CM In Depth

All Systems Go! Our Annual Checkup on Computers & Creative Tech

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Canadian Musician magazine.

By Eric Price

Once again, it’s time for your annual computer checkup with Dr. Eric! (Ed.’s note: Eric is neither a real doctor, nor has he ever played one on TV.)

In an era where computer hardware and software changes have become evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary, it’s continually more challenging to get too fired up over the latest and greatest gadgetry. But fear not faithful readers, as I shall endeavour to both excite and entertain you as I comb through press releases and technical bulletins gleaning interesting tidbits and insights to share with you.

Not Dead Yet!

By now, I assume most of you are aware that Windows 7 will be reaching its end-of-life, which arrives on Jan. 14, 2020. With Windows 7 having first arrived on the scene in July of 2009 – a dinosaur’s age in the operating system domain – it has long seen better days, and by now, I would expect most of you PC users will have already moved on to Windows 10.

Of course, Windows 7 will continue to run after that date, but it will suffer the same long and painful death as other operating systems before it. Security updates, OS improvements, and bug fixes from Microsoft will cease on that date. As well, you can expect increasingly diminishing support from third-party software and hardware companies. Drivers, as well as newer versions of programs that will run in Windows 7, will become scarcer as companies will not want to dedicate precious resources to supporting a dead OS.

Though Windows 7 has been superseded by both Windows 8 and then 8.1, neither of those two operating systems ever really gained any serious traction in the market. With both OSes having already lost much of their support, Microsoft has left you little choice but to have migrated to Windows 10. Though there is still no formal mention of a replacement for Windows 10, Microsoft continues to release major updates to the OS about every six months.

Let’s look at where Microsoft is currently with the update cycle for Windows 10.

How’s Your Blood Pressure?

As of press time for this issue, the May 2019 update for Windows 10 (version 1903) had recently launched. This is the seventh major upgrade to Windows 10 since its initial release in 2015, and with Microsoft already having discontinued support for earlier updates, you need to make sure you are running at least version 1803 from spring 2018.

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Only a month or so behind schedule, version 1903 was finally deemed fit for public release in late May with the rollout being very slow this time around. Hopefully this update will contain fewer of the surprise pitfalls found in the October 2018 update, which left more than a few users with either data loss or the aggravation of being unable to work for days.

Though Microsoft made few new friends last update, there is hope they may have learned their lesson this time around as there are now update settings where you can decide which updates to install and when they will be installed. Even Windows 10 Home users have a little more leverage regarding the update schedule where before they basically had none.

For more control over updating, Windows 10 Professional is still the best route to go for serious users.

The new 1903 update does run a little faster due to the recoding of the fixes for the Spectre bug. In case you were unaware, the Spectre bug was an Intel CPU flaw that allowed hackers to access the code within the CPU and the only fix to this was to make concessions within the operating system to stop them. Unfortunately, those corrections deprived users of some of their CPU cycles. The new update has improved the code that deals with those bugs, which thankfully all but negates the performance penalties introduced in the last update.

Other things of interest with the update for the artist community would be the ability to remove most of the apps that come built into Windows, thereby helping to keep the visual clutter down and freeing up drive space and resources.

The start menu now searches your whole PC for files, which should make the search tool more useful. Also of interest, Cortana and the search bar have parted ways, with the search interface getting a new look. I personally never liked the two being connected as I never used Cortana, so now I can search without having Cortana popping up. If you do use or are a fan of Cortana, it can still be added to the taskbar.

Sadly, the search still combs the web via Bing with no way to change it. Hopefully they’ll change that in a future update.

There Is No Cure for GAS

GAS, or as it is known in musicians’ circles, “gear acquisition syn¬drome,” is a terrible disease to have. If you are suffering with GAS and must have more gear, let me at least help you with some handy advice for building a new PC.

I would start with a ninth-generation CPU from Intel, either an i7 or, if budget allows, an i9. These days, with RAM being so affordable, noth¬ing less than 16 GB should be considered.

On the note of affordability, consider SSDs (solid-state drives). Though they still may not be quite as practical for mass storage as con¬ventional mechanical drives, 1 TB versions of SSDs are starting to appear under $200, with high-performance versions coming in at just under $400. Add a decent video card with dual monitors and you still won’t be breaking the bank – unless of course you want a cutting-edge video card, which can cost as much as the rest of the parts combined!

Bottom line, with some prudent shopping, you should be able to build a very powerful and effective computer for around the $2,000- $2,500 price range.

An Apple a Day…

Now, unlike last year’s report where I discussed at length Apple’s shameful abandonment of its core user base, there have been some actual rumblings about new hardware from Cupertino. I was fortunate enough to have had the WWDC (World Wide Development Conference) happen just as I was starting this article, allowing me to catch a glimpse of what Apple has in store for users in the coming months. I won’t call what they presented earth-shattering news, but it is something.

Come fall, we will get the latest iteration of MacOS X called Catalina, as well as the more prominently featured brand new Mac Pro and its accompanying WDX Pro display. Interestingly, some integration between MacOS and iOS is finally happening, allowing you to use iPad apps on your computer. Let’s take a deeper look…

Open Your Wallet & Say “Ugh”

Well, Apple finally announced a new Mac Pro desktop and it’s a beauty; I just hope you won the lottery!

This new base model Mac Pro is selling for $5,999 USD and is scalable to about $30,000 depending on which upgrades you want. Of course, you’ll want the screen to go with that. The Pro Display XDR, the company’s new 32-in. Retina 6K display, will only set you back about $4,999 USD. Oh, and don’t forget the special stand for that monitor, which will set you back another $1,000.

Altogether, I roughly estimate the base rig to be coming in at around $16,000 CAD! That sure is a lot of Sir John A. Macdonalds you’ll be shelling out to be able to keep drinking the Apple juice! (Yes, the cheese grater comparisons are running rampant, though I suppose this design is a little nicer than the last Mac Pro, which looked a lot like a trash can…)

What does the machine have to offer for that kind of money you ask? Well, here are the specs for the base model, which features an eight-core Xeon CPU, 32 GB of memory, a 256 GB SSD, and the Radeon Pro 580X graphics card. If you have the means, you will be able to load the computer with up to a 28-core CPU configuration and a whopping 1.5 TB of RAM!

Who will be able to afford this, you ask? Not I, not I.

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Doctor, We Have a Pulse!

On a less expensive note, in late May 2019, Apple finally refreshed the 13-in. and 15-in. MacBook Pro. Though their outward appearance hasn’t changed, they have beefed up the processor with Intel’s latest-generation CPU. For the keyboard warriors, good news as Apple has made significant alterations to its butterfly keyboard, hopefully putting to rest the infamous keyboard failures introduced on the last version that won them no fans. They increased the size of the Touch Trackpad and both now have four Thunderbolt 3/USB C ports. The OLED Touchbar remains the same on each model.

A fully-loaded eight-core, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD MacBook Pro with the 15-in. screen will run about $3,700 CAD – considerably less than the new Mac Pro and frankly as powerful if not more powerful than the base model Mac Pro at $6,000 USD!

Take Two Aspirin & Call Me in the Morning

As Catalina, Apple’s new macOS, has yet to be released, I can only share a few details mentioned at the conference about what to expect in the upcoming release. It’s always challenging to say too much about unreleased operating systems, but if Apple holds true to their word, there should be a few cool musician-helpful additions.

I really like the Sidecar addition, whereby you can use an iPad as a second screen. This trick might be good for your plug-ins, for example, to keep them off the main screen. The other thing that really grabbed my attention is the ability to run iOS apps on MacOS. Until now, the two operating systems never shared apps, but the convergence of the two seems to be slowly continuing with this addition.

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And Another Thing…

Logic Pro got an update as well. You can see Apple showing it off in the picture of the Mac Pro we included in this article. I can only begin to imagine what you could do with Logic and a fully-loaded Mac Pro, or imagine what you will need to be doing with it every day for years to come to pay for it all! Apple claims the new version will be able to run up to five times as many real-time plug-ins than the last Mac Pro. Add the ability for Logic to now handle up to 56 processing threads and they are boasting the DAW can now handle 1,000 audio tracks, 1,000 virtual instruments, 1,000 external MIDI tracks, 1,000 auxiliary channel strips, plus 12 sends per channel strip.

It appears the sky is the limit for this DAW! Running Logic on the new Mac Pro should have it running pretty fast.

How’s Your Coverage?

What tech talk article would be complete without me lecturing you on your backup practices? None! After all, I took an oath to remind you to be backing up regularly...

Remember there are no good excuses you can give for not backing up, and I don’t get paid by the tears that you’ll be crying when you lose your data. It happens to everyone eventually and only you can prevent data loss! Large-capacity external hard drives are very affordable these days and it takes very little time and effort to be safe. Whether it’s Time Machine on MacOS or the hourly backup program built into Windows 10, both are handy and easy tools you should be using. You could also do file transfers manually if you prefer, or there are many free solutions for automated backup that work well.

If you need more storage capacity, invest in a small NAS (network attached storage) device with a couple of 4TB drives in a RAID 1 (mirrored) configuration. Even better, do both!

Remember boys and girls: you can never have enough backup.


Eric Price is an I.T. consultant by day, entertainer by night. He apologizes to any Apple fanboys who may be reading this article, but $12,000 USD for a base-model Mac Pro? Really Apple? He can be flamed at eric@gepconsulting.ca.

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