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Mac Pro: 4/6/8/12 Cores for Sound Processing?

Reader Juan De Leon writes:

Hi Lloyd,

Great site!... I just wish I could have find it earlier. One request I know all your comments are photo user related but do you think could you add one post for music user related. I mean I'm PC user and have been waiting for a long time for this Mac Pro update.

MPG: I’d like to. That means buying Logic Pro (eg $500), and incorporating something into my battery of tests (I see no point in a one-time test, I’d want continuity). I’d also need some advice from users working with sound on what the best approach to testing is (not my area of expertise). Ditto for video.

As a free site, I have to consider what I do with my time— I have bills to pay — no one pays me for the long hours it takes or the massive expense of the hardware itself (consider the cost of buying a 12-core and a 6-core Mac Pro, and outfitting them, let alone the time and effort at $0/hour). I am actively considering requiring a subscription to access some areas because there has to be ROI (return on investment). That’s why supporting my sites is so important including buying your Mac Pro as an MPG Pro Workstation, or consulting. I tried “donate” buttons for two months, and received two (2) donations, not even enough for one meal for my family, and my aspirations lie beyond food.

I will use the machine in a combination of graphic and music production. The music part will require the use of software like Logic Studio with many plugins. I know some could benefit from the multicore and the 64 bit platform.

MPG: almost everything benefits from using the 64-bit kernel. I recommend 12GB of memory for most users, more if the usage warrants it.

Multiple cores represent potential— depending on the software design, a program might be “single threaded” or might use all cpu cores efficiently (or inefficiently), or might use a few cores.

But anyway my question will be, do we (music users) benefit from a higher speed processor or a higher multi-core system.

MPG: it all depends. Take the 3.33GHz hexacore Mac Pro— it has a 13.6% speed advantage over the 12-core 2.93GHz Mac Pro. So in essence it’s an equivalent to a 6.8 core Mac Pro at 2.93Ghz. Except that there is more and more overhead with more cores, so that it might be just as fast as an 8-core machine, even with all cores uses on either machine. It all depends, but only specialized and very well written applications can make 12 cores run (almost) twice as fast as 6 cores.

Here is a list of the software:
1. Apple Logic Studio - http://www.apple.com/logicstudio/
2. Ableton Live - http://www.ableton.com/suite-8
3. Native Instruments Komplete (Currently own version 6 but will upgrade to 7 as soon as the release it) - http://www.native-instruments.com/#/en/products/?category=1649
4. Native Instruments Maschine - http://www.native-instruments.com/#/en/products/producer/maschine/
5. Native Instruments Kore - http://www.native-instruments.com/#/en/products/producer/kore-2/
6. Waves Mercury - http://www.waves.com/content.aspx?id=175
7. Novation Midi Keyboard with Automap - http://www.novationmusic.com/us/products/midi_controllers/sl_mkii
8. M-Audio Project Mix I/O - http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/ProjectMixIO.html

All the software above might be running simultaneous at one certain point for music production and some of them are very hungry for CPU use. My question (which I think many out there will have)— if I go for a Mac Pro and use all the software mentioned, will I benefit from a higher processor speed or a higher core amount?

MPG: Even if a program is “stupid” and uses only one CPU core, if you are in fact running multiple programs at the same time, having multiple cores is of great value, since each program can run without degrading the others. The question is how many cores are needed to satisfy any given mix of programs.

Another issue goes like this: if the mix of programs utilized 6 cores, is running a 6-core Mac Pro faster or slower than a 12-core Mac Pro? The answer to that also depends: the 6-core model runs 13% faster in clock speed, so it will probably win. But the 12-core model has two CPUs, and thus twice the onboard cache memory, so that potentially offsets some of the difference.


The Speed You Need

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