When configuring a workstation for After Effects, there is a huge variety of components that you need to choose from. Everything from what CPU, what video card, and even how many and how fast of a hard drive you need all needs to be taken into consideration. In this article, we will be tackling the question of what CPU you should use by looking at six different CPU options that you might consider in an AE workstation. The CPUs we will be looking at are the Intel Core i7 6700K (the highest end option from the standard Intel Core i7 line), the Intel Core i7 6850K/6900K/6950X (from Intel's "High End Desktop" Core i7 line), and even a pair of dual Xeon CPU configurations - 2x Xeon E5-2643 V4 and 2x Xeon E5-2690 V4.
In this article, we will be dividing our testing into three categories: 2D animation, video editing (working with video files), and motion tracking. In addition, for the first two categories we will be specifically testing both rendering and playing live with RAM preview in case there happens to be one CPU option that is particularly good (or bad) for either task. If you want to skip over our individual benchmark results and simply view our conclusions, feel free to jump ahead to the conclusion section.
To benchmark After Effects, we used the following configurations:
|Motherboard:||Asus Z170-A||Asus X99 Deluxe II||Asus Z10PE-D8 WS|
|CPU:||1x Intel Core i7 6700K 4.0GHz
(4GHz-4.2GHz Turbo) 4 Core
|1x Intel Core i7 6800K 3.6GHz
(3.7-4GHz Turbo) 6 Core
1x Intel Core i7 6900K 3.2GHz
(3.5-4GHz) 8 Core
1x Intel Core i7 6950X 3.0GHz
(3.4-4GHz Turbo) 10 Core
|RAM:||4x Crucial DDR4-2133 16GB
|8x Crucial DDR4-2133 32GB ECC Reg. LRDIMM
|GPU:||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB|
|Hard Drive:||Samsung 850 Pro 512GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD|
|OS:||Windows 10 Pro 64-bit|
|PSU:||EVGA SuperNOVA 1600W P2|
|Software:||After Effects CC 2015.3|
These configurations include three different platforms along with six different CPU models. For After Effects, we typically would recommend an X99 system as it allows for CPUs that have a good mix of a moderately high core count and high frequency as well as being able to handle high amounts of RAM. However, to ensure that we are thorough in our testing we will also be including a Core i7 6700K (which can only handle a maximum of 64GB of RAM, but has extremely good single-threaded performance) and two different dual CPU setups. While our multi core performance testing indicated that there should be no benefit to using two CPUs instead of just one, this will let us show how much performance you may be giving up if you happen to already have a dual CPU workstation or if you need/want a dual CPU workstation due to other applications you use in your workflow.
In order to accurately benchmark the different CPUs, we tested the performance when rendering and playing 2D animation projects as well as working with 1080p and RED 4K video files (using both the newly GPU accelerated effects and performing motion tracking). This won't test absolutely everything you could possibly do in After Effects, but by testing a variety of projects from different sources we hope to find a number of trends that will help us decide what CPU is the best for AE.
The projects we used (along with their source) are:
|2D Animation Projects||Length||Source|
|The People's Template
(30 FPS - 383 frames)
(24 FPS - 469 frames)
|Free AE Templates|
(24 FPS - 190 frames)
|Pop Out Book
(29.97 FPS - 901 frames)
(24 FPS - 150 frames)
|Free AE Templates|
(30 FPS - 307 frames)
|FX Channel House|
|Video Editing Projects||Length||Source||Tested Effects|
|H.264 1080p||15 seconds
(59.94 FPS - 900 frames)
|Provided by: Jerry Berg
Barnacules Nerdgasm - YouTube
-Lumetri Color Correction
|RED 4K||20 seconds
(23.976 FPS - 480 frames)
|Provided by: Mike Pecci
Director & Photographer
Unless you have already read our After Effects 2015.3 Multi Core Performance article, you may be a bit surprised that the Core i7 6700K with only four CPU cores ended up on average being the fastest CPU for 2D animation work in After Effects. In the past, having more cores has been better for After Effects, but with this latest version (and the latest hardware) it appears that having more cores is no longer always the correct approach.
While the individual tests gave widely varying results (the fastest CPU for one test is at times the slowest on another), compared to the Core i7 6700K the Core i7 6850K was on average about 2.7% slower, the Core i7 6900K about 3.4% slower, and the Core i7 6950X about 9.5% slower. In addition, if you happen to have a system with dual CPUs expect to see an even greater reduction in performance - we saw on average 13% lower performance with two E5-2643 V4 CPUs and 16% lower performance with a pair of expensive E5-2690 V4 CPUs.
Keep in mind that this is only the average from all twelve of our 2D animation tests. In some cases (such as rendering "The People's Template" project) the Core i7 6950X was actually almost 25% faster than the Core i7 6700K. So while we wish we could give a hard "this CPU is better", it will often come down to your exact project and how well AE is able to make use of the individual cores within the CPU.
Moving on to our video editing benchmarks, this time the Core i7 6900K was the fastest CPU, beating the Core i7 6700K and Core i7 6850K by about 2.2-2.4%. While the individual results once again widely vary based on the individual project, taken as a whole all four Core i7 CPUs actually performed pretty similarly. In fact, the difference between the fastest and slowest Core i7 CPU was only about 5% which is much smaller than we anticipated.
Once again, the dual CPU configurations were quite a bit slower than the normal Core i7 CPUs. The difference was less than we saw when working with 2D animations, but they were still around 12-15% slower than the Core i7 6900K.
Rounding out our testing is the performance with each CPU while performing a motion tracking analysis. In our Multi Core Performance article we saw very poor scaling while motion tracking, so it is no surprise that the Core i7 6700K (with the highest frequency and latest architecture) is once again the fastest. However, the results for the other Core i7 CPUs are not at all what we expected. Given the scaling alone, the Core i7 6950X should be noticeably worse than the i7 6900K and 6850K, but our testing actually shows it as being faster than those CPUs. We can't really give a concrete reason for why these results don't match what we saw in our multi core scaling article, although it likely has something to do with the fact that the higher core count Core i7 CPUs have more Smart Cache than the lower core count CPUs.
On the other hand, the even higher amount of cache available on the dual CPU configurations is not enough to overcome the poor scaling in After Effects. As a result, both of the dual Xeon setups were significantly slower (about 23%) than the Core i7 6700K.
After Effects has always been a tough piece of software for us to offer conclusions on because the results often vary so widely based on the individual project. Unfortunately, this trend continues in this article - what was by far the worst CPU for one project was at times the best CPU in another! Even the dual CPU configurations (which overall were the worst by a wide margin) ended up being the fastest option in one of our test projects.
What this means is that we can't give an absolutely firm "this CPU is the best" type of recommendation for which CPU to use. The best we can do is to give a recommendation based on an average along with a caveat that your results may vary. With that said, here is the summary of our testing:
Looking at the chart above, the Intel Core i7 6700K is a very strong contender for the "best" AE CPU. On average, it was the top performing processor both for 2D animation and motion tracking, and only 2.4% slower than the fastest CPU for video editing tasks. Unfortunately, this CPU has one major downside: the platform it uses only allows for a maximum of 64GB of RAM. This should be adequate if you are learning AE or only use it for relatively simple projects, but if you spend a good amount of your time in After Effects then this limitation is more important than the performance gains you might see with a Core i7 6700K.
So if the fastest CPU isn't what we recommend for most professional users, which CPU should you use in your After Effects workstation? If you mostly work with animations, the Intel Core i7 6850K is an excellent choice as it is the fastest CPU for 2D animations that also allows for high amount of system RAM. It is a few percent slower than the fastest CPU when working with video files, but only by a fairly small 2.2%.
If you work with a lot video files, we would recommend the Intel Core i7 6900K. It is a bit more expensive than the Core i7 6850K, but it should be around 2% faster when playing live with RAM Preview or rendering video files. However, it should be just under 5% faster for motion tracking which for many users may be very significant. You could use the Core i7 6950X if you really want the best performance for motion tracking, but the less than 2% gain over the Core i7 6900K will usually be more than offset by the more than 5% loss in performance when working with video footage.
|Recommended CPUs for After Effets CC 2015.3|
|2D Animation:||Intel Core i7 6850K 3.6GHz (3.7-4.0GHz Turbo) Six Core|
|Video Editing &
|Intel Core i7 6900K 3.2GHz (3.5-4.GHz Turbo) Eight Core|
After Effects Workstations