When it comes to editing photos in Adobe 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. So, today, we are going to bring you our thoughts on the best PC for Lightroom!
Of course, when you’re editing just a few dozen or even a few hundred photos, Lightroom’s speed may be more than enough, indeed not at all worth obsessing over. Here’s our “spoiler alert”! advice: just buy any decently fast computer with an SSD drive and a multi-core, multi-thread CPU, at least 16 GB RAM, and a decent graphics card. We promise that you’ll be happy! You probably don’t need to worry about one CPU versus another. Save your time (and money) for more important things such as a good long-term external storage solution.
Oppositely, however, if you process thousands, or even tens of thousands of photos every single week or month; basically anyone who spends time in Lightroom almost daily MUST pay attention, and read on! Getting exactly the right components could literally save you hours 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!
Adobe Lightroom Speed, Explained | Passive Tasks VS Active Tasks
The question of how to speed up Adobe Lightroom (both Creative Cloud/CC and “Lightroom Classic, mind you) has two measurable categories of speed. These categories are passive tasks and active tasks. Unfortunately, the two don’t always go together when you buy a “fast” computer, unless you spend absurd amounts of money on the most cutting-edge components, which we usually don’t recommend.
The way “passive” and “active” tasks are measured in Lightroom are as follows: a passive task is something Lightroom can do in the background, like importing, exporting, and rendering previews. An active task, on the other hand, is when you are actually working on your photos, waiting for your adjustments to take effect, waiting for the next image to load its preview, etc.
Before we get deeper into those two categories, however, let’s set one thing straight: Everything you do will be affected by the biggest constraint of all, and that is, how fast is your hard drive? You could buy the fastest processor with tons of RAM, but if your Lightroom Catalog file is stored on a spinning hard disk drive, let alone your entire computer operating from one, then that will always be your biggest bottleneck.
So, to begin with, your computer should have an SSD hard drive, above all else. There are many different types of SSDs today, and some are only “pretty fast” while others are “blindingly fast.” We’ll talk more about SSDs later; just make sure you are using any SSD as a bare minimum to operate your computer and store your LRCAT file, even if some or all of your raw photos are stored on spinning external disk drives.
Aside from SSD storage for giving you the fastest Lightroom PC, it is a safe bet to focus a lot of your time and money the best CPU for Lightroom. RAM and graphics cards do matter, but the exact make and model of each aren’t as critical as which CPU you choose. Thus, we will focus a little bit more on CPUs, and how they affect your Lightroom speed.
Passive Lightroom Tasks: Import, Export, Render Previews
As the name implies, a passive task is something that Lightroom does in the background. You don’t sit around waiting for each individual step in the task to finish; you either do something else on your computer, or just get up and do something off your computer! In other words, if you tell Lightroom to export 1,000 photos from raw to JPG, it’s usually not a big deal whether it takes 90 minutes or 120 minutes to finish.
Of course, whether an import or export process takes one hour or a whopping ten hours can certainly factor into your overall workflow. Thankfully, such a staggering difference isn’t likely to be a problem with almost any “decently fast” computer these days.
Either way, just note that the more photos you have to process, the more even a passive task can become important, eventually. If you find yourself waiting around for your computer to finish importing/exporting/rendering thousands of photos, then it’s time to upgrade at least one component. Start by considering your storage (SSD) speed & capacity, then your RAM, and then your CPU. (Note that this order of priority may change for other needs; keep reading!)
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 adjust a setting in the Develop Module, for example, and then you wait for that change to take effect and become visible. A slow computer can have an immediately noticeable lag effect in Lightroom when performing active tasks, while a fast computer may seem to perform these tasks almost instantly.
Also, this is where the CPU can either really shine, or begin to let you down: depending on how fast the CPU is, and how many cores it have. You may begin to notice a lagtime when you are trying to adjust a lot of editing sliders very quickly quickly, effectively giving Lightroom 10-20 tasks to perform all at once.
Another way this type of bottleneck can appear is when using a lot of burning & dodging or cloning/healing brushes. You may not be doing multiple burn & dodge brushes at once, but as they “stack up”, Lightroom can begin to “bog down”.
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 extra second or two between each adjustment you make, and you do it literally thousands of times, then obviously it adds up very quickly!
Your best defense against this type of Lightroom slow-down with active tasks is usually a better CPU. BUt, the next question is, should you buy a CPU with more speed, or just more cores? Or both? Read on…
Best Computer CPUs For Adobe Lightroom
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.
For those of you who want the “why” behind our general recommendation, here’s the “secret recipe” behind the speed, so to speak: 8 (or more) cores, and 16 (or more) threads. Having so many cores/threads is definitely Lightroom-friendly! Sure, the AMD Ryzen is particularly awesome and fast overall, with speeds ranging from 3.4 GHz to 4.9 GHz. That’s blazing fast! But, to over-simplify it: Lightroom really loves cores.
There are lots of CPUs on the market, of course, from many different brands. Intel makes very similar CPUs, for example, with a similar number of cores/threads. They simply cost a bit more, on average, so we’re keeping our recommendations simple based on a balance of performance and value. Keep that in mind, if, for example, you have an absolutely unlimited budget!
So, whatever CPU you get, do this: combine a lot of cores+threads. Then, make sure you have a fair amount of RAM and an SSD hard drive. With this combination, and even just a half-decent graphics card, you’re in business! (Sorry, NVIDIA HODL’ers!)
NOTE: Of course, this article is entirely focused on how to make Lightroom faster. If you also do various other work, such as using generative AI to create imagery from scratch, let alone if you are also a gamer, then of course, you’re going to want to splurge on a very exotic graphics card, too!)
[Related Reading: $8,000 Mac Pro vs $8,000 Puget PC | High-End Apple vs PC in 2020]
Good, Better, Best: The Fastest Lightroom PC Workstations for Photo Editing
Of course, there is still one major thing we haven’t discussed yet: hat if you’re not a DIY computer builder? We didn’t even talk about motherboards, of course, and if the thought of “gluing” a CPU to a motherboard is overwhelming to you, then you have only two options in the PC world.
1.) Try to find a pre-built computer that has specs somewhere along these lines. Such computers were not as easy to find 10+ years ago before the fastest components became affordable and before 4K gaming experiences became so common, but today they’re not that hard to find. If you go this route, we do recommend at least learning how to upgrade your RAM and/or your hard drives, at the very least, so that in a few years you can breathe a little bit more life into your computer as faster versions of those components become more affordable.
2.) Have a Fast Lightroom PC custom-built for you! This isn’t the cheapest route, of course, but if you are a professional photographer who is using Lightroom every day and processing literally thousands of photos every week, it could pay for itself many times over in time saved.
Simply put, when you get a custom build, you can pair the exact components for optimal speed, while also being conscious of the current market price/value of each individual component.
For example, our friends at Puget offer this list of the three most impressive Lightroom “builds” possible, ranging from “good” to “better” and then “best”:
Good Lightroom Computer
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8 Core (16 thread)
(Alternate: Intel Core i9 13700K)
|Video Cards||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti 8GB|
|Drives||Primary: 1TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus PCI-E Gen4 M.2 (peak 7000 MB/s)
Storage: 1TB Samsung 870 EVO SATA SSD (Peak 560 MB/s)
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 extremely fast. We’d recommend this PC to at least 90-95% of serious, full-time photographers!
Better Lightroom Computer
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5900X 12 Core (24 thread)|
|Video Cards||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 8GB|
|Drives||Primary: 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus PCI-E Gen4 M.2 (peak 7000 MB/s)
Storage: 2TB Samsung 870 EVO SATA SSD (Peak 560 MB/s)
Cache: 1TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus PCI-E Gen4 M.2 (peak 7000 MB/s)
You can get a decent speed boost by simply upping your RAM, of course, and by the time you get to 64GB there is very little chance that Lightroom alone will max out your resources. It also can be helpful to have a separate (third) SSD as your cache disk. This will allow your entire computer (and Lightroom LRCAT catalog) to operate on one SSD drive, all your photos to be stored on a separate, second SSD drive, and a third SSD just to act as a “helping hand” to your RAM and CPU for whatever tasks it may try to juggle.
Imagine, oppositely; even if you have a very fast SSD, if it’s only one SSD then you are effectively asking your computer to operate from the same drive, store, and access photos on the same drive, and then use additional space on that drive as a “scratch pad” (cache) for various active tasks. Add all that up, and you might just experience a slowdown.
Best Lightroom Computer
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5950X 16 Core (32 thread)
(Alternate: Intel Core i9 13900K)
|Video Cards||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 12GB|
|Drives||Primary: 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus PCI-E Gen4 M.2 (peak 7000 MB/s)
Storage: 4TB Samsung 870 EVO SATA SSD (Peak 560 MB/s)
Cache: 1TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus PCI-E Gen4 M.2 (peak 7000 MB/s)
For those who are importing, rendering, and exporting literally thousands of photos every day or each week, and especially if those images are 40-60 megapixel raw files, then you can indeed benefit from having the absolute best. (And, again, not to mention any potential needs you may have for exploring generative AI imagery or using future AI photo editing possibilities to help edit your own photographs!)
So, whether you’re creating a 400-megapixel panorama, or you’re just color-correcting ten thousand images after a big weekend of wedding photography, these specs are virtually impossible to beat.
Of course, we should note that you don’t need to pay someone else to build these computers for you! The specs are all listed right there. So, if you actually love building computers, go for it! (It sure is nice to have an expert offering their customized input, and customer support, though.)
[Related Reading: $6,700 IMac Pro Vs $5,700 Custom PC: Adobe Premiere Performance Test]
About Puget Systems | Custom-Built Lightroom PC Workstations
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 anxiety out of building such a high-powered machine, (and which completely out-spec’s a comparably priced Apple computer, mind you) …their starting price of about $3,000 for a custom Lightroom PC computer is an investment that we highly recommend. Here in our studio we have, in fact, been using Puget-built computers in our own high-volume wedding photography business that culls and color-corrects tens of thousands of photos each month.
Of course, if you’re truly serious about tailoring a computer to your exact needs and budget, 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, even if you decide to build it yourself! 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!