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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.
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Unfortunately, since we don't always keep old hardware around once it is obsolete, we had to dig through our warehouse, closets and even home PCs to put together these systems.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:
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:
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.
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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