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!

19 Replies to “SONAR 8.5 / Intel Core I7 / Windows 7 X64 – a heavenly trilogy for DAW users”

    1. I spent about $1200 for the rig (after returning the WIFI card and not including the cost of Windows itself). The bulk of the cost was the Core I7 950 processor itself. A relatively small price for all the power and utility of this rig. I paid a lot more for my older system bought many years ago, that is probably about 20x slower.

  1. Hey Noel, Are you using a 424 PCI or PCIe with your 828mk2? WDM or ASIO? I’m looking into a 828 mk3 for my windows 7 64 system as well. Any issues?

    Thanks man!!

    1. Hi, the 828 MK2 is a firewire device so no PCI interface is required.
      The MK3 would be the same. We have MK 3’s in the office and haven’t seen any issues. Once you get the installer to work you should normally be OK 🙂

  2. Hello,
    I recently (couple weeks ago) put together a nearly identical system (major exception I7 920) and I am having some latency issues. Could you please school me as to the buffer/ audio settings that you use. I have been using WMD drivers.

  3. I am using ASIO and I typically set the buffer size to 128 samples or higher although it also works fine with 64 samples. If you are having glitches you might want to check the DPC latency on your system since it could be related to something else.
    BTW the hard drive I used (the WD green drives) is not efficient for audio so you could get glitches while streaming a more disk heavy project. If so increase your I/O buffer size in options | Audio | Advanced.

  4. i have a problem with my chokes..(jerks) the time line not smooth..and when i stop the takes about a second or two to go back to it’s starting point..i have a motu 828 xp.dua core..2 gigs of ram..we tried everything..motu told me to check the type of chipset that i have..they said to make sure that it’s a texas instrument or lucent chipset…my fire card is on the motherboard..someone told me to buy one that is not conected to my motherboard….help somebody please…thanks

  5. Same issues as Joe – Buffering and latency. But also some unplayed notes.
    i7 + RME Multiface + 12gb ram + 8.5

    Pass me the screenshots you’ve made for the buffering setup. I’ll be grateful 🙂

  6. Hi Noel, great article.

    How many HD drives do you recommend? And where do you put your DAW, on the OS hard drive?

    I was thinking about getting SSD drive for OS plus two SATA for apps and samples.
    Thank you

    1. SSD plus sata sounds ideal. I don’t do anything special – I have SONAR on the OS drive and the samples and data on a different disk.

  7. Hi Noel,

    First, extremely helpful article. I’m in the planning stages of my next upgrade and this clarify some questions I had.

    You indicated in your article that you try to get the “maximum life out of your system.” Was there a specific reason why you didn’t choose a motherboard with USB 3? If the reason is because it wasn’t available at the time you purchased it, which MB would you recommend now?

    Thanks again

    1. Wasn’t available at the time when I was shopping. I haven’t kept up with the recent boards but im sure there are many candidates with usb3.

  8. hi noel, i did similar upgrade this week! Big learning curve, sonar 8.5 studio/ intel i7 x58 chipset/6GB ram/ windows 7 64bit home premium, and my dream…..eastwest libraries, i put the samples on a western digital HD, sounds are awesome, yet, there are gremlins, i’ve come straight from xp/ pentium 4/ using soundfonts as my main midi source,
    so i’ve lots to learn on all fronts, can you recommend any tweaks i can do in both win. 7 and sonar……..??

  9. Noel,
    I’ve been using 8.5 Producer with Win 7 and have had the worst time with “Dropouts”. I’ve gone to the entent of changing the config to run ONLY Sonar 8.5 and any possible MS programs that may need to run…NO INTERNET or DROP BOX. Still have problems. It seems that recording “loops” is one of the big problems for “Dropouts”. Bought my Dell Studio XPS 8100 Desktop @ Costco with Core i7-860 at 2.80GHz and 512 MB Graphics. 8MB Cache, 8GB DDR3 SDRAM at 1066MHz (4 x 2GB) USB ports are 2.0 It has Win 7 Home Premium 64bit. I use a 1.5T ext drive for BU only. Use a D-Link USB hub, a Moto microlite midi and a Cakewalk UA-25ex audio interface.
    Is there something I need to change in the computer to totally stop the “Dropouts”. It is beyond frustrating.
    Anything you might suggest would be helpful. Thanks, Ron
    PS I’m glad I record alone, avoiding the embarrassment.

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