Before anything, please don't take this as an official endorsement or anything. Just an educated (hopefully) opinion on your question.
The stock/lower-end octo-core configuration (8 x 2.26 Ghz) should give great bang for the buck, especially for the simultaneous processing capabilities in AE. These machines are really fast.
But... to take full advantage of simultaneous frame rendering, you want at least 2GB per core of RAM, or AE may not use all cores in such a computer. That would account for 16GB of RAM. Normally, I would recommend not getting RAM from Apple, since it's so expensive. But the thing is this machine comes six 1 GB DIMMs, only leaving two empty slots for RAM. So you probably want to order it from Apple with 8 GB (4x2GB) and add the other 8GB yourself. If you want to keep things simple, just order it with 16 GB of RAM from Apple.
The stock graphics card should be fine for AE.
It comes with a 640 GB hard drive. You can get a couple of other 1 TB internal drives extremely cheap. Like $130 each or less. These SATA drives nowadays handle up to uncompressed SD and compressed HD easily. Doesn't sound like you need uncompressed HD.
As for connecting to a video monitor, there are tons of options from Decklink, AJA, Matrox and others. You want to check that your preview monitor has Component video input (available in nearly all pro video monitors, and most medium to high end TVs), since most of these solution offer Component analog and HDMI. But they also have lower end models with Composite out (like the Decklink Intensity models or the new Matrox MXO2 Mini, for instance).
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Just about any Mac can do the job. From a laptop (MacBook Pro) to a workstation (Mac Pro). If it is new, or even a couple years old, you should have no problems.
The biggest thing to remember is After Effects LOVES RAM! This is where you should plan to invest as much as possible. So even if you cut corners on the processor speed, or other features, invest in RAM.
Adolfo mentioned that the machine comes 6GB of RAM installed - unfortunately as 1GB units. The octo-core has 8 slots (which is good). If you go with the quad-core, it has 4 slots. Interestingly enough, if you found a used intel Mac Pro, they come with 8 slots - which is great for adding more ram. I definitely would consider purchasing the minimum amount of RAM from Apple, and at least replacing part of it with 3rd party high capcity RAM from someone like crucial.com.
Naturally, all of this depends on the budget you have set aside. My only suggestion is to remember AE LOVES RAM!
enjoy your new machine!
I see yo've psted this same question in at lest two AE forums.
You'd do us all, and future inquirers, a big favor by going back and closing all of your threads after you make your decision and receive your system
We see this question often here and on the cow so you can search the forums and find several recommendations. Adolfo has given you excellent advice but basically it comes down to buy the best you can afford and rationalize. I disagree with your idea that local storage is not important. You want two or three drives in your machine for all kinds of reasons that may or may not be AE related.
I am sorry to upset/offend you. My understanding was that the forums were a place to get help from other users that may have more experience than I do in certain situations.
If you don't want to answer my questions, don't waste your time. I know many people ask questions about which systems to use, but each may have different situations.
It seems that your solution 'to buy the best you can afford' is an over simplification. Should I buy an 8-core 2.93, with 32GB of RAM, four 1TB HDs, ATI graphics card, and two 30" displays? I bet that a lesser machine would be more than adequate for the projects I explained.
Thanks for the advice on the hard drives. Care to give more of an explaination?
If you can ask for help on a forum, what is the purpose?
I think that bogiesan was pointing out that it's difficult for us to answer questions when the same user repeats the same question on several forums at once. Both bogiesan and I (and several others of us) monitor many different forums. When the question is cross-posted, the conversation is splintered, redundant, and difficult to pull together to a conclusion. If you do cross-post, please do everyone a favor by posting back to each thread with the answer that you find.
We're here to help. And certain things from people asking questions will make it even easier for us to help.
Fair enough. I was not trying to cause problems. And to those few who frequent all the AE forums, I am sorry.
From my side, I did not know which forum would give the best answer. In addition, I got very good, but different information from each source.