Best Workstation Computer For After Effects [2020 Guide]

CG Director Author Alex Glawion  by Alex Glawion   ⋮   ⋮   187 comments
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Best Workstation Computer For After Effects [2020 Guide]

There are quite some factors to consider when building a new PC that is mainly targeted at After Effects use.

This article is about building the best bang-for-the-buck Adobe After Effects Workstation and what hardware components are the best picks for your intended use:

Let’s start out with identifying some of the workloads you might want to run when working in After Effects.

There are two main categories of workloads that we should take a closer look at:

  1. Active work: Active After Effects work is when you sit at your desk and are actively using your workstation. This might involve animating layers, editing your footage, adding effects, scrolling the timeline and navigating the User Interface through menus and buttons.
  2. Passive Work: Passive After Effects work is done when the Program executes tasks itself without you having to interact with it. Such workloads include Rendering out your Projects and Effect Processing Tasks such as Footage Stabilization.

Let’s take a look at how the CPU handles the above tasks.

Best Processor (CPU) for After Effects

1. Actively Working in After Effects

If you are planning on actively working heavily with this Computer I recommend a maximum single Core-Clock CPU such as the Intel i9 9900K or AMD Ryzen 9 3900X.

The 12-Core AMD Ryzen 9 3900X clocks at 3,8 GHz base and has a 4,6 GHz single-core turbo-clock and the i9 9900K even boosts up to 5GHz but only sports 8 Cores total.

User Interface and frame updates in After Effects heavily benefit from high core clocks.

Take a look at these benchmarks from Pugetsystems, where it becomes clear very quickly how superior high-clocking CPUs are in After Effects CC.

CPU NameCoresGhzAfter Effects ScorePriceValue
AMD Ryzen 7 3800X83.9983399
AMD Ryzen 5 3600X63.8922249
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X123.81019499
Intel i9 9800X83.8885589
AMD Ryzen 7 2700X83.7850251
Intel i5 9600K63.7882262
AMD Ryzen 5 2600X63.6816149
AMD Ryzen 5 360063.6912199
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X83.6970329
Intel i9 9900K83.61047488
Intel i9 9700K83.6926362
AMD Threadripper 2950X163.5900729
Intel i9 9900X103.5909989
AMD Threadripper 2920X123.5876369
Intel i9 9920X123.59391189
Intel i9 9940X143.39311387
Intel i9 9820X103.3871889
Intel i9 9960X163.19441684
AMD Threadripper 2990WX323.08181699
AMD Threadripper 2970WX243.07971300
Intel i9 9980XE183.09481979
CPU NameCoresGHzAfter Effects ScorePriceValue

This is true for lots of other Creative Tasks such as 3D Modeling and Animation or Video Editing too, having high Core-Clocks will make your Computer or Laptop much more responsive and snappy.

2. Passive tasks or using the Machine mainly as a Render-Node

Now if you are using this Computer mainly to render out projects that you have already set-up on a different workstation, you would want to go “max CPU-core count” x “CPU-core clock” or in other words max CPU-Multi-Core Performance (similar as for 3D Rendering).

This means the more cores you have and the higher those cores are clocked, the better.

Unfortunately, there are no CPUs with more than 8 cores that have Turbo-Boost frequencies as high as an i9 9900K, meaning you will have to trade clock speeds for core-count.

Excellent options here are:

The above recommendations don’t clock quite as high as an Intel i9 9900K Processor but because of the higher number of cores they are a lot faster in tasks that make good use of multi-threading, such as rendering.

After Effects used to make full use of all of your Cores, but Adobe refactored the renderer a few Versions back, making it much less powerful.

To still be able to make use of high-core-count CPUs though, check out the BGRenderer Plugin.

The overall best After Effects Performance Value currently is offered by AMD with its mid-range Ryzen CPUs such as the Ryzen 5 3600 or  Ryzen 7 3700X.

How much Memory (RAM) do you need for After Effects?

You can never have enough RAM for After Effects. If you thought Chrome was RAM hungry, think again.

The amount of RAM you will need depends a lot on what type of projects you are working on, what other programs you have opened at the same time and how many Cores your CPU has and if you are using plugins like BGRenderer.

If you are using After Effects for lower-res projects that don’t go above 1280×720 and you work in 8Bit Color and your timeline isn’t too complex or long, you might get away with 16GB of RAM without noticing any slowdowns.

I wholeheartedly recommend at least 32GB of RAM for serious After Effects use though, better 64GB if your projects are in FullHD or above and in 16 or 32Bit Color and your Footage consists of multiLayer EXRs or similar heavy footage.

After Effects will take it all, and be sure you limit the RAM usage of After Effects in your preferences, otherwise your System might crawl to a halt.

Best RAM specs for After Effects

Be sure the RAM you chose is decently clocked, with 3200Mhz or 3600Mhz usually being the sweet spot of performance to price. Look out for lower latency RAM such as CL14 or CL16 if your budget allows this.

Having at least two RAM modules makes sure they run in Dual Channel mode, giving you double the potential bandwidth for accessing your Memory. On HEDT Motherboards with chipsets such as x399, TRX40 or x299, you can double that bandwidth again if you have at least 4 RAM Modules hooked up.

Be sure to buy RAM Modules in Kits. The modules within a Kit are factory tested and guaranteed to run smoothly within that configuration of modules.

If you buy multiple kits or even modules from different manufacturers, the possibility of them not working together smoothly is much higher.

Best Graphics Card (GPU) for After Effects

Most After Effects workloads are much more dependent on CPU Performance than on GPU Performance.

It is only when using certain effects or plugins, that a strong GPU will show you noticeable speed-ups – Or if you are working on 3D-Projects and are using the After Effects Raytracing engine.

The most important features in a GPU for After Effects are the number of Compute Units (on AMD Cards) or CUDA Cores (on Nvidia’s GPUs) since After Effects can make use of these in 3D viewport rendering, as well as in speeding up some effects-calculations that might be applied to your footage.

Great choices here are the Nvidia 2070 RTX and 2080 RTX since these have a great price/performance ratio. If you have some cash left over, consider the Nvidia RTX 2080 TI for that extra bit of performance.

After Effects GPU Performance

As you can see in the above Benchmark Rankings by Pugetsystems, it almost doesn’t matter if you buy a GPU for 150$ or one that costs 10 times that.

If After Effects is the only Content Creation Tool you are using, and you know you won’t use the Raytracing Engine or specific Effects that make use of GPU accelleration, then feel free to get a lower-tier GPU such as the Nvidia GTX 1660 or AMD Radeon Vega 64.

Also, After Effects doesn’t natively make use of Multiple GPUs, but if you also use your PC for 3D-Animation in tasks such as GPU rendering in Octane or Redshift, having Multiple GPUs will greatly increase your performance.

Best Hard-Drive (HDD/SSD) for After Effects

When working on projects in After Effects, often-times you’ll be using Footage, which is high-res and high-bit-depth. Multiple Layers of 32Bit EXRs or RED Files come to mind here, and these are huge.

You’ll greatly benefit from having a fast drive to read all this footage from, to make previews and rendering as fast as possible.

The new M.2 SSD Drives such as the Samsung 970 EVO PLUS or PRO have excellent performance and outperform any SATA SSD by far. Highly recommended for Footage, Cache and Software Drives.

Drive Speed Comparisons SSD vs HDD vs NVME

The above Chart shows you how superior an NVMe SSD is to HDDs or traditional SATA SSDs. Of course this is sequential performance, but random read / write and higher cue-depths too are faster on most NVMe Drives.

As a Motion Designer / After Effects Artist you will be working with large footage that you want to load from Drives that are as fast as possible. If you’ve been in the game for quite some time, you should consider getting at least 1 – 2 TB of fast Storage right away.

M.2 NVMe Drives (Link to our NVMe Guide) are the best choice here, and if you have some money left over after configuring your Build, consider investing into more fast Storage Space.

Best Monitor for After Effects

Buying Monitors is an extremely interesting area in itself.

You might want to check out this in-depth Guide to buying the best Monitors for visually demanding work, which should have all the information you’ll need for getting the best Monitor for After Effects.

After Effects Custom PC Recommendation

Head on over to the Web-Based CG-Director PC-Builder Tool, that will let you configure a Motion-Design & After Effects build in less than 4 clicks.

An excellent Build, that I recommend often, would consist of the following parts:

Some Notes on this Build:

Since After Effects is badly optimized for CPU Multi-Core Usage, you’ll see better performance with CPUs that clock high vs CPUs that have lots of cores. The Intel i9 9900K which clocks at 3.6 / 5.0 GHz Turbo will give you a snappy active work experience as well as good rendering speed when exporting your comps.

The beQuiet Dark Rock Pro 4 Air Cooler is among the best Air Coolers you can get and it will make sure the CPU stays below its thermal limits.

When using an overclockable Intel “K” CPU you should make sure the Motherboard supports this and has strong VRMs to deliver all the needed power. The Asus Prime Z390-A is an excellent choice for making sure your Motion Design PC-Build does not run into any Power-Limits.

As we discussed above, the Graphics Card isn’t as important in a PC-Build for After Effects. There are some Effects that are GPU accelerated, but the GPU will rarely be used intensely throughout your work. The 2070 Super I recommend in this Build, is right in the sweet spot of performance and value while sporting CUDA Cores for other workloads such as GPU Rendering in Redshift or Octane if you have need for that.

64GB of RAM should take care of even complex projects, but there certainly is the possibility of upgrading to 128GB of RAM if you can make use of it. If you do need 128GB of RAM, be sure to go for high-capacity (32GB) modules though, as you only have 4 RAM slots available.

Because I am recommending a moderately priced PC-Build here, I just added an SSD with 500GB capacity for OS/Application Storage and 1TB of fast M.2 NVMe Storage for your project files. This should be sufficient for starting out and moderately complex projects, but if you have some money to spare, do consider buying more fast storage from the get go. 2x 2TB of M.2 NVMe Storage such as the Samsung 970 Evo PLUS 2TB, or even higher capacities, will keep you settled for a much longer time without the need to move files around because you are running out of space.

If you don’t want to spend that amount on fast storage, consider getting a large HDD for backing up your inactive projects to free up room on your fast drives for your active projects. On a side note: Redundant Backups / Archiving should be mandatory anyway!

That leaves us with the PSU and Case. For this kind of build, even a 650W PSU would suffice in terms of Power Draw, but with a 750W PSU or even 850W PSU you have the ability to upgrade to stronger parts in the future without having to buy a new Power Supply.

I recommend getting a Modular Power Supply, as they reduce the clutter inside your case substantially, and that increases airflow.

The Case is a simple, black, professional and compact ATX case that will easily fit all of your components. I’ve had great experiences with these minimalist Corsair Cases, but you might prefer a different brand or style. 🙂

 

That’s about it!

 

What kind of Computer for After Effects are you building?



Find a new friend on the CGDirector Forum! Expert Advice & PC-Build Planning with a warm and friendly Community! :)

Alex Glawion - post author

Hi, I’m Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist, Motion Designer and Compositor.

I’ve built a multitude of Computers, Workstations and Renderfarms and love to optimize them as much as possible.

Feel free to comment and ask for suggestions on your PC-Build or 3D-related Problem, I’ll do my best to help out!

187
Comments
Also check out our Forum for feedback from our Expert Community.

Emi

Hi Alex, im newbi
Do I need to change anything? I would really appreciate your opinion.
Main use is AE / premiere.Thanks.

-AMD Ryzen 9 3900X 3.8 GHz BOX
-MSI X570-A Pro
-x2 – Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3200 PC4-25600 32GB 2x16GB CL16
-Corsair Hydro H60 Kit de Refrigeración Líquida
-Asus Turbo GeForce RTX 2060 Auto-Extreme 6GB GDDR6
-x2 – WD Blue SN550 SSD 1TB NVMe M.2 PCIe Gen 3
-Corsair Carbide 275R USB 3.0 Cristal Templado Negra
-Corsair TX550M 550W 80 Plus Gold Semi Modular

Tomy

Hi Alex

Do I need to change anything? I would really appreciate your opinion.

Main use is AE / premiere / photoshop and maybe some gaming sometimes.

Thanks.

AMD RYZEN 9 5900X
Noctua NH-U12S SE-AM4
MSI MEG X570 UNIFY
RTX 3070 / 3080
G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 64GB (2 x 32GB) 3600 CL16
Seagate FireCuda 520 M.2 2280 2TB PCIe Gen4 (Working projects)
Seagate FireCuda 520 M.2 2280 1TB PCIe Gen4 (Cache)
Intel 665p Series M.2 2280 1TB PCIe NVMe 3.0 (OS / Software)
Toshiba HDD 4.0TB 7200 128MB SATA3 3.5 (Projects and backup)
Toshiba HDD 4.0TB 7200 128MB SATA3 3.5 {Projects and backup)
Corsair HX850 850W
Fractal Design Define 7

Rob

using my pc for adobe premiere, after effects, some gaming and Hyper-v i am wonder if i should go for a 5900x or 5950x with 64gb mem, samsung NVME drives in dual setup and a 3080 nvidia card. not sure about the processor. how much would 16 cores benefit over 12 cores using above software. i do find contradictory information and benchmarks.

Mike

Hi Alex. First I want to thank you for this resource. I’m about to do my first build and I have learned a ton over the last few weeks from your site. It is very much appreciated as I had next to no knowledge on self-building and I feel pretty confident now (let’s see how that pans out in the real world in a few weeks).

I I would really appreciate any advice/input, especially if there is anything I am overlooking (I also have some specific queries at the end).

Needs: My main use is professional for Motion design (After Effects) / 4K video (Premiere) / 3D (Cinema 4D). Although working smoothly is a priority, it will be nice to have better rendering abilities as well. I tend to bounce between many programs (including Chrome) so decided to max out the Ram even though I know it is a little overkill. I’m trying to build something that will last me at least 4-5 years (if not longer) before I need to start tinkering with parts again, and gives the most flexibility to explore more intensive techniques in 3D. Max budget is £5K but want to reduce as much as possible (without compromising too much from the specs below) as anything extra will go into screen/peripherals/etc. Thank you

CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X 3.5 GHz 16-Core Processor

OR Ryzen 9 5950X or Ryzen 9 5900X if possible to get hold of one over the next month

CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-D15S 82.52 CFM CPU Cooler

Thermal Compound: ARCTIC MX-2 4 g Thermal Paste

Motherboard: MSI MEG X570 UNIFY ATX AM4 Motherboard
OR Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero (WI-FI) ATX AM4 Motherboard

Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws V 128 GB (4 x 32 GB) DDR4-3200 CL16 Memory

Storage: Samsung 980 Pro 250 GB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive (OS)

Storage: Samsung 980 Pro 1 TB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive (Project files and Cache)

Storage: Western Digital Black 4 TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive (General storage)

Video Card: NVIDIA RTX 2080 SUPER 8 GB

OR 3000 series if I can get hold of one at the end of November but I know that is seeming unlikely until next year so I may settle for the 2080 and upgrade again in a few years as I need this build as soon as possible.

Case: Lian Li Lancool II Mesh ATX Mid Tower Case

Power Supply: be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 1000 W 80+ Platinum Certified Semi-modular ATX Power Supply

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Pro OEM 64-bit

Case Fans: Noctua P12 redux-1700 PWM 70.75 CFM 120 mm Fan x 2 for the bottom of the case

Noctua P14s redux-1200 PWM 64.92 CFM 140 mm Fan x 1 for the top fan

1) Do you think the fan configuration is OK. Any suggestions for better options?

2) For the fans, I went by one of your articles. Someone else recently suggested to me the be quiet! Silent Wings 3 50.5 CFM 120 mm Fans instead. I’m aiming for performance more than noise or aesthetics (I generally have my headphones on anyway). Which would you go for?

3) Would you go for the MSI or ASUS Motherboard (especially with Zen 3).

4) Any other tips (or pointing out things I may be overlooking) would be much appreciated as is my first time.

Thanks,
Mike

Marlon

WOW Alex, i’m just dropping by to give you a most deserved shout out. This article is not just crystal clear and thoughtful, but your attention to peoples doubts in the comment section is amazing. You really are the man. Thank you so much for this. I started building a pc and this article/comments right here pointed me to the right direction and made me understand a lot of the other sources i used to back up all the stuff i learned here.

Kanan

Hi Alex. I want to learn Motion Graphics and do this job, and I want PC. Which do you recommend? Core i7 8700k or Amd Ryzen? I have a budget $1100. Help me for the best PC build please, thank you.

Jesse

kanan, I noticed you’re in the market for a PC as well! My budget is starting at 1100 too and goes upwards of 1600! hopefully Alex will respond to us. I hope to use my new pc for intense Adobe After Effects work. what are you doing with yours?

Ivanov

Hello Alex!
First of all – thanks for the detailed information. You’re just awesome… Could you please do let me know and give an advice if something is not okay with this configuration for after effects. I will create max to 3 mins promo videos from Videohive templates. Thanks in advance.

Intel Core i5-10500 (3.1/4.5GHz, 12M)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Super 6GB
32 GB DDR4 2666 MHz
1TB 7200rpm
500 GB SSD M.2 NVMe

Arturo

Hello Alex!
Will you consider adding a RTX 30 for these after effect pc builds?

I really enjoyed your guide, btw!

Maarten Helsloot

Hello Alex,

Thank you for this great guideline, I’ve used it to build my own After Effects machine.
I have to say, that I’m not too impressed by my machine’s responsiveness. So i’m trying to figure out what causes that. Hopefully you have the time to think with me.
First my specs:

Gigabyte Z390 Gaming SLI motherboard
Intel Core i9-9900K 3600 1151V2 processor
64 GB Corsair DDR4-3200 RAM
2x Samsung 870 QVO, 1 TB ssd, one for software, one for projects
Samsung 970 EVO Plus, 500 GB SSD M2 ssd, for cache files
GIGABYTE GeForce RTX 2060 6GB videocard.

My main complaint about the setup is that I find the GUI a bit slow in reacting. For example, when I want to move the play head, it reacts a little late, just not snappy. And that’s not with a heavy loaded file.
I decided to build a PC, since my Macbook pro (mid 2016) was slow at ram previewing. But I have to say that the Macbook feels snappier in the GUI!
Maybe I overlooked something, or maybe you have a golden tip:-)

Thanks in advance

Best Regards

Maarten Helsloot
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Luis Enrique Hdz

Hey Alex, i can’t thank enough for your time.

Here’s my thing: I want to build a threadripper since I have been experimenting huge trouble with previews and rendering in c4d.

I don’t have all the money yet, so I’m thinking on building a workstation in which i can switch to the threadripper in the mid term changing the least possible elements.

I’m very confused about compatibilities between processors, softwares, motherboards and slots (As far as I know a faster slot increase the general performance).

I mainly use after effects for compositing but I need to create very complex scenes on c4d as fast as it could be. I’m planning to use rendering engines as octane or redshift but I don’t know if they get along with multi core or multi gpu rendering in a threadripper built.

so here are my questions:

1.- If I get the threadripper I need render engines?

2.- If I get the TR+RE do I need multiple GPUs?

3.- If I get the TR+RE+MGPUs would I have great performance on Ae?

4.- Would I need the TR after all?

5.- Is Pcie 4 the best option for rams and gpus in a threadripper built?

6.- What built would you recommend for all my mess?

My budget now is about $3000 usd

Obviously I’m considering 64gb ram and 2 ssd at least.

Thanks again for your time and I hope this not overwhelm you.

(sorry for my english too, isn’t my first language)

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