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Old 5 days ago
  #28
Lives for gear
I had a bit of an epiphany, and a eureka period.

SOME BACKGROUND

For about 5 years I had been struggling with two i5 laptops, which I upgraded to Windows 10 from Windows 8 or 8.1. I think 4th geneationm CPU's - from their processor number 4200u, which had a base of 1.6Ghz and a Turbo of 2.4Ghz. 8GB RAM. 5400rpm hard drives. Network via Wifi.

On one laptop a Dell, for some reason, once I heavily used my DAW, it would throttle down to 1.6Ghz, a lot of the time. This laptop was hot all the time.

The CPU's were dual core

The other laptop a Lenovo also i5, similar processor, was ok, it ran at 2.4Ghz consistently.

Audio interface was EMU 0404 USB.

WHAT CHANGED ?

I was having peformance issues, as I had now acquired some sampled piano libraries, which demanded more than the laptops could cope with.

WHERE AM I NOW?

In heaven.

I bought this other PC a while back, 2 years but was so affixed with portability I did not start using it. The EMU 0404 USB did not work with the new PC, no matter waht I did, it literally froze the computer anytime the DAW tried to access the interface, requiring a reboot.

So I pulled out an EMU 1212M - PCI card and daughter board, I had lying idle for about 7 years, in an old PC, and transferred it to the new PC.

PC Description :

24 GB RAM, Xeon Quad core, running at 3.6 Ghz Turbo (3.2 Ghz otherwise), 7200 rpm hard drive. NO Wifi - network via an ethernet cable., Windows 7 Professional. + EMU 1212M PCI audiocard. No apps installed on this one- except the essentials for audio - absolutely nothing else installed.

This is a Lenovo workstation, acquired used.

This computer runs like a dream, super stable like a rock, no hiccups whatsoever, and where I was struggling to run plugins with buffers as hgh as 1000 on the laptops, on this one I cruise along all day at 576 buffers with an output latency of 6.1 milliseconds (previous laptops could not reliably run any piano libraries below 12 or 14 milliseconds output latency).

I run @ 96K audio sampling rate on all my computers, so my buffers are more than twice the buffers needed at @ 44.1k..

And CPU utilisation on the new PC is down to no more than 5% if I'm playing a piano library, compared to about 8% or more on the laptops.

What's most significant is - no glitches, none whatsoever, not once, never, never ever, its a whole new experience.

NOW SOME QUESTIONS.

After this experience, I feel that the vast majority of audio pundits are asking the wrong questions and attempting to solve issues that we should not have been involved in, in the 1st place.

1. USB vs PCI/PCie/Thunderbolt.

For the benefit of portability, we are saddled with an interface standard - USB that needed over 10 years for some interface manufactures like Focusrite to gradually refine their drivers to reliably obtain low latency - making their customers guinea pigs.

Why bother with USB, when PCI/PCIe was always so much better for low latency, and has been stable for the last 15 to 20 years....

USB is just another pain. we could have avoided, but its the fashion and the cheapest way to get into audio - with all in one devices with preamps, line inputs, outputs, headphone outs, MIDI, at low cost + frustration on a lot of these devices. e.g I had thought about getting a NI Komplete 6 to replace my ailing EMU 0404 USB, but the new Komplete audio interface does not support Windows 7, to the best of my knowledge.

2. Windows 10.

Why bother, what particular advantage does Windows 10 bring to audio - none. Especially if your audio device will run ASIO anyway, Windows 10 adds no value.

On the other hand Windows 10 comes with bloat ware - all manner of proceses and apps like Cortana, eating up the attention of the computer. Not so much in processor cycles but the overhead of multitasking between so many useless processes that add absolutely no value to an audio PC - none., but take up RAM, run in the background achieving nothing.

Sure I know Windows 7 support is about to run out, But I am not bothered. I'll remain on Wndows 7, and connect the desktop to the internet, only when required, for plugin activation.

3. Laptops

Why bother, their architecture is simply a bunch of compromises, poor airflow, low power supplies, poor cooling, underpowered processors in comparison to the desktop equivalents.

Using a laptop and expecting anything awesome is just folly, why bother, unless you really have to, and if you do get a mobile desktop replacement with a proper desktop processor.

From my recent experience, just do not bother with laptops. And a used workstation grade computer from the likes of HP or Lenovo (not sure about Dell anymore after my poor experience with the Dell laptop- I was previously a Dell advocate and bought only Dells for everything, but have had a better experience with HP and Lenovo), with lots of server grade RAM, fast disks, good xeon processors, may save you money if you cannot afford the latest greatest i7 or i9 based PC. If you can afford it just get the latest greratest toys from Intel, 32GB RAM or more, and live happily ever after.

4. Oh what a joy to be back to a proper mouse and a high quality chunky Lenovo keyboard - reminiscent of the original keyboards on IBM PC's derived from the age of type writers. No more of this lack of proper feedback from shallow throw keys on a laptop. And unlike a mouse pad, the proper mouse has a scroll wheel, that makes using a DAW so much faster...... so much faster. Want to change a parameter - move mouse, scroll wheel.... no mouse clicks - far more intuitive that clicking and dragging - more like using and analog mixer/device.

5. And the years of squinting at a dinky laptop screen, are over. I hav only a 19 inch monitor, but its so much better - than the laptop - cos it has the power, and is not struggling with getting enough juice, I get a brighter screen, more screen real estate, can position the screen at eye level, and keyboard at hand level, with no compromises. With a laptop there is always a compromise, which also ruins your neck - having to look down.

Looking back I wonder how I ever got sold on using a laptop for music/audio Bad idea. Sure its possible, but please once you get serious with your audio, ditch the laptop and enjoy the peace and productivity of a proper workstation grade device that will not impede your creativity.

I acknowledge that in today's world, most all in one audio interfaces are USB, which is their main attraction, but I'd rather invest in a set of preamps, or preamps with digital outs is I needed lots of simultaneous inputs, and a headphone amp/monitor controller, to complement the PCI/PCIe audio interface which does not have some of these bells and whistles.

If you are having challenges with Windows 10, USB audio interfaces, or Laptops, think again, rather tnan solve the problems of these "advancements", why entertain the problem in the 1st place.

It reminds me of space missions, when devices need to be absolutely reliable, totally out of reach of any human repair opportunity, they use the most proven tech, not the latest tech.

If you want to be a guinea pig - that's ok, but if you want to make music and focus on your audio, the solution is there. Ditch all these new fangled toys, and go old school, with things that have been working reliably for at least 10 years, and all the kinks were working optimally as much as 15 years ago and did not need any further improvement.

I'm in virtual music heaven and you are welcome to join.

Whatever you do in Windows, please run as a user with administrator priviledgs. Makes life easier.