How important is a graphics card for photos and graphic design?

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by MacBook-Gal, Mar 14, 2008.

  1. macrumors regular

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    LOA&C (The land of art and computers)
    #1
    How important is the graphics card for doing 2d design and photo editing. I know that it is very important to have a good one for any kind of 3d rendering and gaming, but what about for doing just 2d and photos? Do photos not take up very much graphics card memory, or is it best to have the biggest one you can get for working with them?

    Someone from the local computer store told me that a graphics card is not even necessary or worthwhile for doing just 2d, but I don't see how that could possibly be true. Can someone please explain?
     
  2. macrumors 65816

    snickelfritz

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    #2
    I'll start by saying that if you have digital flat panel display with DVI connection, the visual difference between a decent $50 GPU and a $1500 workstation GPU is going to be largely academic, with regard to 2D design apps such as CS3.
    In the past, high quality cards from ATI and Matrox were preferred by designers because the analog output filters were superior to competing cards. (crisper, cleaner display at high resolutions on analog displays)

    OSX blurs the videocard rule a bit, since the operating system itself is bit like an OpenGL videogame in terms of GPU performance.
    ie: faster, better GPU with more memory actually improves the performance of OSX UI transformations.
    There's definitely a point of diminishing returns though.

    Bottomline is that modern high-performance GPU's are designed, for the most part, to accelerate video game API's, such as OpenGL, Direct3D, DirectX, etc...
    Desktop apps are largely unaffected.

    BTW, the guy at the computer store was correct.
    Simply put, fancy($$$) videocards are for gamers.
    Designers should be thinking in terms of RAM and storage capacity, and overall system I/O.
     
  3. macrumors member

    gabedamien

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    CT/NY
    #3
    +1.

    Mainstream graphics cards outclassed the needs of 2D applications long ago. Most of the things that Photoshop will be slow on are the result of CPU- and RAM-intensive tasks, not display issues. Photoshop will occasionally use the 3D aspect of your video card to do certain transformations, but many photographers and designers will never even use those specific filters in the first place.

    When you load up a huge image in Photoshop, it's not going onto your VRAM - only your "screen" does. When you apply a lens blur filter, it's your main CPU that is doing all the complex specialized (and in this case likely proprietary) math, not a generic video card GPU. Even when you zoom in and out of your image, it's not a case of the graphics card scaling a window - that's what happens when you use Exposé, and is why text gets fuzzy in such instances - but the software doing its own interpolation.

    It would probably be possible to write some functions as graphics card operations, but that would be pretty stupid as it would be substantially less compatible, require more developmental resources, and likely not increase performance all that much. 3D "acceleration" works because it offloads some very predictable yet intensive math (as well as a lot of low-resolution textures and some 3D models) onto a specialized card, *while* your main program (which is itself resource-intensive) can run on the main system. In Photoshop's case, the program itself is the graphics - there's little point in writing it to run on a graphics card, whose 2D functions are normally limited to scaling, rotating, compositing, color rendering, etc. - when it will run better on the main system.

    Does that make sense?

    EDIT: I thought of one instance in which it might make sense to write Photoshop functions for the GPU, which would be to take advantage of its highly parallel nature. Of course, these days people are buying multi-core CPUs, which completely negates that. So again, no real point.
     
  4. macrumors 68020

    Hankster

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    Washington DC
    #4
    I've been using PhotoShop since 1999, the above is probably the best non-technical explanation I've ever read.
     
  5. macrumors member

    gabedamien

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    #5
    Thanks Hankster. I am sort of sticking my neck out with some imprecise analogies but I was aiming for comprehensibility.
     
  6. thread starter macrumors regular

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    #6
    That makes lots of sense. Thanks so much for the explanations!!!
     
  7. macrumors 6502

    jerryrock

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    #7
    Photoshop does use GPU acceleration to enhance performance of graphics display and rendering. Apple's Aperture is another program that fully engages the GPU and benefits from larger VRAM.
     

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  8. macrumors 65816

    snickelfritz

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    #8
    Photoshop Extended uses the GPU for 3D layers.
    This is probably a non-issue for most designers though.
     
  9. macrumors member

    gabedamien

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    #9
    As Snickelfritz mentions and your own post suggests, Photoshop's GPU usage seems to be mostly limited to some 3D elements.

    Aperture is a whole 'nother story. It was designed and built from the ground up to take advantage of OS X's core services, which includes GPU access for rendering. This actually makes more sense for Aperture than it would for Photoshop, as Aperture is often displaying and scaling hundreds of images at a time. And yet, Aperture's overall performance has to date not been spectacular - especially compared to Lightroom. This just further demonstrates that while these applications might benefit in some ways from some GPU access, it doesn't make a huge difference when it comes to the meat and potatoes of the software's central purpose.

    It also bears noting (or at least I think so ;)) that Aperture was developed from scratch by Apple's in-house software development team for the new generation of Macs, i.e. on a very limited set of hardware. It's not surprising that in this case the GPU might be corralled for some limited but appropriate tasks. Photoshop on the other hand has evolved over many years and has had to support a much wider set of hardware.
     
  10. macrumors 6502

    jerryrock

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Amsterdam, NY
    #10
    Photoshop CS3's GPU use is not limited to 3D events as gabedamien and snikelfritz have suggested.

    GPU settings
    Instead of relying on the Central Processor
    Unit (CPU) for the graphics processing,
    some Graphics Processor Units (GPUs)
    are capable of providing faster graphics
    rendering. Where a GPU type card
    is detected, checking the Enable 3D
    Acceleration box will improve the image
    display performance.
    The 3D support
    will also improve the performance of the
    brushes.
    When using a pressure sensitive
    pen, the brushes response will feel much
    more sensitive and responsive.
     
  11. macrumors member

    gabedamien

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    #11
    Jerryrock,

    Thanks for the correction. I'm sorry to have spread any misinformation.

    Could you tell us where you took that quote from?

    Regards,
    -G
     
  12. macrumors 6502

    jerryrock

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    #12
  13. macrumors newbie

    Sinarman

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2008
    Location:
    Co. Cork, Ireland.
    #13
    This is quite an old thread but if someone is looking for info, as I was, this may help.

    My understanding is that the next generation of Photoshop (CS4/Stonehenge, which may release around October 2008, if rumours are to be believed) adds GPU and physics support to its existing multi-core support.

    Whilst, initially, of most use to "digital artists" there may be knock-on benefits for photographers.

    Therefore, I would add my support to the "get yourself a mid-range graphics card rather than a basic 256Mb" gallery, and if you're buying an iMac, or another type in which the GPU cannot be upgraded, then spend a little extra - you never know when it might come in handy. ;):apple:
     
  14. macrumors 603

    OutThere

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2002
    Location:
    NYC
    #14
    Bottom line: prioritize memory, processor speed, hard drive speed and hard drive size before even bothering to look at the graphics card.
     
  15. macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Sep 22, 2006
    #15
    The next version of photoshop is supposed to make extensive use of the video card, like Aperture. But the current version has no noticeable effect on performance if you have a modern computer.
     
  16. macrumors 68040

    Mad Mac Maniac

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    #16
    This is a good thread. Has anything changed in 3 years? Now with CS5 and LR3 is there a lot more hardware acceleration with GPU?
     
  17. macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jul 26, 2010
    #17
    whole CS suite

    Yes photoshop does use GPU and it does help to have apowwerfull one (not a saper expensive one), but CS is more than Photoshop. Photoahop is great and very optimized.
    Actually the other programs are the problem, illustrator does benefit from a powerful GPU if you ar doing really complex illustrations and indesign will display your photo heavy documents faster. It might not use the whole power of the GPU but I can tell you it does help a lot.

    Still you need alot of RAM and a fast RAID of drives or SSD and a Wacom!

    I know people think that 2D static graphics are not so computer intensive but sometime s you create really complex files and they do benefit from a modern computer qwith a nice GPU.

    Cheers
     

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