Monday, December 08, 2014

Laptop Amortization

This weekend has been a busy one... kind of. I've been working on my music assignment for about 3 weeks and finished writing all of it in Printmusic on Saturday.... then decided to spend the rest of the day reading a book :P

Most of Sunday was spent sequencing the written music - that's the process of making actual audio from a score. The sounds I use are from VSL, which are one of the top companies for writing detailed intricate music. I like to pretend I'm writing detailed, intricate music. But the stuff I wrote can only be accurately sequenced with either VSL Dimension Strings as well as a few other libraries out there.

The reason being is that, for example, I have 8 string players on my first violins section. I've written some lines that need these 8 string players to be split into two groups of 4. Some composers compose music that requires taking 8 players into 4 desks, one pair of violinists per desk.

Lots of orchestral samples record all 8 players (nb: the violin 1 group varies depending on the orchestra) at once, so you can't really split them up. If you play two lines with 8 recorded players each, you are arguably getting the sound of 16 players. Not good.

Dimension Strings from VSL, gets over this issue by actually providing samples for each individual player. Even more crazy, they do it for each individual string, each note sounding different depending on how hard the strings are played, and multiple recordings are done for each volume level and much much more.

Unfortunately, this means that instead of just reading of one set of samples, I'm actually having to read 8 sets of samples for just the 1st violins vs just one set for other sample libraries. Add in the various "articulations" - different recordings of how an intrument is played - short notes, long notes, intervals between notes, special effects. All these also need to be recorded at different volume levels, as a french horn for example, sounds totally different at maximum volume versus played softly.

Intense amounts of data to process..

And my machine is 4 year old, Core 2 duo laptop :P


The machine conked out yesterday, with 16 violins playing together. No crashes, just the usual - "unable to process that much data" warning. That was no problem, as Logic, as many DAWs, feature a Bounce to Disk feature. Basically, it writes out the live audio played back by the sampler into a sound file on disk.

Playing back this sound file is near effortless; I have over 20 separate tracks for this piece, and the cpu meter in Logic barely ticks over playing the files together.

But sequencing the sounds is only part of the game, there is still mixing and mastering.

For "mixing", I have not used the traditional way for a long while, but rather use another of VSL's awesome tools, "MIR". MIR works hand in hand with VSL's samples to make samples sound like they were played back in a specific location.

Unfortunately, this comes at a very heavy cpu cost, and my poor core 2 duo was only able to run about 12 tracks in real time. I had to basically bounce to disk every time I make changes in MIR. Very annoying, when previously on smaller ensembles I could do all my changes in real time.

To be fair, VSL's minimum requirements indicate an i7, ideally a Xeon; I'm on a Core 2 duo!

Which brings me to laptops: Is it time to upgrade?


I've got my macbook for about 4 years now, bought it certified refurbished for just under 900 pounds if memory serves. Solid machine, not any problems so far, and I put in a SSD last year and got a major boost in speed.

Getting a new laptop is _slightly_ unreasonable as I don't really do anything serious with it. The odd houdini test here and there. Web browsing. The retro games off don't need that much horsepower!

But it would save alot of time if I didn't need to do all these bounce to disk operations So.... how much did my laptop cost me all these year?

Quick maths indicates its about 19 pounds a month, amortized over 48 months. Not too bad I think!

So, if I were to get a new macbook, I can sell my existing one, which would bring the price down, and that would help bring down the amortization as well.

Another issue is that the newer modelled 13in macbooks do not have nvidia graphics, and I have concerns about running Houdini on them - my Core 2 comes with a crappy nvidia something, which is good enough for all the stuff I want.

Ponder ponder ponder.

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