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Best Workstation PC for Adobe After Effects (Summer 2020)

Written on July 17, 2020 by Matt Bach


Choosing the right PC for your needs can be a daunting task, but here at Puget Systems, we do our best to help you understand how different applications (like After Effects) utilize the various hardware found in workstations. Not only do we have a number of on-going series of hardware articles for those that want to get deep into the details, but we also have our solutions pages that are intended to distill all our research and testing down to what matters most. Not to mention various other resources like our Youtube channel and podcast.

However, a number of our readers and customers are either not interested in or do not have the time to become fully versed in computer hardware and just want an answer to the "simple" question: what is the best computer for my needs?

Today we will be tackling that question in regards to Adobe After Effects - an incredibly popular application for both motion graphics and VFX. In many ways, After Effects is fairly straight-forward from a hardware standpoint, wanting a CPU with high per-core performance and plenty of RAM, but other hardware choices like the GPU and storage can make a big impact as well.

Best PC for After Effects

Something to note is that we are going to primarily focus on the hardware that is going to directly affect performance. Things like a Blackmagic Decklink card to drive a calibrated reference monitor (especially since After Effects does not support 10-bit displays through the GPU), 10Gb networking, and peripherals are all incredibly important, but outside the scope of this post.

Good PC Configuration for After Effects

We'll start off with a solid workstation for After Effects that will give you terrific performance without breaking the bank. Built around the Intel Core i7 10700K, this system gives a very healthy bump in RAM preview (live playback) and export performance over the Intel Core i5 10600K making it well worth the cost to be our "entry" CPU option. It also beats out AMD's comparable Ryzen CPUs by a small margin, which with the addition of more established Thunderbolt support on Intel platforms, makes Intel a slightly stronger choice over AMD.

On the GPU side, while After Effects can take advantage of the video card to process GPU-accelerated effects, you are almost always going to be limited by the performance of your CPU. We have found in our testing that even a mid-range GPU will be similar in performance to a high-end one. Because of this, we will be using the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB on this (and all the other) configuration.

For the system memory, we will be using 32GB of RAM since After Effects is a memory hungry application. Each frame you render is stored in RAM preview so that Ae doesn't have to re-render the frame each time you hit play. With more RAM, you can store more already rendered frames, which lessens the chance that Ae will have to re-render frames that haven't change.

Rounding things out, we have a 500GB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe primary drive (for the OS and applications), and a 1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD for your project files and disk cache.

All told, this system should run you around $3,000 and according to our PugetBench database, should score around 980 points in our After Effects benchmark. This makes it an excellent value for the amount of performance you will get.

CPU Intel Core i7 10700K 8 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB
Drives 500GB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe (primary)
1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects & cache)

Better PC Configuration for After Effects

Stepping up a bit in terms of performance, the Intel Core i9 10900K 10 core is a bit faster than the Core i7 10700K and is currently the fastest CPU for After Effects from both Intel and AMD before you get to the significantly more expensive AMD Threadripper processors.

For the GPU, we will be keeping the same NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB since a higher-end GPU isn't going to give a big increase in performance in After Effects. However, if you also work with Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve, you may want to bump the GPU up to a n RTX 2080 SUPER or even an RTX 2080 Ti. But since this post is focusing on After Effects in particular, we are instead going to put more of the budget towards significantly more RAM (128GB) as well as a dedicated Samsung 970 Pro 512GB drive for the disk cache. Even with 128GB of RAM, having a dedicated drive for the disk cache can be very important - not least since it will be able to store the frames from RAM preview between working sessions.

Otherwise, the storage is the same as the "Good" configuration with a 500GB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe primary drive (for the OS and applications), and a 1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD for your project files

Depending on current pricing, this configuration should cost right around $4,000 and score around 1,050 points (about 10% faster than the "Good" configuration) in our After Effects benchmark. Keep in mind that raw performance isn't the only thing you are getting with this configuration - you are also getting the much higher RAM capacity which can make a huge impact on your workflow. At the moment, this - or one with a slightly upgraded GPU - is one of the most common configurations we sell for After Effects.

CPU Intel Core i9 10900K 10 Core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB
Drives 500GB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe (primary)
1TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
512GB Samsung 970 Pro NVMe (disk cache)

Best PC Configuration for After Effects

For the best possible performance in After Effects, we will be using the AMD Threadripper 3960X 24 core processor. AMD does have CPUs with even more cores (the Threadripper 3970X 32 core and 3990X 64 core), but they are actually slower in applications like After Effects. So, in this case, we do not want to simply go with the most expensive option and instead will be using the less expensive and faster Threadripper 3960X. The one downside to this platform is that Thunderbolt is not as established as it is on Intel-based platforms, so if Thunderbolt support is a requirement, you may opt to use the "better" configuration even if you have the budget to go with AMD Threadripper.

We will continue to stick with NVIDIA for the GPU, and again avoid upgrading above the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB. This card is more than enough for almost any After Effects workflow, although if you also use Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve, you may want to upgrade to an RTX 2080 SUPER 8GB or RTX 2080 Ti 11GB.

With the AMD Threadripper 3960X, not only do we get a small bump in performance, but also the capability to have 256GB of RAM. This allows for more frames to be stored in RAM preview and lessens the chance that Ae will have to re-render frames that haven't changed which can greatly increase your productivity. More than the performance from the CPU itself, the ability to have this much RAM is what really sets this system apart from the "Better" configuration.

For storage, we are going to use the same setup as the previous system, only bumping up the project drive to 2TB and the disk cache drive to 1TB. How much storage is enough varies greatly depending on each person's workflow, so depending on how much footage and assets you need on your local system, you may consider adding even more storage. Alternatively, if you will be using network storage then including a 10 Gigabit PCI-E networking card is a good idea.

All told, this configuration should come in a bit under $6,500 and score around 1,100 points in our After Effects benchmark. That isn't much faster than the "Better" configuration in terms of raw performance, but just like going from the "Good" to "Better" configurations, the increased RAM capactiy is going to make a much bigger impact than the benchmark numbers suggest. Overall, this is easily one of the best possible configurations for After Effects you can get with the hardware currently available.

CPU AMD Threadripper 3960X 24-core
Video Cards NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER 8GB
Drives 500GB Samsung 970 EVO NVMe (primary)
2TB Samsung 860 EVO SSD (projects)
1TB Samsung 970 Pro NVMe (disk cache)

Additional Resources

If you want to know more about how After Effects performs with various hardware as well as our justifications for these recommendations, we have a number of resources available. For those that want just a bit more information, we recommend visiting the "Hardware Recommendations" section of our After Effects Solutions page. If you really want to dig into the numbers behind the data, we also have an on-going series of hardware articles that are regularly updated, as well as our public database of PugetBench for After Effects benchmark results.

And, as always, if you aren't sure what you need or just want to verify that you are spending your budget in the most effective way possible, our technology consultants are always available to assist you in getting the exact right workstation for your workflow.

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Tags: Workstation, PC Workstation, PC, Video Editing, After Effects, Motion Graphics, VFX