For as long as I can remember, if you ever needed any kind of motion graphics particle simulation - you'd go to Particular. It has always been my immediate go to point for anything particles related and for many others too. I can't remember the last AE project file I received that didn't have just the subtlest touch of Particular in there. Whether it be a full streak of light across the screen or tiny little sparkles, Particular has always managed to deliver.
However, recently, I started seeing a new plugin pop up more and more. Superluminal's Stardust was a new one that is appearing more and more. I was looking into it to create a very very specific effect that wasn't able to be achieved in Particular, so already, it proved it's uses and is certainly worthwhile to at least look into.
So let's look at the differences and the similarities. Both plugins have one purpose, to create motion graphic relevant particle effects. But which one does that best? Not necessarily in terms of ease of use, but in terms of which one creates the best visuals - Particular still remains on top. Reason for this being that Stardust is still not capable of a lot of the rendering capabilities that Particular relies heavily on. Shading, lighting and motion blur are all strong parts of Particular that are lacking in Stardust and these tools whilst at times seeming small and insignificant, can be the difference between a project looking like an amateur project to a studio professional.
The next thing to consider is ease of use. How does Stardust's UI compare with Particular's? Stardust easily takes the prize for this one. For those who are familiar with software like Nuke, you'll find Stardust's interface very familiar. The node based structure is one of the key things that separates Stardust from Particular and not only does it contribute to making the software easier to use, not only does it save A LOT of time, but it also makes error control a lot easier. The nodes do not come with ridiculously technically complicated names. The structure of it all is incredibly easy to use and makes it very easy for any beginner to find their way around.
There's nothing more annoying than spending ages working on a composition, only to hit play and find out it's going to take 50 seconds per frame to preview. So processor speeds and GPU/CPU management is key and crucial to that. Despite being around for quite a long time, Particular still relies on CPU rendering and it doesn't look like it has any plans to switch to GPU despite easily being the #1 requested update. Unfortunately, Stardust suffers from this same problem so whilst they're both limited by that, they are both equal in that aspect.
Stardust is a very new software so when it comes to popularity and industry preference, Particular still wins it. However, as with any new software, it wouldn't surprise me if Stardust slowly crept onto more and more studio computers. I'm sure with more users using Stardust and giving their feedback, there will be many updates and soon this post won't even be relevant. But for now, these are the opinions as they stand.