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I'm not sure if there are computer experts on this platform, but this board seemed more reasonable to choose than a pure "computer hardware forum" on StackExchange. :)

Do you think or know whether a CPU providing hyperthreading (I'm eyeing the Intel Core i7-6700) is a must-have when sequencing using Vienna Ensemble (and Reaper)?

RESULT For the ones interested: I went for the following main components.

Mobo: Gigabyte GA-Z170-HD3P

CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K

RAM: 16GB DDR4

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Digital instruments based on large sample libraries should not require vastly more CPU than an ordinary sampler. However, they are extremely heavy on memory and disk use. I would therefore say that large/fast memory and a fast hard-drive (e.g. SSD) is more important.

For example, I don't know about how Vienna works, but the Play sampler (EastWest/QL) keeps the first fraction of a second for every note/articulation/velocity in memory, and when that note is played it then has that fraction of a second to read the rest of the sample from the disk. (SSDs are particularly great because not only are they fast in general, but they don't have a long "seek time" when reading from a new location.)

In contrast, instruments such as the Roland V-Piano don't use samples but use physical simulation to produce the sound - this takes more CPU but they don't need to constantly read from the disk.

Nerd Time: the strongest benefit of hyperthreading for digital audio is when you have lots of multiple completely independent effects that are CPU/memory heavy (i.e. not limited by the disk). Certain calculations use multiple areas of the CPU in sequence, so if your synth uses each calculation's result in the next calculation, it has to wait for each calculation to go through all the stages before starting the next one. Hyperthreading is a way to fill in the gaps, so it will interleave the calculations for multiple synths through a single CPU, a bit like a production line.

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I don't know either piece of software, so this is going to be very generic, however...

Clock speed is raw power [though comparing clock speed across CPU generations is not a good guide, due to many factors]
Core count will give you more simultaneous plugins.
Hyper threading does not add any more raw power to a core, as it is a "job sharer" rather than a "job doubler" & so is only useful if the core still has spare time.

So...
For a high speed, low thread task, clock speed is everything.
For a high-thread task, multiple plugins or virtual instruments, cores count.
So long as a core is not 100% busy, HT will enable another task to be run on that core, i.e., another plugin thread.

  • Agreed on the first part. --- "high speed-low thread" is kind of the rendering scenario, isn't it. The live usage and composition/process is a "high thread" task, so I guess, that's a plus for HT. I'm swaying between the Intel Core i5-6600 and the i7-6700. – LCsa Aug 3 '16 at 18:46
  • It's not really a plus for HT, it's a plus for cores. HT assists in task sharing, it's almost useless if the CPU is actually very busy. I'd go i7 over i5 every time, but Xeons are prime for a DAW, whatever OS. My recommendation for a Mac Pro wasn't so much for the OS, as for the sheer grunt of a pair of Xeons on a server-grade mobo. You can easily run Windows on one, if you prefer. 2nd hand, fully loaded, under 2 grand. – Tetsujin Aug 5 '16 at 9:56
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I don't know specifically, but I sincerely doubt it. Computer performance depends on a lot more than a CPU. It's a harmony between the OS, RAM, CPU, hard drive, and bus speeds. You will certainly want a CPU in the i7 family and not an i5. I would try to get as much RAM & CPU horsepower as you can afford, as well as a solid-state drive.

  • According to the processor lists differentiating between physical and logical cores, you find for the i5 product line 4/4 (no hyperthreading) and for the i7 4/8 (hyperthreading). And so say the Intel data sheets of the respective processors. (hyperthreading =/= multithreading...) --- Harmony is a more critical bottle neck than CPU, that's for sure, but given the components all work well together and are of equal performance, multitasking could come in handy... – LCsa Aug 3 '16 at 18:40
  • See ark.intel.com/products/88188/… and ark.intel.com/products/88196/… at the "advanced technologies" tab. – LCsa Aug 3 '16 at 18:42
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    OK, I stand corrected. I will edit the response accordingly. But I will add that you probably don't want an i5. I was assuming you would be looking at the higher-end processors, so you would definitely want to go with an i7 as that will certainly make a difference in many circumstances where an application can put the hyperthreading and extra cores to use. Also, you definitely want an SSD as well, if that was not already obvious! – David Vogel Aug 3 '16 at 18:57
  • Yep to the SSD. I'll ask that in the comment (and maybe put it into a new or this question): Do you have some quick recommendations about the motherboard (spec wise, not an actual product)? – LCsa Aug 3 '16 at 19:00
  • As far as motherboard specs, I would buy a whole system and not futz with trying to put it together or customize it yourself. It will be cheaper, will run better, and save you a lot of headache. The people who assemble these are pretty good at combining things properly so the system runs smoothly. Also, I would recommend a Mac over a Windows machine. – David Vogel Aug 3 '16 at 19:23

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