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Adobe Photoshop CS6 Memory Optimization

Written on February 5, 2013 by Matt Bach


At Puget Systems have always held the belief that a computer's hardware should be specifically tailored to match what the computer will be used for in order to maximize its effectiveness. Different programs make use of hardware in different ways, and knowing how the program behaves is important to determine what pieces of hardware need to be more powerful, and which are not as critical. Most programs can be grouped into categories that have similar hardware requirements, but there are some programs that warrant a bit of extra in-depth examination to discover the fine nuances for that specific program.

Last September, we looked at how video cards affect Photoshop CS6 performance in our Adobe Photoshop CS6 GPU Acceleration article; and due to its popularity we wanted to expand on the topic of hardware performance in Photoshop to take a look at RAM. Specifically, in this article we want to determine how the speed and configuration of RAM affects the performance of Photoshop CS6.

What Affects Memory Performance

The main factor when it comes to RAM performance is simply the speed of the RAM. Obviously, faster RAM is indeed faster, but often the difference is so small that it does not have a measurable impact on system performance. We've looked at this in the past in our Breaking the Hype of High Frequency RAM article, but the focused of that article was mostly on gaming and basic computer usage and not specifically Photoshop. It is entirely possible that Photoshop CS6 can benefit from using higher frequency RAM, so that is one question we want to answer.

The configuration of the RAM is a bit more complicated as it is a multi-part question. The first part is whether it is better to have fewer, larger sticks of RAM or more, smaller sticks of RAM. More physical sticks of RAM allow you to utilize more RAM channels, but you lose some potential upgradeability. The secondary part of this question is if the size of RAM has an impact on performance. 8GB sticks of RAM are much more convienent to use, but if you get better performance out of 4GB sticks you may opt to use those smaller sticks. Usually you would want to use the fewest number of sticks to give you more room to add additional sticks in the future, but this completely changes if performance is at all affected.

The last thing we will cover does not relate directly to performance, but is the estimated amount of RAM you will want in your system. Performance can be drastically reduced if you do not have enough RAM, so when you are in the market for either a new computer or an upgrade, it is useful to have a reference to help you decide how much RAM is right for you. This heavily depends on the sizes and types of files you are working with, but we will be giving some estimations that you can use as a baseline. 

Test Setup

To ensure consistent benchmark results, we created a series of "Actions" in Photoshop CS6 64-bit to apply the effects we chose to use for our benchmark run. Each effect was applied with its default options to an image of various sizes to determine if RAM has a greater or lesser effect on larger images. Most of our testing will be done with a 109MB and 250MB image, but we will also do some testing with images as large as 1024MB. 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 is based off of HardwareHeaven.com's popular Photoshop Benchmark V3 benchmark, but adapted for our uses. The image we used is also from that benchmark, and was simply resized to achieve the larger image sizes.

Photoshop was left at its default settings with the RAM allocation set to 60% and GPU acceleration fully enabled. We ran each benchmark loop four times with the average between each run being our final result. Before changing the test image size (and when changing the installed RAM), the system was rebooted to ensure that there was no errant data being stored in the RAM.

Photoshop CS6 Performance Options Photoshop CS6 Image Resize
Performance options Image resized from the 109MB image to 250MB and larger

The latest (13.0.1) version of Photoshop CS6 64-bit was used, and to see how the chipset affects our results we used two separate testing platforms consisting of the following hardware:

For our test RAM, we used a variety of RAM at different frequencies. The only RAM that is not at a different frequency is the 8GB version of the Kingston HyperX Low Voltage RAM which we used in our memory configuration testing. For our RAM speed testing we will be using a single pair of RAM installed in dual channel mode.

Model Frequency Timing Voltage
Patriot Viper Xtreme (2x4GB) PC3-17000 Enhanced Latency Kit 2133MHz 11-11-11-30 1.65V
Patriot Viper Xtreme (2x4GB) PC3-15000 Enhanced Latency Kit 1866MHz 9-11-9-27 1.65V
Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 8GB Low Voltage 1600MHz 9-9-9 1.35V
Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 4GB Low Voltage 1600MHz 9-9-9 1.35V
Kingston DDR3-1333 4GB 1333MHz 11-11-11 1.5V

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Robert Furst

Serious Photoshop users want top of the line, I7 just isn't enough anymore, multi quad or higher processors are in with high end graphic and gpu cards, this ain't your daddys Mac

Posted on 2013-08-04 05:12:43

i7 on the Ivy Bridge Chipset at a high enough Clock Speed on Quad Core is more than sufficient for high end photoshop when paired 4-8GB of RAM Core. I go into a detailed explanation breaking down the component specs you need to look at for Photoshop CS6 and why they matter


Posted on 2014-01-31 18:45:12

high end photoshop use, are you kidding. we pro users need as much ram as possible. 32, 64, 128 and beyond!

Posted on 2014-12-04 11:58:00
Richard Richardsen

There really isn't that much support for what you say. I Use an i7, 4Ghz, 32 g RAM, GeForce GTX 960 and everything I do is immediate. Any further increase in speed would not be perceptible. My machine at work is an 8 G Ram i5 using the MoBo graphics and it handles PS 6 and CC with immediate response.

I work with large files and images 60 inches wider or more and have ZERO problems with 32 gb of RAM. I am sure I would not notice if I pulled half of out.

Posted on 2015-06-25 17:38:33

With Photoshop a lot of it comes down to file size. Not physical dimensions or even MP count, but the actual file size when uncompressed and being edited. The 32GB you have should suffice for image sizes up to about 1.5GB... but there are some folks working with even larger image sizes. I've talked to folks doing image work for art that goes on the side of race cars and the trucks that carry them, and those are *massive* image sizes... and I bet they aren't the most demanding out there. So while many photo editors may be fine with 8GB, and you are fine with 32GB, some users do have legitimate need for 64GB, 128GB, etc.

Posted on 2015-06-25 17:47:23
Richard Richardsen

Maybe..but I did a mural outlay that was close to 25 feet across..and did it with 32 gb. Some folks NEED an elephant gun..most that have them don't NEED them though.

It's my guess there really aren't enough folks doing the kind of work you speak of to merit melding their needs into the masses of folks that don't do that. Their work is an outlier and a small niche that would best be left to private discussion amongst them.

I use a d800 and d4 both of which produce large file sizes in NEF. I stick them on a solid state drive and bridge opens gig upon gig of them in a flash. I think if you want speed you might want to think about the other parts of your machine.

Posted on 2015-06-25 18:02:15

Summing up what everyones saying. It really depends on your use.
I do digital paintings which are between 1-3 meters x 1 meter.
so thats 100 x 200 cm, 300-400dpi, a few hundred layers...
So my 32gig ram, a few ssds, i5quad core, and med spec vid card isnt really cutting it. I am getting by, but holybean sprouts i could do with more speed.

I did work on a 2.5 m x 3.5 m panel recently and it got pretty slow by the end. lol :)

My photoshop files are between 10 - 30 gigs each file... so more speed needed without totally breaking the bank!

Posted on 2015-06-25 23:59:03

That's some crazy big files you are working with. I've never tested anything that large, but I can see why you want more RAM.

One somewhat unrelated thing I'm curious about is what you think about hard drives like the Intel 750 (2.4GB/s read, 1.2GB/s write - https://www.pugetsystems.co.... Do you think that a HD that fast could be used as a decently performing scratch drive for when Photoshop needs more than 32GB of RAM? I ask because if you need more than 32GB of RAM you have to move up to a Socket 2011 CPU which are not as good as something like a i7-4790K at lightly threaded tasks like Photoshop. I've been wondering if it is worth it to give up some CPU speed to get the additional RAM, or if is it better to keep the faster CPU, stay at 32GB of RAM, and use an Intel 750 NVMe drive as a scratch drive.

Posted on 2015-06-26 16:55:24

Thats very interesting Matt, I think that drive as a scratch disk would speed things up even more!!
I'm not too sure on the cpu vs discussion...i know that once you go for 2011 socket every thing becomes $$$$ and faster of course! 😉

Posted on 2015-06-27 04:38:24
Romulo Pulcinelli Benedetti

All brush processing is done with CPU, GPU is only used to move and rotate canvas, and I believe it reduce the lag feel by trying to show a intermediate bitmap (not the real file) work, while Photoshop take longer to apply the real task on background. this is why someone with a i7 6700 and a GTX 1080, still today get a slow behavior from some huge diameter tools.

Posted on 2017-05-23 17:34:12
Santosh G

Hi Their,

I have a PC with configuration i72600K 16GB ram,128GB SSD,1TB HD 7200RPM.using software's coreldraw x6,indesign cs6,illu cs6 but still the application are working very slow.so plz suggest me the best configuration so that i can use these apps simultaneously without loosing the speed.and i am planning to configure intel xeon with dual processor with 12 cores.so is it ok or not

Posted on 2014-09-11 11:49:52

The CPU doesn't do squat in Photoshop but if you are working with any kind of graphics you csn count on seeing a spinning wheel plenty with under 32gb while rendering.

Posted on 2015-03-16 18:48:04
Richard Richardsen

I don't really think you can call yourself a "serious photo shopper" or "pro" if you are yakking about hardware. Enough is enough and a pro doesn't waste money on overkill. If you are getting paid for what you do what you want is quality work. That's going to take time and adding 32 gb of ram to a machine that alreaddy packs 32 isn't going to make your work better and it will not make it go perceptibly faster. Equipment yaks ( what lens did you use ) are not the conversations of pros.

Posted on 2015-06-25 17:45:36

Hey. Not sure if you mean me, but i think my file sizes are so big because its crazy details, large colour gamut and loads of layers. All hand drawn. No photos. 😉

What was the 25 m mural? That a awesome!!

Posted on 2015-06-27 04:42:53
Romulo Pulcinelli Benedetti

In terms of information per pixel, large color gamut did not increase image size, only bit depth, you need greater bit depth to avoid banding, but surprisingly 16 bits per channel will be more than enough even for linear color spaces, and even if you worked with some kind of HDR painting, 16 bits float would be enough to securely avoiding banding in a good range of tone values, not only in representation but in manipulation too.

I did not doubt you get 32 GB images, but you did not really need 32 GB RAM to work with 32 GB in ROM size images, especially on a brush centric task, PS is more than efficient on caching, it did not need to have all real image in memory. I may paint as a hobby but as a TI person, I can securely say you PS do many well done magics to avoid getting all image in RAM, perfectly fine with it. I believe most certainly CPU and GPU are your bottleneck for a mix of reasons.

Posted on 2016-10-30 03:48:54

higher performance with high powerful cpu will be best for working with photoshop.

Posted on 2016-10-04 16:15:07
Jakob Teuffel

I'm doing a lot of verry large panoramas. we'r talking >3GB files.
Has someone seen a graph how photoshop scale sin the "not enaugh RAM" domain?

Posted on 2018-07-14 21:25:33

Thanks for your effective information.But for the high end photoshop performance,there must be need some upgrade version.

Posted on 2018-08-16 10:40:53

I ran across this test, but I am highly suspicious of the results. Do you think anything has changed regarding RAM frequency and Photoshop?



Posted on 2019-04-04 15:02:06

This article is 6 years old at this point, but the TechSpot article you linked is two years old as well. Things have changed a bit since both of these articles. We haven't specifically done Photoshop testing on RAM speed in a while, but what we tend to see is that in real-world situations, RAM speed makes minimal difference with Intel CPUs, but up to 10% or so difference with AMD CPUs.

However, using RAM above around 2666 tends to be less reliable. There are plenty of people using higher frequency RAM with no issues, but we have found that going above what the CPU is rated for (2666 in most cases) causes an increase in risk. So we really wouldn't use higher frequency RAM even if it was a good deal faster since we value stability and reliability very highly in our workstations.

Posted on 2019-04-04 17:52:25

Thank you for the update :)

Posted on 2019-04-06 00:03:14
emailme junk

Any suggestions on how to increase speed when working with gigafiles?

Here's my problem and my computer spec.

Problem - It just took ~20 minutes to load my file (file size in explorer: ~59.235GB; Scratch in PS is currently at 124.7GB/35GB... but with extra layers, it's been up to 450GB). I've nearly given up on editing this picture because it takes forever to process each step. In this case, the merged picture is made up of 40 pics wide by 20 pics high (shot with D810 with 70-200 @ 200). Each raw image is 73mb.

Spec -

CPU - I7-7700k, 4500MHz
Motherboard - ASRock Z270 SuperCarrier
RAM - 64GB (4 sets at 16GB DDR4-2133 SDRAM (16-15-15-36 @ 1066 MHz)
GPU - none (onboard cpu)
Boot Drive - Samsung SSD 960 EVO 500GB
Scratch Drive - M4-CT256M5SSD2 (256GB, SATA-III)
Secondary Scratch - WDC WD4004FZWX-00GBGB0 (4 TB WD Black Performance Drive)
Storage - RAID 5 (22.356GB)

Posted on 2019-06-17 02:21:21

I will get this amazing for me .thank you!…

Posted on 2019-04-19 22:42:51

No word to describe. Just Awesome. Its really great Photoshop tutorial.

Posted on 2020-01-20 00:38:56

good read

Posted on 2020-02-11 22:58:55

Hey Matt Bach, your post is really helpful and informative for Photoshop users. Thanks for sharing for your post.

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Posted on 2020-07-14 09:54:05

I'm photoshop expert and working last 12 years so i know very well how you have coverage this articles very well. This is the very important but before read this artilce i wasn't aware about it.

Great help.

Thank you very much!

Posted on 2020-07-16 17:21:07

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Posted on 2020-07-18 06:11:50

Well written about optimization of Photoshop CS6. I'm certainly delighted I discovered it and I'll be bookmarking it, checking back frequently!

Posted on 2020-07-28 08:35:39

Nice to see this great information. I wasn't aware about the memory size before seeing this post. Now I will try to optimize my pc according to your recommendation. Thanks for sharing the post.

Posted on 2020-08-22 09:50:53

It is very interesting Matt, I think that drive as a scratch disk would speed things up even more!!

Posted on 2020-09-05 08:32:34
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Posted on 2020-10-22 12:15:14

Good to know lot of things. Thank you.

Posted on 2020-11-05 06:21:57

Its best place for some effective resources about Photoshop

Posted on 2020-12-19 16:30:26

Great Post, Thanks for Sharing this useful information.

Posted on 2021-01-12 07:40:58
Md Shahjalal Mia

It's my guess there really aren't enough folks doing the kind of work you speak of to merit melding their needs into the masses of folks that don't do that. Their work is an outlier and a small niche that would best be left to private discussion amongst them.

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