The Photoshop Computer

The Photoshop Computer
The Photoshop Computer

Learn how to choose the right hardware to build your own computer optimized for Adobe Photoshop CS2 and learn how to tweak Photoshop to take advantage of the new hardware.

Operating System

selecting a computer, the first step is to select the operating system. There
are two main operating systems to use:

  • Mac
    OS ®
  • Microsoft ® Windows ®

which operating system to use is based on your preference. If you're upgrading
your computer, stick with the same operating system so you don't have to
purchase another license for the software you already have. Otherwise, ask
yourself the following questions:

  1. Which operating system am I most
    comfortable with?
  2. Is there any software I need to use
    that's only available in a specific operating system? (ex. Apple Aperture)

does not perform its best when used with Microsoft Windows Vista RC1. Although Photoshop
is compatible with Windows Vista RC1, there may be some performance issues. For
example, opening the "Save for Web" tool takes longer to load than Windows XP.
With that said, keep in mind that Windows Vista is currently still being worked
on and many bugs and tweaks should be resolved in the finalized version.


computing allows Photoshop to use approximately 3.5 GB of RAM. If you will be using more than
2GB of RAM, make sure that you use a 64-bit operating system such as Mac OS X,
Windows XP 64-bit Edition, or Windows Vista 64-bit Edition. Generally, we
recommend investing in 64-bit hardware and software to adapt to the new
generation of computers.


RAM (Random
Access Memory) is a major factor in determining the speed of Photoshop. For the
current generation of computers, we recommend a minimum of 1 GB of RAM. Keep in
mind that your operating system and other running software will also be using
your RAM.  RAM is relatively cheap and is
generally the best performance gaining hardware for your money.


How much
ram do you really need? This depends on your usage. If you're working on large
files with many layers, you'll need to get more RAM. However, if you're using
Photoshop just for simple task such as resizing photos and correcting color and
you don't have a lot of programs running in the background, 1 GB of RAM should
be enough. Here's a method to determine how much RAM is required:

  1. Run Photoshop and open a typical
    file you usually edit. For example, if you edit high resolution digital images
    a lot, open a high resolution photo.
  2. Make sure that your document isn't
    maximized. You can ensure that it isn't by choosing Window> Arrange> Cascade.
  3. On the bottom of the window, locate
    the ► arrow.
    Click on the ► arrow and choose Show> Efficiency. The status bar beside the ► button shows
    the efficiency. If your computer has enough resource to display the image, the
    efficiency should be 100%. Anything lower means that more RAM may be


  4. Try opening
    several of your typical Photoshop files. If it stays at 100%, it means that
    your current system has enough RAM. Use this to judge how much RAM you'll need
    for your next computer. For example, when I ran the test, I opened 7 high
    resolution photos and my efficiency dropped to 72%. Because my current system
    has 1 GB
    of RAM and the efficiency was at around 72%, I can conclude that 2 GB of RAM is
    a safe amount of RAM to get on my next computer.

Note: When
using Photoshop on a 32-bit computer or operating system, Photoshop is only
able to use 2 GB of RAM. Photoshop is able to use around 3.5 GB on a 64-bit
system. Some version of Windows® requires modifying the boot.ini file to allow
Photoshop to use up to 3 GB of RAM. The 3GB switch may not work with all
computers. For more information, search the Microsoft support page for "3gb".

High Speed RAM

There are
many types of RAM available; some reaching speeds of 1111 MHz such as the Corsair
XMS2 Dominator PC2-8888. It's disappointing to say that using 1111 MHz RAM is
not much different than using a 667 MHz RAM on a current-generation computer.
The speed RAM can operate depends on what your entire system supports.  This means that you should only purchase the
fastest RAM your computer will be able to use. Unless you have extensive
knowledge with computer hardware and plan on overclocking your computer, there's
no reason to purchase in top of the line RAM.

ECC (Error Correction

Some types
of RAM you may bump into will have the acronym ECC on its name. This simply
means that the RAM will automatically detect and correct errors that may arise
during the data transmission. ECC RAM is slower and much more expensive than
normal RAM and isn't necessary for Adobe Photoshop. They're meant for critical
tasks so we don't recommend using ECC RAM.

Processor\CPU (Central
Processing Unit)

The next
most important component to building a Photoshop computer is the processor,
also known as the CPU. The processor processes all the calculations and instructions
required to run tasks such as a filter. Many Photoshop filters are processor
intensive and their speed depends on the CPU.


As new and faster processors
emerge, software will adapt to take advantage of the faster processor speeds. The
fastest processor usually cost around two to three times more than the average
processor and slower processors aren't that much cheaper. When choosing a
processor, choose one that's the best bang for the buck or one that fits within
your budget.


If you'll
be using more than 2 GB of RAM, you should be using a 64-bit processor. Adobe
Photoshop will only be able to recognize up to 3.5 GB of RAM on a 64-bit
computer. The current generation of processors is all 64-bit and there's little
reason to stay with 32-bit processors.  Although most applications are 32-bit, support
for 64-bit is growing and new 64-bit computers will be able to take advantage
of the larger 64-bit address space. Only Photoshop CS2 and future versions of
Photoshop support 64-bit.

recommended desktop 64-bit processors are:

  1. Intel Core 2 Duo
  2. AMD  Athlon 64


Most new
processors are dual core meaning that there are two processors in one chip.
This allows improvements in multitasking. Photoshop 4.0 and above supports dual  processor configuration and will benefit from
a dual-core processor.

Update: Quad core processors are now available and benchmarks show that Photoshop does support quad core processors and benefit from them. Currently, quad-core processors are expensive so we don't recommend getting them unless everything else in your computer is the top of the line. While they may perform faster in Photoshop, keep in mind that not all software support quad core processors and those software will not use all four processors.

AMD vs Intel

{mosimage} All current
generation of Macs use Intel processors. For users building a Windows computer,
you have the expanded choices of both AMD and Intel processors. Currently, we
recommend using an Intel Core 2 Duo processor over the AMD processor. Intel
Core 2 Duo processors provide more bang for buck compared to AMD processors.
For example, the Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 is cheaper and faster than the AMD
FX-62. However, if you're looking to build a budget computer, nothing beats the
price of a low end AMD Sempron CPU.

Hard Drives

{mosimage} Hard drives
are the main storage device for computers. The time it takes to load and save a
file greatly depends on the hard drives speed. Hard drives are especially
important for Photoshop. If your typical Photoshop and image files are small,
one hard drive is enough. However, if your files are large, there are several configurations
that may help optimize your computer for Photoshop:

  1. Install a separate hard drive for
    usage as a scratch disk. When your computer runs out of RAM, temporary files
    are stored on a scratch disk which also makes Photoshop slower.
  2. Use a RAID 0 configuration. This
    setup uses two hard drives as one and requires two hard drives and a RAID
    controller.  By using two hard drives,
    the performance of the drives is greatly increased. However, keep in mind that
    if even one out of the two hard drives fails, you may lose all your data on
    that drive.  Therefore, we only recommend
    using RAID 0 as a scratch disk or for usage as the main system drive (without
    any important documents). There are also other configurations such as RAID 5 that
    uses at least one hard drive to backup the files. This ensures that if one of
    the drives fail, there will be a backup to recover from.

use an external hard drive as the scratch disk. They're slow and it's often
better to use the system drive instead.

Video Card

The video
card is perhaps the least influential component for Photoshop. Most new video
cards are already capable of displaying accurate 32-bit color, high screen resolution,
and fast response rate. When choosing a video card, there are several features
you should consider:

  • DVI
    or VGA compatibility. Does your monitor use DVI or VGA cables? Pick a video
    card that will support the type of connection your monitor uses.
  • Multi-monitor
    support. Will you be using more than one monitor? If yes, then ensure that your
    video card supports dual monitor output. If you have more than two monitors,
    you may need to purchase more than one video card. Some video cards support
    more than two monitors but those are can be costly and it would be economical
    to simply purchase a second video card.
  • 3D
    graphics. Will you be playing 3D games or using 3D applications on this
    computer? Make sure the video card works with all your programs and not just

{mostip image=note}The
amount of RAM on the video card will not provide any performance gains for
Photoshop. Video card RAM is usually used for 3D programs such as 3D games
where textures need to be stored.

Photoshop Setup

To take
advantage of Photoshop CS2 with a fast 64-bit computer, there are several things
that need to be setup.

Enable access to 2+ GB RAM

If your
computer is running a Windows and has more than 2 GB of RAM, you may need to
modify the boot.ini file to set the 3 GB switch. For more information on this,
please visit the Microsoft® support website and search "3gb".

Scratch Disk

If your
computer has a separate internal hard drive dedicated as a scratch disk, make
sure that it is set as your primary scratch disk.

  1. Inside Photoshop, choose Edit> Preferences> Plug-Ins & Scratch Disks.
  2. Change the primary scratch disk to
    the hard drive you've setup as our dedicated scratch drive.
  3. Set the second, third, and/or forth
    scratch disk as your other drives. Keep the fastest and least used hard drives
    first and the slowest last.

{mostip image=tipon}To keep
your hard drives at its optimal speed, keep them defragmented. We recommend
defragging the hard drives once or more a week.

Image Cache

When redrawing a high-resolution image, Photoshop can use a
low-resolution version of the image to update the image on-screen so that we're
able to continue working faster. To enable this:

  1. Inside Photoshop, choose Edit> Preferences> Image Cache.
  2. Set the Cache Levels to the amount that fits
    your computer specifications. The default setting is 4. More levels make
    editing high resolution images faster but also make it slower to open the file.
  3. Restart Photoshop.

Bigger Tiles Plug-In

The Bigger Tiles plug-in allows Photoshop to process image
data in larger chunks to reduce overall time and increase responsiveness. This
plug-in is recommended only for computers with more than 1 GB of RAM.

  1. Browse to the folder Adobe Photoshop CS2\Plug-Ins\Adobe
    Photoshop Only\Extensions\Bigger Tiles folder. On a typical Windows computer
    setup, this folder is usually found c:\Program Files\Adobe\Plug-Ins\Adobe
    Photoshop Only\Extensions\Bigger Tiles.
  2. Remove the ~ from the beginning of filename of ~Bigger
    Tiles.8BX. The file name should now be "Bigger Tiles.8BX" instead of "~Bigger
  3. If Photoshop is opened, restart Photoshop.
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