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How Much Faster is a Modern Workstation for Adobe Lightroom CC 2015.8?

Written on February 15, 2017 by Matt Bach


There is no doubt that a modern workstation will be faster than one that is more than a year or two old, but the advancement of computer technology has certainly slowed in recent years. 10 years ago, it was not uncommon to see massive performance gains generation to generation, but today we often see much smaller 10-15% performance gains whenever a new product is launched. Some areas (such as storage) are still showing massive raw performance gains, but when you benchmark the new products in a real-world scenario even these are not quite as impressive as what we used to see.

These 10-15% gains per generation are not something most people will get excited about and make it difficult to determine how much of a performance gain you might see if you were to replace your 2, 3, 4, or 5 year old workstation with a new one. To try to answer this question as objectively as we can, we decided to directly compare five workstations using the highest end components over the past 6 years.

Test Setup

To benchmark the performance difference between different generations of workstations, we tested Lightroom with the following hardware configurations:

These configurations were designed first around the various Intel CPU generations (using the fastest CPU available at launch), followed by the fastest GPU that was available at that time. The GPU shouldn't have much impact on performance for the actions we are testing, but we wanted to ensure that the entire workstation was as high-end as possible for that time. After that, we simply used the highest capacity of RAM supported by the platform along with the SSD model we most commonly sold at that time. On the software side, we will be using Windows 10 Professional and the latest version of Photoshop 2017 on each system to ensure that any performance differences we see are strictly hardware level rather than being influenced by different software versions.

Unfortunately, since we don't always keep old hardware around once it is obsolete, we had to dig through our warehouse, closets and even home PCs to put together these systems. This means that some configurations are slightly off from what they ideally should be (such as using a GTX 580 instead of a GTX 680 and only a i5 3570K for the April 2012 configuration) but despite these small discrepancies our testing should fairly accurately show how a modern workstation compares to one that is 2, 4, 5, and 6 years old.

The images and settings we used in our testing were:

Test Images

18MP (5184x3456)
Taken on a Canon EOS REBEL T3i

HDR settings

5x 18MP RAW (5184x3456)

Auto Align, Auto Tone, No Deghost

Panorama settings

11x 18MP RAW (5184x3456)
Merged to 187MP (48085x3898)

Spherical Projection, No Crop

Benchmark Results

Normally we would go through the results on a test by test basis, but this time the results were remarkably consistent across the various tests. Because of this, we are simply going to present the raw data and call out the few interesting cases:

Lightroom 2015.8 Workstation Benchmark
Out of all the results, there are two two test that are worth calling out as a bit abnormal. The first is importing images from a USB drive where we only saw a minimal difference between each workstation. The older systems were certainly still slower, but even the 2011 workstation only took 6% longer to import 100 images than the modern 2017 workstation.

The other time the results were a bit strange was when we were scrolling through images in the develop module with smart previews already created. For whatever reason, it took significantly longer to finish scrolling through all 50 images starting with the June 2013 system. Going all the way back to the January 2011 system, it took over 3 times longer to scroll through 50 images than it took on the modern 2017 workstation! This is the different between being able to scroll through the images with only a 1/4 second delay between images (faster than you would probably even notice) versus a .8 second delay between images.


Photoshop 2017 workstation performance improvement

Averaging the results from the three sections, you can get a great idea of how much faster a modern workstation should be on average compared to ones from previous years. If you would rather think in terms of a new workstation being X times faster than an older system, we also have this data in a slightly different format that you may prefer:

How much faster is a new 2017 Lightroom workstation?
Compared to January 2011 system 1.6 times faster
Compared to April 2012 system 1.5 times faster
Compared to June 2013 system 1.34 times faster
Compared to August 2015 system 1.05 times faster

If you have a fairly new workstation that is only a few years old, it probably isn't necessary to upgrade right now since you are only looking at about a 5% increase in Lightroom performance. If you have a machine from 2013 or older, however, you could be looking at some very significant performance gains. You might not see a doubling in overall performance even if you have a workstation from 2011 but it will definitely be significantly faster.

Keep in mind that we are looking strictly at high-end workstation from each time period. If you have an off-the-shelf workstation, you would actually probably see even larger performance gains than we showed since those workstations tend to not be nearly this high-end. For example, back in 2011 a typical workstation likely used platter storage drives rather than an SSD which would make opening and saving files much longer than what we saw in our testing. In addition, the majority of older workstations are not going to have nearly as powerful of a GPU as what we tested with or as much RAM.

Overall, we hope that this testing helps you decide whether you should upgrade to a new workstation or not. If you found it helpful and want us to do more testing like this please let us know in the comments section. We highly value your feedback and love hearing your suggestions!

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Tags: Adobe, Lightroom, workstation

I wonder, how much of these gains are due to faster SSDs? How would the i7-2600K fare with a Samsung 850 Pro instead of the ancient X25-M?

Posted on 2017-02-17 09:17:40

Actually, probably not very much. We recently did some testing in LR comparing different types of storage configurations (https://www.pugetsystems.co... and the difference between a modern platter drive - which the X25-M is roughly equivalent to - and even the fastest NVMe SSD available today was really minor. Exporting images (and maybe converting to DNG) is likely the only task we tested where drive speed plays a significant role.

Posted on 2017-02-17 17:32:24

Thanks for the reply. I'm a heavy Bridge-user with large collections of RAW-files so I suspect that faster SSD-storage with separated caches (unless it's a NVMe-drive) improves preview caching a bit but to be honest, I need to upgrade my whole system anyway :-)

Posted on 2017-02-20 11:05:48
Austin Travis

Hmmm I dont know if I would call these work stations and more high performance PC's. I would consider the x58 ,x79 and x99 chip set closer to workstation then z68,z77,z97,z170 and z270. Would love to see those Xeons/i7's in those higher end boards and how they compare. In any case this is a great side by side of system performance.

Posted on 2017-02-24 01:56:41

In my opinion, terms like 'workstation', 'server', etc just describe what you are doing with a computer. A workstation is a computer used for work; a server is a computer used to serve out data (be in a website, email, files, databases, etc). The hardware underneath may be just about anything, though some types of hardware are more commonly found in computers used for certain roles.

With that said, the reason we focused on the CPUs in this article is that most operations in Lightroom do not use many cores, but instead is heavily dependent on clock speed. It also doesn't need tons of RAM. Higher numbers of cores and larger RAM capacities, along with more PCI-Express lanes I suppose, are the main hallmarks of the X-series chipsets from Intel and the "enthusiast" processors that go with them. Since those things don't help Lightroom performance, the workstations we build for that application are usually based on the Z-series chipsets instead.

Here is an article looking at CPU core scaling in Lightroom, if you are curious: https://www.pugetsystems.co...

Posted on 2017-02-24 17:22:56

Thanks for the summary. Do you happen to have tests with a single CPU at different clock speeds? It could even be under-clocked (for stability-sake).

Posted on 2017-08-05 04:38:38

Hey Ryan, we haven't done that kind of testing since we have started to rely much more on direct CPU comparisons. Even the CPU core scaling article William linked to we is a type of testing we have largely stopped doing since, while interesting, only seems to be roughly useful when trying to determine real-world performance.

Posted on 2017-08-05 05:30:01

Very interesting results. I have a Intel Core i7 2600K system similar to the one you described, but I run it at 4.7Ghz with water cooling. I suspect it's pretty close to the 7700K system in terms of performance. :-)

Posted on 2017-02-25 22:50:21

Similar here - I run an i2500k overclocked to 4.5Ghz and still haven't found a solid reason to upgrade. The upcoming i9's might be something to look at, but given how reliant Lightroom is on clockspeed, I'm not even convinced then.

Posted on 2017-05-28 10:32:30

Guess we'll have to wait for the Coffee Lake 6 cores. #HurryUpAndReleaseSomethingGood!

Posted on 2017-05-28 21:42:10

Ditto. I run a 3930K (Sandy Bridge too, just 6 cores) at 4.4GHz and although Lightroom is slow, I don't think upgrading my CPU will fix that enough to make it worth the outlay. We need Adobe to optimize the application better.

Posted on 2017-06-06 22:10:17
Bob Harbison

Excellent article, very well researched and exactly in line with what I've found from personal experience. I purchased a fairly powerful system from Puget Systems in 2008, Quad Core 3Ghz, and the improvement from my previous system was very significant. I recently purchased a new system with an 8 core I7. Of course it's much faster. But some things in Lightroom don't show as much improvement as you'd like. I work with 35mp raw files, and they simply take time to load. You bump up against that, even with an SSD. Of course now it's much shorter lag, but it's still there. At it's heart, LR is much of a database as it is a graphics program, and when the files you're working with are 40 MB or more, that takes time. LR also shares some of the blame, for example it won't use your graphics card at all except in the develop module. (Why not for generating previews? I have no idea...)

Posted on 2017-03-03 01:16:26

Interesting & useful article. I'm running a 2011 setup with LR and planning to upgrade. However, there is one aspect that that you seem to miss - memory speed. I saw significant improvement when moving from DDR3-1333 to DDR3-1866. The same should be true for other setups and moving from DDR4-2400 to DDR4-4000 should improve performance. Any tests?

Posted on 2017-03-23 09:16:58

We almost always run whatever speed of RAM the CPU is officially rated for since we have found that to be much more reliable than running higher frequency RAM. However, we do like to do semi-regular testing looking at RAM speed and we are overdue at the moment. The first half of the year is really busy for us with a number of tradeshows that we attend, so we might not be able to do it terribly soon. Most likely, we will wait until the next Intel CPU refresh and do it then.

Posted on 2017-03-23 16:53:42

I'd be interested in seeing a test with different RAM speeds.

Posted on 2017-08-05 04:39:21

As someone who is still using a 2600K-based system, this article was really helpful.

I will wait to see what Adobe does with Lightroom 7 (perhaps better GPU support?) and then I'll probably upgrade to a 7700K.

Posted on 2017-06-09 17:27:25
L Schulz

I would be very, very curious to see the difference between desktop and mobile systems -- particularly the new Surface Pro configured with an i5 and i7. Do you have any benchmarks of that sort? I've been using a three year-old Asus laptop (with i7 3630QM @ 2.4 Ghz, 16 GB of RAM, SSDs) for Lightroom editing and I'm fed up with the slow performance. I'd also love to be able to compare data on how a system like mine compares to a desktop configured to your recommendations.

Posted on 2017-06-18 23:32:12

That isn't something we have done or have any immediate plans of doing, but I like the idea. No promises on when we might be able to do testing covering this, but I've added it to our idea list. Thanks!

Posted on 2017-06-19 17:54:02
L Schulz

Oh, no no. There's no need to do it this week so I can decide what to buy for a new Lightroom editing machine. Unless you really want to. :-D Thanks for putting it on the list.

Posted on 2017-06-20 03:13:17

Well I've just had my i5-8600k up and running for about a week. Seems to be a nice boost in overall speed. Not night and day, but faster and a bit smoother in the development mode with sliders.

Old system:
32gb RAM (really only seems to be useful when I open images in PS)
SSD for OS and APPs
HDD for images, catalogs, etc in RAID 1
Nvidia 950 2gb

New system:
16gb RAM
SSD for OS and APPs
SSD for LR catalogs
HDD for images in RAID 1 (thinking about replacing these with a WD Black)
Nvidia 1060 6gb

Posted on 2017-11-29 02:44:08

I really appreciate you doing these tests - thank you. Now that Adobe is starting to take increased advantage of multi-core CPUs in version CC 7.2+, it would be very interesting to see how this comparison comes out now. I have a late 2012 3770k (running at 4.2GHz)/16GB RAM/512GB SSD/GTX580 system that I was thinking of upgrading, but there is no way I would do it right now without at *least* doubling my overall speed, especially scrolling and moving from image to image. I think I'd see close to that based on your recent CC 7.2 testing in the preview build and export processes, but I'm still not sure it's worth it. Any chance of an update?

Posted on 2018-04-04 02:03:59

We probably won't be re-doing this kind of test anytime soon, but don't worry! One of the projects I am working on is getting our benchmark polished to the point that we can make it available for public download. Once that is done, you can just run it on your system and compare the result to what we get with the various hardware configurations we test.

Unfortunately, Lightroom really isn't designed for benchmarking so it may take me a bit to figure out how to test things like image scrolling reliably. So version one may not include that kind of task.

Posted on 2018-04-04 02:12:03

That would be fantastic, even what you describe as v1. When Moore's Law still existed, buying a new PC on a cadence was so easy... Now, it is so workload dependent. Thanks again - is there a mailing list that you have for if/when you release a benchmarking tool?

Posted on 2018-04-04 02:43:43

We don't have anything specifically for the benchmark, but there is a subscribe box somewhere on this page (I'm on mobile right now) that will email you whenever we post a new article. When I publish the benchmark it should send you a notification as well.

Posted on 2018-04-04 02:46:39

Perfect, thanks.

Posted on 2018-04-04 02:48:02

Switched from a 2600k to an 8700 yesterday with 970 EVO M.2 NVME SSD... my gosh the improvement is mindblowing.

Posted on 2018-07-18 22:42:28

I would love to see a 2020 version going back to Skylake!

Posted on 2020-02-01 06:07:09