Design insights & tutorials.

Blank Canvas: Photoshop, Crashes & RAM

“Photoshop crashed!”

I see this cry all over Twitter, on blogs, in web comics — you can’t go anywhere online that has a tangential relationship to Photoshop without seeing this complaint.

So why is it that Photoshop never crashes for me?

I’m not bragging or anything, but instead actually interested in why this happens to some people and not others. Perhaps it’s the setup, perhaps the types of files. I’d like to get to the bottom of this, and I need your feedback to do so.

My Setup

So let’s start off with a description of my setup, then an overview of a typical Photoshop document. First, here’s my rig:

  • Mac Pro (2008) dual quad-core processors
  • 14 GB RAM
  • Dual-monitors connected to the stock dual-monitor card shipped with the Mac
  • Creative Suite CS4 Premium (Photoshop CS4 Extended)
  • Wacom Intuos4 graphics tablet

I use Photoshop more for drawing and sketching than for photo manipulation, but a pixel is a pixel; a layer is a layer; a layer effect is a layer effect. Here’s a typical Photoshop document for me by the time I am done with it:

  • 8″ by 8″ (or larger) canvas at 240 DPI
  • 15-20 layers, collected in layer groups with effects such as transparency & masks added
  • RGB color mode

In addition, I am typically running Safari, my email program, iTunes, Illustrator, Acrobat, InDesign, Tweetie, an RSS reader and sometimes even recording or watching recorded video via EyeTV.

During the process I extensively use Photoshop CS4 features like the Rotate Canvas tool and other processor and graphics processor features. Rarely does Photoshop feel sluggish, occasionally do I need to wait for an extended progress bar, and as I mentioned at the outset crashes are virtually non-existent. At least no more often than any other random software application crashes on the Mac (which is rare as well).

What is RAM?

In case you are unaware, RAM (“memory”, aka ‘Random Access Memory’) is like a magic potion for your computer. Most (or all) modern operating systems use virtual memory, cache and scratch disks (even Photoshop uses it’s own scratch disk) to allow you to do many things at once (“multitasking”) with a limited amount of RAM. Basically these features use your hard drive to swap out things from the RAM to “make room” for the digital information.

Why Should I Care?

Hence, more RAM equals less swapping info with the hard drive. RAM is fast; hard drives are not. Even without RAM, you can still open 183 applications, but if there isn’t enough RAM to not only store them all in the RAM but also allow for enough room to store the information for your open documents, you’ll see slowdowns and eventual crashes because of the swapping of information to and from the hard drive.

So the idea here is the more RAM you have, the faster things should be on your computer (this is true for Mac or PC). RAM allows you to work on larger files, have more software running at once, and work with larger files faster.

Physical Limits

In chatting with other Photoshop users, one thing does play a big factor in your RAM situation: the maximum physical limit you can install on a machine. Computers are built to support a maximum amount of RAM, and once you hit that limit there’s nothing you can do about it. It seems those with older or entry-level laptops are the most affected here.

When I replaced my aging PowerMac G4 with the Mac Pro in 2008, believe me I wanted to go with a far less-expensive iMac. But back then it all came down to the RAM. The iMac back then maxed out at possibly 8, but definitely 6 GB of RAM. From previous experience, this was not sufficient. I knew I would want a minimum ceiling of 10-12 GB of RAM in my new computer. The Mac Pro holds up to 32 GB of RAM. While overkill, it was the only option that fit my needs.

Today the iMac handles up to 16GB of RAM, so when I finally do need to upgrade my main machine I will be able to go for an iMac (or the equivalent) when that time comes.

What’s Your Setup?

My question to the readers: does Photoshop crash on you on a regular basis? If so, what version of Photoshop and how much RAM do you have installed? If not — well, the question is basically the same. I’d like to hear from the readers on this so we can nail down the role RAM plays in your Photoshop usage.

And it also may be a “heads up” to those looking to buy a new machine to keep an eye out on the specs for the RAM cap on that new machine. A tool at a good price is no good if it doesn’t add to your productivity.

Go!

About the Author, George Coghill

George Coghill isa freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist specializing in mascot cartoon character design & cartoon logos. His cartooning & illustration work can be seen at CoghillCartooning.com and at his cartooning and illustration blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here!
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Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • Zoltan

    Hi.
    In my opinion, and from my experience, the RAM does play a major part in this whole “Photoshop crashing” situation. It was virtually impossible to work with both Photoshop and Illustartor open when I had only 2 GM RAM, causing the computer to slow down (sometimes it took up to a good 5 minutes to open a file, and sometimes it just crashed), and eventually forcing me to restart the computer (because “I was running low on memory”), and keep working only with one program at a time. Not so convinient. But now that I upgraded to 4 GB RAM, I don't have that problem anymore, and everything runs smoothly.
    I use CS3, and have a Dual core PC. Thinking of upgrading, but money is tight.

  • http://www.animhut.com/ sriganesh

    i got crash my Photoshop or illustrator when doing larger brushes , i do have old configuration and run cs4.
    now i have an idea to buy laptop with 6gb ram with 500gb hard disk. will it OK for me to do the Photoshop and illustrator subcutaneously

  • chrismcd

    Good editorial. Just one thing to keep in mind. While installing more RAM does help, you have to consider whether Photoshop and OSX can take advantage of that memory. OSX provides full 64 bit support, but Photoshop CS4 is not a 64 bit program on OSX. Photoshop is definitely not using near the 16gb that you put in. However, you can probably allocate more RAM into Photoshop than most people, and you can run tons of other programs well while Photoshop is still open.

    When Photoshop crashes for people, “How much RAM do you have installed, and how much are you allocating to Photoshop?” is the first question that comes to my mind. I only have 4 gb on this Windows machine at work, and it's a 32bit system unfortunately so I'm not even using the full 4 gigs. However, I don't remember the last crash I got and I work with files larger than 8×8.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Yeah, typically computers will ship with just the bare requirements to run, like say 2GB of RAM. I'd say 4GB is good, 6-8 great and 10-12 ideal if you can swing it. http://dealram.com is a good place to compare prices online.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    I think you meant “simultaneously” :)

    Interesting angle on the brushes. I should have mentioned that I typically use one main sketching brush, however it is a dual brush that uses a texture, but not sure how Brushes affect performance and if they do, which are more likely to slow down Photoshop.

    Interesting thought to pursue, thanks!

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    That's a great point Chris, and one I should have expounded on in the post. The extra RAM isn't there just for Photoshop, but to allow me to also run basically any other app I want simultaneously without performance hits.

    That way I can keep all the Creative Suite apps running, as well as all the other stuff I have going on like Mail, iTunes and the like.

    But yeah, there are some limitations to how Photoshop handles and uses RAM that we could discuss in a future post.

    Makes me wonder if perhaps people are trying to run Photoshop in an environment where they are also running Mail, iTunes, etc. as I am, therefore reducing the amount of RAM that Photoshop has access to.

    Great point, thanks for the comment!

  • chrismcd

    Oh I'm sure they are. That would probably be the number one reason for crashes: forcing the computer to bite off more than it can chew. Second to that would be driver issues.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Yeah I wonder if those experiencing crashes have tried running only Photoshop with different results. If they are anything like me, they want to “have it all”, which is why I needed a machine that could handle lots of RAM.

  • http://www.webbinteractivedesign.com Matt Webb

    My setup:
    W7 64bit
    GSkill 8GB DDR3 1600 RAM
    Core i5 2.66GHZ
    GPU: XFX Radeon 5870
    Running the 64bit addition of PhotoShop CS4.

    There is many other things to look at than “How much RAM”. You need to look at the speed of the RAM, Speed of the CPU, GPU, and Harddrives make a huge difference.

    If you had a 500GB 7200RPM HD with 16mb buffer it will run slower than say having a SSD.

    Also having a killer Graphics Card helps too. You MAC guys are supposed to get the 64bit addition of PhotoShop with CS5 so hopefully you can take advantage of multi-core CPU's.

  • Simon H.

    Well for me Ps/Ai don't crash too much (CS3 Premium). I have a MBP from late 2008 running Win XP (don't ask why). The main issue I'm confronted to is heat.

  • Robbo

    I've noticed that photoshop only crashes when I try to use a couple of fonts. Nice fonts but they make it crash. Also when I copy stuff from Illustrator and paste into photoshop as a shape instead of a smart object.

  • Jacob Williams

    I don't believe the problem has anything to do with hardware. I run Windows 7 64bit with 6Gb of RAM, Quad core 2.66GHz and the crashing of Photoshop CS4 occurs on my system. However, it never happened until recently and I've been working with it for months now. Also, it only happens to my 64bit version, not the 32bit Photoshop. So it seems clear to me that the error must be caused by a Photoshop update.

  • Laurie K

    This is a useful article, especially if I get into the Art college I want. They require Macbook Pro, and I'm thinking of getting the extra RAM and anti-glare options rather than just the school recommended bundles.

  • http://iamchristinabot.com Christina

    I'm running 4GB of ram on my macbook pro and use to get crashes everyday, most often when dragging a PNG from one canvas to another. I found that disabling fonts until I need to use them made the crashing problem pretty much stop completely. 4GB has been plenty of memory for me – if you are crashing often, I'd suggest disabling all the non-factory fonts until you need to use them.

  • Mearl

    For me I found the crashing stopped when I setup a separate scratch disk. When my boot disk was the scratch disk I had nothing but problems.

  • Pablo Lizardi

    Hi. For me so far i haven´t had that photoshop crashed problem!!!!
    I´m running a:
    AMD Atlhon Dual Core processor 5200B x64 2.8Ghz
    OS Windows XP 32 Bits [one step away to change to Xp 64 Bits, for more ram, I´m thinkin´ maybe up to 8 gb.]
    3.00 Gb RAM
    300gb Hard Drive
    ATI Radeon 3650 HD 1gb DDR2 128 Bit w/ 2 Monitors attached to the card.
    [i work all day long with photoshop and illustrator CS4 Extended in main monitor, and in the other one with mozilla firefox, windows media player, windows explorer,messenger, etc. always running this apps.]

    and work with documents in photoshop settings:
    11″ x 17″ canvas with 300dpi
    15-30 layers, collected in layer groups with effects such as transparency & masks added etc.
    RGB or CMYK Color Mode.

    And photoshop and illustrator just run as smooth as a cloud, except for the larger brushes [larger brushes slow down photoshop a little bit, only with these brush settings] so far no problems!!!!!!

    oh yes i have a scratch disk separately [partitioned] from my main drive with 3.29 gb.

    i don´t use so many 3d features except for the rotate canvas tool.

  • emptyr

    I never had problems with Photoshop crashing. Maybe it did sometime, but I can't even recall it. And my machine is quite old: P4 2.8, 1.5GB Ram. I've been using Photoshop CS4 Extended for quite long both on XP and 7 on the same machine. Now using Photoshop CS5 Extended (white rabbit version) for few days doing all my work in it and still haven't had a single crash. On the same computer, under windows 7. Usually at the same time Illustrator, iTunes and Skype are working.

  • Bucket826

    I am running Mac Pro Tower with 2 (2.8) quad core processors with 16 GB of RAM and Photoshop never crashes on me either. I am also running, Parallels, Flip, Font Book, Illustrator, DreamWeaver, InDesign, Entourage, Word, iTunes, iPhoto, Transmit, iChat, Firefox, all while watching Hulu.

  • http://www.rapid-envelopes.co.uk printed envelopes

    I had a similar problem as Mearl where my boot disk was the scratch disk and this led to all sorts of problems!

    Then when i set up a separate scratch disk it waqs rectified.

  • mug25

    27″ iMac with a 2.8 GHz Core i7
    8GB RAM
    More than enough hard drive space free.

    Photoshop crashes frequently. There is no pattern. It will crash on small files. Big files. CMYK files. RGB files. While saving. While using gaussian blur. While using the paint bucket. While using Vanishing Point.

    You name it.

    CS4 just seems so much more unstable to me than CS3 did.

    I don't think it's computer related either b/c PS CS4 crashed like crazy on my previous system.

    Oh well. CS5 soon, right?

  • http://twitter.com/adrianthewriter Adrian Brooks

    I'm running windows 7 64 bit, with 4gb ram. I don't know any other specs, but I almost never crash out. When I do, I'm usually also running Dreamweaver and Illustrator along with multiple browser windows. I also have a Dell Studio laptop with Vista and 3gb ram that has about the same results as far as crashing goes. It just never really happens.

    I do tend to work with smaller files (usually 1280x1000px at 72dpi).

  • http://www.nahdesign.com Haley Saner

    I feel most adobe apps are buggy as hell. Perhaps the software is not being pushed to it's limits. I wish I had psds that only had 20 layers in them. I think adobe needs to stop adding pointless features that just bloat the software and focus on actual performance and stability issues that will help the professionals who actually pay out the ass for the software. Crastereffects has to be the worst with buggy code, ram leaks, and all out shittyness. For me, CS4 was a pointless upgrade. CS5 looks a little more promising though.

  • grapedesign

    Running Quad Core Q6600 Vista 64bit – 6GB DDR Ram -ATI Radeon 4890 -Dual Monitor setup – tons of free HD space.

    Usually I leave open Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge, & sometimes InDesign – along with browers, email client, & Music Player. No problems or crashes.

    Have never had a problem with Photoshop crashing. Only Adobe product I ever have crash is AfterEffects, which happens usually during a render.

  • http://www.jagdesignideas.com Joel Glovier

    So based on personal experience I'm thinking most of the people who have the crashes you hear about don't have near the setup you do. They probably mostly are maxing out around 4-6GB, and just a single dual core processor, or maybe a quad core.

    I have had my VERY fair share of issues of the past few years with photoshop. I will also say that being on Windows maybe a big part of it. The computer I had from 2007 until just a couple months ago was a Gateway with a Dual Core 1.6 GHz processor, and had 4 GB of ram to start, and a 256 MB video card. I had lots of issues, and finally upgraded to 8 GB of RAM, and a 64 bit version of the Vista Ultimate (which is another key aspect most people with crashes may be missing). Additionally, I got a second hard drive to set Ps scratch discs on. This was about a year and a few months ago, and that all helped alot.

    The other issue is that as a regular print designer that stuff would happen often when working on large documents (like 300 dpi at canvas sizes greater than 8.5 x 11, such as tabloid size, or even 24″ x 18″ posters and larger). I also tend to get into very large layer sizes (found a nice .js script to run in photoshop to count them) often in the hundreds.

    In fact, a mockup for a home page of the CURE Intl. redesign that I'm working VERY intently on right now contained around 512 layers.

    So often the crashes would occur on docs that had hundreds of layers, and also large DPI (rarely get crashes when doing web mockups), AND the final bit – asking Photoshop to run a complex task like a lighting effect, or render something on a complex document. (and I usually had illustrator open too, and sometimes even InDesign as well)

    Now again – this is all with my old computer. And in the end I had way more issues with Windows itself. So much, in fact, that Microsoft couldn't even resolve it after 10 hours with their tech support and just sent me an email saying they were closing my case!

    I knew that I needed to buy a new computer soon, but that was the last straw with Microsoft. Up until that experience I had fully intended to buy an HP Z800 or something with a quad core processor and Windows 7. But I had enough of Microsoft crap at that point. (incidentally that was also the third time they had me reinstall the OS in about two and a half years)

    So that's when I found this AMAZING Mac Pro on ebay for a very decent price. It was used by Digital Kitchen for one project (rendering video for Microsoft superstores, ironically) and the guy was selling like four of them. I got the last one and it's got dual quad core processors, 16 GB of RAM, and the basic 512 MB graphics card. I moved my other hard drive into this, so now it has two. And photoshop has been just dandy on it so far. In fact, my whole computing life and business feels so much easier, and fun. :)

    And that old computer that Microsoft couldn't even fix? I wiped the hard drive and installed Ubuntu. Ubuntu is much better than Windows. Too bad it doesn't run Photoshop or the creative suite.

  • http://www.jagdesignideas.com Joel Glovier

    I've had some issues in the past with brushes – especially custom brushes that have a very complex shape, or splatter brushes with tons of splatters. Actually a good example is one of those free spray paint brushes i got from a sample pack of gomedia stuff. The spray paint brush is awesome, but often it will slow things down a bit on account of having so many draw regions to account for with all the little spatters.

    Also, just having a ton of brushes in my pallette (like a couple hundred i would say) has often slowed things down in photoshop as I scroll through them. At least on my old PC it did. :)

    BTW – here's a project where I used that nice GoMedia spraypaint brush a while back: http://beta10.behance.net/gallery/Print-Work-Ch

  • michaelbarreto

    I operate a Quad Dual-Core 2.66GHz Nehalem from Early 2009 with 14GB in matched pairs (I got the idea to do that from the warning message that Apple kindly supplied when I failed to do so). I run CS4 and consistently work on files that are 72MB canvas size, doing color correction through Camera Raw and batch processing files, as well as photo-illustration on multiple 500MB files that are 12000×6000 pixels. Photoshop crashes on me often enough that I always save as soon as I commit to an edit. And when I work with clients, we have Photoshop Crashed Coffee Breaks.

  • http://gdje.deviantart.com Jesus Elorza

    My settings (working on an HP Pavilion dv2000 laptop):

    Processor: Intel Pentium Dual-Core T2080
    HDD: 120 GB
    RAM memory: 1 GB
    OS: Windows Vista 32 bit

    I rarely have seen photoshop or illustrator crashing on my laptop, but there are times when I see that it gets somewhat slow when exporting a file or trying to open an .eps file at 300 dpi. I know that most of the problems that I get are because of the size of the canvas and the resolution that im working with, but, working with 1 GB of RAM doesn't help that much becuse you feel like your PC is going to explode due to the process power it has to use to render the file.

    Also, I try to not to have too many apps open because it could crash photoshop, illustrator or even the OS itself.

  • http://maryfranwiley.com mary fran

    Photoshop only crashes on my desktop (64 bit vista with 8gb ram, quad core processer, 1 gb dedicated video memory) when running after effects, illustrator, indesign and dreamweaver all at once, after not rebooting for several days – adobe still has bunches of RAM leaks. On my laptop (64 bit win 7 with 6gb ram, quad core i5 processor) I have only ever crashed photoshop trying to use the vanishing point filter (a known bug with windows 7)

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Surprising that just having the brushes installed was causing performance issues. Nice design BTW!

  • pennyates

    I have a very old (as far as technology is concerned) computer. Windows XP, AMD 1.83 GHz, & only 768 RAM. I usually have Photoshop & Illustrator open, with music, and firefox open, and often more than one file. I have only had a Photoshop crash problem once, but it happened over and over again on a particular file. Used Adobe help to find out what I should do. I changed my preferences to save less history and cache. I have never had a problem since.

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    Useful article & I appreciate this type of post.

    Thanks.

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  • http://www.sytesnetwork.net oyun indir

    thx 4 the informations, good to know.

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    I love it! :)

  • John

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  • Vasitellapahki

    It’s not about RAM – it’s about buggy Adobe software.
    InDesign crashes as much as Photoshop, Illustrator a bit less often. The only Adobe prog that does not crash is Acrobat. Today Photoshop would not even start, was not multitasking, I had only Mail and Firefox open (was using website cms). Puff, says PS.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4QSTFTOOPOUCFMEDSAU6NK37RY Bora

      Photoshop CRASH! Bora has the answer. Solve on any OS regardless.
      Install Painter X, then start it, then close it or minimize it. Go ahead start Photoshop, Voila. Photo is a piece of shit when come to 64bit OS.
      Adobe, please don’t blame on Nvidia – FIX your buggy she-it software. Period.

  • http://www.clippingpathindia.com Clipping Path

    Thanks for the detailed information about the photoshop crashing and also about RAM.

  • http://www.klavisnurs.com Klavis

    Oh I’m sure they are. That would probably be the number one reason for
    crashes: forcing the computer to bite off more than it can chew. Second
    to that would be driver issues

  • http://www.product-shot.co.uk/ Product Photography

    Very good posting.