General Software

Photoshop CS4 (First Look Review)

18 Mar, 2009

The depth, flexibility, and speed of this latest release make it a powerful tool for a range of design and engineering applications.

Photoshop CS4 from Adobe Systems is a powerful image and photo editor. The toolsets it includes make it a valuable application for a remarkably broad range of professional endeavors, including CAD, DCC, and visualization projects. For this review, we had a look at Photoshop CS4 Extended, which offers numerous high-end capabilities for design professionals and the professional imaging communities.

Photoshop CS4 Extended

Adobe Systems

Enhanced 3D capabilities,
uses OpenGL acceleration,
generally faster to work with,
streamlined interface, 64-bit version
in the box

Cons: None significant, although
complexity is a concern

Overall Grade: A

$999, with upgrade pricing
available from $349; numerous
bundles are also available.

A couple of recent changes affect all users who work with Photoshop CS4, so I'll have a quick look at those first. For users who keep bumping into the RAM ceiling imposed by 32-bit operating systems, Adobe Photoshop CS4 is now optimized to take advantage of more RAM on systems running Windows Vista x64. This is all included "in the box," so when you install the application on Vista x64 systems, two versions of Photoshop are installed -- one for 32-bit, the other for 64-bit. You'll probably need both versions because many third-party plug-ins will run only on the 32-bit version, although a few 64-bit plug-ins are starting to appear. The x64 version of Photoshop CS4 Extended is faster and smoother in operations on systems with more than 3 GB of RAM installed.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 now supports GPU OpenGL acceleration, which will be good news for CAD and DCC professionals. This means faster zooming, all the way down to the level of individual pixels, smooth navigation -- without lags -- around an image, and significantly faster painting and editing. With the Rotate Canvas tool, you can nondestructively spin your image to any desired orientation and Photoshop CS4 adjusts your selections, grids, rulers, and other tools to match your chosen orientation. NVIDIA produced a Quadro CX graphics card designed specifically for Photoshop; however, the NVIDIA Quadro FX line of graphics cards for design professionals works quite well also.

Images can be rotated and zoomed effortlessly in Photoshop CS4, thanks to integrated support for OpenGL, a capability that's readily available in most advanced CAD-targeted graphics cards.

Although we're generally accustomed to thinking of Adobe Photoshop as a 2D image-editing application, Photoshop CS3 expanded the application's 3D capabilities significantly. For the new Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended, Adobe has rebuilt the 3D engine from the ground up in order to provide much faster performance; allow editing of properties such as lights, materials, and cameras; and create more realistic renderings with its new high-quality ray tracer.

Photoshop CS4 elaborates on the 3D capabilities found in previous
versions and supports a broader range of CAD file formats.


With Photoshop CS4, Adobe has accomplished a difficult task: making the overall application faster and using the capabilities of current hardware, while adding depth and ease-of-use features. This release of Photoshop has much to offer, far beyond what this review can cover.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 offers a wealth of new features and ease-of-use updates, including a preview of what image part the clone tool is working with.


The system requirements for Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended for Windows include a PC with a 1.8 GHz or faster processor running Microsoft Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (Service Pack 3 recommended), or Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise with Service Pack 1. Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended is certified for 32-bit Windows XP and 32-bit as well as 64-bit Windows Vista.

The target system will require at least 512 MB of RAM, and a 1-GB minimum is required if you want to use the 3D features in Extended. Available hard disk space of 1 GB is required for installation (with additional free space required during installation; you cannot install on flash-based storage devices) as are a display capable of at least 1,024 x 768 resolution (1,280 x 800 recommended) and a 16-bit video card. Some GPU-accelerated features require graphics support for Shader Model v3 and OpenGL v2.

A DVD-ROM drive is required for Photoshop CS4 installation, and Apple Quicktime v7.2 software or later is required for multimedia features. A broadband Internet connection is required for online services and product activation. Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended is available in a broad range of languages

A Macintosh version of Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended is also available. System requirements for this version are listed on the Adobe web site.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended is priced at $999, with upgrade pricing available from $349. Additionally, numerous bundles are available that include Photoshop CS4 and other popular Adobe applications.

A standard version of Adobe Photoshop CS4 is available for $699, which lacks the extensive 3D editing and compositing capabilities, comprehensive image analysis with enhanced measurement and counting tools, support for DICOM images, and MATLAB processing routines.

This release of Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended has much to offer no matter what your specific needs -- be they 3D, compositing, photo/image editing, visualization refinement, or complex image analysis. The great depth and flexibility of Adobe Photoshop make it a powerful tool for a broad range of endeavors, and the speed and usability enhancements incorporated in this release make it faster and easier to accomplish the tasks at hand. Highly recommended

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