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Photoshop (as well as other high-end graphic and video production software) is a heavy user of hard drive access. The speed of the hard drive in the machine and the way that hard drive use is organized can have a major impact in performance, especially with large files. Photoshop makes extensive use of Scratch disk files, which are temporary files that are continually created, read and changed as you work on images. Scratch files are part of Photoshop's virtual memory management.

This is separate from the Swap or Virtual Memory files that the OS X operating system uses for itself. The more RAM memory you have, the less OS X has to hit its Swap files for data, which is good, because RAM is many times faster than a hard drive. Another thing that is important - make sure you are running a 64-bit operating system and a 64-bit version of Photoshop, so that Photoshop can access all the memory it can - under 32 bit operation it is limited to 2.1 GB (CS5) or 3.0 GB (CS4) of application memory.

To repeat, running a 64-bit Photoshop CS5 or higher and getting as much RAM as you can afford - up to about 12 GB - is the most important step. Above 12 GB, more RAM can still help but the marginal benefit starts to decline.
So - on to hard drives:

There are two technologies that speed up disk access, RAID striping (using two interleaved drives as one drive for faster access) and SSD (Solid State Drive, which can be much faster to access than a rotating hard drive). Setting up a SSD as a Startup drive for the computer is a popular hobbyist upgrade. It will make booting times faster, which is enjoyable, but may be a bit of a waste for Photoshop.

Here's why:

The key with Photoshop is to put the different hard drive functions on different drives. Instead of spending money RAIDing hard drives or installing an ultra-fast boot drive, your first step should be to install separate drives for the Startup drive, Data drive and Scratch drive.

Why? Because we want to eliminate contention for control of the drive read/write head. The worst case scenario is to have everything on one hard drive - Imagine, as Photoshop is dealing with a data file, wait, OS X has to take over the drive to write a VM Swap file. This causes a delay as the drive head is swung over to the swap file area. Wait, now Photoshop has to read from its Scratch - another delay to reposition the head. Wait, now Photoshop has to read some program code to run a filter, but wait, first it has to write some changes to the data file... you see how the delays add up as one drive head has to be cook, waiter, cashier and dishwasher all at once.

By splitting up the tasks among multiple drives, each of the drive heads can stay on-task and be reading, writing and repositioning efficiently without interruption from other duties.

Your scratch drive should be your fastest drive and it should have nothing on it but the scratch space for Photoshop (NOT data files and and NOT the OS X swap files). Since the scratch function only needs a few dozens of GB, you can partition the drive, give the first (fastest) partition to scratch, and you can use the 2nd partition space for backing up your system or data.

Then, get your Photoshop data files off of the boot drive. Data should be on a drive by itself. A large, high density high speed hard drive like a Western Digital Caviar Black is a good choice here.

So far you have three drives - your original Startup drive, your Scratch drive and your Data drive. If you want a bit more speed, you could also create a dedicated drive for the OS X swap file, or move the program files off your Startup drive. These will help a bit but are not essential.

Once you have divided the tasks between different drives, then you can think of RAID or SSD to further speed it up. Personally, I think a SSD makes more sense as a scratch drive than a boot drive, because you boot only once per day, but scratch is constantly writing small files - where the close to zero latency of the SSD will help - and SSDs are generally smaller in capacity, which is fine for a scratch drive. A downside of using a SSD as a scratch is that you might wear it out - SSD flash memory is only good for a limited number of writes. Granted, that limit is in the millions, but constant use as a Scratch drive may wear it out in a couple or three years. Think of it as an investment, plan to spend $200 every three years on a new Scratch drive.

Then if you still want to RAID, create a RAID 0 Striped array on the Data volume, where you are reading and writing very large files, and the increased sustained throughput will win. The larger a file is, the less important the initial rotational latency is and the more important that sustained throughput is.

But if you do set up a RAID 0, you -must- have a rock solid backup regimen, because you have increased the risk of failure. If one of the two striped RAID drives has a problem, you lose ALL of the data on both drives.

Adobe:
- Assigning scratch drives
- Performance optimization

This all makes sense for a MacPro machine, where you have 4 drive bays to play with, and you can install an eSATA card for up to 20 external drives. If you have an iMac or a MacBook Pro, your options are more limited. Apple's message is, if you want to run with the big dogs, you need the MacPro.

If you are working with an iMac or MacBook Pro the USB 2.0 interface is just not up to the task of handling a scratch drive or a fast data drive. Firewire 800 is faster, but you will lose a step or two compared with the SATA drives in a MacPro. The 17" MacBook Pros and earlier models of 15" have an ExpressCard/34 slot, which you can get an eSATA interface for. This is faster than Firewire 800, but a little finicky. There is great promise with the new Thunderbolt interface on the latest MacBook Pro and iMac models, with SATA level speeds available to hard drives once products start shipping. I can see a Thunderbolt SSD scratch drive being a popular item.

The takeaway message for Photoshop - Go 64, pump the RAM, divide and conquer with the drives, and fast scratch rules.

This article is written by longtime contributing member to ehMac CanadaRAM. There are literally dozens and dozens of threads on ehMac.ca with satisfied customers extolling the virtues of dealing with this great company. Anytime a thread comes up with the question about RAM or where to buy, inevitably you'll hear many ehMac members chime in with a great experience and instances of getting great advice. If you need RAM or Hard Drives for your Mac in Canada, ehMac.ca whole heartily recommends: CanadaRAM.
 

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There, now that we've addressed the few shortcomings in your Mac drives & memory, all we have to do is wait for Adobe to make the software multi-thread & multi-processor aware. Then we'll actually have a program that will take advantage of all the processing power currently lounging in your 'puter...
 

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While an small SSD for a scratch disc is indeed useful in Photoshop, a fast array is far superior to any singe drive set ups in our experience.

We regularly set up 2 x 10K Velociraptors that will sustain 260 megs per second in a decent sized 1.2 TB work space.

The difference for our PS users is remarkable. That and regular optimization/defragging will give wonderful speed at a modest cost for the Pro user ( $600 the pair ).

The usual rig for our upper end users is the 1.2 TB VR and a 2 TB media drive.

Even coming off three months with the SSD in the lappie - coming back home to the VR Array in the tower it was very snappy.

Far too many users have horribly messy drive structures so a dose of iDefrag or Drive Genius will make a difference right away.

Laptops are also straightforward for multiple internal drives. The one I am on now has a 480 gig SSD and a 750 7200 RPM data drive in the optical bay.
Lot easier for the power PS user than clunky externals and the 6g SSDs will jump the speed up even more.
 

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all we have to do is wait for Adobe to make the software multi-thread & multi-processor aware
Yup which is why we are recommending the high clock dual 2.7 i7 and the 2.8 or 2.93 Quad in the towers for PS/CS use.
Clock always counts.

We had two or three clients move from 2.26 8 core ( 16 processing threads ) to 2.93 Quad core ( 8 processing threads ) and be very pleased with the improvement.

But you do need RAM
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
All of the above makes such a strong argument for going Mac Pro for serious Photoshop work. The flexibility of internal drives, RAM, displays.

I've seen such a trend of many design professionals getting woo'd by the sticker price of an iMac, not thinking long term or how these programs and disk setups can really be used.

A lot of users looking at the processor specs of the iMac and assuming the i5's / i7's are sort of the same thing to the Xeon “Nehalem” processors. Nuh-uh.

Don't me wrong, I love the iMacs and can't wait to upgrade in the summer. But for pro Photoshop or other high-end production software....
 

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We're going to have to wait and see, but the Thunderbolt port may be a game changer.

An iMac i7 with the optional secondary SSD and external storage via Thunderbolt might be a performance powerhouse. Of course, the sticking point for some people will be the attractive-but-not-professional-colour-accurate iMac built in screen. Once you factor the cost of an external screen, you are getting back into MacPro territory.


Barefeats.com
"If you are planning to boot from a RAID 0 array, you may not see any better performance than you would booting from a single SSD. That's because the RAID set can't do any more transactions per second than a single SSD. And the random small transfer rates are only slightly higher with two versus one. "

This highlights the difference between bandwith (the mass volume of data that can be moved in a second) and access time (how long it takes to get to the first byte of data). When you are dealing with many small reads and writes, it is access time (and the rotational latency of a mechanical drive) that limits performance. When you are writing large files, a higher bandwidth, or sequential MB/s performance, starts to shine.

This is where a RAID-0 solution will pay off - as the data storage drive for large Photoshop (and other media) files.
 

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Yeah, good analogy. Some of what I do is 3D modelling analysis and flythroughs (for process plants, but not process simulation or animation). The chunks of info have to flow through all the systems at a constant rate to have smooth movement, otherwise the viewer perceives visual disconnect. This is not good in client review sessions. We used to convert native files to a lower quality to be able to do this, but this was with Windows machines.

Would an uber-equipped Mac Pro running Windows 7 possibly fix this?
 

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just wanted to say thanks for this article and a few other threads touting the SSDs!

I popped 120 GB into my 2009 MPro and well, OMG! I heard Screature say, "it breathed life back int my 2009 MP" and the same thing happened to mine.

I can NOT believe how FAST apps and/or files open. it's ridiculous. just ridiculous.

Definitely worth the investment as I'll be working faster. Overall, I realize it's seconds at a time that I'm gaining, but not having to wait is a good thing as far as i'm concerned. I clicked on Excel to pull up my meal plan spreadsheet and blip, it was open.

I clicked on Daylite admin and DL and blip...they were open.

Just fantastic.

Now, I'm thinking - what about a thunderbolt setup and SSDs. Add in a ton of cores and I might just buy a new mac pro when they come out.

wowsers.

I'm going to be a full on geek and just open stuff up to get excited (no....kidding....i have some HD kids' soccer footage to edit and output.

but i'll open some files first :)
 

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Just be careful as the strength of the SSD is in random access and it is brilliant on that front.
It's a no brainer for portables and a nice treat for a MacPro but for the same price you can get much more workspace that is all fast and you can even scale that up to 1.8 GB at blinding sustained speeds for less than a 500 gig SSD

The problem arises when you need speed sustained for big files and decent space to work from.

Also
Tbolt is only as fast as the drives.....so don't breathe too much Apple Pixie dust on that front.
It's useful for lappies who need access to high speed arrays for video

Stuff like your Excel file is perfect for SSD.

Also most users are coming from a fragmented unoptimized standard single drive so the perceived difference is very evident. Eye popping indeed.

But for large file work on MacPros there are cost effective options with speed and space.

One client moved from her single drive iMac i7 that was just ridiculous on drive speed tho fine in other ways.... it was so clogged up to a pair of Velociraptors on a MacPro Quad and she got a huge gain in performance that was also immediately evident......and yet she had the space to keep all her large photo files accessible at high speed.
 

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your post has ironic timing b/c i just rebooted - was editing prores in FCP and for whatever reason, my timeline playback started getting choppy again (happened last night too). This didn't happen once before I put the SSD in and I'm editing the same footage. I was also running mts rips into prores with clipwrap although the choppiness happened during the clipwrap and afterwards when that process was done.

No pages out, lots of ram left over....odd it is. will keep an eye out and if this continues, maybe I'll move the SSD to my macbook pro and take your suggestion of raiding 2 'raptors.
 

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Also
Tbolt is only as fast as the drives.....so don't breathe too much Apple Pixie dust on that front.
It's useful for lappies who need access to high speed arrays for video
Of course -- but the point is that putting a RAID or an SSD on a FW400 or FW800 port of an iMac or Macbook/pro is limited to the bandwidth of the port, so the gains are marginal.

Thunderbolt changes this so that the speed is limited to the bandwidth of the drive system, not the port so you can choose a RAID or SSD system without penalty.

It is the first time an iMac or MacBook has been able to access external storage at internal SATA speeds. (other than franken-mac hacks to bring out an eSATA port. Earlier MacBook Pros had the option of the ExpressCard/34 for eSATA )
 
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But in regards to a thunderbolt external I think the bottlenecks are going to come down to the chipsets the enclosures use ... they are not all created equal when it comes to SATA so hopefully we'll see a chipset that can handle the bandwidth. I know personally I have a couple of FW400 cases that take sata drives that don't come close to maxing out the speed of FW400 or the drive itself. Until we see more thunderbolt stuff hit the street I'll be skeptical.
 
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your post has ironic timing b/c i just rebooted - was editing prores in FCP and for whatever reason, my timeline playback started getting choppy again (happened last night too). This didn't happen once before I put the SSD in and I'm editing the same footage. I was also running mts rips into prores with clipwrap although the choppiness happened during the clipwrap and afterwards when that process was done.

No pages out, lots of ram left over....odd it is. will keep an eye out and if this continues, maybe I'll move the SSD to my macbook pro and take your suggestion of raiding 2 'raptors.
FCP is a totally different beast and is very limited in the amount of ram it can use (no matter how much is in your system) -- from the dialog the cap seems to be about 2.5Gigs of ram tops (let's hope they fix this in FCPX). For FCP editing I would highly suggest a RAID0 with a pair of fast drives to hold the footage and the scratch. Lots of linear reads happening there as opposed to random reads. I'd still keep the SSD for the boot drive though personally ;)
 

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FCP is a totally different beast and is very limited in the amount of ram it can use (no matter how much is in your system) -- from the dialog the cap seems to be about 2.5Gigs of ram tops (let's hope they fix this in FCPX). For FCP editing I would highly suggest a RAID0 with a pair of fast drives to hold the footage and the scratch. Lots of linear reads happening there as opposed to random reads. I'd still keep the SSD for the boot drive though personally ;)
thanks mg.

I have a Raid0 set up in my MP with 2 x 1TB Seagates (these are a few years old)
ST31000528AS

ST31000528AS Barracuda 7200.12 SATA 3Gb/s 1TB Hard Drive | Seagate

and then my scratch for outputting m2vs is: ST31000340AS

ST31000340AS Barracuda 7200.11 SATA 3Gb/s 1-TB Hard Drive | Seagate

Would you suggest I buy some WD RE drives for the RAID?

I still find my huge bottleneck being the processing of the M2vs which is limited to my quad. I don't know if upgrading the HDs will make that much of a difference ?

Cheerios,
Keebler
 
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The WD's will give you faster overall throughput for sure, but ... I don't think they will solve the bottleneck, that is a CPU bound operation at that point.
 

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The WD's will give you faster overall throughput for sure, but ... I don't think they will solve the bottleneck, that is a CPU bound operation at that point.
Thanks. That's what I thought. Doh!

Guess I'll wait to see what FCX will hold and if any new pros come out. Or it's a supedup mackintosh meant for just that task.
 

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Thanks, I am so glad I stumbled upon this great article. I never really gave it much thought before.

I don't have a mac pro, but may I ask for recommendations on how I can optimize for my mbp '09 model. I am running out of space and looking to upgrade my hard drive. I use Adobe CS4 apps daily including the usual internet, mail and office applications.

I was initially thinking of getting a 1TB WD scorpio blue drive ($109), but now noticed the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB 7200RPM 32MB Cache 2.5" Solid State Hybrid Drive ($89)

I'm not all too familiar about hard drives, but will the Seagate be a better drive in terms of speed since it has faster RPM and bigger cache?

Also, would it be better to have a separate external drive containing my data files and keep my work files in my internal drive?

What's the best way to set up my hard drives? Would it be beneficial to remove the optical drive and install and second hard drive instead?

Sorry for all the question, this is all so new and interesting, thanks :D
 
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