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Intel Broadwell-E – The New Audio System CPU Of Choice?

In our first benchmark update of the year, we take a look at the Broadwell-E range, taking over as the new flagship Intel CPU range. Intel’s Enthusiast range has always proven to be a popular choice for audio systems, based around a more established and ultimately stable server chipset, whilst still letting you get away with the overclocking benefits founds on the mid-range solutions, making this range very popular in studios up and down the country.

The previous round of benchmarks can be found here and whilst handy to have to hand, you’ll notice that results that appear on the older chart when compared with newer results obtained found on our 2016 results chart show a marked improvement when the same chips are compared side by side.

A number of things have lead to this and can be explained by the various changes enacted since our last round up. Windows 10 is now the testing platform of choice, offering a marginal improvement over the older Windows 7 build, this along with new drivers and firmware for our Native Instruments KA6 which remains our testing tool of choice as well as a newly updated DAWBench suite, designed to allow us to be able to test these new chips as the first round of testing exceeded the older version of the test!

If you do wish to compare with the scores on the older chart, we’re seeing a roughly additional 20 tracks when comparing like for like chips across both set of results, so it’s possible that if you have a chip that is on the old chart and not the new, then you may be able to establish a rough comparison by simply adding 20 tracks on top of the old chip result to give you a very rough estimate to allow some degree of comparison.

Leaving behind the old results and in order to establish a level playing field, I’ve set out to retest some of the older chips under the new conditions in order to ensure these results are fair and to allow for easier comparison, so without any more delay, let’s check out those results.

2016 CPU DPC Test Results
2016 CPU DPC Test Results

As normal we’ll dive into this from the bottom upwards. At the low end of the testing round up we see the current i5 flagship, the 4 core 6600K both at stock and overclocked. A modest chip and certainly where we’d suggest the absolute lowest point of entry is when considering an audio setup. Offering enough power for multi-tracking and editing, and whilst we wouldn’t suggest that it would be the ideal solution for anyone working fully in the box as this CPU would be likely to be easily maxed out by high performance synths, the is certainly enough power here to achieve basic studio recording and editing tasks whilst not breaking the bank.

Next up are the mid-range i7’s and the 6700T is first up, offering 4 cores and 8 threads this is the low power i7 option this time around and sits as you would expect between the i5 6600K and the full power 6700K. It’s performance isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s certainly hitting performance levels that we would have expected from a mid-range class leading 2600K a few years back, but with a far lower power usage profile. This is a chip that certainly has its place and we expect it to be well received in our passive silent specs and other small form factor systems.
The other 6700 variant we have here is the all singing, all dancing 6700K which is the current consumer flagship offering a unlocked and overclockable 4 core / 8 thread configuration. Popular in home recording setups and certainly a reasonable all-rounder its price to performance makes it a great fit for anyone looking to edit, process and mix audio, whilst not relying upon extremely CPU intensive plugins and other tools.

But what if you are? What if Diva and Serum and their ilk are your tools of choice, and CPU’s are regularly chewed up and spat out for breakfast?

Well then, the enthusiast range is the choice for you. Popular for just this reason, the chart outlines the amount of extra overhead these CPU’s can offer you above and beyond the performance found in the mid-range.

The 5820K and 5960X scores you see are the previous generations 6 core and 8 core flagship solutions respectively and certainly the ones to beat by our new entries.

The 6800K is another 6 core CPU along with the 6850K which isn’t shown here which directly replaces the last generation 5930K. As with the last generation, the key difference between the 6800K and 6850K other than the few hundred more MHz which don’t really offer much of an improvement as far as benchmarks go, is the additional PCIe lanes on offer with the more expensive chip. For roughly 50% more over the 28 lane 6800K edition, the 6850K offers up a total of PCIe lanes making it ideal for systems running multiple graphics cards, which may require up to 16 lanes each. For audio systems that only have a single graphics card however, the 28 lane chip will be more than adequate for most users and is certainly one place you can afford to cut corners an save money in the event that you’re not working with multiple graphics cards. All this as well as the keen price when considered against the performance found in the 6700K below it, perhaps makes the 6800K the best bang per buck option at this time.

The 6900K is a 8 core / 16 thread direct replacement for the last generation flagship 5960X chip and offers a sizable performance increase over the older CPU for roughly the same price. Not ground breaking but certainly an improvement for any outlay if you were considering the options around this price point.

Topping off the chart is the new high-end flagship 6950X which offers previously unseen levels of performance from the enthusiast class CPU’s and certainly offers reasonable performance for your money when compared against the dual Xeon setups that compete with it. With a £1400 UK street price at the time of writing it may appear to offer poor value when put up against the £500 cheaper 6900K, the is little else to touch this CPU for its price if you find yourself in need of the performance it is capable of offering.

Looking to the future the next high-end refresh will be Skylake-E although that isn’t due to be with us until sometime around the middle of 2017. KabyLake around the same time next year in the midrange promises some interesting features, namely X-point and the advances it’ll bring for storage which may even appear (we hope!) in the Skylake-E chipset around the same time. Either way you look at it, Broadwell-E is looking to be the high performance option of choice for the rest of 2016 and we’re sure will find itself powering many new studio systems over the coming year.

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Scan Audio Workstation PC Benchmarks 2015

Click here to view the 2016 update.

Time for our 2015 benchmarking update so that we can see how the performance figures are sitting currently for any users thinking of upgrading or replacing their DAWs this year and as our last roundup was back in June 2013 this is certainly overdue. The reason for the delay and this having been on the cards for quite awhile now is that between our last group test and the start of this testing cycle the DAWBench suite itself has had a sizable overhaul under the hood with a few crucial changes.

The ever faithful Reacomp itself has in this period has seen a full 64bit re-write along with a new round of compiler testing thanks to the ever helpful Justin over at Reaper and in light of that, we’ve seen the test reconfigured, to allow for a large number of tracks we’re seeing the newer platforms generate.

These changes under the hood, however, make our older test results invalid for comparison and as such resulted in us needing to do a completely new group test roundup, in order to ensure a fair and level playing field.

The testing done here is using the DAWBench DSP Universal 2014 build found over at DAWBench.com where you can find more in-depth information on the test itself. Essentially it is designed around using stacked instances of a convolution reverb to put high loads on to the CPU and give a way of comparing the performance levels of the hardware at hand. Real world performance of VSTi’s varies from plugin to plug in, so by restricting it to a dedicated plug-in we have a constant test to apply across all the hardware we can generate a set of results to compare the various chipsets and CPUs available.

To keep the testing environment fair and even, we use the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 USB interface in all testing. Through our own, in house testing, we’ve established that this is a great performing solution for the price and in easy reach for new users wanting to make music. Whilst more expensive interfaces may offer better performance the important point in testing is to ensure we have a stable baseline and users of higher grade interfaces may find themselves receiving suitably scaled up performance at each of these buffer settings.

Scan 2015 DPC chart

 

  • Click to expand the DPC Chart

So taking a look at the chart the first thing to note if we’re working from the bottom upwards we see the inclusion of “U” series CPUs for the first time. The ultrabook class CPU’s are designed for lower power & low heat usage situations and found in some high-end tablets and seem to be appearing in a lot of low-end sub £500 laptop designs and NUC style small form factor designs currently. The 4010U itself is very common at this time, with this type of chip itself being aimed squarely at the office & recreational user on the go, making it perfect for doing some word processing or watching a movie although leaving it rather lacking in raw processing capability for those wishing to produce on the go. It does, however, stand up to being a suitable solution for putting together a multi-track and basic editing before saving type of setup if you require something for multi-tracking on the go with a little more capability than a more basic multi-track hard disk recorder.

Above it is the X58 stalwart i7 930 which was one of the more popular solutions from the very first “i” generation of CPU’s and one a lot of people are possibly quite familiar in more studio use as it did represent a sizable leap in performance on its launch over the older Core series of CPU. As such it is included as a good benchmark to see how the performance has improved over the last five years of processor advancement.

Next up is the other mobile solution on the chart. The i7 4710MQ is a quad-core mid to high-end laptop CPU solution and one of the most common chips found in laptops around the £1000 mark. Whilst it has a few more CPUs above it in the range, they have only marginal clock speed jumps and the price does raise up quite rapidly as you progress through the models meaning that the 4710MQ offers the best mobile performance bang per buck at this time and that has made it popular current option in this segment. Coming in at the same performance levels as the i7 2600k CPU which was the top of the range mid-level solution a few years ago, it offers a decent performance level out on the road for when you need to take your studio with you.

The two AMD solutions are the top of the range for AMD currently. Historically over the past few years AMD has been falling behind in the performance stakes when it comes to A/V applications and whilst the current CPU’s look to offer reasonable bang for buck at the price points they hit, the continued high power draw of the platform makes it less than ideal for cooling quietly which remains a large concern for most recording environments.

The 2600K & 3770K are both two more CPUs included as legacy benchmarks with both of them having been top of the mid-range segments in their respective generations. The 3770K was the replacement when the 2600K was discontinued and once more both are included to show the progression in performance increasing over the last few generations.
Coming back to the more current solutions both the i3 and i5 ranges from Intel have always been aimed more at the office and general purpose machine market with the i5’s often being the CPU of choice in the gaming market where GPU performance is often prized over raw CPU. The i3 4370 on the chart once the setup is assembled comes in cheaper than the AMD options and whilst running cooler offers poor performance to price returns for audio users. The i5 also comes in around the same price point as the AMD setups listed and once again it slightly underperforms the AMD chip options but runs far cooler and quieter overall trading off a small bit of performance for being a more suitable package overall where the noise levels are a crucial consideration.

This takes us up to the upper midrange and quite possibly the most popular option for the home studio segment in the shape of the i7 series. The 4790S edition is the lower powered revision that is a popular choice in our passive case solutions, the performance hit is minimal as it is still capable of running at its 4GHz turbo clock speed in a well laid out case. Its big brother the fully unlocked “K” edition CPU above also runs well at its 4.4GHz on all cores turbo clock setting and can be pushed further with a bit of careful tweaking of the voltages, making it the best cost to performance solution in the midrange if not the best bang per buck overall.

Above the midrange, we move on to what is commonly regarded as the enthusiast segment and one which we find prove popular in-studio installs where the extra processing performance and memory capabilities can be made very good use of. Given the X99 platform has double the number of memory slots and is capable of using the higher performance DDR4 memory standard, this makes it the ideal platform for film and TV scoring work or any other type of work that is relying upon larger sound banks and higher quality audio libraries and are both good reasons on why this platform has become popular with studios.

The three current chips in this segment are the 5820K, 5930K and 5690X. The first of those two are 6 core (with hyperthreading) solutions with little to differentiate between them other than an increase in PCI-E lane support and bandwidth when using the 5930K. Whilst critical for high bandwidth video processing solutions the lack of PCI-e bandwidth doesn’t tend to impact audio users and both CPU’s overclock to similar levels, making the cheaper solution a respectable choice when putting together a 6 core setup.

The top of the range 8 core 5960X tops our chart with an astounding set of results especially if you choose to overclock it. The pricing on this CPU solution scales along with the performance level up from the midrange choices, but for those users pushing the limits processing wise, it still offers a great performance to cost ratio over the next bracket up which is the systems based around Xeon CPUs.

So lastly we’re on to the powerhouse Xeon solutions are based around server grade hardware which allows a lot of memory and dual CPU configurations to be offered. Whilst popular in the past the cost and limited benefits of the current Xeon platform and indeed sheer power offered by the more common desktop CPUs have made the Xeon solutions less popular overall.

The downsides of this platform is the lack of overclocking support and the reliance of using the more expensive EEC registered memory, although the tradeoff there is that if you absolutely require a lot of memory with 128GB options already available and 256GB option forthcoming, the really is no other platform more suitable for memory intensive work such as VSL, as that EEC memory standard allows you to use higher capacity sticks on these server boards that are already flush with far more memory slots than their smaller desktop siblings.

Unfortunately along with the lack of overclocking, these CPU solutions will have a bigger impact on your budget than their more consumer-oriented versions, meaning that you have to spend a lot more on server grade motherboard and memory sticks themselves in order to match performance wise what can be done with the 6 and 8 core solutions mentioned previously. On the other hand lately we’ve starting to see 14 & 16 core solutions come through and given that a pair of those can be placed in the system with the aforementioned large amounts of RAM, users of packages who do need as much performance as possible as least have this option to consider pursue when only the most powerful system will be able to do the job in hand. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see some of those core heavy solutions in an update later in the year.

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