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After Effects performance: PC Workstation vs Mac Pro (2019)

Written on April 9, 2020 by Matt Bach
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TL;DR: Mac Pro (2019) vs a PC Workstation for After Effects

In After Effects, Apple's iMac Pro and newer Mac Pro line simply don't hold up versus a PC workstation. Compared to just a $4,000 PC using a Core i9 9900K, the $20,000 Mac Pro we tested ended up being about 5% slower overall. And if you bump up the CPU to an AMD Threadripper 3960X 24 Core, a PC should be about 18% faster overall while still only being just over a quarter the cost.

With an application like After Effects where you can distribute renders across multiple machines using plugins like BG Render Max or RenderGarden, this means you can literally decrease your render times by up to 4-5x by purchasing multiple PCs instead of a single Mac Pro and using network rendering to split up the render.

Introduction

Thanks to our friends at Linus Media Group (creators of Linus Tech Tips), we have finally been able to get our hands on one of Apple's new Mac Pro workstations for testing. While I may or may not have thrown out my back lugging the system up a flight of stairs (it weighs a ton!), there is no doubt that the Mac Pro is a very slick and sturdy machine. But what we are always interested in is exactly how well it performs in real-world applications like After Effects.

Anytime we do Mac vs PC testing, things can easily become a bit heated in our comments section, so we are going to largely side-step the question of whether you should use a Mac or a PC. Here at Puget Systems, we rarely try to outright convince anyone to move from Mac to PC, but rather take the standpoint of offering as much information as we can so that you can make an informed decision for your situation. If your workflow is better on a Mac, that is great! But if you are ready and able to take advantage of the higher performance, lower cost, and greater customization of a PC and want to work with a company that is intimately familiar with the transition from Mac to PC, we are here to help!

Mac Pro vs PC workstation for Adobe After Effects

In this article, we will be examining the performance of a new 2019 Mac Pro in After Effects compared to a range of PC workstation configurations using AMD Threadripper, AMD Ryzen, Intel X-series, and Intel 9th Gen processors. In addition, we will be including an iMac Pro as well as a previous generation Mac Pro as additional reference points. If you are interested in how the Mac Pro compares in other applications, we also have other articles for Photoshop and Premiere Pro available on our article listing page.

If you would like to skip over our test setup and benchmark sections, feel free to jump right to the Conclusion.

Looking for an After Effects Workstation?

Puget Systems offers a range of powerful and reliable systems that are tailor-made for your unique workflow.

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Test Setup

Listed below are the specifications of the systems we will be using for our testing:

AMD Ryzen Test Platform
CPU

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X ($749)
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X ($499)

CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12S
Motherboard Gigabyte X570 AORUS ULTRA
RAM 4x DDR4-2933 16GB (64GB total)
Intel 9th Gen Test Platform
CPU

Intel Core i9 9900K ($499)

CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12S
Motherboard Gigabyte Z390 Designare
RAM 4x DDR4-2666 16GB (64GB total)
AMD Threadripper 3rd Gen Test Platform
CPU AMD TR 3990X ($3,990)
AMD TR 3970X ($1,999)
AMD TR 3960X ($1,399)
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U14S TR4-SP3
Motherboard Gigabyte TRX40 AORUS PRO WIFI
RAM 4x DDR4-2933 16GB (64GB total)
Intel X-10000 Series Test Platform
CPU Intel Core i9 10980XE ($979)
Intel Core i9 10940X ($784)
Intel Core i9 10920X ($689)
Intel Core i9 10900X ($590)
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12DX i4
Motherboard Gigabyte X299 Designare EX
RAM 4x DDR4-2933 16GB (64GB total)
Shared PC Hardware/Software
Video Card NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti 11GB
Hard Drive Samsung 960 Pro 1TB
Software Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (version 1909)
Mac Pro (2019) iMac Pro Mac Pro (2013)
CPU 28‑core Intel Xeon W 2.5GHz 14-core Intel Xeon W
2.5GHz
12-core
2.7GHz
RAM 96GB DDR4 ECC 64GB 2666MHz DDR4 ECC 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC
Video Card Radeon Pro Vega II Duo 2x32GB Radeon Pro Vega 64 16GB Dual AMD FirePro D700 6GB
Hard Drive 1TB SSD storage 1TB SSD 1TB PCIe-based SSD
OS Mac OS X (10.15.4)
Current Price $19,599 $7,549 $3,549
(used from OWC)

*All the latest drivers, OS updates, BIOS, and firmware applied as of March 30th, 2020

In order to see how each of these configurations performs in After Effects, we will be using our PugetBench for After Effects V0.9 benchmark and After Effects 2020 (17.0.5). This benchmark version includes the ability to upload the results to our online database, so if you want to know how your own system compares, you can download and run the benchmark yourself.

We went back and forth about including pricing, but since that is one of the biggest downsides to using a Mac, we opted to go ahead and include the pricing for the Mac systems we are using in this article. The Mac Pro (2019) and iMac Pro pricing is pulled directly from Apple.com at the date of this post, but since the Mac Pro (2013) is no longer sold, we went with what OWC is currently selling a used unit for with the same specs.

However, keep in mind that some of the configuration options for the Mac Pro we have are not going to do much for After Effects. For example, the dual GPUs likely won't increase performance much, so you could save $2,800 and get a single Radeon Pro Vega II. The 28-core CPU may also be overkill for After Effects, and a more reasonable option can save you anywhere from $1k to $7k.

But no matter how you slice it, the Mac Pro is not a cheap system. To put it into context, here is the pricing for a handful of PC configurations we will be comparing it to:

Of course, you can certainly increase the price by adding things like additional storage, but for a semi-direct comparison to the Mac it should be in the ballpark. What it comes down to is that compared to the Mac Pro we are using, even the most expensive PC configuration we will be testing is less than half the cost. If you went with the most basic configuration you can get for the Mac Pro, the price (~$6k) is going to be roughly the same as the AMD Threadripper 3970X 32-core system.

If you are looking at just pure price-to-performance (which admittedly breaks down as workstations get more and more expensive), the Mac Pro better be pretty amazing to justify its hefty price tag.

Benchmark Results

While our benchmark presents various scores based on the performance of each test, we also like to provide the individual results for you to examine. If there is a specific task that is a hindrance to your workflow, examining the raw results for that task is going to be much more applicable than the scores that our benchmark calculated.

Feel free to skip to the next section for our analysis of these results to get a wider view of how each system performs in After Effects.

Mac Pro 2019 vs PC workstation After Effects Benchmark Results

After Effects Benchmark Analysis

After Effects has been fun to look at over the years since it used to be very well threaded, but in 2015 Adobe shifted their focus towards GPU acceleration instead. This paid off for most users since GPUs tend to be much more affordable than high core count CPUs, but that does mean that in most workloads, After Effects tends to favors CPUs with better per-core performance than one with a higher number of cores.

However, even though that is the case in a general sense, the AMD Threadripper 3960X 24 Core and 3970X 32 Core both do extremely well, beating the (admittedly much more affordable) Intel Core i9 9900K by about 12%. But this isn't about Intel vs AMD, but how the new Mac Pro compares to a PC workstation.

If we forget about price, the Mac Pro does OK - coming in right at the middle of the pack. It is overall 14% faster than the 14 Core iMac Pro we have available for testing, but at a $13,000 price premium that means you are paying almost $1k for each percent of performance increase. Compared to our Intel Core i9 9900K configuration, the Mac Pro is about 5% slower for roughly a 5x increase in price. It does a bit better for rendering (and conversely a bit worse for live playback), but if render times are a problem for you, you can just get 5 PCs with Core i9 9900K CPUs and use AERender to distribute that render across each system for a ~5x increase in performance at the same price.

If you are looking for the best performance from a single system, our AMD Threadripper 3960X configuration (which should cost roughly $5,500) is about 18% faster than the 28 Core Mac Pro.

Mac Pro (2019) vs a PC Workstation for After Effects

While Macs often perform fairly well, in After Effects there is simply no argument that a PC workstation is both faster and significantly less expensive. Compared to the $20k Mac Pro we tested, a $4k PC using an Intel Core i9 9900K and NVIDIA GeForce 2080 Ti ended up being about 5% faster overall, while a $5.5k PC using an AMD Threadripper 3960X is about 18% faster. Even compared to the much better priced iMac Pro, a PC that costs $1K less is going to be about 35% faster.

What this means is that you can get the same or faster performance from a properly configured PC at a quarter (or less) the cost of a Mac Pro. With an application like After Effects where you can distribute renders across multiple machines using plugins like BG Render Max or RenderGarden, this isn't even about just getting similar performance at a lower price point. You can decrease your render times by 4-5x by purchasing multiple PCs and using network rendering to split up the work between each system. This only improves render performance (not live playback), but also gives you a ton of flexibility to have renders running on multiple machines while simultaneously working on other comps on your primary workstation.

Or, you can simply save that $15k and spend it on a new car, home remodel, or a really, really fancy vacation.

Keep in mind that the benchmark results in this article are strictly for After Effects and that performance will vary widely in different applications. If your workflow includes other software packages (we have similar articles for Photoshop and Premiere Pro), you need to consider how the system will perform in those applications as well. Be sure to check our list of Hardware Articles to keep up to date on how all of these software packages perform with the latest CPUs.

Looking for an After Effects Workstation?

Puget Systems offers a range of poweful and reliable systems that are tailor-made for your unique workflow.

Configure a System!

Labs Consultation Service

Our Labs team is available to provide in-depth hardware recommendations based on your workflow.

Find Out More!
Tags: Intel 9th Gen, Intel X-series, AMD Ryzen 3rd Gen, AMD Threadripper 2nd Gen, Intel X-10000, Threadripper 3990X, Apple Mac Pro, Apple iMac Pro, After Effects
Håkon Broder Lund

I expected the Threadrippers to be faster given previous benchmarks you guys have done, but not by such a margin! Unless you use macOS specific software like fcpx or logic pro x, it really makes you question the arguments to go with a macOS platform over a windows platform these days. Cost less, more customizable and is more powerfull. The macOS ecosystem is hard to justify now.

Fantastic work guys. Looking forward to see the rest of the software suits. Personally I'm exited for Resolve, but I have a feeling the Threadrippers will be fastest there to ;)

Posted on 2020-04-10 13:23:17

Sorry, but it is going to be a bit before we can publish results for Resolve this time around :( . I have the results from the Mac Pro (since we are returning it back to Linus this week), but I am actually going on paternity leave in just a couple days so I won't be able to get results for the PC systems in time. Resolve is kind of a pain for us to test since we need to swap the GPU on each platform to a Titan RTX in order to have enough VRAM to complete the 8K tests which makes it take a lot longer to do than our Adobe suite.

Posted on 2020-04-10 15:21:48
Håkon Broder Lund

Understandable! Take your time. I'm in no rush, just curious ;)

Posted on 2020-04-11 21:02:01
Steve E Miller

https://uploads.disquscdn.c...

Posted on 2020-04-10 19:16:56

Seems about right. We didn't have a chance to include the 3800X since we are currently all working from home and the 3900X and 3950X are what are already in our test beds, but in previous testing the 3800X and 3900X perform about the same in AE. Your score is a bit higher since you have higher frequency RAM than what we use on our test platforms.

Posted on 2020-04-10 19:29:12
Steve E Miller

It almost seems unfair to the AMD systems when you use RAM speeds that are much lower than what they "Want" and "Need" :)

Posted on 2020-04-10 19:37:23
CakeInMotion

It was 1056 in your results guys.

Posted on 2020-05-21 00:07:52
ekwipt

I wonder if you can do the same test with the 16 core Mac Pro, faster CPU speed and at a much lower price. Also like some people have said TR and Zen 2 need much higher memory speeds, would be good to see Zen 2 @3600 at least

Posted on 2020-04-12 11:51:40

It is really hard to know for sure about the 16 core Mac Pro - hopefully someone with that model will run our benchmark and the results will show up in our database https://www.pugetsystems.co... . That said, since both the 16 and 28 core models have the same 4.4GHz maximum boost frequency and After Effects really doesn't scale well with more cores, I would imagine that those two CPUs would perform pretty much on par. At best, the 16 core may be ~5% faster, but that is just a guess based on how various CPUs perform on the PC side.

As for the RAM on the AMD systems, it is quite that straight forward. Since many of the platforms we are testing support different RAM speeds depending on how many sticks you use and even whether those sticks are single or dual rank, we have decided to standardize on using four 16GB sticks of whatever the "middle" supported RAM speed is (rounding up when applicable). Yes, you can get a bit more performance with DDR4-3200 or 3600 RAM, but in our testing it actually isn't more than a few percent in applications like After Effects. In exchange, we have seen much higher instances of system instability once you go beyond what is officially supported by the CPU. Because of that, we are keeping our testing with the "middle" recommended RAM speed.

Posted on 2020-04-13 16:04:56
ekwipt

thanks for your reply Matt, as always very informative!

Posted on 2020-04-13 22:44:40
Lux Pro

I agree that the 16-core model is the one to use for these tests. Appreciate the testing you did and that you borrowed the machine, but that Mac Pro is not the one people ought to be using for a side-by-side comparison with Puget options. Some of the statements show a super strong bias. Save $15k and buy that car? Or buy a Mac Pro that's better suited for After Effects? The price/performance is going to favor PC anyway, but it's closer to double the cost rather than quadruple. You can spec a Mac Pro with 16-core, 96GB RAM, W5700X, 1TB SSD for $10k direct from Apple. You could save more by buying some options third-party. That comparison would be more fair and Puget would still "win" without the hyperbole.

Posted on 2020-04-16 00:06:22
Duncan Friend

Thanks for this! Is there any chance in the future that you can have a graph that excludes the C4D renderer results. I don't know a lot of people who use the C4D renderer inside AE, and it really skews the results.

Posted on 2020-05-20 12:39:54