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HANDS ON: Creation Station 2009

HANDS ON: Creation Station 2009

Sweetwater’s Creation Station computers have offered tremendous performance for recording studios, musicians, and composers for many years now. The Creation Station line of computers combines the service and support that only Sweetwater can provide with features that make them ideal for studio, music, and audio applications, such as “Whisper Quiet” operation, which allows you to have the computer in the control room, yet still use open microphones in many situations.rack1

The Creation Stations have been optimized from the ground up  -component selection, layout, architecture, software, system settings, and more – to maximize the amount of power that is available for recording and music/audio software to use. To verify the performance of the brand-new line of Creation Stations, Sweetwater Labs devised a series of benchmark tests that were applied across all four models in the series. These tests were intended to provide real-world references so that the different Creation Stations could be compared to other computers. We also wanted to give users references for the kind of performance they could expect to achieve when using a particular model of Creation Station in their own studio or live rig.large_inside

TEST CONDITIONS

All tests were conducted using factory-stock Creation Stations – the exact machines built by Sweetwater and available to customers. There were no hardware enhancements, no additional RAM, no additional or faster hard drives, and no other changes to the stock units. The software packages that were installed for conducting the tests were identical to what a user would purchase and use (with one minor driver exception, discussed below).

The four audio interfaces we used were stock MOTU 24io units. We did, however, uncover a problem with interface drivers that prevented us from using our desired amount of I/O. So, we had MOTU send us a beta version of the software driver, which gave us the I/O we needed. We assume that the final version of that driver will be available from the manufacturer shortly. Note that the only change in this driver was a fix to allow for four interfaces to be used simultaneously (which few users will ever need to do). Other than that, the performance of the driver was unchanged.

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TESTS & CRITERIA

Our goals for these tests were to verify and benchmark the performance of the Creation Stations in the following five areas:

Test #1: Multitrack/Multi-I/O Recording

For this test, four MOTU 24io interfaces were connected to a MOTU 424 card. This provided 96 channels of analog input capability. A stereo signal was connected to the first input, then that signal was daisy-chained to the remaining inputs in order to send a discrete audio input signal to all the available inputs.

Cakewalk SONAR Producer 8.0.2 digital audio workstation software was used as the platform for recording the audio. Each hardware analog input was routed to a separate track in SONAR.

The recording sessions were conducted with 96kHz/24-bit resolution. Disk write cache was enabled, and buffer size was set to 4,096. The tracks were recorded continuously for a minimum of 45 minutes, to verify long-term stability. The tracks were recorded to the second internal hard drive where the computer had one; otherwise, they were recorded to the internal system drive.

Test #2: Multitrack Playback

For this test, four MOTU 24io interfaces were connected to a MOTU 424 card. This provided 96 channels of analog-output capability.

Cakewalk SONAR Producer 8.0.2 digital audio workstation software was used as the platform for playing back the audio. The sessions were conducted with three resolutions/configurations:

  • Stereo tracks playing back 96kHz/24-bit resolution.
  • Mono tracks playing back at 96kHz/24-bit resolution.
  • Stereo tracks playing back at 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution.

Each track played back its own discrete file from hard drive. A 10-minute audio segment was looped to play back repeatedly to verify long-term stability. The tracks were played back from the second internal hard drive where the computer had one; otherwise, they were played from the internal system drive.

tower1Test #3: Typical Multitrack Mix/Processing

For this test, a MOTU 24io interface was connected to a MOTU 424 card. A stereo output, comprising a mix of the tracks playing back, was used.

Cakewalk SONAR Producer 8.0.2 digital audio workstation software was used as the platform for playing back, mixing, and processing the audio. The sessions were conducted with two resolutions/configurations:

  • Stereo tracks playing back 44.1kHz/24-bit                       resolution.
  • Mono tracks playing back at 96kHz/24-bit                     resolution.

Each track played back its own discrete file from hard drive. A 10-minute loop was played back repeatedly to verify long-term stability.

The following plug-in processing was added to each track, with additional tracks/processing added until the limits of the system were reached:

  • 5-band linear-phase EQ
  • 5-band linear-phase compressor

In addition, five instances of Cakewalk SONAR’s Perfect Space convolution reverb were used on five separate aux send/returns.

Test #4: Processing DSP Power

For this test, a MOTU 24io interface was connected to a MOTU 424 card. A stereo output, comprising a mix from the session, was used.

Cakewalk SONAR Producer 8.0.2 digital audio workstation software was used as the host for the audio processing plug-ins. The sessions were conducted with two processors:

  • AudioEase Altiverb 6.3.1 convolution reverb
  • Cakewalk SONAR Perfect Space convolution reverb

These sessions were run at 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution.large_open

Test #5: Virtual Instrument DSP Power

For this test, a MOTU 24io interface was connected to a MOTU 424 card. A stereo output, comprising a mix from the session, was used.

Cakewalk SONAR Producer 8.0.2 digital audio workstation software was used as the host for the virtual instrument plug-ins. The sessions were conducted with two instruments:

  • Synthogy Ivory Pianos 1.7
  • FXpansion BFD 2.0

The memory allocated to SONAR was increased to 3,072MB using the IncreaseUserVa switch. PAE was enabled. Each instance of the virtual instruments used featured a full load of a discrete instrument, until the limits of the computer’s RAM or processing power were exceeded. These sessions were run at 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution, with a buffer setting of 32, resulting in 1ms latency.

rackxtCREATION STATION RACK XT

The Creation Station Rack XT is the top of the line in the series of four Creation Station computers. The configuration for the test machine was:

  • Motherboard: ASUS w/X58 chipset
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 2.66GHz/1,333MHz FSB
  • Hard Drives: Seagate 500GB and 1,000GB (1TB) SATA
  • RAM: 6GB DDR3/1,333MHz
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW Lightscribe
  • Video Card: MSI GeForce 9500GT, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI-I, 1 x VGA
  • Ports: 2 x FireWire, 11 x USB 2.0, 1 x eSATA, 1 x S/PDIF, 2 x LAN
  • PCI Slots: 3 x PCIe-2.0 x16 (2 available), 1 x PCIe x4, 2 x PCI
  • Card Reader: Multimedia card reader

Test Results

Test #1: Track Recording – 96 mono simultaneous tracks.

Test #2: Track Playback85 stereo tracks at 96kHz/24-bit;  120 mono tracks at 96kHz/24-bit; 130 stereo tracks at 44.1kHz/24-bit.

Test #3: Typical Mix – 75 stereo audio tracks at 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution. A total of 375 bands of EQ and 375 bands of multiband compression were instantiated. In addition, five instances of Perfect Space convolution reverb were instantiated. Thirty-seven mono audio tracks at 96kHz/24-bit resolution. A total of 185 bands of EQ and 185 bands of multiband compression were instantiated. In addition, five instances of Perfect Space convolution reverb were instantiated.

Test #4: Convolution Reverb – Seven instances of Altiverb. 85 instances of Perfect Space.

Test #5: Virtual Instruments – Six instances of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 24%. One instance of BFD plus four instances of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 24%.

Note: The limiting factor for Test 5 was not CPU power. The limitation was the amount of user-accessible memory.

Special bonus 64-bit test: We also obtained a 64-bit beta version of Synthogy Ivory for testing on a Rack XT running 64-bit Windows. We were able to load 13 instances of Ivory, each containing a separate independent piano, and were able to play back with a sample buffer setting of 128 – all with peak CPU usage at 36%.

rackCREATION STATION RACK

The Creation Station Rack is the standard rack model in the series of four Creation Station computers. The configuration for the machine was:

  • Motherboard: ASUS w/P43 chipset
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad 2.83GHz/1,333MHz FSB
  • Hard Drives: 2 x Seagate 500GB SATA
  • RAM: 4GB DDR2/800
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW LightScribe
  • Video Card: GeForce 8400GS 1 VGA/1 DVI-I
  • Ports: 2 x FireWire, 9 x USB 2.0, 1 x LAN
  • PCI Slots: 1 x PCIe-2.0 x16 (occupied), 2 x PCIe-x1, 3 x PCI (2 available)
  • Card Reader: Multimedia card reader

Test Results

Test #1: Track Recording – 96 mono simultaneous tracks.

Test #2: Track Playback – 120 mono tracks at 96kHz/24-bit. 130 stereo tracks at 44.1kHz/24-bit.

Test #3: Typical Mix – 43 stereo audio tracks at 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution. A total of 215 bands of EQ and 215 bands of multiband compression were instantiated. In addition, five instances of Perfect Space convolution reverb were instantiated.

Test #4: Convolution Reverb – 50 instances of Perfect Space.

Test #5: Virtual Instruments – Six instances of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 38%. One instance of BFD plus four instances of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 43%.

Note: the limiting factor for Test 5 was not CPU power. The limitation was the amount of user-accessible memory.

towerCREATION STATION TOWER

The Creation Station Tower is the standard tower model in the series of four Creation Station computers. The configuration for the machine was:

  • Motherboard: ASUS w/P43 chipset
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad 2.66GHz/1333MHz FSB
  • Hard Drives: 2 x Seagate 500GB SATA
  • RAM: 4GB DDR2/800
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW with LightScribe
  • Video Card: GeForce 8400GS 1 VGA/1 DVI-I
  • Ports: 2 x FireWire, 9 x USB 2.0, 1 x LAN
  • PCI Slots: 1 x PCIe-x16 (occupied), 2 x PCIe-x1, 3 x PCI (2 available)
  • Card Reader: Multimedia card reader

Test Results

Test #1: Track Recording – 96 mono simultaneous tracks.

Test #2: Track Playback – 120 mono tracks at 96kHz/24-bit. 130 stereo tracks at 44.1/24.

Test #3: Typical Mix – 36 stereo audio tracks at 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution. A total of 180 bands of EQ and 180 bands of multiband compression were instantiated. In addition, five instances of Perfect Space convolution reverb were instantiated.

Test #4: Convolution Reverb – 38 instances of Perfect Space.

Test #5: Virtual Instruments – Six instances of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 56%. One instance of BFD plus four instances of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 62%.

Note: the limiting factor for Test 5 was not CPU power. The limitation was the amount of user-accessible memory.

towerleCREATION STATION TOWER LE

The Creation Station Tower LE is the entry-level, value-priced model in the series of four Creation Station computers. The configuration for the machine was:

  • Motherboard: ASUS w/P43 chipset
  • CPU: Pentium Dual Core 2.50GHz/800MHz FSB
  • Hard Drive: Seagate 500GB SATA
  • RAM: 2GB DDR2/800
  • Optical Drive: DVD+/-RW with LightScribe
  • Video Card: GeForce 8400GS 1 VGA1/DVI-I
  • Ports: 2 x FireWire, 9 x USB 2.0, 1 x LAN
  • PCI Slots: 1 x PCIe-x16 (occupied); 2 x PCIe-x1; 3 x PCI
  • Card Reader: Multimedia card reader

Test Results

Test #1: Track Recording – 96 mono simultaneous tracks.

Test #2: Track Playback – 67 mono tracks at 96kHz/24-bit.

Test #3: Typical Mix – 18 stereo audio tracks at 44.1kHz/24-bit resolution. A total of 90 bands of EQ and 90 bands of multiband compression were instantiated. In addition, five instances of Perfect Space convolution reverb were instantiated.

Test #4: Convolution Reverb – 34 instances of Perfect Space.

Test #5: Virtual Instruments – Two instances of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 31%. One instance of BFD plus one instance of Ivory, total CPU usage peaked at 65%.

Note: the limiting factor for Test 5 was not CPU power. The limitation was the amount of user-accessible memory.

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