Mac vs. PC

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

Looking Under the Hood of Next-Generation Hosts


Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

Rain Element v2

No matter the type of drive, the size of its buffer also affects streaming performance. Rain uses 64MB buffers on their hard drives to prevent glitches and dropouts, whereas Apple still uses 32MB ones. Rain finds that a drive that delivers 7200-rpm spindle speed, combined with SATA 3 and a 64MB cache, offers better performance than using a 10,000-rpm drive, which incurs heat and noise issues.


The speed of the bus that connects your hard drives to your computer also impacts performance. The aptly named Thunderbolt interface offers a theoretical 20 Gbit/s data transfer rate—25 times faster than FireWire 800. Thunderbolt is a serial data interface that combines PCI Express and the Mini DisplayPort digital audio-visual interface to connect peripheral devices such as hard drives and monitors to a computer via an expansion bus. Thunderbolt can use hubs or daisychain up to seven devices to run audio, video and data on one cable.

Do you need Thunderbolt? That depends on whether or not your studio does video production. “Video has hefty bandwidth requirements,” notes Jim Cooper, MOTU Director of Marketing, “but for pro audio, Thunderbolt [offers] ten times more I/O bandwidth than we’ll ever need—[more than sufficient] for 100 channels of 192k.” USB 3, which at up to 5 Gbit/s transmission speed is ten times faster than USB 2 (480 Mbit/s) and a little over six times faster than FireWire 800, offers more than enough bandwidth for the typical music-production studio.


For film composers who demand absolutely cutting-edge performance, Rain has custom-configured a couple large-capacity (up to 480 GB) SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration to have it function like RAM. (RAID—Redundant Array of Independent Disks—is a collection of drives configured to write half the data it receives to one drive and the other half to a second drive.) RAID 0 doubles the throughput at the cost of halving the drives’ combined capacity. In combination with SATA 3, this setup allows a humongous sample library to be loaded into memory and accessed with a theoretical 12 Gbit/s throughput (not including other overhead). Only the most high-end, demanding applications (including broadcast-quality video editing and animation) require RAID 0; for most work, a fast mechanical hard drive will more than suffice.


In light of Apple’s much higher profitability on the consumer side (with its iPad, iPhone and iPod), the Mac community has become increasingly worried about whether the company intends to sustain its commitment to serving the niche market of pro audio. The worry is possibly groundless but magnified by the fact that Apple has yet to upgrade their flagship desktop computer, the Mac Pro, to incorporate the latest technologies. The Mac Pro still uses a chipset that was released way back in Q1, 2010, practically prehistory in the computing world.

In the meantime, laptops are quickly replacing towers. “We’re getting performance out of smaller computers that only the big towers used to provide,” Jim Cooper observes. “An i7 Mac Book Pro is just as fast if not faster than an 8-core Mac Pro tower from just a couple years ago.”

Smaller and faster is good, though the engineer still needs to take into account other considerations, such as availability of expansion slots and heat generation. No matter what your needs, there’s a svelte racehorse ready to help you meet your creative goals.

Mix contributing editor Michael Cooper ( is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Ore.

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