Build-Your-Own 'Ultimate' Photoshop PC guide

Build-Your-Own 'Ultimate' Photoshop PC guide

Summary: Probably one of the most of the most-requested features here on Hardware 2.0 is for a 'Build-Your-Own PC' plan for the 'Ultimate' Photoshop system. Why Photoshop? Because it's a big, heavy application that when pushed hard can really tax a system. The better your hardware, the better your Photoshop experience will be.Well, here is is - my 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide.


Probably one of the most of the most-requested features here on Hardware 2.0 is for a 'Build-Your-Own PC' plan for the 'Ultimate' Photoshop system. Why Photoshop? Because it's a big, heavy application that when pushed hard can really tax a system. The better your hardware, the better your Photoshop experience will be.

Well, here is is - my 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide.

Note: I'm not much of a Photoshop user - most of my 'art' tends to end up looking like the 4chan Rage Guy, so don't bother asking me any Photoshop-related questions!

On a more serious note: While I'm specifically looking at a rig suited to Photoshop (and in particular Photoshop CS5), this plan would work for any of the big Adobe products - such as Premiere Pro or even the 'full' Master Collection suite.

A Photoshop rig needs three things:

  • A fast, quad-core processor
  • Lots of RAM
  • Lots of big hard drive

Let's take a look at these three things in a little more detail.


Some facts - Intel CPUs trump AMD when it comes to Photoshop, speed matters and and pushing the cores beyond four doesn't have a huge effect (here's one benchmark to support all of my statements). So you're building a Photoshop rig I'd start by putting an Intel Core i7 at its heart, such as the 3.4GHz Core i7-2600 part (which turbo-boosts up to 3.8GHz). This is a $300 part but it's a great start to any Photoshop rig.


You need RAM, and lots of it. I'd say consider 8GB a minimum but take that to 12-16GB if your motherboard allows. There's not need to get fancy and by fast gaming RAM here, in fact you're better off sticking to the basic stuff which is more stable.

Stick with RAM from Crucial or Kingston and you won't go wrong.


A Photoshop rig needs masses of storage, not just because the application is huge, and not because the output is massive, but because in order to get the best from Photoshop, you need multiple drives.

Ideally you need at least four drives. One for the OS, one for the application, one for output and one to act as a 'scratch disk' (the Adobe name for 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 not ideal. Running everything on a single disk is going to create bottlenecks.

If you want to push the boat out, put the scratch disk on two RAID 0'ed disks (which spreads the data across two disks, improving performance) and the data on a RAID 1 (mirrored) or RAID 5 array for performance and added data security.

Note: More on RAID arrays here.

If you wanted to push the boat out further, you could go for Solid State Drives (SSDs), but because you want multiple drives the cost of the system will quickly become astronomical. The idea of a RAID array of SSDs brings tears to my eyes ...

My suggestion is that you pick up for large, fast drives, such as the 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black which will set you back some $160 per drive.

What else ... ?

One more thing you might want to consider if you are planning on using Adobe Premiere Pro is which graphics card you're going to install. This is because Premiere Pro supports GPU acceleration when using certain NVIDIA GPUs.

Putting it all together!

OK, let's put this all together into a complete system:

  • Intel Core i7-2600 3.4GHz - $300
  • MSI P67A-GD65 (B3) LGA 1155 Intel P67 - $180
  • 2 x (16GB) Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1333 - $162
  • 4 x Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB - $360
  • ASUS ENGTX570 GeForce GTX 570 - $350
  • LG WH10LS30 10X Blu-ray Burner - $70
  • CORSAIR Enthusiast Series TX750 V2 750W power supply unit - $105
  • Thermaltake V4 Black Edition chassis - $50
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Professional SP1 64-bit - $130

Total price: $1,707

There you go. I bet you're glad I steered you away from getting SSDs!

Topics: Hardware, Intel, Storage, Windows

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  • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

    But, gosh, couldn't you do this cheaper and better with free Linux applications?
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide


      Those so called Linux things don't exactly match up to professional grade software.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

        @Cylon Centurion 0005

        This is true and the group of people who use photoshop are not linux users or want to become one.
      • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

        @Cylon Centurion 0005

        So my desktop has a core i7-980x processor that is overclocked to 4.3 GHz 12gb of ddr3 ram windows 7 ultimate 64-bit Intel 80gb ssd two gtx 480's in sli as well as two WD velociraptors in RAID 0 and Photoshop opens in 5 seconds for me :D
      • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

        @Cylon Centurion 0005
        As a Linux User of any degree of savvy would know, you build your machine, install W.I.N.E., install PhotoShop and you're done. If you build it right, there are no discernible performance hits.

        Don't like W.I.N.E. you s-a-y... Well it's just forty smackers for Crossover, a professional and very well done environment like W.I.N.E. only 100% better! PhotoShop runs really well in Crossover!

        Others may just run Windows in a VM and install PhotoShop in Windows as usual while running Linux as a Host O.S. While needing to be a bit more savvy to do this, it works fine for those who build their machines for this purpose.

        There are Linux/Unix solutions. I will agree, some are better than others as one would expect. So as always, it comes down to one choice; Where and how much do you want to pay?
        The Rifleman
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

      And install on chromebook ;)
    • Re: Linux ...

      @Bill4 I have used Linux exclusively for over 10 years. Apps like Gimp and Krita are very good graphic design tools, BUT they don't compare with Photoshop and all of its cutting edge proprietary features. In fact, I would LOVE to see Photoshop and other Adobe products ported to Linux. But until that happens, you won't see graphic artists climbing on board with Linux. Video is a whole different animal since major studios have ported their cutting edge video software to Linux. But for the graphic artists I know, Macs with Adobe tools are still the gold standard. When you go to the high end with most software, proprietary still far surpasses free software in terms of capabilities. Not in terms of quality, but indeed in terms of capabilities. There are still things you can do with Photoshop that you can not do with Gimp. Its that simple.
      George Mitchell
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

      @Bill4 Cheaper, yes. Better, no.
  • Hybrid or mixed SSD hard disks?

    Would using a 64GB SSD for either the system disk, the application disk or both (2 SSD's) significantly improve performance? 64GB SSD's now start at $100.

    Also, what about hybrid SSD+hard disks? They tend to work almost as fast as SSD's for many applications.
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

      I was thinking the same thing. If you add two 120gb SSD drives, you would only raise the total build price minimally (2 SSD's would cost approx $200 per 120 gb drive while the drives he suggested were $160 each). You would loose some drive capacity, but having the SSD's do a great deal boosting performance. BTW, I have a box from 4 or 5 years ago that I built for general purpose but use photoshop on and I'm very happy with it's performance for the little photoshop development I do. And it's no where near as good as what he spec'ed. In that I have an ASUS P5B-E mobo, core 2 duo 2.3 ghz proc, one 60gb OCZ SSD with OS and Applications, 2 x 250 Western Digital hard drives, and ONLY 2gb RAM. Photoshop opens very fast for me and I can have multiple pictures/images open at the same time. Occasionally it bogs down with applying a filter of some sort, but it's not that often.
      • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide


        SSDs are great but you still need a big platter disk somewhere. A standard photo file now is something like 40mb a pop and hard drive space fills up quick.
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide


      Do what I did and have on 80gb sad and 2 10k rpm 600gb velociraptors In a RAID 0 array for data storage it works wonders
  • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

    If I were to make textures like grass, wood, stone, rock, bricks, and anything at 1024x1024, no way why I would want to use Photoshop for that since I'd be using GIMP instead.

    The bottom line is, it all depends on what you want to do with Photoshop. If you don't need all that nice features of Photoshop, then go with GIMP instead. :)
    Grayson Peddie
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

      @Grayson Peddie

      If you don't NEED a car ride a moped. No thanks...
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

      @Grayson Peddie
      Interviewer: So, you have have Photoshop skills?
      Linuxgeek: No. I use GIMP on Linux. It's just as good! and it's free!
      Interviewer: Thank you. Next!
  • Triple monitors

    Nice article but forgot one thing that will elevate your Photoshop productivity: three HD monitors, one of them in portrait orientation. The monitor for your main photo processing should be the more expensive IPS (in-plane switching) type. Since we are talking about the "ultimate" system, let's get real: the main monitor should be something like 2560x1600 IPS, around $2000. Some color-realistic monitors cost $5000 or more. If you are talking "ultimate" then you can't ignore these for Photoshop work. Ultimate means ultimate, costing more than $10,000 for the whole system.
    Benjie Dog
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

      @Benjie Dog
      Thanks for bringing the monitors into the package. So often the monitors are forgotten about when these "Ultimate" packages are created. I'd like to see some specific monitor models and prices mentioned in the article.
    • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

      @Benjie Dog - you forgot something, too. Unless you are a software pirate, you need to pay for Photoshop itself.

      If you ARE a pirate, then you can remove Windows 7 from the shopping list...
      • RE: The 'Ultimate' Photoshop rig guide

        @alan_r_cam <br>Do the math. When I said "more than" $10,000, I had in mind not just Photoshop CS5 but in fact the ENTIRE Creative Suite CS5 (about $2,500). The monitors are $500 + $500 + $2000. The computer box is about $2000. A professional color-realistic printer for $2000. A color calibrator for $500. Total so far $10,000. I said "more than $10,000" to include odds and ends.
        Benjie Dog
    • Oh yes please

      @Benjie Dog
      I do like your thinking. That seriously is Ultimate but my use of photoshop is sporadic and humble. Justification for such a beautiful configuration is truly professional grade. I suspect I am not an ultimate user, in fact I am fairly certain I am not.