All posts by Pete

Intel i7 8750H – The power to move you?

It’s been a while now since we sat down and took a good look at any of the mobile processor releases. It’s a market segment that has been crawling along slowly in recent years with minor incremental upgrades and having checked out the last couple of mobile flagship chips, it was obvious that with each generation we were seeing those refinements focused more on improved power handling rather than trying to extract every drop of performance.

Admittedly in the shape of last years 7700HQ they perhaps got closer to the equivalent desktop model than any generation previously managed to achieve in previous years. Whilst welcome, this was really more a symptom of stagnating desktop speeds, rather than any miraculous explosion in mobile power. Whilst the chip itself was a great performer, the fact that it got there by eaking a few percent generation, upon generation… well, by the time we got there, it was all ultimately a little underwhelming. 

But now, thanks to AMD’s continued push in the current desktop  CPU war, we’ve seen Coffee Lake emerge from the blue camp and now we’re going to get hands-on with the mobile equivalent. 

The i7 8750H we have here today is a 6 core with hyperthreading, running with a base clock of 2.20GHz and a max single core turbo frequency of 4.10GHz and leads the way when it comes to mobile i7’s.

Just as a side note before we kick this off, there is another chip above this, in the form of the i9 8950HK which is also 6 cores + hyperthreading but with another 500MHz on the clock. I mention this as Apple has just announced it’s going into the flagship Macbook later in the year, we do have them due to land with us in PC laptops as well in a month or two, so I will be benchmarking that when it arrives with us too.

8750H Geekbench 4
Click to expand

Intel i7 8750H CPUid

Clocking Off

Already in the very first screenshot above, we’ve inadvertently tipped a nod to what’s going to be the crux of this write-up. The clock speeds are somewhat wide-ranging, to say the least. On paper, there is almost 2GHz worth of clock between the base and turbo clocks. Keeping in mind that it’s single core turbo only up to the 4.1GHz and suddenly you find yourself asking about what the rest of the cores will be doing at that point. 

Quickly throwing CPUid on and running it returns us a result of 3890GHz, which if it had been all cores would have been rather impressive for a mobile chip. In this instance, however, I wasn’t doing anything other than sitting on the desktop when this snapshot was taken. The score you see is the highest core score and it’s hyper-thread was showing as matching it. 

The rest of the cores, however, well, they were largely unused and sat around the baseline 2.0GHz – 2.6GHz level. What we really want to know of course is what sort of average speed we can expect from all the cores being kicked up to 100% load.

Any longer term followers of these pieces will already be well aware that my preference for testing involves doing an all core overclock or in more basic terms, I tend to favour locking all the cores to the single core max turbo speed.

Yes, it’s an overclock, but it’s one that the chips are kind of rated to. Admittedly, it’s not rated to quite the level we’re working at here, but hey… that’s why we favour some chunky aftermarket cooling in those systems to make everything alright.

Except, when dealing with laptops we can’t go strapping a large chunk of copper to it, in fact, a lot of the tweaks we would wish to make on a desktop system, simply don’t exist in laptop land. Often with laptops, it’s a case of a unit either working out of the box or with a few basic tweaks or otherwise due to drivers or hardware choices it’ll never really be suitable for the sort of real-time processing required for working with audio.

I grabbed a copy of AIDA64 and gave it a quick run, at least enough to force the CPU to load up all the cores and simulate a heavy workload and how those cores would respond to such a load.

Intel i7 8750H AIDA stress test
Click to enlarge

What we see here is all the cores being pushed, with the highest speed core running about 3000MHz in the screenshot. Monitoring it in real-time it was bouncing around 3000 – 3200MHz range.  Similarly, at the lower end, we see a core sat around 2600MHz and this would bounce up to around 2800MHz at times.

So, where’s our 4.1GHz turbo? Well, that single core turbo only really achieves such lofty heights if the rest of the cores are sat around doing nothing. In the interest of load balancing and heat management should more than a couple of cores need to be turbo’d then all of them will shift to a safer average.

You see on desktops with chips that have a range of a 3.8Ghz to 4.3Ghz sitting mostly around the 4GHz level and is why I tend to notch them all up to 4.3GHz in that sort of situation. It ensures no sudden ramping up and down and ensures we get some nice stable but optimized performance out of a setup without taking any major risks.

With these laptops, we don’t get those sort of options, nor I suspect would heat permit us to be quite so aggressive with the settings. Whilst the headline here of 6 cores is fairly unprecedented within a consumer level laptop, and certainly, on a fairly mainstream chipset, it’s a little bit smoke and mirrors with how it’s presented if you don’t fully understand how the turbo presents itself. 

The potential issues it presents to us are in the form of the ASIO buffer. With whole channels being assigned to each given thread, we ideally want the performance level across all cores to be as equal as possible. For audio systems the overall performance can often be limited by how powerful the weakest core is, this is something we need to keep in mind heading into this results roundup.

DAWBench DSP 8750H
Click to enlarge

With the DAWBench DSP test, we’re using the SGA1566 variant running under Reaper for this generation of testing and we see the 8750H performing around the level of an entry-level desktop i5 chip. In comparison to previous generations, this isn’t overly surprising as historically the mobile i7 CPU of any given generation tends to sit around the level of the leading i5 desktop solution in the performance stakes.

8750H DAWBench VI test
Click to enlarge

Running the DAWBench Vi test we see similar results here too, with the chip coming in just behind the i5 8400 once again. It’s a reasonable showing and in reality, we’re probably looking at maybe a 25% gain over the last generation flagship mobile chip. 

Given that we’ve seen 3 or 4 generations now where 10% gains year on year has been the standard then normally we’d be pretty happy about seeing a jump of 25% coming out of single refresh and indeed it’s certainly a far better value option than the model it replaced.

However, we saw a jump of 40% on the desktop last year and frankly all we’re doing here is shoehorning in another couple of cores, rather than bringing in a whole new platform. It looks like they’ve played it cautiously by not pushing the chip too much and the temperatures do seem a little on the safe side even under stress testing.

To be fair to them, this is pretty much what the average user wants from a laptop chip, giving us quick bursts to deal with any sudden intensive activity, but otherwise, aggressive power-saving to ensure a long battery life when on the move. 

Which of course, is pretty much the opposite of what most of us power users want, as we tend to be looking for a high-performance desktop replacement solution. It’s clear there is a bit of headroom here which will no doubt be leveraged over the next couple of range refreshes, it’s just a little bit frustrating that we can’t extract a bit more of it right now ourselves. 

With all that said I suspect that after seeing the CPU war kick expectations up a notch as it did last year, that I may have headed into this with slightly higher expectations than normal this time around.

Overall, the final result here is a solid release with above average generational gains that I’m sure will be more than appreciated by anyone who is in the market for a new model this year.

Scan 3XS PC’s and Laptops

All DAWBench Coverage

Superbooth: IK Multimedia Announce The UNO Analog Synth

After a teaser campaign lasting a couple of weeks, the first day of Superbooth ensured that a number of eyes were already peering in IK Multimedia’s direction. After all, why would a company with a mostly software heritage be heading to the mother of all hardware synth shows in Berlin?

As you would expect, this time around it got physical as they unveiled the UNO mono synth.

Uno Synth main top shot
IK Multimedia Uno Synth

Boasting an all-analogue signal path the UNO synth lays out plenty of options for generating and shaping your sounds including  2 VCOs, a noise generator and resonant multimode VCF and VCA.

The 2 independent VCOs feature Saw, Triangle, Pulse waveforms with continuously variable shape including PWM of the square wave plus a separate white noise generator. To help shape the sound it includes a 2-pole OTA-based analog resonant sweepable multimode filter with low pass, high pass and bandpass settings as well as a dual stage overdrive section and effects.

The synth holds 100 presets and includes an easy-to-play keyboard with selectable scales and an arpeggiator to make this an easy to handle performance synth, no matter what your skill level may be.

IK Multimedia UNO synth Rear
Round the back of the UNO synth.

The I/O round the back includes both a mono in and out as well as midi connectivity too. The unit can be USB or battery powered using 4 XAA batteries and the synth is a diminutive 25.6cm/10.1″ x 15cm/8.9″ x 4.9cm/1.93″ and only 400 grams.

The UNO should be arriving with us within the next couple of months and should be doing so for the bargain price point of around £200 when it does.

Ryzen Generation 2: 2600X & 2700X On The Testbench

Looking back over the rather hectic first few months of 2018 in the PC industry, it’s clear that a lot has changed since the last CPU benchmark session late last year. In the space of 6 months, we’ve seen security concerns and the resulting software patches swing windows performance back and forth as they’ve arrived with us thick and fast. I’ve largely been trying to wait it out and see how the dust settles in the interim, but with the release of new hardware, it’s time to get back into it.

My last bench was based on a build of windows frozen in late 2016 and associated drivers have gone through a number of revisions during the time since, so with the launch of Ryzen 2 it’s very much the time for an all-new software bench to be set up.

Cubase has moved from 8.0 to 9.5 and Reaper too has advanced a number of builds to 5.79 at the point of testing being initiated. This time around we also see the introduction of the newer SGA build of the DSP test, replacing the older DAWBench DSP test and the latest build of the DAWBench Vi test too.

Before getting underway please note that the new results are in no way comparable to the older charts, other than looking at the rough performance curve differences between certain chips which do appear to be in line with prior results. They are certainly not directly value comparable with all the bench changes that have taken place and it’s always key to keep the playing field as level as possible when doing these comparisons.

This time around I’ve tried to run each chip at its turbo frequency across all cores once again. Modern chips will tend to be rated with both a stock clock and a turbo clock, although what isn’t always clear is that the max turbo rating is often only over 1 or 2 cores by default.

Historically it’s been relatively easy to run most CPUs with those cores being pushed and locked off at the turbo max. However, in the event of a platform being pushed too hard, then this isn’t always viable. For instance, I saw this in testing some of the higher end i9’s, where I would choose to all core at 4.1GHz, rather than leave it at stock and let it 2 core to 4.2GHz with a far lower average leaving me open to possible audio interruptions due to clocking.

It’s also the case here with the 2700X where the overclock would hang the machine if trying to push everything to the 4.2GHz rated turbo speed. Instead, I tried to clock it up both manually and using the AMD tool, both of which topped out around 4.1GHz. After speaking to my gaming team and realising this is fairly common (a number of other reviews have picked up on it as well) I ended up using the utility to set everything up with the slightly lower all core turbo at 4.1GHz and testing there.

DAWBench DSP SGA 1566 Test - Q2 2018
DAWBench DSP SGA Test – Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)

So first up is the newest variation of the classic DAWBench DSP test, now making use of the SGA1566 plugin from Shattered Glass Audio to apply CPU load until the project starts to crackle and break up. 

The 2700X here slots in behind the 8700K which leads by just short of 20% extra overhead at the tightest buffer setting, and both chips look to scale upwards in a similar pattern as you increase the buffer setting. The 8700K seems to be the most suitable comparison here as the price point (at time of writing in the UK) is around £30 more or about 10% more than the cost of the 2700X at launch.

The story of the performance curve scaling looks to repeat when we come to examine the 2600X and by comparison the 8600K from Intel. However, this time around the results are reversed with the Intel chip lagging behind the AMD model by about 5% across the buffer settings whilst the AMD costs around £25 less which makes it roughly 12% cheaper at launch.

So a strong showing for the DSP test, where we’re mostly throwing a load of small VST plugs at the CPU. The other test we run here is the DAWBench Vi test, based on stacking up Kontakt instances which allows us to test the memory response through sample loading along the CPU as we see with the DSP test.

With the Gen1 Ryzens, we saw them perform worse here overall, we suspect down to the memory response and performance. AMD saw similar performance issues across various segments with certain core software ranging from gaming to video processing and the was a lot of noise and multiple attempts to improve this over the life cycle of the chip. One suggestion we saw pay off to some extent in other segments (once again, video and gaming made notable gains) was to move over to using faster memory speeds.

We didn’t see any improvement here for audio applications, although in this instance all testing (both Intel and AMD) has been carried out with 3200MHz RAM, in the interest of trying to maximize the performance where we can as well as keeping things level in that regard.

The headline figure this time around suggests a rough 10% improvement to the IPC (instruction per clock) scores, which of course is promising, although notably, this is where AMD was lagging behind Intel even after bringing Ryzen to the market. In the interim we’ve seen the Coffee Lake launch, which also improved Intel’s IPC scores meaning that whilst AMD has been catching up rapidly of late, Intel does seem to remain intent on clawing back the lead on each successive launch.

DawBench Vi Test - Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)
DawBench Vi – Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)

So looking it over this time, both the 2700X and 2600X look to fall behind their Intel comparable chips.  The 2600X is roughly 20% lower than the 8600K this time although it’s moving up to the 2700X that proves more interesting, if only because it helps to outline what’s occurred between the two generation releases.

The older 1800X stood up well against the old 7700K edition at its launch, and indeed that extra 10% IPC boost we see this time may well have given it a solid lead over the Intel, if not for the Coffee Lake release in the interim in the shape of 8700K which pulls off a convincing lead at this price point currently. Indeed, not only does the 8700K show gains over the previous 7700K chip, but it also overtakes the more expensive although admittedly older, entry-level 6 core 7800X on the Intel’s own enthusiast platform. 

The 2700X is comparable to the 7800X at a far keener price point, although as noted the 7800X more or at least exists as a bit of an oddity by this point, even within it’s own range, so whilst this might have been a more impressive comparison 12 months ago, now it feels like they may have landed it just a few months too late to make serious waves.

Speaking from an audio point of view, the chips are good, but not exactly groundbreaking. If you also work in another segment where the AMD’s are known to have strengths, then the good news here is that they offer reasonable bang per buck for audio and hold their ground well as far as giving you performance at those price points.

But once again, they don’t appear to be breaking any performance to cost records overall at least for the audio market. They’ve got solid gains, but then again so has Intel last time around and this is often how it goes with CPU’s when we have the firms battling it out for market share. Not that this is a bad thing, certainly it benefits the end user, whichever your choice of platform.

As a closing note, I saw in my early generation 1 testing a number of interfaces fail to enumerate on the AMD boards. I reported this to a few manufacturers and interestingly the device that first showed up problems on the X370 boards the first time around (in this instance a UAD Twin USB), is behaving superbly on the X470 platform.

Whilst this is a sample size of approximately “1” unit in a range, it does point towards a reconsidering of the USB subsystem this time around, which can only be a positive. Anyone who was perhaps considering this the Ryzen 1 platform, but found themselves out of luck with interface compatibility, might well fare far better this time around. Obviously, if the were problems known before then please do check with the manufacturers your considering for the latest compatibility notes in each instance.

Looking forward there is a rumoured 2800X flagship Ryzen which is already well discussed but as yet no release date on the horizon. The has been already been discussion, rumours and even some testing and validation leaks out in the wild that suggest that Intel might be sitting on an 8 core Coffee Lake. It would certainly make sense for them to be keeping such a chip in the wings waiting on them seeing the public reaction to these new AMD chips. Similarly, it might turn out that the 2800X will be held back as an answer for those rumoured Intel models should they suddenly appear on the market in the near future.

To wrap it up, essentially we’re in peak rumour season and I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to see a pattern of one-upmanship for the foreseeable future which continues to be a very positive thing indeed. If you need to buy a system today, then the charts should help guide you, although if you’re not in rush right now, I’m sure the will be some interesting hardware to also consider coming over the year ahead.

Previous CPU Benchmarking Coverage
3XS Systems @ Scan

NAMM 18 – Presonus Expansions For The StudioLive Range

Presonus this year seem focused on building upon their popular range of studio live desks, with a number of new I/O expansion options to help flesh out your setup.

Presonus NSB 8.8
The Presonus NSB 8.8
Presonus NSB 16
Presonus NSB 16.8

Designed to work seamlessly with the Presonus StudioLive Series 3 mixers, these two stage boxes allow for easy routing of your audio over standard cat5 or cat6 cable, allowing for less signal degradation over long runs and eliminating large heavy snake runs around the venue. 

When setup alongside a Series 3 console, the stage boxes also allow you to remote control them straight from the desk or even from the dedicated touch control app. Featuring locking combo mic/line inputs, XMAX preamps and a pair of AVB connections to allow you daisy chain more units as required, meaning these boxes offer you the flexibility to route and patch your stage to accommodate pretty much any show.

StudioLive 24R Front
StudioLive 24R Front
StudioLive 24R Rear
StudioLive 24R Rear

Taking it up a level, the 24R and 32R are more stage box offerings that also function as sub-mixers as well, making ideal for doing secondary monitoring mixes on stage too. Once again you have the full remote mixing capability when hooked up to a series 3 studio live desk allowing you to fully control and customize your scenes and making it just as suitable for long-term shows and installs, as it is for going on tour.

Presonus Earmix
Presonus Earmix 16M

Lastly, we have the EarMix 16M which does away with the stage box functions, making it a hands-on and easy to control 16-way headphone submixer and amplifier. 

Each EarMix 16M accepts 16 mono channels of input via AVB networking and can network multiple units with a StudioLive Series III mixer. This allows you to setup up your own custom onstage mix in the headphones, and the line out options also allows you to feed this through to your foldback setup, for a fully custom monitoring arrangement.

Presonus EarMix 16M Rear
Presonus EarMix 16M Rear

Take a look at the whole Presonus range @ Scan

NAMM 18 – UA let the Arrow fly.

UA’s big announcement came a week before NAMM this year and is small, possibly one of their smallest yet perhaps, but all the better for it.

UA Arrow Top Down

The Arrow is a Thunderbolt 3 ready audio interface with an included core for handling UA plugins onboard. Fitted out with a conversion section derived from UA’s flagship Apollo interface range, as well as a headphone amp with a clean punchy output, makes this diminutive audio interface an astounding portable recording solution to go alongside any laptop.

UA Arrow Front

For the I/O we see an instrument input and headphone output on the front of the interface along with 2 more inputs and the main outputs around the rear.

UA Arrow Rear

The interface ships with the UA “Realtime Analog Classics” bundle, which offers a number of classic EQ’s, Compressors and guitar amp models and because the plugins are run on the UA, this allows for near-zero latency tracking through the interface with the effects applied and makes it just as ideal for live performances as it does for capturing your session. 

This looks to be the cheapest entry point into the UA ecosystem so far and the perfect device for leveraging your plugs when out of !the studio and on the road. If you’re already a user of those plugins and want to take them on a mobile adventure or perhaps just want to dip your knee into the pool, this could be the interface for you.

The UA Arrow – Available Now

UA Hardware @ Scan

NAMM 18 – The new T-Series speakers from ADAM Audio

With the surprise discontinuation of the ever popular Adam entry level “F-Series” late in 2017, we’ve heard the questions regarding what’s next a number of times now. Well, NAMM this year gives us the answer and simply put, it’s cheaper and better!

Pre-launch discussion has seen talk of these arriving at an even more accessible price point than their predecessors, whilst still offering the same legendary ribbon tweeter design in the form of the implemented U-ART solution. On top of that, its advised that also included is a newly designed polypropylene symmetrical-excursion woofer that extends bass to lower frequencies with less distortion than normally found in products around the price point.

Multiple technical innovations designed for ADAM’s flagship S Series and iconic AX Series have been included in this new lower-priced monitor range, including ADAM’s High-Frequency Propagation System (HPSTM) designed to offer a consistent horizontal and vertical dispersion across the frequency spectrum and promised DSP innovations for the crossover system.

Adam t7 front

Offering a 5″ woofer on the T5 model, along with a 7″ woofer on the T7  edition and offering a low-end extension of 45Hz and 39Hz, as well as the frequency response reaching up to 25kHz on both models, the specs on the page make them look like a solid upgrade when considered against the older F series specs.

Adam T7 Rear

Couple this with their almost stealth fighter black finish and angles to match on the front panel, they certainly also look the part with their classic Adam design features.

All that said, if they can hit the price points that they are seeking to meet, then we may see an unexpected shake-up at the low end of the speaker market this year, and these should certainly be the listening short list for anyone considering their first set of studio speakers.

Check out the full ADAM Audio range @ Scan

The Impact Of Meltdown And Spectre For Audio Workstations

No doubt, the hottest topic in I.T. at the start of 2018 continues to be the CPU security risks that have come to light as 2017 came to a close.

Otherwise known as “Spectre” and “Meltdown ” an exhaustive amount of information has been written already in regards to how these design choices can lead to data being accessed within the computer by processes or other code that shouldn’t have access to it, potentially leaving the system open to attacks by malicious code run on the computer.

For instance one of the more concerning attack vectors in this scenario are servers hosting multiple customers on one system, and in a world where it might be common to hear about many virtual machines being used in a hosting environment in order to keep them separate and secure, allowing this type of code to access the data with poor security in place opens up the possibility of transaction details, passwords and other customer records in a manner that has obviously raised a large amount of concern in both security professionals and end consumers alike.

Off the back of this have emerged the patches and updates required to solve the issue, and along with those are some rather alarming headline figures regarding performance levels potentially taking a hit, with claims of anywhere up to 30% overhead being eaten away by certain types of workload.

As there are many great resources already explaining this including this one here that can help outline what is going on, I’m not going to delve too much into the background of the issues, rather focus on the results of the updates being applied. 

We’re going to look at both the Microsoft patch at a software level and test the BIOS update released to support it. There are two issues here with Meltdown and Spectre and there happens to be two variants of Spectre, one of which can be handled at the software level, with the other requiring the microcode update applied via a BIOS update.

Microsoft has, of course, released their own advisory notes which are certainly worth a review too and available here.  At this time it is advised that Meltdown and all Spectre variants can both affect Intel CPU’s and some ARM compatible mobile chips, whereas AMD is only affected by the Spectre variants with AMD themselves having just issued an updated advisement at the time of writing which can be found here. This is also largely an  OS platform agnostic issue with Microsoft, Apple, Linux and even mobile OS’s all having the potential to be affected and over the last few weeks rapidly deploying updates and patches to their users.

At this point, I’m just going to quote a portion taken from the Microsoft link above verbatim, as it outlines the performance concerns we’re going to look at today. Keep in mind that in the text below “variant 1 & 2” are both referring to the Spectre issues, whereas Meltdown is referred to as simply “variant 3”.

One of the questions for all these fixes is the impact they could have on the performance of both PCs and servers. It is important to note that many of the benchmarks published so far do not include both OS and silicon updates. We’re performing our own sets of benchmarks and will publish them when complete, but I also want to note that we are simultaneously working on further refining our work to tune performance. In general, our experience is that Variant 1 and Variant 3 mitigations have minimal performance impact, while Variant 2 remediation, including OS and microcode, has a performance impact.

Here is the summary of what we have found so far:

  • With Windows 10 on newer silicon (2016-era PCs with Skylake, Kabylake or newer CPU), benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns, but we don’t expect most users to notice a change because these percentages are reflected in milliseconds.
  • With Windows 10 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), some benchmarks show more significant slowdowns, and we expect that some users will notice a decrease in system performance.
  • With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.
  • Windows Server on any silicon, especially in any IO-intensive application, shows a more significant performance impact when you enable the mitigations to isolate untrusted code within a Windows Server instance. This is why you want to be careful to evaluate the risk of untrusted code for each Windows Server instance, and balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment.

For context, on newer CPUs such as on Skylake and beyond, Intel has refined the instructions used to disable branch speculation to be more specific to indirect branches, reducing the overall performance penalty of the Spectre mitigation. Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel. We will publish data on benchmark performance in the weeks ahead.

The testing outlined here today is based on current hardware and Windows 10. Specifically, the board is an Asus Z370 Prime A, running on a Samsung PM961 M.2. drive, with a secondary small PNY SSD attached. The CPU is an i5 8600 and the is 16GB of memory in the system.

Software wise updates for windows were completed right up to the 01/01/18 point and the patch from Microsoft to address this was released on 03/01/18 and is named “KB4056892”. I start the testing with the 605 BIOS from late 2017 and move through to the 606 BIOS designed to address the microcode update specified by Intel. 

Early reports have suggested a hit to the drive subsystem, so at each stage, I’m going to test this and of course, I’ll be monitoring the CPU performance as each step is applied. Also keep in mind that as outlined in the Microsoft advisory above, different generations of hardware and solutions from different suppliers will be affected differently, but as Intel is suggested as being the hardest hit by these problems, it makes sense to examine a current generation to start with.

The Testing 

Going into this, I was hopeful that we wouldn’t be expecting to see a whole load of processing power lost simply due to the already public explanations of how the flaw could potentially affect the system didn’t read as being one that should majorly impact the way an audio system handles itself.

Largely it’s played out as expected, as when you’re working away within your sequencer the ASIO driver is there doing its best to keep itself as a priority and generally, if the system is tuned to work well for music, the shouldn’t be a million programs in the background that should be affected by this and causing the update to steal processing time. So, given we’re not running the sort of a server related workloads that I would expect to cause too much of an upset here, I was fairly confident that the impact shouldn’t be as bad as some suggestions had made out and largely on the processing side it plays out like that. 

However, prior to starting the testing, it was reported that storage subsystems were taking a hit due to these patches and that of course demanded that we take a look at it along the way too. Starting with the worst news first, those previous reports are very much on the ball. I had two drives connected and below we see the first set of results taken from a Samsung M.2. SM961 model drive.

M2 Test After Applying Meltdown Changes
Click to expand – Results From Left To Right – 1, Baseline Result. 2, After Microsoft Update. 3, With update and BIOS patch applied.

To help give you a little more background on what’s being tested here, each test should be as follows:

  • Seq Q32T1 – sequential read/ write with multiple threads and queues
  • 4K Q32T1 – random read/ write with multiple threads and queues
  • Seq – sequential read/ write with a single queue and thread
  • 4K – random read/ write with a single queue and thread.

The is no doubt a performance hit here to the smaller 4k files which are amplified as more threads are taken up to handle the workload in the 4K Q32T1 test.  On the flip side of this is that the sequential handling seems to either escape relatively unscathed and in some instances even improved to some degree, so there is some trade-off here depending on the workload it’s handling.

The gains did confuse me at first and whilst first sifting through the data I started to wonder if perhaps given we were running off the OS drive, and perhaps other services had skewed it slightly. Thankfully, I also had a project SDD hooked up to the system as well, so we can compare a second data point against the first.

SSD meltdown testing
Click to expand, Results left to right. 1, Baseline. 2, After Microsoft Patch. 3, After BIOS update.

The 4k results still show a decrease and the sequential once again hold fairly steady with a few read gains, so it looks like some rebalancing to the performance levels has taken place here too, whether intentional or not.

The DAWBench testing, on the other hand with the DSP test, ends up with a more positive result.  This time around I’ve pulled out the newer SGA based DSP test, as well as the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test and both were run within Reaper. 

SGA test for Meltdown
Click to expand

The result of the DSP test which concentrates on loading the CPU up shows little difference that doesn’t fall within the margin of error & variance.  It should also be noted that the CPU was running at 99% CPU load when it topped out, so we don’t appear to be losing any overhead here in that regard.

DAWBench VI test for Meltdown
Click to expand.

With the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test, we’re seeing anything between 5% and 8% overhead reduction depending on the ASIO buffer, with the tightest 64 buffer suffering after each update whereas the looser settings coped better with the software update before taking a small hit when we get up to the 256 buffer.

The Verdict

Ultimately the concern here is how will it impact you in real terms?

The minor loss of overhead on the second testing set was from a Kontakt heavy project and the outcome from the drive tests would suggest that anyone with sample library that has a heavy reliance on disk streaming may wish to be careful here with any projects that are already on the edge prior to the update being applied.

I also timed that project being loaded across all 3 states of the update process as I went with the baseline time frame to open the project being 20 seconds. After the software update, we didn’t see a change in this time span, with the project still taking 20 seconds to open. However, the BIOS update once applied along with the OS update added 2 seconds to this giving us roughly a 10% increase in the project load time.

So at this time, whilst any performance is certainly not welcome, we’re not seeing quite the huge skew in the performance stakes that has been touted thankfully, and certainly well short of the 30% figure that was being suggested initially for the CPU hit.

There have been suggestions by Microsoft that older generations might be more severely affected and from the description of how it affects servers I suspect that we may well see that 30% figure and even higher under certain workloads in server environments, but I suspect that it’ll be more centered around the database or virtual machine server workstation segments than the creative workstation user base.

Outside of our small corner of the world, TechSpot has been running a series of tests since the news broke and it’s interesting to see other software outside of the audio workstation environment seems to be largely behaving the same for a lot of end users, as are the storage setups that they have tested. If you’d like to read through those you can do so here.

Looking Forward

The issue was discovered over the course of 2017 back but largely kept under wraps so it couldn’t be exploited at the time. However, the existence of the problem leaked before the NDA was lifted and feels like a few solutions that have been pushed out in the days since may have been a little rushed in order to stop anyone more unethical capitalizing upon it. 

As such, I would expect performance to bounce around over the next few months as they test, tweak and release new drivers, firmware and BIOS solutions. The concern right now for firms is ensuring that systems around the world are secure and I would expect there to be a period of optimization to follow once they have removed the risk of malware or worse impacting the end user.

Thankfully, it’s possible to remove the patch after you apply it, so in a worst case scenario you can still revert back and block it should it have a more adverse effect upon your system, although it will then leave you open to possible attacks. Of course, leaving the machine offline will obviously protect you, but then that can be a hard thing to do in a modern studio where software maintenance and remote collaboration are both almost daily requirements for many users. 

However you choose to proceed, will no doubt be system and situation specific and I suspect as updates appear the best practice for your system may change over the coming months. Certainly, the best advice I can offer here is to keep your eye on how this develops, make the choices that keep you secure without hampering your workflow and review the situation going forward to see if further optimizations can help restore the situation to pre-patch levels as a resolve for the problem is worked upon by both the hardware and software providers. 

The Scan Pro Audio Picks Of The Year 2017

At this time of year, there is one thing that is as inevitable as the papers proclaiming that an incoming weather front is going to cause the end of the world (again) and that is, of course, the annual end of year retrospective lists.

Not to be left out, we have here five bits of kit that stood out for us over the course of the year and more importantly, just why that might have been. In fact, some of this kit proved to be slow burning in earning the teams support and admiration so that in itself lets us take a slightly longer-term view of the gear in hand.

Presonus Quantum

Presonus over the last few years have managed to elevate their brand through the highly praised Studio One software continuing to grow in popularity as many users sequencer of choice. Their audio interfaces, however, have been a mixed bag and up until now, with little to help them stand out from the crowd.

That was until their entry into the Thunderbolt foray brought us this little gem.

Presonus Quantum Front Panel

Goalposts were moved and expectations were raised as Presonus brought us this absolute winner. Extremely low latency times that challenge the very best out there, plenty of I/O, great conversion and a respectable signal path throughout the interface means that this is frankly a great all-around package.

Hedd 05

From Klaus Heinz, the original designer behind the ADAM speaker range comes the company HEDD (Heinz Electrodynamic Designs) and their own range of studio speakers. Built around the same crystal clear AMT-based tweeters that Klaus has always favoured in the past, but with refinements to the sound that clearly illustrate that these are certainly their own thing.

Whilst they have the larger HEDD 20’s & 30’s in the range, it’s the entry-level 05’s that we’ve picked here. They have superb balance and depth to them, and frankly for the size an astounding bass representation. The 05’s themselves stand up well against speakers many times their price and the slightly larger 07’s do little more than add a bit more depth to the sound with a few more notes at the bottom end of the scale but still retain the first rate tonal balance found on the smaller edition.

We’ve been so blown away by these a few of us have even taken sets home as secondary pairs for our own studios, so they’ve certainly left a lasting impression.

Friedman Sir Compre

Friedman is best known for creating high-end rock amps with a Vintage Classic Rock tone inspired by British tube amps from the 60’s and 70’s, and similarly, their pedal range is also shaped by this legacy. In this instance, the Sir Compre isn’t a pedal that sets out to emulate and given amplifier, rather a compressor with a very subtle overdrive circuit built in, adding body a little bit of grit to your sound.

With a bit of tweaking it’s very easy to get a wide selection of classic rock tones and as our team noted if you want to nail that classic 70’s rock sound, it’s extremely easy to do so with this pedal and we’ve already found it perfect for recreating the tones found on the classic “Rock Steady” by Bad Company.

Novation Peak

Novation is a company with a bit of a history of producing great, affordable synths and this one is certainly a quality all-rounder.

A digital subtractive synth at its heart with added wavetable and FM synthesis possibilities all being fed into an analogue filter. Now add in a couple of LFO’s along with a matrix modulation table offering 16 routable slots and a CV gate for the more adventurous and we have one very well featured synth and it’s easy to see why Tom enjoyed himself so much when he finally got his hands on one.

Check out the video below to see Tom getting to grips with it.

Audeze MX4

Quite possibly on the best studio oriented headphones currently available, they simply need to be heard to be believed.

Based upon Audeze’s planar magnetic driver design, the MX4’s continue to improve on the previous flagship LCD-4’s by offering a new durable magnesium housing along with a carbon fibre headband design that makes them 30% lighter overall, helping to ensure comfort during those longer studio sessions.

A premium product with a premium price tag, but capable of delivering a level of sonic quality that rivals speakers 2 or 3 times its price, making them the ultimate secret weapon for many a mastering engineer.

Audeze MX 4

Intel i9 7940X & 7960X Dawbench Testing.

Today we have a few more models from the Intel i9 range on the desk in the shape of the 14 core 7940X and the 7960X. I was hopeful that the 18 core would be joining them as well this time around, but currently, another team here have their hands on it so it may prove to be a few weeks more until I get a chance to sit down and test that one.

Now I’m not too disappointed about this as for me and possibly the more regular readers of my musings, the 16 core we have on the desk today already is threatening to be the upper ceiling for effective audio use.

The reason for this is that I’ve yet to knowingly come across a sequencer that can address more than 32 threads effectively for audio handling under ASIO. These chips offer 28 and 32 threads respectively as they are hyper-threaded, so unless something has changed at a software level that I’ve missed (and please contact me if so), then I suspect at this time the 16 core chip may well be well placed to max the current generation of sequencers.

Of course, when I get a moment and access to the larger chip, I’ll give it a proper look over to examine this in more depth, but for the time being on with the show!

Both chips this time around are advising a 165W TDP figure, which is up from the 140W TDP quoted back on the 7920X we looked at a month or two back. The TDP figure itself is supposed to be an estimate of the power usage under regular workloads, rather than peak performance under load. This helps to explain how a 14 core and 16 core chip can both share the same TDP rating, as the 14 core has a higher base clock than the 16 core to compensate. So in this instance, it appears that they have to some degree picked the TDP and worked backward to establish the highest performing, clocks at that given power profile point.

Once the system itself starts to push the turbo, or when you start to overclock the chip the power draw will start to rise quite rapidly. In this instance, I’m working with my normal air cooler of choice for this sort of system in the shape of the BeQuiet Dark Rock Pro 3 which is rated at 250W TDP.  Water-loop coolers or air coolers with more aggressive fan profiles will be able to take this further, but as is always a concern for studio users we have to consider the balancing of noise and performance too.

Much like the 7920X, we looked at previously, the chips are both rated to a 4.2GHz max two core turbo, with staggered clocks running slower on the other cores. I took a shot at running all cores at 4.2GHz but like the 7920X before it we could only hit that on a couple of cores before heat throttling would pull them back again. 

Just like the 7920X again however if we pull both of these chips back by 100MHz per core (in this instance both to 4.1GHz) they prove to be stable over hours of stress testing and certainly within the temp limits we like to see here, so with that in mind we’re going to test at this point as it’s certainly achievable as an everyday setting.

As always first up is the CPUid chip info page and benchmarks along with the Geekbench results.

Intel i9 7940X @ 4.1GHz

7940x CPUid 7940x CPUid Benchmark

Geekbench 7940x

Intel i9 7960X @ 4.1GHz

 

7960x CPUid7960x CPUid Benchmark

 

Geekbench 4 7960X

Both chips are clocked to the same level and the per-core score here reflects that. The multi-core score, of course, offers a leap from one chip to the other as you’d expect from throwing a few more cores into the equation.

Geekbench Comparison Chart
Click To Expand

The DAWBench classic and newer DSP test with Kontakt follow this and once again as there isn’t a whole lot I can add to this. 

DAWBench Classic
Click To Expand

 

7960x DB6
Click To Expand

The added cores give us improvements across both of these chips as we’ve already seen in the more general purpose tests. The 7960X does appear to offer a slightly better performance curve at the higher buffer rates, which I suspect could be attributed to the increase in the cache but otherwise, it all scales pretty much as we’d expect. 

Given the 7940X maintains the roughly £100 per extra core figure (when compared to the 7920X) at current pricing that Intel was aiming for at launch, it does seem to offer a similar sort of value proposition as the smaller i9’s just in this case more is more. The 7960X raises this to roughly £125 per core extra over the 7940X at current pricing, so a bit of cost creep there but certainly not as pricey as we’ve sometimes seen over the years on the higher end chips in the range.

The main concern initially was certainly regarding heat, but it looks like the continued refinement of the silicon since we saw the first i9 batches a few months ago has given them time to get ahead of this and ensure that the chips do well out of the box given adequate cooling.  

With the launch of the CoffeeLake’s in the midrange, some of the value of the lower end enthusiast chips appear to have quickly become questionable, but the i9 range above it continues to offer performance levels henceforth unseen by Intel. The’s a lot of performance here, although the price matches it accordingly and we often find ourselves at this time where more midrange level systems are good enough for the majority of users.

However, for the power user with more exhaustive requirements who find that they can still manage to leverage every last drop of power from any system they get their hands on,  I’m sure there will plenty here to peak your interest.

Previous CPU Benchmarking Coverage
3XS Systems @ Scan

First Look At The Intel 8700K As The i7 Range Gets A Caffeine Injection.

I’ll be honest, as far as this chipset naming scheme goes it feels that we might be starting to run out of sensible candidates. The Englishman in me wants to eschew this platform completely and hold out for the inevitable lake of Tea that is no doubt on the way. But alas the benchmarking has bean done and it’s too latte to skip over it now. 

*Ahem* sorry, I think it’s almost out of my system now. 

Right, where was I? 

Time To Wake Up and Smell The….

Coffee Lake has been a blip on the horizon for quite a while now, and the promise of more cores in the middle and lower end CPU brackets whilst inevitable has no doubt taken a bit longer than some of us might have expected. 

Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the AMD’s popular releases earlier this year? I suspect the platform itself isn’t, as it takes a lot more than 6 months to put together a new chipset and CPU range but certainly it feels like this new hardware selection might be hitting the shelf a little earlier than perhaps was originally planned.

Currently its clear that we’ve had a few generations now where the CPU’s haven’t really made any major gains other than silicon refinement and our clock speeds haven’t exceeded 5GHz from the Intel factory (of course, the more ambitious overclockers may have had other ideas), the obvious next move for offering more power in  the range would be to stack up more cores much like the server-based bredrin in the Xeon range.

What is undeniable is that it certainly appears even to the casual observer that the competitor’s recent resurgence has forced Intel’s  hand somewhat and very possibly accelerated the release schedule of the models being discussed here.

I say this as the introduction of the new range and i7 8700K specifically that we’re looking at today highlights some interesting oddities in the current lineup that could be in danger of making some of the more recent enthusiast chips look a little bit redundant. 

This platform as a whole isn’t just about an i7 refresh though, rather we’re seeing upgrades to the mainstream i7’s, the i5’s and the i3’s which we’ll get on the bench over the coming weeks.

The i7’s have gained 2 additional physical cores and still have the hyperthreading meaning 12 logical cores total. 

The i5’s have 6 cores and no hyperthreading.

The i3’s have 4 cores and no hyperthreading.

Positioning wise Intel’s own suggestions have focused towards the i5’s being pushed for gaming and streaming with up to 4 real physical cores being preferred for games and then a couple extra to handle the OS and streaming. The i3’s keep their traditional entry-level home office and media center sort of positioning that we’ve come to expect over the years and then that gives us the 6 core i7’s sat at the top of the pile of the more mainstream chip options. 

Intel traditionally has always found itself a little lost when trying to market 6 cores or more. They know how to do it with servers where the software will lap up the parallelization capabilities of such CPUs with ease. But when it comes to the general public just how many regular users have had the need to leverage all those cores or indeed run software that can do it effectively? 

It’s why in recent years there has been a marked move towards pushing these sorts of chips to content creators and offering the ability to provide the resources that those sort of users tend to benefit from. It’s the audio and video producers, editors, writers and artists that tend to benefit from these sorts of advances. 

In short, very likely you dear reader.

Ok, so let’s take a look at some data.

8700K CPUz at 4.7GHz

CPUz 4.7 Benchmark

At base clock rates the chip itself is sold as a 6 core with Hyper-threading and runs with a clock speed of 3.7GHz and a max turbo of 4.7GHz. For testing, I’ve locked off all the cores to the turbo max and tested with a Dark Rock 3 after testing various models before starting. With the cooler in hand, it was bouncing around 75 degrees after a few hours torture testing which is great. I did try running it around the 5GHz mark, which was easy to do and perfectly stable, although with the setup I had it was on the tipping point of overheating. If you updated it to a water cooling loop I reckon you’ll have this running fine around the 5GHz and indeed I did for some of the testing period with no real issues, although I did notice that the voltages and heat start to creep up rapidly past the 4.7GHz point.

8700k at 4.7

Geekbench 4 8700K
Click to expand

The Geekbench 4 results show us some interesting and even slightly unexpected results. With the previous generation 7700K being clocked to 4.5GHz when I benched it and the 8700K being run at 4.7GHz I was expecting to see gains on the single core score as well as the increase in the multicore score. It’s only a few percent lower and I did retest a couple of times and found that this was repeatable and I had the results confirmed by another colleague.

The multicore score, on the other hand, shows the gains that this chip is all about with it not only exceeding the previous generation as you would expect with more cores being available. The gains here, in fact, highlight something I was already thinking about earlier in the year when the enthusiast i7’s got a refresh, in that this chip looks to not only match the 7800X found in the top end range but somewhat exceeding its capabilities at a lower overall price point.

DAWBench DSP 8700K
Click to expand
DawBench vi 8700K
Click to expand

In the testing above both the DAWBench DSP and the DAWBench vi tests continue to reflect this too, effectively raising questions as to the point of that entry-level 7800X in the enthusiast range.

The is almost price parity between the 7800X and 8700K at launch although the X299 boards tend to come in around £50 to £100 or more than the boards we’re seeing in the Z370 range. You do of course get extra memory slots in the X299 range, but then you can still mount 64GB on the mid-range board which for a lot of users is likely to be enough for the lifecycle of any new machine.

You also get an onboard GPU solution with the 8700K and if anything has been proven over the recent Intel generations, its that those onboard GPU solutions they offer are pretty good in the studio these days, perhaps also offering additional value to any new system build.

Grinding Out A Conclusion

I’m sure pricing from both sides will be competitive over the coming months as they aim to steal market share from each other. So with that in mind, it’s handy to keep these metrics in mind, along with the current market pricing at your time of purchase in order to make your own informed choice. I will say that at this point Intel has done well to reposition themselves after AMD’s strongest year in a very long time, although really their biggest achievement here looks to have been cannibalizing part of their own range in the process. 

That, of course, is by no means is a complaint as when pricing is smashed like this then the biggest winner out there is the buying public and that truly is a marvelous thing. Comparing the 8700K to the 7700K on Geekbench alone shows us a 50% improvement in performance overheads for a tiny bit more than the previous generation cost, which frankly is the sort of generation on generation improvement that we would all like to be seeing every couple of years, rather than the 10% extra every generation we’ve been seeing of late.

Whether you choose to go with an Intel or an AMD for your next upgrade, we’ve seen that the performance gains for your money are likely to be pretty great this time around on both platforms. If your current system is more than 3 or 4 years old then it’s even more likely that the will be a pretty strong upgrade path open to you when you do finally choose to take that jump. With hints of Ryzen 2 being on its way next year from AMD and the likelihood that Intel would never leave any new release unchallenged, we could be in for an interesting 2018 too!

All DAWBench Testing

3XS Audio Systems @ Scan