How To Upgrade Your Computer Into a Photoshop Beast

Photoshop is a serious tool for anyone serious about photo editing. There was a great article in this month's Popular Photography that offered some great advice about how to best outfit your machine for work in Photoshop. We'll take a look at a few of their recommendations and go in-depth about optimizations...
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1. Dual-Core Processor The article claims that Intel's second-generation Core processors — in the latest Macs and high-end PC's — are great for running Photoshop. Shoot for at least a dual-core i5, and if you can swing it go for quad-core for a bit more zip — expect gains in the range of 10-15% when going from 2 to 4 cores, as doubling the cores doesn't mean double the speed.

If you own a PC, you should be able to upgrade to a new processor with a little bit of internet know-how on your specific machine. For the Mac upgrading the processor is probably something you don't want to undertake. The machine wasn't designed for specific parts like the CPU to be swapped out or interchanged (other than memory), but luckily there are still other avenues you can explore to boost performance.

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2. RAM Did you know there's an Efficiency indicator in Photoshop? You'll find this indicator at the bottom of the image window near the zoom percentage — and also available in the Info panel. You may need to click the arrow tab and choose "Efficiency" in the pop-up menu to display properly.

Our Photoshop application showed image size in this region by default.

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Now pay attention to this indicator next time you are doing intensive photo-editing tasks. If the indicator dips below 100% it means that Photoshop has utilized all the available RAM and is now utilizing your scratch disk. If you typically see numbers less than 90-95%, try allocating more memory to Photoshop through the Performance preferences panel in 5% increments. If you exhaust your options there it might be time to add some more RAM to your system.

*Keep in mind that 64-bit programs are necessary for utilizing more than 3.2GB RAM. Make sure your application is launching the appropriate option for your system.

For PC's 64-bit versions of the applications are typically stored in the "Program Files" folder, while 32-bit versions reside in the "Program Files (x86)" folder.
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For Macs, check the Applications/Adobe Photoshop folder. Select the .app file, choose "File -> Get Info", and make sure the "Open in 32-bit mode" is un-checked.
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3. Solid State Drive You're probably aware of the new hotness that is solid-state drives (SSD's). They're touted as being faster and more reliable - since they don't require physical access and mechanization. The problem is they're expensive and not available in capacious sizes just yet. The article, however, suggests using an SSD as a scratch disk for Photoshop. A 256 GB drive should be more than sufficient. Thunderbolt anyone?

As stated earlier in the RAM section, Photoshop will go to the scratch disk when the local RAM has been exhausted. You can change your scratch disk in the Performance preferences panel. Check the box on your SSD under the "Scratch Disk" section, and use the arrows to make sure it is listed numero uno.

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Doing any (or all) of these 3 upgrades should add some noticeable zing and efficiency to your Photoshop workflow. You can check out the rest of the tips from the "Machine Shop" article — including upgrading your GPU and tuning your display — in the March 2012 issue of Popular Photography. Adobe also has some helpful tips, such as tailoring your cache tile size, in their web documentation here.

(Images: 1.,4.,5.,7. Chris Perez, 2. HP , 3. Flickr member lubright licensed for use under Creative Commons, 6. Intel )

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