Put Your Huge Lightroom Catalog on an SSD


EKDTScreen 2013-09-11 at 12.22.19 PM


Adobe Lightroom is by far my most used application.  Every image I take is viewed first, edited, and converted from raw, via Lightroom (LR).  I create a LR catalog for each job or test I shoot and I have a few overview catalogs that summarize things. For example, I have a catalog called “JobsCat” containing the final Tiffs I make from each shoot.  It’s a great way to see a visual overview of your life’s work, showcasing the best 2 or 3 images from every shoot.  If it included every shot from every job, it would be massive but because it only contains the selects, it’s quite manageable. I also have one catalog of all the technical testing I do.

But sometimes a really massive catalog is in order. I’ve been shooting digital personal work since 2005.  Ever since LR 1 came out, I’ve been using one large catalog to view these image. It contains my more serious personal work (you can see some here) as well as pictures of my family, iPhone photos, pictures my mom sent me, etc.

My PersonalCat currently has almost 170,000 images in it. And it’s getting bigger.  I average about 25,000 images a year. It was working pretty well until it got past 120,000 or so.  Then it became unbearable to use.  Trying to look back at my precious memories of years past was taking forever!

The catalog was stored on a 6TB raid 5 enclosure along with the images.  I am using a Solid State Drive (SSD) for my system boot drive (running Mac OS 10.8.4) and to store my apps.  After reading through Ian Lyons’ excellent article about LR performance and SSDs once again, I found what I was looking for in the last paragraph. While his tests show that loading images into develop and rendering 1:1 previews are barely sped up by using an SSD, he goes on to say, “At Lightroom’s heart is a SQLite database, and the very fast access times associated with SSDs means that reading metadata from the catalog, searching the catalog, etc will be noticeably faster than on a conventional disk drive. Likewise, Library module thumbnail and preview scrolling (sometimes referred to as louping) will be noticeably faster and smoother.”

I made sure I had plenty of room on my SSD and moved PersonalCat and it’s preview file (about 100GB) to the SSD.  I also moved the Adobe Camera Raw cache there (via LR’s file handling preferences).  What a huge difference!  I can easily bounce around between the years and thumbnails now load almost instantly.

So with everything but the image files on my SSD, my 2009 MacPro, with 32GB RAM, can totally breeze through my 170K image LR catalog.  It is an affordable way to extend the use of an older computer too.  If your computer is older, check it’s specs and save some money, it may only be able to utilize the cheaper 3G Sata drives (instead of the faster 6G).  I have a 240GB Other World Computing (OWC) Electra drive which costs $219 today.