Speeding up Lightroom on Mac Pro
February 20, 2013 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I use a mid-2009 Mac Pro for photo editing / cataloging in Lightroom. Performance has been increasingly unsatisfactory. Looking for your advice re: upgrades to the Mac Pro, or perhaps getting a new Macbook Pro. Specs inside.

The Mac Pro is a 2 x 2.26 quad core Xeon running 10.6.8 with 14 GB of physical RAM (I can't remember how the sticks are configured--but it's not perfectly matched (maybe 2 6s and a 2gb?)). Main hard drive (i.e., where applications reside) is a 640 GB 7200 RPM WD Caviar Blue. All my drive bays are filled (one with a Time Machine volume, and the other two with drives for the Lightroom catalog). I'm running LR 4.1 (build 829322).

I'm editing full-size RAW files output from a 5dMKIII. Maybe 25MB+ each. I increased the size of LR's cache, but I can't remember to what. I have LR set to render full size previews.

LR is really laggy, whether switching between images in the catalog, using the mask brush, the spot healing tool--really anything. It's getting really annoying.

Obviously, I haven't upgraded to the newest OS or the newest version of LR. I've been reluctant, given that each version of LR has gotten (IMO) progressively laggier.

What's the best way of getting some (go on, say it) snappiness back? More RAM? Increase the size of the LR cache? Upgrade to LR 4.3? SSD (and if a SSD is the way to go, do you have a particular model to recommend for a desktop)? Or is this just throwing good money after "bad," given that this is coming up on a four-year old machine, and should I just get a new retina Macbook Pro?

posted by Admiral Haddock to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Response by poster: One other datapoint--per the Geekbench blended benchmarks, my Mac Pro still seems to be in the top 15 Macs by speed, so it may still have legs.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:47 AM on February 20, 2013

Are you sure you have two 6 GB sticks of RAM? I am under the impression that those don’t exist.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:04 AM on February 20, 2013

Your system should have no problem handling files of that size.

How much space is left on the WD harddrive and where do you have your scratch disk pointed too? I have a MacPro also and have one of my drives partitioned with a space specifically for scratch disk use.

Here are some tips for tuning your system to peak performance which you might find useful. Even though it says it's for Photoshop, the principles are the same.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:04 AM on February 20, 2013

Per this Apple support page, if your Mac Pro is, indeed, a 2009 quad-core, it can only address 8G of RAM in the first place. The 2010 quad-core can address up to 32G of RAM, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:09 AM on February 20, 2013

Your biggest limiter on that system is the SSD, put an SSD in it (I use OWC SSD's), run the o/s from the SSD. If you can swing it, run everything from a 512GB SSD. Keep the spinny disk as a media disk or a backup destination for time machine.

While you're at it, find out the maximum ram for the platform, put in matched sticks, it's another hundred bucks at most.
posted by iamabot at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2013

Looks like you're not the only one having problems with Lightroom 4. Tips for boosting performance.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments so far--

Oceanjessie--you probably know better than I. Looking at some old emails, it seems to be the original 6GB plus 2 4GB sticks.

Thorzdad, mine's the 2x quad core, so, 8 total cores. Physical limit is 32GB.

There's 40GB available on the main hard drive (but I have 1TB+ available on one of the catalog drives), so switching that around will be easy--I'll give that a try.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:26 AM on February 20, 2013

Response by poster: Actually, one clarifying question--if I get an SSD to be the main OS disk, should I put the scratch disk for LR there, too, or can that go on the regular media drives?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:32 AM on February 20, 2013

SSD is your weak spot! I also recommend OWC.

Put scratch disk, OS and user folders on the SSD. Put only iTunes media folder, Lightroom files and any big folder of documents you may have on the hard drive.

Stick with 10.6. Lion and Mountain Lion are buggy and slow.

This is from a few days ago:
posted by ridogi at 1:31 PM on February 20, 2013

I have a Mid-2008 octo-core Mac Pro with 6GB of RAM. I use Aperture.

The biggest speed jump I have gotten is when I added a 512GB SSD. That is the best thing to help load large files quickly, which is what you want.

I created a custom symbolic link setup where my OS and Applications are on my SSD. But my user folder is half on SSD and half on a 1TB spinning disk. Documents, Downloads, iTunes Music and Movies are all replaced with symbolic links to the spinning disk. Everything else is on SSD. This is more or less what the new Apple Hybrid SSD system in the iMacs does. This lets me keep all my photography and music work on the SSD while still having room for everything else.
posted by MonsieurBon at 1:34 PM on February 20, 2013

You say you have 40GB available on your main 640GB drive. I've always heard that you need to have 10-20% free space on a drive for OS X to be happy. I bet that's part of your performance issue. I run Lightroom on a 2006 MacPro (1,1) with no real problems (SSD & 9GB ram). It's not the speediest program but it's not too bad. If you still have performance problems, you could try the trial version of Apple's Aperture, which is faster than Lightroom, at least on my 2006 MacPro. I've had no problems upgrading to Lion, by the way. One of the advantages of Lion is that many more video cards are available to you. Both Nvidia and ATI make drivers for the MacPro under Lion which allow you to install many of their current video cards, so you aren't limited to Apple's selection and prices. Faster video cards can speed up certain operations in Lightroom and Aperture. Go here for more information.
posted by conrad53 at 9:28 PM on February 20, 2013

SSDs can make a dramatic difference. I have some SSD tips.

1) Google enabling trim support. Apple doesn't enable it for 3rd party drives but there's a common patch to make it work.

2) Update the firmware on the drives before you even install them. Some drives (like mine) cannot get their firmware updated while installed in a Mac. They require a PC.

I'd also suggest upgrading your OS but that's just my opinion.
posted by chairface at 8:50 AM on February 25, 2013

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