Powering Up for Photoshop!

If you’re, like me, spending endless hours on Photoshop, drawing or just editing/retouching photos, or just doing collages, you’ll probably want more out of your machine. Chances are that you already know most if not some of the tips I’ll give you below. By the way these tips are for PC users only.

Again, these are intended for the serious artist or the professional that demands more out of the application and works with large format artwork for print. If you’re editing small images for everyday or web use, you’ll definitely not need all this gear, as your everyday pc does the job beautifully.

First of all I would strongly recommend a dedicated system for running Photoshop and other graphics/DTP applications like Illustrator, Corel Draw, Quark Express etc. The reason for that being that Photoshop draws a hell of a lot system resources upon running, so for instance if you’re having a mail client, a download client or a web browser also running at the same time, they also drain system resources and therefore hold back valuable resources that would have been allocated to Photoshop otherwise.

Bad news is that having a dedicated system costs money and space, you’ll need another desk etc. in order to work comfortably, but if you do have a chance of building another pc, it’s really worthwhile. If you don’t well there’s still the option to beef up your current pc and minimise irrelevant activity (such as media players, downloaders, browsers, chatters) when you run Photoshop. And quite logically I cannot understand how do you expect to work on a piece and give it the best of yourself when at the same time you’re chatting to this lovely brunette from Rio de Janeiro, or you’re watching Anastacia’s latest video clip πŸ™‚

Okay, here’s the list of system improvements, or things that you should consider when building that “Photoshop pc”

1. Dedicated Photoshop scratch disk – By default Photoshop uses your boot drive as a scratch disk, which is horrible. Why? Think of it as if you were at work, writing an email, then your boss starts talking to you and demands to listen to him WHILE you writing that email, at the same time a client calls you on the phone and your boss demands to listen to him, continue writing the email and talk with the client AT THE SAME TIME (which is mostly the case on real life πŸ™‚ )!!! That’s how your boot drive works when you have Photoshop running! It serves Photoshop AND the various System Operations, not to mention other tasks running in the background like for example an mp3 player, or your Antivirus software.

So the first thing you can do right away, even on your everyday pc, is to give Photoshop a dedicated scratch disk, a disk that will be used by Photoshop exclusively. Your best option here is to go for a separate HD unit, although a clean partition of a drive other than your boot disk is an ok solution. You can also plug in an external HD unit via USB and give that to Photoshop! The solution I would do is to buy one of those 10,000 or 15,000 rpm drives with a nice big 16MB+ cache. It doesn’t need to be huge in capacity; 30-50 GB are more than enough! It needs to be fast enough when Photoshop runs out of memory and starts to write on disk, this is when it needs a scratch disk, plus to write all the states of undo.

That’s the easy 1st upgrade you could do. Finally a tip: ALWAYS have your scratch disk DEFRAGMENTED, even if it is your boot disk. Also if it happens that your scratch disk is your boot disk (typically your C: drive) always make sure that you have at bare minimum of 20GB free for Photoshop work.

2. RAM – The more you have the better and 2GB just ain’t enough, trust me! Windows XP can see more than 2GB of RAM, it all depends if your motherboard’s bios allows it; not all motherboards allow Windows to see more than 2GB of RAM 😦 All you have to do is a tiny and easy change in the commands of the boot.ini file. Again you should do this ONLY if you’re very familiar with how Windows work and BACK UP the boot.ini file PRIOR TO CHANGING IT!!! If you have more than 2GB of RAM and interested in having a go at it, there’s the official Windows article that you should read here.

Finally 32 bit Windows XP will allow you to “see” 4GB of RAM at the most! If you have (or want to have) more RAM, consider of installing Windows XP 64 bit, provided that you have the hardware for it, such as:

3. CPU – Like cars, Performance driving needs a powerful motor! If your tail oversteers you need power to pull the car’s front in the right direction and avoid a spin πŸ™‚ In the same way when you painting with a large brush (1000+ pixels) on Photoshop you need tremendous power in order to make smooth real-time movements with your brush! Not to mention the smudge tool! Your optimal choice here is a 64bit, Dual core, or Quad core CPU. Dual and Quad cores are a better option for obvious reasons!

4. GRAPHICS CARD – Amazingly enough Photoshop working algorithms don’t rely on your video Graphics Adapter (or Graphics Card for short). It’s best to have a good card, but you don;t need to aim for the market’s high end latest products, as there’s little difference to Photoshop if you work with an Nvidia 7600 or an 8800. However. If you use (or intend to use) multiple displays, make sure that your card supports them.


So this is what you’re aiming for in order to have a complete Photoshop station:

1. Dedicated Hard Disk (either a separate internal physical drive, or an external USB 2.0 or Firewire HD unit)

2. RAM – at least 2GB on WinXP 32bit, 2GB+ on Win XP 64bit

3. CPU – 64bit or a dual/quad core

4. A system with all the above that won’t be used for everyday trivial tasks πŸ™‚ From a very rough current market research such a system would cost you somewhere around 2500-3000 euros (without a screen included).


I urge you to buy a few external Hard Disks for backing up your work. We are obviously spend thousands of hours on our work, that only makes it precious and too valuable to loose! Maintaining backups at regular and short intervals ensures that we minimise the factor of loosing our work.

The way I’m doing this is that ever since the external USB Hard disks were introduced I’m backing up my work on such a device once a week (at best πŸ™‚ ). When not backing up I’m keeping the Hard Disk away from the pc. Finally every two years I’m buying a new backup external disk to replace the one I’m using (cause you really don’t know when a disk is going to pass away).


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