Build-Your-Own "Ultimate" Adobe Photoshop CS6 PC

Build-Your-Own "Ultimate" Adobe Photoshop CS6 PC

Summary: Photoshop is a big, heavy application that, when pushed hard, can bring even a high-end system to its knees. For hardcore graphics designers, a dedicated piece of kit is essential.

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Without a doubt, the single most-requested feature here on Hardware 2.0 in the 'Build-Your-Own PC' category is for an "Ultimate" Photoshop system. Now that Adobe has officially launched Photoshop CS6, it's time to take a look at this new release and prepare a hardware package that does it justice.

It seems that the reason why people are interested in the hardware specifics for a PC with Photoshop is because it's a big, heavy application that, when pushed even modestly, can bring even a high-end system to its knees. Even small bottlenecks in performance can mean a lot of time spent twiddling your thumbs while the program chunters through a task. There's no doubt that the better your hardware, the better your Photoshop experience will be.

Well, here it is, a guide to building your "Ultimate" Photoshop CS6 system.

Personally, I'm not much of a Photoshop user, and most of my "art" ends up looking like the 4chan Rage Guy, so please don't ask me any Photoshop-related questions!

While I'm specifically looking at a system suited to Photoshop CS6, this build will work equally well for any of the big Adobe products, such as Premiere Pro CS6 or even the 'full' Master Collection CS6 package.

To build the "Ultimate" Photoshop system you will need to choose four components carefully. These are:

  • A fast, quad-core processor
  • Lots of RAM
  • Lots of big, fast hard drives
  • A graphics card that supports GPU-acceleration found in Photoshop CS6

Let's take a look at these four components in more detail.

Processor

When it comes to Photoshop, there are three CPU-related facts that you have to accept. Intel CPUs trump AMD silicon, speed of the CPU matters, and pushing the cores beyond four doesn't have a huge impact on performance. Here's a benchmark to support all the above statements, and based on my testing these conclusions are just as applicable to Photoshop CS6 as they were to CS5 or 5.5. AMD makes some good CPUs, but for Photoshop you should be looking at Intel processors.

So, we're going to start building this Photoshop system by putting an Intel Core i7 at its heart. I recommend the excellent 3.6GHz Core i7-3820 CPU (which turbo-boosts up to 3.8GHz), a part that will set you back about $310.

RAM

You need RAM, and lots of it. Consider 8GB an absolute minimum, and take that to 12GB or 16GB if your motherboard allows. There's not need to get fancy or fast RAM aimed at gaming systems for this build. In fact, you're better off sticking to the quality desktop RAM from reputable vendors.

Stick with RAM from Crucial or Kingston and you won't go wrong. Not only will you get a quality, stable product, but these companies offer excellent warranties if you do end up with a bad stick of RAM. This RAM also works out a lot cheaper than the stuff aimed at gamers.

Storage

A Photoshop system needs masses of storage. This is not just because the application itself is huge, or because the output can be massive. It's because in order to get the best from Photoshop you need multiple drives, with each one dedicated to handling a specific task.

Ideally, you need four drives. One for the OS, one for the application, one for your output files, and one to act as a "scratch disk."  A "scratch disk" is what Adobe calls using a portion of a hard drive as virtual memory. You can get away with fewer disks, for example two disks -- one for Windows and the applications, the other to ask as storage and a "scratch disk" -- but it's far ideal. Trying to run everything on a single disk is best avoided as it's going to create a significant performance bottlenecks.

Since this is an "Ultimate" system, I'm going to recommend that you use four disks. You'll need two large hard disk drives (HDD), and two fast solid state drives (SSD). You'll install Windows onto one of the hard disk drives, and Photoshop onto the other hard drive. Then you'll use the one of the solid state drives for your output files, and the other as a "scratch disk." This setup gives you the best possible storage performance, eliminating a number of potential bottlenecks.

It's worth noting that you don't need big solid state drives for this build because they're only used for short-term storage. Once you're done with a project, it's a good idea to move the files to a hard disk drive where the cost-per-gigabyte is much lower.

Graphics card

Photoshop CS6 features a new Mercury Graphics Engine, and this comes equipped with a number of GPU-accelerated tools, including blur effects, liquify effects, and adaptive wide-angle effects. To make use of these GPU-accelerated tools you will need a system kitted out with a graphics card from the NVIDIA Quadro lineup, something you won't find in a standard system.

At the high-end these Quadro graphics cards become super expensive, with a Quadro 6000 setting you back $4,000. Thankfully, you don't need a high-end card to power the new features found in Photoshop CS6 and we can make do with something more modest, such as the Quadro 2000.

Putting it all together

OK, let's put this all together into a complete system. Here's a complete list of components (including case and operating system):

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-3820 3.6GHz - $310
  • Motherboard: ASRock X79 Extreme6 - $250
  • RAM: 16GB kit (4GBx4), Ballistix 240-pin DIMM, DDR3 PC3-12800- $105
  • HDD: 2 x Western Digital Caviar Green WD30EZRX 3TB ($180 each) - $360
  • SSD: 2 x Corsair Force Series 3 CSSD-F120GB3A-BK 2.5" 120GB SATA III ($150 each) - $300
  • Graphics card: PNY VCQ2000D-PB Quadro 2000D 1GB - $410
  • Optical drive: LG WH12LS39 12X Blu-ray Burner - $80
  • Power supply unit: CORSAIR Enthusiast Series TX750 V2 750W power supply unit - $105
  • Case: Thermaltake V4 Black Edition chassis - $50
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional SP1 64-bit - $130

Total price: $2,100

Once you've built this system I recommend giving it a thorough stress-test to shakeout any problems before you start working on it. Adobe CS6 applications are incredibly demanding and will uncover even the smallest flaw in your system. Better to find any problems before putting the system into a production environment.

Image credit: Adobe.

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Topics: Processors, Enterprise Software, Hardware

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24 comments
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  • Alternative recommendation...

    Alternative recommendation: Get 6 HDDs; 4 mechanical, 2 SSDs.

    Even with Windows 7 I have issues with Windows and Apps playing nicely when they're not on the same HDD. It's not Microsoft's fault, it's just that the developers are lazy and always assume that both Windows and your application are on C:\.

    To avoid that headache, my suggestion is to set up four 7200 RPM HDDs in RAID 1+0 and install [i]both[/i] Windows and Photoshop on the same array. This allows for speed and redundancy.

    Workflow on 1 SSD, scratch on the other as per your original suggestion.
    olePigeon
  • You're way off on what's needed to run Cs6

    I hate to burst the over kill recommendations on your Cs6 system... First 6 runs about 15 to about 30% faster on the same hardware that runs Cs5... It's more efficient on resources... Cs6 Beta works fine on a Dual Core even Celeron 64 with 4 gigs of ram... I'm trying to understand your reasoning why you feel so much is needed...

    My Desktop runs just fine with 2 gigs of Ram and a Dual Core 3.2 Pentium and IDE UDMA 133 500gb 16mb Cache WD, and ATI 1 Gig Radeon PCI EX graphics card... Yeah I would say ideal 4 gigs would be sweet, 8 would rock for ram but seriously your out in left field. 120gb SATA SS Drives? Thought you were saying a lot of Hd Space? with new Nikon D800 36mp you'd eat that up fast.

    I could build a smoking PS machine for 1/3rd of what you mentioned and still buy me a Prime Lens for my Camera...
    wpreece
    • I have to disagree...

      I have to disagree. This isn't a hobbyist recommendation. When I still worked in the field about 10 years ago, I worked with multi-gigabyte [i]files[/i]. A 40x27/300 poster sheet with 50+ layers. Holy cow. I'd wait several minutes just for the document to load.

      I used dream about having the amount of RAM available today, and how inexpensive it is! It's incredible. You can work with RAW camera images instead of having to rely on multi-thousand dollar dedicated compression hardware.

      Pro tip: You can't have too much RAM, especially with Photoshop.
      olePigeon
    • I want to build a PC

      Hi wonder if you could make some suggestions for me to build a PC.
      I did i.t at school but non since, ive always used computers but know very little about hardware (dropped out at 16).
      After deciding I want to teach myself graphic design I now want to build a PC that can handel cs6 (even thiugh I wont have it for along time) and illistrator. On the side I want to use cubase and edit movies . Also would like to use it as a home entertainment system for music and movies (will by speakers and amp in future when Ican afford it).

      Here is a list of hardware that has been suggested to me. However I decided I would spend a couple of hunder £ more.


      Intel Core i5 3330, 3GHz - £140.58
      Gigabyte GA-Z77-DS3H - £70.52
      120Gb OCZ Vertex 2e 2.5" SSD - £66.14
      1Tb Seagate ST1000DM003 HD - £53.38
      8Gb Corsair DDR3 Vengence Jet Black 1600MHz - £29.58
      2Gb Gigabyte nVidia GTX 650 Ti £133.98
      Total £505.17

      also how do I know it fits the case .

      if you could give any adviceit would me much appriciated.
      alowe88
    • needed or not

      Im into this late but run a d800 camera and can tell you wpreece,with all due respect,that even with y 64bit win t systemrunning 2 SSDs ,4 hard mechanical high speed drives a 4 core cpu and 16gm ram the system is still slow when batch processing in CS6 or DSO Optics.
      your system may be ok for one of images but not as a tool for earning a living with.
      michael@...
  • Execrable (again)

    This year's attempt at an ultimate PS PC is worse than Adrian's last: technology has moved on but he is still stuck in 1990. There are so many errors and blocks of poor advice I am tempted to simply say, 'Head over to http://macperformanceguide.com/index_topics.html#OptimizingPhotoshopCS5 and see how it should be done'. Although that site discusses Apple hardware the same principles of computer system design and application optimisation apply to PC's.

    Highlights:
    - buy enough memory so that you don't need a scratch disk
    - max out your disk io with a PCIe SSD array
    - magnetic disks: should be on your fileserver, not your workstation
    - max out your CPU by overclocking

    Where is the discussion of the new Intel Ivybridge CPUs', the possibility of the new DELL Precision workstation (or HP's upcoming equivalent)?

    Nowhere.
    jacksonjohn
    • Discussion of the then new Iveybridge CPU's

      At the time this was written the Intel® Core™ i7-3820 was new. It is a high end CPU capable of more RAM and More PCI lanes. (64 GB-40 PCI Lanes VS 16**Quadro K2000 is not SLI Compatible.) My current build is more mainstream as you wanted to know about. I am using the Intel Core i7 -4770k. The jerk at MicroCenter said that the Enthusiast CPU line was over kill. HE WAS WRONG!! As mentioned before by other commenters the Batch command cripples your computer. You have to understand that Photoshop CS6 uses 75% of your resources. I am running 16 gig of ram and a GTX 770 GPU. When I only use the batch command to convert RAW images to TIFF it forced Windows 7 to run in Basic Mode almost instantly. Honestly I am not sure what would be better to switch out GPU for the workstation or upgrading the CPU, but I appreciate what the article has to say. Most people don't even know what the difference between a gaming GPU and the Workstation GPU, so all I say is know your stuff before you blast someone. You might be a smart guy, but an enthusiast CPU is the best option. Mainstream is basically for those who work basic computer programs, you hear conversations all the time saying that the 2011 chip is over kill. It is for Microsoft Word but not for Photoshop if your trying to make a living with it. I would say that you should be using the Xeon CPU if your a PRO.
      armyGPU
  • A benchmark would be most useful please ...

    ... so that we can see the performance improvements expected from various graphics cards ... ranging from the low-end Quadro 600 to ... the high end.
    jacksonjohn
  • Why not SSDs for OS and Applications?

    I understand using an SSD for the scratch disk, but why not for Windows and your applications as well? I don't see why you need two separate terabyte drives just to have your Windows and CS6 application installed, when both should fit on a single SSD with plenty of space to spare. That way, I would have three SSDs and a large hard disk (or perhaps an array of disks for speed and redundancy). One SSD for Windows and my apps, one to use as a scratch disk, one to use as a place for saving the working files, and use the hard drive or RAID array for mass storage of user files.
    ssaha
    • Stability, Price, and Speed

      This is just my guesswork, based on my experience. First reason is that despite advances in the field, SSDs still don't have the stability and longevity of hard disks. Maybe in another 4 or 5 years, but not now. Since we're talking about a professional-level system, that has to be a big consideration. Also, SSDs that are larger than 120Gb are blessedly expensive, so you're not going to want to use them in areas where there is a good chance of file-size creep.

      As for speed, by having a dedicated physical (not logical) hard drive for each of these areas (OS, app, scratch, and output), you can have simultaneous read-write operations to each of these areas, independent of the other areas. This can give you a speed boost that cannot be duplicated if you have (for example) both the OS and the application on the same physical drive.

      So, yes, use the SSDs just for your scratch and output files. Your scratch disk can also be used for your OS and browser temp files; your project files can be moved from your output SSD to your C: drive when the project is done or put on hold, and the drive that holds Photoshop can also hold your other large applications (such as your video editing applications).
      Muzhik1
    • I agree with ssaha.

      I have the Win 7 Pro operating system and Photoshop CS6 on the SSD drive. As to Photoshop, the more RAM the better. I have 24gb of RAM, 6 Western Digital 1tb Black Caviar drives in a combination of RAID 0 and RAID 5. When you start pushing images through NIK HDR and building complex panoramics in Photoshop, you can really appreciate the ram and the scratch disk on RAID 0. It makes a big differenct to cache your full size resolution bridge previews on the SSD drive (or RAID 0) as well.

      Before I built this PC, I had 8gb of ram and no SSD's or RAID 0 and when I blended 6 or 7 images in HDR, I might as well go eat dinner. Now, the most complex tasks takes at most a few minutes. I am aready looking at building a new pc this fall with 64gb of ram and the Intel i7-3930 6 core processor on the Asus P9x79 mobo.
      William Welch
  • cs5 breaking point? semi-benchmarks I guess

    I have the 32-bit version of cs5 and I was having trouble using content-aware-fill and/or layers on 3GB of RAM. didn't matter mow much scratch disk I had. I could not do content-aware fill on those telephone lines without getting a ps memory error. it was a 94MP image, 32940x2859 pixels.
    so let's project.
    projection that on a 32GiB RAM box, (32940*2859/(3*2^30/2))*((32*2^30)/1e9)=2.00907648 GP where you have this same difficulty editing a 2GigaPixel image.

    projection that on a 64GiB RAM box (you need an i7-3960x or i7-3970x), (32940*2859/(3*2^30/2))*((64*2^30)/1e9)=4.01815296 GP where you have this same difficulty editing a 4GigaPixel image.

    projection that on a 8GiB RAM box, (32940*2859/(3*2^30/2))*((8*2^30)/1e6)=502.26912 MP where you have this same difficulty editing a 502MegaPixel image.


    the numbers given in an earlier post (2nd I think)
    (40in*27in*300dpi^2)/1e6=97.2MP this is about the same size as the pano image I have in these projections. but ps CS5 kept breaking with only 3GB RAM with with a 32-bit machine, you just can't make things better because the cpu can only address 4GiB and the video card takes up 512MiB-1GiB of that address space...



    the /2 is in there because I am assuming you are running a 64-bit box, because 64-bit boxes (well, not sure about this), are addressable as 64-bit or 32-bit or as any other bits - I guess that's determined by photoshop. Windows seems to use double the RAM on 64-bit boxes. so I thought the same problem would occur on applications as well possibly, but not sure (doesn't seem like it, but it depends on how you write your code and what data types you use!). IF and ONLY IF ps doesn't double its memory use on 64-bit machines, then you can remove the /2, which will double your GP or MP capability.

    these numbers are minimums at which point you will have problems, it is recommended you use smaller images. things that take up RAM are features like content-aware-fill, layers, and similar features. scratch disk makes no difference on these 2 features in CS5.
    and similar new features also may or may not in CS6, no guarantee, just requires testing.
    jmichae3
  • Adrian, I Need advice on upgrading for photo editing, can you help?

    Wish I had found your blog post on the "ultimate PS 6 PC" before I bought a pc a few months ago. I was thrilled to read your post on ZDNet, that specifically addresses my issue.  Not that I could afford the full system you specified, but I'm not broke either so I thought I'd try to improve what I have now. 

    Would you consider giving me some advice on upgrading a Gateway DX4860-UB33p? Just an i5 Intel, but "out of the box" it really has been working well with PS5. Even with 300 to 400 mb photos. I'll upgrade to PS 6 by leasing it until I can buy it. However,  after installing a new program, I'm having issues. Started searching Internet,  and found your post. 

     So far,  I bought from Crucial (but haven't installed yet): 16GB RAM (4x4), (1) 128GB SSD, and (1) 2TB Seagate Internal drive. I'll probably add another 2TB Seagate Internal HD, so I'm also concerned about the power supply.

    After buying those upgrades, I found out I need a new video card. OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 6.0 tech support says I need a card with "Open GL 2.0 and 256 MB (minimum) of dedicated memory". They're suggestions:
    NVIDID GeForce 9800
    NVIDIA GeForce GT 555m
    NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GSO
    NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT
    NVIDIA Quadro FX 580

    Gateway was unable to tell me which card is compatible with the DX4860 UB33p, and of course I'll need a new power supply (450w minimum), correct?

    Would you be willing to help me figure this out?  I'll probably add another 
    2TB Seagate Internal HD, so also concerned about the power supply. Any advice you can offer would be appreciated! Basically, which card is compatible and what power supply to buy?

    Thank you for your time Adrian!
    Kindest Regards,
    VaPhotog1
    VaPhotog1
    • Recommendations

      I doubt you need a PSU with 450watts. But it's at least in a reasonable range. Everything above 450W has to be a monster machine (like OC+TOP GPU+hungry CPU or even Crossfire/SLI)

      About the gpu, i don't know about your price limit, but it would suffice to go for a cheap AMD Radeon Card to get at least decent GPGPU Power.
      Anthony John Calabria
    • Recommendations 2.0

      Googled your strange code, never heard of "gateway". It has a 300W power supply.

      CPU 77W + System 50W + 50 savety = 177W for your current PC. So you have a rough range of 133W for a GPU. So the max GPU would be a AMD Radeon HD 7850 (130W) for ~200$
      Anthony John Calabria
  • CUDA is NOT supported by CS6

    I can't believe that so many people really spread the word about Nvidia GPU's and Photoshop.

    Like you can see here: http://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/kb/photoshop-cs6-gpu-faq.html


    Mercury Graphics Engine

    The Mercury Graphics Engine (MGE) represents features that use video card processor, or GPU, acceleration. In Photoshop CS6, this new engine delivers near-instant results when editing with key tools such as Liquify, Warp, Lighting Effects, and the Oil Paint filter. The new MGE delivers unprecedented responsiveness for a fluid feel as you work.

    MGE is new to Photoshop CS6 and uses both the OpenGL and OpenCL frameworks. It does ---->not
    Anthony John Calabria
    • Damn character limit oO

      It does NOT support Cuda framework.

      The CPU you recommend is bad. Too expensive, with the 2011 Socket board. And only as fast as a 2600k of SB Gen.

      Just get a Ivy 3770 (K) or Xeon(1230V2/1245V2) if you shoot for HT, they are a lot cheaper and in most cases faster.
      Anthony John Calabria
      • GPU

        About the Graphicscard.

        Go for AMD. They rock at GPGPU Computing.
        A 7970ghz is as expensive as a quadro 2000 but is 18.5 times faster @ opencl
        And nearly 7 times faster as a quadro 6000 (wich costs 7fold)
        And at least 6 times faster than the Nvida GTX 6xx series (compared 7970ghz against gtx680)
        Anthony John Calabria
  • Powersupply oversized

    Your PSU is totally oversized.
    quadro 2000 (62 watts) + 3820 (130Watts) + System (~70watts) + 50Watts for security = 312 Watts.

    I don't understand why people feel the urge to go for this monster psu's
    Anthony John Calabria
  • Please help

    Hi everyone I am not a tech guy at all but I purchased adobe master collection cs6 to give a try at animation and building websites. Anyway enough about that, I am having a tough time understanding which computer to get as mine is very old. Can anyone give me a suggestion as to what all in one or tower and monitor I should buy. I do all my electronics purchases at best buy also, I don't know I just like the place. Thanks
    joshuamaness