Give your computer a performance boost_DSC6835-2

Let us imagine that it has been a year or two since you brought home that new shiny computer; too early to consider a replacement, but a good time to consider a mid-cycle refresh – to improve performance and take you through the next couple of years.

Below are a few ideas.

Operating System/Software

Before you start spending your money on hardware, there are some software things you can look at:
• Disable or remove unwanted startup programs
• Remove abandoned software/Clean up unnecessary system files
• Keep your system free of viruses and malware
• Upgrade to a newer operating system
• Check for newer device drivers

Please be careful, make sure you have a proper backup before starting, and if you are unsure as to what you are doing, get knowledgeable assistance.

Hardware

As you probably know, there are many sub-systems that make up a computer. Some of them are limited by the manufacturer=s system design, but others can be easily enhanced without considerable expense. There are three subsystems that can be upgraded to substantially improve a machines performance – memory (RAM), storage and video.

Please note that there are design limitations and not all computers can be upgraded. Notebooks are generally more difficult to upgrade than desktop/tower machines. This article is intended to be of general information and not necessarily applicable to every configuration. Also note, that right or wrong, the author has a Windows perspective on the world, but much of this will apply to a Macintosh environment.

Memory

More is better. Up to a point. If you have 4GB of RAM, upgrading to more will help. Eight is better than four, and sixteen is better than eight. After that there is the law of diminishing returns, although for power users even more may be beneficial. If you are a power user, you already know this stuff. (Note: You need to be running a 64-bit operating system to take advantage of more than 4GB of RAM.)

You may find that your computer is limited as to how many memory slots are available and the maximum amount it will recognize. Check your manufacturers website or try www.kingston.com as a good third party source for both information and memory. Choosing the right memory can be a bit of a minefield, so you may want to engage professional assistance.

Storage

For the past thirty years we have relied primarily on spinning-media hard drives. The industry is changing. Spinning drives still give you the most storage for the least cost, but Solid State Drives (SSDs) are making significant advances in performance and lowering the cost/GB.

If you have a spinning hard drive, there is a good chance that you can replace it with an SSD. You will be amazed at how much faster everything happens on your computer. Startup times are typically reduced from many minutes to generally under a minute. Upgrading to an SSD gives you the best Abang for the buck@.

The majority of SSDs are available in 2.5″ form factors and have SATA interfaces, which is the usual interface for most notebook and desktop type computers. For the most part, you can unplug the old drive and plug in the new SSD in its place. Be sure you have all the right cables, both data and power. If your old drive is a 3.5” device, you may need a new way to secure it in your computer.
Just like spinning drives, not all solid state drives are the same. A good guide line would be to pay attention to the length of the warranty, and buy a brand name with which you are familiar.

Be aware that a newer solid state storage interface standard exists, it is called NVM Express for PCIe. Higher end notebooks are starting to take advantage of this improved performance, and if you are upgrading a desktop/tower machine, this may be an option for you as well. (http://www.nvmexpress.org/)

What is behind this newer standard? Having a SATA interface means you can plug an SSD in where you once had a spinning hard drive, which is very convenient. However, the speed that data moves through the non-volatile memory (NVM) used in SSDs is so much faster than it can move through a spinning hard drive. This results in a bottleneck at the SATA interface, as it was designed for the slower requirements of spinning drives. NVM Express PCIe removes this bottleneck, but as you might have guessed, at a higher price. These drives look less like the old hard drives and more like memory modules or PCIe plug in cards. Major players are Samsung and Intel.

An NVMe drive is the ultimate storage upgrade, but pricey. It might be something to consider for the next computer.

Video

In April of this year, with the release of Lightroom 6, Adobe made a number of improvements. One of them was to recognize and incorporate GPU acceleration for faster video performance. Okay, before I lose you, GPU stands for Graphics Processor Unit, or in other words what we old-timers used to call a video card.

If you already have a good graphics subsystem, Lightroom may have already recognized it and taken advantage of it. There are methods to check this within Lightroom and your favourite search engine will direct you to them. A good place to start is at:
https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/lightroom-gpu-faq.html

Will a better GPU improve your performance? In doing my research I came across this thread from an Adobe engineer. It seems the answer is maybe; it depends on your circumstances. See more here: https://forums.adobe.com/thread/1828580

For Photoshop, Adobe says the minimum amount of graphics processor VRAM supported is 512 MB (1 GB or greater of VRAM is recommended).

I found some helpful information at:
https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/kb/photoshop-cc-gpu-card-faq.html
and
http://www.nvidia.ca/content/adobe/pdf/adobe-hardware-performance-white-paper.pdf
Be careful as you cannot buy just any card and plug it in, you need to know, or get someone to help you determine, what sort of expansion slots your computer has available, and select the appropriate display adapter. Your computer manufacturer may have some suggestions

I hope and trust this will make your computer and your photo processing experience more enjoyable.

John Allman
President, Toronto Digital Photography Club
 

Acknowledgements:

My thanks to Danny Andonoff of Plexxus Technologies Inc. and Roger Correia of the Toronto Digital Photography Club for proof reading this article and for their comments and suggestions.