Puget Systems print logo
Read this article at https://www.pugetsystems.com/guides/412
William George (Product Development)

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 - Mercury Playback Engine

Written on September 1, 2010 by William George

Traditionally, over at least the past 15 years, the main role of a video card in a computer has been to accelerate 3D graphics. That is a large part of what has made modern computer games possible, and it has also contributed heavily to CAD / CAM work and digital animation.  Video cards have also helped with 2D graphics and video playback, but the main focus has been on 3D speed. 

This trend is beginning to change, though. As CPUs have seemed to reach an upper limit on pure clock speed many programmers are looking elsewhere for ways to improve performance in a variety of programs. Designing software to take advantage of multi-core processors has been a big benefit, as is the push toward 64-bit software that can use more RAM. Video cards are also being explored as a source of more processing power, and in situations where their massively-parallel architecture can be harnessed effectively it can be a huge benefit.

One such situation is video editing, and many smaller programs and plug-ins have been making use of either CUDA (for nVidia cards) or Stream (ATI) to accelerate video encoding. The recent launch of Adobe’s latest version of Premiere Pro - CS5 - marks the first instance of a major editing program adding this kind of functionality. In order to use this feature in Premiere Pro, though, you need to have the right video card - so I’d like to take a moment to describe the situation, hopefully helping our customers to make an informed choice when upgrading or buying a new computer.

The name Adobe has given to this new part of Premiere Pro is ‘Mercury Playback Engine’, and you can find their official info about it at these links:



In short, the changes to Premiere Pro in CS5 allow a lot of the most popular editing tools to run on the video card instead of the CPU, freeing it up to work on other things and increasing performance overall to the point of real-time editing operation. To facilitate programming this, Adobe selected nVidia’s CUDA technology - meaning this only runs on nVidia graphics cards (sorry ATI fans!). Further, Adobe has only tested and approved use of the Mercury Engine on a handful of cards at this point: the GeForce GTX 285 and Quadro FX 3800, 4800, 5800 and CX. The first of those is an older model card, and hard to find these days, and the Quadros are all quite expensive. That puts a pretty high barrier of entry to this technology right now, at least for folks wanting to stick with official Adobe-supported hardware.

However, it turns out that this list is just an artificial limitation. The actual underpinnings of the Mercury Engine are much more lenient: an nVidia card with CUDA support and at least 756MB of onboard RAM. That opens up a huge amount of potential from both nVidia’s GeForce and Quadro lines of video cards, but enabling the Mercury Engine on those cards does require a little trickery. There is a configuration file in Premiere Pro installation folder which governs which cards are required for the Mercury Engine, and it is simply a matter of adding your appropriate nVidia card to that list and then adjusting a setting in the nVidia control panel. For a full walk-through, as well as more details on this workaround, check out this blog post from Krama.tv:


In case you still aren’t convinced of the value of using CS5 and the new Mercury Playback Engine, here are some benchmarks and videos that will help show just how much of a difference this GPU-accelerated workflow can make:

Benchmark showing CS4 vs CS5 for both rendering and AME encoding (scroll down to see the graphs in question):


Videos of the Mercury Engine in action:



If you’d like to purchase a computer designed for use with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and the Mercury Playback Engine, please contact our sales consultants via email at sales@pugetsystems.com or phone (toll-free) at 1-888-PUGETPC (784-3872).

Tags: NVIDIA, video, editing, GPU, adobe, mercury, GeForce, Quadro, CUDA, Premiere, CS5

I just found another blog with some good links about this:

A second explaination of how to enable additional video cards in CS5 - http://www.indiev.org/?p=308

And a link to the same blog, where they list a few nVidia cards that have been tested and found to work with the Mercury Engine - http://www.indiev.org/?p=317

Posted on 2010-09-01 23:26:48

Of course, just a week after I post this Adobe has finally added more cards to their approved list! It still isn't as comprehensive as I'd like, so the hack I talked about can make sense for some, but the addition of the GTX 470 gives a more affordable option - and they also added the new Quadro 4000 and 5000 cards that are just now being released. Check out that first link in the post above, the one to Adobe's own website, for the updated list.

Posted on 2010-09-09 01:04:13

I bought my Puget i7 computer strictly to run Adobe CS5 and it works great. I went with the water cooled i7 overclocked and then a Nvidia 260 video card and an Intel ssd. It came with 12 Gb of Ram too.

Posted on 2010-09-23 20:57:30
Avatar Tom White

Here is an article with better information on using just about any NVidia graphics card with Premiere CS5.


They keep the article updated and the FAQ section has a lot of good information if you run into various problems.

Hopes this helps someone else, it sure helped me.


Posted on 2010-10-28 20:43:31

Thanks for that extra link, Tom! There is definitely a lot of good info out there about this feature of CS5... maybe someday Adobe will wise up and just let any capable nVidia card work :)

Posted on 2010-10-28 21:05:52
Avatar James A. Frazier

This points to why I am a satisfied customer. I first contacted Puget in December for comments on a configuration I had created on the web site, and saying I was planning to purchase in 2 or 3 months. William George promptly replied with one specific piece of advice on my configuration, but saying we should review this closer to the purchase time because "there are some things coming down the line that might affect your decision."
Sure enough, when I was ready to go in March there was a new motherboard that had USB3 & SATA6, for one thing, and at the last minute a video card that could use the Mercury Engine with the CS5 I was planning to get.
I do my own research, I'm technologically very experienced, and I could put together my own computer, but it would take a lot more time, and I would be alone with my own trial-&-error. The Mercury Engine thing with CS5 was so new that it wasn't showing up in my research. I would have missed that.
One thing that impressed me about Puget when I was checking them out is that they said they have weekly meetings to share experience & info. In essence, that was what I was paying for when I bought my system from them.
My configuration is similar to Ira Lichtenstien's, posted above. I've been happily editing HD video & high resolution photos, I've authored & burned my first BluRay disk. It is satisfying to be able to get my work done on a stable system that requires a minimum of troubleshooting. I can focus on the creativity rather than the troubleshooting.

Posted on 2010-11-07 04:30:17
Avatar John Decker

I checked out the link that Tom listed above, which is http://www.studio1productio...

Just to let everyone know, the folks at the link (Studio 1 Productions) wrote a nice little program that does the hack or unlock as they call it for you. I downloaded the program, ran it and my GT240 video now works in the hardware mode. Great little program!!!

Posted on 2010-12-07 02:50:14

It looks like Adobe has updated their list of graphics cards again - the official list for "CS5.5" is now available at the first link up in the blog post itself. Notably the GTX 570 and 580 have been added, along with the newer Quadro cards from the 2000 on up.

Posted on 2011-04-26 16:51:09