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Without having to read detailed articles, here's a few tips.
First I'm assuming you have a single processor quad.
1. Add more RAM - 16GB minimum for a single processor quad 4.
2. Disable use Open GL in the AE prefs. It has long been problematic causing system hangs.
3. Turn on disk cache in AE prefs. If you can, set the cache location to another internal disk other than the boot drive.
4. Turn off "use multiprocessor" when working and doing RAM previews. Multiprocessor will really slow you down while working.
5. Turn on multiprocessor right before you render. If you are working in HD or larger comps, allocate 2GB+ per processor. Keep at least 1 processor
available for other apps and set at least 3GB of RAM to be used for other apps. (especially if you are trying to run FCP at the same time.
In CS4, there is a slider for longer RAM previews vs. faster renders. It's tempting to slide this all the way to the right, but you'll get best performance if you leave roughly 1GB for foreground processes.
6. If you can deal with all the other bugs that CS5 has, upgrade. It has MUCH better optimization for multiprocessors and on our very complex project test, it was 300% faster than CS4.
RAM will be the biggest help.
Thanks a million for taking the time and effort to answer in such detail. This is exactly what I've been looking for! Good stuff.