Why does Photoshop dog it?

Why does Photoshop dog it?

Summary: There's no good reason why a MacBook Pro should be faster than a Mac Pro. And yet, for the standard application in photo-editing workflows, it is.


A recent post on the Diglloyd Mac Performance Guide blog asks how a MacBook Pro Retina can run faster for photography than a 12-core Mac Pro? It's a great question with a better answer by professional photographer, developer, and blogger Lloyd Chambers.

Yes, the MacBook is less expensive, more portable, and offers a quarter of the cores to process data than the Mac Pro. So, what's up?

Chambers ran down a number of questions about the performance similarities, such as OS X's part in the mix. But he said that the culprit is Adobe and its continuing refusal to bring Photoshop's multitasking capabilities to use more than two to four cores for multi-thread-able tasks.

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom do a marginal job on most everything: Photoshop typically uses two to four CPU cores (less than two on some common operations, up to eight or so with certain obscure commands). Adobe Lightroom does better (three to six cores, highly variable, serialized I/O, and file handling egads), but neither gets anywhere near using 12 cores, certainly nothing close to that for any common operations.

According to Chambers, it's "indefensible" that Adobe Photoshop CS6 runs faster on a 6-core machine than with 12 cores.

I would add two points to Chamber's excellent analysis: First, Apple's slowness in bringing out its next-generation workstation must share part of the blame for Adobe's inaction. The Mac Pro for a long time has been a mostly static target while the "slower" machines in the lineup, the MacBook Pro and the iMac, keep getting faster buses and faster processors. Adobe can track the performance of the machines with four cores and show progress to its customers.

According to a recent post on the MacTrast blog, the delay of the next-generation Mac Pro is due to the rollout schedule for the next round of Thunderbolt controllers the ramp up of panel production for a 27-inch Retina display.

Anything is possible. Or not.

Meanwhile, the We Want a New Mac Pro page on Facebook has 20,000 likes.

Secondly, there's no serious contender to Photoshop in the professional market. Apple appears to have surrendered the category. If Apple had expanded the feature set of Aperture and made it a real competitor for professional workflows, then perhaps Adobe might get moving on increasing multi-threading for its base of Mac Pro users.

But no. With its cash base, Apple can afford to produce a new Mac workstation. It also can afford to drive the market in longstanding content production workflows. Where's the sugar?

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Topics: Apple, Enterprise Software, Laptops, Processors, Software Development

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  • Don't forget the solid state advantage.

    The on board ssd card in a retina runs through a 6Gbps modified SATA interface, providing a claimed sequential read of 500MB/s. that's a major widening of the bottleneck between storage and memory.

    By the time you getto the memory, although the MacBook also has ddr3, it is clocked at 1066 to the retina's 1600. By moving the ram chips on board, apple have actually increased their bandwidth 7.8% over the exact same chips on a MacBook Pro without retina, and a 10% bandwidth increase over the pro.

    These factors combined with the processor advancements; they serve up data much faster to the cores to use. More core support is important, but so is getting the information into the cores.
    • Excellent point...

      I've been pushing SSD's (Solid State Drive) to my clients for about the last year. Amazing what this upgrade does for performance. Photoshop boots in a couple of seconds compared to about 15 seconds on my Mac mini running CS6. Of course, they're not cheap. An OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G 480 GB goes for $570. But if all you do is photo editing, photo asset management, 3D rendering, animation, video, and anything with high I/O demands, than, an SSD is a must have.
  • *20% over pro

  • Sigh

    Well I tried telling Kingsley-Hughes and Harris that they needed an overclocked quad core CPU and SSD's ... not hard disks and expensive Thunderbolt peripherals ... but it didn't go down too well. I try telling MAC enthusiasts that a properly configured Windows PC was better than their expensive machines. Doesn't go down too well either. (I appreciate of course that customers of professionals expect to see the flash of Apple kit and retina display, so you're gonna have to keep the MacBook (or maybe just the iPad?))

    The other key component is a compatible GPU acceleration graphics card. Not necessarily one of the expensive business ones ... see:

    Speaking of which: isn't Adobe's strategy to max out the superior parallelism of a graphics card ... not rely on CPU cores?

    And please don't get me started on the tremendous value of Adobe and MSFT subscriptions. Yeah, you get a ton of programs you don't need and the changes you need for the programs you use ... coming to a cinema to you soon, maybe.

    Regrettably I think MSFT is following APPL down the consumer route and professional quality functionality and performance are taking a back seat. Still we'll all be able to brandish our lovely iPad's and Surface tablets and pay large subscriptions to get at our programs and data in the cloud :-(
    • SIGH

      What do Media Access Control enthusiasts have to do with Photoshop or Apple?
  • I don't want a new Mac Pro, David (I'll stick with my 2008 8-core) but

    I gave the page on Facebook a like because I realise people in business need one. And, no, an equivalent Windows machine wouldn't be cheaper. If you can actually find one, the price will be much the same.
    Laraine Anne Barker
  • No problem on Windows...

    Premier CS6 on my Windows 7 workstation keeps 8 Xeon threads (4 cores + hyperthreads) at 90% or higher when doing rendering.

    Maybe Adobe has decided to treat Apple the way Apple has treated some Adobe products over the last couple of years.
    • i agree

      My win 7 pc with an 8core fx 350 @ gets 95-100% used by photoshop. Maybe... adobe doesnt care to optimize as much on the platform that has the smaller market share?
  • Adobe Has No Competition

    No point blaming Adobe for its (lack of ) response to market forces: if it's not good enough, use something else instead. On Linux we don't have star apps, instead we have powerhouse teams of apps. For example, compare the team of Gimp + Inkscape + Blender, which offers a mix of raster graphics, scalable vector graphics and 3D capability. Can Photoshop match this? Not a chance.