Tag Archives: Testing

The Intel i9 7920X On The Bench

Back in June this year we took a look at the first i9 CPU model with the launch of the i9 7900X. Intel has since followed on from that with the rest of the i9 chips receiving a paper launch back in late August and with the promise of those CPU’s making it into the publics hands shortly afterward. Since then we’ve  seen the first stock start to arrive with us here in Scan and we’ve now had a chance to sit down and test the first of this extended i9 range in the shape of the i9 7920X.

The CPU itself is 12 cores along with hyper-threading, offering us a total of 24 logical cores to play with. The base clock of the chip is 2.9GHz and a max turbo frequency of 4.30GHz with a reported 140W TDP which is much in line with the rest of the chips below it in the enthusiast range.  Running at that base clock speed the chip is 400MHz slower per core than the 10 core edition 7900X. So if you add up all the available cores running at those clock speeds (12 X 2900 vs 10 X 3300) and compare the two chips on paper, then the looks to be less than 2GHz total available overhead separating them but still in the 7920X’s favor. 

So looking at it that way, why would you pay the premium £200 for the 12 core? Well interestingly both CPU’s claim to be able to turbo to the same max clock rating of 4.3GHz, although it should be noted that turbo is designed to factor in power usage and heat generation too, so if your cooling isn’t up to the job then you shouldn’t expect it to be hitting such heady heights constantly and whilst I’m concerned that I may be sounding like a broken record by this point, as with all the high-end CPU releases this year you should be taking care with your cooling selection in order to ensure you get the maximum amount of performance from your chip.

Of course, the last thing we want to see is the power states throttling the chip in use and hampering our testing, so as always we’ve ensured decent cooling but aimed to keep the noise levels reasonable where we can. Normally we’d look to tweak it up to max turbo and lock it off, whilst keeping those temperatures in check and ensuring the system will be able to deliver a constant performance return for your needs.

However, in this case, I’ve not taken it quite all the way to the turbo max, choosing to keep it held back slightly at 4.2GHz across all cores. I was finding that the CPU would only ever bounce of 4.3GHz when left to work under its own optimized settings and on the sort of air cooling we tend to favour it wouldn’t quite maintain the 4.3GHz that was achieved with the 7900X in the last round of testing without occasionally throttling back. It will, however, do it on an AIO water loop cooler, although you’re adding another higher speed fan in that scenario and I didn’t feel the tradeoff was worth it personally, but certainly worth considering for anyone lucky to have a separate machine and control room where a bit more noise would go unnoticed.

Just as a note at this point, if you run it at stock and let it work its own turbo settings then you can expect an idle temperature around 40 degrees and under heavy load it still should be keeping it under 80 degrees on average which is acceptable and certainly better than we suspected around the time of the 7900X launch. However, I was seeing the P-states raising and dropping the core clock speeds in order to keep its power usage down and upon running Geekbench and comparing the results that my 4.2GHz on all cores setting gave us an additional 2000 points (around 7% increase) over the turbo to 4.3GHz default setting found in the stock configuration. My own temps idled in the 40’s and maxed around 85 degrees whilst running the torture tests for an afternoon, so for a few degrees more you can ensure that you get more constant performance from the setup.

Also worth noting is that we’ve had our CAD workstations up to around 4.5GHz and higher in a number of instances although in those instances we’re talking about a  full water loop and a number of extra fans to maintain stability under that sort of workload, which wouldn’t be ideal for users working in close proximity to a highly sensitive mic. 

Ok, so first up the CPUz information for the chip at hand, as well it’s Geelbench results.

7920X CPUz
CPUz 42Ghz bench7920X Geekbench 4

More importantly for this comparison is the Geekbench 4 results and to be frank it’s all pretty much where we’d expect it to be in this one.

7920X geekbench 4 Chart
Click to expand.

The single core score is down compared with the 7900X, but we’d expect this given the 4.2GHz clocking of the chip against the 4.3GHz 7900X. The multicore score is similarly up, but then we have a few more cores so all in all pretty much as expected here.

Dawbench DSP 7920X
Click to Expand
Dawbench 6
Click to Expand

On with the DAWBench tests and again, no real surprises here. I’d peg it at being around an average of 10% or so increase over the 7900X which given we’re just stacking more cores on the same chip design really shouldn’t surprise us at all. It’s a solid solution and certainly the highest benching we’ve seen so far barring the models due to land above it. Bang per buck it’s £1020 price tag when compared to the £900 for the 10 core edition it seems to perform well on the Intel price curve and it looks like the wider market situation has curbed some of the price points we might have otherwise seen these chips hit. 

And that’s the crux of it right now. Depending on your application and needs the are solutions from both sides that might fit you well. I’m not going to delve too far into discussing the value of the offerings that are currently available as prices do seem to be in flux to some degree with this generation. Initially, when it was listed we were discussing an estimated price of £100 per core and now we seem to be around £90 per core at the time of writing which seems to be a positive result for anyone wishing to pick one up.

Of course, the benchmarks should always be kept in mind along with that current pricing and it remains great to see continued healthy competition and I suspect with the further chips still to come this year, we may still see some additional movement before the market truly starts to settle after what really has been a release packed 12 months.

The 3XS Systems Selection @ Scan

Intel launches the Skylake chipset and we DAWbench it in the studio.

Intel’s latest chipset has recently launched and the Z170 series or Skylake as it is informally known, is a refinement of the earlier Broadwell range launched last year. The Broadwells were most notable for bringing 14nm processors to the market, althrough these CPUs tended to be lower powered solutions and so didn’t register all that much on the enthusiasts radar

Of couse the is nothing wrong with lower powered solutions and the lower heat is always great especially if you want a low noise system to work with, but the for those who also required large amounts of performance the Broadwells were simply not all that attractive, with many of us who were simply looking for the very best performance at a given price point, choosing to stick with the Haswell platform from the generation before, as it simply offered up the best bang per buck solution.

So with that in mind, we’ll take a look at overall performance using the trusty DAWBench test and see how it all stands, along with consideration being given to both upgrades and new machine senarios.

We’ve discussed DAWBench a number of times over the years with the last time being our start of year round up. As this is a quick test to see how the new chips hold up, if you’re not already up to speed, may I suggest checking out the last time we visited this and it should give you a quick grounding before we dive in.

You can find that testing round here.

Fully caught up?

Ok. Then lets begin.

Give the image below a click and you can see our test results.

August 1015 DPC Chart

So this time around we’re testing 2 CPU’s with those being the i5 6600K and the i7 6700K. This time we’ve benched them in two different states where the lower clock speed is CPU at stock clocks with the turbo locked on at 100% of the advertised turbo clock speed and the second test shows the CPU in question being overclocked up to 4.4GHz setting that we supply our systems at.

When the overclock option is selected it should allow us to see what sort of difference the overclocking process can make, which in turn shouldl also help measure us measure the new chips against some of the older CPU scores where we’ve also worked with similar overclock figure. Also be aware we keep our overclocks on workstations rather minimal choosing to get the best out of chip, rather than push it to its limits.

This means that we don’t ramp up the voltages and generate the heat that comes with higher overclocks often seen on the gaming systems, which also have fast fans and noisey cooling in order to compensate, which of course would be completely unacceptable in a recording studio environment.

Starting with the i5, well it pretty much returned the performance levels matching the older 4790K chip, with a small performance boost showing up at the very tightest buffer settings, which admittedly is always a very welcome bonus. As a new replacement for the older chip, well it keeps the value the same whilst giving you access to the other benefits of the platform, so as a new build these should all prove most welcome additions, although as an upgrade from an older i5 it’s going to be harder to justify.

Of course if you are looking to upgrade in the midrange then the i7 option will possibly make more sense anyhow and this is where it gets a bit more interesting. The good news here is that we see both a slight power saving over the older 4790K with roughly 10% more performance increase clock for clock over that older 4790K, which was best performance crown around the midrange until the launch of these new chips.

As I’ve already touched upon briefly, Skylakes main selling point has been the other features it introduces to the mainstream. The boards we’ve seen are offering more M.2 slots which in themselves offer transfer speeds in excess of 4 times those speeds seen on current SSD’s. Some boards are also offering the ability to hybrid RAID them PCIe based add in cards too, meaning that if your tempted then this platform will offer up some truely amazing data transfer speeds that could transform your time in the studio if you work with large sample libaries and templates like some VSL users.

Additionally USB 3.1 and USB type C are now native to the Z170 chipset and this standard is only going to to grow over coming years, so early adoptors, this is your platform. It’s also the first time we’ve seen DDR4 in a mainstream setup and for those working with video editing on the side, the extra bandwidth will prove beneficial to some extent. AVX 2 instruction improvements to CPU’s may also prove beneficial to multimedia applications in the future, although these tend to impact CAD & Video software mostly, some plug in manufacturers or even DAW coders may eventually chose to leverage these instruction set improvements in the future.

All this as far as building a new machine is concerned is great as any improvement for your money is always going to be a good thing. For those looking to upgrade older machines however, the small incremental improvements mean that anyone who currently owns a CPU from Ivybridge upwards is going to be hard pressed to get a justifiable upgrade by going for a more modern equivalent although the are certainly some improvements are there if your hand is forced into a new setup due to aging hardware reaching the end of its lifecycle.

For those users with more recent machines however that do require an upgrade path, the X99 platform offers a very attractive upgrade option right now, offering a solid bang per buck for those needing more performance from their system. Also worth noting is that with the extra cost caused by the Z170 platform moving to DDR4 and indeed DDR4’s ever decreasing price points, the enthusiasts X99 setups are now starting to reach price points less than a hundred pounds more than the mid-range brethren.

This all means that the X99 may offer many users more value for money overall long term and should certainly be considered by anyone considering a new studio solution at this time, if they are looking to get the longest lifespan they can from a new machine setup.

Scan 3XS Audio Systems

Audio Computer System Benchmarking

Every year we find with computer systems as with so many other products it seems that the is always something bigger, better and faster becoming available. The question is how do we validate those claims and work out which solution will fit which user whilst offering the best performance at any given price point?

Here in Scan we use a number of different tests and where gamers concern themselves with performance indicators like 3DMark and video people concentrate on Cinebench for audio the stand out test used by retailers and reviewers alike is DAWBench for audio computer system benchmarking. DAWBench’s working methodology is a rather large subject in itself and something we will be covering in later articles in much depth but here we can give a quick overview covering how it relates to audio computer system performance.

The DAWBench tests revolve around running as many instances of a given effect or audio source as possible until the CPU overloads and audio corruption is generated in the signal path. The most common variation of this test is the RXC compressor test which has been in use now for a number of years and has plenty of results generated overtime making it ideal for us to look at how performance has grown from generation to generation of audio computer systems.

The test itself is fairly simple to carry out and can be run in a number of popular sequencers including (but not limited to) Cubase, Reaper, Sonar and Protools. The template for the test can be downloaded from the DAWBench website which consists of 4 tracks of audio parts and 40 channels of sine waves. On each of these sine wave parts 8 RXC compressors are included already set up but not yet activated and it is these you switch on one at a time in order to put the system under more and more load. Whilst testing the sine wave channels that you are working with are turned down but the accumulated compressors continue to up the load on the system and you monitor the situation by means of the looping audio tracks playing through your speakers. As you reach the point where the processing ability of the system reaches its maximum handling ability the audio you hear will start to distort and break up and it’s at this point where you have to turn off a few compressor instances taking it back to the point where the audio is clean and unbroken, which when you have the audio this point you then make a note of the total number of RXC compressor instances achieved and that is your score at the buffer setting in question.

A quick real world explanation of buffer latency for those not familiar with it is this. A low buffer setting means that your input devices can communicate quickly with the CPU inside of the audio computer system and the data can be processed quickly and for real time interaction this is crucial. Something you can try yourself is setting the buffer latency in your sound card control panel firstly to it’s lowest figure normally around the 32/48/64 level and playing a note on your midi controller which you will find is very responsive at these settings. If however you raise the latency settings up to around the 1024 level or higher and now trigger your midi controller you’ll notice a definite amount of lag between the key press and the sound coming out of the speakers.

So why would we want to run an interface at 1024 or higher settings?

As you bring down the buffer figure to improve response times your placing more and more load upon the CPU as a smaller buffer is forced to talk to the CPU more often which means more wasted cycles as it switches from other jobs to accommodate the data being processed. Whilst an artist performing or recording in real time will want the very lowest settings to enable the fastest fold back of audio to enable them to perform their best, a mix engineer may wish to run with these buffers set far higher to free up plenty more CPU headroom to enable high quality inline processing VSTi’s the performance to carry out their tasks without overloading the processor which as we’ve seen before would cause poor results in the final mixdown.

Too keep the playing field level the results below have been tested with Windows 7 64bit and in all these tests we have used a firewire M-audio Profire 1814 interface to ensure the results are not skewed by using various interfaces with different driver solutions. The are better cards that will give better results at super low latencies, with the RME range for instance going down to buffer settings of 48 on the USB/Firewire solutions and even 32 on the internal models. The M-Audio unit however has great drivers for the price point and we feel that giving fair figures using an interface at an accessible pricepoint gives a fair reflection of performance available to the average user and those who are in the position to invest in more premium units should find themselves with additional performance gains. We will be comparing various interfaces in the future here on the blog and the are benchmarks being produced in the DAWBench forums which also good further reading for those of you looking for new card solutions in the meantime.

So what does the chart above show us?

The are a number of audio computer systems being tested on there from over the last few years and it shows the continued growth of performance as newer hardware has been released. The stock i7 2600 proved to be a great performer when stacked up against the previous high end Intel systems even coming close to the hexcore flagship chips from that generation. What we also see is that once you take a 2600k and overclock it as we do here the performance available is greater than the 990x for a great deal less cost wise although it has to be noted that the X58 platform has more available bandwidth which can help increase performance in some real world instances where the user is working with vast sample libraries, the results we see here are a good indicator of how the machines will run for a more typical user.

Also worth noting in the performance results above is the i5 2500 result as we use it in our entry level value systems currently. The performance is roughly half of the overclocked 2600k system and in real world terms the cost of the system is roughly half as well meaning that whilst neither unit offers better value for money than the other in the cost vs performance stakes, in instances where your recording requirements are not quite as great the value spec still offers plenty of power to get you going and achieve completion on smaller projects even if it doesn’t offer the additional cooling and silencing features we have as standard on the high end solutions. It’s also worth noting that the i5 2500 scores close to the last generation i7 930 which shows how much performance improved between the last generation and the current one.

Our high end laptop solution in all but the very lowest latency situations also proves to be pretty much on par with the last X58 based i7 930 processor which itself still offers enough power to the user to get the job done in all but the most demanding situations which means that the age of the full desktop replacement laptop is very much with us making it as easy to edit, mix and produce fully formed mixes on the road as it is to perform every night with the very same units.

Hopefully that helps explain how we rate audio computer systems in house for performance testing and will help you decide upon your own next system. We run these tests on each new range we release so keep an eye out for further articles showing testing results as new hardware reaches the market.

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