GPU and CPU Performance

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Today’s Question: I understand the importance of RAM [memory] and hard drives, but what I don’t understand is the graphics card and CPU that I should get. I don’t edit videos so it’s mainly for Lightroom Classic and Photoshop photo editing.

Tim’s Quick Answer: Today’s software increasingly makes use of the graphics processing unit (GPU), and of course CPU (central processing unit) performance is also important. I recommend 2GB to 4GB of video memory (VRAM), and a multi-core processor at the higher end of the available clock speed (indicated as a gigahertz value).

More Detail: It is often assumed that a high-performance video card is only necessary if you are playing sophisticated games or editing video on your computer. However, many applications (including Photoshop and Lightroom) make use of the GPU (graphics processing unit) to enhance performance for a variety of features. That, in turn, means that video memory (VRAM) is nearly as important as system memory (RAM).

In general I recommend opting for a video card that has 2GB to 4GB of dedicated video RAM. In addition, you should choose a card that includes support for DirectX 12 or OpenGL 3.3. Also be sure that you have enabled the option to make use of the graphics processor. For example, on the Performance tab of the Preferences dialog in Lightroom Classic you can turn on the “Use Graphics Processor” checkbox in the Camera Raw section.

When it comes to the CPU, most computers will include a processor that has multiple cores, which can improve performance significantly since more than one task can be processed at the same time with individual processor cores. For most users a processor with four or more cores will provide excellent performance. I generally recommend opting for a processor at the higher end of the performance spectrum, meaning with a high speed rating, measured in gigahertz (GHz).

You can certainly select the highest speed processor available, which would be around 3.2 GHz for desktop computers and around 2.6 GHz for laptop computers, with considerable variation with different manufacturers. If you want to reduce the cost of your computer without significantly degrading performance, you can opt for a slightly slower speed rating, such as around a 3.0 GHz processor for a desktop computer or around a 2.3 GHz processor for a laptop.

I consider the amount of RAM to be a key factor in overall system performance, along with a fast CPU. But the graphics processor and amount of video RAM is also important, along with overall hard drive performance. The key is to balance the available options in terms of performance with your comfort level in terms of budget.