Windows 8 is Microsoft’s most ambitious update in years – intended to create a hybrid OS that can compete with Apple’s OSX + iOS juggernaut, while also maintaining traditional desktop compatibility.
There has been a lot of pre-release criticism of Windows 8, focused on two things:
- Windows 8’s Metro interface strikes many as attractive but limiting; and
- Microsofts dual-platform (ARM & Intel) hardware strategy could create confusion, because it will result in two types of WIndows 8 tablets, with very different capabilities.
Cakewalk’s Noel Borthwick has taken a deep look into Windows 8 and how it performs for music, focusing on Cakewalk’s Sonar DAW. He came away skeptical about the new Metro interface, but, nevertheless, excited about the new version of Windows.
Based on his analysis:
- Windows 8’s Metro interface is “not particularly conducive to music software applications”;
- Windows 8 runs Sonar better than WIndows 7; and
- The Intel versions of Microsoft Surface tablets “could be the most powerful tablet based solution for music production today”.
Windows 8 Metro – Not For Music Apps
Borthwick offers several reasons why he thinks the new Metro UI won’t be usable for serious music apps, including:
- Metro isn’t tuned for music apps. Microsoft states that 100 msec was considered to be their goal for acceptable latency.
- No support for low-level drivers that DAW users need.
- No MIDI support.
Microsoft hasn’t limited the changes in Windows 8 to Metro, though. Tweaks to the OS could offer performance benefits for Windows-based musicians.
Windows 8 Runs Sonar Better, Across The Board
Cakewalk compared performance of Sonar in Windows 7 vs Windows 8, and found that its benchmarks were ‘surprisingly good’:
Some of their testing highlights:
- CPU improvements were observed when using Windows 8 for Low latency performance tests. These gains mean you may be able to run bigger loads in Win 8 at low latency without audio glitching.
- Better multi-core CPU load balancing – Better balanced core workloads translate to more efficient use of multiple CPU core hardware and thereby better workload scaling for large projects.
- Memory use reduction – A 7.9% reduction in memory use under Win8 was observed when loading a large real world SONAR project under identical system configuration. Reduced memory load can be observed in most of the tests.
- Improved disk performance – A 78% improvement under Win8 was observed in disk read/write performance while reading large buffer sizes. Improvements were more moderate at smaller buffer sizes.
Borthwick is also optimistic about the Pro version of Microsoft’s Windows Surface tablets, saying “If the system is as good as it seems on paper, this could be the most powerful tablet based solution for music production today. It should be able to run most desktop apps with ease and will be compatible with external USB audio interfaces as well.”
The Bottom Line For Musicians: Stay Out Of Metro And Windows 8 Could Offer Some Big Performance Benefits
There are a lot of controversial aspects to Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Metro tablet strategy. This shouldn’t distract Windows-based musicians, though, from the possibility that the new OS may offer significant performance benefits, at least for Sonar users, over Windows 7.
“The tests show that, despite the controversial changes to Windows, there are some significant benefits even for standard Windows desktop apps running Windows 8,” notes Borthwick. “This is great news for existing Windows 7 users who are considering an upgrade to Windows 8.”
See the Cakewalk site for details – and let us know what you think of the promise of Windows 8 for musicians!