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I have Windows 7 with 4 GB of RAM and then just a standard Graphics card and all that.
....and there's the problem. Just 4 gigs. You need more memory.
8 gigs minimum, 16 gigs to even THINK about using multiprocessing, and more more memory than that would be better.
Okay... I clearly stated I know I don't have a fast computer. My question is why do my render times vary by hours. Why can I render an 11 minute video in 2 hours yet a 5 minute video (with less bells and whistels) renders in twice the amount of time?
Is this just After Effects being screwy?
Renders can vary by hours due to the type of footage being used in AE, the current settings you have applied to AE, the techniques used in your compositions and the specific types of effects applied to the footage. Since you state none of those, we're flying blind despite your previously-clear statements. Sorry.
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As dave said, without knowing what effects you use and what else is involved, nobody can tell you exactly why you are seeing such differences. A single temporal effect like Timewarp or a feature like time-reampping could multiply render times by a factor of 20. Some effects like Keylight are also known memory hogs that will eat up all your RAM and when AE approaches the limit, it will become slow because it continually is busy trying to free up memory... Too many variables involved and impossible to advise without knowing al lthe facts.