readers about these recommendations. In addition, since I happen to be a Windows user this information pertains specifically to computers running the Windows operating system.  

CPU: Faster = Better. More cores = a point. There are diminishing returns after about four cores (editing video using Adobe's Premier Pro is a different story). So the performance boost by moving from 4 to 6 or 8 cores is very small.  Save your cash after 4.

RAM: No surprises here. More = Better, depending of course on your file sizes.  If you are working with very small files then massive amounts of RAM won't speed things up terribly.  But if you are working on very large files having enough RAM to avoid having Photoshop write to the scratch disk will be one of the biggest improvements you can make.

Hard Drive: Installing Photoshop on an SSD will allow it to launch faster than if it were on a spinning disk. But what about the scratch disk?  Back in 2010 I had assembled a RAID 0 array to serve as a fast scratch disk, which of course increases the cost and the complexity of the system.  That type of setup is no longer needed.  Having the scratch disk on the C drive will be fine as long as the C drive is an SSD and it has plenty of empty space.  In this instance there isn't much to be gained by putting the scratch disk on a separate SSD drive.

I had no plans to put the scratch disk on a separate drive but happened to see a great sale on a Samsung 850 EVO 500GB SSD for $150 and grabbed it as an add on.  I decided to use it to save the files I am currently working on so that they can open and save very rapidly (I work on large files) and so, with that large and near empty SSD in place, I decided to use it as a scratch as well.

Storage is relatively cheap, so I recommend getting a large mechanical drive or two for storing your files.

Graphics Card: Here is another place that going top end doesn't buy you very much more in performance (assuming you are not planning on any serious video editing).  Although modern versions of Photoshop do use the GPU, it doesn't do it intensively.  I went with an Nvidea GeForce 960 with 2 GB of VRAM.

Looking for more detailed information?  There is a lot of good stuff out there!  Start with these:

I hope this is useful information for those that might be looking into purchasing a new system for image editing.  I should also mention that my prior system was running Windows 7 and I was extremely happy with it.  Because I anticipate the new system lasting another 5 years, it was with some trepidation that I ordered it with Windows 10.  My daughter has a Windows 8 laptop and I can't even begin to use the thing. She hates it as well.  However, I do have to say that Windows 10 is a joy to use so far and I have not had any compatibility issues with any Adobe Products or plug-ins.  I may actually prefer the interface to 7, though it's a little too early to tell.

A Blatant Plug.....But Not For Me

Every so often you run across a company that does things so well and that demonstrates such superb customer service and overall excellence that you have to say something. That is why I am posting a plug for Puget Systems, a company that designs and builds custom computers. But don't let that 'custom computer' moniker get you all worked up, it's not by any means a company that just caters to computer geeks.  

To start with, I have purchased three computers from them (a laptop and now my second desktop) since 2010.  They were a joy to deal with for all the purchases, but with this latest purchase they truly demonstrated exemplary customer service.

With my 'upgrade' to a Canon 5DsR camera, my current computer system (designed at the very end of 2009) just wasn't up to dealing with the file sizes I was throwing at it. The files were already large coming right out of the camera and by the time I added smart object layers, used plug-ins during processing, and added multiple adjustment layers, the system slowed down tremendously and did other 'cute' things like flickering, stuttering, and freezing. I suspected this was from a combination of my C drive having too little free space and from the system not having enough memory. Working on the system was not becoming much fun. Nonetheless, I was still hoping to try to repair it by buying a bigger C drive and cloning the OS. What wasn't clear to me was, once that bottleneck was cleared, if there might be another just around the corner.  I was also concerned about putting money into it and having it only remain truly functional for a short period.

One of the Puget consultants worked with me for about a week, having me send him screenshots of my Windows Task and Performance Monitors while I was 'pushing' the system using Photoshop (they even offered to remotely log in to my machine and watch the monitors so that I didn't have to take and send screenshots....but that wouldn't work well with the three hour time difference). Unfortunately, the verdict was that though there were things I could do to avoid a new system, they likely were not going to make a dramatic difference.  It looked like it was time to start from the ground up.  Not too bad, given that I got my last computer in January of 2010.

Well, the way things work at Puget is that they have pre-designed systems that you can purchase 'off the shelf'.  The components in these have been picked by them as base models in much the same way that you might buy a pre-configured model at Dell.  But with this company you know exactly what components you are purchasing and can read up on cheapest hard drive of the day found here! Of course you can ask any questions about any of the hardware and expect a rapid response.  But the fun part comes when you start to customize your computer.

When putting together a custom system you are, encouraged, to discuss the system either by phone or e-mail with someone at Puget.  These people know what they are talking about. They are interested in what you are going to primarily be using the computer for so that they can help you choose the components that will be most cost-effective for your needs. In my case, I was going to be using the system primarily for photo editing, but I did want to make sure that there was some headroom and versatility in case I wanted to try some pretty basic video editing as well....something I have not done, but could see dabbling in. I think it would be interesting to have an image on  my website with a link to a ten or fifteen second video of the location to show what it 'really' looks like.

Well, the folks at Puget were very knowledgeable and were able to tell me what was overkill for my purposes (I don't do any gaming), what would help with photo editing only, and what would assist with video.  In fact, they have many original articles on their website as to what aspects of hardware Photoshop is able to take advantage of, and what it can't. It was like having your own personal and very knowledgeable computer consultant. 

Try any of that at Dell and see what happens!! Oh and the price.....more expensive than Dell, but not by that much.  And I can tell you that I have called them for technical assistance with my first computer from 2010 two or three times over the years (well beyond the warranty period elapsing) and they were more than willing to help me with advice, send me drivers by e-mail etc.

I haven't yet received my new system, but I am very much looking forward to it. So there it plug for Puget Systems. I have no association with them whatsoever. I am just a very satisfied customer three times over.  And that is something that isn't easy to find in the marketplace these days!

Along the way, I did learn quite a bit about optimizing a computer for Photoshop.  Some things have changed since I wrote my article entitled Photoshop Optimized Computer, Parts I, II, and III back in 2010. I think it might well be worth putting together another post about that!