Make Photoshop faster on a budget?

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I’m a semi-retired freelancing graphic designer, currently using a desktop HP Pavilion P6-2114 with an Intel processor (i3-2120), Intel HD Graphics 2000 with an Nvidia graphics card (GeForce GT520). I work in Photoshop 3D and it’s really slow, with only 8G of RAM. Any suggestions to make that app run smoother and faster? Can an AMD product be put in this tower? WHICH ONE? Most bang for a small buck on a budget? or would just more RAM help? Thanks!

Excellent question! Thank you for asking. I’ve researched your machine and have some suggestions. RAM and CPU upgrades aren’t going to be the best approach, but I do have some other suggestions.

Storage Device

Look into upgrading your hard disk drive (HDD) to an solid-state drive (SSD). The slowest part of any computer is the hard disk drive. A new SSD will make a dramatic improvement. SSDs have matured; the prices have come down, they are reliable and fast. An SSD should be your primary drive for speed. A traditional HDD works fine for bulk storage of video, music or other large files that don’t need high-speed access.

There are many brands and sizes available to fit your needs and budget. The one I linked above is an example. It’s good advice to get the largest you can afford. If the SSD is larger than your existing drive, it will be easier to transfer your files from the old HDD to the new SSD. You can also leave your old drive installed and use it for seldom used files, music, or other items that don’t need the speed boost of the SSD.

Video Card

Your video card can be upgraded. Your GeForce GT 530 uses a PCI Express x16 (Gen 2.0) slot. It can be upgraded fairly cheaply and you should see a noticeable boost. Here’s a moderately priced upgrade comparison.

PassMark Video Card Performance Comparison

You can spend a ton of money on video cards, so it’s best to shop wisely. Here is Adobe’s FAQ on video cards. The GeForce 750 TI is a reasonably priced card if you want my “best bang for the buck” recommendation. This card is PCI Express 3.0 which is still compatible with your PCI Express 2.0 slot.This example I found online has dual HDMI and DVI. Whatever model you buy, be sure you have a compatible monitor.

Your tower has a 300 watt power supply and meets the minimum requirements for this video card. This is a large card with dual fans, but it looks like it should physically fit just fine. You should leave the adjacent slots open if possible for best airflow. These cards get pretty hot.

Software Optimization

Adobe has a guide with settings to optimize Photoshop’s performance. You may find some improvements you can make for free. It might not be dramatic, but it doesn’t cost anything.

CPU

As for the processor, it probably doesn’t make sense. The HP Pavilion P6-2114 uses an Intel processor in an LGA 1155 socket. You won’t be able to switch to an AMD processor. You could upgrade the processor to an i5 or i7, but this may not be the best bang for the buck.

The table below compares a mid-range i5 processor and a higher end i7 processor from the HP CPU compatibility list for your tower.

PassMark CPU Performance Comparison
The “Single Thread Rating” of the i3 and the i5 are very similar. The i5’s primary advantage comes from quad core design. The i7’s single thread performance is higher but does not justify the extra cost for your application. I focus on single-thread performance because Photoshop doesn’t use multiple cores efficiently. A quote from this benchmark of Photoshop CC:

Even though Photoshop may at times be able to use eight or even ten physical CPU cores, our testing has shown that it doesn’t typically do so very effectively. Because higher core CPUs also tend to have lower operating frequencies, this means that the best CPU for Photoshop will be one with a moderate core count but a high operating frequency.

RAM

You have 8 GB of RAM, and that is the maximum amount of RAM your motherboard supports. You can’t add more, unfortunately. If your operating system is 32-bit you should upgrade to 64-bit. The older 32-bit operating systems cannot use more than 4 GB of RAM regardless of how much is installed.

Other Thoughts

You should evaluate the cost of a new machine and then decide what makes the most sense before spending any money. Your machine isn’t obsolete, but perhaps it can be re-purposed for another task.  For example, I have an older iMac that isn’t fast enough for my primary work. I’ve dedicated it to music practice and recording from my guitar pedal board. You might find that the money you’ll spend on upgrades could be better spent on a new machine.

If you’d like to extend the life of your current computer, the best upgrade is replacing the HDD with a new SSD. That will make the most dramatic improvement.