Intel Leon + Octane (4.5 TB/set) $$481700 arm+legged On a Budget AMD Thread ripper 1900X $240 As we have moved through 2020, there haven’t been many new releases for the high-end desktop market. The abundance of AMD’s Third Generation Thread ripper processors and Intel’s Cascade Lake-X hardware means that users have had options depending on workload balance.
The immediate horizon doesn’t show much, but we know the next big target is going to be AMD’s Zen 3 based Thread ripper processors, expected in the first half of next year. Based on the uplift Zen 3 has been having in the consumer space, translating that into Thread ripper is expected to be a big net plus, but we don’t see those parts coming out before EPIC; also with a healthy performance lead AMD can afford to let the market breathe for a while.
Our recommendation here is that if you absolutely need an AMD CPU with ECC as a mission critical part of your build, go for EPIC. This means peak numbers of cores, memory channels, and PCIe lanes.
But for benchmarks, in a straight comparison when pulling data from our latest reviews, the 5950X takes an almost clean sweep. Not pictured, because it isn’t a fair fight, is our 3DPMavx test, which runs at the best AVX for each platform.
AMD’s Ry zen 9 5950X was only just released, and is in short supply unless you find a retailer with new stock. The Intel Core i9-10980XE, by contrast, was released in November last year, and stock is available in lots of places.
Both AMD and Intel try to keep their highest core count hardware for their enterprise lines, such as 64-core Epics and 28/56-core Eons, which means that these also come at an additional cost for features such as multi-socket capabilities or DIMM support and RAS features. We tested the Thread ripper 3990X against $20k of Intel’s premium enterprise CPUs, and for workloads that were embarrassingly parallel.
The single socket 64-core EPIC 7702P is the right choice here, with an MSRP of $4425, or a recent retail price of $4750. Cost per core is obviously close, around $55/core for both, and both processors have plus points (although in our tests, the 24-core does pull ahead more often than not).
This is also where the mainstream processors usually get a look in for price, depending on use case and how much equipment is ready to hand. As noted in the graph above, it wins out against the 10980XE in almost all of our tests, but the availability of the Ry zen 9 5950X is quite limited at this time.
In the past we’ve suggested Intel CPUs at this price segment, such as the 14-core 10940X ($800) or even the 18-core 10980XE ($995), when the timing is right. This is the processor Intel created because its 10900K was too aggressive on frequency to provide reasonable supply, so the 10850K was released as a fall back because it’s easier to produce.
Intel has been pushing its AVX512 support, even bringing it into its consumer laptop processors, in an effort to drive things like Boost to enhance AI throughput. One of the pain points I’ve had with Intel over the last couple of years is actually getting a list of AVX512 use cases: exact software examples where AVX512 is used.
It often gets added for very specific things, like a certain filter in Photoshop, or a special edition of a benchmark, but ultimately those in the HPC space get the most from it. If cost is no object, then moving into a dual socket system with Leon Scalable processors might be preferable, although take note that this introduces a non-uniform memory access (NUMA) environment, which would inhibit bulk data transfer if the software is not NUMA-aware.
Some users might point to the Leon Scalable side of the equation, for anyone needing more Enterprise level features. In the Cascade Lake-SP Refresh cycle, Intel launched the Leon Gold 6258R, with a list price of $3950.
This processor is essentially identical in every way to the top-of-the-line Leon Platinum 8280 ($10009 list), except it only supports single and dual sockets. The alternative is the Leon W-3175X available for $3075, with slightly higher frequencies, but that can only do a single socket.
In this instance, one choice is an EPIC, something like the 7232P at $481 will easily support 4 TB of Crimes per socket out of the box. The other factor here is that Octane DCP MM isn’t freely for sale through usual channels: it typically comes as part of an OEM system build, and as a result the user will end up with a support contact for a specific OEM.
The 2950X also performs better on a number of workloads compared to the 2970WX/2990WX, and can be found for a lot cheaper, making it a worthwhile purchase. The 8-core processor offers high capacity memory support, lots of PCIe lanes, and the low-end motherboards for Thread ripper are now entering that low-to-mid range pricing.
In a sale, the 1900X can be found for under $200 (users with more money might look for a cheap 1950X instead), which seems like a crazy low price for a high-end desktop processor. AMD is expected to go for Thread ripper based on Zen 3 at some point in 2021 (H rather than H I would think), and Intel’s HEAT roadmap is as unchanging as a drive on a desert bus.
The company recently reduced the scope of its Cooper Lake Leon platform to select customers only, which also puts a stop to any HEAT product. This means that the next generation Leon coming to market should be Ice Lake on the company’s 10 nm process.
The company recently announced new Rocket Lake consumer processors for early next year, which take the newer Ice Lake mobile CPU design on 10 nm and ‘back-port’ to 14 nm, with the IPC improvement if not the process node improvement. But, those Chiclets will initially be served in AMD’s EPIC processors first, because that is where the higher margins are.
A feeling that a lot of people lack and rather shout A instead of B out of ignorance instead of thinking why B might be the better option. Choosing the right CPU is the difference between quadruple (or not) your time spend on making a song.
These sounds need to be generated in real time when you press play, in contrast to listening to Spotify for example where all the music is PRE rendered. If you want to change one note or tweak the amount of reverb, you have to render out the whole track again, which (again) takes up a couple of minutes.
You might think that video editing is heavy on the CPU and music production not-so-much. Where in video production it is not a problem to scale down resolution and loose frames in order to render a quick preview, this is a problem on the music production side.
Do I loose a lot of precious time waiting on my computer to render? For years Intel was ahead of the game and left the competition far behind in terms of compatibility and sheer sales volume.
AMD adapted the 7 nm production process to make CPU’s smaller and less power consuming. Together with the speed and price advantages of AMD, this became embarrassing for Intel.
Back to processors for music production: What is better: Intel or AMD? I tried to pinpoint which keyboards and plugins by asking music producers, but apparently no one can give a conclusive answer.
Computer programs expect that Intel standard and instruct the CPU accordingly. AMD follows that standard and tries to mimic the results that an Intel processor produces.
Programs are simply made for Intel processors not AMD. What is an AMD “problem”, is the support for thunderbolt, because it is technology developed by Intel.
This means that it isn’t available by default on AMD supported motherboards. In 2018 and 2019 a slew problems came to light because of built-in backdoors in Intel processors.
The reason why these exploits are such a huge problem is because they don’t require your operating system (Windows or macOS) to run certain programs, they only require the processor and can’t really be fixed by a software update. It enables the attacker to listen to all your keystrokes for example to sniff your credit card number when you want to use your favorite adult site, even if your information is sent via a secure internet connection.
Just be careful with which software you install, which attachment you click in your email or which website you visit. I’m not telling you this to scare you, but to make you more aware of the fact that these problems exist and that you should buy a recent processor.
The i7 has a built-in simple graphics card (enough for music production), the Leon does not and needs a separate one. The Leon has models with more cache memory which makes them a bit quicker for repeated tasks.
The speed improvement compared to the price is hardly worth the extra money. Don’t get me wrong, the Leon processors aren’t bad for music production.
When we look at the site of Ableton Live, they talk about a dual-core processor as minimum requirement. Also, Pres onus recommends a dual-core processor for Studio One.
Steinberg (Cu base) talks about a multicore processor as a minimum requirement, but doesn’t specify exactly how many cores. From my experience, two cores works but is a bit on the low side. 16 cores is a better option if you want to be future proof. But right now, the price difference is hardly worth the performance increase.
“Single core performance is more important than more cores!” Myth! But like with all myths, there is some truth to the matter. The myth started when dual-core processors first came to market around 2006. Back then, not much software was optimized to take advantage of multiple cores. Back then, this was absolutely true. But we now live in 2021, software manufacturers have caught up. Single core performance is important to process one audio stream (a track or bus with all plugins). But there is so much more going on in a DAY than processing just one audio stream (DAY software is very complicated software). All DAY tasks combined do take advantage of more cores.
We can’t do as much multitasking as we would like to. Other software (take video editing for example) you can speed up drastically by just increasing cores. With current technology we have a limit on how many cores are beneficial to speed up our music production. Don’t fall for the marketing term Turbo Boost.
This technology boosts your clock frequency for a small amount of time. But when it comes to delivering a constant performance (like in music production), you may consider yourself lucky if you hit even the advertised clock speed of your processor. When I say 2 GHz, that doesn’t mean that a 1.8 GHz processor won’t work (it does). To be honest, a speed difference of 0.2 GHz isn’t really noticeable.
The rise of the ARM processors might make an end to the whole Intel vs AMD discussion. The first notebooks have launched, Windows is ARM ready, Apple is rumored to be in the process of switching.
Dexter Clark Music Producer / YouTuber Read more about the author A commonly asked question on my social media and especially YouTube.
In this article I’ll take a look at components that are important to have in the best computer for music production. This is the future guys, this is what we desperately need: a quicker CPU.