Before I replaced a couple 512GB hard drives on my DAW system with bigger ones, I thought it would be interesting to see how well Cubase would run on my system with Windows 8. I imaged my existing system onto the new drives via eSata, but before swapping the drives out I did DAWBench testing, first on my existing Windows 7 installation, and then after upgrading to Windows 8.
First off, my system/HW specs:
Interface: MOTU UltraLite-mk3 (pre-hybrid, FireWire 400 only)
Processor: Intel Core i7-950 @3.06 GHz (Bloomfield family, 4 cores, 8 threads). No overclocking, and I’m using the factory heat sink.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5. (I have EIST and the C-states disabled.)
FireWire Chipset: On-board Texas Instruments 1394 OHCI Compliant Host Controller
FireWire Driver: 1394ohci.sys, Microsoft, 6/21/2006 (same driver on both OSes)
Case: Antec P183.
Hard drives: Three Western Digital Caviar Black drives, at 7200RPM @ 500 GB.
Power Supply: Corsair HX650.
RAM: Two Kingston DDR3 1333 sticks @ 6 GB each, for 12 GB total.
Wireless: Linksys WMP600N Wireless-N PCI Adapter with Dual-Band.
Optical: Plextor PX-B320SA Blu-ray Disc Combo.
Video: EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570.
OS Versions: Windows 7 Pro 64-bit with SP-1 / Windows 8 Pro 64-bit RTM
DAW Version: Cubase 6.5.3 32-bit (the DAWBench plugins were 32-bit only)
Before running the Windows 7 tests, I uninstalled Microsoft Security Essentials and Acronis True Image 2012, because I knew those apps aren’t compatible with Windows 8, and they both add a little overhead. I also made sure both systems had the “High Performance” power scheme selected in the Power Options control panel before testing to ensure top CPU availability.
***** DSP TESTS *****
In the DAWBench DSP tests, you load a project that has some audible audio tracks, plus 40 additional tracks with 8 of the same insert effect loaded (but disabled), for a total of 320 possible instances of that effect. You play the audio and enable the insert effects one by one until you start hearing pops or dropouts. The “score” for that test is the number of instances you can enable before the audio breaks up. The DAWBench DSP suite includes six projects for six effects, but I only tested two, because the public DAWBench database currently only lists reference results for three of them, and the latest version of one of those three (Elysia mpressor), is very broken and evil, compared to the one the DAWBench author used for his tests. It literally takes 5 seconds now to load a single instance of the plug-in, meaning it takes half an hour just to load the damn project.
I also conducted all of my tests at 256 samples, because that’s what I currently use in my work. At 256 samples, my interface’s reported latency numbers are 7.098 ms input, 12.018 output, 19.116 total.
DSP TEST 1: URS Classic Console Strip Pro (CSP)
Instances on Windows 7: 133
Instances on Windows 8: 93
Percent drop in performance: 30%
DSP TEST 2: Wave Arts MutiDynamics 5 (MD5)
Instances on Windows 7: 157
Instances on Windows 8: 102
Percent drop in performance: 35%
***** POLYPHONY TESTS *****
The DAWBench Polyphony projects include dozens of initially muted polyphonic tracks using Native Instruments Kontakt 4. While you listen to the handful of audible audio tracks, you unmute the polyphonic tracks until the audio breaks up. There are two flavors of this test: One with no effects applied, and one with a convolution reverb effect.
POLYPHONY TEST 1: No Convolution Reverb (NCV)
Notes of polyphony on Windows 7: 540
Notes of polyphony on Windows 8: 340
Percent drop in performance: 37%
POLYPHONY TEST 2: Convolution Reverb (CV)
Notes of polyphony on Windows 7: 520
Notes of polyphony on Windows 8: 260
Percent drop in performance: 50%
* OBSERVATIONS *****
- Cubase and my plugins mostly survived the upgrade, although the first few times I launched Cubase I got errors that the soft eLicenser didn’t have sufficient permissions to run. I modified the Cubase shortcut to run as Administrator and that made the warnings go away.
- My Waves plugins didn’t work after the upgrade. I didn’t investigate this, as they weren’t needed for the DAWBench tests.
- The Cubase ASIO meter was a bit more erratic on Windows 8 than on Windows 7. In my previous experiences with DAWBench, I never saw the ASIO meter “redline” even when audio began breaking up. But on Windows 8 the little red emergency light blinked every second or so once the meter got above around 70%. This almost always accompanied pops or dropouts.
- Normally on the DAWBench polyphony tests, I never see more than a 20-note difference between the “with convolution reverb” and “without convolution reverb” projects. But the gap between these two tests on Windows 8 was huge- 80 notes; a 24% difference.
* SUMMARY *****
While Cubase and my audio hardware functioned largely without error on Windows 8, the overall performance during testing was 30-50% worse than on Windows 7 on the same system. What accounts for the different results? Is it Cubase? Is it the OS? Is it the drivers? I don’t know why I got the results I got. I even re-ran most of the tests, just to make sure the numbers were consistent.
I am curious whether FireWire has anything to do with it, because I’ve heard mumblings about Microsoft wanting to deprecate FireWire support- although the driver appears to be the same on both OSes. (They have different version stamps- 6.1.7601.17514 on Win 7 and 6.2.9200.16384 on Win 8, but those are just generic stamps applied to every inbox driver that coincide with the OS build.) I don’t have any USB or PCIe interfaces to compare against though, so I wasn’t able to rule that out.
To be honest, despite the test results, Windows 8 would probably actually work okay for my day-to-day recording, considering that I never have more than a couple dozen plugins or notes of polyphony in my songs, whereas the DAWBench tests were breaking down in the hundreds. I’ve already swapped my drives out and returned to Windows 7, though. It’s fast and it works.
Please post your own before-and-afters if you have the time and interest! You can compare my results against the main DAWBench reference results available at the “DAWbench Universal Suite - Results Database : In Progress” thread at the DAWBench forums.