How to Choose the Best Hardware for Multi-Frame Rendering in After EffectsWritten on October 6, 2021 by Matt Bach
With the new 22.x version of After Effects, Adobe is pulling out all the stops and is adding a ton of new features including speculative preview, composition profiler, and render notifications. These are all incredibly useful and worthy of an update by themselves, but in many ways, they are just appetizers for the main course: Multi-Frame Rendering.
Multi-frame rendering (or MFR) dramatically improves performance for exporting and previewing compositions by allowing After Effects to process multiple frames at the same time. The benefit varies based on your computer hardware and the exact project, but even a modest system with a 4 to 8 core CPU can often see a 2 times increase in performance. And if you have a CPU with 16 or more cores, you could see up to a 3 - or even more than 4 - times increase in performance!
What makes this feature even better is that it works not only in the base After Effects application but in other partner applications as well. For example, if you render your Ae project through Media Encoder, or utilize motion graphics templates in Premiere Pro, your system will be able to take advantage of the performance gains from MFR.
From the testing we - and others - have done, it is clear that multi-frame rendering is a big deal, and it is going to make working in After Effects much faster. But, since MFR has improved After Effects’ multi-thread capability, it raises the question of how it might change what hardware is best for After Effects. In the past, After Effects worked best on CPUs that prioritized faster per-core performance rather than having a higher core count, but has that changed now that Ae can render multiple frames at once? And how does that affect other components like the RAM and GPU?
The good news is that if you currently have a system that is optimized for After Effects, it is only going to perform better with multi-frame rendering. But, MFR does improve the return on investment when purchasing higher-end hardware that previously wasn't a great fit for After Effects. We have a pair of deep-dive articles available looking at how performance has changed with a wide range of modern Processors and GPUs, but in this post, we want to explain exactly what MFR is and give a summary on how it has changed the ways in which After Effects is able to utilize the CPU, RAM, and GPU in your computer.
How does multi-frame rendering work?
Historically, After Effects has only been able to render a single frame at a time. There are ways to spin up multiple instances of the AERender rendering engine itself in the background to improve performance (either with the pre-2015 feature called "Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously", or with plugins like RenderGarden and BG Renderer MAX) but each of these was still only able to utilize a single CPU core, so in many ways it was a "brute force" type of solution. The main issue with these methods is that they only work for exporting and require vastly more system RAM and GPU VRAM since it essentially runs multiple instances of After Effects.
As you can likely deduce from the name, multi-frame rendering changes how the rendering engine in After Effects works, allowing it to render multiple frames at the same time. After Effects examines things like how many CPU cores you have, available RAM and VRAM, how complex the composition is, and determines how many frames to render concurrently in order to give you the best performance. Because it changes the rendering engine itself to support multiple frames, it works not only when exporting, but also when previewing. In addition, it doesn't require anywhere as much RAM or VRAM as the brute force approaches, and auto-optimizes itself for maximum performance.
An added bonus with MFR is that it works anywhere the After Effects rendering engine is used - be it in After Effects itself, or partner applications like Media Encoder and Premiere Pro. If you want an even deeper look into how multi-frame rendering works, there are a number of resources we recommend:
Processor (CPU) performance and scaling with MFR
The processor (or CPU) is one of the most critical components in your system and is the central component that dictates performance in After Effects. And as you might expect, the biggest difference with multi-frame rendering is that it makes higher core count CPUs significantly more beneficial.
In previous versions of After Effects, using a CPU with more cores didn't provide much performance benefit because only a handful of cores were being used at the same time. For example, going from a 6 core CPU to a 16 core model would only give about 6% higher performance on average, and at most a 50% improvement. And often, once you crossed a certain threshold, higher core count CPUs could actually result in an overall drop in performance.
But with multi-frame rendering, you can now get a significantly better return on your investment when using a higher core count CPU. Instead of just a 6% average performance gain going from 6 to 16 cores, MFR is closer to a 20% gain. And in some situations, a 16 core CPU can be more than 2x faster! In addition, especially for more complex projects, you can see further performance gains all the way up to a 32 core CPU.
Because the CPU scaling is so much better with MFR, it greatly increases the number of processors that can work well for After Effects. Any CPU that was previously a great choice for After Effects is only going to be better with MFR, but if you have the budget and need for it, you can now invest in a higher-end CPU in order to further improve performance.
However, this does mean that there is a much larger number of great CPU options to choose from. Like always, budget and how the CPU performs in After Effects are the main considerations when picking a CPU. But, another factor to consider is how much system memory (or RAM) they support.
Currently, the "Consumer" CPUs from Intel and AMD (the Intel Core 11th Gen and AMD Ryzen 5000 series) are both great choices for After Effects. Dollar-for-dollar, AMD has a slight edge in After Effects, but the Intel CPUs have a technology called Quick Sync that can help out - especially in applications like Premiere Pro - when working with certain flavors of H.264 and HEVC Media. One of the limiting factors with these processors is that they only support a maximum of 128GB of RAM. That is plenty for most Ae users, but if you need more, you will want to move up to an HEDT (High-End DeskTop) processor.
Both Intel and AMD have HEDT processor lines available, but at the moment, only the AMD Threadripper processors make sense from a performance standpoint. AMD has Threadripper models ranging from 24 to 64 cores, but even with multi-frame rendering, you are likely going to want to stick to either the 3960X 24 core or 3970X 32 core models. Both support up to 256GB memory which is double what the consumer CPUs support.
For the very top-end of After Effects users that are working with especially complex projects that require the best in terms of performance and RAM capacity, you will want to look at one of the Workstation-class CPUs from Intel and AMD. These are currently the Intel Xeon W-3000 and AMD Threadripper Pro 3000 series of processors, and while they are very expensive, they support huge amounts of RAM (multiple terabytes in some cases) and can be a bit faster for very complex projects. Once again, however, we recommend sticking to the 32 core and below models, since in our testing, there is often actually a performance loss once you cross the 32 core threshold.
If you want more information on CPU performance with multi-frame rendering in After Effects, we recommend checking our in-depth After Effects Multi-Frame Rendering Processor Performance Analysis article that goes into this in more detail.
How much system memory (RAM) do you need?
Even though multi-frame rendering is able to process multiple frames at the same time, it doesn't actually significantly increase the amount of RAM After Effects needs. We did see a small ~6% increase in RAM usage on average, but this is small enough that it shouldn't greatly change current recommendations for how much RAM you should have in your system.
Unfortunately, even though it hasn't changed with MFR, the question of how much RAM you should have isn't very straight-forward. It depends heavily on a number of factors including your average project resolution, FPS, length, and color depth - not to mention what other applications you may have running alongside After Effects.
An easy answer to this question is to simply get as much RAM as your budget allows. Having extra RAM doesn't make After Effects faster, but not having enough can cause serious workflow complications. But if you want a more precise way to estimate how much RAM your system should have, you can use a mathematical formula to determine how much memory After Effects needs to store all the frames when using RAM Preview:
[desired seconds of playback] x [FPS] x [height in pixels] x [width in pixels] x [number of bits per channel] / 2,147,483,648
This formula essentially multiplies information on your composition settings by how many seconds of continuous playback you require and divides by about 2 billion to give you an estimate for how many gigabytes of memory After Effects will need. You will want to add at least 5-20GB on top of this to account for the base After Effects application and any other apps you have running, but this formula can give you a good idea about the minimum amount of RAM your system should have.
Does the GPU (video card) matter?
While the CPU and RAM are probably the two most important pieces of hardware for After Effects, there are a growing number of effects that can take great advantage of the GPU as well. With previous versions of After Effects, having a supported GPU was critical, but since the performance was often bottlenecked by the CPU, there wasn't much of a reason to invest in a higher-end GPU. Certain workflows could benefit, but for most users, you would at most see an 18% increase in performance going from a low-end to a high-end GPU.
However, with the greatly improved CPU performance in After Effects due to MFR, there is now a larger benefit to investing in a higher-end GPU. Instead of just a maximum 18% performance gain, with MFR you could see up to a 30% increase in performance depending on the effects you are using.
In addition, the amount of video memory (or VRAM) on the GPU is more important than ever before. Before MFR, a standard GPU with 8GB of VRAM would be more than enough for almost any user, but we found that MFR has increased VRAM usage by 1.5 to 3x depending on the composition.
This doesn't mean that all users will need a GPU with large amounts of VRAM, however. Just like the system memory, the amount After Effects needs will depend heavily on the individual composition, but in the case of VRAM, it can also depend on how many cores your CPU has. This is because the amount of free VRAM is one of the factors that goes into determining how many frames MFR is able to process at the same time. In other words, a GPU with more VRAM could allow After Effects to spawn more render threads, which in turn can give higher overall performance.
Because you can get more performance from a higher-end GPU, and because a GPU with more VRAM can allow Ae to render more frames at once, your choice of GPU is more important than ever before. As for which card you should select, we recommend sticking with the NVIDIA GeForce or Quadro lines whenever possible as they tend to perform faster and be more reliable than their AMD counterparts.
Between the two series, most users are going to be best served by the NVIDIA GeForce line. The main advantage of the Quadro cards when it comes to applications like After Effects is that they are slightly more reliable and can have more VRAM, but they are also significantly more expensive - in some cases, they could easily double the total cost of a new workstation.
If you want more information on GPU performance and VRAM usage with multi-frame rendering in After Effects, we recommend checking our in-depth After Effects Multi-Frame Rendering GPU Performance Analysis article that goes into this in more detail.
Recommended hardware configurations for After Effects multi-frame rendering
We have covered how things have changed in terms of hardware utilization with multi-frame rendering, but what does that mean as far as balanced and recommended configurations if you are planning on getting a new workstation?
This isn’t an easy question to answer because it is going to depend on your budget, the projects you work with, whether your workflow includes other applications like Premiere Pro, hardware availability, and a number of other factors. But, we can give you a number of great starting points for a different experience and budget levels.
Beginner hardware configurations
If you are just starting out in After Effects, or simply don't have a huge budget to work with, the good news is there are a number of great hardware options to fit most budgets. On the CPU side, you can go with anywhere from a 6 to 12 core processor from either AMD’s Ryzen 5000 or Intel’s Core 11th Gen line. In general, AMD might get you a bit more performance for your dollar in After Effects, but the Intel CPUs have a technology called Quick Sync that can be helpful - especially in Premiere Pro - when working with certain flavors of H.264 and HEVC media.
For the rest of the system, we would recommend having at least 32GB of RAM, but you can go up to 64GB or even more depending on how complex of projects you are planning to work on. Since these CPUs only have a moderate number of cores, there is no need for too high-end of a GPU - either an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 12GB or 3070 8GB should work great.
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 5600X 6 Core
Intel Core i5 11600K 6 Core
|AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8 Core
Intel Core i7 11700K 6 Core
|AMD Ryzen 9 5900X 12 Core|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 12GB||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Ti 8GB||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 8GB|
Professional hardware configurations
If you use After Effects professionally, you are going to want a more capable system because as the saying goes, “time is money”, and the faster and smoother you are able to work, the more valuable your time is.
At this level, we have two solid recommended starting points that should work nicely. The first uses an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X 16 Core CPU paired with a GeForce RTX 3080 GPU and 128GB of RAM. This is probably one of the most common configurations we expect to use for After Effects since it has enough RAM for most users, in most cases performs similar to a system that costs significantly more, and is also terrific for partner applications like Premiere Pro or Photoshop.
But, if you work with complex projects that need more than the 128GB of RAM that is possible with Ryzen, you have to take a step up to AMD’s Threadripper line. The 3960X is typically a hair slower than the Ryzen 5950X, but having enough RAM is way more important than having a slightly faster CPU. With the extra cores, it also isn’t a bad idea to bump up the GPU to a model like the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti 12GB that has a bit more VRAM to make sure that that doesn’t become a bottleneck.
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X 16 Core||AMD Threadripper 3960X 24 Core|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 10GB||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti 12GB|
Top-End hardware configurations
99% of users are going to be served well with one of the configurations we have already discussed. But the very top-end of After Effects users are going to want to consider either AMD’s Threadripper Pro or Intel’s Xeon W line of processors. These CPUs allow for huge amounts of RAM and are also a bit more reliable in the long term which is important when any amount of downtime can be very costly.
Pricing and availability are pretty volatile in this space, but if you are at this level, either the Intel Xeon W-3345 or AMD Threadripper Pro 3975WX are a great choice. You can combine them with either the GeForce RTX 3090, or the RTX A5000 GPU. The RTX A-series of cards are actually a hair slower and more expensive than their GeForce counterparts, but they focus even more on reliability which may be more important at this level than raw performance.
And if you want the absolute best of the best, the Intel Xeon W-3365 32 Core processor was the fastest CPU we tested with MFR. Again, you could pair it with a GeForce RTX 3090, but if you are getting a system at this level, you probably want to go ahead and get the NVIDIA RTX A6000. Not only for its slightly higher reliability over the GeForce line but also to get the even larger 48GB of VRAM, ensuring that the GPU isn’t going to be a limiting factor for MFR.
Both of these configurations can support at least 512GB of RAM, and depending on the motherboard used, you could get up to a terabyte or even more. It’s very rare you will need that much for After Effects, but there are certain workflows out there where it will be important.
|CPU||Intel Xeon W-3345 24 Core
AMD TR Pro 3975WX 32 Core
|Intel Xeon W-3365 32 Core|
|GPU||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 24GB
NVIDIA RTX A5000 24GB
|NVIDIA RTX A6000 48GB|
It is safe to say that multi-frame rendering is one the most exciting performance updates to After Effects in recent memory. It is extremely rare for a software update to give a 50% increase in performance, let alone the incredible four times increase in performance that we saw in some situations.
The great thing about it is that no matter what hardware your computer has, you will see an immediate benefit. But if you need even more performance, MFR essentially unlocks additional tiers of performance that you can get to by using higher-end hardware that in the past, simply wasn’t a great fit for After Effects.
If you want to dive deeper into the CPU and GPU testing we did in order to come up with the recommendations in this post, be sure to check out our in-depth analysis articles: After Effects Multi-Frame Rendering Processor Performance Analysis and After Effects Multi-Frame Rendering GPU Performance Analysis
But if there is one thing we can leave you with, it's that you should give After Effects multi-frame rendering a try. Combined with the other great new features like speculative preview and the composition profiler, multi-frame rendering is going to make your system much faster, and will change what you are able to take on in After Effects.
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