Updated information on DAW performance & compatibility with motherboards/chipsets featuring PCIe

©AGRONOVA/Anders Fahlén
18.01.2006 Version 1.0

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nForce4, DSP PCI card, and AMD 64 X2 compatibility

Presently there are no known work arounds to issues with choppy audio and/or CPU spikes with the combination of UAD-1 PCI, AMD 64 X2 and nForce4 desktop chipsets.

However, there are a few user reports demonstrating good but not stellar performance down to some 6 ms latency setting, if the UAD-1 DSP host is moderately loaded and the mainboard’s CPU is not maxed out. These reports are based on a combination of Asus A8N-E, AMD 64 4200+, 2x UAD-1s PCI and FW soundcard connected to the PCIe bus via a FW to PCIe card (to maintain audio I/O on the PCIe bus separated from the PCI bus).

The TC PowerCore mk II PCI does not have any compatibility issues with the combination of nForce4 desktop chipset and AMD 64 X2.

Dual-CPU nForce4 Professional (2200 + 2050 chipsets)

This dual chipset combination is used on dual-CPU (Opteron 2xx) mainboards targeted for the server-/workstation segment. Pro DAW users with high demands on simultaneous track counts at high sampling frequencies, VSTi/sampling capacity, video recording/rendering capacity, etc., are likely to find features such as dual dual-core CPUs, separate PCI/PCI-X/PCIe buses, NUMA support, etc. of great value.

DAW stress test data (Thonex, Thonex II) indicates that the nForce4 Professional chipset does not have the PCI-PCIe interconnectivity issue as reported with the nForce4 desktop chipsets.

The following motherboards are recommended and known to be compatible with RME soundcards: Tyan Thunder K8WE (S2895) and Supermicro H8DCE. Supermicro has recently released a new series of motherboards featuring the new AMD 8132 PCI-X hub and separate 64-bit 100/133 MHz PCI-X buses/slots (H8DCi and H8DC8). Gigabyte has also released an AMD 8132-featured mainboard with similar PCI-X and PCI specs (GA-2CWEH). These new mainboards with AMD 8132 PCI-X hubs have though not yet been congruently tested for DAW usage.

It is not yet known if the new AMD 8132 PCI-X hub is compatible with UAD-1s. The new PCI-X hub though apparently does not have errata found on the 8131 – e.g. such that (1) the fairness algorithm does not function properly according to the HyperTransport I/O specs leading to uneven bandwidth distribution under specific conditions, and (2) that the PCI-X tunnel links do not function properly at 800 MHz.

The Tyan Thunder K8WE comes with 1x PCIe x16, 4x SATA II, 1x Gigabit LAN, 2x USB 2.0, 1x IEEE 1394a, 1x 32-bit PCI 33 MHz directly connected to the nForce 2200 chipset. Additionally, directly connected to the nForce 2050 chipset is 1x PCIe x16 and 1x Gigabit LAN. The mainboard also features a PCI-X hub (AMD 8131) with two separate PCI-X buses (64-bit/100 MHz [slots 4 & 5]/133 MHz [slot 6]) communicating via the primary CPU. It can also be ordered with integrated SCSI (connected to the PCI-X bridge B). There is a known AMD 8131-multiple UAD-1 issue such that CPU load may be high with multiple UAD-1s used with high host CPU loads – it is therefore recommended to run multiple UAD-1s via a Magma Expansion chassis. The extent of this issue varies according to user reports (see Nuendo’s Harware Forum for more details).

The H8DCE has 8x USB 2.0, 4x SATA II, 3x PCI 33 MHz slots, 1x PCIe x4, 1x PCIe x16 and 1x Gigabit LAN directly connected to the nForce 2050 chipset. In addition, another set of 8x SATA II, PCIe x4, PCIe x16 and 1x Gigabit LAN are directly connected to the nForce 2200 chipset. It does neither feature any PCI-X buses/slots nor on-board IEEE 1394a/b controller. There is presently a PCI resource allocation issue reported with the PCI bus/PCI 33 MHz slots on the H8DCE in combination with specific PCI RAID and SCSI cards. This may be correlated with the finding that UAD-1s do not work with the on-board PCI slots whereas it works well via an add-on Magma expansion chassis. According to this user report, adjustments of PCI Bus timing via a utility tool may make the UAD-1s workable with the on-board PCI slots. TC PowerCore PCI mk I and II though seemingly work if directly connected to the on-board PCI slots at default PCI bus settings.

Stress test data:

The Tyan S2895 is reported to run the Thonex II test with 2x Opteron 275 (dual-core), 4 GB ECC RAM and 2x RME MADI down to 1,5 ms latency setting at 45-48% CPU load (play) without pops/clicks.

The combination of Supermicro H8DCE, 2x Opteron 270 (dual-core), 4 GB ECC RAM, 3x UAD-1, 1x TC PoCo PCI mk II, 1x RME MADI [all PCI DSPs and RME soundcard connected via a Magma Expansion chassis] is reported to run the Thonex II test with Nuendo 3.1 without pops/clicks down to 1,5 ms latency setting at 44-52% CPU load (play).

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