I said, “professional media creators”. That means if you are trying to edit on an iPad or laptop, you are out of luck, many of these tips will not help you (Because they cannot be implemented on those devices). And if you are using an iPad or laptop and you want to know how you can *really* speed up Lightroom, the answer is to buy a real computer.
What makes Lightroom slow?
The first thing to understand is what makes Lightroom slow. Plainly speaking, big photos make Lightroom slow. Lightroom itself is not slow, it is actually quite fast. It is all the photos you load into Lightroom, the sheer quantity of data that makes Lightroom run slower. When you open Lightroom and start editing a photo, that image is stored in memory so that operations can be performed faster. Now imagine you are editing dozens or hundreds of photos and you expect to be able to click between them and instantly make edits to each one without waiting, well, all those images have to be stored in memory. And if you do not have enough memory to store all those photos you will get delays when you switch between images. So, if not having enough memory makes Lightroom slow what do we need to do??? If you said “add more memory” congratulations you win! (Other submitted answers included “blame Adobe”, “cancel my subscription”, “complain on DPR, Fstoppers, and Petapixel comments”, and the funniest one of them all: “switch to Capture One”.)
How much memory do you need?
The amount of memory you need is dependent on a couple of factors. The first is how big your images are. If you are editing lots of big images you need lots of memory, it is a simple equation. My rule of thumb is that the minimum amount of memory is 1GB per megapixel. Meaning that if your camera is producing 32-megapixel images you need 32GB of memory at minimum to run Lightroom effectively. To make use of all the features of Lightroom this is how much memory you need. When you start doing things like making panoramas and sending groups of files to Photoshop for editing, you will quickly see the benefit of having the proper amount of memory. All that memory also helps the rest of your computer run properly while you are editing photos.
Have you ever gone into a long photo editing session and then noticed your web browser was slow or other programs ran slow after all that work? Well, that happens because your system gave all the memory to Lightroom/Photoshop at the expense of every other program on your computer. So having the proper amount of memory is not just about Lightroom/Photoshop, its about having all the other programs on your computer run smoothly as well.
Even as I sit here with just my web browser, Photoshop, and Lightroom open my computer is showing that 74% of memory is being used of 32GB. The computer adapts to the amount of memory installed and uses it to make sure things run faster. This can be deceptive because the OS adapts to low memory so it looks like your computer is doing fine with 16GB of memory but the truth is the system is working hard to keep from crashing and burning with such a low amount of memory.
Another factor that affects how much memory you need is how fast your cache drive is. If you have a slow cache drive, you will need to double or triple the recommended amount of memory.
What kind of memory should you get?
A lot of people want the fastest memory they can buy but the reality is that having more memory is better than having faster memory when it comes to Lightroom editing. So rather than spending mucho dollars on DDR 4800 memory scale down your ambition slightly and get more of DDR 3200 or 3600 memory instead. And be sure you buy the largest individual size you can, such as 32GB (or higher) per memory stick.
What else can you do to speed things up?
While more memory is probably the best way to go, another major upgrade is buying a dedicated NVMe M.2 SSD for your cache drive. I recommend at least 1TB if not more if your caching drive is the same as your system drive. I personally have a 2TB NVMe SSD for my system drive on which Lightroom has automatically placed its Camera Raw Cache.
If you are not sure what the Camera Raw Cache is, open up Lightroom, click on Edit>Preferences>Performance and then look for the section called “Camera Raw Cache Settings”. Go ahead and set this to the maximum of 200GB if you have the room on your SSD.
You may be thinking 200GB is a lot of cache, well, it really is not. In fact, I am somewhat disappointed that Lightroom only supports up to 200GB. I feel that I can easily blow past that with the quantity and size of photos I edit.
What about the CPU?
Upgrading the CPU is an important thing to do as well. However, I would do it after upgrading the memory and cache drives. The reason upgrading the CPU is last is because the CPU needs to be fed data quickly for its power to be realized. Keeping the CPU fed with data means having lots of RAM and a huge fast cache drive. In fact, the faster your CPU is the more RAM you need to keep it fed. Unless you already have a ton of RAM be sure to add RAM to your computer when you upgrade your CPU or you may not see the full effect of all that added horsepower.
Turbo boost your cache drive.
Another option to boost speeds is to use a RAID 0 setup for your cache drive. You will need a special PCIe card to do this like the HighPoint SSD7101A-1 M.2 NVMe RAID Controller. HighPoint’s Cross-Sync technology allows you to configure two SSD7101A-1 NVMe RAID controllers to function as a single array, delivering up to 28 GB/s for demanding tasks such as 8K video editing. Why does it have such speed? It has to do with how RAID 0 works. With RAID 0 data is “striped” across multiple drives, and when that data is accessed it is read off all the drives in the RAID 0 array simultaneously, essentially multiplying the speed of the drives by the number of drives in the array. This has the effect of improving the IOPS of the SSD as well. One benefit of RAID 0 is that you do not lose disk space like you do with other types of RAID arrays so you could easily buy 4 – 1TB drives for a hundred dollars each and have an extremely fast 4 TB RAID 0 array. This is a cheap way to get bigger SSD storage volume with insane speed that a single drive will never reach.
Cache your HDD or SSD with extra system memory.
Ok, so you are running a computer with a LOT of memory, say 128GB, 256GB, or even more, and you want to improve your SSD cache performance even further… Enter Romex PrimoCache. With Romex PrimoCache your extra system memory can be used as a cache for your SSD or HDD. You can even use it in front of your SSD RAID 0 array and you will see yet another speed boost. PrimoCache will automatically choose what to cache and you can set how much system memory you want it to use. It is an easy way to turbo boost your system if you have extra memory that is going unused.
One problem with PrimoCache is that the cache will be lost when you reboot your system since it is stored in system memory. This is why I still recommend using NVMe drives in a RAID 0 setup in addition to PrimoCache. Then as you work with your files PrimoCache will make everything run even faster.
What about video editing?
Guess what video editors, you are in luck! All these options listed above are also excellent ways to increase the speed that your editing program can cue up your video files. With PrimoCache and a couple SSD’s in a RAID 0 array you can say goodbye to using tiny proxy files and hello to 8k RAW directly on your timeline (yes you are spoiled now). It will not directly affect how long it takes to render your movie, but it will make editing so much sweeter.
What else is there?
There are many ways to arrange, organize, and tweak system setups for performance. It can get quite involved depending on the size of your operation. A smaller studio should be fine with just these tips but there are other things you can do when, for instance, large files need to be shared to many different editors. Then you get into storage systems and high-end networking appliances not commonly available to the public. The expense can be high but for a big team the fluidity it provides could be worth it.
Good luck with your system and thanks for reading!