The days are numbered for proprietary audio DSP in DAWs. There, I've said it. Now that Avid has dropped the "HD" from Pro Tools, rebranding it "Ultimate", this could be a sign that Avid is looking to drop the dedicated hardware audio DSP that currently facilitates low latency processing and large track counts. There are good reasons to do this, as it costs exponentially more to design and manufacture your own proprietary DSP chips. There's also a finite shelf life as the chips they choose will go out of date and production, plus as with any manufacturing process, there is a minimum amount you have to make. Maybe there is another solution?
The Best Accelerator You Never Realised You Had
It's long been recognised that having a decent GPU can greatly enhance your DAW user experience. A good friend of mine, producer and former legendary studio owner Dennis Weinreich, recently contacted me as he was getting bottlenecks causing glitches and stops when mixing in-the-box on Pro Tools. He had a lot of plug-ins running which had complicated real-time user interfaces. I directed him towards a 4GB MSI NVidia card, which greatly eased the load on his Mac's CPU and RAM, giving him far fewer troubles. It's worth noting that when enabled, Pro Tools takes advantage of GPU acceleration and RAM, as shown in my Dell Windows Laptop review, where the system RAM load was significantly lower on my Laptop which has a 6GB GPU, versus my main system which has a 2GB GPU.
DSP Is Dead. Long Live The GPU.
For any software developer, hardware development can be a complete millstone around your neck, particularly if that hardware involves designing and building your own silicon - the processing chips. It's far easier to work with off-the-shelf hardware developers, whose technology normally services a larger market, who cater for a fast developing market - Gaming and Fast Image Processing.
This is what's known as a "Mining Rig". The builder has taken 10 off-the-shelf GPU cards and built them into a special chassis with a motherboard that has enough high-speed PCIe slots to accommodate them all, adapting their use, in this case to "mine" the digital currency Bitcoin. Mining virtual currency requires serious amounts of fast and in this case, parallel computing. Rather than slinging say 16 CPU cores at the task, a mining rig puts thousands of Cuda GPU cores to work at the task. Working in parallel enables the complex virtual currency mining computations required to be done in a fraction of the time.
Early AMS AudioFile DAW systems used parallel processing in order to process audio fast enough - indeed the same transputer chips as then found in Cruise Missile guidance systems, used to navigate the missile to its target. To my knowledge, this is one of the first examples of the Audio industry adapting other-use computer tech for our purposes.
It's not just digital currency mining that GPUs are being used for. The biggest developers of the ultra-fast processors used in driverless cars are NVidia, who have recently launched their Tesla Test Drive initiative. This is encouraging developers working on High-Performance-Computing and Deep Learning applications to test drive their code on NVidia's hardware remotely, without having to commit to the expense of a hardware testbed. Now think about it. What other applications require fast powerful processing? That's right, real-time audio processing. Rather than developing proprietary DSP chips with a limited lifespan, Audio (and indeed Video) manufacturers like Avid could develop real-time audio processing solutions using GPUs and save on hardware development costs, future proofing themselves into the bargain.
Expensive But Worth The Wait
Tesla Accelerators start at around £1600, but around £3700 will get you a beast with 24GB of GDDR5 RAM and 4992 Cuda cores, delivering ten times the performance of top CPUs. That may seem expensive, but compare that to two HDX cards or a rack of UA Accelerators and suddenly the maths start to add up, especially when you consider that the price of this technology is only going to fall over time. Mac and Laptop users devoid of PCIe slots can also share the love as these accelerators can be used in a Thunderbolt expansion chassis.
The song says, "Video Killed The Radio Star". Well maybe this time around, Video might be our saviour...
Tell Us What You Think
How would you like to see the Audio Industry develop the next generation of Audio processing? Do you think they should concentrate on software development and keep things truly "in-the-box"? Let us know in the comments section below.