Hardware Recommendations for After Effects CC
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 In addition, sometimes these lists can be outdated, show old hardware revisions, or simply contain sub-optimal hardware.
Because of how inconsistent these lists can be, here at Puget Systems we run and publish our own set of extensive hardware benchmarks to ensure that the systems we sell are perfectly tailored for After Effects. Even better, you don't have to take our word for what to buy, you can browse and examine all our testing in detail in our After Effects hardware articles. Based on all our testing, we have our own list of recommended hardware for After Effects.
The processor (or CPU) is one of the most important pieces of an After Effects workstation. While GPU acceleration is gaining traction, right now your choice of CPU is usually going to make a much larger impact on overall system performance. However, be aware a CPU that is theoretically more powerful is not always better since there is a limit to the number of cores that After Effects can effectively take advantage of.
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 actually runs better on more affordable CPUs that have a lower core count but higher operating frequency.
What CPU is best for After Effects?
Currently, the CPUs we most often recommend for After Effects is the Intel Core i9 9900K 8 Core, followed closely by the 3rd generation AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or Ryzen 7 3800X processors. There are more expensive options that can give you a few percent better performance, but in terms of overall system performance you would be better off purchasing more RAM or faster storage than spending your budget on one of those higher-end processors.
Do more CPU cores make After Effects faster?
To a certain extent, more cores should improve performance. However, After Effects doesn't scale particularly well since version 2015.3 so the number of cores tends to be less important than the speed of each individual core.
The exception to this is if you use the Cinema 4D renderer which can be slightly faster with a high core count CPU like the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X or the Intel Core i9 10980XE. If you use the C4D renderer heavily, contact us and we can get you a system that is specifically optimized for that workflow.
Why don't you offer dual Xeon? Isn't it faster for After Effects?
After Effects used to make great use of high core count systems (including dual Xeon) but starting with AE CC 2015 most tasks no longer benefit from having a high number of CPU cores. This is largely due to the fact that Adobe removed the "render multiple frames simultaneously" feature in part due to the fact that they are starting to integrate GPU acceleration. While it used to be that more cores = faster, since higher core count CPUs run at a lower speed a CPU with around 8 cores will be faster than a higher core count CPU or even a dual CPU setup.
Full benchmark and test data available in our article:
After Effects CPU performance: Intel Core X-10000 vs AMD Threadripper 3rd Gen
Recent After Effects CPU articles:
Adobe has been making increasing use of the GPU over the last several years, but After Effects is overall much more reliant on the speed of your CPU. While it is important to have a supported GPU, you typically will not see a large increase in performance with a higher-end model.
What GPU (video card) is best for After Effects?
For After Effects, it is extremely important to have a supported GPU, but the actual performance of that card will not make a major impact on performance. Compared to the high-end RTX 2080 Ti, even a GTX 1060 is only about 6% slower. Once you get to a GTX 1070 Ti, the difference shrinks further to only a few percent.
How much VRAM (video card memory) does After Effects need?
While a higher-end GPU may not give significantly higher raw performance, it is essential that your video card has enough VRAM or video card memory for your projects. However, unless you have multiple 4K displays, even 4GB of VRAM should be plenty. Since all the video cards we currently offer for After Effects have at least 6GB of VRAM, this should not be a concern for most users.
Will multiple GPUs improve performance in After Effects?
While After Effects technically can use multiple cards at once, we have seen extremely minimal performance gains when doing so. In almost every case, you will see higher performance with a single higher-end card than multiple lower-end cards.
Does After Effects need a Quadro card?
After Effects works great with a Quadro card, but for most users a GeForce card is the better option. Not only are GeForce cards much more affordable, they are able to match or beat the performance of the Quadro cards. Quadro cards are slightly more reliable, however, which can be important in mission-critical workstations.
Does After Effects run better with NVIDIA or AMD?
Currently, NVIDIA cards perform better than AMD cards in After Effects. We have also found that NVIDIA cards tend to be slightly more reliable (both from a hardware and driver standpoint), which is why we typically use NVIDIA over AMD unless there is a clear benefit to using an AMD card.
Can After Effects use the new RT and Tensor cores that are on the RTX cards?
RT and Tensor cores are extremely new for the consumer market, and at the moment Photoshop cannot leverage either of them. Adobe has not announced any official plans, but the RT cores (which are designed specifically for ray tracing) may be used in the future for 3D ray tracing. The Tensor cores (which are designed for AI & machine learning), may also be used, but likely for accelerating features that use the Adobe Sensei technology.
How do I get 10-bit HDMI or SDI display support for After Effects?
Unlike Premiere Pro, the only one way to get 10-bit display support in After Effects is to use a video monitoring card. In our systems, we offer the Blackmagic Decklink Mini Monitor 4K and the Studio 4K 6G-SDI PCI-E cards. These video monitoring cards are specifically designed to deliver unaltered video signals to your display, resulting in the best possible video and color quality. Note that you will need a dedicated, highly accurate display that is capable of handling the FPS and resolution of your project in order to take full advantage of these cards.
What video cards support Ray-Traced 3D in After Effects?
Unfortunately, Ray-Traced 3D is no longer supported by modern video cards. Any cards from within the last few generations will give an "Initial shader compile failed (5070 :: 12)" error [More Information]. This feature is no longer being developed as it has been largely replaced with the C4D integration and it is unlikely that Adobe will ever add support for modern video cards.
Full results available in our article:
After Effects GPU Roundup: NVIDIA SUPER vs AMD RX 5700 XT
Recent After Effects GPU articles:
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.
How much RAM does After Effects need?
The amount of RAM you ideally want for After Effects depends on the resolution of your projects, the color bit depth (bpc), and the number of frames you want to be able play continuously. To determine how much RAM you ideally want, you can use the mathematical formula:
[desired seconds of playback] x [FPS] x [height in pixels] x [width in pixels] x [number of bits per channel] / 2,147,483,648 + 3
Alternatively, you can just use the charts provided below:
Note that RAM usage scales linearly with framerate, so if your projects are 60FPS you will need twice the RAM shown above.
If you don't have a specific need, we generally recommend at least 64GB of RAM for most users, or 32GB if your projects are relatively simple. 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.
Storage is a commonly overlooked aspect of a video editing and motion graphics workstation. While the CPU or video card may be what does all the processing, if your storage isn't able to keep up it doesn't matter how fast those components are. What makes storage complicated is the fact that not only do you have to deal with the various types of drives available today, you also want to have them configured in a way that will maximize performance in After Effects
What type of storage drive should I use for After Effects?
There are three main types of drives you might use for a video editing workstation: SSD, NVMe, and the traditional platter drive. Of these three, traditional platter drives are the slowest but are extremely affordable and available in much larger capacities than SSD or NVMe drives. Due to this, they make excellent long-term storage drives, but in most cases are not ideal to work directly off of.
SSDs are several times faster than a platter drive but are also more expensive. These drives are excellent for a wide range of tasks such as holding your OS and applications, storing media and projects you are actively working on, or as a cache/scratch drive.
NVMe drives come in two flavors (M.2 and U.2), but either one will be significantly faster than even an SSD drive. They are about 30% more expensive than an SSD, but in return are up to five times faster! However, in most cases you will not see much of a performance increase with a NVMe drive since a modern standard SSD is already fast enough that it is rarely a performance bottleneck. The most common use for these drives is for your disc cache as a drive with faster write speeds mean you are more likely to be able to write frames from RAM Preview to the drive before that frame gets overwritten.
What storage configuration works best in After Effects?
While you could get by with just a single drive, we 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 in some situations a NVMe drive may be useful.
- Optional Tertiary Drive - Dedicated Media Cache/Scratch (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.
Can you edit an After Effects project from an external drive?
Technically, you could keep your footage and projects on an external drive and edit directly from that drive. However, this is one of the most common causes of performance and stability issues we hear about from our customers. We highly recommend having a large enough internal drive so that you can copy all your files to a local drive before editing. External drives are terrific for backup and archiving, but not ideal to work off of.
Recent After Effects storage articles:
While audio may not be the primary concern for motion graphics, quality audio is a critical part of any video editing workstation. There are a wide range of audio options to choose from including the onboard audio that is built into the motherboard, a discrete PCI-E sound card, or a USB DAC
Is onboard audio good enough for After Effects?
The quality of onboard audio that comes on most motherboards 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.
Is a PCI-E sound card or USB DAC better for After Effects?
USB DAC's are currently our top recommendation for editing workstations. Not only is the quality excellent, but there are rarely any driver conflicts with After Effects and there are a wide range of options to choose from depending on the inputs and outputs you need. While Sound cards can provide excellent sound quality at a relatively low cost, the required software is often bloated and can sometimes cause issues with After Effects.
Looking for an After Effects Workstation?
Puget Systems offers a range of workstations that are tailor-made for your unique workflow. Our goal is to provide the most effective and reliable system possible so you can concentrate on your work and not worry about your computer.