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Adobe Photoshop CS6 GPU Acceleration

Written on September 20, 2012 by Matt Bach


With Photoshop CS6, Adobe began integrating the Mercury Graphics Engine which uses the video card (via OpenCL and OpenGL) to vastly improve the performance of certain features. This is a great way to easily improve performance, but it adds more complexity to the question of "what hardware do I need" since the video card is now a bigger part of the performance equation. Adobe has a list of video cards that are compatible with Photoshop CS6, but as is often the case with compatibility lists, is often slightly outdated as new products are continuously being released.

So in this article we have two specific goals we want to accomplish: First, we will determine exactly how much of an effect the video card has on GPU accelerated features in Photoshop CS6. To do this, we will take a sample of the effects that Adobe says are GPU accelerated and benchmark them using various Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD graphics cards to see the performance differences between each card.

Second, since Adobe has not yet certified the NVIDIA 600 series or the Intel HD4000 graphics, we will use our benchmark results to determine if GPU acceleration is actually supported on those cards or not. If they are, this means that consumers who want an NVIDIA-based video card will not be limited to either a Quadro card or a card that is from the previous generation (NVIDIA 500 series).

Test Setup

To ensure consistent benchmark results, we created a series of "Actions" in Photoshop CS6 64-bit to apply the effects we selected from Adobe's list of GPU accelerated effects. Each effect was applied with its default options to a 12MB (38 megapixel) image. To actually measure how long each effect took to apply, we simply enabled the integrated "Timing" feature in Photoshop CS6 which displays how long Photoshop took to perform an action. This method was based off of HardwareHeaven.com's popular Photoshop Benchmark V3 benchmark, but adapted to specifically target GPU accelerated effects.

If you would like to run this set of actions on your own computer, you can download them here: Download Link

To ensure video acceleration was enabled, we made sure that the "Use Graphics Processor" was enabled under Edit -> Preferences -> General -> Performance before each round of testing. No other setup was required to enable acceleration for any of our test video cards. Note that many of these effects require that GPU acceleration is enabled, so even if you have a card that does not fully support OpenCL, this box must be checked in order for all of the effects to function properly. In order to show the importance of OpenCL support, we included the NVIDIA Quadro NVS 450 in our list of video cards since it does not support OpenCL. We fully expect this to result in a serious performance hit, but it will work well as a baseline to compare the other cards against.

Performance Options Advanced Settings NVIDIA Quadro NVS 450 Settings

To make sure that the chipset and CPU did not affect our results, we used two separate testing platforms consisting of the following hardware:

To test a wide spectrum of GPUs, we tested the following cards (video driver version listed in parentheses):

NVIDIA GeForce NVIDIA Quadro AMD Radeon Intel
GTX 580 1.5GB (301.42) Quadro 4000 2GB (305.93) HD 7970 3GB (12.8) HD 4000 1GB (
GTX 680 2GB (301.42) Quadro 2000 1GB (305.93) HD 7870 2GB (12.8)  
GTX 670 2GB (301.42) NVS 450 512MB (305.93) HD 7750 1GB (12.8)  
GTX 660 Ti 2GB (306.02)      
GTX 650 1GB (306.02)      
GT 610 (301.42)      



Adobe Photoshop CS6 Benchmark Results

Totaling together the time it took for all of the effects to complete, then averaging the results from both chipsets (except the HD 4000 which was only available on the Z77 chipset) gives us a great summary of the results. One thing that is very easy to notice is that the 13.0.1 update improved GPU acceleration performance across the board by a very healthy amount. So if you use Photoshop CS6 and have not updated yet, we highly recommend doing so!

The NVIDIA Quadro NVS 450 is understandably the slowest performer since it does not support OpenCL, but you can see the massive increase in performance it received with the 13.0.1 update. Post-update, it is pretty close to the Intel HD 4000 graphics, which did a surprisingly decent job considering that it is integrated onto the CPU. However, even if you are on a very tight budget, the improvement gained by adding a cheap NVIDIA GT 610 1GB card is well worth the cost in our opinion.

If you have a bit more of a budget, the NVIDIA Geforce GTX 650 1GB and AMD Radeon HD 7750 are both budget-friendly cards, yet give performance that is very close to the more expensive cards. For the absolute best performance, the NVIDIA Geforce GTX 680 2GB tops our charts with the GTX 580 2GB just slightly behind. The NVIDIA Geforce GTX 670, GTX 660 Ti and GTX 660 are all less than half a second behind the GTX 680, however, so if you are looking for a way to save a decent amount of money with minimal performance loss, using a NVIDIA GTX 660 2GB is definitely worth considering.

The odd point in our benchmarks is the AMD Radeon HD 7970. Strangely, it did worse than the AMD Radeon HD 7750 and Radeon HD 7870 even though it is technically a much more powerful card. We have no idea why this is, but to be sure we did not have erroneous results we actually ended up running many of our benchmarks dozens of times just to be 100% sure of our results. Each time, the results were the same even after reinstalling the video driver and even reinstalling the main OS.

If you would like to see the individual benchmark times for each effect, feel free to click on any of the thumbnails below for a closer look.

Photoshop CS6 Version 13.0.1
Z77 Chipset
X79 Chipset
Photoshop CS6 Version 13.0
Z77 Chipset
X79 Chipset



From our testing, we can now confidently state that even though the NVIDIA 600-series and Intel HD 4000 graphics are not on Adobe's compatibility list, GPU acceleration in Photoshop CS6 works great on those cards. So, contrary to the compatibility list, there is no reason to use an older generation NVIDIA GTX 580 since the current generation NVIDIA cards performs as well or better.

From a budget standpoint, the NVIDIA Geforce GTX 650 1GB and AMD Radeon HD 7750 both did great for their price points, performing just a few seconds slower than the fastest cards we tested. If you have a bit more to spend, but cannot afford a NVIDIA GTX 680 2GB (which was the top performer), we recommend the NVIDIA Geforce GTX 660 2GB as it's performance was almost identical to the NVIDIA Geforce GTX 660 Ti and GTX 670, yet is much cheaper. 

Update 2/5/2013: If you are interested in optimizing your system for Photoshop CS6, check out our Photoshop CS6 Memory Optimization article!

Tags: Advice, Technology, Photoshop, Performance

Thanks for that, Matt. I posted the link to this article on Photoshop Forums.


Posted on 2012-09-23 14:26:57
Noel C

Nice work.

Any chance you might be willing to publish the action so we can try our systems to see how they compare?



Posted on 2012-09-23 15:02:39

Of course! I really should have included them in the article from the get-go, it just completely slipped my mind. There is a link in the Test Setup section now, or you can just download it from here: http://cdn.pugetsystems.com/ar...

Be sure to read the readme, since it has the link to the image download. I didn't want to include the image in the zip since it isn't our image and I want to make sure DriverHeaven gets proper recognition since we used their benchmark as a jumping point.

Posted on 2012-09-24 19:56:51
Dark Shroud

Any chance you could test with Adobe Premiere CS6 to see if the AMD cards work with that?

Posted on 2012-09-26 13:05:03

Matt is going to be working on a Premiere Pro article next, as I understand it... but I wouldn't hold out any hope for AMD cards. At least with CS5, the Mercury Playback Engine in Premiere Pro was dependent on NVIDIA's CUDA technology, so unless that has changed dramatically then I think we will only see improvements on NVIDIA graphics cards.

Posted on 2012-09-26 15:36:29

We just finished testing Premiere (http://www.pugetsystems.com/la..., and I can say for sure that on Windows, Premiere exclusively uses CUDA so there is no way to get GPU acceleration with AMD cards right now. Adobe has added some OpenCL support on Mac OS recently, so it is something that will likely happen at some point on Windows as well. I expect it will be something added in the next version rather than in an update, however, so I wouldn't expect it to happen anytime soon.

Posted on 2012-09-28 16:26:47

Just as Noel suggested, it would be really cool if you could post the action and the file you worked with so we can compare our systems.

Great post by the way. It's hard to find solid benchmarks on this topic. I really appreciate it!


Posted on 2012-09-23 15:50:18
itai bachar

thanks for the test!
are those Quadro Kepler of Fermi?

Posted on 2012-11-10 10:04:36

These Quadro cards are Fermi-based. The Kepler-based Quadros were not yet out when we did this article. In fact, the first such card - the Quadro K5000 - only just came out last month. The rest of the models in that series won't be out until early 2013.

Posted on 2012-11-11 05:16:32

ohh man no comparision to CPUs, sorry but really wasted time

Posted on 2012-12-19 23:12:10

is there any benefit of using NVIDIA GTX 680 4GB over NVIDIA GTX 680 2GB?

Posted on 2013-01-02 18:22:34

Based on the testing we did, I would say that there doesn't appear to be any significant benefit to video RAM amounts over 1GB - which would imply that the 4GB version of the GTX 680 would also not hold any particular advantage. Now it may be that with sufficiently high-res images the onboard RAM may become a factor, but details about things like that are unfortunately hard to come by.

Posted on 2013-01-02 20:01:27

I'm trying to build computer for photoshop and seriously as a newbie in this I almost give up. In this article http://forums.adobe.com/thread... author is saying that GTX 580 3GB is way to go ... Who should I listen to? :)

Posted on 2013-01-02 21:44:49

That link appears to be recommendations for NLE - Non Linear Editing, a form of video editing. From Adobe that would be for Premiere Pro and possibly After Effects, not Photoshop. Hopefully that helps :)

Posted on 2013-01-02 21:47:38

Thnx a lot for your kindness! It helps. Have a great day :)

Posted on 2013-01-03 08:40:43

Hello, Would there be any significant performance/speed increase if you were to use 2 of each of these cards? If so... would it not be the best cost/performance idea to buy multiple 610 gpus?

Posted on 2013-01-21 08:13:04

I don't believe programs like this benefit at all from multiple video cards. The performance boost from things like that, which include NVIDIA's SLI technology, are generally limited to some games and a handful of other 3D applications.

Posted on 2013-01-21 16:58:10

ASRock's AMD FM2 FM2A85X Extreme6 have Integrated AMD Radeon HD 7000 series graphics in A-series APU.
Is it extra graphic card is required for adobe photoshop cs6?????

Posted on 2013-02-19 12:32:29

The AMD FM2 series of processors, which is also known as Trinity, does have decent built-in graphics. I would expect the graphics side of things to perform a little better than the Intel HD graphics on the chart above, but behind the other AMD Radeon dedicated cards listed there. However, please note that the processor side of the Trinity platform is decidedly slower than any of the Intel processor types we tested in this article... so while the graphics side will benefit Photoshop somewhat, the CPU side would perform worse than what was tested above. Of course, those processors also cost less - so it can make a great value platform (as in the case of the AMD version of our Spirit system).

Posted on 2013-02-19 17:20:06

Would really appreciate a small update of this with HD4600 and Iris please.

Posted on 2013-06-23 06:56:48
Robert Furst

Want to see photoshop scream? HP Z820 workstation with two Intel quad 2050 processors, Nvidia K2000 with K20 gpu, 20 gb ram, 3 hd drives, 1 for software, 1 for actual file, 1 solid state for Photoshop scratch, if you want to go off the deap end add up 512gb ram, upgrade to two Nviidia K20x gpu's and get another solid state drive for working files.

Posted on 2013-08-04 05:08:29