Like most software developers, Adobe maintains a list of system requirements for Photoshop that can be used to help ensure the hardware in your system will work with Photoshop. However, most "system requirements" lists tend to cover the required hardware, not what hardware would actually give the best performance. In addition, some lists can be outdated, list old hardware revisions, or simply outright list sub-optimal hardware.
Because of how inconsistent those lists can be, we've taken the time to perform testing to determine what hardware runs Photoshop the best. Based on this testing, we have come up with our own list of recommended hardware for Photoshop.
When it comes to CPUs there are two main specifications that define the capability of a CPU:
- The frequency directly affects how many operations a single CPU core can complete in a second (how fast it is).
- The number of cores is how many physical cores there are within a CPU (how many operations it can run simultaneously).
Whether a high frequency or high core count CPU is better depends on how well a program is designed to take advantage of multiple CPU cores (often referred to as multi-threading). In the case of Photoshop, the majority of actions are either single threaded or very lightly threaded. For these actions, having a high operating frequency is the most important factor when choosing a CPU.
There are some actions that are more highly multi-threaded such as many blurs, color conversions, hue/saturation adjustments, and the Camera Raw plug-in. However, our testing has found that while Photoshop can effectively use up to about four CPU cores at once, there is a sharp drop in performance increase after four cores. In fact, we found that there is little benefit to having more than four CPU cores and absolutely no benefit to having more than 6-8 CPU cores.
In addition, Photoshop will actually perform worse with multiple physical CPUs than it would with just a single CPU. Due to this, we highly discourage purchasing a Dual CPU system for Photoshop. If you need a Dual CPU machine for other tasks, however, you can avoid the performance degradation associated with multiple physical CPUs by setting the affinity in Task Manager to force Photoshop to just use a single CPU.
Video Card (GPU)
Adobe has been increasing support for GPU acceleration in Photoshop over the last few years, but currently there are only a handful of effects that can utilize the video card. Adobe maintains a list of effects that are GPU accelerated in their GPU FAQ: Photoshop CC and CC 2014 GPU FAQ
While the number of accelerated effects is currently small, Adobe has made it clear that they intend to continue adding GPU acceleration capabilities in future updates. In addition, Adobe is not limiting official support to just workstation cards - all modern workstation and desktop cards are qualified for use in Photoshop. This is great as desktop video cards tend to be faster than their workstation equivelants and are much, much cheaper.
Although Adobe is adding GPU acceleration support to Photoshop, the current demand on the video card is actually relatively light. Even an entry video card will be able to provide a huge boost in performance for GPU accelerated effects and there is a sharp drop in performance benefit by using anything more than a mid-range video card. In fact, once you get to about a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 there is almost no performance benefit to upgrading to a more expensive video card.
The biggest factor when choosing a video card is actually not the power of the card, but rather the amount of VRAM the card has. The majority of Photoshop users will require less than 2GB of VRAM, although if you are working with large images (1GB+) it may be a good idea to use a video card with 3-4GB of VRAM.
While the exact amount of RAM you need is going to depend on the size and number of images you will be working with, we generally recommend a minimum of 16GB for all our systems. Memory usage in Photoshop can quickly shoot up, however, so it is important that you ensure you have enough system RAM available. The exact amount you need will depend on exactly what you are doing, but based on your document size we recommend a minimum of 16GB of RAM for 500MB documents or smaller, 32GB for 500MB-1GB, and 64GB+ for even larger documents. Note that this is for the document size once opened (as found in the "Document Sizes" section of the Info Panel or status bar), not the file size of the file itself. Photoshop will often list two sizes such as 20.3M/60.2M - in those cases the left number is the size of the flattened file, while the right number is the size including layers and channels. This number on the right is what is most relevant when deciding how much RAM your system needs.
For Photoshop, ECC memory (which can automatically detect and fix minor memory errors) is not required. ECC is almost never a bad idea but ECC memory requires an Intel Xeon processor which for Photoshop will not be as fast as the Intel Core i7 CPU that is in our recommended system.
Storage (Hard Drives)
With the falling costs associated with SSDs, we almost always recommend using an SSD for the primary drive that will host your OS, Photoshop itself, and any active projects you are working on. The high speed of SSDs allows your system to boot, launch applications, and load files many times faster than any traditional hard drive. However, SSDs are still more expensive than traditional drives per GB - so for long term storage we recommend having a secondary traditional hard drive in addition to a primary SSD.
If you believe you may not have enough system RAM to accomodate all your Photoshop usage, we recommend adding another small SSD to use as a scratch drive. That way, if Photoshop ever needs more RAM than you have available it will utilize this dedicated SSD as an overflow rather than your primary SSD or slower storage drive.
Recommended Systems for Photoshop
High-powered, quiet system
Based on the Puget Systems Serentiy, this quiet system has the fastest CPU available for Photoshop tasks and supports up to 64GB of RAM.