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Best Workstation PC for Adobe Lightroom Classic (Winter 2020)

Written on December 8, 2020 by Matt Bach


Choosing the right PC for your needs can be a daunting task, but here at Puget Systems, we do our best to help you understand how different applications (like Lightroom Classic) utilize the various hardware found in workstations. Not only do we have a number of on-going series of hardware articles for those that want to get deep into the details, but we also have our solutions pages that are intended to distill all our research and testing down to what matters most. Not to mention various other resources like our Youtube channel and podcast.

However, a number of our readers and customers are either not interested in or do not have the time to become fully versed in computer hardware and just want an answer to the "simple" question: what is the best computer for my needs?

Today we will be tackling that question in regards to Adobe Lightroom Classic. In many ways, Lightroom Classic is relatively simple from a hardware standpoint, wanting a (preferably AMD) CPU with moderate number of cores and a decent amount of RAM. But other hardware choices like the GPU and storage are also incredibly important.

Best PC for Lightroom Classic (Winter 2020)

Something to note is that we are going to primarily focus on the hardware that is going to directly affect performance. Things like 10Gb networking, accurate displays, and peripherals are all incredibly important, but outside the scope of this post.

Lightroom Classic Workstations

Puget Systems offers a range of powerful and reliable systems that are tailor-made for your unique workflow.

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Labs Consultation Service

Our Labs team is available to provide in-depth hardware recommendations based on your workflow.

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Good PC Configuration for Lightroom Classic

We'll start off with a solid workstation for Lightroom Classic that will give you terrific performance without breaking the bank. The core of this configuration is the AMD Ryzen 5800X which is well worth the price over the Intel Core i9 10900K - especially in passive tasks like exporting. However, if you are primarily concerned about active tasks like culling, switching modules, brush lag, etc, the Intel Core i9 10900K is only a percent or two slower for those tasks, making it a great alternative if you cannot get your hands on a Ryzen 5800X due to the current supply shortages.

On the GPU side, while Lightroom Classic has been getting increased GPU acceleration support, you are almost always going to be limited by the performance of your CPU. We have found in our testing that at least for the tasks we currently look at, NVIDIA GPUs are a better option over AMD, but other than that, there is little difference between the various models.. Because of this, we will be using the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB on this configuration.

For the system memory, we will be using 32GB of RAM since Lightroom Classic can need a lot of RAM - especially if you often send photos to Photoshop for additional editing. Rounding things out, we have a 500GB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe primary drive (for the OS and applications), and a 1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD for your photos and catalogs.

All told, this system should run you around $2,900, and according to our PugetBench database, should score around 1,100 points in our Lightroom Classic benchmark. This makes it an excellent value for the amount of performance you will get.

CPU AMD Ryzen 5800X 10 Core
(Alternate: Intel Core i9 10900K)
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)

Better PC Configuration for Lightroom Classic

Stepping up a bit in terms of performance, the AMD Ryzen 5900X 12 core is a bit faster than the Ryzen 5800X and is currently the fastest consumer CPU for Lightroom Classic from both Intel and AMD. In addition, due to the lack of (in our experience) stable Thunderbolt support on any AMD Threadripper platform, the 5900X is also the best CPU you can get while still having solid Thunderbolt support (we recommend using the Gigabyte B550 Vision D motherboard if this is important for you)

For the GPU, we will be keeping the same NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB since a higher-end GPU isn't going to give a big increase in performance in Lightroom Classic. Instead, we are going to put more of the budget towards doubling the RAM (64GB) as well as adding a dedicated Samsung 980 Pro 512GB drive for the scratch and cache files. If you are using Samsung drives (which we highly recommend as we have found them to be extremely reliable), it is important to use a "Pro" drive for these cache/scratch files since this line of drives have higher endurance than the "EVO" line. This is important since cache files tend to perform a higher than typical number of writes to the drive which can affect the lifespan of an SSD.

We will also bump up the main storage drive to a 2TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD for your project files. You could also substitute this for up to a 14TB platter drive if you need a large amount of storage.

Depending on current pricing, this configuration should cost right around $3,600 and score around 1,220 points (about 10% faster than the "Good" configuration) in our Lightroom Classic benchmark. Keep in mind that raw performance isn't the only thing you are getting with this configuration - you are also getting the higher RAM capacity and dedicated cache/scratch drive which can make a huge impact on your workflow even if it doesn't actually make any filters or effects apply faster. At the moment, this - or one with a slightly upgraded GPU - is one of the most common configurations we sell for Lightroom Classic.

CPU AMD Ryzen 5900X 12 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
2TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
512GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (cache & scratch)

Best PC Configuration for Lightroom Classic

For most users, the "Better" configuration is going to be the best choice as it gives great performance across Lightroom Classic - especially for active tasks like culling. However, if you find yourself exporting huge amounts of photos and want the best possible performance for these kinds of passive tasks (even at the expense of performance in active tasks), we can get a good amount more performance by moving up to the AMD Threadripper 3960X 24 Core processor. It is worth noting that the higher-end Threadripper CPUs are actually worse in Lightroom Classic, so there is no reason to spend more money on the 3970X or 3990X.

We will continue to stick with NVIDIA for the GPU, although in order to squeeze out the most performance possible we will upgrade to the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 10GB. The performance over the RTX 2060 may not be much, but the additional VRAM is useful for some workflows, and it can make a bigger difference in other applications you may use like After Effects or Premiere Pro.

Another area we can upgrade is the RAM - going up to 128GB. This again shouldn't be all that necessary for most Lightroom Classic users, but it can be important if you are doing a lot of HDR, panorama, or focus stacking.

For storage, we are going to use the same setup as the previous system, only bumping up the project drive to a 4TB SSD as well as a 14TB platter drive for additional long-term storage. How much storage is enough varies greatly depending on each person's workflow, so depending on the number and size of assets you need on your local system, you may consider adding even more storage. Alternatively, if you will be using network storage then including a 10 Gigabit PCI-E networking card is a good idea.

All told, this configuration should come in a bit under $7,000 and score around the same 1,350 points in our Lightroom Classic benchmark. This is a significant jump in price over the "Better" configuration, in large part due to moving to the more expensive AMD Threadripper platform. It is worth mentioning again that this configuration will not be faster for all Lightroom Classic tasks, and is really only necessary if you want to minimize export times as much as possible, regardless of cost. Active tasks (which in our experience is where most Lightroom Classic users want the best performance) will actually be better with the "Best" configuration.

CPU AMD Threadripper 3960X 24 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 10GB
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
2TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
1TB Samsung 970 Pro NVMe (disk cache)
14TB Western Digital Red (storage)

Additional Resources

If you want to know more about how Lightroom Classic performs with various hardware as well as our justifications for these recommendations, we have a number of resources available. For those that want just a bit more information, we recommend visiting the "Hardware Recommendations" section of our Lightroom Classic Solutions page. If you really want to dig into the numbers behind the data, we also have an on-going series of hardware articles that are regularly updated, as well as our public database of PugetBench for Lightroom Classic benchmark results.

And, as always, if you aren't sure what you need or just want to verify that you are spending your budget in the most effective way possible, our technology consultants are always available to assist you in getting the exact right workstation for your workflow.

Lightroom Classic Workstations

Puget Systems offers a range of poweful and reliable systems that are tailor-made for your unique workflow.

Configure a System!

Labs Consultation Service

Our Labs team is available to provide in-depth hardware recommendations based on your workflow.

Find Out More!
Tags: Workstation, PC Workstation, PC, Photography, Lightroom CLassic
Kef Gyeong

In the other article (https://www.pugetsystems.co..., it recommends using SSD as the OS/programs, not NVMe. However, this article here has the opposite recommendations. Why is that?

Posted on 2020-12-22 02:21:52
David Alexander

Can’t speak for PS, but SSD could be NVMe or SATA. No reason to choose SATA unless you’re out of M.2 slots or need higher capacity not available in NVMe form factor.

Posted on 2020-12-24 13:38:23

NVMe drives are starting to hit price parity with SATA SSD drives in many cases, more motherboards are including 2-3 NVMe slots natively, and NVMe has matured from a "new" technology to a "stable" one in our eyes. Because of those three factors, we are starting to switch over from almost exclusively using SATA SSDs for primary drives to using NVMe drives. There are still pros and cons to either, so it isn't a blanket policy quite yet, but more and more of our recommendations will be switching to NVMe primary drives over the coming months.

There are just... a lot... of pages on our website so it is going to take a while to get everything switched over. I'll go ahead and tweak the one Kef linked now though.

Posted on 2020-12-28 18:40:41
Kef Gyeong

Thank you for the response, Matt! I got a follow-up question on this matter.

If I were to go with a 3-drive system for Premiere or any similarly graded video editing software and my motherboard has only two M.2 slots, which I will use both for NVMe drives. Would you still suggest that I do system & programs (SATA SSD), projects & media (NVMe PCIe 4.0), cache & scratch (NVMe PCIe 3.0), or would you change things around by making an NVMe for the OS drive?

Also, is there significant performance loss in combining system & programs and cache & scratch drives into one and skip the SATA SSD altogether?

I specified different PCIe speeds because my motherboard has only one PCIe 4.0 slot; it's an AM4 B550 board.

Posted on 2020-12-30 13:37:46

I would probably do OS/Programs on NVMe 3.0, cache/scratch on the NVMe 4.0, and projects/media on the SSD since you usually won't be taxing even a normal SSD with just media unless you are using some really, really high bitrate media or large multicam projects. You can also use a M.2 to PCIe adapter if you really want to use triple NVMe drives.

You can combine the OS and cache drive, but I would personally combine OS and media instead unless you need more space than you can reasonably get with a single M.2 drive. In the grand scheme of things, it probably won't matter much, but having the cache files separate from the OS/app drive does make importing and things like generating peak files a bit quicker.

Cache drives are also subject to a ton of small writes which technically can make that drive fail a bit sooner than it otherwise would, which is why I like to have those files on their own drive. If it fails and you lose all your temporary files, it really isn't a big deal. But if that drive also has you OS or project files, that can be anything from just frustrating to devastating depending on how good your backup practices are.

Posted on 2020-12-30 18:20:44
Kef Gyeong

What a thorough response, thank you!

It slipped off my mind that I am configuring my system primarily for Lightroom/Photoshop and secondarily for Premiere/AE. On that note, I have come across some recommendations (probably not from Puget) that one should put catalogs on an NVMe (and often on the same drive as the system/programs) and RAW files on another media (slower) drive. Would you say there is much lag in loading and sifting through photos in Lightroom library for having both catalogs and RAW files on the same SATA SSD? I currently have this setup on my single SATA SSD drive laptop, from which I'm upgrading to speed up my workflow. I'm essentially wondering how much Lightroom (both in Library and Develop) is capalbe of squeezing every performance out of an NVMe, or SATA SSD is rather more than sufficient.

Posted on 2020-12-30 18:57:02

I doubt you would have a problem with the catalog and photos on the same SSD. That recommendation was probably from back when SSDs didn't exist yet, and just kept going as "general knowledge" of what you should do even though hardware has drastically changed since then. You maybe could make an argument for storing previews on a different drive than the original RAW files as it may make preview generation a bit quicker, but even that I doubt. Usually that kind of thing is CPU limited long before the speed of an SSD comes into play.

Posted on 2020-12-30 19:01:06
Kef Gyeong

General practices do tend to stick around even with new technologies, you are absolutely right. That's a valid point. I had somehow thought I should give Lightroom preview files the fastest NVMe. That would have been completely on the opposite side of the performance. Great discussion, Matt. I'm really looking forward to seeing more of your hardware recommendations in 2021. Happy New Year.

Posted on 2020-12-30 20:55:32
Urban Camper

Thanks for another awesome article Matt. My question is on the same line as Kef’s. I am wondering what is the best storage configuration for Lightroom Classic using a platter drive. I am planning on doing a 3-drive system as well, but will be using a few of my older drives until I have the time/budget to upgrade. I am hoping to grab a new Ryzen system from you in the next year.

The benchmarks on your 2016 article “Adobe Lightroom 2015.8 Storage Performance” showed that there is a minimal difference between having the image files stored on a single platter drive versus an SSD, NVMe. Is this still applicable today? My biggest bottleneck is image scrolling in the develop module and generating previews.

How does your recommendation to Kef on putting the OS/Programs on NVMe 3.0, cache/scratch on the NVMe 4.0, and projects/media on the SSD change for the drives I have; 1TB NVMe (970 evo PLUS), 500mb SSD and a soon to be purchased 4 TB platter to store my images. Will HDD speed and cache make a substantial difference for storing my images? Swapping image files between an SSD to an HDD for projects is a great idea but I am too stubborn to change my workflow and will be keeping all of my image files on the platter drive.

Since Adobe recommends keeping the catalog and preview cache in the same folder on a dedicated drive, I am thinking of using the NVMe for OS/Programs (current set-up), image files on the HDD, and the SDD for catalog and preview cache. Or would it be better to move the catalog and previews to the faster NVMe and keep my fingers crossed that I won’t fill up the drive and hope that all of the read/writes do not affect the reliability of the drive? I do not want to put my OS on the slower SSD. Or should I go against ADOBE's recommendation and put the catalog on the fastest drive and leave the SSD for the cache for better reliability?

Holy smokes, this is a long and confusing response. Long story short, what is your recommendation for my current setup and does the speed and cache size of the HDD make any difference?

Posted on 2021-01-29 18:18:05

I wouldn't worry too much about having the catalog and previews on a NVMe drive - although it also wouldn't hurt and NVMe is getting to the point that it isn't that much more expensive than a SSD. So if you have a bit of leftover budget, it wouldn't be a bad idea from a future proofing standpoint.

As for the photos themselves on a platter drive vs SSD, that is a bit tougher. Back in 2016, it didn't matter much, but people are shooting in higher and higher resolutions these days, resulting in larger and larger file sizes. Loading a 10MB file from a platter drive is pretty quick, but if your photos are 40MB or more, that can take almost a quarter second just to load the image data from the drive to RAM before the system can even start doing things like debayering the RAW image and doing everything else it needs to in order to display it in Lightroom.

It wouldn't be perfect, but you can try to do a bit of math to estimate what the difference would be. Platter drives are generally around 200MB/s, while SSDs are 500MB/s. Generally, the actual processing time shouldn't depend on the drive speed, but you can roughly estimate how much longer it would take to load from a platter drive than a SSD. IE:

10MB images: .05 sec vs .02 sec (impossible to notice)
40MB images: .2 sec vs .08 sec (slightly noticeable, but hard to quantify)

Hopefully I got that math right. Something else to consider is simply how much scrolling/culling you do. Small bits of time that are almost imperceptible can add up quicker than you think if you are going through hundreds or thousands of images.

Posted on 2021-01-29 18:35:24
Urban Camper

Wow! Thanks for the speedy response.

I will have to go with a platter drive for image storage until I can afford a huge SSD. Does platter drive speed make much of a difference? My guess is no since Puget uses WD Reds as opposed to the faster spinning Blacks. Where does buffer size come into the equation? I don't think a larger buffer, 64 vs 256, is much faster but wouldn't it be more reliable since it would reduce the number of time-intensive disk head movements. Or am I completely confused?

Lastly, I am still confused why you use Reds when Blacks have a longer warranty.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I'm sending you a virtual high-five and beer.

Posted on 2021-01-29 20:18:29

The speed of the platter drive can definitely impact performance. We actually do sell a bit faster drives than the WD Red we list on most pages, but they are much louder than most people expect. We usually use the WD Ultrastar drives for people who are OK with the louder drives and want more performance though. The Black line started having problems with reliability a while back that made us drop them from our product line.

For most people, the extra noise isn't worth the performance increase since they are usually used in situations where drive performance isn't as big of a deal. Photography is honestly one of the hardest situations. Sure video editors tend to have more data, but the bitrate is high enough that they really should be using SATA SSDs. Photography, however, can get by with platter drives if they aren't shooting huge RAW files, but the quieter platter drives are a bit underpowered in terms of performance.

What some people do is to get a large enough SSD for one or two sessions, then a larger platter drive to act as a mid-level backup almost. So projects first go to the SSD for the culling and editing, then offloaded to the platter drive (and hopefully backed up to an external drive at the same time) in case they need to do any tweaks for their customers. Not as efficient, but you can just the drive transfers go overnight or at other idle times and it means you don't need as big of an SSD to hold everything. That doesn't work for everyone, however, and depends a lot on your workflow.

Posted on 2021-01-29 21:24:55