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Photoshop performance: PC Workstation vs Mac Pro (2019)

Written on April 9, 2020 by Matt Bach
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TL;DR: Mac Pro (2019) vs a PC Workstation for Photoshop

Photoshop doesn't scale well with a higher number of CPU cores, which means that once you get up to a mid-range CPU, you generally don't see much of a difference in Photoshop performance. This is something we talk all the time when looking at Photoshop performance on PCs, but it is also just as true for Macs.

In our testing, a $20,000 Mac Pro performed about on par with a much less expensive $7,000 iMac Pro, which in turn performed about 10% slower than a $4,000 PC using a Core i9 9900K or AMD Ryzen 3900X.

Introduction

Apple's new Mac Pro has been out for about 5 months now, and thanks to our friends at Linus Media Group (creators of Linus Tech Tips) we were finally able to get our hands on one for testing. While I may or may not have thrown out my back lugging the system up a flight of stairs (it weighs a ton!), there is no doubt that the Mac Pro is a very slick and sturdy machine. But what we are always interested in is exactly how well it performs in real-world applications like Photoshop.

Anytime we do Mac vs PC testing, things can easily become a bit heated in our comments section, so we are going to largely side-step the question of whether you should use a Mac or a PC. Here at Puget Systems, we rarely try to outright convince anyone to move from Mac to PC, but rather take the standpoint of offering as much information as we can so that you can make an informed decision for your own situation. If your workflow is better on a Mac, that is great! But if you are ready and able to take advantage of the higher performance, lower cost, and greater customization of a PC and want to work with a company that is intimately familiar with the transition from Mac to PC, we are here to help!

Mac Pro vs PC workstation for Adobe Photoshop

In this article, we will be examining the performance of the new 2019 Mac Pro in Photoshop compared to a range of PC workstation configurations using AMD Threadripper, AMD Ryzen, Intel X-series, and Intel 9th Gen processors. In addition, we will be including an iMac Pro as well as a previous generation Mac Pro as additional reference points. If you are interested in how the Mac Pro compares in other applications, we also have other articles for Premiere Pro and After Effects available on our article listing page.

If you would like to skip over our test setup and benchmark sections, feel free to jump right to the Conclusion.

Looking for a Photoshop Workstation?

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

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Test Setup

Listed below are the specifications of the systems we will be using for our testing:

AMD Ryzen Test Platform
CPU

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X ($749)
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X ($499)

CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12S
Motherboard Gigabyte X570 AORUS ULTRA
RAM 4x DDR4-2933 16GB (64GB total)
Intel 9th Gen Test Platform
CPU

Intel Core i9 9900K ($499)

CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12S
Motherboard Gigabyte Z390 Designare
RAM 4x DDR4-2666 16GB (64GB total)
AMD Threadripper 3rd Gen Test Platform
CPU AMD TR 3990X ($3,990)
AMD TR 3970X ($1,999)
AMD TR 3960X ($1,399)
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3
Motherboard Gigabyte TRX40 AORUS PRO WIFI
RAM 4x DDR4-2933 16GB (64GB total)
Intel X-10000 Series Test Platform
CPU Intel Core i9 10980XE ($979)
Intel Core i9 10940X ($784)
Intel Core i9 10920X ($689)
Intel Core i9 10900X ($590)
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12DX i4
Motherboard Gigabyte X299 Designare EX
RAM 4x DDR4-2933 16GB (64GB total)
Shared PC Hardware/Software
Video Card NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti 11GB
Hard Drive Samsung 960 Pro 1TB
Software Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (version 1909)
Mac Pro (2019) iMac Pro Mac Pro (2013)
CPU 28‑core Intel Xeon W 2.5GHz 14-core Intel Xeon W
2.5GHz
12-core
2.7GHz
RAM 96GB DDR4 ECC 64GB 2666MHz DDR4 ECC 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC
Video Card Radeon Pro Vega II Duo 2x32GB Radeon Pro Vega 64 16GB Dual AMD FirePro D700 6GB
Hard Drive 1TB SSD storage 1TB SSD 1TB PCIe-based SSD
OS Mac OS X (10.15.4)
Current Price $19,599 $7,549 $3,549
(used from OWC)

*All the latest drivers, OS updates, BIOS, and firmware applied as of March 30th, 2020

In order to see how each of these configurations performs in Photoshop, we will be using our PugetBench for Photoshop V0.9 benchmark and Photoshop 2020 (21.1.1). This benchmark version includes the ability to upload the results to our online database, so if you want to know how your own system compares, you can download and run the benchmark yourself.

We went back and forth about including pricing, but since that is one of the biggest downsides to using a Mac, we opted to go ahead and include the pricing for the Mac systems we are using in this article. The Mac Pro (2019) and iMac Pro pricing is pulled directly from Apple.com at the date of this post, but since the Mac Pro (2013) is no longer sold, we went with what OWC is currently selling a used unit for with the same specs.

However, keep in mind that some of the configuration options for the Mac Pro we have are not going to do much for Photoshop. For example, the dual GPUs likely won't increase performance much, so you could save $2,800 and get a single Radeon Pro Vega II. The 28-core CPU is also likely overkill in this case, and a more reasonable option can save you anywhere from $1k to $7k.

But no matter how you slice it, the Mac Pro is not a cheap system. To put it into context, here is the pricing for a handful of PC configurations we will be comparing it to:

Of course, you can certainly increase the price by adding things like additional storage, but for a semi-direct comparison to the Mac it should be in the ballpark. What it comes down to is that compared to the Mac Pro we are using, even the most expensive PC configuration we will be testing is less than half the cost. If you went with the most basic configuration you can get for the Mac Pro, the price (~$6k) is going to be roughly the same as the AMD Threadripper 3970X 32-core system.

If you are looking at just pure price-to-performance (which admittedly breaks down as workstations get more and more expensive), the Mac Pro better be pretty amazing to justify its hefty price tag.

Benchmark Results

While our benchmark presents various scores based on the performance of each test, we also like to provide the individual results for you to examine. If there is a specific task that is a hindrance to your workflow, examining the raw results for that task is going to be much more applicable than the scores that our benchmark calculated.

Feel free to skip to the next section for our analysis of these results to get a wider view of how each system performs in Photoshop.

Mac Pro 2019 vs PC workstation Photoshop Benchmark Results

Photoshop Benchmark Analysis

Photoshop is an interesting application to look at since in most cases, it does not take advantage of CPUs that have a large number of cores. That means that the 28 cores in the Mac Pro are not being used to its full potential, but neither are the 18, 32, or 64 cores that are found in some of our PC configurations.

Here, it is all about the per-core performance of the system which is determined largely by the maximum Turbo frequency as well as the processor's architecture. In the end, the result is that the $20k Mac Pro with 20 cores performs on par with the much less expensive 14-core iMac Pro. Many of the PC configurations are within a few percent of this result as well, although the Intel Core i9 9900K, AMD Threadripper 3960X/3970X, and AMD Ryzen 3900X/3950X CPUs are all around 10% faster than the Mac Pro.

Mac Pro (2019) vs a PC Workstation for Photoshop

Since Photoshop is largely unable to take advantage of higher CPU core counts, there often isn't much of a difference between most modern mid/high-end CPUs - and that applies for a Mac just as much as it does for a PC workstation. Overall, if Photoshop is your primary concern, you can get about 10% higher performance from one of our $4,200 Puget Systems workstations with either an AMD Ryzen 3900X or Intel Core i9 9900K compared to the $19,599 Mac Pro (2019) we tested.

Now, is 10% going to be a game-changer for your workflow? Probably not - it is right on the edge of what you might be able to notice in everyday work. The main takeaway here is not necessarily the performance alone, but rather how much you have to pay to get it. Even if you forget the Mac Pro and go with the much more reasonably priced iMac Pro, you are still likely to pay about twice the cost for equivalent performance.

Keep in mind that the benchmark results in this article are strictly for Photoshop and that performance will vary widely in different applications. If your workflow includes other software packages (we have similar articles for Premiere Pro and After Effects), you need to consider how the system will perform in those applications as well. Be sure to check our list of Hardware Articles to keep up to date on how all of these software packages perform with the latest CPUs.

Looking for a Photoshop Workstation?

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: Intel 9th Gen, Intel X-series, AMD Ryzen 3rd Gen, AMD Threadripper 2nd Gen, Intel X-10000, Photoshop, Threadripper 3990X, Apple Mac Pro, Apple iMac Pro
Misha Engel

They really have some work to do at Adobe's headquarter, it still has the performance a coal driven steam engine powering some thing on wheels, where others use multiple engines with energy recovery/boost systems.

Posted on 2020-04-09 19:01:45
Steve McIrvin

Why don't you do a price/performance test of the regular iMac with the i9-9900K and Vega 48? It's quite inexpensive when you consider that it includes a 5k monitor.

Posted on 2020-04-11 00:31:26

We actually have some older posts that did that - we added the cost of a nice 4k monitor, keyboard, etc. to try to get things as even as we could. Never going to be perfect, but we made our best go at it.

This post was more about the Mac Pro though, and we really just included the iMac Pro and old Mac Pro because we had them on hand and figured they were good extra comparison points.

Posted on 2020-04-11 02:32:48
Steve McIrvin

Oh, awesome, I didn't realize that. What's the link to the post where you compare the i9 iMac 9900k to a Windows machine? I'd love to read that article.

Posted on 2020-04-11 03:34:01

It looks like I was remembering a bit wrong - we only did that comparison with Premiere Pro and After Effects, and it was against the iMac Pro, not the normal iMac. Here is the link to the Premiere Pro post if you want to read it though: https://www.pugetsystems.co...

It is a bit dated, however, so I wouldn't really hold those performance numbers as accurate since there is much newer hardware and software out now.

One thing that is going to really help with those kinds of comparisons is the fact that we just launched our benchmark upload and result browser: https://www.pugetsystems.co... We can't usually justify purchasing a bunch of Macs for testing since we don't sell them, but by crowd sourcing that kind of data, we are really hoping to be able to give accurate performance comparisons for almost any system - whether it is a desktop, laptop, or Mac.

Posted on 2020-04-11 05:17:15
Steve McIrvin

Wow, that results browser is great, thanks so much! I see someone already did benchmark a Mac (probably a Hackintosh) with a 9900K on Premiere Pro where it scores a LOT worse than a Windows machine with the same processor. Shame on Adobe

Posted on 2020-04-11 13:57:52
R.J. Leong

Actually, there are no Hackintoshes at all in the Premiere Pro list. All of the 8-core, 3.6 GHz Intel i9-based systems that run OSX are in Apple's official iMacs. And none of the CPUs in those systems are overclocked or even Turbo'd at all - they just sit at their base non-Turbo stock clock speeds (Apple's own EFI does not allow even Turbo boosting, let alone overclocking, at all). Whereas the Windows-based 9900Ks were all at least default-Turbo'd, and some were even overclocked. That skews the overall score in favor of the almost-always-overclocked Windows systems. (The default-Turbo'd Windows systems with that CPU averaged a clock speed of 4.7 GHz on all four cores, whereas all of the iMacs just sit at the same 3.6 GHz base speed.)

And of course, all of the iMacs with discrete graphics chips have their integrated Intel UHD Graphics (and therefore QuickSync) disabled at system board level. There is absolutely no way at all whatsoever to force-enable the iGPU in those systems.

And I can tell you that Macs are not quite as slow as the list of results would indicate. Sure, Macs are hobbled by their complete lack of even Turbo-boosting, let alone overclocking, whatsoever. And there is where the heavy Turbo-Boosting that's enabled by default in Windows PCs have the performance advantage. I have seen results from a Skylake (6th-Generation, late 2015) iMac with an i7-6700K CPU and merely a Radeon R9 395M graphics actually put out better overall performance numbers than my Windows 10 i7-7700 PC with a GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB GPU, both without the benefit of QuickSync enabled (and both CPUs were running at an actual 4.0 GHz, the iMac constrained to base speed while the Windows system is turbo-boosted to that speed). And that's in Premiere Pro, which historically favored Nvidia GPUs over AMD GPUs. And another example of this is the apparent underperformace of the 28-core Mac Pro: The CPU is only running its 28 cores at their base clock speed of 2.5 GHz, whereas all of the multicore Windows 10 CPUs averaged well over 4.0 GHz on all cores. So, once again, clock for clock the results are heavily biased towards Windows systems.

So, clock for clock, Macs are no worse than Windows 10. Performance for the cost, on the other hand, is a different story: Macs are generally significantly more expensive than comparable-performance Windows 10 PCs.

Posted on 2020-05-01 03:39:36
Steve McIrvin

Quick question--if the 8-core desktops are standard iMacs, why are the GPUs being reported as Radeon VII units? Why wouldn't these be reported as Vega 48 units? The Vega 64 reports correctly in the iMac Pro. It seems more likely that the builds with VII and 5700XT GPUs are Hackintosh. And about turbo functionality from the i9 CPUs--even the Apple Store page on the iMac advertises a 5.0-GHz turbo feature for the iMac, so I don't understand the claim that Apple's EFI doesn't support boosting any of the cores above the 3.6-GHz base clock.

Posted on 2020-05-02 21:40:44
R.J. Leong

I did more research, and discovered that the i9 systems with the RX 5700 XT running OSX may have reported the motherboard incorrectly: It reported the motherboard as "iMac" simply because that is the only official Apple desktop that's equipped with a mainstream Intel desktop CPU. Apple does not officially sell any iMacs with a GPU that's newer than the Vega architecture, even though the newer Navi architecture is already on the market. The only official Mac products with the Navi graphics turned out to be laptop MacBook Pros.

At any rate, I did compare the Mac scores to Windows scores. The problem is that the result is inconclusive: None of the Macs on the results list come with an Nvidia GPU at all, while very, very few of the Windows desktops come with an AMD Radeon GPU of any kind. And the couple of Windows desktops with CPUs and Radeon GPUs comparable to those of official iMacs both underperformed compared to otherwise identical Windows desktops with Nvidia Turing GPUs.

And yes, my i7-7700 scored lower than a Skylake i7-based iMac. But that's mainly due to the fact that all of Nvidia's pre-Turing GPUs are weaklings, combined with the fact that my particular micro system is equipped with only 16 GB of RAM versus 32 GB in the iMac. Come on, AMD's GCN3 and later GPUs actually performed better than most of the Nvidia Pascal and earlier GPUs in the PugetBench testing. And that's not to mention that in the PugetBench for Premiere Pro, even a GTX 1650 (non-SUPER) slays the GTX 1080 Ti! At stock (default) settings, the Skylake i7-6700K that's used in the late-2015 iMac does not Turbo boost at all except when only a single core is in use - whereas the i7-7700 (non-K) does Turbo boost to 4.0 GHz on all cores. And to add insult to injury, the overall scores from a late-2015 iMac with that i7 and a mobile Radeon R9 M395 GPU had become way too close to that of my Ryzen 7 3800X (when the latter was equipped with a GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB card) for comfort: That iMac scored in the 470s in the Standard preset, versus the low 500s with my 3800X/GTX 1060 combo. That's WAY too close for comfort, given that the aforementioned iMac uses a 4.5-year-old quad-core CPU while my 3800X is a very new 8-core CPU. That alone caused me to upgrade my system's GPU right away. And if I were to put in my current RTX 2060 SUPER into that i7-7700 mini-ITX PC, it would have virtually pulled even with that particular iMac even without QuickSync enabled.

Thus, it's not the Mac OS that's to blame. It's the AMD Radeon GPUs used in them that caused most of this overall underperformance. In other words, had one equipped a Ryzen 9 3950X with a Radeon RX 5700 XT instead of a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (or even an RTX 2060 SUPER), then the overall score of that Windows-based 3950X with 5700 XT would have fallen to a level that's no better than a 14-core iMac Pro.

And I was incorrect about the lack of Turbo. They did Turbo, all right - but the overall scores led me to believe that they didn't. It's the Radeon GPUs themselves (or, more specifically, the drivers that those GPUs use) that are mostly to blame.

Posted on 2020-05-04 01:15:16
Bruce Summers

A HP workstation with the i9 and the RTX 2070 Super sells for $2,800 as compared to $3,650 for the iMac with the i9 CPU and the Vega 48 and the iMac cannot be expanded with additional storage, additional I/O boards, and supports half as much memory as the HP workstation. It comes with a 5K monitor but most people want to select a larger monitor. The HP warranty is also two years longer with their workstation.

Posted on 2020-04-14 01:10:30
Steve McIrvin

I've been looking at the HP Z2 G4 with the 9900K and it's less than $1500 with no graphics card and 32GB of memory with the 3-year warranty (way better than Dell's ripoff extended warranty). You can then pick whatever graphics card you're needing and the power supply is pretty capable to handle it. Just don't know if I want to deal with Windows again after my (now pretty old) retina iMac has been so faithful and stable since I ditched the Windows 8 train-wreck. By the way, a 27" 5K display is PLENTY big. I edit 4K videos with Premiere Pro all day on it--just wish I had better performance and didn't have to use proxies. Multi-cam especially is slog.

Posted on 2020-04-14 02:58:45
uri bak

Thank you so much, I waited a long time for these tests.
I was before deciding on a Mac Pro or PC workstation, and finally purchased a PC based on the RYZEN processor.
Glad to see that I made the right decision.

Posted on 2020-04-11 11:12:54
Nathan Mollison

Hey guys, I recently built a 3700x based system influenced by your benchmarks (thanks for the work you do on them btw) and am pretty disappointed at the performance of a few particular things in Photoshop - a particular example is converting layers to Smart Objects... I'm following along with a Greg Benz tutorial and converts 4 layers to a smart object in about 3 seconds on a 2018 MacBook Pro, and my Ryzen system takes nearly 40!
Have you seen any issues like this when testing? Seems like it must be some kind of bug...

Posted on 2020-04-15 13:45:23

That isn't something we have experienced, but also not something we specifically test for. You might want to contact Adobe support to see if they can help you figure out what is going on because that really doesn't sound right to me.

Posted on 2020-04-15 14:29:32
Zé Cotinha

Will Intel launch i9 extreme with integrated GPU for these situations?

Posted on 2020-05-03 14:43:41
R.J. Leong

No. With its current 14 nm CPU lithography, Intel has had trouble with even a 10-core CPU plus integrated GPU. And that is not to mention that Intel has had trouble with even its 10 nm process. As a result, 10 cores is the absolute limit for Intel with integrated graphics, while its 10 nm CPUs are relegated to lower-end mobile parts at present.

And all of Intel's i9 Extreme CPUs have 10 or more CPU cores, and its lithography process leaves absolutely no room at all whatsoever for integrated graphics of any kind without increasing the chip size very substantially. That alone would drive up the platform's prices astronomically, and would also make its hypothetical i9 Extreme CPUs with integrated graphics completely incompatible with any of its existing HEDT and server CPU sockets. The CPU by itself would have ended up being almost as large as an entire mid-range discrete graphics card!

Posted on 2020-05-05 19:05:32

Very informational.
Probably one of the best Article i have read and take final decision about what should i have to buy.

Posted on 2020-05-05 12:13:04
uri bak

So what do you finally buy? I'll be happy to hear.

Posted on 2020-05-10 06:06:46