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Although it's a feature that typically just works without you having to really do anything, disk caching in CS5.5 marks a big difference to the performance of the application and it's worth understanding a little bit more about it. Disk Cache is on by default. If I look under After Effects > Preferences, which on the Mac is found under the After Effects menu, there is a Media & Disk Cache dialog and this shows me that I can adjust the size of the cache, which by default is 20 gigs, and that it is indeed turned on.
I also see that by default it's located right on my internal drive the, the same one on which the application is installed. This 20 gig cache does not fill your drive. It reserves that space in your user account's temp directory, but it doesn't actually fill the space until you start creating videos that write any kind of cache data. Cache data is any work in progress that After Effects decides to save locally in order to save re-rendering time.
If you have fast storage media attached to your system or if you have any external drive that you like to use for video footage, you can assign that cache to the drive right here. So you can choose a different folder. If for example I wanted to create one on this backup drive, I could do that. I'm not going to do that right now. And that folder would then be the assigned cache. So if you have fast storage, definitely take advantage of it. You can increase the size as needed, although 20 gigs is certainly a good starting amount. Now, let's take a look at how it works.
Here I have a demo clip from an earlier chapter and it's already RAM previewed. Now, if I open one of the subcomps here, you can see these little blue hash marks and they're just starting to kind of crop up in there. Let's see if there are any over here. There are a few in there. Potentially the longer I let After Effects sit, the more of these it's going to create, but it's doing it in the background when it senses that it's not competing for any cycles. So these work totally speculatively, nonlinearly, and they take advantage of times when the machine is idling, so they don't slow you down.
And what they do cumulatively is just buffer those frames locally so that when you do re-render it, it skips past those a little bit quicker. Now, in this case you can't really see the difference, but let me do this. I'll just make a little change and one over here. Now you see this whole clip is now cached to disk, with the exception of a couple of frames, and it's all ready to run back into RAM preview without re-rendering.
That's the important point. This was a slow scene to render. It's now all rendered and now it's moving it back into physical memory. So green stands for physical memory. Blue stands for disk cache. One more feature you might like to know about are layer caches. Now, these are off by default because they do slow down performance a bit. You can enable them in the Timeline panel menu right here, and by toggling that on, you see these extra little gray bars below the layers and you can even see the speculatively some blue lines already exist there.
So the blue hash marks are there to let you know that those individual layers are cached and they should remain as you make other adjustments elsewhere, holding those frames for future use. Disk caching is the secret weapon of After Effects CS5.5, quietly boosting preview and render performance significantly. Layer caching can help ease your worries that soloing a layer or making adjustments to a separate layer can wipe out the cache of an expensive render.
Together they make After Effects CS5.5 significantly faster.
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