When it comes to editing photos in Lightroom, speed has always been a topic of much discussion and testing. For those of us who edit high volumes of raw images, unfortunately, there has also been a long history of complaining about speed.

When you’re editing a few dozen or even a few hundred photos, Lightroom’s speed may not be worth obsessing over. Buy any “fast” computer with an SSD drive, any multi-core, multi-thread CPU, at least 16 GB RAM, and a decent graphics card, and you’ll be happy!

However, if you process thousands, or even tens of thousands of photos every single week or month, heck, anyone who spends time in Lightroom almost daily…pay attention! Getting exactly the right components could literally save you hours of time each month, or even weekly or daily!

In this article, we are going to explain a little bit more about what makes a computer fast for photo editing workflows, and we will pick PC computer parts for optimal Lightroom performance!

Passive Tasks VS Active Tasks | Adobe Lightroom Speed, Explained

Puget Systems What CPU Is Best For Photographers SLR Lounge 2000x1333

The question of how to speed up Adobe Lightroom (both Creative Cloud/CC and “Lightroom Classic, mind you) actually has two measurable categories of speed, and unfortunately, they don’t necessarily always go together when you are deciding which computer parts to buy. Unless, of course, you spend the most money possible and buy literally ALL the best computer parts, period!

These two ways in which Lightroom speed can be measured are the categories of passive tasks and active tasks. If you edit a lot of photos in Lightroom, then you absolutely do need to understand how to pick all the right computer parts.

To begin with, there are a few things you absolutely must have: First, your computer should have an SSD hard drive, period. Spinning hard disk drives will absolutely become the worst bottleneck of your workflow by far if you use them for your computer’s operating system, or for your Lightroom catalog (.LRCAT file) itself.  You absolutely must have an SSD. Of course, there are many different types of SSDs, and some are only “pretty fast” while others are “blindingly fast.” We’ll talk more about SSDs later.

Aside from SSD storage for a faster Lightroom (and overall computer) experience, it is a safe bet to focus a lot of your energy on deciding which CPU to get. RAM and graphics cards do matter, but the exact make and model of each aren’t as critical as that of the CPU you choose. Thus, we will focus a little bit more on that one component.

Passive Lightroom Tasks: Import, Export, Render Previews

As the name implies, a passive task is something that Lightroom does in the background, and you don’t usually sit around waiting for each individual step in the task to finish. In other words, if you tell Lightroom to export 1,000 photos from raw to JPG, you usually just wait until the entire process is done!

Of course, whether an import, preview render, or export takes one hour or ten hours is still a factor in your overall workflow. It can mean the difference between a high-volume workflow that requires a mere half-day of work, and one that takes two or three days total to complete. Again, this is not because you are sitting at your computer for 24+ straight, necessarily, but because you spend so much waiting around for thousands of photos to import, render previews, and export, in addition to the actual work of color-correction!

Active Lightroom Tasks: Culling, Develop Module Work

Active tasks in Lightroom are all the steps in your workflow that you are, of course, actively performing. In other words, you’re sitting around waiting for each and every little change to be made. A computer that is slow in this regard can have a huge, immediately noticeable lag in Lightroom, whenever you’re doing things like adjusting a lot of sliders quickly, or using burning & dodging or cloning/healing brushes.

It may not sound like much of a problem if you only ever edit a few dozen photos in a given week, but if you have to wait a whole second or two between each adjustment you make, and you do it literally thousands of times, well, it adds up really quickly!

Best Computer CPUs For Adobe Lightroom

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So, now that you know a little more about how Lightroom works in terms of the burden it places on a computer’s processors, the question is, what type of CPU is going to be the fastest if you want good all-around performance?

Well, for one, the AMD Ryzen 5000 series are great CPUs that, for Lightroom in particular, give a much better value than CPUs costing far more. There’s currently a shortage of these particular CPUs, unfortunately, but if you can find them, they’re incredible performers at an incredible value.

For those of you who can’t hunt down an exact make or model of CPU, here’s the “secret recipe” behind the speed, so to speak: six cores, twelve threads. Having so many cores/threads is definitely Lightroom-friendly! Sure, the AMD Ryzen is particularly awesome, but, to over-simplify it: Lightroom loves cores. Combine a lot of cores with a fair amount of RAM, an SSD hard drive, and even just a half-decent graphics card, and you’re in business!

[Related Reading: $8,000 Mac Pro vs $8,000 Puget PC | High-End Apple vs PC in 2020]

Good, Better, Best: The Ultimate PC Workstations for Adobe Lightroom

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Of course, there is still one major topic we haven’t discussed yet, and that is, what if you’re not a computer builder? We didn’t even talk about motherboards, of course, and if the thought of it all is overwhelming you, then you have only two options in the PC world: either just try to find a pre-built computer that has specs somewhere along these lines, or, you can have one custom-built for you!

Our friends at Puget have put together a list of the three most impressive Lightroom “builds” possible,

Good Lightroom Computer

CPU AMD Ryzen 5800X 8 Core
(Alternate: Intel Core i9 10900K)
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB
RAM 32GB DDR4
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)

Make no mistake, this may only be “good” by the top-shelf standards that Puget holds their machines to when it comes to Adobe Lightroom performance, but the computer is definitely very, very fast.

Better Lightroom Computer

CPU AMD Ryzen 5800X 8 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 8GB
RAM 64GB DDR4
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
512GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (cache & scratch)

You can get a decent speed boost by simply upping your RAM, of course, and by the time you get to 64GB there is zero chance that Lightroom alone will max out your resources. It also can be helpful to have a separate, additional SSD as your cache disk, too.

Best Lightroom Computer

CPU AMD Ryzen 5900X 12 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 10GB
RAM 128GB DDR4
Drives 500GB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe (primary)
4TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
1TB Samsung 970 Pro NVMe (disk cache)

Of course, for those who really are importing, rendering, and exporting literally thousands of photos a day or per week, and especially if those images are 40-60 megapixels, let alone if you’re creating DNG raw files of panoramic and/or HDR scenes…you might as well get the absolute best of everything.

Whether you’re creating a panorama that is measured in hundreds of megapixels, or you’re passing ten thousand images through your workflow every single week, these specs are virtually impossible to beat.

[Related Reading: $6,700 IMac Pro Vs $5,700 Custom PC: Adobe Premiere Performance Test]

Puget Systems Additional Info

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To read more about each of these systems, visit this page here on the Puget Systems website and configure a Lightroom-focused machine. Considering that these are custom-built machines that take all the hassle and intimidation out of building such a high-powered machine, one that completely out-spec’s a comparably priced Apple computer, their starting price of about $3,000 for a custom Lightroom built computer is an investment that we highly recommend, and have, in fact, been using ourselves in our own high-volume wedding photography studio.

Of course, if you’re truly serious about tailoring a computer to your exact needs, then you might want to consider simply hiring their experts to assess your exact needs and offer you advice on which components to buy, or even offer to create that “dream machine” of a Lightroom computer for you!

Puget Systems’ computer hardware recommendations could save you thousands of dollars, so the starting price of $200 per hour would be a good investment. Puget’s team, simply put, are the absolute gold standard when it comes to their knowledge about which exact computer components are the fastest possible for your photo and/or video workflow!

If you have any questions or up-to-date tips about Lightroom speed on a PC computer, please feel free to leave a comment below!