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I'm a photographer and work a lot with lightroom. Which is obnoxious on a HDD. Given that I have an iMac, I really don't want to have to take it apart. My current HDD is a Seagate 7200 RPM drive now. 4GB RAM.

Which option makes more sense to help decrease any loading times?

  1. External SSD, boot off of using Firewire or something?
  2. Another 4GB RAM?
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Without a doubt, an SSD will provide better performance - IMHO – Fergus Apr 7 '12 at 21:01
The question is, would it work as an external? So I don't have to risk breaking the screen? – Joseph Apr 7 '12 at 21:04
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I occasionally work with Lightroom on an 8GB MacBook Pro with an SSD. I used it on a 5200 rpm HDD before and I have to say: I didn't really see much of a difference in performance.

Rendering previews

The thing is: Lightroom needs quite a bit of processing time from the CPU and the hard drive to render the initial previews (as defined in your Catalog settings), but after that, it's mostly showing you this preview. So, the initial preview rendering might be a little faster, but after that, the HDD/SSD won't make a huge difference.

Rendering effects

Most of the performance is lost when applying anything you set in Develop. That's why a speedy CPU will actually help most. Getting more RAM means you'll have a larger cache for already rendered previews.

So where's the bottleneck?

In fact, I work off really slow network shares from my NAS most of the time. I don't have the impression Lightroom is that slow, even though the files are read through a weak WiFi link. Since the image previews are stored in your Catalog, they're on your local disk anyway. Getting an external HDD won't let you store the previews there (unless you move the Catalog), and you'd need to connect it through Firewire 800 to maintain good speed.

So therefore, given the choice, I'd go for more RAM. See if that helps.

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Three tips:

  1. Make sure the Cache is on the SSD;

  2. Copy your Lightroom catalog onto the SSD (after importing and creating renders the actual photos locations matter much less for speed.)

  3. Cache is located:

    Edit > Preferences > File Handling > Camera Raw Cache Settings

    You can manually move the catalog folders from location to location without problems.

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This isn't a general speedup of lightroom, but it might help you: When browing photos in Loupe view, I have noticed that if you keep the bottom filmstrip open, it caches forward, so that there is no lag as you navigate forward (unless you do it unreasonably fast)

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