Budget music production PC, what is the best value CPU I can get?

Hi! I’m building very soon an amateur music-production oriented PC for which I’d like to spend more or less 1000€, screen included (I already have an audio interface, and I’m located in France). I’d like to make an educated choice for my CPU.

I intend to use Cubase and a few plugins (mainly virtual instruments), and according to this documentation:

Some things to consider on the processor architecture:

  • Processors with faster cores are preferable to a higher core count for real-time audio performance.
  • The more cores are available, the more thread synchronization is required. This can lead to a reduced processing power and slow down the system after all.
  • A higher core count might require a different RAM configuration (dual channel, quad channel) for optimal performance.
  • A higher amount of CPU cache (L2, L3) can have a positive impact on the real-time processing.

Based on these informations, I have a few questions:

  1. When we’re talking core speed, are we talking about the frequency at which the CPU runs (ex: 3.6 GHz) or is it about the single core performance (such as the single thread performance one can see for a CPU on cpubenchmark.net) ?
  2. Regarding core count (hyperthreading/SMT non activated), real-time audio performance and thread synchronization, where would be the sweetspot at: 4, 6? I think 8 is too much already…
  3. I’ve made the following two tables [4-core CPUs ; 6-core CPUs (red means highest value, green means lowest value)] ; based on those and the previous answers, what CPU would be the best choice?

Thank you very much!

1st post… Welcome! :wink:

I can’t answer your specific questions but, don’t forget these requirements too. :wink:

https://www.steinberg.net/en/products/cubase/resources.html

Regards :sunglasses:

What they write isn’t well stated. Imagine that we could just multiply cores with speed. This is what we would expect:

2x4GHz = 8GHz (i.e. two cores, 4GHz each)
2x8GHz = 16GHz
4x4GHz = 16GHz

What they’re saying is that if you increase clock speed the “total” increases up pretty much linearly. What they’re also saying though is that the last example is NOT true, because there is an overhead involved in managing more cores. And that’s correct.

The thing is however that clock speed depends on power usage and cooling. So if you have two cores that are normally at 4GHz and boost them to 5GHz you’re now producing a lot more heat. If this is now the limit you might on the other hand be able to add two more cores at a slightly lower speed:

2x4GHz = 8GHz
2x5GHz = 10GHz
4x 3.5GHz = 14GHz

That last example is also probably not going to perform like 14GHz but less than that, but it’ll still be better than 10GHz total.

The last thing to consider is that CPUs all “boost” their max speeds differently, automatically (unless you turn it off). So a 4GHz quad core CPU might boost a single core to 5GHz, two cores to 4.7GHz, and four to 4.4GHz (or whatever the numbers are).

Eight cores aren’t “too much”. Four or six might be enough for you though. The thing is that you’ll need higher absolute clock speeds for low latency performance, meaning under 128 samples playing back a lot of instruments live without annoying delays. More cores will help but only if the clock speed remains pretty much the same for whatever is boosted.

Of course you can always “freeze” instruments etc to save processing requirements, and maybe turn on ASIO guard as well, so only you know if this is going to be an issue for you in practice.

I would obviously buy whatever fits my budget if I were you, but I would definitely keep in mind that eight cores doesn’t have to be too much or overkill, and if you can only afford a quad core today then at least pick a platform that allows you to easily upgrade the CPU in the future. There’s more to it than just the CPU of course, but that’s what I would do (and did).

If you made those based off of CPUMark or whatever then that’s decent only for general computing, but DAWs have specific requirements because of latencies and sync etc. I would recommend you use the charts on from SCAN Audio instead:

http://www.scanproaudio.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/dawbenchDSP8750H.jpg

http://www.scanproaudio.info/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/8750HDBVi.jpg

The second chart shows Virtual Instrument polyphony at different buffer sizes, and the first shows pure DSP usage (i.e. how many instances of a heavy plugin). From what I can tell over the years there are going to be differences depending on when these tests were run, so make sure you know that the reviewer (Scan in this case) ran all of those setups with the same test. Scores change over time because of software and firmware updates. At least when looking at that chart you can get a feel for how big the differences are and if you are likely to get what you need.

What you can see from that chart:

  • if you compare the 2600x with the 8400 and the 8600k for example it seems to me that the first two are pretty even until you get to 256 samples for the buffer. Then the Ryzen is much better. The Ryzen is also better overall in the other test. The 8600k however is better in the Virtual Instruments test at all buffer sizes, but worse at all buffer sizes in the plugin test.

In the US the prices are:
8600k = 280 no cooler included
8400 = 230 with cooler
2600x = 210 with cooler

Now, if you already have a video card, or are planning on buying a video card regardless, then that won’t add to the cost. But if you want to avoid buying a video card and IF the included graphics are ok, then the 8400 and 8600k might be a better value than the 2600x. Of course with the 8600k you need a cooler as well, which probably bumps the price beyond 310.

AMD also made a commitment to maintain the socket AM4 for processors made from the first generation Ryzen throughout 2020 (I believe). I’m not sure what Intel has planned.

@Procks : Thanks for the welcoming! Don’t worry I have those requirements in mind too :wink:

@MattiasNYC: wow, now this is a detailed answer. Thanks for providing all those informations, the charts are really eye-opening.
According to my tables, the 2600 (or even the 2600x) are way more affordable here than a 8600k, and I plan to get a GPU anyway (I will do light video editing). I also asked on reddit what may be a good solution for me and the AMD seems to be the better deal. I guess my choice is made! Thank you again!