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Speed freaks

One sure fire way to make enemies on the Internet, is to slag off the Operating System they use. To make the move from one computer platform to another is like changing the way you vote, or switching camera systems even. These are not just aesthetic considerations, there is the expense of having to re buy software. Neither computer operating system can claim to be perfect, so it's also a case of 'better the devil you know'. The speed tips described here relate to the Macintosh, which is the system I use, though many will apply to PCs as well. For example, you should be able to buy the same utilities packages and PCI boards which are now common to both platforms.

System software

A computer that's in daily use, will after a while noticeably slow down without regular house keeping. You should once a month rebuild the desktop file by holding down the Command and option keys simultaneously at start up. This maintenance operation makes it easier for the computer to locate files (just as when you tidy up your own desk). Norton Utilities is a suite of programs that add functionality: Norton's Speed disk has to be run from a separate start up disc (one built on a floppy for example) and will defragment files on the main hard disc or any other drive. This is essential on the drive you allocate as the primary scratch disc to Photoshop. If you're experiencing bugs or operating glitches and want to diagnose the problem, running Nortons Disc Doctor will hunt out disc problems and fix them on the spot.

Configuring the system is important. Switch off non-essential extensions, this will reduce start up times and improve overall operating speed. Make sure you understand what you are doing and can correctly identify what each extension does (you'll need to refer to a system book). Some extensions are essential to run software and external drives but most you don't really need. In the memory control panel, switch off virtual memory and reduce the disk cache to its lowest level (if you mostly intend running one software program at a time like Photoshop). I haven't tried out RAM doubler 2.0 yet , but I know Photoshop doesn't like version 1.0 and nor does my printer, so I recommend you leave it switched off. Live Picture seems to be OK with RAM Doubler though, but its still best to buy more memory and allocate a sensible amount of RAM to each application. Photoshop should be run on its own with an allocation of 1.5 MB to 2MB less than the total available after taking into account system requirements.

One of the good things about Now Utilities is its ability to quickly navigate through nestled folders. When you mouse down on any folder icon, a sub-menu of folders or documents appear, drag to any folder there and you can see the contents of each. A similar trick can be achieved by placing an alias of the hard disc in the Apple Menu items folder. Aliases are useful for all sorts of things, you can make an alias of each image archived on a removable drive and keep these stored on the hard disc. The alias folder will occupy only a small amount of space. Double click on an image thumbnail and you'll get a message telling you which disc to insert. One can get carried away and create too many aliases and duplicates of files. Laundromac is a new utilities software package, designed to remove duplicate documents and aliases and help keep track of alias changes - it generally promises to keep your hard disc in better shape.

If you're a Power PC user, then you'll benefit from installing the latest system update. The earlier System 7.5 relied on old code being run under emulation. The current update runs more of the system software on native Power PC native code.

Hardware solutions

Top of everyone's shopping list should be RAM memory. At time of writing, memory chip prices have dropped to about a fifth of what they were at the beginning of this year. Its all right to learn on low resolution files in Photoshop using a machine configured with 16MB to 24MB total memory, but once you intend carrying out work on full size files you should think of upgrading to at least 56MB. Quite a few photographers I know, have 256MB installed and find this very useful for working on image files between 35MB - 60MB. Live Picture will prefer to work with more than 24MB but Live Picture performance is linked more to video display, hard disk and processor speed. These factors also help boost Photoshop's performance, so lets start with the processor. Recent mid to top of the range Macs such as the 7500, allow a full processor upgrade whilst some older LC, Centris and Quadra Macs can be upgraded to Power PC. Another option (if a slot's provided), is to soup up the performance of your processor chip by adding a level 2 cache, which will add a 10 - 30% speed increase. Or add a turbo clip on device such as the Warp factor 135 turbo clip. A friend of mine who installed one of these, described it as quite nerve racking taking the computer apart to clip on this primitive looking device to the motherboard, praying it wouldn't irrevocably damage the processors, but apparently it works a treat!

If Photoshop is accused of being slow, that's not the fault of the software, but the architecture of the computer running it. Desktop computers are designed to run all types of programs. The inclusion of Nubus or PCI expansion slots on the motherboard means you can add from a whole range of components to the basic computer, converting it to a customised workstation for broadcast video editing, 3D modelling or professional image editing. Radius make accelerating boards like Photoengine, which is dedicated to boosting Photoshop performance. Powershop (from Adaptive solutions) is another dedicated Photoshop board, and can add a 300% speed boost, on the 9500 given enough RAM. Adding Video RAM (VRAM) increases the screen display potential, so you can choose a larger resolution display on multi sync monitors at greater colour depths. With Nubus / PCI video accelerating boards, you get all this and at faster speeds. In fact with accelerated 24 bit video boards now starting at around 400.00, they are no longer such an expensive option.

Apple, Umax, Daystar and Power computing now make multiprocessor or multiprocessor expandable computers. The Daystar Genesis is a prime example, with four Power PC604 150 Mhz processors. To take full advantage of multiprocessing, the user must run 'enabled' software. Available so far are: Photoshop, Premier and After effects all from Adobe, with Quark, Macromedia and Strata not far behind.

Image files continually read and write data to the hard disc (which leads to the disc fragmentation problem I mentioned earlier). The fastest disc drives are either 1 or 2 gig SCSI AV drives, wide SCSI 3 drives (requiring a PCI card) or RAID systems (a highly reliable mini tower of 2 or more drives working in tandem). There are essential benefits to having an extra drive. keep one separate as the primary scratch disc in Photoshop and once a month defragment the disc. When you work in Live Picture, have the Ivues on one disc and build to the other.

The larger the monitor the better. A great new feature of Photoshop 4.0 is faster and more efficient screen displays, but you'll still appreciate working with a decent sized screen and adding an extra monitor if your system allows, use the smaller screen to display the palette windows. Graphic tablets with a cordless stylus are much easier to use than a mouse and pressure sensitive too. Keep the imaging workstation free of unnecessary clutter - the more applications and files you load up the more the machine will slow down. It is best to have a separate computer to run all the office software Internet / modem connections and games etc.

The best overall advice I can give is to think ahead, don't just dash in and start manipulating. Work out what you want to do and plan a computer session in stages. This is especially true for Live Picture work. Don't rely solely on the manuals and tutorials, read up as much as you can. I highly recommend the Photoshop WOW book, which includes lots of useful tips for newcomers and advanced users alike and has some decent images too.

Speed tips

Speed tips for Photoshop

  • Load Photoshop first allocate as much RAM as you can, and run on its own.
  • Have plenty of free hard disc space available (must at least match the available RAM).
  • Regularly clear the clipboard memory (Purge command on V.4.0).
  • Learn to use the keyboard shortcuts.
  • Learn to use the Command palette and install you own custom macros.
  • Get rid of unwanted mask channels as you work.
  • Consider converting some mask channels to paths and erasing the channel mask. Paths occupy only a few K of disc space.
  • Keep the minimum number of image files open at any one time.
  • Use the move tool to copy selections and layers between documents
  • Work on a low-res version of an image first.
  • Merge layers whenever you can to save on memory usage. Use Quick edit to work on large Tiff files.
  • If you can't run a filter, try filtering each colour channel individually.
  • Or, select half the image, filter, inverse the selection and filter again.
  • Save in native Photoshop format or uncompressed Tiff format to the desktop.
  • Save to the hard disc not to removable media (except Jazz drives).
  • Stop using magic wand and lasso tools to make selections. Learn to draw paths!
  • Version 4.0 will offer many excellent speed improvements including screen display, batch processing via actions palette and free transform tool.

Speed tips for Live Picture

  • Live Picture needs RAM, but processor speed is the more important factor.
  • Again, use a fast hard disc, ideally have 2 drives - one for Ivues, one for building to.
  • A few shortcuts available with the option key.
  • If new to Live Picture, using the program simply as a positioning / composite tool will provide immediate time saving compared to performing the same tasks in Photoshop.
  • Problems with slow screen refreshing? Try switching off the eyeball icons on layers you don't need to view all the time, especially colour correction and colourize layers. Another suggestion is to reduce the document window size.


Copyright - Martin Evening 1996

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