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Which Mac Pro for Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3.x?

MPG Pro Workstation
A reliable and fast workstation
for photography or
graphics arts, video or sound

Reader Gary K writes:

I love your web site. I was wondering if you can help me with some advice. I had and still have a dual-core Mac that was a bit slow for editing in Lightroom and Photoshop. These are my main programs.

The dual-core Mac Pro still was useful with the 16 gig of ram, but I felt it was time to upgrade. I went to the Apple Store two weeks ago, and they said bigger is better so I went for a 12 core with 16gig of ram and a 5870 card. With dual 2.66 6-core processors.

Well now Photoshop just quits on me randomly and when I put my old system side by side well the old dual core is faster. Lightroom seems faster which I love. But sometimes I work on an image for 10 plus hours and it would not be cool for the program to just quit! So what do you think?

Is there a way to make this 12 core scream or should I just go 6 cores or even less. I am a bit confused about your suggestions on your site. Please help I’m going nuts here. By the way most of my files are from my Canon 1D Mark IV. I am using fast 2 TB drives in each bay. and a 30-inch Mac display.

DIGLLOYD MPG: The Apple Store is always happy to sell a customer a Mac Pro that costs twice the price of a system that will do the job faster at about half the price. And don’t forget that after they sell you that, you’ll still need backup drives, more memory (not the overpriced Apple stuff), and a fast SSD for system and applications.

12-core with 16GB is also a non-optimal configuration. The 12-core should use six (6) memory modules for peak bandwidth, not 8 modules. For the 4/6-core, use 3 modules, not four. That means 24GB or 48GB or 96GB for the 12-core Mac Pro, and 12GB or 24GB or 48GB for the 4/6-core Mac Pro. See current memory price trends.

Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3.x perform at their best on the 3.33 GHz 6-core Mac Pro. In particular, even my special 3.33 GHz 12-core Mac Pro is slower than my 3.33 GHz 6-core Mac Pro — and a 2.66GHz 12-core is notably slower by 20% or so. See my 32 page Mac Pro review.

Lightroom users looking for peak performance for the catalog and previews should be considering dedicating a fast SSD for the catalog/previews folder (not needed for the images themselves, hard drives are fine there).

As for quitting/crashes, sometimes these are just plain bugs. Dogs do have fleas and that’s the way it will always be. Be sure to run Photoshop CS5 64-bit and the latest Lightroom 3. Crashes are generally more likely with more cores due to latent bugs in all programs.

Consider my consulting service for photographers; I can recommend just the right system for your usage as well as going over a complete configuration and a backup and reliability strategy.

For those who don’t want a do-it-yourself, my MPG Pro Workstation offering is a great way to go, offering a completely pre-configured and rigorously pre-tested Mac Pro. You supply the Mac Pro of your choice, and OWC provides the upgrade and testing service per my specifications.

As for the video card, I have yet to find a single mainstream photography application in which the 5870 offers any speedup over the 5770, and I do have both cards at my disposal. A fast video card is good for gaming and 3D rendering and video encoding, and not much else— it’s mostly hype. In fact, OpenGL is slower in Photoshop for most tasks, as shown time after time in my real-world tests.

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