Could Windows 8 Be The Best Windows Ever For Musicians?

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!

60 thoughts on “Could Windows 8 Be The Best Windows Ever For Musicians?

  1. > “If the system is as good as it seems on paper, this could be the most powerful tablet based solution for music production today.

    That makes no sense considering the dude just got done pointing out how horrible Metro is and Metro is mandatory on the tablet so…

    1. Where did you read that Metro is mandatory? This is just not true, the desktop is still there.

      What might be confusing for users is that there will be 2 versions of Windows 8, one made for ARM processor, and one made for X86 processors.

    2. Hopefully Microsoft will figure out how to make this easy for buyers to understand – but they’re supporting two types of chips in their tablets, ARM & Intel.

      The ARM tablets are going to be priced comparably to iOS & Android tablets, will only run the Metro UI, and won’t run your existing music software.

      The Intel tablets are going to be priced comparably to ‘ultrabooks’ or the MacBook Air. They’ll run your existing desktop music apps + Metro apps.

      1. I think microsoft did this on purpose to try and confuse consumers. you can already see people are trying to compare the pro model (which is basically an ultrabook) against the ipad instead of the macbook air. it’s a market trick and seems to be working, at least against willfully ignorant microsoft fanbois.

        1. So, exactly how is a confused potential customer going to spur sales? Why in the world would that be a goal? Makes no sense.

          That said, this simple bifurcation is not really that confusing. One version (more expensive) is a machine you can do your work on, the other (cheaper) is one you play on. Maybe we’re all being a little over-protective of our non-techie friends and family? Honestly, I went to buy toothpaste today and had to choose between 100+ different options. We’re all used to making market choices. Let’s give people some credit, shall we??

          1. I can’t see recommending a Windows 8 tablet to my ‘non-techie friends and family”.

            You’d tell them to get the Pro version but they’d see that the Pro tablets cost $1,000 and that’s $500 more than the RT tablets. So, they’ll buy the cheap tablet and think they’re being smart and saving a lot of money. Then they’ll use it for a month and realize that it can’t do squat and be pissed off at you for recommending a Windows 8 tablet.

            And why would anybody want to buy a WIndows 8 tablet, when you’ll be able to get an ultrabook with better specs, for less money, that doesn’t have a crappy keyboard?

            1. Yeah, that’s the trick microsoft is doing. All the blogs and commenters with microsoft stock (lol) will be talking about how much better the Pro tablet it is compared to the ipad. Then the consumer will go and buy the RT tablet thinking they’re getting a tablet that has an i5 in it.

  2. Windows 8 tablets are going to toast the iPad!

    When you look at the specks for Windows Surface Pro tablets, they’re like current laptops. Add in performance improvements like mentioned in the article and support for all the stuff that Windows supports and you’ll have a beast of a tablet!

    1. iPad owners are going to be crying when Win 8 tablets start shipping that can run Ableton Live and Sonar and they realize that they paid $500 for a toy!

      1. > When windows tablets start shipping


        no, but seriously the windows 8 tablets that can run ableton live are going to cost the same as a macbook air so it’s not even the same market as the ipad.

      2. no man. if its good i am going to buy it aswell – pronto. you think having one or the other puts you in some sort of exclusive lifetime membership club you can´t ever disown. speaking of life – get one. this is only a product.

    2. it will be as good as it´s ability to flawlessly run software in professional enviroments.
      your “toast” comments about a product before it even has a eta discards all your opinions as mindless troll bile.

  3. Regarding the tablet there’s two things that concern me. 1. We do not know how much actual workable RAM they will pack (right?) and 2. the internal storage limit of 64Gb could become a limitation if you are working with large sample libraries, but perhaps that’s asking for too much in terms of capabilities?


    1. The 64BG limit is significant – but you can hook up an external drive and I think that there’s an option to get larger flash drives, too.

      1. Yeah I guess you’re right about the external drive, but that kind of makes the whole package ‘portable’ as opposed to ‘mobile’ in my book. Still it’s certainly an option.. Do you have a reference on the ‘larger flash drive’ thing? That sounds like it would make the Surface a whole lot more interesting.

  4. Hmmm…Couple of interesting points to raise here:
    ?Metro isn’t tuned for music apps. Microsoft states that 100 msec was considered to be their goal for acceptable latency.
    -> I’m assuming he’s talking about input lag. According to Tom’s Hardware, the latency of the iPad 2 is 235 msec. I couldn’t find the latency for the iPad 3 but I saw some comments that due to the increased pixel count the latency could actually be higher. So…I guess if the latency of the Metro interface is not acceptable for music apps then the iPad is worthless in this regard? Since a lot of people would disagree with that I’m not sure what he’s getting at here.
    ?No support for low-level drivers that DAW users need.
    ->Correct me if I’m wrong but this is also the case with the iPad, right?
    ?No MIDI support.
    ->Again, also with the iPad. I’d argue that it’s even way worse with the iPad since there’s no USB support so you have to monkey up a MIDI interface through the Camera Connetion Kit.

    So, his comments about Metro are really related to running a full DAW that you’d now run on a MacBook Pro or a full PC, as opposed to the type of music apps that currently run on the iPad. If I’m understanding him correctly, the “stay out of Metro for musicians” is really a bit off base, unless you really mean that musicians should avoid tablet OS’s all together for music creation (but correctly me if I’m wrong).

    1. Glenn

      That 235ms latency comment isn’t correct. I checked Tom’s Hardware and it’s measuring the delay in rendering characters when you’re typing:,2932-10.html

      Latency on iOS is about 5 ms. It’s 200-300 ms on Android, so music apps aren’t going anywhere on it either.

      Not sure where you got your info on audio and MIDI on iOS – but Core MIDI and Core Audio are built in, like in OS X – so you can connect audio interfaces or MIDI interfaces, as long as they don’t draw more power than the iPad can put out.

      You’re right about the lack of USB port and the need for the Camera Connection Kit adapter, though. Apple must have gone with that to keep the iPad’s thickness down. The WIndows Pro tablets are going to be a lot thicker, so the USB connector will physically fit on the side.

  5. Actually, to add on to my comment, he actually spells this out in his conclusion on the original blog post: “Regarding Metro however, the jury is out on whether it will be a suitable platform for high performance music production applications.” Emphasis on “high performance,” which I would take to mean a full DAW as opposed to something like AniMoog or any of the other iPad music apps.

  6. Cakewalk are Microsoft partners. There’s not going to be a whole lot of bitching here. I am left confused by this post, to be honest. The unfortunate thing is because the audio industry makes up a very small percentage of users, we get our needs fulfilled last. This goes for Apple as well where they are targeting the mass consumer more and more.

    The best advice: Stay with Windows 7 (or XP if you can’t upgrade) until Windows 8 proves itself. Usually I don’t migrate to a new OS until at least 8 months after it’s been released, which is usually ample time to have heard about all the problems (and fixes, if any). For many of us, there may not be any reason to upgrade at all.

  7. how annoying is this whole apple vs ms getting? it only makes a difference if your pocketmoney budget is 500€ so you can pick only one. i am awaiting for the best tablet computer to hook up to maschine. if it´s apple or ms – i frankly don´t give a fukc.

  8. I recently read a Microsoft blog-post about build-in advertising in apps for Windows. As if it isn’t bad enough with the load of crappy ads we have to watch every time we surf the net!

    I’ve learned to live with some adds in free apps for my Android – sort of – and I can understand why the devs need to put them in there (and the possibility to remove them, if you buy the app). I can sort of live with that on my phone when I play some random game on the bus.

    I also understand that everything is getting more mobile and “cloudy” and the borders between the offline and online world are fading and thus the online part (here Metro I guess) is an seamlessly integrated part of Win8. Now I have to spend time to click on an icon to open my browser to get on the net … how old-school, I know!

    But the point I’m getting at is, that I DON’T want adds seamlessly integrated into my OS as well!! When I run an app in my OS (the artist formerly know as a “program” – old-school again!) I wan’t it to do nothing else than it should do! If I open “Paint” I want all the pixels on my screen to be dedicated to that program – NOT adds for buying colors online somewhere. When I open Cubase, I wan’t to make music – and all the pixels dedicated to that (especially in Cubase with their crappy GUI and handling of floating windows!) and NOT see adds for Rihannas next crappy single online.

    Rant over! Grumpy old man signing out 😉

    Here’s the link to the blog post btw:

  9. here we go again? read the news, ipad outsells all other tablets, ios6 is around the corner, apple is not stupid, they have the most powerful ios and everyone knows it but hate to admit it. in an ideal world wed have many tablets and operating systems to choose from. highly advise ableton users to keep running it on desktop. apple are far too powerful to be affected by anything microsoft bring out. why do you think microsoft keep changing operating systems? because they cannot get it right, apple have and they just fine tune, that is all they need to do, fine tune and slowly add more features. ios6 looks like it will empower musicans more as does audiobus, this might draw in even more serious applications.
    in essence, apple means stability and microsoft is always problematic

  10. PS: If adds DO become an integrated part of the next Win OS, I might actually finally considering switching to MAC (but maybe they are already there?).

    Anyway, I think I’ll stick to my Win7 x64 for a couple of years… It runs flawlessly. And I’m gonna have a hard time the day I find it necessary to upgrade to a new OS if they all are so happily symbiotic with Google & Adds.

  11. I cannot imagine surface being as easy to use as an Ipad or a non-techie user. For us techies it has some great possibilities, but i would take a wait and see before I jumped on it. Competition is a good thing, and Apple needs better competition. I can see the surface being great for gamers, right now thats where it interests me. the most. I would imagine MS would make an xbox controller connectible somehow, and Apple has long held off on that.

  12. For what it’s worth I have heard that Win8 is geared for the consumer market, it is not an enterprise operating system. This may mean that non-networked users will find it friendlier than W7 has been but it may also mean that core elements are changed or missing.
    As far as the tablet is concerned there has been no info on battery life, release date, how much of the RAM is used for the OS and not even a hint on price. Someone in Redmond has decided to push out a product a little ahead of the development cycle. The pictures I’ve seen do look nice but these tablets have an air of hand built prototypes rather than production examples. Time and the market will decide how Microsoft is going to fare with them.

  13. 1 – Metro never really completely goes away. It’s always running in the background, ready to pop back up, and the “desktop” in 8 is no longer the same as it was in 7.
    2 – The Surface with an intel chip will be heavy, hot, expensive and have far less battery life than a true tablet. This matters. A lot. Tablet success isn’t about raw horsepower, it’s about convenience and ease of use.
    3 – The Surface with an intel chip will just be a lower powered laptop with a crappy keyboard. Anyone who needs to do any real work while mobile will not be satisfied and will still want a decent laptop instead. The Intel based surface is really an ultra-book, not a tablet. Big, big difference.
    4 – Why do people think they can magically use software designed for a mouse and keyboard with a touch interface? It’s not going to work. It will suck. You will either have to plug in a mouse (which defeats the whole “tablet” purpose), or software will need fundamental redesign to work with touch. It’s not a simple port, and wrappers don’t cut it. It’s a really big deal, so don’t get excited until you see a company demo a new rev of software.

    1. You we completely right about 1-3 but semi wrong about 4. Programs that require mouse input work really well with a pen input and sometimes much better. I work with a windows tablet with a wacom pen and prefer it over a laptop but not traditional desktop mouse and keyboard. Programs like reason or ableton, and vsts like zebra and trillian are a joy to navigate with a pen. There is also something that is pleasing about “drawing” in you composition and device parameters. Plus with a program like reason its absolutely awesome to be able use landscape for composing then flip the tablet and use portrait for rack view increasing screen real estate where needed. Sadly I believe win 8 will not have that feature built in and it will he.up to the manufacturer to include.

      1. >Programs that require mouse input work really well with a pen input and sometimes much better.

        I still disagree. Pens can’t activate “hover” unless the pen and surface are designed to, and hover is a HUGE part of the windows interface. Even if they fix that in windows 8, all the software out there is still expecting hover to work. A wacom tablet is designed to know where the pen is. A Surface screen will not be. Users always struggle with hover and right+click when using touch or pen. Some people, like yourself, make it work, and usually that’s only because they primarily use apps like Photoshop which have been designed with a pen in mind. But for most people it’s a completely unusable situation. And frankly, if you need a pen, mouse or anything to use your tablet, the tablet has failed. Pens get lost, forgotten at home, etc. and plugging in a mouse simple isn’t going to happen for most users. It defeats the entire point of having a tablet.

        1. I believe you r right about the surface input not being wacom which is a hug let down. My tab with wacom does have hover, right click, and an eraser. I miss a keyboard the most for quick key functions

  14. I can see Windows 8 working on a tablet but on a desktop? No way. I’ve tried all the previews so far and in the end it only gave me a major headache; Metro is simply too intrusive to be any fun.

    The problem should be obvious: using a mouse to navigate through something designed for touch isn’t exactly a very nice experience considering how everything has been optimized for easy touch access, NOT easy mouse access.

    I’m a very happy Windows 7 (professional) user but in all honesty I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Windows 8 would achieve that many DAW users will move onto an Apple platform for their work, especially if you consider that a lot of DAW’s (at least the ones I know off) will easily allow you to jump platforms without extra costs.

    1. I am a Diehard windows user. I will be leaving windows after many years because this Metro interface breaks my workflow, and it also uses resources I would prefer to use for other things …. You can not turn it off so the Metro UI will constantly suck cpu ram etc. The current windows interface is the Microsoft Brand but they have just told all of their power users that we don’t get a choice in how the new environment functions for workflow……the old proven methods will need to be relearned.

      The new GUI is a joke. Current windows users will probably find Apple products more Windows like than Windows itself.

      Windows the good. Win 95, Win 98, Xp, Win7
      Windows the Bad. Millennium, Vista, Metro

      Every other operating system has been a resource hog. Every other operating system basically is bloatware. I need a powerful environment for what I do, not an underpowered paradigm shift of a operating system meant for a cellphone rolled out to the Desktop environment because power users no longer matter and mobile has become Status Que.

    1. >You can’t download an MP3 on an iPad, in 2012

      This is ignorant and ridiculous. Yes, you can. In many programs and in several ways, from several sources. Pull your head out.

  15. Hey if we’re going to speculate about unreleased vaporware let’s talk about something that’s actually innovative…so, what will Google Glass do for musicians?!

    1. Make them look like idiots? Nailing the coffin that was mans connection to earth? Buyers remorse for spending 1.5k on a glitchy product?

    2. The only thing a google product will do for musicians is deliver adds to them. And those adds will not be for musical gear.

  16. Be it iOS or Win 8. F a tablet of it can’t run powerful productive apps and Multitask the right way. Straight up and down, I’m tired of trying to make shit work and din cart wheels and backflips to do simple shit in iOS. It’s a great midi controller, but a pain in the ass to use as a productivity all in 1 box. It’s 2013 and I expect and demand more from a tablet.

    All windows needs is a slim powerfully intel tablet with a 8 hour battery life and it would be a boss on the street. Fuck a under powered toy. I been trying to make the iPad work for me since 2010 and I’m sick of waiting around. iPad 3 should of brought a lot more to the table OS wise.
    Any computer in this day and age needs TRUE multitasking and file management.

    1. > A slim powerful intel tablet that lasts 8 hours

      well, while we’re talking about fantasy stuff how about a tablet that can fly you to the moon?

    2. >All windows needs is a slim powerfully intel tablet with a 8 hour battery life and it would be a boss on the street

      Being as how Apple and Microsoft both buy Intel chips from Intel, ARM chips from the same ARM manufacturers, and batteries from the same battery manufacturers, it stands to reason that if it was at all worldly possible to give you an i7 with 8 gigs of ram in a slim tablet with an 8 hour battery for $600, Apple would have already done it and plopped OS X on it. The closest you get to that is the Macbook Air, or any of it’s nearest competitors, and those aren’t as beefy as a full powered laptop. So if you think Microsoft is somehow going to magically put a full powered laptop into a $600 tablet, you are a damn fool.

      Seriously people, think things through.

    3. Well if you are such a genius that you think engineers at Apple and MS are total slouches and you see what is possible with the existing technology and where it all should be now, how come YOU haven’t created this technological wonder yourself. Talk about arm-chair quarterbacking! Sheesh.

      1. What? LOL The main reason is that I don’t have tens of millions of dollars, thousands of employees with decades of hardware design experience, or the desire to create a tablet. Seriously, that was a pretty dumb statement you just made. And I wasn’t suggesting the engineers were slouches… just the opposite. I think computer tech is super specialized awesomeness, and with that reality I also understand you don’t just jump past current technological capabilities because your marketing department would like you to.

  17. I have to say I find these kind of speculative articles a bit pointless, especially as there was a similar article the previsous week suggesting windows8 might be a disaster. Nobody can really see far enough ahead to know how this is going to pan out, we just need to wait and see what happens.

    1. >Nobody can really see far enough ahead to know how this is going to pan out

      I disagree! I think many of us can. And it’s exactly exercises like these that give us the practice to develop speculative skills. What you have offered is a thought terminating cliche.

      Certainly Apple and Microsoft think they can see far enough into the future to make a profit, or else they wouldn’t invest millions into their products. Not everyone is right, but some people are. So don’t sell people short. We can be pretty damn smart when we try.

  18. I still have a few scars from having started out with Win 95, so I am Mac-biased, let me be upfront. Frankly, ANY tool that brings up such furious debate has some issues. Apple has screwed the pooch a bit, a few times, but my Windows pals are ALWAYS having to wrestle one seemingly needless problem or another and one was even a Windows NT help desk jockey. I gradually got over my GAS by learning that New isn’t always Better and Shiny does not equal Useful. Microsoft just never seems to get what the end user needs and wants most. If they’re so smart, why the heck do they not run more like Apple or MOTU? To be fair, I have a friend who is a staunch PC/Sonar user and loves them. I must admit, the latest version of Sonar is an awesome beast, so it can be done. I just wonder why all that corporate power can’t come up with a better creativity/reputation mix. Apple goods are generally easy to engage. Microsoft comes across like their coders are all angry, half-looped and never enjoy the Net at all. Is it just me or do at least some of you get that feeling as well?

  19. methinks if peeps like iPads- let them
    If peeps like desktop wether it be mac or windows- let them
    Me knows however that the most popular and indeed most stable and able tablet is made by apple

  20. I got the iPad for “fun” without having a particular purpose in mind for it (besides perhaps writing software for it.) This changed instantly once I installed my first music app and realized that music + multitouch is a match made in heaven.

    Multitouch just makes music software awesome in ways that a mouse and keyboard do not.

    So, for music software, I’d definitely say Windows with multitouch > Windows without multitouch.

  21. I hope to see windows 8 RT tablet out of the box support for USB audio Interfaces. Thats the only advantage IOS has for portable music making with their devices. If we can have a recording compatibility with WIndows 8 RT for Music making it would be awesome. Even Android hasn’t been able to achieve this so far.

  22. I’m sorry, but this articles sources are just.. Wrong. On so many levels. Just no. Do some research.

    The INTERFACE has an acceptable latency of 100ms.. There is no such limitation for software that runs within it. It MAY make your knobs respond within 100ms.. But who cares. If you’re on screen adjusting parameters and expect 1-5ms latency you are just plain doing it wrong.

    Low level drivers are ABSOLUTELY supported.. Whether or not your interface manufacturer will be writing you an ARM compatable driver from scratch any time soon is debatable.

  23. Well, the Surface Pro is a BEAST.. f*kin beast to use… I just spent hours on it doing not just Ablton sessions but using all the VSTs from my other rig. It worked with the presonus Audio Interface flawlessly, talked to all my midi / usb controllers – A dream to use. After we had a Tractor sesion mixing away as if it was a powerful desktop rig. I then had installed Maya 3d onto it. again… flawless – and Maya is a Taxing program for memory and CPU. my only gripe in 3d / NLE is that I would LOVE more RAM… like 8gig … but for audio – its fine.

    Sure we got around 5-6 hours off the battery – but that was kiling it and if it was even an iPad whom dreams of doing such things, it wouldnt have made 5 hours even.

    Metro – Guys… set your Prefs… you can do the control panel and make it work how ever you want… we had it setup in Desktop mode permanently… Yes there is every option and config under the sun… heck I can even make it run like XP !

  24. All I know is I bought a $1200 dell laptop and it doesn’t work with x1 , 8.5 or any of the three 2 in 2 out new interfaces with ASIO. Window 8 sucks im going back to 7

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *