AMD Bulldozer Review, AVX Performance using SONAR benchmark

Its pretty cool that Cakewalks AVX optimization work was featured in this review of AMD’s bulldozer from Tom’s Hardware. For those unfamiliar with Tom’s Hardware, the site is the holy grail of hardware reviews and benchmarks. Their depth of knowledge and coverage of the state of the art in computer hardware is unparalleled.

A few months ago I was contacted by Chris Angelini, the Editor in chief at Tom’s Hardware. He had come across a white paper that I co authored with Intel, featuring the AVX optimization’s in SONAR X1, and was very interested in knowing more about our experiences with AVX in relation to Bulldozer vs Intel’s SandyBrige.
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Google+ rocks

I have to say after using G+ for a few days I am really digging what they did here. I have hated Facebook from day one due to its awful privacy issues, spam and buggy user interface.

While there are a few rough spots its quite remarkable how well the service works. And I really dig the object orientedness of the circles paragigm for managing visibility of posts. It takes a little getting used to, but once you understand the concept behind it its very intuitive and natural. Kudos to Google and I hope people move to G+ from FB. I can see myself using it for a lot more than just casual posts – its very scalable.

My google plus feed can be accessed directly through

Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1

This is a whitepaper (Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1) which I co-authored with Intel engineer Rajshree Chabukswar, highlighting the advantages of optimizing for the Intel AVX chipset, with a focus on digital audio processing in a modern DAW like SONAR X1.

We’re excited with our synergetic relationship with Intel, which allows us to take  advantage of their bleeding edge technology in ways that directly beneft our users, allowing them to squeeze the most power out of their systems. While the paper is technical and requires an understanding of some low level programming, it also offers insight into the nuts and bolts of whats involved in optimizations for Intel CPU architectures in a modern DAW.

The paper features a real world case study of SONAR X1 code that was optimized in to take advantage of the benefits of the 256 bit AVX instruction set. If you have an Intel CPU from the Sandy Bridge processor family, it supports AVX and SONAR X1 will take advantage of it.
(While AVX is an Intel instruction set, it has also been adopted by AMD will be available in their upcoming Bulldozer processors. )

Code which is optimized for AVX  vectorization capabilities can work with 256-bit vectors, allowing working on 8 32-bit floating point values per iteration. In other words, this is twice the data throughput of earlier SSE instruction set! While this doesn’t necessarily translate to twice as fast, it is a huge step up in performance in many cases as the white paper illustrates.

The first step in any optimization task is what is referred to as “hotspot analysis”. In this phase you identify the bottlenecks in the code or that would benefit most from AVX optimization. We did analysis running through stress test projects and workflows that showed some classic hotspots. Once these were identified, the code was AVX optimized using the new AVX intrinsics available in Visual Studio 2010.

Click below to read the paper or download the PDF from Intel’s site:
Utilizing Intel® AVX with Cakewalk SONAR X1

[ Additional credits to Keith Albright and Bob Currie from Cakewalk, for hotspot analysis, development, and troubleshooting ]

Log off! – day 8

Its the last morning at Moab before we head to Torrey. We revisit Arches National Park to catch a couple of spots that we missed last night. The sun is bright so we don’t get the play of colors that sunset and twilight brings, but the views are still pretty spectacular. There isn’t time to do any trails unfortunately so we do a drive through Fiery Furnace and Devil’s Garden.
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Log off! – day 2

It’s Tuesday and we finally got Wifi access at the hotel we’re staying in at Page, Arizona, so I have a chance to upload some more pics from the last couple of days. We spent Sunday morning in Zion National Park and managed to do a couple of hiking trails in this beautiful park. Here are some pics from Zion National Park:
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Log off!

Excited to be starting our vacation/tour of the South-West! All set with my baby Taylor travel guitar freshly set up by Jim Mouradian – not quite that logged off 🙂

Left Boston yesterday flying to Las Vegas and then drove to Springdale, UT where we are staying overnight to check out Zion National Park. I’ve never really travelled through desert country and the terrain and sights are spectacular. Will post some pics and notes from the trip as we go along, internet availability permitting.
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Why a program crash can be good for you

OK that sounds like an oxymoron. A crash, good? Thats crazy talk!
Well maybe not quite that crazy – read on to find out why…

Why would anyone actually want their app to crash you may ask? To answer that question lets cover some background about why applications crash on Windows (or any OS).

An application crashes when it performs an unexpected operation or encounters what is called an “exception condition”. Exceptions include unwanted operations like writing to invalid memory locations, divide by zero errors, page faults, etc. Programs can end up with exceptions like this for a variety of reasons:

  •  bugs in the progam code 
  •  bugs in loaded DLL’s which share the same memory and address space as the host application. You frequently encounter dll’s via plug-in’s in applications (eg. loading a VST in an audio application or a imaging plug-in in Photoshop)
  • bugs in the operating system

Normally when an error like this occurs, Windows will display the familiar error message “This Program Has Performed an Illegal Operation and Will Be Shut Down” and the program will close. Some applications like SONAR handle such errors more gracefully and will even try and intercept these exception and attempt to allow the user to save their work before exiting the program. Additionally on Windows you can choose to save what is called a Minidump containing “post mortem” debugging info that is very useful to developers to find out why the program crashed.
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Why It’s Important to Practice Slowly

Great advice from master musician Kenny Werner.

“Moving slow enough for the hands to feel like they are aware of where to go next.
This sets up a platform for one to increase the speed the next time around.
Because one is moving slow enough to to program the hands to know… and to remember which finger goes where without one having to remind them.
It is only by creating this auto-muscle memory that one can play clearly and economically even as the tempo increases.”

DownBeat puts ‘One Of Us’ in the HotBox!

The album is featured in the May issue of DownBeat magazine in the section called ‘The HotBox’, a somewhat infamous column where four albums are selected each month for review by four DownBeat reviewers. It’s a pretty tough crowd and reviews can be scorching at times, so when Ramona got a call from the magazine editor recently asking her to send copies of the CD for review in Hot Box, there were some mixed feelings!

The May issue is available on newstands now. We were happy to learn that the album received a 3 1/2 star review (out of 5). By HotBox standards, that’s actually an excellent review! We grew up with DownBeat magazine and have learned so much from it, so it’s a milestone to be featured there.

Here is the review if you don’t subscribe to DownBeat:


New music uploads

I’ve uploaded some very nice live recordings of Ramona’s trio from some older gigs at Les Zygomates in Boston. They were all recorded on a Zoom H4 field recorder and I mastered them using Izotope Alloy and Ozone. Great band and I think the recordings sound pretty nice. Click here to download them for free. It features the trio primarily playing her arrangements of some great jazz standards.

New live video’s up on YouTube

Yep we broke down finally and created a YouTube account 🙂

There are two video’s now posted of the Ramona Borthwick Quintet from our recent CD release concert. It’s an amateur recording but the results were not too bad. Audio was recorded on a Zoom H4 field recorder from the audience perspective. Video footage was provided by two cameras, one static and one mobile. I had taken my Canon HF10 to the gig but found that the LCD had broken earlier, so I was unable to use it at the gig! Thanks to Dan Abreu for doing the video with his cameras and Dave Malaguti for the audio recording.

I used Corel Video Studio Pro X2 to author the video. Not the most intuitive software for video editing, esp if you are doing audio, but I managed to get what I wanted with some creative workarounds. Can someone from Corel please take a short refresher course on the basic things people want to do when editing a music video – ahem, like providing some tools to align clips so that they sound in sync 🙂

Anyway here are two video’s. Enjoy!

SONAR 8.5 / Intel Core I7 / Windows 7 X64 – a heavenly trilogy for DAW users

I tend to upgrade hardware infrequently but when I do I typically go for the best of breed so that I can get the maximum life out of my system. Having recently finished a project and suffered the pain of an underpowered system it was finally time for a big upgrade…

My new DAW for my studio which runs SONAR 8.5 was built using an Intel Core I7 950 with Windows 7 Professional X64. The system was build completely from off the shelf components all available at Newegg and was relatively inexpensive. (It helped that I bought most of the components the day after thanksgiving <g>)

For a CPU, I chose an Intel Core i7-950 Bloomfield, 3.06GHz processor. The Core I7 is truly a breakthrough in processing power and a great choice for a DAW because of its blistering speed. I passed on the Extreme Edition since I didn’t think it was a good value for the price differential. At Cakewalk, we worked closely with Intel on evaluation versions of the Core I7, optimizing and streamlining SONAR to  work better with this chip, so this made it an obvious choice for me. During testing this processor broke all our benchmarks 🙂 I will post some results once I run our internal benchmark on my rig.

For the operating system Windows 7 X64 was a no brainer choice. During the SONAR 8.5 cycle we tested SONAR with beta and RC versions of Windows 7 and addressed all known compatibility issues.  We also found that the kernel enhancements in Win7 to be complimentary to a lot of the optimizations we did in SONAR itself. I chose the Professional SKU because I wanted some of the extra’s like the XP compatibility mode and remote desktop host. More Windows 7 resources and some articles I contributed to can be found here and in this Create Digital Music article.
Installing the 64 bit version was also an easy choice since I wanted 6GB of RAM. There are also other benefits to a 64 bit OS even if you are primarily running 32 bit applications as outlined in this blog post.

Anyway here are the parts from my original newegg order:

MB MSI X58M 1366 RT
VGA EVGA 01G-P3-N945-LR 9400GT 1G R
CPU INTEL|CORE I7 950 3.06G 45N R
MEM 2Gx3|CRUC BL3KIT25664TB1337 R
HD 1.5T|WD 32M SATA2 WD15EADS % 
I’m running this with two dual 22″ monitors – Acer’s that I had from my last setup. 

Disk: The Western Digital hard disks is not especially a great choice for disk streaming performance, but I couldn’t resist the price of less than 90 bucks for 1.5 terabyte! So far the disk throughput has been fine for my needs though it has a Win7 performance rank of 4.5.

OS: Windows 7 Professional X64

Audio interface: MOTU 828 MK2
I was a bit apprehensive after reading some install problems from users on the SONAR forums. However I loaded the latest MOTU 828 64-bit drivers without too much trouble at all. I found that I had to explicitly run the setup program as administrator or it wouldn’t install properly :-/ Once installed, the driver itself works great and I can dial down the buffer size all the way down to the minimum size and it plays back flawlessly. And my motherboard has a Via chipset for Firewire too which MOTU doesn’t recommend – go figure!

OS Installation:
The OS install went without a single hitch and picked up all the devices – but I went and installed native drivers for all the devices later since some were more recent than Windows update. 

WIFI Warning:
Do NOT buy the WMP600N WIFI adapter until Linksys fix their X64 drivers. They suck big time and. I returned the unit since the drivers performance were unusable with WIFI. This after the product is listed as being Win7 logo compliant! Instead I went with a wired solution which rocks. I’m using an old WRT54G converted into a wireless bridge using the opensource DD-WRT firmware. It takes some tweaking and requires you to be a bit brave with your router but its pretty well supported on that site. I now connected via standard ethernet to the machine which works great and I get 10MBPS internet speeds with it which is all I need. In general be wary of 64 bit WIFI drivers – they are notoriously bad. 

I can categorically say that the SONAR/Core I7/Windows 7 combination is a match made in heaven for DAW users! I easily have way more bandwidth than I would ever need for the next several years on this rig. On my largest projects which would previously max out the CPU or drop out (an older dual CPU Windows 2003 based machine), I am now able to run at 128 sample buffers with a MOTU 828 MK2, at 24bit/96KHz with under 20% CPU utilization in SONAR!

We finally have reached a time when 64-bit computing, low latency performance and low cost components are a reality. It’s a great time for DAW users!