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Adobe After Effects CC 2017 Disk Cache Performance Analysis

Written on December 19, 2016 by Matt Bach
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Introduction

At Puget Systems, we have performed and published extensive testing looking at how different models of CPUs and video cards affect performance in After Effects but have not yet delved into the topic of storage. While After Effects does not need a particularly fast storage drive for your project files, for your disk cache it is generally recommended to use as fast of a drive as possible. Since "as fast as possible" is a nebulous term and the fact that a lot of the advice you commonly see is based either on anecdotal evidence or information that is vastly out of date, we wanted to perform our own testing to see if and when a faster cache drive will actually make a difference.

The three main tasks we will be looking at in this article are:

  1. The time it takes to play through a composition without an existing disk cache
  2. The time it takes to play through a composition with an existing disk cache
  3. The time it takes for After Effects to fully write the cache data to the disk cache

If you would rather skip over our individual benchmark results and simply view our conclusions, feel free to jump ahead to the conclusion section.

Test Setup

To see how different speeds of drives affect disk cache performance in After Effects, we used the following hardware and software:

Testing Hardware
Motherboard: Asus X99 Deluxe II
CPU: Intel Core i7 6900K 3.2GHz (3.5-4GHz Turbo) 8 Core
RAM: 8x Samsung DDR4-2133 32GB ECC Reg. RDIMM (256GB total)
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB
Test Hard Drives: WD RE 1TB SATA 6Gb/s
(184 MB/s read, 184 MB/s write)
Samsung 850 Pro 1TB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
(550 MB/s read, 520 MB/s write)
Intel 750 1.2TB PCI-E NVMe SSD
(2,400 MB/s read, 1,200 MB/s write)
Samsung 960 Pro 1TB M.2 x4 NVMe SSD
(3,500 MB/s Read, 2,100 MB/s write)
Software/Projects Drive: Samsung 850 Pro 1TB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
PSU: EVGA SuperNOVA 1600W P2
Software: After Effects CC 2017

Our test platform is based on the Standard Workstation from our After Effects Recommended Systems, with some of the highest-end hardware options in order to maximize the chance of finding any bottlenecks caused by the different storage drives. Since we are primarily concerned with how faster drives might affect performance, we will be testing four different hard drives with performance ranging from just 184 MB/s all the way up to 3,500 MB/s. While we will not be specifically testing any RAID arrays, the faster NVMe drives are also a great indicator of the performance you might see with a RAID array. In terms of raw performance these drives should be equal to anywhere from a 3-7 disk RAID0 array of SATA SSDs.

The projects we used (along with their source) are:

2D Animation Projects Length Source
The People's Template
(1920x1080)
~12 seconds
(30 FPS - 383 frames)
BlueFX
Grunge Frames
(1920x1080)
~30 seconds
(24 FPS - 469 frames)
Free AE Templates
Fiber Particles
(960x360)
10 seconds
(24 FPS - 190 frames)
Video CoPilot
Pop Out Book
(1920x1080)
30 seconds
(29.97 FPS - 901 frames)
Flux VFX
5K Subscribers
(1920x1080)
~11 seconds
(30 FPS - 307 frames)
FX Channel House
Video FX 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

-Gaussian Blur

-Sharpen

RED 4K 20 seconds
(23.976 FPS - 480 frames)
Provided by: Mike Pecci
Director & Photographer

Composition Playback Time (No Disk Cache)

For our first round of testing, we simply timing how long it took to play through a composition without any existing cache files. After Effects continuously writes to the cache as you scrub through a composition so it is possible that having a faster cache drive will actually allow you to render a composition faster.

After Effects Playback Without Disk Cache

[+] Show raw benchmark results

Interestingly, we saw little difference in playback time between the different drives for our animation-based projects. However, for the GPU-accelerated video FX projects we saw some decent performance gains. Using a SATA SSD instead of a platter drive allowed us to render a composition about 30% faster on average, although upgrading to a faster NVMe drive only increased performance by a small  amount. While the NVMe drives were 150% faster than the WD RE drive, this actually works out to being only 4.5% faster than the Samsung 850 Pro.

Composition Playback Time (With Disk Cache)

Since we just looked at how long it took to playback a composition without an existing disk cache, the next thing we want to test is how fast we can play a composition when a disk cache already exists. Where the last section was more a test of disk cache write performance, this is will measure how quickly AE is able to read the data from the cache drive. Note that none of our projects are able to be played back in real-time (even with a disk cache) which means that the disk cache is actively being used for all our testing.

After Effects Disk Cache Benchmark Playback With Cache

[+] Show raw benchmark results

Where we saw a decent performance boost with faster cache drives for video FX projects in the last section, this time there was only a minimal increase in performance. On the other hand, our animation projects did see a decent 15% increase in playback performance with a SATA SSD, although there was no measurable benefit to using an even faster cache drive.

Total Time to Write Disk Cache

We have seen how a faster cache drive can give decent improvements for playback times, but the last thing we want to test is simply how quickly After Effects is able to finish writing to the disk cache. While After Effects begins writing to the disk cache as soon as you render the first frame, it usually needs to continue writing to the cache drive long after the playback itself has completed.

Depending on the amount of data that needs to be written, it is not unusual for After Effects to continue writing to the cache for anywhere from a few seconds to 20 minutes after you stop the playback. If After Effects is closed during this process, all the frames that have been rendered - but not yet been written to the cache drive - are lost and will need to be re-rendered from scratch the next time you work on your project. Because of this, it is very important to be able to finish writing the cache files as fast as possible.

After Effects Disk Cache Benchmark time to write cache

[+] Show raw benchmark results

Writing to the cache drive is a fairly simple process of taking the render data from memory and writing it to the cache drive, so it makes sense that we saw some tremendous performance gains with the faster storage drives. Depending on the type of project, we saw on average anywhere from 200 to 360% faster write times with a SATA SSD compared to a platter drive. While the faster NVMe drives were in fact better than a SATA SSD, we clearly saw diminishing returns.

The chart above is normalized to the performance of the WD RE drive, so while the Samsung 850 Pro is ~3.5x faster than the WD RE drive and the Intel 750 is almost 5x faster, the actual difference between these two drives is actually much smaller than it first appears. This means that even though the Intel 750 is technically more than twice as fast as the Samsung 850 Pro it was actually only able to write the cache data about 17% faster at best and the Samsung 960 - which is just a bit under twice as fast as the Intel 750 - is actually only about 4% faster than that.

Conclusion

If you are trying to decide on what type of drive to use for your disk cache in After Effects, our testing has shown that it isn't as complicated as some make it out to be. Our testing can mostly be summarized with only two key points:

  1. Use at least an SSD for your After Effects Disk Cache. Not only will you be able to finish writing to the disk cache 2-3 times faster than if you were to use a platter drive, but you will also be able to play both cached and uncached compositions significantly faster (anywhere from 15-30% on average)
  2. Faster NVMe drives can give moderate performance gains in some situations. It certainly is not across the board, but faster NVMe drives can allow you to finish writing to the disk cache up to ~20% faster and may let you play uncached compositions a bit faster (~5%)

For most After Effects users, a SATA SSD is likely the best choice for you cache drive as the large performance gains make the investment more than worth it. Upgrading to a faster NVMe drive is a bit more of a difficult choice given that they are anywhere from 30-50% more expensive than a SATA SSD, but for those that want or need the best possible After Effects performance they are an easy way to get a bit more performance out of your workstation.

While it is perfectly fine to use a single drive for not only your After Effect disk cache but also any cache/scratch files for Premiere Pro , Photoshop or other programs, it is a good idea to have a dedicated drive for these files to keep them separate from your main project files. This doesn't tend to make a large performance difference in After Effects itself, but it can make a difference in other applications like Premiere Pro and is simply a good idea from an organizational standpoint.

Tags: Adobe, After Effects, Storage, Disk Cache
omidza

how about two m.2 960 pro .no raid ? one for After Effect and project files the other for cache or opposite ?!

Posted on 2017-01-03 09:45:39

You could, but I don't think there is any need to have your project files on a 960 Pro. I'm sure someone out there is doing something that might be able to take advantage of the speed, but I've ever seen a benefit from anything faster than a standard SSD for your project files.

Posted on 2017-01-03 18:39:16
omidza

Thanks. :))

Posted on 2017-01-04 06:35:46
bcaris

Is it possible to install ECC ram on Asus x99 A-II? Also, I've been a hobbyist of AE for some time now. Recently purchased an affordable rig. How would you suggest I run my storage? Bit of a learning curve for me with all the new tech.

CPU: Core I7-6900k (OC 3.8)
256GB Intel® SSD 600p Series PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
480GB SanDisk Z410 SATA-III 6.0Gb/s SSD
1TB SATA-III 6.0Gb/s 32MB Cache 7200RPM HDD

Posted on 2017-02-08 11:19:54

You can use ECC (and REG ECC) on X99 with the 6900K and ECC should work, but there is no way for the chipset to report ECC errors. Honestly, ECC isn't really needed for After Effects so I wouldn't worry too much about it. REG ECC, however, is the only way to to the higher RAM amounts since standard and normal ECC RAM only comes in a maximum of 16GB Sticks while REG ECC comes in up to 64GB sticks.

As for your storage, I would keep your OS and programs on the 256GB Intel 600p SSD if you can make it fit, then all your active projects on the 480GB. Normally I would say to keep your cache on a separate drive from your projects, but the Intel 600p isn't really intended for high amounts of writes (it slows way down pretty quickly if you quickly do a lot of writes) so I would keep both your cache and active projects on the 480GB Z410. The 1TB I would keep just for backup or long-term storage - you can work off it directly but I wouldn't recommend doing it too often.

Posted on 2017-02-09 20:56:21
bcaris

Thanks for the info Matt! I think i'll try to get regular 128GB of RAM (64GB currently) and add one more faster SSD. Really appreciate your help!

Posted on 2017-02-11 10:39:51
X Y

*which is better: fast m.2 ssd for OS, page file and cache or two sata SSD one hosting OS and the other for page / cache?

Posted on 2017-05-12 09:52:53

For just After Effects, probably a single faster M.2 drive for everything would be overall faster. If you also use Premiere Pro a significant amount, however, then I would go with the dual SSD setup since Premiere befits more from having the media cache on a separate drive from your OS.

Of course, another factor is that SSDs are more affordable than M.2 drives so if you need more drive space the dual SSD will get you more for your money.

Posted on 2017-05-12 15:50:38
Ace

What if you can afford an M.2 drive as well as an SSD. Would you put the OS on the M.2 with the project files... scratch disks on the SSD... or the OS and scratch disk on the SSD and put the project files on the M.2 drive? Then where would you export? SSD or M2? Are all these extra drives redundant now that the M.2 drive is so fast?

Posted on 2017-06-08 21:35:06

It isn't as big of a deal in After Effects to have multiple drives as it is in Premiere Pro, but a dual drive setup is still something I would highly recommend. If you have a M.2 drive and a standard SATA SSD, I would definitely have your scratch files on the M.2 drive but whether your OS or project files go on one drive or the other shouldn't matter much. The only time it would is if you work with 4K+ RAW files in Premiere Pro as well. In that case, you want the project files on the M.2 drive but for After Effects - even if you use RAW - I don't think it would matter very much.

If it were me, I would put your OS/Programs and Scratch files on the M.2 drive, then your project files on the SATA SSD. There shouldn't be a significant impact on performance exporting to one drive or the other, so you could export to either drive just fine.

Posted on 2017-06-08 23:13:22
Peter Derek

Matt, so nearly a year after this was posted, do you still regard M.2 drives as delivering only "moderate performance" gains and "diminishing returns" for dedicated AE cache when compared to standard SSD? Also, is there a reason your tests always use 1TB drives for cache. Does cache need a lot of headroom vs a 500GB or 250GB dedicated cache (SSD or M.2) option.

Posted on 2017-12-01 19:34:47

Drive speeds haven't really changed much since this article, so unless AE 2018 made significant changes I'm not aware of this article should still be accurate. The biggest gain with a NVMe M.2 drive is still that you can write caches frames to the drive faster which is nice if you open/close projects regularly.

As for the drive size, I tend to use 1TB drives for everything more for consistency than anything else. Some of our testing in other applications needs a lot of drive space, so using the same drive for everything just helps me make sure I don't accidentally change drives between different tests. The size of drive you need really depends on the amount of cache you need - it's going to be different for everyone really so there is no hard and fast rule. I typically recommend a 512GB drive for most people, but again it depends on your individual workflow and how often you clean our the cache.

Posted on 2017-12-01 20:32:02
Duncan Friend

Should one also move their Media Cache to the SSD?

Posted on 2017-08-17 13:27:33
Arkadius Brand

The problem is not in 960 Pro or 850 PRO. The problem is in very poorly written Adobe software. I do not really know what these people take money for?
They do not even fix critical bugs like the one where you are unable to add your new clip to the timeline and must create new timeline from clip and copy it then to the destination timeline. Adobe is a joke unfortunately. Testing now Premiere cc 2017 and I am surprised to see the same bug (above bug) not fixed for half a year

Posted on 2017-11-01 20:05:29
MarketAndChurch

Technology is leaving Adobe behind. What's the point of having newer faster SSD's and Graphic Card's and Ram if Adobe can't make use of them.

Posted on 2018-03-23 06:11:06
Kiron

'Ello there Matt, laaav the site me old chyna knight. I have AE program files and disk cache on the same NVME and then project files on an HDD* [with systems files on separate SSD]

Would you recommend putting the AE program files on separate drive to disk cache [either a new NVME or the system SSD]?

*Actually tested reading project files off SSD and no performance improvement at all

Posted on 2018-03-30 00:01:05