8 Replies Latest reply on Nov 27, 2010 4:30 AM by Pixelgazer

    Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5

    sc2nut

      BACKGROUND INFO (Questions listed below)

       

      I need some help figuring out the best hardware configuration for a new laptop. I’m a student at a design school and I will be using the laptop to mainly run After Effects and to a lesser extent Photoshop and Illustrator. I don’t need to worry about 3D rendering software or Premier Pro. I am primarily interested in getting the best performance during editing. I am not looking for the best performance for final output. I would prefer to sacrifice final output times for better editing/interface performance.

       

      I will be working with standard definition content and perhaps HD up to 720p on occasion. I do not need to operate in resolutions higher than 720p. My projects are generally animation and use many sources and many layers.

       

      I’ve been reading up on optimal hardware configurations for CS5 but my understanding is still a little foggy and I would like to use this thread to figure out how to build the best machine for my budget. The budget is about $1400 to $1600 CANADIAN after tax.

       

      I DON’T need help finding the laptop. I will search for it on my own. I just need to understand the best hardware to purchase within my budget.

       

      I realize that it is probably impossible to buy the laptop I want with the hardware configuration I need “off the shelf”. Instead I will be looking for a good base model (~$900-$1100) and I will purchase the necessary hardware upgrades separately. I will not be purchasing a Mac.

       

      Right now I’m thinking of a machine built something like this:

       

      - 15”-16” screen (17” models are too big/heavy)

      - Mid to high end i5 processor OR entry level i7 quad core

      - 8GB RAM (I would go to 12GB, but it’s hard to find a 15”-16” laptop with 3 memory slots)

      - SSD to replace HDD (However, if possible, I would like a laptop with dual HDD support or swap the optical drive for another HDD. If I had access to 2 drives, I would have and HDD/SSD combo).

      - Medium/high end NVIDIA GPU to take advantage of OpenGL while editing.

       

       

      QUESTIONS

       

      1) Does the “Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously” option enhance general editing performance (applying filters, scrubbing through the timeline, reverting history states)? Or does it ONLY help speed up RAM previews and final output? Does it reduce the length of RAM previews?

       

      1b) Is this option even necessary to enable on 64bit systems? (As far as I understand it was used to solve a problem where 32bit systems/software would only recognize 4GB of RAM per instance of AE).

       

      1c) If I turn this option on to help with RAM previews, would I be hindering general editing performance in any way? Or does this option have basically zero drawbacks?

       

      2) How come “Actual CPUs that will be used” will read 0 even if the sum total of RAM assigned to the CPUs plus the RAM reserved for other applications is less than the total available system RAM (on a 64bit system)? For example, I currently have 4GB RAM and 2 installed CPUs. I have 1.5GB reserved for other programs and when I set 0.75GB per CPU both CPUs are used. However when I set 1GB per CPU then 0 CPUs are used, even though the total RAM adds up to only 3.5GB.

      CPU

       

       

      3.) Considering the fact that I am more concerned with smooth performance while editing rather than final output speeds, would it be better to get a dual core i5 clocked around 2.5 or a quad core i7 clocked around 1.8?

       

      4.) What is the difference between an i3 and an i5 processor even if they are clocked at the same speed? How does an i5 460M compare on the grand scheme of things?


      RAM

       

      6.) Should the quantity of RAM that I get (8GB vs 12GB) be based on the number of cores in my CPU? If so, how should I be calculating optimal RAM based on # of cores. Should I also be counting threads, or just actual physical cores?


      STORAGE/SWAP

      7.) Should I replace the HDD with an SSD? I'm looking for snappy interface performance while editing. I would think that if the RAM fills up it would be best to have the SSD for scratch/cache.

      8.) What performance benchmarks are most important when considering an SSD for After Effects? (4k writes? IOs per second? Max read/write?)

      9.) I can afford the OCZ Vertex2 120GB SSD. Would this be a good choice if an SSD is recommended?

      10.) Would it be better to have 8GB of RAM and an SSD, or 12GB of RAM and an HDD? Explain why.

      GPU

      10.) After Effects utilizes OpenGL to enhance editing performance. I will not really be using Premier Pro, so catering to the CUDA Mercury Engine is not a concern. Do high end gaming cards provide significant gains in OpenGL performance? Or do OpenGL performance gains taper off around the mid-range GPUs? (i.e. can you justify buying a high end GTX 260M graphics card for enhanced editing performance versus an "entry level" dedicated card like the 310M?)

      11.) What hardware specs are most important when considering a GPU for editing performance in AE? (Memory size? # of Pixel shaders? Core speed? Shader speed?)

       

      --------------------------------

       

      Thanks so much for any answers you can offer to these questions.

        • 1. Re: Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5
          Todd_Kopriva Level 8

          Please make sure that you've read through this page and what it points to.

           

           

          > 1) Does the “Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously” option enhance general editing performance (applying filters, scrubbing through the timeline, reverting history states)? Or does it ONLY help speed up RAM previews and final output? Does it reduce the length of RAM previews?

           

           

          It only increases rendering speed for RAM previews and rendering for final output. In After Effects CS5, it doesn't decrease the length of RAM previews. (In CS4, it does.)

           

          1b) Is this option even necessary to enable on 64bit systems? (As far as I understand it was used to solve a problem where 32bit systems/software would only recognize 4GB of RAM per instance of AE).

          You misunderstood. Yes, it's still relevant on 64-bit computers. Moreso, in a way. (I'd rather not spend my entire Sunday writing out detailed answers to satisfy idle curiosity, so I'm not going to give all the technical detail to that answer.)

           

          > 1c) If I turn this option on to help with RAM previews, would I be hindering general editing performance in any way? Or does this option have basically zero drawbacks?

           

           

          It takes a small but nonzero time for the background processes to start up when they need to be used and shut down when they're done. And as they sit waiting, they take up a little bit of memory. So, it's not exactly correct to say that there are no downsides to leaving it on. But it's close. I leave it on.

           

          > 2) How come “Actual CPUs that will be used” will read 0 even if the sum total of RAM assigned to the CPUs plus the RAM reserved for other applications is less than the total available system RAM (on a 64bit system)? For example, I currently have 4GB RAM and 2 installed CPUs. I have 1.5GB reserved for other programs and when I set 0.75GB per CPU both CPUs are used. However when I set 1GB per CPU then 0 CPUs are used, even though the total RAM adds up to only 3.5GB.

           

           

          4GB - 1.5GB for other software leaves 2.5 GB for After Effects.

          If you have 1GB assigned per background CPU, then the foreground takes 1.2x that = 1.2GB. That leaves 1.3GB for background processes, which is enough for one background process. There's no point in starting only one background process to do rendering, so it doesn't bother. (Note: When background processes are rendering, the foreground process isn't rendering.)

           

          > 3.) Considering the fact that I am more concerned with smooth performance while editing rather than final output speeds, would it be better to get a dual core i5 clocked around 2.5 or a quad core i7 clocked around 1.8?

           

           

          Get the quad-core. That gives you a greater total number of cycles. And After Effects works very well with mutliple processors, even beyond Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously multiprocessing. An entirely unrelated sort of multiprocessing (multithreading) spreads work out to multiple processors.

           

          > 6.) Should the quantity of RAM that I get (8GB vs 12GB) be based on the number of cores in my CPU? If so, how should I be calculating optimal RAM based on # of cores. Should I also be counting threads, or just actual physical cores?

           

           

          The optimum amount is the amount that you can cram into the computer. I'm not kidding. Spend your budget on RAM until you have 4GB installed per processor (and I'm counting the virtual processors due to hyperthreading). If you have a quad-core, that's 8 CPUs with hyperthreading, so the optimum amount of RAM installed is 32GB. You can work with less, but you did ask about optimum. For HD work (i.e., 1920 pixels across), you're OK with more like 3GB installed per CPU. That's what I have at home: 24GB in a quad-core. You're going to assign 2/3 or so of the RAM to After Effects, so 3GB installed per CPU is 2GB per core for HD work in After Effects.

           

          > 10.) Would it be better to have 8GB of RAM and an SSD, or 12GB of RAM and an HDD? Explain why.

          12GB of RAM. Because After Effects likes RAM. (If you're thinking of deliberatly using virtual memory to swap memory to the hard disk, don't. That's a performance killer.)

           

          > 10.) After Effects utilizes OpenGL to enhance editing performance.

           

          Not really. If you're on a limited budget, don't even think about the GPU until you've already got the most RAM, the fastest CPUs, the largest number of CPUs, two fast hard disks, and a couple of good monitors. Then, and only then, should you even consider getting soemthing beyond a non-stock graphics card. Yes, OpenGL can be used to accelerate some things, but that's only for the low-fidelity preview renderer. (Pardon the bluntness, but I want to make sure that you heed this.)

          • 2. Re: Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5
            sc2nut Level 1

            Thanks very much for the swift and insightful reply, Todd. I trust you know exactly what you're talking about so it's fine that you didn't get into the "why" of everything. Your advice has helped to clear some clouds of confusion and point me in the right direction.

            • 3. Re: Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5
              sc2nut Level 1

              So Todd recommended that I take the quad core over the higher clocked dual core cpu. I'm looking at the i7 rankings from this chart and noticed the 620M with 2 cores and 4 threads (2.66 GHz/core) ranks higher than the 740QM with 4 cores and 8 threads (1.6 GHz/core).

               

              Is the 620M considered a quad core processor because it can handle 4 threads? Would the 620M be a better choice than the 740QM because of its higher base clock speed? If a CPU with 2 cores/4 threads is considered quad core, does that mean the i5s are also quad cores?

               

              What about the other i7s with 2 cores and 4 threads that rank much lower on the list? The list seems to suggest better performance can be had with a mid range i3 than a low end i7. Should I stay away from the i7s with 2 cores/4 threads and just try to find an i7 with 4 physical cores?

              • 4. Re: Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5
                Todd_Kopriva Level 8

                The term "quad-core" refers to four physical CPUs. If a processor and operating system can use hyperthreading, then a quad-core represents 8 "virtual" CPUs (processors).

                • 5. Re: Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5
                  sc2nut Level 1

                  So the only true iX quad core models are:

                   

                  i7 940XM

                  i7 920XM

                   

                  i7 840QM

                  i7 820QM

                   

                  i7 740QM

                  i7 720QM

                   

                  Any of which would be a great choice over a dual core i5, correct?

                  • 6. Re: Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5
                    Todd_Kopriva Level 8

                    > Any of which would be a great choice over a dual core i5, correct?

                     

                     

                    At a glance, that seems like a true statement.

                    • 8. Re: Need help choosing optimal hardware for a laptop that will run AE CS5
                      Pixelgazer

                      In my experience, with the current dualcore and quadcore i7's, it's all a question of:'What do you do with it'. Typically, light design work involves a lot of file handling, a lot of user-interaction. Relatively little heavy multi-threaded tasks for the machine. A dualcore i7-620M or 640M is really fast in not-so-threaded tasks and therefore feels really quick compared to all but the most expensive quadcores.

                       

                      I'd advise you to just try out a number of machines in stores. Even if that means comparing apples and orange's. There are other things than raw cpu power to consider when choosing the right machine.