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Adobe Lightroom 2015.8 Storage Performance Analysis

Written on December 22, 2016 by Matt Bach


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:

  1. Import images
  2. Convert RAW to DNG
  3. Export images to JPEG
  4. Generate previews (1:1 and smart previews)
  5. Scroll through images in the develop module (with and without smart previews)
  6. Generate HDR
  7. 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.

Test Setup

To see how different speeds of drives affect performance in Lightroom, we used the following hardware and software:

Testing Hardware
Motherboard: Asus Z170-A
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.

Benchmark Results

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!

Import Images from USB

Convert RAW to DNG

Export to JPEG

Generate Previews

Develop Module Image Scroll

Generate HDR

Generate Panorama


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:

Convert RAW to DNG

Export to JPEG

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.

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Tags: Adobe, Lightroom, Storage, Disk Cache
Jamie McGuinness

Thanks - an amazingly clear result... You have already defined what is important for the CPU; the last piece of the performance puzzle is RAM. How much is ideal for Lightroom 2015?

Posted on 2016-12-26 22:18:19

We talk about this a bit in our Hardware Recommendation page (https://www.pugetsystems.co..., but for Lightroom alone RAm generally isn't too big of a concern. A lot of it depends on how many photos you work with, their resolution, how many adjustments/effects you apply, and other software you use in conjunction with Lightroom.

In general, we recommend 16GB as a starting point which should be enough for most Lightroom users. If you work with really large images (~35MP or higher), you might consider jumping up to 32GB but even then it is likely a bit of overkill. The most common time I would recommend 32GB is if you work with Lightoom and Photoshop at the same time with very high resolution images. The more images you have open (and the more layers and adjustments) in Photoshop, the more likely it will be that you want 32GB. I've never seen a Lightroom user need more than 32GB, although I'm sure there are at least a few people out there who need it.

Posted on 2016-12-27 20:57:51
Bob Harbison

Matt, I use LR constantly. I also frequently use Lightroom, Photoshop and additional apps like Piccure or Topaz Adjust simultaneously. My new system has 64 GB of RAM, but I have never come anywhere close to using it all. I don't even think I've ever used 32 gig. For example, I just opened a catalog of 63K images in LR. Exported 6 of them to Photoshop (40 mb each). Loaded one of those into Topaz Adjust and then opened a small project in Adobe Premier. I then had LR export 100 images. Memory utilization? At peak during export roughly 16.5 GB. As you said, maybe somebody needs more than 32, but you're going to have try hard to get there.

Posted on 2017-03-03 01:31:23

I would love to know if the 900P might help Lightroom access/process RAW files more quickly.


Posted on 2017-10-28 05:10:57

Lightroom Classic has greatly improved performance in a lot of areas, so while we saw no difference between a standard SSD and the Samsung 960 Pro NVMe drive in this article, there is a small chance that NVMe drives in general might give you a small performance bump now. I don't think it will be much (if anything), and if there is an improvement, I don't think the 900P is really going to be better than something like the Samsung 960 Pro. The 900P's strength is in it's endurance and lower latency, but for Lightroom I would imagine that the higher sequential read/write of the 960 Pro would be more important. Again, however, I don't think we're talking about more than a percent or two performance improvement using either of those drives over a standard SSD, so I wouldn't really worry about it too much.

Posted on 2017-10-30 17:18:18

Thank you for some wonderful tests and benchmarks. Been reading your stuff for hours. I am in the market for a PC upgrade and I have everything configured except for the RAM. I read on your hardware page that you recommend 16-32GB of RAM for LR. However, when I have my LR idle on my PC, LR uses almost 80% of the RAM and 100% when doing tasks in LR. (I have 32GB available). I edit 22MP files with no other programs open . Do you have any idea why LR is using this much RAM? Should I get 64GB of RAM in my new PC? Thanks!

Posted on 2017-11-08 19:25:12

Just wanted to say thanks. Having found out my new laptop does not allow for an external hard drive on top of the 512GB version of the samsung you tested, I was agonizing about what external storage solution to get.
Buying a 4tb HDD with speed up to 140MB/s over USB, or spending three times more at least for a 2TB SSD plus a good enclosure with USB3.1.
Now I know that the 400MB/s would not be worth the expense, at least with lightroom..

Posted on 2017-12-06 11:26:24

Is this still valid today?

Posted on 2018-07-21 15:48:23

Thanks for doing this test! I'd love to see a comparison between on-board, budget and mid-range graphics cards in Lightroom to see if there's any real benefit

Posted on 2019-11-05 20:10:14
Rodney Kodakmoment Turner

Will the benchmarks be updated for 2020-2021 using current hardware?

Posted on 2020-07-04 13:56:10

At some point we need to do a big round of storage speed testing, but nothing much has really changed so I doubt the end conclusions will be much different. This biggest thing now is that NVMe drives are much more price competitive (and faster), so you may end up using one of them instead of an SSD even if the performance isn't all that much different.

Posted on 2020-07-06 22:21:55