When working in After Effects, you know what your day entails: a lot of waiting. It starts when you boot up the app, which often takes several minutes to load, followed by long stretches of time spent in the render queue. That’s the norm, anyway, when you’re using a hard drive and an average amount of memory. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
By maxing out your system’s memory and installing an SSD or two, you can dramatically speed up almost every step in your workflow – and the pace of your workday. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Adobe recommends the same solution: here’s how and why.
Everyday actions that rely on memory: Creating motion graphics, multiprocessing, applying effects, previewing files, real-time video playback, utilizing the RAM Preview and Global RAM Cache memory features, running After Effects and other applications
What Adobe says about the role of memory in After Effects: “If you plan to primarily run After Effects CC, then you will directly benefit from installing more RAM. Although the stated minimum is 4 GB of memory, if you plan on taking advantage of multiprocessing, you should consider installing as much as 48 GB for a 12-core system and 64 GB for a 16-core system (check with the manufacturer for optimal memory configurations to complement your CPU). You can install even more RAM for longer previews and Global RAM Cache memory, and to run other programs at the same time as After Effects.”1
Why memory is so important: Memory is what enables real-time video playback in After Effects, and it’s what powers the RAM Preview and Global RAM Cache features that hold and recall frames and compositions from projects you’ve recently previewed. More memory means you can cache bigger frames for longer amounts of time and enhance video playback. Because After Effects is so memory-intensive, it’s easy to quickly run out of it when rendering large sequences, making an SSD even more important since you’ll often end up in virtual memory. When we rendered the small 14-second 3D model shown in our video, we discovered that this operation alone consumed over 50% of our available memory (16GB). And that was just to render a 14-second clip!
Another reason memory is critical is because it’s used to run After Effects’ powerful multiprocessing feature. When you enable multiprocessing, After Effects duplicates itself, and each “copy” of the program processes individual frames for RAM previews and final renders. For each background process you enable, you should assign at least 4GB. So, if you end up using 16 physical CPU cores for multiprocessing previews and rendering, you’d need 64GB of RAM, though more RAM enables longer previews and more seamless multitasking and overall operation.
Multiprocessing isn’t just a RAM issue, though. Since the feature is so memory-intensive, it’s easy to quickly run out of physical memory, meaning you’ll often be dependent on the speed of your storage drive when your system has to dip into virtual memory. This is why we always recommend maxing out your RAM and using SSDs. You don’t want to increase After Effects’ performance, only to quickly lose out when you end up in storage.
Everyday actions that rely on storage: Rendering, compositing source files into memory, retaining frames in Disk Cache and Persistent Disk Cache modes for fast access, loading and reading source files, writing and outputting motion graphics files, booting up, loading After Effects and other applications
What Adobe says about the role of storage in After Effects: “... Storage speed affects how fast sources can be read into memory to be composited, as well as how fast rendered frames can be rendered back to disk.... The speed of your cache drive directly affects how fast frames can be swapped between the RAM and disk caches, plus a faster cache drive means more frames are retained as opposed to re-rendered if needed.”1
Why an SSD is so important: The typical After Effects workload goes like this: Load the program and several source files. Convert the source files into memory. Work on source files, then render them to disk cache for future playback and edits. Save files when work is complete. Then output and deliver them to your client. An SSD supercharges every step in this process, and based on our testing (detailed below), we found that users could complete a sample workflow 3x faster.* From loading the app to rendering and using After Effects’ Disk Cache mode, the SSD impact is so significant that you’ll likely want several big drives, which will allow you to store more raw frames and allocate as much storage as possible to Disk Cache and Persistent Disk Cache.
In terms of configuring your drives, we recommend at least two 1TB SSDs. One should serve as primary storage drive where your OS, After Effects, and other applications reside. The other should store media and be designated as your Disk Cache drive. This is critical and often overlooked step because when you end up in virtual memory (an everyday event), you don’t want After Effects to have to read and write to the same drive at the same time. When After Effects operates in virtual memory, it’s swapping RAM into storage (reading from the drive), while simultaneously trying to write to Disk Cache – a scenario that’ll really slow you down. The solution: prevent the problem in the first place.
While it’s well known that more memory and faster storage accelerate After Effects, we wanted to put theory to the test and quantify the impact you might see. By testing four configurations of the same base system, we were able to isolate performance variables and assess how DRAM and SSDs impacted a fairly standard motion graphics project – rendering a 14-second 3D model. Before opening up After Effects and starting any rendering, we opened up six other applications because most motion graphics artists are constantly multitasking between project components, and we wanted to simulate real-world performance as closely as possible. While the system we tested was an older model that was only capable of installing 16GB of memory, it provided a good baseline to assess the role memory and storage plays in completing a sample workflow.
How we did the testing: With the exception of the 4GB hard drive system, each configuration was tested three times and the numbers reported above are averages. We only tested the 4GB hard drive configuration once because it was the base system configuration and had an unusually low amount of memory for design work – the test was for representational purposes only. All tests began with a fresh boot so that other factors and applications didn’t affect reported results. Only the files and applications that were used for testing were installed and stored on the drives. Testing conducted in February 2016.
*The six applications we opened and had running in the background: Premiere® Pro, Photoshop®, Illustrator®, Acrobat Reader®, Microsoft® Word®, Outlook®
The results speak for themselves, yet likely underestimate just how much of a speed gain you’ll likely see. The reason? We didn’t use After Effects’ Disk Cache or multiprocessing features to help render our test 3D model, plus we only rendered a 14-second frame. When you render and work with bigger files, you consume more memory and you have to transfer more data back and forth, which is where the speed of an SSD kicks in. While we didn’t test beyond 16GB of RAM, we know from Adobe that more memory means you can do more before dipping into virtual memory. Since After Effects is so memory-intensive, we recommend as much DRAM as possible – typically 64GB – though the amount you install should match the intensity of your workload.
No matter what type of computer you’re using or what your workload entails, more memory and an SSD is a proven way to help speed up your workflow – especially when it comes to multitasking.
Many motion graphics artists we know spend a lot of time multitasking between After Effects and other applications. Usually, it’s a necessity. Most projects require referencing client emails, plotting data to model, consulting project documentation, researching ideas online, and streaming music to inspire what you’re creating. If this sounds like you, you’ll really benefit from maxing out your memory, since RAM is what’s used to run all the applications you have open at once. It’s what makes multitasking possible. Keep in mind, though, that multitasking isn’t just about running multiple things at once. It’s also about getting into multiple things at once, and that’s why an SSD helps, too.
Software may enable digital design, but it’s your computer’s hardware that determines the speed of design. Max out your hardware’s performance by ensuring that every upgradeable component is performing as fast as possible. It’s not enough to just use a fast CPU. You need enough memory to continuously feed every processing core – and lots of SSD storage to instantly load and save everything you do. How fast you’re able to work hangs in the balance. Are you waiting on your system, or is it waiting on you?