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Intel i7 vs i5 vs Core 2 Duo in a laptop DAW

Discussion in 'Recording Gear and Equipment [BG]' started by pfschim, May 12, 2010.

  1. pfschim

    pfschim Just a Skeleton with a Jazz bass Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2006
    SF Bay Area
    So, does anyone want to help me decide on a new laptop platform for my practice/DAW system ?

    I currently have:
    Toshiba Satellite laptop with CD2 T5800
    3gb RAM
    250G HD (5400rpm)
    4 USB2 ports
    1 iEEE 1394 - firewire
    runs Win Vista SP2

    For software, I have:
    Ableton Live (latest update)
    GuitarRig3 LE/Mobile (mostly for the Native Instruments USB interface, but I do use some of the models
    iDrum - drum machine (stand alone and as a VST plug-in to Ableton)
    planning to add Ampeg SVX to the system
    planning to add a bit more robust interface too (i.e. MOTU Ultralite III or something similar)

    While the current system is fine, I have the opportunity (and the $$) to get a more powerful laptop, and hand down my current Toshiba to my daughter.

    Been looking at:

    Toshiba Satellite's with either i7 or i5 processors, Win7 64bit, and a few lappies out there now have 7200rpm HD's too, which might be helpful.

    Toshiba Qosimo systems with i5 and i7 cpus - but these things are all pretty large

    HP Envy systems with i5 and i7 cpu's - pretty expensive (even for me) and I have no experience with HP laptops

    ASUS laptops

    Apple MacBook pro 15, but I am not traditionally a Mac person (no flame intended here), I am just way more familiar with Windows and Linux (and I don't expect to use Linux for the DAW part of this system). And the Apple products a silly expensive ($1,800-$2,100 yikes!)

    So, does anyone have any input to share on this effort - will I see much difference between my current D2D T5800 and either an i5 or i& processor ? What laptop systems are folks having good luck with ? Any other thoughts on this project from the assembled wisdom of TB would be welcome as well.

  2. Jim Roseberry

    Jim Roseberry

    May 24, 2007
    If you plan to run a Firewire audio interface, be *very* careful which laptop you choose!
    ie: The MOTU units won't even install with the HP laptops that use a Jmicron Firewire controller.

    Ideally, you'd want a laptop that used a TI chipset FW controller, but absolutely no current generation laptops are using TI. So, with off-the-shelf units, the best you can do is go with a unit that's using a Ricoh or 02Micro FW controller.
    Performance at ultra low latency settings isn't what it could be (if you were using a TI controller), but it'll be OK for working at ASIO buffer sizes of 128-samples or larger.

    BTW, I'd highly recommend the M-Audio FastTrack Ultra 8R if you plan to use an off-the-shelf laptop.
    This unit is $499... and offers total round-trip latency on par with the best PCI/e and Firewire audio interfaces.
    Total round-trip latency is 5.5ms at a 64-sample ASIO buffer size/44.1k. As a point of reference, the best PCI/e units deliver 5ms total round-trip latency at those same settings.
    The FastTrack Ultra 8R has solid drivers for Win7_x64.
  3. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    I see that DAW and plugin makers are finally coming around to 64bits
    I already have a few instruments at 64bits
    It seems to help load times and CPU performance - you can fit more into RAM. RAM is cheap - well at least for non-laptops.

    The thing with most good laptops, is there may be some hidden performance thing. It's hard to know until you load everything up and give it a try. They're mostly built for business use. Some manufacturers like Dell, or some stores like Costco will actually let you try out a system for a month or two, and return it if it doesn't work out. This is always tops to consider for any gear you buy.

    There are some Music DAW laptops sold - but here they don't seem to have a good return policy, or even support.
  4. pfschim

    pfschim Just a Skeleton with a Jazz bass Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2006
    SF Bay Area
    Jim - thanks for the info. yes, you were a strong proponent of the M-Audio Fasttrack 8R in another post recently. Since I am leaning heavily towards portabiltiy, I don't think I would choose the rack mount format of the 8R. How do you feel about the M audio Fast Track Ultra USB unit ? Does it have the same basic architecture and good latency specs as the larger 8R ?

    Seamonkey- I am aware of the TI iEEE1394 chipset issues for audio and (lack) of availability of that chip in laptops. I am using the Toshiba USB ports at the moment with good results, so I may stay with that brand for that reason. And , per Jim Rosenbery's post, it seems as if the M Audio devices have latency on par with Firewire, so that's good too.

    I have looked at dedicated DAW laptops, but they are silly expensive and I am looking for a good general purpose machine too, outside of my DAW expectations, so I think I will stick with standard brands.

    As I said, I have had good luck with Toshiba so far, so that brand is in the lead at the moment.

    Any insights into CPU choices... i5 or i7 ? The C2D (T5800) I currently have seems to be fine with the light to moderate loads I put on it. Using Ableton, I have never seen CPU loads higher than 20%, and I have not really optimized the current machine for audio either. Thoughts ?
  5. IME USB is nowhere near as good as Firewire, I tried the Tascam US1641 and it has huge latency issues - I run a dedicated dual quad zeon so it's not the PC
    I now use Maudio with Protools and it is great (project mix) but I think Maudio are slow with thier Vista, Win64, W7 updates
    In summary, make sure all the components are well supported before you commit to save a lot of heartache.
    Good Luck!
  6. Jim Roseberry

    Jim Roseberry

    May 24, 2007
    FWIW, There are currently two USB audio interfaces that deliver round-trip latency (and rock-solid performance) on par with the best PCI/e and Firewire audio interfaces.
    Those being the RME Fireface UC and the M-Audio FastTrack Ultra 8R.

    TBH, I wouldn't have believed it either had I not tested/seen/experienced it first hand.
    Most typical USB audio interfaces have terribly high round-trip latency... and are poor performers with heavy loads at ultra low latency settings. The Fireface UC and FastTrack Ultra 8R are exceptions to the rule...
    They literally work as well as the best PCI/e or Firewire audio interfaces.
  7. Kragma


    Nov 7, 2009
    Ashland, Ky
    I think you're unlikely to see a difference between them for this application. More ram and a faster hard drive (SSDs are getting cheaper) might be more noticeable. i7 is basically i5 with hyperthreading. For the most part, this doesn't come across well in real-world stuff. An i5 and and an i7 running at the same clock speed are, for most uses, nearly identical in performance.

    All that said, C2D is no slouch and still does really well for most things, especially if you're not finding it overtaxed.
  8. pfschim

    pfschim Just a Skeleton with a Jazz bass Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2006
    SF Bay Area
    Kragma - thanks for the reply, appreciate the info on the i5 vs i7 (hyperthreading). So hard to keep up with the differences these days. I also hear you about the C2D being a pretty solid citizen CPU. My current one has worked fine for me so far. OTOH, I am thinking of upgrading to run more than just 1 input at a time (right now, I just use the 1 in NI USB interface), perhaps with a MOTU 8 in, or MAudio 4 in USB interface. That may overtax the C2D.

    The laptops I'm looking at all have at least 4gb of ram (some have 6), and most also have 7200rpm SATA drives, so that should cover the "faster HD and more ram" angle.

    Not sure that I am interested in SSD's, other than for an OS boot drive, because my research on their applicability to audio applications is telling me that, while SSD's have great seek times, they do not necessarily have the equivalent sustained throughput numbers that really matter in audio applications, and large capacity SATA HD's have plenty of throughput for recording purposes. SSD's are also much more expensive per gigabyte, smaller capacity, and there are questions about their limited read/write cycle lifetimes too. So, I'll probably stay away from SSD's.
  9. MIJ-VI

    MIJ-VI Banned Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2009
    In view of how PC laptops typically lack proper FireWire ports...

    Does anyone here know anything about USB 3.0 re audio interfaces?
  10. My Win 7/64bit laptop has been a PITA. I don't record much but Audacity crashes frequently.
  11. pfschim

    pfschim Just a Skeleton with a Jazz bass Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2006
    SF Bay Area
    sorry to hear that.

    As I posted originally, I have been using a Core 2 Duo equipped Toshiba Satellite (A305-S6872) with very decent results using Vista SP2 (un-tuned/no tweaks). But this is only using a 1in/1out USB interface. I know these systems can work fine for modest recording efforts requiring limited simultaneous tracks (say 4-8 maybe), so that's not the issue at all for me. Its more about making sure I get the best platform possible to start out with.

    I'm still researching this issue, but I see that there are several builders of specialty machines (desktop and laptop) that use Win7 64bit and i7 620m CPU's, so I know its certainly a viable platform. It appears that these specialty makers use OEM's like ASUS to select good hardware (CPU, 7200rpm SATA 3 HD's, 4-6g fast ram etc.) and then they tune the BIOS and the OS in order to optimize the platform for audio.

    So, what I have learned to look for in an audio Laptop so far is:

    - choose faster processor over slower
    - choose quad core over dual or single core
    - look for TI Firewire chip (but this is hard to determine)
    - more/faster system ram is better than less
    - choose a system with dedicated graphics, not a motherboard down chipset that shares main memory
    - choose SATA HD's or eSATA external HD's
    - possibly isolate the DAW, VSTs on their own HD (via eSATA?)
    - use these suggestions to optimize the OS http://www.focusrite.com/answerbase/en/article.php?id=1071

    Between my hands on experience with my current C2D equipped laptop, the research I've done, and advice provided here on TB, I'm getting comfortable that I can get a solid system based on a laptop (that's not Apple - though I wonder what the issues are there now that MB's are using industry standard components).
  12. Acrimonus


    Jan 18, 2010
    Ontario, Canada
    Correction, the i5 is the i7 with hyperthreading disabled (a crippled CPU if you will). It also runs hotter than an faster i7 with hyperthreading also disabled (HT adds heat, so an i5 running hotter than a faster i7 tells you a little about the build quality). A hotter running processor is a less efficient one and has a lower ceiling before it starts throttling, this is extremely important in laptops. i5 is a budget processor, i7 is a better one.

    I personally would forgo laptops for any sort of audio work, get yourself a desktop system, if you know anyone computer inclined you can get yourself a nice one with 4GB of DDR2 memory, a good quality of motherboard of which the capacitors won't burst on you (stupid DFI boards :rolleyes:) and a Q6600 Core 2 Quad for a fraction of the cost of a laptop.

    Laptops should only ever be for light work like word processing, playing music/videos and surfing the internet. Anything more than that is truly outside the proper operating spectrum of most laptops and overtaxes them, reducing their life (no matter what the companies tell you!). Audio editing is heavy stuff, don't tax your laptop like that, use a barebones desktop with more horsepower in a core 2 quad than the laptop i7s have (since they have to be crippled like crazy with their mobile versions so they don't run at stupid high temps!)

    If you must get a laptop for this, keep away from Crapple. They are overpriced and mac being better for audio editing is a myth perpetrated by uninformed. The best audio editing software has been multi platform for years, making the more powerful intel and AMD based non apple systems a better choice due to raw power at a fraction of the cost.

    lol apple. :rolleyes:

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