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:
- 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.
- 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
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 Name||Cores||Ghz||After Effects Score||Price||Value|
|AMD Ryzen 7 3800X||8||3.9||983||399|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600X||6||3.8||922||249|
|AMD Ryzen 9 3900X||12||3.8||1019||499|
|Intel i9 9800X||8||3.8||885||589|
|AMD Ryzen 7 2700X||8||3.7||850||251|
|Intel i5 9600K||6||3.7||882||262|
|AMD Ryzen 5 2600X||6||3.6||816||149|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600||6||3.6||912||199|
|AMD Ryzen 7 3700X||8||3.6||970||329|
|Intel i9 9900K||8||3.6||1047||488|
|Intel i9 9700K||8||3.6||926||362|
|AMD Threadripper 2950X||16||3.5||900||729|
|Intel i9 9900X||10||3.5||909||989|
|AMD Threadripper 2920X||12||3.5||876||369|
|Intel i9 9920X||12||3.5||939||1189|
|Intel i9 9940X||14||3.3||931||1387|
|Intel i9 9820X||10||3.3||871||889|
|Intel i9 9960X||16||3.1||944||1684|
|AMD Threadripper 2990WX||32||3.0||818||1699|
|AMD Threadripper 2970WX||24||3.0||797||1300|
|Intel i9 9980XE||18||3.0||948||1979|
|CPU Name||Cores||GHz||After Effects Score||Price||Value|
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:
- AMD Ryzen 9 3950X (16 Cores), AMD Threadripper 3970X (32 cores), 3960X (24 Cores), 2950X(16 Cores)
- Intel i9 Series 9920X (12 cores), 9940X (14 cores), 9960X (16 cores), 9980XE (18 cores)
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.
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.
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.
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?