Build a Powerful PC for Photoshop and Other Imaging Applications

18th August 2016 Image Editing

Our comprehensive guide to getting the absolute best bang for buck when getting a new PC for imaging work. Normal office/gaming PC builds are not at all optimised for imaging work, so we show you the best approach for building powerful machines specifically for this type of work.

Over the last 5 years this well proven formula for performance, which evolved from our own intense use of PCs here at Image Science, has been used by hundreds of our clients to obtain exceptionally powerful PCs for imaging work.



Introduction

Creating an optimised PC for Photoshop/Lightroom has become significantly easier in recent times thanks to recent technological advances and price drops. That said, there are still some significant design differences between a PC that is really designed for efficiency with imaging, and your regular office or home PC.

A primary reason you now get significantly more bang for your buck is the growth in digital capture versus film scanning - this change means the machine is able to do a lot more for the same money, simply because average files sizes are counter intuitively so much smaller than they used to be. For example a high resolution scan of 35mm film is very often 300 megabytes or more, and most digital camera files of the same quality are 100 megabytes or even less - thanks to a much higher signal to noise ratio with digitally captured images. That's a two thirds saving in data processing right there. That said, what has been saved in the size of single files has more than been lost in the sheer volumes of files we're now dealing with - people are shooting/generating many more files per shoot, and therefore doing far more batch processing and also formally exotic things things like High Dynamic Range (HDR) and stitching. It is now common practice to have very large libraries of files open - files that we want to be able to access near instantly.

This fundamental shift from large, single file processing to small, batch style processing means we now need to build a Photoshop PC a bit differently from 5 to 10 years ago if we want to maximise performance while minimising budget. This article helps you choose the best performing PC for Photoshop, Lightroom or any other image editing application.

A PC built with our formular can literally save you time every single day by being responsive and snappy even under a very heavy load, and the budget required is quite reasonable - about $2000 for a professional level machine, and up to around $4000 for a truly extreme machine.

The Parts List - Then

Way back in 2003, when I hand built my first dedicated Photoshop PC, my order of where to put dollars from most to least, was this:

  • Monitor + Calibrator
  • Ram
  • Processor
  • Disks
  • Fast Optical Disc Burner
  • Motherboard
  • Any video card with a DVI digital output
  • Case

This PC lasted me for 7 years of professional, intense daily use here at Image Science - a business with very heavy image processing demands. Hand built by me, it cost over $3000 at the time (and that is not counting the monitor/calibrator).

7 years is an exceptionally good run for a PC, and the extra consideration, time, and dollars were definitely well spent. Very few people get 7 years out of a PC especially in a demanding environment. Clients would often comment that they'd never seen such a quick machine - even years after it was first built. This PC originally performed so much better than off the shelf systems for similar prices, that I am convinced there is a lot of value in having a custom machine built if you're an image maker.

Of course time changes all things - for example, fast quality optical disc burners which were rather expensive in 2003 are now $25 and commodity items - furthermore, I wouldn't dream of backing up all but the most important files on a disc - I actually now back up over the internet.

There is a lot of value in having a custom machine built if you're an image maker.

The Parts List - Now

The order of where to put dollars has now shifted to:

  • Monitor + Calibrator (this always comes first!)
  • Disks
  • Fast Ram
  • Video Card
  • Processor
  • Motherboard
  • Case

Note: This article won't discuss monitor or calibrators. Having a good monitor is utterly essential and where you should spend at least half your total budget if not more as they are unquestionably the most important tools in your image making chain from the quality perspective. There's no point having the fastest computer in the universe if you're making constant colour mistakes because your on-screen representation is not accurate. You can read about monitors for high quality image making and monitor calibrators in our article to the right.

This is my current recommended setup for a complete, professional level digital darkroom:

From a quality perspective, the most important things are:

  • Monitor + Calibrator - Eizo CG or NEC PA monitor, an i1Display Pro calibrator
  • Printer - Epson P800 plus some custom profiles for your favourite papers
  • The Actual PC
SKU Price (inc) Qty.
Eizo ColorEdge CG247X 24" Monitor Eizo ColorEdge CG247X 24" Monitor
HECG_CG247X $2,394
NEC PA242W 24" Monitor NEC PA242W 24" Monitor
Free Insured Nationwide Shipping With All NEC Monitors!
HNEC_PA242W-BK-PX $1,289
X-Rite i1Display Pro X-Rite i1Display Pro
Free Custom Printer Profile With This Monitor Calibrator!
HX_EODPro $359
Epson SureColor P800 A2 Inkjet Printer Epson SureColor P800 A2 Inkjet Printer
Two Free Custom Printer Profiles With This Printer!
HEP_SCP800 $1,745

Image Science Designed PCs

We have carefully designed and tested these systems (follow this link to compare them):

  • The Image Science Performance Imaging System - For power users and professionals, a very fast machine (around $2000 to $2500)
  • The Image Science Extreme Imaging System - a more extreme system that pays a little less attention to the budget and will run rings around pretty much every other PC on the planet from an imaging perspective (around $4000)
  • NEW in 2016 - The Image Science Extreme Imaging System - M2 NVMe Version - a simplified version of the extreme system with a new 2500 MB/s main drive - that's 5 times quicker than even very fast SATA SSDs.

(Note: the price fluctuates based on the $AUD, and the exact configurations you choose, but are usually close to the listed figures).

Each system is discussed in more detail below, but we have tried to design systems that balance the performance needs with other factors like (obviously) price, but also noise, heat, and upgradability into the future. We have avoided anything exotic and risky to system stability, such as overclocking, or SSDs in RAID configurations.

We have arranged with the good people of AusPC Market to have these machines pre-loaded into their website for quick and easy purchase. You can also split the systems into individual parts and change, add or remove anything as suits your particular needs. AusPC will beautifully assemble the system and deliver it to your door. You can even arrange an inexpensive on-site support warranty through them, and we recommend that you do. AusPC having been building these PCs for our in house use and for our clients for many years now, and feedback has been universally positive.

Please contact us directly for the supply of your monitor, and calibrator, or if you have any questions about these systems before purchase. We are more than happy to help.

The Performance System

The performance system will suit enthusiasts and offers excellent imaging performance on a modest budget.

Excellent Imaging Performance - for around $2000

The Image Science Performance Image Editing System

This is the system that will suit most people with significant imaging needs and a moderate budget.

Here's a direct link to this system on AusPC Market's website that you can use to directly purchase and/or further configure this system - Image Science Performance Image Editing System

To get one made as is, just add the system to your cart and complete the checkout - you can balance the budget by choosing the minimum spec which will still provide you with a very powerful machine, or you can 'up spec' it all the way.

The video card offers good performance, is 10 bit compatible, and critically is very compatible and very stable with the GUI acceleration offered in Photoshop CS4 and later. There are faster cards for games etc but for Photoshop this is more than adequate and very stable and well tested.

The CPU is an up to date 4 core processor that offers excellent performance. The motherboard, power supply & case have been selected for easy of future upgradability and general good performance across the board e.g. low noise and good looks.

Additions you might want to consider:

  • Internal camera card reader - Card readers are generally quicker that using the USB connection that is provided with your camera and are good if you regularly download high volumes of files from multiple cards.
  • On site support contract - they're not expensive, about $120 for three years, and if any hardware should happen to break, this will keep you up running. While all the parts come with their own various warranties, this is a better and easier long term strategy for keeping your system up and running with the minimum of fuss.
  • Add a recommended Monitor, Printer, Calibrator

The Extreme System 2016

If you are looking for a very very powerful machine and budget is less of an issue the Extreme Edition System is your best option - now with amazingly fast IO thanks to am NVMe disk => 2500 MB/s!

Best Imaging Performance - for around $3000+

The Image Science Extreme Image Editing System 2016 Edition

This is a new system moving to a more modern platform than our classic Extreme system (see below). You sacrifice a bit in terms of raw brute force processing speed, but you gain a massive increase in disk throughput. The reduction in CPU is probably only of concern if you're planning on doing very computationally expensive things like 3D rendering and Mathematica etc. - it won't cause much difference in typical imaging apps and the gain in disk speed will more than make up for it.

Here's a direct link to this system on AusPC Market's website that you can use to directly purchase and/or further configure this system - Image Science Extreme Image Editing System (2016 M2 NVMe update).

To get one made as is, just add the system to your cart and complete the checkout - you can balance the budget by choosing the minimum spec which will still provide you with a very powerful machine, or you can 'up spec' it all the way.

This system is built around the core of a new NVMe solid state drive - which offers up to 5 times the performance of already blisteringly fast SSDs - up to an astonishing 2500 MB/s. This drive is so fast it is used for both your operating system and scratch files, eliminating the need for a dedicated scratch disk as found in our other systems. For extra volume storage you can use either another SSD or a traditional spinning disk.

Additions you might want to consider:

  • Internal camera card reader - Card readers are generally quicker that using the USB connection that is provided with your camera and are good if you regularly download high volumes of files from multiple cards.
  • On site support contract - they're not expensive, about $120 for three years, and if any hardware should happen to break, this will keep you up running. While all the parts come with their own various warranties, this is a better and easier long term strategy for keeping your system up and running with the minimum of fuss.
  • Add a recommended Monitor, Printer, Calibrator

The Extreme System - Classic

Looking for maximum compute power?  This is the one for you.

Brute Processing Performance - from $3000 to $6000

The Image Science Extreme Image Editing System - Classic Edition

A beast of a system built with 6 and 8 core processors for very computationally intensive work. For most we recommend the newer model above, but if you need brute force CPU power for something, then this one is still the way to go.

Here's a direct link to this system on AusPC Market's website that you can use to directly purchase and/or further configure this system - Image Science Extreme Image Editing System.

To get one made as is, just add the system to your cart and complete the checkout - you can balance the budget by choosing the minimum spec which will still provide you with a very powerful machine, or you can 'up spec' it all the way.

This system uses 3 fast SSDs like our performance machine, but is pared with a more powerful CPU and motherboard platform.

This system is powered by a top of the line i7 multi core CPU offering ~50% greater raw performance than the best standard i7 CPU as is used in the Performance system. This system can be configured with up to 64GB of RAM - and is built on a very high quality motherboard, power supply, cooling and case foundation with plenty of room for further expansion in the future. The video card is also notable - it's general performance is high, supporting silky smooth GPU acceleration in Photoshop, but it's also a 'workstation level' card, offering fully working support for 10 bit output over DisplayPort to the latest high end monitors. It is going to offer significant performance gains going forward, particularly with the rendering of very smooth gradients and colour accurate deep shadow tones and very importantly, it is very stable with Photoshop's GPU acceleration, unlike a lot of other cards.

Additions you might want to consider:

  • Internal camera card reader - Card readers are generally quicker that using the USB connection that is provided with your camera and are good if you regularly download high volumes of files from multiple cards.
  • On site support contract - they're not expensive, about $120 for three years, and if any hardware should happen to break, this will keep you up running. While all the parts come with their own various warranties, this is a better and easier long term strategy for keeping your system up and running with the minimum of fuss.
  • Add a recommended Monitor, Printer, Calibrator

Building your own PC

You can of course build your own PC and it's surprisingly easy these days - pretty much just follow the pictures in your motherboard manual and plug doo-dad A into slot B etc. It's quite educational as well, and gives you a real sense of what's going on inside your PC box.

That being said, the professionals still do it much better. For one, they have a lot of experience to draw on and will know which parts work best together - so they can advise in this area and do a check of the parts you've chosen to make sure everything will play nicely together. They're also much better at cabling than a lay person, and therefore creating a really reliable and neat, tidy build. I thought I was pretty good at this till I got my latest PC made by AusPC and it boggles the mind how nicely they've built this machine.

I would advise to get a good PC store to build it for you - the fee is usually only about $50 which is well worth it if it's a good company and more often than not, they will do it for free. My favourite place for this is definitely AusPCMarket, and their excellent assembly service is free.

Motivation & Goals

From my perspective, the thing I desire most from my PC is responsiveness - even under stress. I want it to feel snappy and my day to day tasks to execute quickly and without annoying lags. I am willing to sacrifice some performance under unusual circumstances (e.g. when manipulating extremely large files) for the sake of general performance when dealing with lots of files and my day to day activities.

To significantly improve responsiveness we need to look at the most serious bottleneck points - those things that tie up a computer for a significant amount of time to the exclusion of other activities. Almost always, this involves disk operations. When computers are dealing with disks, even the fastest disks, they are operating at least 10 times slower than when they are dealing with RAM. So what takes 1 second in RAM takes 10 to 20 or more seconds with disks.

The answer therefore seems to be to load the machine with more and more RAM so that as much as possible is done in RAM and not with the disk. And certainly a good amount of RAM is essential, but there's a flaw in this theory - for one, Photoshop will always write a scratch file to disk no matter how much RAM you have, meaning Photoshop will always be significantly disk bound no matter how much RAM you have (see note below about RAM Disks for a possible solution to this).

The other flaw in this theory is that RAM is volatile - when we turn off the computer, we lose what was in the RAM. Since the goal of any Photoshop session is to be productive, we're going to want to save what we produce, so that reality is that loading and saving files is a huge part of the work of a Photoshop PC. When you're browsing your library in Lightroom and, for example, checking alternate versions of files to decide which is the best, your machine is constantly accessing the database which is stored on disk.

Disks

So there is no question that currently it is of critical importance to have very fast disk access in your machine to improve it's overall responsiveness. This has been well known for a while, but the emphasis has shifted even more in this direction given the change from large, single file processing to the 'many small files' processing model. Fortunately, at the same time this need has become more important, there has been a real change in the PC landscape - the most important change in PC structure for at least the last decade - SSDs: Solid State Drives. While these are still relatively expensive compared to traditional hard drive, they are quickly coming down in price and affordable options are definitely on the table now for anyone building a PC.

Imaging machines should have several hard drives in them, not just one fast one. Indeed, three is really a minimum, although 4 or more is even better. They needn't all be solid state drives, but ideally at least two of them. Fortunately, they don't have to be particularly high capacity disks - speed is more important than space, although you will need at least one high capacity drive for longer term storage.

Both Photoshop and Windows use a disk based system for virtual memory known as paging. Put simply, if you run out of RAM, your computer will start using a small amount of disk space as if it is RAM. It will take the least important stuff in your RAM and write it out to disk to make more room in the available RAM for what you currently need. When you need back what is now stored on the disk, it will load the data back in from the disk and write something else back out to the disk. So while you might have 4GB of RAM in your machine, the computer happily pretends it has 8 or more GB in practice through this virtual memory technique. Now - Photoshop and Windows both do this - but unfortunately they don't co-ordinate this system (Photoshop has its own memory management subsystem unlike almost all other applications that simply let the operating system do this for them).

If you allow both Photoshop and Windows to use the same hard drive for virtual memory you can run into dramatic slowdowns surprisingly quickly. If you create a few layers in Photoshop on top of your 100Mb file, you will notice that the file size in Photoshop goes up rapidly - it's not uncommon for a fairly simple file edit to result in a 1GB+ file. If Photoshop has to swap some of this out to disk, and Windows also feels it is running out of room at the same time, Windows and Photoshop will thrash back and forth if they're using the same disk and your system will crawl to a halt. So it is critical that the Photoshop Scratch and Windows Page disk be different disks.

Of course, if your disk is fast enough, then you may not need a dedicated drive. In 2016 NVMe solid state drives are becoming affordable and are typically 5 times the speed of the fastest SATA SSDs. With these systems, you get better performance with having a single drive than using multiple drives (although of course if you have the budget then having multiple NVMe SSDs is even better, but it will get rather expensive!).

Hard drive 1 - Boot Drive

Your primary boot and programs drive should now be an SSD. 120GB SSDs are now thoroughly affordable and have transfer rates of 500MB per second or more. They are silent, low power, low heat and a joy to use over conventional hard drives.
NVMe drives, while still expensive, offer speeds of up to 2500MB/s. Recommended if you have the budget.

Hard drive 2 - Photoshop Scratch

Consider having a very small but very fast second hard drive that is used exclusively for Photoshop scratch files. Not required if your main drive is a super fast NVMe drive, but should be used if you're using a tradtional SATA SSD.

Hard drive 3 - Fast Working Drive

I store current working projects on this drive, as well as my Lightroom catalogues and so on. This is also an SSD drive, which means all my current and day to day stuff is very quickly accessible.

Hard drive 4 - Storage Drive

This is a 7200RPM terabyte+ storage drive where I store projects that I am not currently intensively working on. It's still quite quick and it has lots of space!

Hard drive 1 - Boot Drive

Your primary boot and programs drive should now be an SSD. 250GB SSDs are now thoroughly affordable and have transfer rates of 500MB per second or more. They are silent, low power, low heat and a joy to use over conventional hard drives. When used on Windows 7+, they make your entire system considerably quicker - the performance gain is well and truly worth the price and it's a real revelation and pleasure using a modern powerful machine with an SSD. If you want to go beyond even SATA SSD speed, you can now use NVMe SSDs that go to around 2500 MB/s. Just amazing!

To get real speed, in the past people have often created striped RAID arrays for their primary disks but I am generally not a fan of this. While it can be very very fast indeed, it tends to be very non-resilient as well. The failure of any drive in the array means the loss of the whole array and while this shouldn't be the end of the world with a sensible back up strategy in place, in my experience the hassle isn't worth it any more given you can get much the same speeds from a single SSD drive now for far less difficulty and expense. You might be tempted to RAID up some SSD drives, which is of course possible and results in bewildering speed, but there is no TRIM support for RAID arrays yet I believe, so the performance will quickly degrade.

Boot times from cold boot to Windows 10 being fully responsive with a good SSD should be less than 15 seconds in my experience, and since this is generally once a day at most, that's not a big issue in my opinion.

Hard drive 2 - Photoshop Scratch

Consider having a very small but very fast second hard drive that is used exclusively for Photoshop scratch & Lightroom Catalogue files. 120Gb is plenty of room for this.

Hard drive 3 - Fast Working Drive

I store current working projects on this drive, as well as my Lightroom catalogues and so on. This is also an SSD drive, which means all my current and day to day stuff is very quickly accessible.

Hard drive 4 - Storage Drive

This is a 7200RPM terabyte+ storage drive where I store projects that I am not currently intensively working on. It's still quite quick and it has lots of space. Anything not on here that I am simply storing for the very long term is backed up to external hard drives and over the internet.

Make sure whatever PC case you buy you have room for at least 4 internal hard drives, preferably 6 to 8 for future expansion. Your motherboard should have this many SATAIII ports as well.

Which Hard Drives Should You Buy?

For traditional hard drives (i.e. not SSDs) - I am a big fan of Western Digital, Hitachi and Toshiba - having owned more than 50 hard drives to date, going back from the early 90s to now, I have found them to be by far the most reliable brands. LaCie and Maxtor are by far the worst, and Seagate are questionable. I have never had a Western Digital enterprise class hard drive or Caviar Green fail on me within the life span of the computer. Always buy 7200RPM or quicker drivers, the old ones that spin at 5400 are just too slow for this sort of work. They are fine for longer term storage though.

With SSD drives, it's all about the controller the drive uses, and this will usually be listed in the specs. I use exclusively Samsung and Intel drives and have found them very reliable. While you can save a few dollars going with other brands (Crucial, Kingston etc) - I haven't found these as reliable.

RAM

More RAM is always good and these days it is very cheap. There is no point going with less than 8GB, but you can't have too much and I would get 32GB of modest speed RAM before I would spend up on 8GB of super fast RAM. The more RAM you have, the less swapping/paging you will run into, and this is the real bottleneck you want to avoid. If you're using a RAM Disk (see below) - you really will want quite a lot of RAM - 16 GB at least.

In general, 16GB is ample for everything so there's no real need to go beyond this unless you really do want 30 applications open at a time! If you do, you will need a specialist motherboard that supports more than 16GB.

Video Card

Until CS4 came along, the video card was almost irrelevant from the Photoshop point of view. As long as the video card could output the resolution you wanted (and 1920 by 1200 was really the most ever needed) and it had the outputs you needed, then any old card could do it - even your basic $50 cheapies. This has now changed.

Photoshop CS4 and above and several other imaging applications now feature video card acceleration. This means when you are zooming or rotating or scaling, the processing is done by the video card and not your CPU. Video cards are great at this sort of thing - seriously fast, so this is a huge improvement in the responsiveness of Photoshop and well worth taking advantage of. Good '3D' performance is essential for Photoshop as well. You also need enough memory to cope with your typical file sizes. 1GB is a pretty good price/performance point.

From Adobe: For Photoshop to access the GPU, your display card must contain a GPU that supports OpenGL and has enough RAM to support Photoshop functions--at least 128 MB of RAM--and a display driver that supports OpenGL 2.0 and Shader Model 3.0.

Getting this to work in actual practice can be a delicate balance with drivers and video cards, so you might want to visit the Adobe forums to get tips on what works well. I am using an nVidia Quadro 620 video card with 1GB of memory and it makes a huge difference to Photoshop responsiveness when manipulating larger files. And I do mean huge - moving around, zooming and scaling a massive 6 gigabyte file is instant and silky smooth. The same file opened and moved around in CS2 is like watching paint dry. Both coats. Of course our pre-configured systems above come with video cards that have been well tested with Photoshop's acceleration features, so they are fast and stable.

Since 2014 we have moved to recommending the nVidia Quadro cards - the drivers are more stable than ATI, and we have found that 10 bit output support is now very good with these cards. K620 or if you're connecting multiple monitors, the K2200 is the way to go.

Processor

In some ways, this is surprisingly far down the list.

The reality is that modern processors are all pretty quick and it's only in big operations that you're processor bound. The bulk of delays don't actually occur because of the processor. There are still some mathematically intensive operations in Photoshop that are not GPU accelerated, so a quick processor certainly doesn't hurt, it's just lower in priority than the rest. There's usually a sweet sport for price vs. performance in the line up and almost any PC store will be able to tell you what this is, and will typically be building most of their in house mid to high range systems with this processor.

The new i5 and i7 processors are very quick and reasonably priced so there's no point buying anything less now. The i7 enthusiast line, as featured in our extreme machine, is about 50% quicker again which is quite amazing, and has 6 cores so it's very good at dealing with multiple open applications.

Motherboard

Your motherboard is the glue that holds everything together. If it breaks, you're quite simply stuffed. You will need major PC surgery to get everything working again. So buy a good one, preferably one that advertises high quality capacitors and reliability features. These things are more important than essentially irrelevant features like on board audio or video. I am a big fan of Gigabyte boards as they're well laid out, have good documentation, and are very reliable.

Port wise you want a bunch of USB3/Type C ports, possibly a Thunderbolt (if you use any Thunderbolt peripherals), Gigabyte ethernet. Other than that, it doesn't matter so much unless you have specific needs - most other ports can be easily added by a PCI card should you need them.

Case

When looking for a case, size is of highest importance, and given these things usually live under a desk you might as well go bigger. It makes future upgrades much easier - whether you do them yourself or someone does them for you, it's nice to have plenty of room to work. Quietness is well worth considering - a small number of big slow fans is better than lots of little ones. Looks is completely up to you. The Lian Li ones we use in our systems are very nice to work in and have significant noise dampening applied so your system will run quietly.

Notes on software & operating systems

Windows 10 is now the obvious choice for a machine like this. Excellent SSD support and a pleasant interface one you turn off all the animeted things in the Start menu. I have it on 10+ machines now and it seems very stable - Much like Windows 7 it tends to jstu get out of your way and let you get on with work, which is what I am looking for in an OS.

Photoshop and Lightroom CC are both available on the ridiculously cheap Photographer's plan - $10/month is an absolute bargain for the two most popular professional imaging applications in the world.

Once you have your PC all set up and installed, there's a few basic strategies to follow to keep your PC running quickly for the long term.

The number one strategy is to keep your PC as simple and as clean as possible. Ideally, dedicate this machine entirely to imaging tasks and use another computer such as your laptop, for your other computing tasks (email, browsing etc). Even if you can't do this, minimise the amount of software you install wherever possible. If you're trying software out, or you're just using a tool once and then deleting it, install it into a removable isolation sandbox (see Sandboxie) while you're evaluating the software. Once you're sure you're keeping it you can re-install it to your machine proper, but using an evaluation sandbox is a very good strategy for keeping your machine clean. If you can keep this PC off the net, you won't need any anti-virus and the like, and these programs are a real drain on system performance.

Once you have all your software in place, go into the startup section of Task Manager and look through all your startup items and disable anything in there you don't really need (such as 'flash player updater' 'java updater' 'adobe reader speed launcher' etc). All these 'helpful' little things sit in the background wasting your computer's time.

Replace Windows Explorer or your file management program with the excellent, versatile and very efficient Directory Opus - an Australian product. With extensive and efficient file browsing, searching, image viewing, and archive handling, this one program does about 50% of the work I do on my PC outside of imaging programs. I've been using this since it's Amiga beginnings in the late 80s or so, and I have even met the developer several times, including when he came in to buy a calibrator a few months ago! I can't stand using a PC without it, it's essential.

RAM Disks

RAM disks are one strategy that can, in some cases, dramatically improve Photoshop performance. You do need a lot of RAM to really get it working properly though - minimum 16GB, and for most users it probably doesn't offer enough of a performance boost to make it worth while, but for people who do deal with large files regularly, it can be a really nifty technique to keep Photoshop moving very swiftly along.

Basically, a utility is used to get a portion of RAM to pretend to be a disk - basically, you allocate a chunk of your RAM and it is marked off for exclusive use and given a disk letter like g:, and this is then allocated as the Photoshop swap disk. It's pretty easy to try and you can use demos of these utilities to give it a try: http://www.superspeed.com/desktop/ramdisk.php & https://www.softperfect.com/products/ramdisk/

The reality is Photoshop is pretty clever and because of this a RAM disk can potentially actually hamper performance in some scenarios. But it can't hurt to test it out!