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Start with your disks. Two internal 7200 disks is aboslute minimum, better more. Externals are only usable if they are eSATA. USB is not suitable for editing. Then upgrade memory, CPU and video card.
Not sure whether your HDDs are the issue when it comes to rendering!! I see you have not specified the format you are working with (HD???) but can't think of a decent Sata HDD on the planet that is totally incapable of keeping up with Adobe renders. (Previewing smoothly in real time might be a different proposition.)
Might your RAM be the problem? CS5 is true 64bit. Basically it puts its tongue out at anything below 8Gb despite minimum spec disclaimers and even then it gets a bit picky and choosy. By your own admission this would seem to be your system's weak point. Your CPU is mid table in terms of grunt but this alone shouldn't affect things too much.Your GFX card is not MPE compatible so this will also ultimately limit performance - but it's not a project killer.
All systems are compromised by their weakest link. Rule of thumb is to identify these and rectify. RAM is relatively cheap.
I think all of us who are currently upgrading have realised that CS5 is not CS4. CS5 is an altogether different beast. It is more in tune with the Avid philosophy of software/hardware partnership than anything gone before for Adobe. But this also demands a degree of spend beyond the normal $300 upgrade mark.
Time to get the wallet out!
You are starving your processors for RAM. In theory, each CPU core should have at least 1GB of RAM. It sounds like you have 8 cores so that's why your CPU's are never going above 50%. Even if you only have 4 cores, I'd recommend upgrading memory first before HDD.
I'm a little skeptical of your assertions there, Dennis. I have only 3GB of RAM using a 4 core, 8 thread Intel 920 and my CPU load easily get's to 100% whenever it can. (MB Looks, which is heavily GPU dependant, will slow that down considerably. But without Looks, it pegs the CPU.)
A producer I work for has only 1GB of RAM using a dual core and his also gets to 100% when rendering.
"Externals are only usable if they are eSATA."
Really? Just bought a Lacie 500 GB external w/ FW800.
So I should just throw it away when I get it, as it's unusable?
I should have been more explicit. Sorry.
eSATA is just as good as internal SATA disks.
FW800 is about half the performance of SATA/eSATA and can be used for editing if you accept the performance penalty.
FW400 is about one third of the performance of SATA/eSATA and is not advised for editing.
USB is about 5 times slower than SATA/eSATA and is only to be used for backup/transfer and other non-editing uses.
This is all about single disk usage. This does not apply to raids.
Thanks for the followup. I was admittedly a little snide w/ my response.
I currently use a Seagate external 1TB 7200 USB 2.0 drive. I'm just an amateur though, and things have been OK editing with this setup.
When I get my new Lacie w/ FW800, I should definitely feel the difference? I can't wait to get it and start editing.