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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.

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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

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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.

Computer System

Looking for a Photoshop Workstation?

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

Configure a System!

Labs technician talking with customer

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
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