The sound engineer shootout OSX El Capitan V Windows 10. Part 2

October 4, 2016

This is part 2 of my shootout test between OSX and Windows 10 (If you missed part 1 you can read it here, http://www.adventuresinaudio.co.uk/single-post/2016/09/16/The-sound-engineer-shootout-OSX-El-Capitan-V-Windows-10-Part-1).

 

As expected, whenever there's talk of Apple V Microsoft, I got a bit of flack on the Facebook comments about what I'm doing e.g. " Its not a fair test because you are using Apple hardware". Well to a degree that's true, but there is no "fair test" as such, but useful information can still be taken from what I'm doing. Pretty much every argument against this test came down to efficiency and processor power, and "you can't do this or that with Apple", which is always the cornerstone of any Microsoft "fanboy" argument. However there is more to it than that. How stable is the OS? Do I like using it? Does it get in the way of my productivity? Do I have confidence in it? These are all valid things that can be found out from what I'm doing.

 

So part one didn't go too smoothly on either side. Both have had their faults, but Windows has had a very shaky start indeed. It's to be expected, plug and play is something Windows has never done particularly well in my opinion, but hopefully I can get the setup sorted properly and things will then start running smoothly.

 

So lets get back to it!

 

Day 4

 

Today I'm going to crack it for sure. I'm going to get things up and running so I can really test out Windows with some Pro Tools mixing. And I get off to a great start. I figure my previous issues could be a driver conflict, so I disable all the audio drivers that are not my MOTU 896 and "by jove" it damn well works! Netflix is finally outputting audio and video at 48khz in the Edge browser. Sweet! It's feeling a bit clunky and slow to navigate but this is a definite improvement.

 

So how about my website? Well that's still glitching at 48khz, but it's fine in Firefox, it glitches in Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome and Safari for Windows doesn't even play Netflix so that goes straight in the bin. Bouncing around Chrome is looking like the smoothest, fastest  browser so far and to save any more grief I'm going to stick with my day to day stuff at 44.1khz and just leave Pro Tools to 48khz and above. It's not ideal but nothing too serious and to be honest I'm having 

similar issues with OSX.

 

For now however I'm away from home for a few days so I'm going to run things mobile and see how both OS's fair.

 

Days 5,6 and 7

 

I'm not asking either OS to do anything particularly strenuous while I'm away so it's a good test to see how they fair under average usage conditions. Mainly it's web browsing on a slow internet connection as I'm out in the countryside without fibre broadband. Both systems are doing ok, however I am starting to notice slight differences in performance. Though they are small it is feeling fairly consistent. Windows is generally just a bit slower. Apps do not load quite as quickly and the web browsing feels slightly more sluggish.

 

I also have found a few issues that I have always had using Windows systems in the past. Double clicking on icons to load apps that are on the desktop or the task bar is a bit of a hit and miss affair. Sometimes it works, but several times I have to go the slow way through the start menu to the applications list and search through the list. This mostly coincides with another issue - the computer just stops. You can be doing almost nothing with the machine, then give it a very simple task and it just freezes while it does what ever it needs to do. It stops dead in it's tracks, there is no visual sign that it's doing anything and there are several times that I'm left wondering if I need to reboot. Now we have all had this happen especially on older machines that are full up with junk, when we are running a virus check or we are updating the machine, but this is a brand new install fully up to date. In my opinion it really shouldn't be happening this early in its life. The Apple OS is not showing any of these issues so far and so consequently gives me more confidence and less frustration to use.

 

Day 8

 

Now we get down to the nitty gritty of studio set ups and mixing music. I start by running multiple instances of heavy duty plugins to see how many I can use before the CPU gives up and then I mix a huge recording on Windows to see how it goes. To use this I go back to an old recording I have that was mentioned in the first post in this series. It's a show I recorded at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of years ago. A big band called Bellowhead (you really should check these guys out). 55 channels in the file and nearly a 2 hour show. There is plenty here to put both operating systems through their paces, so how did they fair?

 

Plug ins test

 

I'm going to run a test using the Waves Linear Broadband E.Q. and then the Slate Virtual Tape Machine plugin to see how both OSs stand up. The following results are taken from the in built system meters in Pro Tools and are taken while a 55 channel song is playing:

 

                                                                           OSX                                           Windows 10

 

No plug ins                                              3-4% cpu usage                              3-6% cpu usage

 

55 x Lin Phase plug ins                      35% peak cpu usage                      53% peak cpu usage           

 

Max No. of Lin Phase                                       105                                  99 (not perfect playback)                               

55 x Slate VTM plug ins                     46% peak cpu usage                      53% peak cpu usage

 

Max No. of VTM                                                  88                                   80 (not perfect playback)

 

 

As we can see from this, OSX has the edge across the board. Now before you go moaning about "it's not fair" let's look at the fact that it's Apple hardware giving the Apple OS an advantage. This is where the cheaper hardware argument comes in to play. If I spend £2500 on a Mac and £2500 on a Windows PC I get way, way more computer power from the PC. So although this doesn't look good for Windows I can more than compensate for the lower numbers by purchasing the correct hardware. 

 

Now what about the mixing side of things? I start with a clean slate of my show recording and mix on Windows 10. Apart from the slight change in keys for a few shortcuts I find mixing on Windows 10 is great. It's smooth and I can just get on with the mixing without much faff. The only thing strange that happens, and it does happen repeatedly, is the cmd window keeps popping up and then disappearing again quickly. It's not been much of a problem although it does get in the way a couple of times, but it is an odd thing to keep happening.

 

I mix the show down as far as I can and get to a point where I have run out of CPU. I am peaking the CPU meter and it's now unworkable to carry on mixing. I then save and boot up in OSX, open the show and carry on mixing. The CPU usage was bouncing 50%-60%. I then rebooted into Windows and played the file again. This time it would play fine and the CPU usage was bouncing from 70%-85%.

 

Weeks 2 and 3

 

I have now had some time running both systems just carrying on my business as usual. It has given me time to reflect on both systems as well as get used to Windows again. What I have found is that Windows is consistently more painful to use as an everyday machine. If we ignore the professional side of what I'm trying to accomplish then Apple is clearly the better choice. Every step of the way I have tried to do something new on Windows 10 there has been an issue e.g. I purchased a new printer connected it all to wifi and tried to set it up using Windows. It wouldn't have it. No amount of trouble shooting and searching online could solve the problem. So I load up OSX and it just works. Setup is quick and simple, no fuss.

 

I have had all the major problems happen on the Windows side, The MOTU controller software will not load if another program is already open (a real pain if you want to change settings). Windows lost connection and completely locked up a hard drive three times (each time I had to repair the disk to get it readable again). Many times Windows just stops and thinks for no reason, and it's absolutely useless if I want to carry on running my website through wix.com. There are other little niggles as well which just overall don't fill me with confidence.

 

Summary

 

When I started this I really didn't know what to expect. I'm continually less and less impressed with Apple's performance and stability and was hoping that Windows 10 was a new step forward in quality for Microsoft. With the disaster that was Windows 8 they really needed to create something amazing in version 10.

 

What has surprised me is that running Pro Tools on Windows felt great to use. I wouldn't say it was better, but it wasn't really any worse, yet using it for everything else it has fallen way short of OSX. I hadn't expected that. 

 

I like using Windows 10, It looks great and I find it easy to navigate around. Once you get rid of Microsoft's own web browsers and start using Chrome that's all pretty good too. As far as financially is it going to be a better purchase? Well it's not as clear cut as you might think. If you factor the extra problem solving as an hourly rate that does eat into the cost of running Windows. However, I still think you will probably be slightly better off financially with a Windows purchase. So for the final point do I think Windows is stable enough to rely on for work?

 

Unfortunately no I don't! Here's why: 

 

Did it fall over regularly especially on simple tasks? Yes.

Can I trust it based on this? No.

Do these problems look likely to be resolved on a dedicated Windows machine? No. My previous Windows experience on dedicated PCs has always given similar levels of instability.

Add to this the fact that I walked into a local computer store to look at Windows 10 machines and the first one I walked up to had frozen. The mouse pointer moved but you couldn't even click on and open the start menu. Not great for a machine that literally sits and does nothing all day.

 

Now some of you are going to argue I'm wrong and that's fine. I'm sure many of you have never had these issues and even more of you actually like the problem solving and customisation that you can do to your Windows machines. I'm also not saying that you are wrong if you do.

 

However, I'm a sound engineer not a computer engineer and for me personally the more I have to tinker around with the inner workings of a machine the less I am actually getting done. So for me sticking with Apple is feeling like the better option, 

 

Now did somebody say dual boot Hackintosh? Maybe there will be a part 3.   

 

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