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What Benefits Will 64-bit SONAR Bring?

Cakewalk's Ron Kuper was surprised by what he found By Frank Moldstad

Ten years ago, when Ron Kuper joined Cakewalk as VP/Engineering, the mission to was to develop the digital audio capabilities of Cakewalk version 4 for the brand new 32-bit Windows 95 platform. And although today's computers, processors, Operating Systems and DAW software such as Cakewalk's SONAR 4 are exponentially more powerful today than a decade ago, one thing hasn't changed: They all still use 32-bit processing. Kuper admits he was a little skeptical about the benefits of 64-bit systems, but that changed after he began porting SONAR 4 into 64-bit code. Here he explains why he's a 64-bit convert now.

What sort of performance benefits will someone get with 64-bit SONAR?

When we started doing the 64-bit stuff, I was a little skeptical. I came into it thinking this 64-bit stuff is just all hype. People want more bits, they think more bits is better because itís more, right? But I knew that 64-bit means you can address more RAM. Specifically what it means on the current generation of these processors is that instead of accessing a maximum of 3 GB in the operating system, you can access a TeraByte, which is 1024 GB. So itís a huge expansion in the amount of RAM you can put in a machine and actually address.

So more tracks, no lags Ö

Well, it doesnít necessarily mean more tracks. Today, you can pull hundreds of tracks from a desktop PC direct from disk because the system is optimized, the disk systems are fast, the processors are fast. You donít necessarily want RAM for tracks. I mean, it helps, it takes a lot of load off the disk, but in a well-configured system the disk can handle the throughput of a lot of tracks. Where you want the RAM is if you have a lot of loops, which are generally stored in RAM. So you can store prodigous amounts of loop content in RAM. Also samplers gain big benefits. A lot of samplers have disk streaming, but many companies are afraid to incorporate disk streaming because thereís a patent issue involved. So a lot of people arenít doing that.

Whose patent is that?

It actually began with Nemesys, but itís now with Tascam. But GigaSampler has patented disk streaming technology, so any company that strives to do it runs the risk of potentially infringing on a patent. So people are a little cautious about it. Well, when you have a TeraByte of RAM, you donít need to stream samples off disk, you can just load them all into RAM. And that means you get instant playability, instant sound access. And to give you an idea of what a TeraByte is, itís like dozens of DVDs, a huge, huge amount of memory. So thatís the benefit that we saw, you have a lot of RAM, lots of clips in memory, and you can do lots of samples in memory. So thatís really the most we expected.

When I started doing this porting work, it was almost like a Skunk Works project, just to see what was involved. I started talking with the folks at Intel about it, and AMD, and they were very excited. They were all over it, saying "youíve got to do this, we're looking for applications to show off the 64-bit stuff." So I got more engineers involved, and we just went through the whole port. We ported SONAR, we ported all the Sonitus plug-ins, and a few of the older legacy plug-ins. We also ported fXpansion things, they gave us permission to try to port some of the synths that came bundled with Project5. We have Impulse and Velocity ported. We ported the TTS-1 synth, which is a Roland HQ engine, a high quality sampling engine that runs GM-compatible synths. And we were closing the deal with rgc:audio, so we also ported some of their synths.

We wanted a full set to test with. We called our partners at Edirol and said, weíre doing 64-bit, can you guys help and do some drivers? In about two weeks they gave us drivers, which is incredibly fast. We had Intel sending us systems, we were getting all kinds of help, and it was awesome.

So we got it all set up, got everything ported, ran the benchmarks Ö and I thought there was something wrong. In a lot of cases I thought there was something wrong. Plus, one of my beta testers is a big AMD systems builder, and I sent him the beta to play with also. And he says, "Thereís something wrong. This is running way more efficient."

But the bottom line is on most of the benchmarks weíre running, there was an improvement, and it was signficant. It was like 20-30 percent more CPU efficient. Basically this is taking the same box, the same hardware, the same audio interface, running 32-bit native SONAR with a 32-bit OS, and then dual-booting and running 64-bit SONAR, 64-bit OS, the same box. And we saw a 20 to 30 percent performance gain. Now, that wasnít on every benchmark -- I have to say your mileage may vary. In some cases, it was the same performance. The worst I saw was it was the same. But in almost all the cases it was better, and when it was better, it was significantly better.

So, itíll be worthwhile for somebody if theyíre a heavy SONAR user to go out and buy a 64-bit machine and 64-bit Windows.

Absolutely. Thereís been some limited availability, AMDís shipping 64s, Intel is shipping some Xeons, but theyíre going to start shipping in volume mid-year. Microsoftís going to be shipping the 64-bit operating systems that will come preloaded on these systems. So people will have a choice when theyíre buying 64-bit systems to get the 64-bit OS and then native SONAR.

It was curiosity as much as anything else that led you to do this, because you had to find out, right?

Yes, and it paid off, it was really cool.

To what do you attribute the performance gains?

Part of it is the CPU at 64-bit has twice the number of registers. When you need to access a number, you can access it from a register, you can access it from cache, you can access it from RAM, or from disk. Thatís like increasing orders of speed. Registers are the fastest accessible data storage place, if you will. And on 64-bit processors, they double the number of registers, in addition to making them wider. They also changed the design on how the floating point unit is set up, so that a compiler can make better code. So I think all those things add up and give us the performance gains.

Is there a release date for 64-bit SONAR yet?

Thereís a free technology preview right now, you can go to our website and download it []. Weíre hoping that the next major release of SONAR will have both types in the same box, but we have no schedule for that yet. 

Thank you for your time.

You're welcome.

Editor's Note: In addition to the download preview of 64-bit SONAR 4 (link above), a free pre-release beta version of Microsoft's Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is available for download at


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Related Keywords:Cakewalk, Ron Kuper, SONAR 4, 64-bit

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