Posted September 24, 2012 by Gavin Hoey in Articles

RAM vs Photoshop

Recently I wrote about how swapping a traditional hard disk drive with a modern solid state drive or SSD for short. If you missed it, you can catch it here but in short it speeded up Photoshop by 30% and made using Windows 7 a lot more snappy.KngstonhyperX

Many people suggested that adding more RAM would also speed up Photoshop and they’re right. RAM is a cheaper and easier upgrade then adding a SSD but the question I wanted to answer is, how much RAM do you need and what are the real world speed benefits?

Thanks to the good people at Kingston Technology, who supplied me with some RAM sticks, I was able to test various RAM configurations.

The Test
Once again I’m using my now infamous Photoshop Speed Test action to push the computer and it’s RAM to the max. The test computer is my PC which runs Photoshop CS6 with an Intel i7 processor and a speedy new SSD. To standardise things, I removed the overclocking I usually use.

Basically the only thing that will change for each test run will be the amount of RAM.

I started with 4GB of RAM which is a very common amount of RAM found in many shop bought PC’s. I then continued to add RAM at a rate 4GB at a time, each time running the speed test several times and averaging out the results.

The Results
I could write reams of information but the graph below says it all.Speed test RAM

Not surprisingly Photoshop ran faster as more RAM was added. But look closely and you’ll see it’s not a straight line.

How much RAM?
Between 4GB and 16GB the speed gain with each new 4GB RAM stick is fairly consistent. However the improvement in Photoshop performance between 16GB and 24GB is much less impressive.

If you’re currently running 4GB of RAM and you want to double the speed of Photoshop you need to jump to 16GB of RAM. To me 16GB of RAM seems to be the perfect level for balancing price and performance.

About the RAM
memory finderFor this test I used 4GB sticks of Kingston HyperX DDR3 memory. It’s rated at a speed of 1866MHz which means it’s very fast but not the fastest memory around. Fitting the RAM was as easy as opening the PC case and pushing in the RAM stick. If you’ve never tried it before, adding more RAM is the easiest upgrade you can make.

You can find out more about Kingston RAM and other products by visiting their website

I’d also suggest taking a look at Kingston’s support page if you are unsure about what RAM your PC or motherboard can support

There’s no doubt that Photoshop performs better with more RAM but looking at the results I can draw two possible conclusions. Either my speed test action doesn’t push the RAM hard enough or there is a diminishing return from adding more RAM.

Either way it’s worth remembering that a 64bit operating system is required in order to access Ram beyond 4GB.

For me it would appear that 16GB of RAM is the perfect amount to run Photoshop with speed but it also had an unexpected benefit. The speed tests run at 4GB and 8GB gave the widest range of times which indicates that using Photoshop at lower RAM levels left it open to slow downs caused by the operating system taking priority for RAM access. By the time I hit 16GB the results were all within a few seconds of each other and by time I was up to 24GB the results were all within half a second.

So more RAM equals more Photoshop speed, plus a more stable operating system and therefore a more enjoyable time on the computer.

Gavin Hoey