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Super Charge Lightroom and Photoshop With a RAM Disk

By Justin Heyes on February 28th 2016

To most users, RAM is simply RAM. When our system is running slow, that is usually one of the first upgrades that is usually made before installing an SSD. Once installed, we can go about our business, editing our latest project, watching a workshop on SLR Lounge or catching up on the last season of iZombie (maybe that last one is just me). RAM is, for the most part, set it and forget it.

Ram-disk-ram-hard-driv-mac

For the average user, about 2-4 GB of will be enough for day to day needs; that is why low-end PCs and Chromebooks have that amount as standard. Some higher-end laptops like the Macbook Pro have 16GB installed standard for more render intensive programs like Photoshop, but rarely is it all utilized at once. In these systems, the RAM can just sit idle most of the time. Users can access that unused RAM to turbo charge Photoshop and Lightroom by creating an ultrafast drive called a RAM Disk.

[Rewind: Culling Is Critical & Lightroom Is The Tool To Do It With (If You Know How)]

What is a RAM Disk?

The name says it all. A RAM disk is a virtual drive that uses RAM to store information. Why would anyone want to use memory as a makeshift hard drive? The answer is simple, speed. The idea is that RAM has significantly faster read and write speeds than physical devices like hard drives or even solid state drives.

raid-10-speed

In a previous article, Anthony showed that he could achieve 555 MB/s write and 1170.2 MB/s read speeds with his SSD RAID-10 array. Compare that to 1600Mhz DDR3 RAM at 1352 MB/s write and 6407 MB/s read speeds. Even low-end RAM will outperform the best solid-state drives on the market.

Benchmark-ram-disk

Comparing RAM Disk to SSD Lightning Drive, Hybrid Drive, and a 7200 RPM Lightning Drive

[Related: The Case for RAID-10 From a Photographer’s Perspective]

How to Super Charge Photoshop and Lightroom

Setting up a RAM Drive is essentially as simple as installing a piece of software. There are countless RAM Disk programs out there, some costing money for higher drive sizes. The two programs that I have used and recommended: ImDisk Toolkit for Windows and RAM Disk Creator for Mac. Each program is super simple to use, just select the size of the virtual drive you want and within a few moments, one will be created.ram-disk-programHere are simple guidelines in choosing a max RAM Disk size:

  • 4 GB of RAM – 512 MB RAM disk
  • 6 GB of RAM – 2 GB RAM disk
  • 8 GB of RAM – 4 GB RAM disk
  • 16 GB of RAM – 8 GB RAM disk

We have explained previously how to speed up Lightroom by changing the cache size. This time, change the location of the cache to the RAM disk. All you do is go to Lightroom Preferences > File Handling, scroll to the bottom to see the Cache settings, and update there.

adobe-lightroom-cache-speed-performance-photography-slrlounge-kishore-sawh-3

Photoshop is slightly different in that you can have multiple scratch disks selected at one time. Go to Photoshop Preferences > Performance and check the RAM disk drive.

Photoshop-performance-ram-disk

RAM disks aren’t suitable for storing important files; they are best suited to cache drives or scratch disks where data is needed quickly. If you have a solid state drive, moving your scratch disks to RAM increases the life of your drive, as data isn’t constant being written and erased from it.

[RELATED: Could Speeding Up Lightroom Really Be This Easy?! (No Hardware Purchase Required)]

The Downsides of a RAM Disk

Besides the limited total capacity that you can have on a RAM Disk and that it takes away from your system resources, the biggest pitfall is that RAM is volatile. This means that it needs a power source to keep its memory contents. RAM disk tools offer some protection against this by writing the drive’s contents on the main drive when you shut your computer down and then reloads the content into RAM when it starts back up – this increases startup and shutdown times.

If you are stuck with a slow hard drive, a RAM Disk can be an effective short-term solution until a proper upgrade to a solid state drive. They are easy to set up and remove, so if you are looking for a boost in performance, there is no harm in giving RAM disks a try.

Article Featured Image Dynamic Random Access Memory, Credit To Dick Thomas Johnson used under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.0 Generic

About

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

10 Comments

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  1. Rob Kirkland

    I need to try this.

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  2. Riccardo Delfanti

    If I set a RAM disk as cache for Lightroom but I forgot to mount the RAM disk ? Lightroom go automatically to the default cache folder?

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  3. Alastair Brown

    any decent os makes full use of available ram. this is nonsense

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  4. Luke Longnecker

    I think this article would have carried far more weight if Justin has done some meaningful benchmarking to support his claims. While it might be true that a RAM disk will improve performance, if it’s less than a 5% speed increase, it’s probably not worth the hassle.

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    • Edward Marla

      A ram disk isn’t something new.  When we had a Mac Plus W/512K or 1mg of system memory the programs were 128K and very efficient.  Yet, we got a lot more speed by making and using ram disks of 128K – 256K. Every thing is relative right?  Now,  we have unbelievable amounts of ram so get some real benefit from you’re machine’s ability to crunch data!

      Times really do change some things . . . Some one over at MS was once quoted as saying “NO one could ever use more than 640K of system memory that would be impossible!”

      I use a ram disk every day basically the same tech now as the 70’s, only difference is size.  And I still don’t have problems loosing data! Like Justin said put your programs cache on the ram drive that’s where you will get the speed in rendering or file conversion or numbers.  

      Ram drives are 6-10 times faster than a sad because of memory bandwidth and the drives are virtual so all info is held in ram where there are no platters to spin or reader heads to wait for a reading. My SSD’s [email protected] 300-500 mb/sec my ram disk [email protected] 3.65-4.4 Gig/sec

      I have mine set up to load from HD when system starts (the bigger you make the ram disk the longer it takes  to load and unload when you shut down) but it doesn’t take that long and it’s up and running.   You will be very happy when your edits or renders are finished in half the time or less!  Try a 1 or 2Gig ram drive just to play with it you will be glad you took the time.  Good luck!

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  5. Jean-Francois Perreault

    Just tried it. My first impressions are…wow!
    I’ll play with it more when I get home but my first 5 minutes in Lr since adding a ram drive are impressive!

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  6. Michael Giordano

    I just built my first PC for the sole reason of editing. I have a 5820k processor and 64 GB RAM with three solid state drives. One for the operating system, one for a scratch, and one for current projects with a 2TB hard drive for long term storage(more of these to come down the road for redundancy). I’m new to this computer stuff, but with the little I know and help from great people like yourselves my editing experience has never been better and I don’t feel like I’ve begun to tap into the full potential of my computer. Right now I don’t overclock or anything like that, maybe someday. Keep these articles coming!

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  7. John Cavan

    Photoshop allows you to specify the RAM usage and monitor the efficiency. If the efficiency level is below 100% in Photoshop, then the RAM limit has been reached and it goes to the scratch disk. If you’re trimming your RAM to create a RAM disk, then you’ll hit that situation quicker, but all you’re doing is moving from memory to memory but in a less efficient way. I’m not sure I see the gains there.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah, you make a good point for those who have minimal amounts of RAM in their system. This technique is mostly meant for those who have well more RAM than needed by their system.

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    • John Cavan

      If you up the allowed RAM usage for PS it should still use it before going to scratch. My main editing computer is my iMac which has 32GB of RAM and so I have it set to allow stock 70% for PS and I don’t think it’s ever gone to scratch on me. Now, to be fair, I also probably don’t do the amount of editing most of you guys do, but I think very fast SSD is best bet for scratch disks.

      However, I think the RAM disk concept likely has merit for Lightroom caching, though, with the explained risks. I’d be curious to see some performance stats on that front, though, because it’s largely going to depend on how much LR reads from it on an ongoing basis and how it caches the reads in memory. It’s worth noting that both Windows and OS X do cache disk reads in memory and, if you have lots of RAM, they can cache quite a bit…

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