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Best Workstation PC for Adobe Photoshop (Winter 2020)

Written on December 8, 2020 by Matt Bach
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Introduction

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 Photoshop) 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 Photoshop which is perhaps the most ubiquitous application for content creation. In many ways, Photoshop is relatively simple from a hardware standpoint, wanting a CPU with high per-core performance and a decent amount of RAM, but other hardware choices like the GPU and storage are also incredibly important.

Best PC for Photoshop (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.

Photoshop Workstations

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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 Photoshop

We'll start off with a solid workstation for Photoshop that will give you terrific performance without breaking the bank. The core of this configuration is the AMD Ryzen 5800X which is about 10% faster than the Intel Core i9 10900K. This makes it a great choice for our "entry" CPU option, although due to the limited supply of AMD Ryzen CPUs currently, the Core i9 10900K is by no means a slouch and is a good fallback if you cannot get your hands on a Ryzen 5800X.

On the GPU side, while Photoshop can take advantage of the video card to process GPU-accelerated filters and effects, you are almost always going to be limited by the performance of your CPU. We have found in our testing that even a mid-range GPU will be similar in performance to a high-end one. 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 Photoshop can need a lot of RAM as you add layers or increase the resolution of your projects. 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 project and scratch files.

All told, this system should run you around $2,800, and according to our PugetBench database, should score around 1,150 points in our Photoshop benchmark. This makes it an excellent value for the amount of performance you will get.

CPU AMD Ryzen 5800X 8 Core
(Alternate: Intel Core i9 10900K)
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB
RAM 32GB DDR4
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)

Better PC Configuration for Photoshop

Stepping up a bit in terms of budget, there isn't much we can do in terms of CPU performance as the AMD Ryzen 5800X is already within a few percent of the best possible CPU choice for Photoshop. Because of this, we will stick with the 5800X for now.

For the GPU, we will bump it up to the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 8GB, although this is more for the extra VRAM than for any additional performance. We will also put more of the budget towards doubling the RAM (64GB) as well as adding a dedicated Samsung 970 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 can make a difference since cache files tend to perform a higher than typical number of writes to the drive which can affect the lifespan of an SSD.

Otherwise, the storage is the same as the "Good" configuration with a 500GB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe primary drive (for the OS and applications), and a 1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD for your project files

Depending on current pricing, this configuration should cost right around $3,300 and score around 1,200 points in our Photoshop benchmark. Keep in mind that even though the performance will be within a few percent of the "Good" configuration, 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.

CPU AMD Ryzen 5800X 8 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 8GB
RAM 64GB DDR4
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
512GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (cache & scratch)

Best PC Configuration for Photoshop

For the best possible Photoshop workstation, there actually isn't much we can do over the "Better" configuration for straight performance, but we can bump the CPU up to the AMD Ryzen 5900X. It isn't much faster than the Ryzen 5800X, but the extra cores can help when using multiple applications at once.

We will also 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. It is only a few percent faster than the RTX 3070 in Photoshop, but 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 should be enough for almost any Photoshop workflow, and if you need more RAM (merging a large number of extremely high-resolution images for example), you will need to move to an Intel X-series or AMD Threadripper CPU which are, unfortunately, a bit slower in Photoshop. Because of that, we are going to stick with just 128GB of RAM so we can continue to use the AMD Ryzen 5900X.

For storage, we are going to use the same setup as the previous system, only bumping up the project drive to 4TB and the disk cache drive to 1TB. 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 over $4,500 and scores around 1,140 points in our Photoshop benchmark. That isn't going to be measurably faster than the "Better" configuration in terms of raw performance, but the increased RAM capacity and storage is going to make a much bigger impact than the benchmark numbers suggest. Overall, this is easily one of the best possible configurations for Photoshop you can get with the hardware currently available (although you can always increase the amount of storage).

CPU AMD Ryzen 5900X 12 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 10GB
RAM 128GB DDR4
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
4TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
1TB Samsung 970 Pro NVMe (disk cache)

Additional Resources

If you want to know more about how Photoshop 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 Photoshop 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 Photoshop 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.

Photoshop 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, Photoshop, Graphic Design, Photography
Roos

I've a question about the 'best' configuration. Why is it you need a separate scratch disk with such an amount of RAM? What is the advatage of having a third disk for scratch, why don't use the very fast SSD with OS also for scratch?

Posted on 2020-12-09 22:46:01

There are a couple reasons for a dedicated cache drive:

1) Cache files tend to be a TON of small writes, which can cause a drive to fail sooner than it otherwise would since solid state drives have a limited number of writes they can handle. Having it on it's own drive means that if the drive does fail, you only lose your temporary cache files, and not your OS or other important project files.
2) Having cache files on a drive separate from the OS and application install tends to improve performance by a small amount. Not a ton, but if you are looking to maximize performance, this is a way to do so.

#1 is the biggest reason we recommend a dedicated cache drive, however.

Edit: Forgot to add that even if you had a couple terabytes of RAM, there are still cache files that are written to your drive. RAM helps while you are in the application, but is wiped when you close Photoshop (or any other application). So anything Photoshop needs between sessions is stored on the hard drive(s).

Posted on 2020-12-09 23:08:53
Roos

Thank you Matt! That sounds like a good reason :) I think I will go for:

- Ryzen 5900X
- 64GB RAM (128GB in the future)
- 250GB for OS and apps (980 pro)
- 1TB for projects (970 evo / 970 evo+)
- 500GB for cache (980 pro)
- 4TB HDD for archive
- Gigabyte RTX 3090 Turbo 24GB (or wait for 3080/3080Ti Turbo versions, I want more GPU's in the future). I'm not sure I will ever use the power of the 3090. So maybe the 3090 will be a stupid choice, so I have to wait a few months :(

I will use my PC also for modeling in Maya and Vray GPU rendering.

Very helpfull article, thanks again!

Posted on 2020-12-10 07:32:51

Looks good! A couple suggestions though: I would really try to get the OS drive up to 500GB if you can. 250GB should be enough for OS and apps, but for most people it also tends to become the "junk" drive with all your downloaded files and other random stuff. If you are good about managing that stuff though, 250GB can be workable.

The TURBO cards are also really hard to get right now (even harder than the other versions), and are significantly louder than the NVIDIA Founders cards or the 3rd party multi-fan cards. If you know you are going to have more than two cards in the future, it is a good plan to use the TURBO, but we have found that at least in an ATX chassis with even moderate airflow, you can use two Founders 3090 cards without it being a problem as long as they are not stacked on top of each other. The TURBOs are really only 100% necessary for triple GPU configs.

Posted on 2020-12-10 17:40:45
Roos

Thanks for your advice!
I will change the 250gb to 500gb, no brainer indeed.

For the GPU, I think I will doubt about that until the end (until I can get my hands on the 5900X...) but due to what you said about the heat, my preference will be then dual 3080 in stead of single 3090, so thanks for that! I will place them with one slot between.

Last question; when do you really need 24GB of VRAM?

Posted on 2020-12-10 23:12:32

That is going to mostly be related to the size of the scenes you are rendering in V-Ray. I don't know if there is a very clear formula for knowing how much VRAM you need though, it is kind of trial and error. It also isn't really my area of expertise, unfortunately. You might want to ask around on the Maya forums, or the V-Ray ones if the have one.

Posted on 2020-12-11 00:18:23
Pushparaj

in Processor 5800x you have suggested CPU COOLER Noctua NH-U12A, and what was the second option of cpu cooler, (NZXT liquid cooler or any other, because in our country this product already sold out)

Posted on 2020-12-10 05:19:34

We only are going over core components in this article (CPU, GPU, RAM, and storage), but for CPU cooling we pretty much stick to Noctua whenever we can. They are just so good and solid that we rarely use anything else. Closed loop liquid cooling when we absolutely have to, but unless you need it, a traditional heatsink can be more than effective enough, while being quieter (no pump noise and the fan is buried in the system) and more reliable (no pump to fail).

I can't really speak for other heatsink brands, since it has been years since we used anything other than Noctua.

Posted on 2020-12-10 17:36:54
Rosty Silverside

Hello @matt !
I have a question.
I'm a video editor. I got a 7820x i7and Gtx 1070 . I do a lot of tracking , masking , grading. I need faster export speeds and over all performance.
Is it worth buying latest i9 from Intel with quicksync or shall I wait ?
Also is 32gb of ram enough or more is better ? 4k editing mainly.
Because changing socket will be costly in the end .
Thanks in advance

Posted on 2020-12-11 01:01:06

Yea, the best thing you could do is to get a modern CPU, and that will mean a new motherboard and RAM as well. Currently, the only Intel CPU that makes sense is the Core i9 10900K. At any other pricepoint, you will get more bang for your buck by going with an AMD Ryzen (or Threadripper if you have a larger budget) processor. Quick Sync isn't as important these days since Premiere Pro supports GPU decoding/encoding as of version 14.5 (I'm assuming you are in the Adobe ecosystem). As for RAM, we generally recommend 64GB for 4K projects.

You might want to give our Premiere Pro hardware recommendations page a look over: https://www.pugetsystems.co...

Posted on 2020-12-11 17:39:42
Rosty Silverside

Ok I understand better. So you think I should really upgrade my system correct? But I'm also thinking, shall I wait for 11th gen because it's around the corner and I hear significant gains in performance for media workflow.

I purchased corsair vengeance lpx ram, is it good? I noticed that enabling XMP drops performance for me. Windows loads slower and premiere crashes more often. I'd love it if you could shed some light on the matter.

Because lately in Premiere, when i zoom in on the timeline, premiere crashes. I don't understand why. Faulty ram? XMP profile?

I really appreacite your input and puget systems do a great job. Most reliable source for me.

Posted on 2020-12-14 12:06:42

Yea, probably a new system is going to be the only way to get a noticeable improvement in performance. Hard to know if you should wait or not, because there is always something just around the corner. If you wait for Intel 11th Gen, then AMD Ryzen 6000-series (or whatever they will call it) will probably be on the horizon. Then after that would be Intel 12th Gen, and so on. If it were me, I would probably just go with the Ryzen 5000-series (if you can get one) and call it a day.

Intel does have some advantage with Quick Sync still (even though Pr can use the GPU for decoding/encoding H.264/5), but the Ryzen CPUs are so good that I don't know if the Intel 11th gen will end up that much better. Never know until they actual launch, but that is my gut feeling.

RAM is something I always recommend being conservative on. Generally, "faster" RAM doesn't actually give much performance gain in applications like Premiere Pro, but as you experienced, can make the system less stable. With the latest Intel/AMD CPUs, I wouldn't recommend going beyond DDR4-3200 with timings around CL22. That is what we have recently moved to, and that was after a LOT of performance and stability testing. For a 7820X, DDR4-2666 is the official supported RAM speed, so I wouldn't go above that (along with around CL19 timings)

I also don't trust XMP myself - although I know many swear by it. I've seen it not properly apply settings many times, so if the default BIOS settings aren't pulling what I want, I set things manually.

Posted on 2020-12-14 22:39:53
Pushparaj

I have used Corsair Vengeance LPX CMK16GXM1B3000C15 16GB 3000MHz DDR4(16x4= 64BG) in my old pc Z170 motherboard, is that compatible for MSI MAG B550M MOTHERBOARD

Posted on 2020-12-10 11:12:54
ohsojive

Just going through this article, do you think 128GB would be beneficial with Lightroom/Photoshop over 64GB? Trying to decide how far I want to go with my system (5950x & 3090 already)

Posted on 2021-10-21 13:45:00

Lightroom should almost never need more than 64GB, but Photoshop can in some cases. If you are just doing finer edits of photos, probably no need for it, but if you are doing really large and complex projects in Photoshop, you could need more than 64GB. The hard part is that it is really hard to estimate RAM usage for Photoshop. You can look at the document size (https://www.pugetsystems.co... to get an idea though. Generally anything less than 2-3GB should be fine with 64GB of RAM, but higher than that probably would benefit from 128GB of RAM.

Of course, that doesn't take into account other applications you could be running. If you have Lightroom and Photoshop both running, plus a bunch of browser tabs and other apps, they all need their own share of RAM. So, if you have a multi-app workflow, that could also make having 128GB of RAM useful.

Posted on 2021-10-21 17:16:42
ohsojive

Ok, thanks for the insight. I do have LR and PS running together all the time, GFX100s files is what I edit and have a few layers at a time, so usually over 1GB is what they are. I also like to open around 5-7 images at a time so I can blast through sequences, not sure if more RAM would help there or not.

Posted on 2021-10-21 17:52:08