How to Choose the Right System for Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects
COW Library : Adobe Premiere Pro : Dave Helmly : How to Choose the Right System for Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects
“What’s the best system for Premiere Pro and After Effects?” This is a question that any editor or content creator has to go through every few years as technology changes. I get asked about this almost daily by broadcast IT departments, filmmakers, and YouTubers. One thing we can all agree on is that “change” is pretty much the only thing you can count on.
I thought this would be a good starting place for this column. I’d like to cover a number of related topics for this series, ranging from system requirements, performance indicators, what the colors in the Premiere Pro interface mean, performance tweaks you might consider, and leveraging system preferences in Premiere Pro.
Dave Helmly has been troubleshooting and advising Premiere Pro customers since the early days of Adobe. He still runs copies of every version of Premiere since the original 1.0 release in 1991.
Minimum versus recommended system specs
In my nearly 25 years at Adobe, one thing I’ve never recommended to anyone is our minimum specifications for any of our applications. I'll typically ask the user about camera/media acquisition and final delivery formats. But when it comes to putting together a system that delivers value for performance over the years you plan to use it, there are other considerations, too.
Remember, technology is always changing and, in many cases, people “over buy” in the wrong areas when it might be wiser to hold back a bit and spend the extra money later on upgrades. One perfect example was simply upgrading from spinning drives to SSDs. We are seeing this again with the introduction of NVMe SSDs. More on that later.
For starters, you can always look for the current info at Premiere Pro system requirements.
A few notes about this link. Remember to check the System Requirements page at least yearly as we are already at Win10 v1809 for recommended Win10 OS specs. macOS is currently at v10.13 or higher but I highly recommend Mac users get to v10.14 or preferably v10.15 as the Metal GPU performance is notably faster.
Workflow should define your system configuration
My golden rule: Your most common workflow should define your target configuration. I'm a big believer in keeping things simple, and as a result I developed our internal approach to testing editing systems based on a “Good, Better, Best” model. We’ve also worked closely with several turnkey system builders to use a similar approach to our Good, Better, Best model. For example, Dell uses terms like Basic, Advanced, and Ultimate.
Dell's "Basic, Advanced, Ultimate" matrix for Premiere Pro and After Effects. Click for full size.
To dig in a bit deeper, it’s really about defining your “Workflow Persona” which uses the same “Good, Better, Best” model but defined as the following personas:
Questions to help define your “Workflow Persona”
Asking a few simple questions will help you figure out your workflow persona an get one step closer to finding the system that’s right for you.
What is your Premiere Pro versus After Effects usage percentage?
This will help us choose a starting point when picking CPU, GPU, and RAM requirements.
Are you more focused on Cores or Clock Speed?
After Effects currently likes a high clock speed, whereas Premiere Pro makes better usage of a higher core/thread count.
What are your memory requirements (32GB, 64GB, or 128GB+)?
Long-form projects benefit from more memory, while shorter social content require less.
How many displays are you using?
The more displays in your configuration, the harder the GPU and system has to work to perform pixel refresh on all displays. For example, a single ultra-wide display is better than two editing displays. In most cases, three displays is one too many.
What frame size are you working with (HD, 4K, 8K, 12K)?
While you may need to edit all of these sizes at some point, ask yourself which frame size will be most common in your daily workflow. Don’t configure a system for 8K if you won’t spend a lot of time editing/delivering 8K.
What cameras/media codecs are most relevant to you?
There are several things to consider with codecs and performance. Some of our codecs/formats are GPU accelerated and some are CPU enhanced, while some are neither, which means it takes a lot of CPU to decode and render. In an upcoming post I'll give some examples of when it’s a good idea to transcode into one of the more performance-based codecs, which will save you a lot time in the long run.
Are you using third party I/O or built-in HDMI preview?
Third party I/O devices from companies like AJA, BlueFish444, and Blackmagic Design all take additional resources from the system. One common scenario I see often is someone using a powerful laptop to drive multiple demanding Thunderbolt 3 devices, such as an external RAID, two displays, eGPU, 10Gbe ethernet adapter, and an I/O device to drive a broadcast display all connected to a single Thunderbolt 3 channel. Overdoing it like that can really kill system performance. Thunderbolt 3 can solve a lot of issues but there are limits. Just because you can connect it doesn’t mean you should.
On that note, I would like to call out our I/O partners—AJA, Blackmagic Design, and Blue Fish 4444—who have all done an amazing job in optimizing their drivers for Premiere Pro and work closely with us on tweaking performance for their I/O devices to ensure maximum performance.
Questions about playback performance and storage
Another set of questions that I get all the time is around general playback performance. It’s not all about CPU and GPU, the speed of your media is equally important. For example, codec/media in 4K/8K frame sizes require fast media delivery to the CPU and GPU as you need to move a lot of pixels in/out of memory and in/out of the CPU/GPU. They all need to work together to keep things moving quickly. The speed of your drives (media) should always be suspect when you see performance playback issues. As I mentioned above, newer systems now have NVMe SSD drives, which is perfect for testing media playback and accessing any performance issues.
Today, getting access to really fast and large storage volumes has been made easy with Thunderbolt 3. Both desktop workstations and laptops generally have Thunderbolt 3 ports available either as standard or as an option. For desktop users, if you have an option to add a Thunderbolt 3 add-in card, I would suggest adding it, as it may save you headaches later if you decide you need a fast backup or you need to add more fast storage for larger projects.
In the past, we had to install bare drives to desktops to create a fast storage system or have more complex setups with raid cards and external RAID systems, which both required updated drivers—what a headache. Today, selecting a Thunderbolt 3 RAID is easy. Brands like LaCie, G-Tech, and OWC have been trusted by the video editing community for years. Also, remember these vendors also make excellent single Thunderbolt 3 drives that are great for fast backups. Do yourself a favor and don’t use USB 2.0 or 3.0 drives for editing if you expect any type of performance. These drives generally use “burst modes” that will affect playback.
For users needing shared storage, I'm already seeing built-in 10Gbe ports as standard options on newer workstations like the New Mac Pro, iMac Pro, and the AMD Ryzen ThreadRipper-based Lenovo P620. 10Gbe can deliver Thunderbolt like speeds, which makes it a great choice for shared networks. It’s also getting cheaper every year to install.
For laptop users who want to add a 10Gbe adapter (I use one), consider Thunderbolt 3 adapters from Sonnet and OWC. They have excellent performance and are relatively inexpensive. Just remember that it needs to be on its own Thunderbolt channel to help ensure you’re getting the maximum throughput. And don’t overload your Thunderbolt ports. There is no built-in Thunderbolt error checking to tell you when you are maxing out the channels.
For an entry level 10Gbe shared storage unit, you can look at any of the QNAP NAS servers. I’ve recommended them for years and they’re an excellent entry point. If you require more performance for larger workgroups, consider looking at the EVO by Studio Network Solutions (SNS), which integrates nicely with Premiere Pro with their custom ShareBrowser Panel.
Studio Networks Solutions ShareBrowser Panel inside Adobe Premiere Pro
There are many excellent storage partners that support the editing community. Take the time to talk to your peers about what works for them and why. In many cases, it comes down to whether their tech support has an understanding of video workflows.
Intel Quick Sync hardware acceleration
A few other key components can make all the difference for a well-balanced editing system. Recent technologies like Intel Quick Sync will improve performance when working with H264 and HEVC files. These are two very common capture formats for cameras, drones, and mobile devices – and they are both very taxing on any system. I suggest anyone using these formats for long projects consider doing a quick transcode to a codec format like Apple ProRes (also supported on Windows). It’s worth making this a best practice: it makes editing more fluid and saves time in the long run.
For systems that don’t have Intel Quick Sync, we’ve recently released new enhanced support for H264/HEVC for Apple Metal on macOS 10.14 & 10.15, and also added new hardware accelerated encoding/export for AMD and NVIDIA GPUs running Windows 10. We’re seeing 2X to 4X export speed improvements and you can expect to see more performance improvements like these in the near future. More on this subject in a later blog.
Keep in mind that most Xeon Processors and even many Core i9 processors do not have Quick Sync. You can check Intel’s Ark site to double check your processor.
What about multiple CPUs and GPUs?
Premiere Pro can use multiple processors (CPUs) and multiple GPUs, but it’s rare that I see the need to spend extra money on these with the current lineup of the newer GPUs and newer processors like Intel’s Core i7/i9 extreme, Intel XEON E, and AMD Ryzen ThreadRipper. While Premiere Pro makes great use of CPU multicore/multithreading, it’s rare that you’ll ever take advantage of more than 16 cores/32 threads.
For GPUs, as of today, Premiere Pro can work with up to three GPUs. At the writing of this article, After Effects currently only really makes use of a single core, which is why getting a processor with a high clock speed is important if your work today is mainly in After Effects. After Effects is also getting more and more GPU code in places where it’s needed like the new RotoBrush 2. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at this video:
So, with all of these considerations, here are my general recommendations for different editing personas. Consider these starting points to build from.
Good: Simple Edit
Better: Creative Edit
Premiere Pro and After Effects performance are improving with each release and that will only continue. Check out our May, June, and July updates to see our progress. With technologies like H266 and Thunderbolt 4 on the horizon, you can count on ongoing changes, with by considering your hardware decisions, you can stay ahead of the game.