While what CPU or video card you should purchase tends to be at the forefront of any workstation hardware discussion, lately we have been spending time delving into the topic of storage. While there is little existing evidence that Lightroom benefits from particularly fast storage drives for your project files, considering how fast modern hardware has become we felt the need to look into it in more detail.
There is a wide variety of tasks we could test in Lightroom, but in this article we will specifically be looking at the time it takes to:
- Import images
- Convert RAW to DNG
- Export images to JPEG
- Generate previews (1:1 and smart previews)
- Scroll through images in the develop module (with and without smart previews)
- Generate HDR
- Generate Panorama
You will notice that we are only testing one task in the develop module (scrolling through images). Performance when applying adjustments and using the brush in this module is a common source of frustration for Lightroom users, but unfortunately they are also nearly impossible to benchmark. There is simply no feedback provided from Lightroom we can find that can be used to time these tasks accurately enough to be meaningful. If you have any ideas on how we could benchmark these (or other) tasks, we would love to hear them in the comments section. For now, however, we are limited to testing the Lightroom tasks that we can actually benchmark.
If you would rather skip ahead to our conclusions, feel free to jump right to the conclusion section.
To see how different speeds of drives affect performance in Lightroom, we used the following hardware and software:
|CPU:||Intel Core i7 6700K Quad Core 4.0GHz (4-4.2GHz Turbo)|
|RAM:||4x Crucial DDR4-2133 16GB (64GB total)|
|GPU:||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB|
|Test Hard Drives:||WD Red 4TB SATA 6Gb/s
(150 MB/s read, 150 MB/s write)
Samsung 850 Pro 1TB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
(550 MB/s read, 520 MB/s write)
Samsung 960 Pro 1TB M.2 x4 NVMe SSD
(3,500 MB/s Read, 2,100 MB/s write)
|OS Drive:||Samsung 850 Pro 1TB SATA 6Gb/s SSD|
|OS:||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit|
|PSU:||EVGA SuperNOVA 1600W P2|
|Software:||Lightroom CC 2015.8|
Our test platform uses some of the highest-end hardware options for Lightroom in order to maximize the chance of finding any bottlenecks caused by the different storage drives. Since we are primarily concerned with how faster drives might affect performance, we will be testing three different hard drives with performance ranging from just 184 MB/s all the way up to 3,500 MB/s. While we will not be specifically testing any RAID arrays, the fast NVMe drive is also a great indicator of the performance you might see with a RAID array. In terms of raw performance, the Samsung 960 Pro should be equal to anywhere from a 4-7 disk RAID0 array of SATA SSDs.
Normally we would go through the benchmark results test by test, but the majority of the different drives and configurations we tested performed nearly identical to each other. Instead, we are going to skip right to our conclusion section to discuss the few times there was a difference. Of course, if you wish to examine the data in more detail yourself, feel free to do so!
For most of the tasks we tested, there was minimal difference between having your Lightroom files on a single platter drive versus a SSD, NVMe, or even spread across multiple drives. There was a number of times where one configuration or another was a few percent faster, but there were only two instances where the performance difference was large and consistent enough for us to draw any meaning from:
For these tasks, we found that it was important to have the catalog, previews, and camera RAW cache located on an SSD. Whether the source images themselves were on an SSD or a platter drive did not appear to make all that much of a difference, but having the catalog, preview, and cache files on an SSD allowed us to convert RAW images to DNG about 2% faster and export images about 7-8% faster. Upgrading to an even faster NVMe did not further improve performance very much, however.
2% is not a very big difference, and even the 7-8% improvement we saw when exporting may not be a big deal if you already group your exports to run overnight or during lunch breaks. However, if you are looking to get the best performance possible out of Lightroom it is a good idea to keep all your catalog files (which by default is the same location for the previews) and your camera RAW cache on an SSD if possible.