How to Set Up Photoshop and Lightroom to Work Well With Your SSDs

Last Updated on October 10, 2020 by Susheel Chandradhas

Photoshop uses a lot of RAM. It will take as much as you can throw its way, and then some more. As a way to use ‘more’ RAM than a computer had available physically, the developers took to creating scratch disks on your Hard Disk Drive (HDD), as an extension of the data that Photoshop held in RAM.

I Don’t Have Infinite RAM, So How Can I speed Up Image Editing?

Any data on a HDD is many orders of magnitude slower in terms of access speeds and data throughput, when compared to RAM, and so if the data that photoshop needs to process is not found in RAM, but on your HDD, accessing it will be much slower.

Enter, the Solid State Drive (SSD). It stores data on silicon microchips much like your RAM; but unlike RAM, it does not lose information when power to it is turned off (aka, non-volatile memory). The benefit of it not needing physically moving parts to access data is that all the data is accessible all the time, and can be read and written much quicker.

There are in fact, two different types of SSDs, SATA SSDs and NvME SSDs, and they have two different interfaces. You can read all about SSDs, and more in this article.

Now, SSDs are quite a bit faster than HDDs, and cheaper than RAM. So, if you can’t afford 1TB of RAM, but you can afford an SSD, it makes sense to tell photoshop to use your SSD instead of your HDD for its scratch disks / paging files. This will be our primary angle of attack, with some further improvements.

Our Suggested Optimal Setup

At Beyond Photo Tips, we actually suggest having multiple SSDs for optimal bandwidth usage: one SSD for the OS and programs, one separate SSD for your Scratch Disk & Caches, and one separate SSD for your active project files.

By doing this, you have multiple parallel pathways from the processor / RAM to your storage devices with minimal interferance and bottlenecking of resources. We go in to all this, plus more detail at this article. In addition, we suggest having HDD or NAS storage for Archival purposes.

Here’s how you do it.

1. Install your OS and Programs on an SSD

Speeding up your program executable files, and access to the various files it needs for its functioning will have an immediate effect on the performance of these Photoshop and Lightroom.

2. Set the Photoshop Scratch Disk to use an SSD

Setting up Adobe Photoshop CC to use your dedicated SSD scratch disk is rather easy. Here are instructions for you whether you use Photoshop on Windows or on Apple computer.

In Windows:

Adobe Photoshop Preferences > Scratch Disks
Adobe Photoshop Preferences > Scratch Disks
  1. Open Adobe Photoshop CC
  2. Click on the Edit menu, and scroll down till you see Preferences.
  3. From the Preferences Drop-Down select Scratch Disks…
  4. The Preferences dialogue box will open with the Scratch Disks section open. There you will see all your available drives.
  5. By default the primary drive will be selected as the active scratch disk. You will know which one this is, by the small tick (check mark) in the box to the left of the drive letter.
  6. Ensure that the box next to the drive letter of your Dedicated Scratch Drive SSD is checked (ticked), and that all the others are not checked.
  7. Click OK in the top right-hand corner of the dialogue box.
  8. Shut-down and then restart your computer and Photoshop. You’re ready to experience the speed boost of using an SSD as your Scratch Disk.

In MacOS:

  1. Open Adobe Photoshop CC
  2. Click on Photoshop menu, and then Preferences.
  3. From Preferences select Scratch Disks…
  4. The Preferences dialogue box will open with the Scratch Disks section open. There you will see all your available drives.
  5. By default the primary drive will be selected as the active scratch disk. You will know which one this is, by the small tick (check mark) in the box to the left of the drive letter.
  6. Ensure that the box next to the drive letter of your Dedicated Scratch Drive SSD is checked (ticked), and that all the others are not checked.
  7. Click OK in the top right-hand corner of the dialogue box.
  8. Shut-down and then restart your computer and Photoshop. You’re ready to experience the speed boost of using an SSD as your Scratch Disk.

3. Set up Lightroom Cache & Catalogue files Correctly to use an SSD

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic requires you to set up two different parts to use your dedicated SSD. The first is your Camera RAW Cache, and the second is your Lightroom Catalogue file (.lrcat file).

Let’s start with the Camera RAW Cache since this offers the most potential for an increase in speed.

What is the Camera RAW Cache?

The Camera RAW cache is where Lightroom stores previews, thumbnails and Smart Previews for the images in your library. There are hundreds of small files that need to be accessed quickly in order for Lightroom to seem responsive and fast. This definitely needs the power of a speedy SSD.

Setting up the Camera RAW Cache to use your SSD

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic Preferences > Performance
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic Preferences > Performance

In Windows:

  1. Open Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic (phew, what a name!)
  2. Open the Edit menu, and scroll down to Preferences. Click on it. (You can also press Ctrl+, as a shortcut).
  3. Open the Performance tab.

In Mac OS:

  1. Open Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic
  2. Open the Lightroom menu, and scroll down to Preferences. Click on it. (You can also press Ctrl+, as a shortcut).
  3. Open the Performance tab.

What is the Lightroom Catalogue File?

The Catalogue file is where all your edits, tags, keywords, star ratings and metadata lives even if you’ve saved sidecar .xml files. Access to this file would ideally be as quick as possible.

Setting this up is as simple as copying your current lightroom catalogue file to the SSD that you want it on, and opening Lightroom by double-clicking it. This should speed up access to it.

In Summary:

This technique can be used with multiple drives no matter whether they are SSDs or HDDs. As long as you have multiple data streams for different types of data, you will be able to improve the performance of photoshop and lightroom.

Saving your RAW image files to an SSD will have the most immediate, and greatest impact on the performace of these two softwares.

SSDs will speed up the performance of almost any operation that involves data transfer. Today, their price and capacities are at a place where we can begin using them for daily computing and using the slower, but cheaper HDDs solely for archival and mass data storage.

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