Mac or Windows?

    Aug 25 2011 | 2:07 pm
    I am less than a newbie here. I'm a guitarist who has a ton of effects to carry around, hoping to replace them with Max apps running on a laptop; but I've never worked with Max and don't want to get started on the wrong foot. I'm an experienced programmer and it looks to me like Max will work a whole lot like LabView, which I've used often in my work life. The question is basic; is there a real (runtime) difference between a laptop running Windows versus one running Mac OS? If not, my experience with Windows will prompt me to buy the less expensive PC, but if it's going to mean noisier, glitchy or slower output, I'll spring for a new Mac. Excited to get up and running, so any tips experienced users can give on the selection of a laptop will be greatly appreciated.

    • Aug 25 2011 | 3:10 pm
      Assuming you are comparing machines with comparable hardware specifications, there is no runtime difference between running Max on Windows or Mac.
      If you do decide to go PC, you need to do your homework and get a machine with specs that are suited for audio production.
    • Aug 25 2011 | 3:12 pm
      there is no audio difference at all between max on windows or mac.
      however, the differences will be large depending on your hardware / software DRIVERS setup.
      if you want very low latency realtime I/O performance for any audio software whatsoever, while of course CPU, RAM and disk speed have great consequences (you'll need to do your own research), more importantly audio interface and FORM FACTOR will have the largest effect. for example, if you want low latency throughput for guitar effects, you'll be going blue in the face trying to achieve that with a bog standard usb audio device and asio on windows, and you'll find it quite hard with said interface and core audio on mac. there are some excellent specs for this sort of thing online. you'll find pci + firewire is a way to go, but no guarantees of success.
      if you are using jitter you need to take shared / seperate Gpu and speed etc into account, too.
    • Aug 25 2011 | 3:20 pm
      Hi I don't think anyone, even Mac/Win fanboys, would say that your choice of OS will dictate that audio in/out will be more or less "noisier, glitchy or slower". An off-the-shelf multi-media machine (PC-Win) might not be the best route to stress-free audio. In my experience, these machines tend to do so much in the background that your audio processes are forever being interrupted, even with multi-core hyperthreading. For example, I still get reliable audio in/out with this old dual-core, with Vista stripped right back (Centrino 1.7GHz 2.5Gram) - although an upgrade is due soon. As Anthony suggests, it is also about the robustness of your chosen audio drivers and adc-dac. RME man, the only way to go.
    • Aug 25 2011 | 3:49 pm
      I would agree with pid, your audio interface is really key to the performance you seek. Macs and PCs are pretty similar when you get down to the chipset and processor level.
      First of all, if you are on a PC, forget about using the internal audio it comes with, in general it is crap. You want to use an external USB or Firewire interface. I think firewire is the best because the processing and management of the protocol is not done on the host processor, it is done on the device. Thus freeing the host processor to do more important things.
      I have been wanting to upgrade my laptop but I am finding, much to my consternation, that most newer PC laptops do not have firewire. That is one thing that I like about Macs, their support for firewire is unshakable. There is of course USB3, but it is relatively new and few audio devices support it so I have no info on what IO latency it has.
      I am going to wait a bit and see how the firewire situations shapes up. Another option is to get a hybrid USB/Firewire audio interface like the Ultralite mk3. Unfortunately that adds another 500 to my upgrade costs.
    • Aug 25 2011 | 4:45 pm
      I run both. Both are fine. The macbook pro is nicer machine to use. And I get better battery life from my 13" MBP - about 7 hours of Max, Net, etc general not heavy use - I got about 3.5hrs on a similarly spec'd but cheaper PC. That might be something to consider.
      The MBP has only 2 USB ports but it does have firewire (although this seems to be a dying format),if you don't have a firewire soundcard then 1 usb is taken up leaving just 1 more for everything else and a lot of audio usb equipment do not like being used in a hub.
      if you are at home not mobile then the 27" iMac looks very nice to me and relatively speaking is quite cheap.
    • Aug 25 2011 | 5:14 pm
      Thanks for the input, guys. It's been a long time since I used a computer for anything audio, oddly enough, so I hadn't really even considered an external audio input device. Are we all pretty well in agreement that the audio input ports on Windows laptops are out of the question? If so, then that firewire input sounds like the biggest limiting factor, overall. Maybe a Mac will be in my future... Related but different question; what's up with this new "Max for Live" program? Is it better for real-time processing that Max alone? Anyone of you using Max in live situations to process an external sound source?
      Thanks again,
    • Aug 25 2011 | 5:35 pm
      Max4Live just allows you to integrate Ableton Live and Max/MSP. With it you can load your Max creations in to Ableton Live and sequence or perform them. The performance of real-time processing is more or less the same. It is basically Max running as a plugin in Ableton Live.
      If you already own Ableton Live, you should definitely get it. That level of integration allows for many creative options and workflows.
      If you are using some other DAW and are happy with sending midi data and using Rewire, then I would say don't buy it.
    • Aug 25 2011 | 7:19 pm
      I guess what I need to know is this; say I get a crankin' laptop, load Max and write some great effects, will these be fully functional in real-time, or does Ableton Live exist to allow that? I wouldn't be (initially) using any MIDI or anything, just plugging my guitar in one end, running the output to my amp, for live performance. Any sense you can give me of how well that's going to work will be appreciated. Soon I'll download Max onto my existing laptop (Dell M-90), and just run it in demo mode. That's probably the best way to get a sense of how it works with live audio signals, but I don't want to get the wrong impression because, say, my interface is just the mic input on the laptop or is USB instead of firewire.
      Thanks again,
    • Aug 26 2011 | 2:56 pm
      If all you want to do is plug your guitar in and play live, then Max gives you everything you need to get started.
      I think if you are new to Max, then it is best to keep your environment simple and build the things you need.
    • Aug 26 2011 | 5:21 pm
      As I understand, USB 2.0 is a pretty good match for firewire when it comes to low latency audio. I'm using a 2011 (january) PC laptop with windows 7 (4 gb ram/triple core), and the only thing that slows me down in the least is pitch shifting (when it's done the fft way). I experienced the same on a 2009 Mac pro with 6 gb ram, going through an apogee pci setup.
      I have noticed a considerably shorter battery life in my laptop than comparable macs, but it was $700 cheaper. It would be nice to have those extra 3 hours or so when I go busking, but if I had the cash to throw down just for that maybe I wouldn't need to busk.
      The Windows background argument is a good one, I shut down everything else when I'm seriously running audio and not just patching. Though that's a complaint against microsoft, and not necessarily PCs. I'm working on switching to a Linux build to get around this (I know of people who've run Max5 on Linux, though it can be hit or miss depending on software, I've heard).
      I went through the same thing late last year, and have found Max to be much more effective than all my hardware (30 kg or so) and more fun once I knew my way around. I'd lean towards an interface rather than native audio jacks on PC or Mac, just because stereo/quadraphonic effects can be a party.
      Best of luck.
    • Aug 26 2011 | 6:44 pm
      USB audio interfaces are completely fine - you can get dirt cheap M-Audio Fast Tracks for about 100e and it comes with Pro-Tools Sessions. It also has a Hi-Z input for your guitar so it's good.
      or even cheaper with a 30$ Behringer UCG102 but going straight into the laptop without an interface of some kind most likely will not be great.
    • Aug 26 2011 | 11:05 pm
      Try vst~ once you get the Max demo up and running, you can try your favorite plug-ins right from your patch. Great way to leverage effects and processes which are already done and have nice interfaces. And yes, everything will be totally real-time, it's what Max does best.
      Probably go with external audio, as mentioned, though in my experience the internal audio has been OK...that said I'm not much of an audiophile (does it show based on that comment alone? maybe yes :) You can definitely get started by plugging straight in. Most of the touchiness you'll manipulate in the DSP Status window of your patch, some changes there (many of which take some reading to really understand what they are and how they interact) can make a lot of difference in potential glitchiness, balancing latency with crackling, etc.
      One thing I noticed on both my XP machines running M-Audio MIDI hardware, the latency is's nearly unplayable. I don't know what the msec is, but it's bad enough that I never use it except for dials and sliders, where there's some slush anyway. Maybe it's a driver issue? Battled that a lot, updated this and that, no improvement. Don't know about Win 7, whether it's any better.
      However, the M-Audio hardware itself I find *excellent* for the price, so don't let that deter you. They work with nearly zero latency on the Macs I've used them with. So, if you're making cool FX in your patches, you might want a MIDI controller as well---not to play MIDI, but to control your parameters (audio, video, whatever) more easily than a mouse, and with less distraction from playing. They're totally straightforward to incorporate (the CC values can be turned into any parameter you want), and give you so much more flexibility and fluency than the mouse does. A good MIDI foot pedal for a guitarist is almost a no-brainer, I would think...and the best part, you can make it totally flexible with what it controls, change what it controls on the fly, etc...Max lets you go as far as you want with customization. To the point that only you can understand what the heck it's doing!
      As an example MIDI controller, I have the M-Audio Evolution UC-33e ($150) with 24 dials, 9 sliders, a host of buttons, and user-settable presets for what CC values come out from which controls. Couldn't be happier with its performance and ease of use---it's made a lot of my patches a lot more interesting to play with. It's also got MIDI Merge, which lets you take a MIDI-only device and get its data into a computer (typically you'd need a MIDI-USB converter, which last I checked ran about $40 just to do that). So it's a nice added bonus in the device.
      Welcome to the world of'll find plenty to keep you occupied, I'm sure!