Making Lightroom Run Faster
Some photographers hate working in Lightroom because the program runs so slowly. But it doesn't have to. At least up to a point.
One sure way to speed up Lightroom is to buy a new, faster computer, but clearly, this isn't always an option for many of us. But you might be able to add more memory to the computer you have. Photoshop and Lightroom are memory-hungry applications. With the size of image files from today's multi-mega-megapixel cameras, they have to be. The more memory you have in your computer, the better. When memory is in short supply, your computer can only work on a portion of an image at a time, swapping the rest to your hard drive. And nothing slows down digital editing more than forcing your computer's drive to crunch and struggle and moan the whole way through.
If you've never attempted this sort of thing before, fear not. Sites such as crucial.com can scan your computer and suggest options for adding memory. This way, you can know what's possible without ever taking the cover off your computer. But when your new memory arrives, you'll need to take a few deep breaths and get out your screwdriver. If the documentation that came with your computer doesn't tell you how to open the case, you can probably find the details online. Often, you can even find helpful videos showing you the process, step by step. If you're still apprehensive, friends or computer repair shops can abound that can help. Laptops can sometimes be tricky. Just take things slowly and pay attention to what you are doing. When I buy a new computer, I generally buy it with little or no built-in memory and max it out later myself. I've found that most after-market memory is just as good as what computer manufacturers use and costs a lot less.
While we're discussing hardware upgrades, let's not forget that clunky old hard drive. Solid-state drives have dropped in cost to where even mere mortals can afford them. Transferring your operating system and other contents to a new drive can seem challenging, and you may not need to. If your computer has an empty drive bay, you can add an SSD drive for your images or just temp and swap space. There are several ways to attach an external drive, too, but not all configurations are suitable for all purposes. And make sure you have a backup strategy whenever you make any drive configuration changes.
A good hardware tune-up will probably have the most significant impact on Lightroom performance. But, if memory and drive upgrades are beyond your skill level, you can still gain some speed improvements without getting near a screwdriver. You can benefit a lot by tuning the computer you already have. And how you use it.
Lightroom can build "smart previews" of your images as you load them. Smart previews are much smaller than the original images but look the same. With these smaller copies, you can do much of your catalog work and editing in the memory you have. Older versions of Lightroom offered only standard (1:1) previews, but the basic idea is the same. It's up to you if you want to do your final proofing on the original, but all the edits leading up to that will be much more responsive. You can also generate previews for your existing images, but it may take some time if you have a lot in your catalog. Just let it run overnight, and you will wake up to a faster computer. Or it should seem that way. These will add a bit more to your disk space requirements. While previews are unlikely to force your hand just yet, I warned you that a disk drive upgrade may eventually be in your future. Nothing comes completely free.
It's worth adjusting is the size of your Camera Raw cache. Lightroom caches rendered previews of images that you work on improving performance. But if this area is too small, Lightroom will constantly need to recreate the data when required. The default size is only 1 GB, but I'd recommend bumping it up to at least 20 GB. It will take a bit of experimentation to discover the optimal value, but more cache is generally better than less.
Avoid running other programs at the same time you work in Lightroom. It's surprising how a web browser with a few open tabs running can eat into your precious memory and processor time. Or a mp3-player program streaming sweet, Bluetooth tunes in your ears as you work. When resources are scarce, it's best to avoid competition. Try keeping an old computer around for such tasks so you can dedicate your pride and joy, new computer to your, well, ... pride and joy.
Upgrade to the latest release for your Lightroom version. Periodically, Adobe engineers dedicate some of their effort to making performance enhancements in their code. You may find they've fixed whatever irked you. Newer versions can come with performance-hogging features of their own, but you can almost always disable these in the program options. Always review your configuration before and after any upgrade so you can spot what has changed.
Consider disabling the option of using a Graphics Processor (GPU). Such a chip is meant to speed up graphics-heavy tasks, but much of its instruction set is geared around video enhancement, not still image display. And once again, any enhancement comes at the cost of using a bit more of your valuable RAM. Some people find that disabling their GPU gives them a notable improvement, while others will see little if any difference. You may even find performance better with the Graphic Processor enabled. To each his own, but it can be worth a try, regardless. Don't just assume that Adobe knows what's best in their defaults.
While you're at it, review the other options. It takes processor power to synchronize your images to the web or attempt to recognize faces in every picture. They have their uses and may even be fun, but it's up to you what to have your computer spend time on.
Other tweaks are possible as well. But eventually, you reach the point of diminishing returns. If these don't get you enough boost, it probably is time to think about a new computer. To console yourself, take heart in knowing that each year's model is faster and often cheaper than the prior ones. If you haven't bought a new model in a few years, at least take the time to check out what's available. You may be surprised.