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but wanted to see if anyone had any suggestions.
Yeah, buy a PC. Can't help but feel that OSX is stuck in the land of suck ever since 10.6. Since you probably won't be able to do that, I would suggest you use a different image format to render. JPEG compression can be memory intensive, so AE may be able to actually render the frame, but then exhaust memory when writing the file. Use TIFFs or TGAs without compression or even PSDs. there are enough image viewing and conversion programs that can give you a JPEG version afterwards using batch conversion (Graphics Converter, XnView etc.) or you batch it in Photoshop. I would also try to render RAM previews with the disk cache on. Oddly enough, often this works and you could then use the Save RAM preview feature to save chunks of your work. just make sure to change the Output modulke template beforehand...
I'll try rendering out a tiff sequence in the morning. Never thought about jpeg having to compress being a processing hog. The RAM Preview option is a good one as well. Maybe find an intern to sit there all day and keep on RAM previewing.
I tried rendering a TIFF sequence as opposed to a JPEG, and it actually crashed sooner than with the JPEG. The RAM preview suggestion is a good one, but unfortunately I don't have the man-power to have someone sitting there to keep RAM previewing. I decided to render out a bunch of my effects heavy pre-comps, soon I'll lay those back in and see if AE can get through the render without crashing.