Choice of computer : i need more peace of mind

    Jan 11 2018 | 2:15 pm
    I'm considering buying a new laptop. I always went for 1000-1200€ computers but there is always a but that finally occur. Bad drivers, cpu peaks, buffer underuns even with optimised systems, components lifetime, etc.. Right now, I'm pretty pissed off, cause I own a 2 years old dell i7, 16go, ssd, and I got crackles and cpu spike with sometime a single big vst even with ridiculously high buffers and a RME UCX. I'm not a programmer but my knowing in computer science is still above than average, win10 install is nearly fresh, optimised, I run legit programs. USB are unstables, and some component already begins to get problems. I simply wish I could handle more complex patches with less worry especially in live conditions, but I simply can't with that laptop.
    So my question, how do you guys choose a new computer? Wich price range? Pro laptop? Or you don't care? Any brand you like more? Are you running a up to date win10? Or an older optimised version? (for instance I have a win8.1 cracked version on my non portable computer, works like a charm, maybe I should but I think it's ridiculous that I have a legit version and should switch to a 8.1) Where you a computer user who switched to mac? Why? Where you mac and switched to PC? Why? Do you dual boot? One boot for multimedia task? One for sound making?
    Please, give me any insight of your longterm experience hosting real time audio applications on laptops Best regards

    • Jan 11 2018 | 5:39 pm
      Any insight of this ?
    • Jan 11 2018 | 9:37 pm
      as much as it pains me to say so, Apple laptops are actually good at this (peace of mind regarding drivers, overall hardware quality and stability during performance...) - at least several years ago, the one i use daily dates form 2011, BUT they are much more expensive - i'm not sure if you can have something good for your price range - and nowadays they are sad to deal with because no usb and no CD drive, and it's apple :s I use OSX since 9 years and 2 laptops, and am eventually considering buying a windows next time because it's expensive & reasons & i've heard windows has gotten better, but the stability of the system is something real afaict.
    • Jan 12 2018 | 2:16 am
      Everyone can relate to this problem. Computers are just not made the way they used to be. If you want to go retro, there's no need to buy Apple. I have a Lenovo ThinkPad X220 with Core i5 at 2.6GHz. Boots Win10 instantly off an SSD. It's got every kind of legacy port. Triple USB, ExpressCard slot (for which I have a FireWire adapter), VGA plus DisplayPort, etc. Runs my live gigs just fine. Plenty of memory. Cost me 200 quid. People will look at this processor and compare with something more modern. Truth is that in 7 years you might get something "sort of" twice as fast, at most. You can spend two grand for an incremental upgrade. I compared the performance of this laptop against my older desktop, running an i7 920. For synthesis they were identical! Programmes like Reaktor and Max aren't using the multicores. So there it is. Take care with companies like Dell. My friends used to work on their line, in support etc., back when their European facility was in my home town. These machines are built using the cheapest components to maximise profits. This means that person A can have a certain specific model working just fine, but person B will have problems. The components could change week to week. This is what "innovators in Just-In-Time manufacturing" really means! What's good for business is antigood for consumers.
      This is particularly the case for the Inspirons, Dell's consumer line. Never buy them. Stick with Latitudes. Some of them are pretty sweet. There's one in the house I should really try with an audio setup. Avoid laptops altogether as your first computer. A desktop provides so much more for the price, especially if you build it yourself from parts. (I use Scan in the UK as noted above.)
    • Jan 12 2018 | 6:27 am
      I have a desktop computer. That one I speak which runs a win8.1. Of course, it's absolute pure joy to use it. Built 6 years ago, indestructible and CPU no bullet but rocket proof. I built another one for my sister recently, performances are barely better for the same price range than mine 6 years ago. But what the point using it, 90% cases it'll end up in the laptop for the sake of mobility, so I don't see any relevance composing on a rock solid desktop just to migrate at the end. I want to do all of it from the start in the final streamer. So I gave it to my father who has no words to thanks me enough for that sacrifice.
      Btw, my computer is an inspiron.. Yeah you're right, what a crap.. Graphics components are a unique custom limited version that no other series have in the world.. Have to stick to 3 years old factory drivers, or it does insane shit. USB are crap. Realtek audio drivers often goes mad and begins to eat 40% CPU whenever I take the manufacturer ones or the dells one. And the touchable screen (totally useless but I didn't buyed it for that feature) have false contact that mess up things. Jeeez
      My first dell, I was always a Asus fanboy, no problems till the last one that gave me headaches also. So i'm a bit tired with mainstream market computers...
      Well, think pads are already on my lists, I'll add your testimony on the plus list ;) apple are too. I wish I could get more user feedbacks on recent ones. What about Scan? So you're satisfied? Pretty bangs for buck IMO
    • Jan 12 2018 | 11:36 am
      As a prior Apple engineer, I would say an Apple laptop is a VERY stupid choice for Max. They use shared memory for video, so your screen control and jitter performance will be terrible.
      I have a custom built i7 on Windows and a Mac Mini, and for the price difference, you can get both rather than a top-end Mac, but if you can afford it all at once, a top-end Mac with windows installed too is the best choice.
    • Jan 12 2018 | 12:48 pm
      @Ernest : "They use shared memory for video" what does it mean ? and how do other OS differ on that point ?
    • Jan 12 2018 | 2:15 pm
      Yeah, computers... it's a pain. I need graphics performance and went for a pretty high-end gaming laptop: MSI GS63VR 6RF. Just over a year old now.
      Comes with a ton of crapware pre-installed so the first thing to do is reinstall Win10 clean, not the manufacturer's recovery image. Win has that function built in now. Very handy. Then install drivers and all yourself.
      I tweaked the CPU core voltages down a bit so it gets less hot and tuned the cooling fans so it's perfectly silent when not doing anything heavy. I also found that turning up the GPU fans more than needed helps keeping the CPU cooler as well, which results in a bit better cooling performance overall.
      Connectivity is good with USB3, USB-C / TB3, ethernet, HDMI and mDP. Just missing FW but that's nowhere to be found anymore, sadly.
      I searched long to find a model that has more or less decent cooling for the heavy CPU and GPU in it (no unicorns here, all gaming models get hot and loud, but one more than the other) and with a good range of connection options. Bad cooling results in the CPU and GPU throttling down when they get too hot. I also wanted it to be reasonably portable so no 4kg desktop replacements.
      I'm happy with the performance and stability of it. I've run some seriously heavy audiovisual Max and Ableton stuff on it fine. I mean "4 projectors + DMX control + multichannel audio + sensor interfaces" heavy.
      After 6 months it started having occasional BSOD crashes after which the OS drive wouldn't be found for a while. I sent it in and they replaced some mainboard components and the OS SSD drive and now everything is fine.
      It's expensive but I recommend it for people needing serious performance.
      (It's great for my occasional gaming too. The built-in speakers are total crap though. )
    • Jan 12 2018 | 4:01 pm
      Alix, your experience mirrors mine. I too would recommend ASUS at one point in time, but they have released so many different lines of rubbish laptops there's no telling what you get any more. Just to be clear, the Thinkpad I referred to also uses shared memory for the graphics. The alternative is a huge expensive laptop with dedicated memory card, as documented in the post above. This makes no sense for me, since the laptop is my second computer and I want it to be portable I do not use Max for Jitter. So, 4GB of RAM shared between OS and GPU is just fine, even if running an external monitor. For those who don't know, Windows 10 is a free operating system. You can download an image and run it forever, legally. Inconveniences include a watermark and the inability to customise your wallpaper etc. This is perfect, however, for cleaning up a crapware bloated machine.
    • Jan 12 2018 | 4:44 pm
      For those interested, Native Instruments has an excellent page on diagnosing audio dropouts.
      I currently cannot compare my RME interfaces since my new computer is lacking a port. So I will compare the NI Audio Kontrol 1. The desktop has a Asus PRIME Z270-A motherboard with Core i3-7350K @ 4.2 GHz and 16 GB RAM. The Lenovo ThinkPad X220 has a Core i5-2540 @ 2.6 GHz and 8 GB RAM.
      The Kontrol 1 on the desktop is configured with a process buffer of 64 samples and a USB buffer at the lowest setting of 1 ms. I tested while the system was resting, and also when running Max. At 44.1 kHz it averages 50 μs latency and at 96 kHz average 120 μs. Totally fine.
      On the laptop I stick with 44.1 kHz sample rate, set the process buffer to 192 and the USB buffer to its highest setting of 4ms. The latency averages 500 μs and peaks close to 1 ms but there are no audio anomalies.
      The Kontrol 1 is far from the best sounding or performing digital converter, but it does have an excellent physical interface that I really wish RME would emulate. P.S. You may wonder why I just bought an i3 over i5 or i7 chips. Basically, it's the sweet spot in terms of single core performance. The top of the range i7-7700K runs hotter, cost more than double, and uses 50% more power, but only manages the same benchmark scores. Multicore is a different matter.
    • Jan 12 2018 | 9:05 pm
      That's a useful link, thanks! I think I 've got most of that covered already, have been using LatencyMon too, but I'll sure review one of these days.
      About single vs multi-core. I split up my Max systems in several stand-alone applications (core engine, 3D gfx rendering, audio , DMX output, sensor parsing, etc). That way I can make better use of multi-core CPU's and dramatically improve performance.
    • Jan 12 2018 | 9:39 pm
      Indeed, that is a good technique! Might make a good article here. :-) Likewise, I think most DAWs will run each plugin instance in a new core.
    • Jan 14 2018 | 1:02 am
      Another data point:
      Today I got my hands on a Dell Latitude E7240 with Core i5-4200U @ 1.6 GHz and 4GB RAM. This is a sleek little machine you can buy second-hand for around £300.
      I tested the Kontrol 1 at 44.1 kHz sample rate, 192 sample process buffer, 4 ms USB buffer. Latency averaged 60-80 µs but peaked severely.
      Turning off the WiFi solved the problem, and should always be the first thing you try, in order to solve audio glitches.
      This is not to say this unit IS suitable for audio work, but it's a good sign. Maybe I will find the time to get Max working.
      A reminder too that the NI Kontrol 1 is hardly the most robust DAC going. If it works well, it's a good sign for cards with better drivers (RME, for instance).
    • Jan 14 2018 | 1:32 pm
      yes wifi card is a very common cause for glitches, especially on NI soundcards it should always be turned off. also NVIDIA graphics cards are known to conflict with audio drivers.
    • Apr 02 2018 | 6:03 pm
      i urgently need to buy a laptop as my previous one died. my budget is very limited, so i am going the second-hand way. i would love to get one of those 8th gen i5/i7's but if i buy a new laptop, i will be completely broke, and it will have bad build quality as it will have to be one of the cheap models. i am probably going for a used thinkpad t450 with a not so spectacular 5th gen i5, but still 1 year of warranty and batteries in good condition, for 400 euro. i'm mainly gonna be using it for ableton + maxforlive, and some projects are cpu intensive, but my previous laptop had a first gen i5, with half the benchmark score, so i suppose this thinkpad should be sufficient, though not great. i've read that thinkpads are generally ok when it comes to dpc latency issues, but cant find any info on this for the specific model. anyone had any experience with it? and what about throttling issues? alternatives would be hp elitebooks or latitudes with similar specs for similar price, or older thinkpads (t430) and elitebooks / latitudes for around 250 euro. or else a 2nd hand but virtually un-used acer e5-575 with i5-7200u and 256gb m.2 ssd, for 350 euro. acer used to be notorious for throttling issues, and also durability and peace of mind is a big factor for me, so the fresher specs may not make up for other issues. if anyone has any personal experience with any of these product lines, i would appreciate some advice. thanks
    • Apr 03 2018 | 12:02 am
      There are almost no laptops worth buying any more. It is a sad state of affairs. "You pays your moneys, you takes your chances."
      Certainly don't worry about getting the latest and greatest chips. They offer very little real return. Performance has stagnated (in real world terms) for many years now.
    • Apr 03 2018 | 4:16 pm
      maybe a mac mini isnt such a bad compromise, if you're comfortable on a mac
    • Apr 22 2018 | 7:39 pm
      finally i got a used thinkpad t430 with an i5-3320m. it's in excellent condition, a friend tested it and i am receiving it tomorrow! my friend ran the DAWbench DSP 2017 test (reaper RXC) at 64 sample buffer, and it passed it without a glitch, the total cpu usage never reaching 50% and staying at relatively low temperatures.
      the test was done using a motu ultralite mk3 connected with firewire through the express-card slot. i am mostly gonna be using it with usb soundcards however, so i hope it is has no dpc latency issues. the latencymon check was fine.
      i will let you know how it performs with usb interfaces when i have tested it myself.
      i am going to install windows 7 on a 128gb msata as the system drive. mostly gonna be using it for maxforlive, but it will be my only pc, so i will also need it for occasional browsing and document work, so i will install also firefox and libre office. i have three questions: 1. which windows 7 version do you recommend? i am thinking to install win7 pro, rather than home or ultimate.
      2. any tips or links for "tuning" it for optimal audio performance, ie: which processes and services to disable? 3. i will install most programs that i need from, do i need to install anything from the "runtimes" section (ie: java 8, .net, silverlight, air, shockwave) in order for max/live or the browser to have full functionality.
    • Apr 24 2018 | 5:22 pm
      1. Why not Windows 10? It's more secure. And free. And has a complete Linux subsystem. Only downside is that it is a bit naggy. Change your network to "metered" and a lot of automatic stupidity stops. 2. I think this was covered above. Best thing is to turn off WiFi and internet if you are not using them. Windows provides full access to all your services, so you can tune as you like.
      3. You don't need any of that cruft in 2018. Unless some program insists to install it. Then consider carefully if it is worth it. At all costs keep any Apple software (Quicktime, iTunes, etc.) off your system and it will run smoothly.