Results: Digital Audio Workstation
Using a computer as a DAW stresses a platform differently than typical content creation and animation apps. Latency becomes a critical factor, and many background tasks can affect that.
Thesycon, a software engineering and systems consultation firm in Germany, produced a small application it calls DPCLat, which measures the total system latency caused by Dynamic Procedure Calls. It runs continuously, allowing you to see the low and high points of system latency. Sometimes device drivers can cause massive latency spikes that make the system unsuitable for use as a DAW.
The T5600’s overall latency is still well within the range of acceptability, but still a little higher than the iBuyPower baseline system. Anything under 500 microseconds is still considered good.
We created an excerpt meant to approximate a finished piece, mixed, equalized, and ready for mastering. In order to get more analog sound out of it, there are multiple copies of the same synth detuned against one another by very slight amounts. DiscoDSP Discovery Pro, KX-SYNTH-16 (V4), and Synth1 are the primary software synthesizers, DSK Choirs adds the background choral pad, and the drums come from old Emulator samples.
The test itself is a simple mixdown with the finished track output to 44.1 kHz and 192 kHz 24-bit WAV files. Dell's Precision T5600 yields just under twice the performance of our baseline machine in this measurement of pure number-crunching DSP power.
DAWBench 2012 RXC
As opposed to our Tom's Tune test, which evaluates a system's ability to render out a finished product at its own pace, DAWBench is real-time and interactive. Basically, it plays a loop of music and you keep adding a signal processing plug-in until the audio breaks up, signifying that the platform can no longer keep the audio buffers filled. This is a good overall determinant of a machine's utility as a DAW, factoring in variables like audio drivers and hardware.
Unfortunately, it also gives up performance to atypical factors, like poorly-written USB drivers or a slow FireWire card. Dell's Precision does well, though its PCI-based FireWire card might have artificially held it back a bit.