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After Effects CC 2018: iMac Pro & Mac Pro vs PC Workstation

Written on May 15, 2018 by Matt Bach
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Introduction

Over the last few years, we have had more and more customers coming to us looking to make the move from Mac to PC. Whether they were unhappy that the Mac Pro hasn't been updated since 2013, upset because they feel like Apple has been ignoring the Content Creation community, or something else entirely, one of the biggest reasons they decided to switch was often due to the higher performance they could get out of a PC. After Effects is a very demanding application where higher performance can often result in a disproportionate rise in productivity.

For this testing, we will be using two high-end iMac Pro systems and the old (but still current) Mac Pro alongside two of our PC workstations. Just as a warning, this article contains quite a few charts and lots and lots of benchmark numbers. If you don't like scrolling through this amount of data, we recommend skipping right to the Conclusion section.

Test Hardware & Methodology

To see how the iMac Pro and Mac Pro compare to our PC-based workstations, we will be testing the following system configurations:

Apple Workstations

Mac Pro 12-core

iMac Pro 14-core

iMac Pro 10-core

 

~$8,200
[Configure]

~$8,200
[Configure]

~$7,400
[Configure]

CPU: 2.7GHz 12-core with
30MB of L3 cache
2.5GHz 14-core Intel Xeon W
Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz
3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W
Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz
RAM: 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC 64GB 2666MHz DDR4 ECC
GPU: Dual AMD FirePro D700, 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM Radeon Pro Vega 64, 16GB of HBM2 memory
Hard Drive: 1TB PCIe-based SSD 1TB SSD
OS: macOS 10.13.4
Display: Samsung 31.5-inch UH750 UHD 4K Monitor 27-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Retina 5K display
Keyboard: Space Gray Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
Mouse: Space Gray Magic Mouse 2
Warranty: AppleCare+ for Mac
(3 yr limited warranty & telephone technical support)
AppleCare+ for iMac
(3 yr limited warranty & telephone technical support)

To make our comparisons as realistic and fair as possible, we tried to keep the specs and pricing relatively similar between the Mac and PC systems. For example, we used a single 1TB NVMe drive on our workstations even though we would normally recommend multiple storage drives in order to have a dedicated drive for the cache files. Also, since the iMac systems come with a built-in display and force you to purchase a keyboard and mouse, we also added a quality monitor, keyboard, and mouse option to both the Mac Pro and to our workstation configurations. This works out to about a $1,000 price increase over the cost of the workstation itself, but we wanted to account for the additional cost of the accessories included with the iMacs. Of course, an exact price/performance comparison is going to depend on what monitor and peripheral you purchase - or if you need new ones at all.

In order to accurately benchmark the different systems, we used a range of After Effects projects that are mostly publicly available for download. The projects we used (along with their source) are:

Project Name Comp Name Tested Frames Notes
Countdown
by Rocketstock

(1920x1080)
Example Composition 0-40 (40 total frames)  
Electric FX
by Video Copilot

(1920x1080)
CloseCity
PlainSmoke
212-238 (26 total frames)
0-97 (97 total frames)
 
Animated Polygon
by Video Copilot

(1280x720)
Green Polygon 0-78 (78 total frames)  
GPU Stress
(3840x2160)
  32610-32710 (100 total frames)

4K H.264 video with:

  • Find Edges
  • Glow
  • Brightness/Contrast
  • Transform
  • Sharpen
  • Directional Blur
  • Lumetri Color
Cineware Party
by Cineversity

(1920x1080)
Party-Lite-004Full 0-169 (169 total frames)

"Video Wall" and "*.mov" layers
removed. Tested with C4D Renderer:

  • OpenGL
  • Standard (Draft)
  • Standard (Final)

RAM Preview - Raw Benchmark Data

[Click Here] to skip ahead to analysis section

RAM Preview - Benchmark Analysis

Since AE version 2015, we have seen a very sharp split in the type of CPU that works best for After Effects. While in the past a CPU with lots of cores would be great for everything, most effects and tasks in AE are now better with a CPU with fewer cores but a higher operating frequency. The exception to this is if you utilize the Cinema 4D CPU renderer where a high number of CPU cores can still make a massive difference in performance. Due to this, we have separated out our testing results between "standard" projects and those utilizing the Cinema 4D CPU renderer.

In addition, while we did our testing using both OpenCL and Metal on the Mac systems, we found that Metal was across the board slightly faster. It was often only by a few percent, but in the interest of simplicity we decided to just use the results with Metal in the charts below. Feel free to go back to the raw results in the previous section if you wish to compare the results with OpenCL and Metal yourself.


For RAM Preview on standard projects, you are looking at some massive gains with a PC workstation over a Mac Pro or iMac Pro. If you are working at half resolution, we saw nearly a 2x increase in FPS with our $7,200 workstation over the iMac Pro systems. The $5,700 workstation which is optimized for this type of project was even faster coming in at 2.25x the performance of the iMac Pro. Switching to full resolution narrows the gap quite a bit, although you are still looking at a 40-55% increase in FPS compared to the iMac Pro systems. And if you want to compare to the Mac Pro, you are looking at roughly a 3x increase in FPS at half resolution or 2x increase at full resolution.

If you have projects that utilize the Cinema 4D CPU renderer, our $5,700 workstation with only 6 cores definitely takes a bit of a hit, but at half resolution it is still 9-15% faster than iMac Pros or almost 50% faster than the Mac Pro. The $7,200 PC workstation, however, is still twice as fast as the Mac Pro and a solid 25-35% faster than the iMac Pro systems at both full and half resolution.

Final Render - Raw Benchmark Data

[Click Here] to skip ahead to analysis section

Final Render - Benchmark Analysis

Once again, since the results should vary widely based on whether or not you utilize the Cinema 4D CPU renderer, we have separated our testing results between "standard" projects and those utilizing the C4D CPU renderer. Also, since Metal was across the board slightly faster than OpenCL on the Mac systems, in the interest of simplicity we decided to just use the results with Metal in the charts below.


For standard projects (shown in blue), both of our PC workstations are significantly faster than the more expensive Mac offerings. Compared to the Mac Pro, the $7,200 workstation is just a hair under twice as fast while the $5,700 workstation is a bit more than twice as fast. The more modern iMac Pro systems did much better, but were still 30-60% slower than the PC workstations.

The difference is less if you utilize the Cinema 4D CPU renderer, and in this case the $7,400 and $8,200 iMac Pro systems were actually able to out-perform the $5,700 PC workstation. They were just 10-15% faster gain for a 30-40% increase in cost, but since this is the one time we saw any of the Mac systems be significantly faster than either of the PC offerings we tested we wanted to call it out. The $7,200 PC workstation that is more similar in cost to the Mac systems, however, is still a good 15-20% faster than the iMac Pro or twice as fast as the Mac Pro.

Conclusion

After Effects CC 2018 iMac Pro Mac Pro vs PC benchmark

We've discussed it a few times in this article, but it is worth pointing out again that performance in After Effects highly depends on whether you use the Cinema 4D renderer. If you do, a higher core count CPU (like the 14 core CPU in our $7,200 workstation) is much better. If not, a lower core count CPU with a high operating frequency (like the 6 core CPU in our $5,700 workstation) is significantly faster and lower cost. Also, while we tested the Mac systems with both OpenCL and Metal, we found that Metal was consistently faster by a few percent so for the sake of simplicity we decided to limit our final chart to just the results with Metal on the Mac systems.

Overall, if you do utilize the Cinema 4D CPU renderer, even our $5,700 PC workstation was significantly faster than the Mac Pro. However, the iMac Pro systems manage to edge out over this system by an average of 6-8%. This is comparing a $5,700 PC to a $7,400 and $8,200 iMac Pro, however, so this really isn't a fair comparison. Our $7,200 PC workstation is a more realistic comparison point and in that case the PC was 25% faster overall.

More "standard" projects (that don't use the Cinema 4D CPU renderer) is where PC really shines. At a similar price point to the Mac systems we tested, a $7,200 PC workstation is going to be roughly 50% faster than an iMac Pro or twice the performance of a Mac Pro. And if you go for a CPU that is optimized for this type of project, not only can you save a lot of money but you can even further improve performance. In this case, our $5,700 PC was 80% faster than the iMac Pro systems or 2.5 times faster than the Mac Pro!

Keep in mind that the pricing we are using for our PC workstations includes ~$1,000 for a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. If you already have any of those, the price/performance advantage of a PC workstation will be even larger. If you are interested in reading more about the performance of a PC workstation over a Mac system, we have a number of articles you may be interested in that compare Mac to PC in a range of applications. We also encourage you to check out our Recommended Workstations for After Effects and if you have any questions or concerns about making the move to PC, we encourage you to contact us!

Tags: After Effects, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, PC Workstation
Lukas Kupfer

Could it be that Adobe After Effects is much better programmed for Windows? i mean the iMac pro with 2.5GHz 14-core Intel Xeon W

Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz has nearly the the same max. Clockspeed then the Windows 14-Core. But is far behind in the Benchmarks.

Posted on 2018-05-15 21:34:42

Some of it very well be simply down to how Adobe has coded After Effects, but I don't think there is a single one thing that makes AE so much faster on PC. I think it is a combination of different factors like OS optimizations, being able to utilize CUDA, and a bunch of other small things that all add up. Something else to keep in mind is that clock speed is a very, very loose representation of performance. For example, even sticking to the PC results only, the architecture used in the Core i7 8700K is more geared towards single-threaded applications which is why even though the Max Turbo is only ~7% lower, the Core i7 7940X ends up being more like 20% slower with "standard" projects. We didn't test any of the normal iMac systems, but I bet if you took one of the higher-end models (which is still only Core i5, not even Core i7) I bet you would find that it performs right on par with your 14-core iMac Pro as long as you aren't using the C4D renderer.

From what I understand, Apple also uses special CPU models that are a bit more aggressive on the thermal/power ramping. So even though the CPU is rated to boost to 4.3GHz, that is a maximum and likely not something that can be sustained for more than a short period of time. I'm not an expert on the inner workings of Mac systems, however, so I can't say for 100% sure whether that is contributing or not.

Posted on 2018-05-15 22:05:05
Lukas Kupfer

Ok, Thx. A comparison to the 8-Core iMac pro with Vega64 would be very interesting. We got the imac Pro 8-Core and the TOP spec iMac 2017 both with 64 GB RAM and the iMac pro is definitly faster in After Effects. Is there a chance to see get the imac Pro 8-Core and put it in your comparison ? And it would be much fairer to see how the $6,399.00 iMac perform against the ~$7,200 PC.

Posted on 2018-05-16 08:01:19

To be honest, the 8-Core iMac Pro is likely one we would never test. From a performance standpoint in AE (and most other applications), the 8-core and 10-core iMac Pro should actually be extremely similar in performance. The higher base clock of the 8-core will be slightly better for some things, while the higher turbo of the 10-core will be better in others. If Mac vs PC testing was our primary focus we may be able to justify the cost associated with getting every CPU combination of the Mac Pros, but this kind of thing is something we only do every once in a while to help people get a general idea of how Mac and PC compare from a performance perspective rather than trying to directly compare the various models.

I'm not at all surprised that the iMac is faster than the iMac Pro since it uses a CPU that is better suited for most tasks in AE. Same reason why our 6-core PC workstation was faster than the 14-core PC for the "Standard Projects".

Posted on 2018-05-24 19:05:02