So Microsoft unveiled their new Windows 8 based tablet devices (the Surface) on June 18 to much fanfare. The devices look great as far as exterior design and input capabilities, and if you look at the internal hardware specifications (at least what’s known) this could easily be the most powerful tablet device to date. At least the Pro version is particularly interesting for reasons explained below…
Ever since Garageband became my entry point to the world of recording technology I have always been hard-core mac in my workflow (though the fact that Vocaloid is PC only could change that soon) so why am I excited about a Windows based device, and how does the Surface tablet relate to music production?
(I will focus on the Intel based Pro devices in this post since the Arm based ones wont run standard Windows software.)
I have always felt that while the first incarnations of the iPad was primarily media consumption devices, the latest version is an awesome platform for music production of all kinds of styles and levels. You can take the route of dedicated synths or instruments, or go for a ‘tabletized’ DAW experience such as Garageband for iPad or iMaschine (granted this one is for iPhones…). The one area where the iPad is really limited though is in interfacing with external hardware and support for richer editors and DAWs. There are options such as the ‘Camera Connection Kit’ or ‘iRig’ that allow you to connect and record your analog instruments, but they fail to deliver in terms of real performance and quality.
The bottom line is that the iPad will fit well into an existing studio as a Midi controller, instrument or sketch pad, but it cannot be the center of any kind of mobile workstation.
Enter the Surface. For starters the Intel based tablets pack a mighty punch in terms of CPU and storage. The Intel Core i5 processor should be more than enough to handle any modern DAW / Plugin and if you max out on storage (64Gb) you should be able to carry at least a bare minimum sample library with you on the go. Factor in USB support and the fact that if you drop out of the Metro UI you are running a standard version of Windows 8, and you have essentially a mid/low end laptop in a tablet form factor.
The above means that on a Surface tablet, you should theoretically be able to hook up a standard USB audio interface / MIDI controller, and run just about any DAW right? The perfect mobile music production studio! Hurrah!
Well maybe, maybe not. There are a couple of unknowns and limitations that need to be pointed out before we uncork the bubbly.
First off we do not know how much actual workable ram the tablets will pack, and while probably enough to handle most modern software (if it can run Office it should handle Live right? ;), if it’s too low and the device starts swapping you could run into horrible latency issues.
Second, the internal storage limit of 64gb could become a serious limitation in terms of record and keeping around large sample collections or sample based software instruments.
It’s too early to tell how those devices will perform just yet. The entry level tablets will be released along with Windows 8, with the Pro dropping sometime around ~3 months later. Most likely it’ll be christmas season before we actually see any of them in retail. I still think this looks very promising though, if nothing else it looks like it would be great for composing electronica on the go where you could move away from samples and take a more generative / soft synth approach!
The Cakewalk blog has a good post on Windows 8 in general for Music Production.
Check it out!
What are your thoughts about this device?