Recommended Hardware for After Effects:
Like most software developers, Adobe maintains a list of system requirements for After Effects that can be used to help ensure the hardware in your system will work with their software. However, most "system requirements" lists tend to cover only the very basics of what hardware is needed to run the software, not what hardware will actually give the best performance. In addition, sometimes these lists can be outdated, list old hardware revisions, or simply outright show sub-optimal hardware.
Because of how inconsistent those lists can be we've taken the time to perform testing to determine what hardware runs After Effects the best. Based on this testing, we have come up with our own list of recommended hardware - as well as specific configurations tailored with these recommendations in mind.
The processor (or CPU) is one of the most important pieces of an After Effects workstation. While many other parts of the system impact performance to some degree, the CPU is the core piece of hardware that is a part of absolutely anything and everything you do in After Effects.
One thing we want to note is that while older versions of After Effects (2015 and older) worked well high core count CPU configurations (including dual Xeon systems), due to the removal of the "Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously" feature the current version of After Effects is only able to effectively utilize around 6-10 CPU cores. Not only are higher core count CPUs more expensive, they are rarely any faster than using a single CPU and in many cases actually slower!
- Intel Core i7 6850K 3.6GHz (3.7-4.0GHz Turbo) 6 Core - Although this is the least expensive CPU in our After Effects workstations, in some cases it will actually give you the best performance in AE out of any CPU we offer. If you work with video footage in AE or do a large amount of motion tracking, however, upgrading to the i7 6900K can give you a small performance bump.
- Intel Core i7 6900K 3.2GHz (3.5-4.0GHz Turbo) 8 Core - While only 2-6% faster than the i7 6850K, if you want the best all-around CPU for After Effects this is it. This is also a great CPU if you work equally between After Effects and Premiere Pro as it is about 10% faster then the i7 6850K in Premiere Pro.
- Intel Core i7 Extreme 6950X 3.0GHz (3.4-4.0GHz Turbo) 10 Core - While not the optimal CPU for After Effects in all situations, this CPU is excellent for motion tracking and terrific for Premiere Pro. If you find that you spend more time waiting for Premiere Pro to finish exporting video than you do waiting on After Effects, this CPU is about 10-15% faster than the i7 6900K and 20-25% faster than the i7 6850K in Premiere Pro. However, keep in mind that outside of motion tracking this CPU is actually 4-6% slower than the i7 6900K in After Effects.
- Adobe After Effects CC 2015.3 CPU Comparison
- Adobe After Effects CC 2015.3 Multi Core Performance
- Adobe After Effects CC 2015 Multi Core Performance
- Adobe After Effects CC 2014 Multi Core Performance
Starting with After Effects 2015.3 (and continuing in the newer versions), Adobe has been increasing the amount of GPU acceleration used in their software. The following effects are now able to utilize the GPU to greatly increase performance:
Added in AE 2015.3:
- Lumetri Color
- Gaussian Blur
Added in AE 2017:
- Brightness & Contrast
- Find Edges
Added in AE 2017.1:
- Drop Shadow
- Fractal Noise
- Gradient Ramp
- Fast Box Blur
However, although After Effects can now utilize the GPU, we have found that even a mid-range video card will give the same performance as a high-end card. So while having a GPU can increase performance by up to 10X for some effects, spending more money on a faster GPU will likely not result in any performance gains.
While a more powerful GPU doesn't make a big impact for After Effects, for users that work with Premiere Pro or other programs that can utilize higher end GPUs more effectively our systems included a number of GPU options that are not strictly necessary for AE. In Premiere Pro especially, not only will a good GPU improve the time it takes to encode a video, it can also drastically increase the amount of your timeline that can be scrubbed without needing to generate previews first. For help choosing the right GPU for Premiere Pro, we recommend checking out the video card section of our Premiere Pro Hardware Recommendation page.
For all Adobe products we generally recommend using a NVIDIA GeForce card, although NVIDIA Quadro cards can be a bit more reliable over the long terms and are required if you want to be able to use 30-bit color or a 10-bit display. Performance-wise, however, GeForce cards will always give you much higher performance for your dollar.
Additional Resources (After Effects and Premiere Pro):
- Adobe After Effects CC 2015.3 Pascal GPU Performance
- Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015.3 Pascal GPU Performance
- Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 GPU Acceleration
- Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 Professional GPU Acceleration
Depending on the length, resolution, and complexity of your projects, After Effects can often benefit from having very large amounts of RAM available. Larger amounts of RAM allows AE to store more previews in RAM rather than on a cache disk which can result in smoother playback. Using a fast SSD as your cache drive can mitigate some of the performance loses, but no hard drive or SSD is as fast as RAM.
In general, we recommend 64GB of RAM as a starting point for moderate After Effects usage or those just learning to use After Effects. If you work with very complex projects, however, you may need 128GB or even more RAM. Keep in mind that if you use other programs at the same time as After Effects, you will need enough RAM for all of them at the same time. Be sure to set the amount of RAM you want to leave free for other programs in "Edit > Preferences > Memory" to keep your system from bogging down due to there not being enough RAM free for the rest of the system.
One suggestion we always make is to consider what you will be doing in the future. If you think you will be increasing the resolution of your video files or increasing the complexity of your projects we highly recommend taking that into account when deciding on how much RAM you need.
Our systems offer three different types of storage drives depending on your specific needs and requirements:
Standard SSD (Samsung 850 EVO/Pro) - SSDs are a staple in modern workstations, especially as your primary drive containing the operating system and program installations. They are more expensive than a traditional platter hard drive, but also many times faster allowing you to launch Windows and programs significantly faster. We offer both the Samsung 850 EVO and Pro line of drives with the primary difference being the write endurance. The Pro line is rated for a much higher number of writes making it a better choice if you will often be writing data to the drive (such as for a scratch drive)
PCI-E x4 M.2 NVMe SSD (Samsung 960 Pro) - These drives are about 30% more expensive than a standard SSD, but around five times faster! However, in most cases you will not see much of a performance difference since a modern standard SSD is already so fast that it is rarely a performance bottleneck. The main time you will see a benefit from using a NVMe drive is if you work with RAW footage when each image is ~15MB or larger. In that case, having your source media on one of these drives will allow you to export much faster and make it much more likely that you will be able to play your timeline live without the need for previews.
Traditional Platter Drive (WD Red/Gold) - These drives may be slower than the other drives we offer, but they are much more affordable and available in capacities ranging up to 10TB per drive. While we do not recommend working directly off these drives more than occasionally, they make terrific long-term storage drives and shouldn't cause much of a performance hit to export directly to. The main difference between the WD Red and Gold drives we offer is that the Red drives are much quieter, but the Gold drives are faster.
For After Effects (and most other post-production software packages) we generally recommend a two to four hard drive configuration depending on your budget and desired performance level:
- Primary Drive - OS/Software (SSD) - Includes your operating system and the base After Effects installation. An SSD is highly recommended as it will greatly improve how fast the OS and programs startup, but there is usually not much of a performance benefit to upgrade to a faster NVMe drive.
- Secondary Drive - Project Files (SSD/M.2 NVMe) - If possible, it is a good idea to separate your project files and disk cache onto a secondary drive. For most users a standard SSD will work fine, but if you work with RAW footage there can be a performance benefit to using a M.2 NVMe drive.
- Optional Tertiary Drive - Dedicated Cache (SSD/M.2 NVMe) - Using a dedicated SSD for your disk cache can significantly improve performance when playing and scrubbing through compositions. Upgrading to an even faster NVMe drive can give some performance gains, most notably allowing the disk cache to be written on average around 20% faster.
- Optional Storage Drive (Platter) - For long term storage where the high speed of SSDs is typically not required, a larger traditional platter hard drive is a good choice as they are still much cheaper per GB than SSDs.
One important factor we want to point out is that with the higher performance of modern platter drives the old recommendation of having an SSD or RAID array for your export drive is no longer accurate. SSDs or RAID arrays are great for improving the time it takes to open, save or generally move around files, but for actually rendering projects there should be little difference between exporting to a platter drive, an SSD, or even an ultra-fast PCI-E based NVMe drive.
Often overlook, quality audio is a critical part of any video editing workstation. Depending on the quality and number of audio channels you need, there are three types of audio devices you may want to use:
- Onboard Audio - Included on most motherboards, the quality of onboard audio has improved dramatically over the years. However, since the audio chip is on the same PCB as the rest of the motherboard there can sometimes be issues with signal noise which can degrade the audio quality. This is not a factor if you use digital outputs for stereo or 5.1, but if you use headphones or analog speakers the quality may not be as good as what other dedicated audio devices can provide.
- Internal Sound Card - A common choice in workstations that need high quality audio, internal sound cards can often deliver excellent sound quality for a relatively low cost. The downside to many of these devices is that the required software is often bloated and geared more towards gaming than audio/video production. We have also had a number of instances where the drivers for internal sound cards have caused performance issues in Premiere Pro so we recommend avoiding these devices unless they provide a function that you absolutely need.
- USB DAC - Currently our top recommendation for Premiere Pro workstations, external DACs are an excellent option for high quality sound. Not only is the quality excellent, but there is rarely any driver conflicts with Premiere Pro and there are a wide range of options to choose from. While the DAC that is right for you will depend on the inputs and outputs you need along with any special capabilities, we have a number of USB DACs on our configure page if you simply need high quality stereo output for either headphones or speakers.