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Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

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Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby emptybe » Wed Feb 20, 2019 2:57 pm

I'm looking at upgrading my ageing firewire interface (Tascam FW-1884) and see that there are some very reasonable thunderbolt ones these days but am not sure if I can get them working with my pc and if I'll see any benefit.

My current mobo is an Asus 170-P https://www.asus.com/uk/Motherboards/Z170-P/ which doesn't look like it supports thunderbolt but does have a spare PCIE 3.0 slot (currently with my FW card in it), USB 3.0 ports a USB-C port.

I tried out a USB 2.0 interface recently but had similar issues as FW - high latency and crumbling under load even with big buffers). And I roughly understand the difference between bandwidth and latency. I don't run a lot of live I/O simultaneously (max 4 each) but I run a lot of orchestral VST libraries with high track counts which is where my current issues with latency and stability come in. So...some questions:

- Is there a way to use one of those ports to get better latency and reliability?
- Would a PCIE-Thunderbolt card work?
- Would Thunderbolt give me better latency than FW-400?
- Am I missing something else here?

Any thoughts appreciated. Specs below

Win 7 x64
Asus Z170-P
Core i5 3.2 GHz, 32GB RAM
Presonus Studio One 4
Cubase 10
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby Sam Inglis » Wed Feb 20, 2019 3:06 pm

Unfortunately it's only possible to add Thunderbolt to motherboards that do support it, so I don't think that route is available to you.

Don't entirely write off USB interfaces -- with good drivers such as RME, it is possible to achieve good low-latency performance.
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby Pete Kaine » Wed Feb 20, 2019 3:41 pm

emptybe wrote:My current mobo is an Asus 170-P https://www.asus.com/uk/Motherboards/Z170-P/ which doesn't look like it supports thunderbolt but does have a spare PCIE 3.0 slot (currently with my FW card in it), USB 3.0 ports a USB-C port.

Out of luck currently. The was discussion a few years back about that changing, in that it could be supported without the control header, but its still not in the public domain.

emptybe wrote:I tried out a USB 2.0 interface recently but had similar issues as FW - high latency and crumbling under load even with big buffers). And I roughly understand the difference between bandwidth and latency. I don't run a lot of live I/O simultaneously (max 4 each) but I run a lot of orchestral VST libraries with high track counts which is where my current issues with latency and stability come in. So...some questions:

It's going to be one of the following:

1, Memory / drive access times - lots of orchestral audio means you're streaming. If you overfill the RAM it streams more from disk, which might result in dropouts. Try pre-loading more if you have available memory space.

2, Overloading the CPU - check it in device manager and see if any of the cores are topping out.

3, Wonky driver - Grab latency monitor from resplendence and see if it reports problems.

emptybe wrote:Presonus Studio One 4

I've been getting mixed reports about the S1 v4 engine. Just checking that you're getting this in Cubase too?
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby emptybe » Thu Feb 28, 2019 11:26 am

Thanks for the replies. Pete, how do I pre-load samples into RAM?

I've had similar issues with Cubase but Studio One seems particularly temperamental...
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby Wonks » Thu Feb 28, 2019 11:55 am

It's normally an option in your sampler e.g. Kontakt, to either prioritise streaming samples from disk or loading as much of the samples into RAM as possible ( normally a choice based on how much RAM you have).
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby Pete Kaine » Thu Feb 28, 2019 3:41 pm

Aye, exactly as Wonks says.

If you have more drives without sound banks on them, maybe try spreading the load. If you have access to faster drives (ssd's) and sounds are still on HDD, then you might want to try using the faster drives where you can.

Of course, if you can just pre-load more to RAM, all the better.
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby OneWorld » Fri Mar 01, 2019 3:00 pm

emptybe wrote:I'm looking at upgrading my ageing firewire interface (Tascam FW-1884) and see that there are some very reasonable thunderbolt ones these days but am not sure if I can get them working with my pc and if I'll see any benefit.

My current mobo is an Asus 170-P https://www.asus.com/uk/Motherboards/Z170-P/ which doesn't look like it supports thunderbolt but does have a spare PCIE 3.0 slot (currently with my FW card in it), USB 3.0 ports a USB-C port.

I tried out a USB 2.0 interface recently but had similar issues as FW - high latency and crumbling under load even with big buffers). And I roughly understand the difference between bandwidth and latency. I don't run a lot of live I/O simultaneously (max 4 each) but I run a lot of orchestral VST libraries with high track counts which is where my current issues with latency and stability come in. So...some questions:

- Is there a way to use one of those ports to get better latency and reliability?
- Would a PCIE-Thunderbolt card work?
- Would Thunderbolt give me better latency than FW-400?
- Am I missing something else here?

Any thoughts appreciated. Specs below

Win 7 x64
Asus Z170-P
Core i5 3.2 GHz, 32GB RAM
Presonus Studio One 4
Cubase 10

I am not so sure about the FW1884, but back in the day I tried both the Alesis Mastercontrol and the M-Audio Projectmix and I could happily work at 128 samples - except when loading biggish libraries in Kontakt. That being said I have an i7CPU+32MegoRam, but I still felt I should have been able to get below 128 samples.

By coincidence I bought a UAD PCIe card and UAD recommended either of 2 firewire cards. Sorry I don't have the name of the card in front of me, but I know my previous FW card cost £20.00 and the recommended one cost £70.00+ but I did see an immediate improvement, but I still couldn't get down to 32 samples.

I also read on the internet 'turn off the NIC and or WiFi on the DAW' I did that and saw an immediate and profound improvement. That being said I believe this was an acknowledged issue with WIn10 and now the WIn10 drivers which are delivered with updates addresses the issue. By way of experiment I have turned the NIC/WiFi back on and latency now doesn't seem affected, so it seems a Win10 update has fixed the problem.

I read that certainly Cubase seems to prefer AMD graphics cards over NVIDIA. When I had an NVIDIA card installed I would get crackling when Cubase was playing back/recording and at the same time I was using the mouse, to say 'rubber band' a selection of items.

I also tried turning on/off ASIO Guard, there was a slight improvement.

What made a massive difference when using Kontakt was that I read a lot of Kontakt libraries load with all the effects and dynamics turned on by default, the advice given was turn off all effects and sure enough my crackling/latency issues vanished! And to check, I turned them back on again and the cracking came back. The issue was particularly acute with multis where there might be several instruments might all have the effects turned on, or for example drum kits where each, or many of the instruments might have effects turned on even though you'd be hardly likely to use them, so I found it better to turn all EFX off and then just turn on those I needed, again there was a significant improvement.

I would also use something like cCleaner to see what loads when you boot, it is often the case where all sorts of nick-knacks loaded that are quite simply superfluous, they can be invoked as and when needed, many apps seem to demand that they sit in the 'tray' doing nothing but monitor and watch until that once in every few weeks/months occasion where you need to run the app.

Before you do any messing about though - make backups and drive images!
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby emptybe » Mon Mar 04, 2019 12:24 pm

Yes, I need to do some housekeeping to make sure there's nothing getting in the way of the audio performance.

One last thing - I've seen this latency chart plenty of times...
https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source= ... 2906969131
but notice the MOTU towards the top. Does that mean I could get Thunderbolt type latency with a 14 year old 24 I/O (or 2408) with a PCIE card?
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby James Perrett » Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:12 pm

emptybe wrote:One last thing - I've seen this latency chart plenty of times...
https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source= ... 2906969131
but notice the MOTU towards the top. Does that mean I could get Thunderbolt type latency with a 14 year old 24 I/O (or 2408) with a PCIE card?

As I understand it, driver performance is far more important than the interface used. Thunderbolt is effectively PCIE in an external cable so a PCIE interface will give you the same potential performance as Thunderbolt.
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Re: Getting Thunderbolt into Older Mobo

Postby CS70 » Wed Mar 06, 2019 3:24 pm

James Perrett wrote:
emptybe wrote:One last thing - I've seen this latency chart plenty of times...
https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source= ... 2906969131
but notice the MOTU towards the top. Does that mean I could get Thunderbolt type latency with a 14 year old 24 I/O (or 2408) with a PCIE card?

As I understand it, driver performance is far more important than the interface used. Thunderbolt is effectively PCIE in an external cable so a PCIE interface will give you the same potential performance as Thunderbolt.

Just as info, things with PCIe are a little complicated as there are different versions, and within the versions, different lane options with different theoretical maximum transfer rates, and different levels of overheads, so that for example a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot (4 lanes of PCIe 3.0) and an older PCIe 1.1 x16 slot (16 lanes of PCIe 1.1) have more or less the same speed. The protocol also needs not use all available lanes, so you're most often not using the maximum theoretical bandwidth. Different versions of thunderbolt also have different amount of available lanes usable at the same time (and generally less than the maximum option, x16, for the internal PCIe slots) so the precise answer to the question depends on which PCIe to which Thunderbolt.

Anyways, for audio, where the necessary bandwidth even in large-channel situation is quite low, the short answer is that yes, even a very old PCIe interface (likely 1.1) has the hardware capability of theoretically running as good or better than some thunderbolt versions (and in practice you won't likely need the "better" so they will run identically).
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