but the problem is every time I hit ram preview it starts the video all the way from the beginning.
Window --> Preview, enable the "From current time" option
yet it still takes time to render the ram preview (with no effects on it yet).
There is no magic button. If it is compressed, naturally it needs to be decompressed and decoded first. This can consume resources even on fast machines. Furthermore, drive speed matters a lot in such cases. This might actualyl multiply, if you use multiprocessing, so for this kind of simple setup it's usually better to not use it. If your harddrives are fragmented or simply generally slow, frames cannot be loaded as fast and neither will AE be able to use the disk cache. Ergo, convert the footage and move it to the fastest drive in your system.
what do you guys do to get around this?
We preview at reduced compo resolution to extend RAM previews and place markers while the RAM preview plays using the * key on the numpad.
It doesn't sound like you're taking advantage of AE's ability to scrub audio:
You'll find the instructions a little way down the page.
Turning on the Caps Lock key is especially handy: the video doesn't update, and scrubbing becomes MUCH easier. When you find the right place on the audio layer, you can highlight it and hit the * key (numeric keypad) to add a marker. Double-clicking on the marker lets you add text notations.
You might get a better instantaneous RAM preview if you were to disable the Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously checkmark in preferences. This way there is no "set up" wait time before the system starts to render RAM preview. You might want to check that option back on before you do your final output render.
No need to RAM preview just to hear audio, use the decimal key on the number pad to play an audio-only preview.
If you want to tag to certain audio events, twirl down the properties for the audio until you see the waveform, and then use that to sync audio and animations.
And if you want the RAM preview to start from your current position, just hit the 'B' key to set your work area start to the playhead, and then RAM previews will begin from that point.
Use ctrl-drag to scrub audio & video. Use ctrl-alt-drag to scrub just audio.
AE has all of the audio functionality of Premiere (plus more), it just behaves in a different way.