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After Effects CC 2017 Mac Pro vs PC Performance

Written on March 30, 2017 by Matt Bach
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Introduction

If you are thinking of moving your After Effects workstation from Mac to PC, you are likely doing so for one of three reasons:

  1. The more robust capabilities available on PC (built-in video capture options, VR headset support, hardware upgrades, etc.)
  2. The lower cost of PC workstations
  3. The higher performance of a modern PC workstation

In this article we will be specifically looking at number 3 - examining how the top-end Mac Pro (late 2013) compares to one of our After Effects workstations. This system was designed based on our extensive testing of After Effects and represents both a great value (priced at just over half the cost of the Mac Pro) as well as giving excellent performance in After Effects.

There are a wide variety of tasks we could test, but in this article we will specifically be looking at RAM preview performance, final rendering (exporting), and motion tracking. If you would don't like looking at charts and charts worth of data, we also have a summary of this article available on Youtube:

Test Setup

To see how the current Mac Pro compares to a modern workstation, we will be testing with the following systems:

  Mac Pro (Late 2013) Puget Systems Workstation
CPU Intel Xeon E5-2697 v2
(2.7-3.5GHz) 12 Core
Intel Core i7 6900K 3.2GHz
(3.5-4GHz) 8 Core
RAM 4x DDR3-1866 16GB ECC
(64GB Total)
4x DDR4-2400 32GB ECC Reg.
(128GB Total)
GPU 2x AMD FirePro D700 6GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB
Hard Drive 1TB PCIe-based Flash Storage Samsung 960 Pro 1TB M.2 PCI-E x4 NVMe SSD
OS MacOS Sierra Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Software After Effects CC 2017.1
System Cost $9,399 $5,633

Starting with the Mac Pro, we will be using the highest-end options currently available including the 12 Core CPU, 64GB of DDR3 RAM, and dual D700 video cards. Since After Effects is able to utilize the GPU with either OpenCL or Metal, we decided to test both to see if there is a significant performance difference.

The PC workstation we will be using is a fairly typical configuration we sell for After Effects using an Intel Core i7 6900K, GeForce GTX 1080 8GB video card, and 128GB of DDR4 RAM. This system comes in at about 60% the cost of the Mac Pro so it should be a great indicator of the kind of performance you could expect while significantly reducing the cost of the workstation itself. Even if you have a large budget, freeing up almost $4,000 can open a number of possibilities including upgrading multiple workstations at the same time, upgrading your monitors and other peripherals, adding increased internal storage (which isn't even an option on the Mac Pro), or taking a nice vacation to Hawaii.

One thing we want to point out is that while both of these workstations are using a single drive, that is not actually what we would typically recommend to our customers. As a part of our storage testing, we have found that using at least a two drive configuration with the disc cache on a secondary drive can make a big impact on performance. However, since the Mac Pro is only capable of having a single internal drive we opted to match that limitation on the PC workstation to ensure that we are not being overly favorable towards PC.

In order to accurately benchmark the two workstations, we tested with both standard animation projects as well as working with 4K video files utilizing heavy GPU-accelerated effects like Lumetri Color. In addition, we tested motion tracking with both 1080p and 4K footage. 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 show the performance difference between the Mac Pro and our PC workstation.

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

Standard Projects Length Source
The People's Template
(1920x1080)
~12.8 seconds
(30 FPS - 384 frames)
BlueFX
Grunge Frames
(1920x1080)
~19.9 seconds
(24 FPS - 469 frames)
Free AE Templates
Fiber Particles
(960x360)
~8 seconds
(24 FPS - 191 frames)
Video CoPilot
Simple Rings
(1920x1080)
~6.3 seconds
(24 FPS - 150 frames)
Free AE Templates
5K Subscribers
(1920x1080)
~10.2 seconds
(30 FPS - 307 frames)
FX Channel House
GPU-heavy Projects Length Source Tested Effects
4K ProRes 4444 clip 16.5 seconds
(23.976 FPS - 395 frames)
Transcoded from R3D sample files

EPIC DRAGON 4K HD (3840x2160)

-Lumetri Color Correction
-Gaussian Blur
-Sharpen

Motion Tracking Length Source
1080p H.264 clip
4K ProRes 4444 clip
16.5 seconds
(23.976 FPS - 395 frames)
Transcoded from R3D sample files

EPIC DRAGON 4K HD (3840x2160)

RAM Preview - Standard Projects

Being able to render your projects into RAM preview as quickly as possible is essential for a smooth workflow in After Effects. Since you may often reduce the preview resolution to increase performance, we decided to test how long it took to play through our projects (without any existing RAM previews or disc cache) at full, half, and quarter resolution. We are only going to talk about the overall average from each playback resolution, but if you want to dig into the individual results they are available below the main chart.

After Effects Mac Pro vs PC RAM Preview Standard

Starting with the Mac Pro with OpenCL and Metal, we did not see much of a difference between the two at any preview resolution. These projects use few (if any) GPU accelerated effects, however, so it makes since that they would perform close to the same.

Compared to the Mac Pro, our PC workstation was about 8% faster at quarter resolution, 4% faster at half resolution, and 15% faster at full resolution.

RAM Preview - GPU-heavy Projects

GPU-accelerated effects were only added in AE 2015.3 but given the amount of effort Adobe has put into this type of work in other programs like Premiere Pro, this is something we wanted to devote a good amount of testing to. Even if you do not use Lumetri Color, Gaussian Blur, or Sharpen (which are currently the only accelerated effects) in your projects, these results are still very important to consider since it gives you a good idea of where we believe Adobe is heading long-term.

After Effects Mac Pro vs PC RAM Preview GPU heavy

Even though we are using the GPU(s) heavily, there is still not a significant difference between Metal and OpenCL on the Mac Pro. OpenCL was a bit faster at full resolution, they matched at half resolution, and Metal was a bit faster at quarter resolution. All in all, we would consider the two equal.

PC, on the other hand, was massively faster than the Mac Pro. Honestly, we didn't believe our results at first but after running our tests over and over we are confident that they are accurate. At full resolution, we were able to play our projects on average around three times faster than the Mac Pro. Oddly, performance actually got worse on the Mac Pro as we decreased the preview resolution while the PC got faster allowing the PC to be around five times faster(!) at half and quarter resolution. This means that while we were at or very near live playback at half and quarter resolution, the Mac Pro was chunking along at about 1/5 live speed.

Things are definitely weird here on the Mac Pro - performance shouldn't get worse when you reduce the playback resolution. However, we checked our results multiple times and it simply is what it is. It may be that Adobe has spent much more time developing for CUDA, but either way with the footage we tested PC is massively faster than Mac when GPU-accelerated effects are involved.

Final Render - Standard Projects

Unlike RAM Preview where we tested multiple preview resolutions, for the final render we simply tested rendering (or exporting) at full resolution. Because of this, we don't have to resort to overall average results since there is much less data to process.

After Effects CC 2017 Mac vs PC render standard

Average Performance Relative to
Mac Pro (OpenCL)

Mac Pro
(Open CL)
Mac Pro
(Metal)
Puget Systems
Workstation
  100% 102.4% 109.7%

With standard projects, our results are pretty similar to what we saw when doing a RAM Preview at full resolution. There was only minimal difference between the Mac Pro with OpenCL and Metal, while the PC workstation was about 10% faster on average.

One thing we want to point out is how much the performance difference varies by project. In fact, in one case (5K Subscribers) the Mac Pro was actually faster than our PC workstation by a few seconds. In others (like Grunge Frames and Simple Rings), however, our PC workstation was 25-30% faster. What this means is that in some situations switching to PC might not actual net you much of a performance gain, but in others a PC will be significantly faster.

Final Render - GPU-heavy Projects

Just like we stated in the RAM Preview section, even if you do not use Lumetri Color, Gaussian Blur, or Sharpen in your projects these results are still very important to consider since it gives you a good idea of where we believe Adobe is heading long-term.

After Effects CC 2017 Mac vs PC render GPU accelerated

Average Performance Relative to
Mac Pro (OpenCL)

Mac Pro
(Open CL)
Mac Pro
(Metal)
Puget Systems
Workstation
  100% 100.9% 148.1%

We saw massive performance gains with PC (3-5x faster) when doing a RAM Preview with these projects, but the results are not quite as extreme for the final render. Our PC workstation was still about 50% faster than the Mac Pro, but this suggests that the extremely poor RAM Preview result on the Mac Pro might be due to a software or driver bug rather than being indicative of the Mac Pro itself. Still, even if you ignore those results and only look at the ones from this section, our PC workstation is still more affordable and significantly faster than the Mac Pro.

Motion Tracking

While RAM Preview and Final Render times may be the easiest and most common thing to benchmark in After Effects, motion tracking is another task where high performance is often important. We have found that the time it takes to complete a motion tracking analysis does not vary much on the source codec of the footage, but the resolution does make a big difference. Because of this, we will be testing with a 1080p H.264 clip as well as a 4K ProRes 4444 clip.

Note that since this task only utilizes the CPU, we do not expect any difference between Metal and OpenCL on the Mac Pro. We included both simply to keep our charts consistent.

After Effects CC 2017 Mac vs PC Motion Tracking

Average Performance Relative to
Mac Pro (OpenCL)

Mac Pro
(Open CL)
Mac Pro
(Metal)
Puget Systems
Workstation
  100% 100% 114.8%

With a 1080p project, our PC workstation was only a few seconds faster than the Mac Pro when tracking across 395 frames although this still translates to a 7% performance gain. Moving up to 4K, however, our PC workstation was ~22% faster. If we combine the two results, we get an average of roughly a 15% performance gain by moving from the Mac Pro to a PC workstation.

Conclusion

To get the obvious out of the way: yes, a modern PC workstation is faster than the current Mac Pro in After Effects. Even without our testing almost any Mac or PC user could tell you that with confidence since the hardware in the Mac Pro is over four years and two or more generations out of date. To be fair, however, we were a bit surprised at how well the Mac Pro held up in many situations.

Looking at overall averages from each section of this article, we can create a chart to show how much faster a PC workstation should be for different tasks in After Effects CC 2017:

Mac vs PC After Effects CC 2017 Performance Benchmark

Keep in mind that we are comparing a top-end Mac Pro (late 2013) which retails for about $9,399 to one of our workstations that costs just $5,633. This isn't simply the raw parts costs of our workstations either; this includes all of our standard markup to cover pre-sales consultation (to ensure you are getting exactly the right hardware), our full production process (including assembly, OS/software installation, and our thorough burn-in and QC process), as well as our terrific post-sale support and repair service should you ever have a problem. Even with all of that, our PC workstation still came in at roughly 60% of the cost of the Mac Pro. Even if budget isn't a concern, this cost savings can give you significant financial leg room for things like upgrading monitors or increasing internal storage capacity.

Depending on what you are doing, you can expect anywhere from a 10% to 4x increase in performance by switching to PC from the Mac Pro. To be fair, that 4x is from our RAM Preview testing with heavy GPU-accelerated projects which may be more of a bug on the Mac Pro than anything else. However, even if we discount that entire test you are still looking at a 10-50% increase in performance on PC. Another thing to keep in mind is that our PC workstation has twice the system RAM of the Mac Pro (and can fit even more if desired) which should allow you to work with much more complex projects in After Effects with fewer issues as well as maintaining a higher number of frames in the RAM Preview buffer.

If you have any comments or suggestions, we highly encourage you to leave them in the comments section. We are a PC workstation manufacturer, but we did our best to be as accurate and fair in our testing as possible. We believe that publishing misleading test results can only have a negative impact on everyone (ourselves included) but we heavily rely on our readers to let us know if any of our testing isn't as logical or accurate it could possibly be.

After Effects Workstations

General AE
Optimized

120% faster* in
general AE workloads

Configure


Cinema 4D
Render Optimized

230% faster* for
3D Rendering

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High RAM
Capacity

Up to 512GB
of RAM

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*Performance relative to Intel Core i7 7800X

Tags: After Effects, Mac Pro