I have a dedicated RAID 1 (mirrored) volume for my photo library which is stored in Aperture 3 and one of the drives just died so I'm going to replace both. Is there a noticeable performance improvement using 7200 RPM drives over 5400 RPM drives for photo editing? I'm sure there is for video editing but don't know about photo.

4 Answers 4


Yes, there is a noticeable improvement if you're using a DAM tool like Lightroom or Aperture. The bottle neck in such programs is the disk drive. To see this for yourself, import a set of files and then watch the Activity Monitor. With Lightroom, you'll see that the disk activity will hit 100% while thumbnails get generated. CPU activity meanwhile will be nowhere near 100%, especially if you have a fairly modern machine.

  • Ah yea, thumbnail generation should be improved, especially helpful for batch edits. I guess it does depend on what you're doing as rfusca says, in a straight PS workflow its probably not a big deal but in LR or Aperture it'd help more.
    – Shizam
    Dec 5, 2010 at 23:17
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    Even though it's disk-bound, I'm skeptical that the improvement in going from 5400rpm to 7200rpm drives is going to produce a significant improvement in real-world use. You may notice it if you look carefully, but I'd be very surprised if it makes an impact big enough to really change anything practically.
    – mattdm
    Dec 6, 2010 at 15:41
  • Say you have 1000 pictures in a directory and the worst-case-scenario, that neither OS nor HDD can optimize the search of the files on the disk. then you'll have 8 vs 12 *1000 = 8 vs 12 seconds for just touching the files. 4 seconds might not be much, but these 50% are noticable. Faster rotation speeds up random access - that is why fast platters (or SSDs) are to be preferred for compilation. I'm not looking into transfer-rate, as it depends on other factors like density, layout, above mentioned optimization.
    – Leonidas
    Dec 6, 2010 at 22:36

I work with 21MP photos and in an effort to speed up Lightroom on my desktop I looked at what I could improve and it seemed replacing the disks was the way to go. Unfortunately, I can't say about 5400 RPM vs. 7200 RPM but I replaced a pair of fairly zippy Hitachi SATA 15,000 RPM (!) drives by a pair of 160GB Intel X25G2 SSD. The improvement was noticeable, so my gut feeling is that anything faster does help. I don't edit photos on my laptop too much but I've had laptops in the past that I upgraded to 7200 RPM for work (compilation of apps), and I could also feel the difference.

My answer: yes, I think it will help. My advice: go for a SSD, besides memory this is one of the "cheapest" way to really improve your performances (short of buying a new computer). You don't need a big one, as long as you leave the Aperture/Lightroom database on this disk, and say, 6 months worth of latest RAW. If you don't have much memory, putting the OS page disk on the SSD can help as well.

  • Hah, yea going from anything to SSD would be a massive difference, when I put my OS on a SSD instead of a pair of RAID1 7200 drives the change was dramatic. If I were spending > 2hrs/day editing photos I'd do it in a heartbeat, as is I don't value it that much.
    – Shizam
    Dec 5, 2010 at 20:51
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    How are those Intel SSD's? I do a lot of photo work in Lightroom, and I've been seriously considering some SSD raid for my work drive. I've noticed that there are some insanely fast SSD's these days, pushing 800mb/s throughput rates for the more expensive varieties...that would be a true dream.
    – jrista
    Dec 6, 2010 at 0:16
  • SSD are great, no doubt about it, but it's not recommended to go RAID with them (though it has been done just for benchmarks kicks). The X25G2 was the one of the best that was humanly affordable (the X25E were faster I think), but I think there are certainly faster now. I'm patiently waiting to get a 512GB SSD for my laptop (I mean, for less than half a leg). Dec 6, 2010 at 4:43

I'm going to speak from personal experience here and apparently contrary to popular opinion. I recently (within the last 3 months) switched from a 5400 rpm drive in my laptop to a 7200 rpm drive. While the difference in many things was quite significant - I didn't feel my photo editing experienced much of a bump up. I'm not saying that there wasn't a difference, it just wasn't very noticeable - for me. I suppose this could be highly dependent on your specific workflow though.


When I upgraded my laptop hdd from the slow drive apple shipped in it (4800?) to 7200 there was a noticable improvement in opening just about anything. Everything felt just a little bit zippier.

EDIT TO ADD: In hindsight, the huge difference was probably more because the old drive was dying and there were a lot of IO timeouts waiting for it.

  • But thats the OS. I've no doubt putting the OS on a faster drive helps but opening cold (not in cache) photos I'm not so sure about.
    – Shizam
    Dec 5, 2010 at 19:42
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    well, yeah, the OS was faster... but once LR is open... image to image felt a bit faster too. Not a HUGE amount mind you... and depending on other factors, like the cost of the drives, the power and heat output... probably not worth it.
    – cabbey
    Dec 5, 2010 at 19:57

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