Puget Systems Lightroom and Photoshop Benchmarks
Before we tell photographers if AMD or Intel runs Lightroom and Photoshop better, it is important to know why it is Matt Bach from Puget Systems is so qualified to speak to the topic. In 2019 Puget Systems began offering a suite of tools that are extremely helpful for testing the performance of creative applications including Lightroom and Photoshop. Matt has led the lab effort at Puget Systems to build that suite and it makes him an expert in this niche.
Why Do We Need Lightroom and Photoshop Benchmarks?
When there are well established benchmark tools like like PefromanceTest from PassMark that has gathered a database of millions of results from unique computer configurations over at cpubenchmark.net, why do we need another benchmark tool?
The answer is that all of the other benchmark tools utilize synthetic tests that are designed and are effective at making the computer work really hard but don’t tell us much about how it is going to work for creative. Plus, manufacturers of computer equipment are gaming the system by making sure they show well on those tests, to the point of making design decisions for updates or new products to make sure they do well on those tests.
Yes, the results of those benchmarks gives us a general idea on how much better new hardware may perform or how to compare hardware from two different manufacturers. I have referenced information about those benchmarks right here on the Photo Taco website. However, those tests don’t reflect reality of how software like Lightroom and Photoshop actually function.
Puget Systems started off as a manufacturer of computers for gaming but for years a person hasn’t had to invest much in a computer to have it run games effectively. They decided to focus in on building high-end workstations for creatives and other professionals where processing needs, consistency, and reliability were key. The computer performance information they needed to meet the needs of these customers just wasn’t available and that is where PugetBench comes in.
What Is PugetBench?
PugetBench takes a similar approach to other benchmark tools as far as the testing being automated. You launch the benchmark let it do it’s thing for a bit until it is done and provides a score. PugetBench is extremely different in that it requires Lightroom and/or Photoshop be running on the computer and then utilizes a combination of plugins and keystroke/mouse movement control from an opensource tool called AutoIT. PugetBench runs real tests of many things photographers do in Lightroom and Photoshop while measuring performance.
As a high-end workstation PC builder, Puget Systems needed a tool to help them understand what hardware made a difference for running creative software. This is only one of many inputs that influence their choices in the components they put into their PC workstation builds, but the manual testing efforts to gather some this information was taking too long so Matt and his team have built a first in the market with their PugetBench product.
Yep, Puget Systems has created a product out of PugetBench. You can commercially license PugetBench for Adobe Creative Cloud, but most of you reading this won’t need that. Individual photographers can run Puget Bench Free Edition without cost or licensing and see how their computer compares with other configurations for running Lightroom and Photoshop.
As of this post, the Lightroom tests of PugetBench are a little behind the tests of the other Adobe Creative Cloud applications because the Lightroom APIs don’t currently support all of the tests needed. For example, most plugins don’t need to delete photos from the catalog, but that is something that Puget needed for their automating testing to function. As a result, the Lightroom test is Windows only for now while Puget is working with Adobe to have APIs added.
Processors For Running Lightroom and Photoshop
Throughout the more than five year history of the Photo Taco podcast I have been recommending Intel over AMD for photographers. The testing I had seen from others, combined with my own testing, convinced me the price of Intel was worth the cost to photographers. Even for a hobbyist on a limited budget, my advice was to pony up for Intel, but this was especially important for professionals who usually have to live with a computer for at least 3 years (tax purposes).
This advice really only applied to photographers who were buying Windows computers as Apple has only offered Intel processors in their computer for many years. That’s where we are going to start this discussion, the different Intel processor choices for photographers.
Intel Core i3 vs i5 vs i7 vs i9 For Lightroom and Photoshop
The high end workstations Puget sells here in 2020 use Core i9 Intel processors. That’s great and PugetBench will show you how the Core i9 processor makes a difference with some of the functions in Lightroom and Photoshop, but what about the significant number of photographers who have a tighter budget and need to lower the investment with a less expensive CPU? How much of a difference is there between the various Intel processors?
Matt thinks that creatives should really avoid the Core i3 processors. They just aren’t powerful enough to provide the results creatives are looking for in running Photoshop and Lightroom. Core i5 is the baseline and will be serviceable for hobbyist photographers who are looking to minimize their investment in a computer. Core i7 does very well and honestly isn’t tremendously different from the Core i9.
The biggest gain in performance is seen from the lowest Intel processors up to the next level. With most of the PugetBench runs being done on Core i7 and Core i9 processors Matt would have needed to go through the numbers they do have on the less capable Core i3 processors to give some kind of percentage difference. His guess is about 20-30% difference between Core i3 to Core i5, with smaller jumps of 10-15% from Core i5 to i7 and about 5-10% from Core i7 to Core i9.
The thing creatives should make sure they think about when they are looking at buying a computer is the time investment they will be making in running Lightroom and Photoshop to edit their images. Photographers don’t really bat an eye at spending thousands on a new camera body or lens, yet many don’t want to spend the money they need to on a computer that plays just as large a role in their workflow. Making the investment in a good computer will save them time and allow them to do more shoots.
Which of Frequency, Cores, and Hyperthreading Matter Most?
Processors are marketed by a lot of attributes. Frequency, the gigahertz number tends the be the main one, but there are others like instructions per cycle, cores, and hyperthreading. Which of them is the most important to consider when choosing a processor for running Lightroom and Photoshop?
Matt thinks the most important is actually the architecture of the processor. The generation of the CPU has tested out to be a pretty significant factor. A newer generation will have at least a 10% performance improvement over the generation before even when the specifications like frequency and cores are similar. It ends up being a big deal.
Here in 2020 there remains a pretty big difference in performance behavior between AMD and Intel as well. AMD will do better with some tasks in Lightroom and Photoshop and Intel does better in other tasks. For active tasks, the things that requires a photographer click on buttons and sliders, frequency is probably the largest factor. For the passive tasks, like an export, core count is probably the biggest factor.
Instructions per cycle and hyperthreading don’t seem to be a big deal today. Hyperthreading in particular was a pretty important thing several years ago but it has become something that it is in everything today and not really a differentiator.
Should Photographers Use Testing Numbers From CPUBenchmark.net?
As was said above, PugetBench is a better tool to compare computer hardware for creatives, but the numbers you can find for comparing processores form cpubnehcmark.net can still be helpful. The thing to be careful of is trying to compare AMD vs Intel.
Today AMD and Intel take such different approaches to processing you can’t really compare them via synthetic testing. Even with PugetBench it is tough to compare them overall, as was pointed out above where Intel is currently better with active tasks and AMD is better with passive tasks in Photoshop and Lightroom.
The place those tests are helpful are comparing and understanding the difference between one generation of a processor to another. Like comparing an AMD 3700x to a 3800x, that is a place where the numbers from a benchmark site like cpubbenchmark.net are pretty helpful. Just don’t put as much stock in the comparison between an AMD 3700x and and in Intel Core i5 10600K.
Are AMD Processors Stable?
In the past AMD had generally been considered the budget brand and had the perception of less power and less stability. Maybe a result of effective marketing, but in 2019 and 2020 AMD has released processors that are getting rave reviews from a processing power perspective. AMD seems to have closed the performance gap, even surpassed Intel in some areas of performance, but what about the perception of stability?
Matt says this is a tough question to answer. Puget’s experience has been that the biggest source of instability is running processors and other hardware components out of spec. Overclocking, and the like, is what tends to make a computer less stable and crash.
For example, the thing most people tend to try and run out of spec in order to squeeze out more performance from their computer is running RAM faster than it is specified it should be. This is a really good way to have intermittent blue screen crashes on Windows or intermittent crashes of the Adobe Creative Cloud applications.
So long as you run the hardware components within the specification from the manufacturer, there isn’t really any difference from a stability perspective between Intel and AMD. That said, there is a difference in understanding what is actually in spec between the two.
Intel publishes very direct specifications to know exactly what hardware components are compatible with their processors. AMD is not as good at this, making it easier to make a mistake and put RAM into a computer that is too fast for the AMD processor.
For example, AMD may publish that a processor supports RAM up to 3600 MHz. When you actually dig deep into the white papers, and deep really means deep here, you may discover the processor only supports 3600 MHz when it is a single stick of single-channel RAM. If you were to put in two sticks and/or use dual-channel RAM then you are going to have stability issues.
You have to be a little more careful and diligent to understand the spec with AMD processors but there are very stable when you run everything within spec.
Are Lightroom and Photoshop Built For Intel?
Many years ago I was and AMD guy. This was well before I got into photography. I have been in IT and built computers for myself for more than 20 years now, and I was able to get a lot more performance for my dollar building AMD-based computers for myself over Intel. When I got into photography I quickly discovered my computer that was doing fine for other tasks didn’t run Lightroom and Photoshop well.
Back in 2018, Adobe released an update to Lightroom in version 7.2 that significantly improved the performance of passive tasks, a result from a two year partnership with Intel. Does this mean that Lightroom just works better on Intel? Is Adobe working with AMD?
Matt doesn’t know for sure the relationship between Adobe and AMD, but both are such large companies he doesn’t think there is any way they can be ignoring each other. Some development teams at Adobe may have internal preferences toward one processor over another or find a specific capability in one processor to be particularly helpful, but he doesn’t think this is universally true today.
The best thing he can say about the code being built for Intel or AMD is that the evidence in Puget’s testing shows that if anything there may be a slight bias in performance for AMD over Intel in the Adobe Creative Cloud applications today. Though he is doubtful that the code really favors or is built specific to one processor over another in any meaningful way.
Why AMD For Lightroom and Intel For Photoshop At Puget Systems?
Right now it looks like if you go to pugetsystems.com and choose a Lightroom workstation you are going to get an AMD Ryzen 3900X processor and if you choose a Photoshop workstation you get an Intel Core i9 9900K. Why is there a difference there?
Matt says the website offers two different kinds of products today. Customers can choose to order a computer based on the hardware they want or they can choose a computer based on the software they primarily use in their creative workflow. Puget believes that many creatives aren’t interested in the minutia of deciding on hardware components that go into their computers, they just want it to run their creative application as fast as possible, and in that case less choice helps them.
AMD processors are better enough at running Lightroom that is what Puget builds for creatives who primarily use Lightroom in their workflow. With Photoshop Intel is better enough that is what they use to build a workstation for creatives who primarily use Photoshop in their workflow.
Puget can best help creatives get the right computer for them by contacting them and working with a consultant to determine what workstation is going to be the best for them and their personal creative workflow. Most of the time photographers don’t end up buying the workstation they think they want after going to the website.
Short of getting with a Puget consultant, to offer the advice here, should a photographer go with AMD or Intel if they use both Lightroom and Photoshop a lot? Matt thinks AMD is probably the right choice for most photographers who do a lot with both applications. It is close, so you aren’t making a terrible mistake with one over the other. The biggest difference is the passive tasks, like exporting in Lightroom, where AMD has a really large advantage here in 2020.
That said, a major consideration for photographers is their need for Thunderbolt. So many Puget customers have a large need for Thunderbolt connections. Either they were on Mac and are switching to PC, or they just prefer Thunderbolt peripherals and devices, and thus far because Thunderbolt is an Intel technology it is significantly more stable on Intel over AMD. If a photographer wants Thunderbolt they should buy a computer with an Intel processor.
AMD Or Intel For All Of Adobe Creative Cloud?
AMD has an edge over Intel for Lightroom, and Intel an edge over AMD for Photoshop, and Matt recommends AMD for photographers using both Lightroom and Photoshop. What about a photographer using Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and After Effects?
Matt says this is really hard and why it is Puget really wants potential customers to work with one of their consultants and help them get the best workstation for their workflow needs. If a photographer uses After Effects rarely, but it is enough of a headache for them in those moments when they need it, Puget may recommend a computer capable of running After Effects well.
In general there probably isn’t a significant difference between AMD and Intel processors when you may be running a lot of the Adobe Creative Cloud applications. At that point it may be more of a personal preference and factors like Thunderbolt more than anything else.
To overgeneralize, which usually isn’t very fair, AMD is slightly stronger with Lightroom and Premiere Pro while Intel is slightly stronger with Photoshop and After Effects.
Other Factors For Running Lightroom and Photoshop – RAM, GPU, Storage
I am convinced processors play a major role in the performance of Lightroom and Photoshop. Photographers who have to stick inside a budget should get the best processor offered. It is where they should spend their money first. How should photographers prioritize investing in RAM, GPU, and storage after processor?
Matt would put them in order of RAM, Storage, CPU, GPU. Here is why.
RAM For Running Lightroom and Photoshop
Matt says that because most people think of processor first he wouldn’t actually put processor first. He would put RAM first as that tends to be where people try to save money and when you don’t have enough RAM you can’t get everything out of the CPU when you made a good investment there. Make sure you have bought enough RAM to make it possible to fully utilize the processor.
Today professional photographers need 32GB of RAM and a hobbyist can probably get by with 16GB but would be better off with 32GB of RAM if possible.
Storage For Running Lightroom and Photoshop
Matt says that storage is a little bit the same as RAM. Photographers need enough of it and it has to be fast enough you can actually get everything out of the investment in the processor. Luckily, photographers who mostly use Lightroom and Photoshop don’t need really fast storage. A normal SSD, or even the faster traditional platter (magnetic) drives are good enough to meet the demands of Lightroom and Photoshop and still get everything out of the processor.
GPU For Running Lightroom and Photoshop
Matt says that GPU is the last thing photographers should worry about. GPU is becoming more and more important, but it isn’t a major factor in 2020. Although there is enough of a difference photographers should invest in a discrete GPU (NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards) over the integrated GPU built into processors like the Intel Iris or Intel UHD.
Matt also recommends photographers go with NVIDIA over AMD GPUs. AMD is really good as far as being cost-effective and providing a lot of performance for gaming, but for some reason Adobe applications do better with NVIDIA. The “snapiness” (how do you quantify and test that) in Lightroom and Photoshop is noticeably better with NVIDA over AMD GPUs.
Matt doesn’t recommend photographers buy NVIDIA Quadro GPU over GeForce. There are some workloads from the scientific community where Quadro GPU is really required, but a lot of the reasons photographers needed Quadro in the past (like 10-bit) have been opened up in the GeForce GPUs. Photographers simply don’t need to invest in Quadro here in 2020.
Thunderbolt For Photographers?
As was already mentioned, Puget hears from a lot of customers that they really want Thunderbolt in their workstations. With Thunderbolt being a technology from Intel it is no surprise that Intel-based systems are what photographers should buy if that is something they need.
Matt says that most of the time when their consultants talk to photographers about why they want Thunderbolt it is because they want to connect to really fast storage. The reality for photographers is that USB 3.0, or USB 3.1 Gen 2 connections provide more throughput than Lightroom and Photoshop need (or will use – check out Performance of External Drives with Lightroom).
Most photographers are going to be just fine with USB connected storage and don’t need Thunderbolt. There are customers who have made large investments in Thunderbolt 3 RAID systems, and if that is the case then they should buy an Intel-based computer with Thunderbolt. If that isn’t the case, they don’t need to worry about it.
Thunderbolt is a complicated connection. It handles data, and video, and eGPU. Matt doesn’t think that Thunderbolt 4 is going to be a big deal for most photographers. Maybe something more important in laptops as an easy way to have full GPU when you are at home via Thunderbolt. Puget hasn’t done much eGPU testing thus far since they don’t build laptops (they used to and it was a nightmare).
Motherboard RAID For Photographers?
Not something most photographers are doing today, but there are some who use the RAID capabilities of motherboards to get the performance benefits without the large investment in a RAID enclosure. Intel Rapid Storage has made RAID very easy, portable, and relatively high performance on Intel. AMD on the other hand have had a lot of issues. Has this improved?
Puget used to do motherboard RAID with their workstations, and frankly it was awful. Whether Rapid Storage or something else provided by the motherboard, Puget has found software RAID in Windows to be much better. Even that is something Puget has gone away from as a single M.2 connected NVMe SSD drive provides such good performance the need to RAID has gone down.
Matt also warned that photographers need to remember RAID is not a form of backup.
What Photographers Should Be Exited About Coming Next?
The world of hardware components for computers is constantly evolving and changing. It’s probably one of the reasons I like dabbling in it and try to keep up with. I really like learning and watching as technology changes. Something I like about photography for the same reason, though the pace of change is far slower. What should photographers be looking forward to from a hardware perspective in the future?
Matt thinks that persistent memory could be a really big deal. Today when you power off your computer the RAM loses all of the data it had there and we have to re-populate that data by booting the computer and launching the software. In the future, as memory becomes persistent, all of the data will stay in there and everything will start instantly. More like the apps on our phones where they are always running.
Outside of hardware, Matt is really excited about the possibilities of AI to help us edit our photos more quickly and get better results.
Puget Systems Workstations
Matt joined me as a result of my reaching out to Puget asking if they would be willing to have someone come on the show. I know it may feel like this has been a big ad for Puget but I am just glad Matt carved a little time out of his schedule to join me for this episode.
Puget Systems is a high-end workstation builder that understands the needs of creatives and knows how to meet those needs with fast, reliable, no-fuss computers. Like not all people know how to work on or build a car, Puget Systems understands that many photographers don’t know how to work on and build a computer and that is what they want to help you do.
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