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Best Performance Mac Set-up for Adobe After Effects

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Eric Gross
Best Performance Mac Set-up for Adobe After Effects
on Jul 21, 2010 at 7:44:00 pm

Hey fellow cowers, I'm putting together a budget for new Mac PRO workstations. We will be working mostly with Adobe After Effects from the CS5 Master Collection.

I'm wondering what are the best practices to get the best performance. From what to buy, to what not to install. I'm looking for performance and reliability.

Our current shop has a Fibre Channeled XSan with 32TB. Our macs are setup with Open Directory accounts. Only small amount of our work requires the ingest of video. We have 9 macs and 7.5 Artists. Finished animations are sent to editors as quicktime movies and targa files. We do a lot of heavily layered After Effects files and incorporate cinema 4d frequently. Net rendering when possible. 32 GB of memory per workstation is a given.

Questions:
Recommended Video Cards and how many? Obviously we have one slot taken with fibre channel card. We also typically have a AJA Kona Cards. Would it be better to designate one or two Macs as an ingest stations and put in multiple Graphics/Video cards? I don't really know details of how processing takes place now with many calculations being handled by the video cards. Are any cards better suited for AE?
Quadro FX 4800? ATI HD 4870? Something else... If I have compatible cards from older macs can I install those or should all cards match?

Would Multiple Hard Drives add any performance boost? Perhaps formatting in such a way that OS would live on one drive, applications on another, leave the other for virtual memory... Just thinking outside the box. If so would it worth it to then purchase the Mac Pro RAID Card? Or shove another video card in?

We also typically load all the Adobe and Apple Studio applications onto a mac. While this is great for functionality, if I am looking for streamlined performance, is it significantly better to just install the most used programs, and designate other machines for other purposes (say the rare use of inDesign).

Thoughts? Thanks in advance.
Eric Gross - KTVU


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Walter Soyka
Re: Best Performance Mac Set-up for Adobe After Effects
on Jul 22, 2010 at 3:55:05 pm

[Eric Gross] "32 GB of memory per workstation is a given."

For After Effects, RAM is my first priority, and I'm glad to see you're already accounting for that!

[Eric Gross] "Recommended Video Cards and how many? Obviously we have one slot taken with fibre channel card. We also typically have a AJA Kona Cards. Would it be better to designate one or two Macs as an ingest stations and put in multiple Graphics/Video cards?"

If you install multiple video cards for ingest, you'll also need software capable of multi-stream ingest. This may or may not be more trouble than it's worth, depending on your workflow.

[Eric Gross] "Would it be better to designate one or two Macs as an ingest stations and put in multiple Graphics/Video cards? I don't really know details of how processing takes place now with many calculations being handled by the video cards. Are any cards better suited for AE? Quadro FX 4800? ATI HD 4870? Something else... If I have compatible cards from older macs can I install those or should all cards match?"

After Effects rendering is not accelerated on the GPU (some specific third-party plugins are), so picking a graphics card depends on other apps you use. For example, if you are a heavy Premiere user, the Quadro FX 4800 would be helpful. If you are a heavy Apple Color user, the ATI HD 4870 is the preferred card.

[Eric Gross] "Something else... If I have compatible cards from older macs can I install those or should all cards match?"

If you use any GPU acceleration on any plugins (like Knoll Light Factory, Optical Flares, or Noise Industries), AND you net-render, your graphics cards should match. If your graphics cards do not match, you should disable GPU rendering on these plugins wherever possible, or render locally only.

Keeping everything the same would also simplify system administration.

[Eric Gross] "Would Multiple Hard Drives add any performance boost? Perhaps formatting in such a way that OS would live on one drive, applications on another, leave the other for virtual memory... Just thinking outside the box. If so would it worth it to then purchase the Mac Pro RAID Card? Or shove another video card in?"

What kinds of speeds are you getting on your XSan? If your SAN is nice and fast, you may not get an improvement by adding more local disks.

If you want to work locally, you could use a three-drive setup: OS/apps, footage, and render. You could replace the footage and render drives with a high-speed RAID, but skip the Mac Pro RAID card; it's junk. I'd recommend an external RAID enclosure. Many great RAID manufacturers advertise here -- you'd be very happy with a CalDigit, or a MaxxDigital, or a Dulce, etc.

Many applications require installation on the startup disk, so splitting your OS and your apps may not be an option. With 32 GB of RAM, your virtual memory usage should be almost non-existent.

[Eric Gross] "We also typically load all the Adobe and Apple Studio applications onto a mac. While this is great for functionality, if I am looking for streamlined performance, is it significantly better to just install the most used programs, and designate other machines for other purposes (say the rare use of inDesign). "

Installing them should make no difference in performance, but be careful how many apps you keep open. If you're not actively using InDesign on a workstation, close it to free up RAM and resources for other applications.

Hope this helps,

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Eric Gross
Re: Best Performance Mac Set-up for Adobe After Effects
on Jul 22, 2010 at 4:30:54 pm

Thanks for clearing things up, wish there were a few more revelations... We just hired a guy that swears the iMac at his last place was faster than the current dual quad he's working on.

I didn't think about the GPU for Knoll and net rendering. Good catch.




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Walter Soyka
Re: Best Performance Mac Set-up for Adobe After Effects
on Jul 22, 2010 at 5:44:56 pm

[Eric Gross] "Thanks for clearing things up, wish there were a few more revelations... We just hired a guy that swears the iMac at his last place was faster than the current dual quad he's working on."

Perhaps there's a non-hardware issue here. The online help has a great page about improving performance.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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