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I'm thinking about buying a new SSD drive and moving my photography onto it. Will it result in a worthwhile performance upgrade for access my Lightroom catalogue, which is currently somewhat sluggish?

I thought that IO would be faster from the SSD, but I suppose Lightroom has some logic and anyway builds low res thumbnails from images.

I'm limited in that I'm using a laptop. I currently have a 250gb SSD boot drive and a 500gb second drive, but it can be slow using Lightroom. The laptop is a macbook pro mid 2012 2.* i5 with 8gb and runs really fast for most things. I store all my photography on the 500gb second drive. Lightroom is installed on the SSD.

I am particularly interested in getting the catalogue of thumbnails to load faster. At the moment, it chugs and buffers sometimes and otherwise (after I guess it has done some caching) is fast, but the different betwewen the two is offputting in the workflow.

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    Maybe you could describe exactly what part of Lightroom you want to perform better? Lightroom has multiple modules and they utilize different aspects of computer hardware. – dpollitt Nov 24 '15 at 18:27
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  • @cmason Just the mention of "SSD" on this site and people get weak in the knees. Look at my anecdotal evidence! – dpollitt Nov 28 '15 at 4:52
  • Yeah. Access and read time don't matter at all if the processor takes significantly longer to render the image than the storage drive takes to read it. – Michael C Dec 24 '15 at 1:16
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In my experience it doesn't make much difference. The time it takes your computer's CPU to render the image(s) will be much longer than the time it takes to read the file from either type of logical drive.

I built my current editing machine about a year ago. It has an 8 core AMD FX-8370 running at 4Ghz, 16GB of DDR3 1600 memory, an AMD Radeon 7200 series graphics card with 4GB DDR5 / 256-bit wide bus, a 240GB SSD boot drive, a 512GB SSD data drive, and 4 4TB 7200rpm ATA-600 hard disk drives. Assuming the hard disks are already awake and spinning, I can tell very little to no speed difference when working with photos from the 512GB SSD or from one of the 4TB hard drives.

  • Would @Andrew benefit from having the Lightroom Catalogue and Previews stored on the SSD drive, so that it can access those more quickly? – laurencemadill Nov 24 '15 at 11:59
  • With the OS and probably various other applications already on the 250GB SSD there might not be that much room left. And from a data security standpoint it is generally accepted that storing your file data on a boot drive is not ideal. The question isn't entirely clear to me if he only wishes to speed up the loading of previews or the access to all of the information in the files attached to his catalog in general. – Michael C Nov 24 '15 at 12:04
  • see the update to my question. Photos are not stored on the SSD. – Andrew Welch Nov 26 '15 at 8:45
  • the only difference i see between an SSD and a HDD is when you are loading lightroom, but once its up and running, you wont notice any difference. – thebtm Nov 27 '15 at 16:28
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In my experience, moving my raw files and catalog from a WD Caviar Black (~2011) to a Samsung 850 Pro (system yet on another SSD) made some of my catalogs * a lot more comfortable to work. Not any catalog or when editing the first photos, but when the catalog already has a lot of edited photos using a lot of filters, the editing of the last photos then could be really slugish, and in some cases was "freezing".

I suspect that the benefits comes from moving the catalog and preview files rather than moving the raw files.

(* I do not use one single catalog, I create one catalogue by event/date.)

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Like you state the only speed improvement an ssd will give you is the file read and write time. So very specific things like loading thumbs, rendering catalogues, opening a file, saving or exporting a file, and so on will be faster.

The processing of your image, think of applying filters, pulling histograms, ... require other system upgrades like cpu, memory, bus speed, ...

If you really have issues with slow rendering I would also look into multiple smaller catalogues like suggested by TTT.

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Whether or not SSDs outperform rotating HDDs depends on usage patterns.

There are two interesting figures when measuring the performance of drives

  • Access time - The time it takes for the disk to locate a piece of data. SSDs win big here with near-zero access time.
  • Transfer rate - The rate at which data is read/written once it has been located. Historically, HDD outperformed SSD drives in this area, but newer SSD technology now outperforms in HDDs in transfer rate as well.

Under normal computer use, the OS/applications typically access thousands of smaller files continously, making the access time the most significant factor, making even a low-performing SSD giving a much better experience than a fast HDD.

If you have a few large files, and the file system is not fragmented, the benefit of SSD over HDD may not seem significant - after all, a fast HDD can load a 20MB raw file at less than 0.2sec.

So to apply this to photography, a good compromise in terms of cost/performance would be to place your library data on an SSD, and place raw files on rotating HDDs.

  • -1 here. Shoe me hard discs that are delivering 500mb/s+ read performance and we talk. SSD blow HDD out of the way ALWAYS. The mitigation is the higher price. – TomTom Nov 27 '15 at 12:40
  • @TomTom - as I said, I didn't spend a lot of time checking up on the figures. I have rewritten the answer based on you input – Pete Nov 27 '15 at 13:09
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It can. As usual with computers, you get the most significant benefits by improving the slowest path. A modern SSD is considerably faster than rotating disk, so the potential for speed up is huge. I know this from personal experience, having a system with quite a few SSDs, plus several external ones.

When not using full-previews, Lightroom needs the original files when you process them, so moving them to an SSD will help. If you have full previews, then you will not see much of a benefit that way. Instead what you should do is move the previews and catalog to the SSD since those are constantly needed by Lightroom.

There will be a higher gain if you move both your images and your previews onto an SSD. You do not need to separate them as with traditional disks since SSDs have a more consistent throughput. ideally you should get a fast SSD and connect it via SATA or eSATA, otherwise a USB enclosure will lower its potential performance.

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