Mac vs. PC

Sep 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Michael Cooper

Looking Under the Hood of Next-Generation Hosts


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The theoretical limit for DRAM access with 32-bit operating systems is 4 GB, although in practical terms it’s closer to 3 GB. (DRAM is dynamic random-access memory; it constitutes the main memory modules in your computer and is often referred to simply as RAM.) A virtual instrument comprising huge multi-samples and alternate samples can easily exceed the 4GB limit and refuse to load. That said, most computers offer up to four RAM slots that can each accommodate 8 GB of RAM, for a total of 32 GB, still plenty for most music applications. The newer 64-bit operating systems offer a theoretical limit of 128 terabytes of memory—essentially limitless.

If you’re not using large sample libraries or doing video work that uses a lot of RAM, you don’t necessarily need 64-bit memory addressing. “You’re not gaining anything except [the ability to use more] RAM,” says Dolbear. “It’s not going to do anything sonically for you. You’ll never notice any difference.” [Editor’s Note: There are some in the online forums and communities who tend to argue this point.]

In fact, using 64-bit plug-ins makes your computer work harder, which can generate more heat and make its fan kick on more often. For that reason, and to accommodate users who have plug-ins that don’t yet support 64-bit operation, 64-bit DAWs like MOTU’s new Digital Performer (DP) 8 offer an alternative 32-bit mode.

High-def video editing also requires a lot of RAM and hence 64-bit memory addressing. But for simple audio post-production applications, 32-bit mode works fine. For example, 64-bit mode won’t make any difference in opening and playing a video in DP’s Movie Window, as that window just streams the content off your hard drive.

To increase the speed of data transfer between the RAM and the computer’s memory controller (which manages the flow of data between the motherboard or microprocessor and the memory modules), modern computers also employ multichannel memory. In theory, the specified data-transfer rate becomes multiplied by the number of channels a multichannel memory configuration affords. Most computers, whether employing a 32- or 64-bit OS, use dual-channel memory. The Intel i7-9x series and Xeon chipsets (used in Apple’s aging Mac Pro) support triple-channel memory. Rain Computer’s Element V2 high-end video-editing workstation uses cutting-edge quadruple-channel memory and 12 RAM slots, allowing it to access a whopping 96 GB of RAM. For the film composer working with huge orchestral sample libraries, having this much RAM available means not having to constantly load, unload and reload small groups of instruments as arrangements are tweaked. Multiple articulations can be kept at your fingertips at all times. To attain the full speed boost multichannel memory promises, you must install your RAM chips in groups of three (for triple-channel memory) or four (quad-channel memory), and they must all be rated identically in capacity and speed.

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