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As you might already be aware, 2 GB is the minimum you should have in order to run the program. A good amount of that RAM is being eaten up by the OS, and any other live applications. I would suggest maxing out your RAM, if possible. That being said, there should be no reason for the declining performance unless there was a memory leak of some variety. Are you using any 3rd party plug-ins when you see this degradation in performance? What are your machine specs - do you have multiple cores/processors? Do you have the multiprocessing features of AE enabled or disabled?
In the short run, you can try to "enable disk cache", or adjust your memory settings to see if you can get more juice out of the 2 GB that you do have.
I didn't think to write the specs, as again I have had this problem exactly on two other computers... here's what I am working with now:
MacBook Pro 2.2ghz Core 2 Duo
2 gig of ram (and yes, actually I have bought 4 gigs of ram and will be replacing as soon as these projects I have going now are done...)
I have also had the problem on a MacBook Pro 1.67ghz
2 gigs of ram
It does seem like a memory leak, doesn't it? But why would that be on two computers using different memory? So does nobody else ever have this problem?
oh, no 3rd party plugins, btw. I do have a few installed, but very rarely use them. Sometimes I use Knoll lens flare. That's about it.
The only thing that I think you may want to try, is to jack up the RAM immediately, and not wait until your current project is done. I'm not sure what the RAM installation is like on the MacBook Pros, but I'm guessing the immediate downtime might be paid off quickly once you are working on your project with that extra 2 gigs available.
Maybe the others have some different ideas?
My MBP has 4 GB RAM...no preview issues here. Your Intel machine should be able to take the same. Why are you waiting to upgrade the RAM? It's not like you are installing a new OS or something. The easiest / cheapest way to increase the performance of any machine is to max out the RAM...and RAM is CHEAP these days. I got 2 - 2 GB Kingston sticks for $88.00 from Buy.com a few months ago & they came with an $8.00 rebate (each).
What version of AE are you using and how are you using it? I clearly seem to recall issues with CS3 running under Rosetta due to the emulation exposing a memory leak in 10.4.x, but if you run intel native, this should not happen. Personally I've never had any problems, but then again I'm using 10.5...
I guess it probably is an issue of just having the minimum of ram installed, considering that I am running the app native in 10.4.11 and was doing so on my last laptop as well. The two things that are consistent are the amounts of memory on each lappy. The reason i'm not adding it now, btw, is that I have a really really tight deadline and don't want to screw anything up. That said, yesterday I had my very first kernal panic on this laptop so perhaps there is something else awry. :(
I guess there may be something going on, but manually resetting the memory management now will not do much good, either. This should however definitely happen automatically when you install the extra RAM and apart from the general improvemnts due to simply more RAM, you should see an overall different memory behavior based on the new config. In any case, good luck for your project now and the hardware upgrade later. Check back once you have installed your 4GB and let us know.