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64 Studio 1.0 “Olympic” released December 2, 2006

Posted by oktyabr in audio, debian, distro reviews, linux, realtime.
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After mutilating my most recent install, an early 0.94 release dist-upgraded to 0.99 and then morphed into something completely different
with a liberal dose of debian “unstable” and even (GASP!) “experimental” I thought the release of “Olympic” couldn’t have come at a better time! Downloaded the single ISO (I run the x86 version instead of the 64bit due to my fondness of flash based websites ~rolls eyes~) and burned successfully, I popped it in the drive in my primary machine and gave it a whirl…

64 Studio, a debian based distro designed primarily for multimedia production on both 64bit and 32bit systems saw it’s first stable release, 1.0, this week. Code named “Olympic” in recognition of the work of Glyn Johns and Eddie Kramer at Olympic Studios in London, 64 Studio is based on Debian “testing” but has been thoroughly tweaked and tuned to offer a high performance multimedia desktop with enhanced stability.

I didn’t really notice anything “new” about this release. It pretty much looked and installed the same as the handful of prior releases I had tried in the past. Unlike debians of days past 64 Studio is fairly typical in it’s much easier and modern text based, menu driven installer. It includes a full partitioner as well. Missing was a few install options that would have been nice to see in a distro with such a dedicated mission… One is the simple option to manually configure network interfaces offered *right up front*. Why wait to see if DCHP can connect if you already know you want to configure interfaces manually? Same thing with sound cards and other interfaces. To be fair most other distros don’t have this sort of capability in their installers yet either but the way I figure it if you can manually edit something *after* install how difficult would it be to add the option to configure it before the install?

Secondly, possibly most importantly, is the installation of the boot loader! For quite a while now I’ve been running two harddrives in my primary computer, one for WinXP Pro, that I occassionally play a game or two on, and the second is my linux laboratory and desktop studio, where I spend most of my time. Due to the fact that most modern distros have fallen into a school of thought that just because a linux boot loader CAN load and cooperate with Windows (and other OSs) that by default, it SHOULD, I’ve gotten in the habit of manually asserting my choice NOT to allow the linux boot loader on my MBR (Master Boot Record, usually on the primary, in my case, Windows drive)… I do this by shutting down the computer, opening the case and unplugging my windows drive entirely, then repowering and installing the new distro as if it would be the only OS on the machine, shutting down the computer again and reconnecting the windows harddrive. It is then a simple thing to manually select the “boot device” from BIOS at boot, in my case simply by pressing the “F8” key, and choosing what I want booted. Why don’t modern distros offer a choice during installation that would provide this same end result??? It didn’t always used to be that way either! 64Studio is no more guilty of this than 99% of the rest of modern, popular distros out there… and no less guilty either.

After install I was greeted with a fairly lean and mean Gnome 2.14 desktop. Musix and even dyne:bolic, both respectable multimedia distros in their own right, at least give you the feeling you are running a multimedia distro at boot… shortcuts on the desktop, applets pre-loaded, even custom wallpapers suggest this isn’t a desktop for spreadsheets or checking email 😉 64 Studio, on the other hand, is relatively spartan with no real outward indicators that the purpose of this distro is for multimedia work. Still, it is very usable, as a desktop, and since it syncs to native debian repositories it is nothing more than a few mouse clicks in synaptic to install the KDE, fluxbox, afterstep or any other desktop enviroments either. One last mention on the desktop… While I realize that 64Studio is not intended to be one of those “gateway” distros that make ease of use especially for windows and mac converts, a top priority, no effort appears to have been made to simplify system administration or configuration through a centralized “my computer” type of menu or application here. An experienced linux user will find all the usual tools and config options right where they should be but what possible reason is there for leaving out an interface to simplify these tasks? Perhaps future versions will see the incorporation of some of the system control menus and applications from distros such as Ubuntu, Mepis, or PCLinuxOS as examples…

Under the hood though is where it all counts! 64Studio runs a custom 2.6.17 kernel with realtime preemption patches (including a realtime SMP kernel for AMD64 dual core and multi-processor machines) and the realtime-lsm framework. This kernel is VERY fast, latency wise, and very capable of serious audio work “out of the box”. I’ve been hammering my install for the better part of 5 hours now, loading up the system with tons of stuff including a bunch of things you normally wouldn’t expect to utilize in a DAW enviroment including Superkaramba desktop enhancements (yes, Gnome is lean and mean but KDE is just so suave and sexy!), realtime task bar news tickers, OpenGL XMMS visualizations, streaming audio, multiple webbrowsers and more. I even got Ardour 2 “alpha” to blow up on me… all the while running Qjackctl in the default realtime mode… and I’ve only been able to cause a total of 16 xruns so far and that’s running on an onboard nforce4 Realtec ALC850 soundchip geared up for 5.8msec of latency! For those of you that didn’t follow that let me just say that very few realtime kernels I’ve ran, including those I’ve put together myself, have performed so quickly with such great stability.

Still not all is perfect in paradise, at least on my hardware. My system runs 2x1024MB DDR 400 OCZ Platinum rev.2 chips and 64Studio, the 32bit version anyway, only sees one of them! At first I was worried that maybe one of my most prized wafers of silicon had gone belly up but a reboot both into my WinXP install as well as another live CD I’ve got lying around confirmed that yes, both chips of RAM were still there and performing as expected. I’ve written to the 64studio-dev mailing list on this issue and hope that they can resolve it before the next release.

Summary:All in all this build feels very solid and syncing up to pure debian, even “testing”, is like sipping really good scotch after a meal in a four star resturant. I’ll definately be keeping this one on the drive for awhile and pushing it more. Hope to throw together a song or two on it too before I find a way to break it 🙂

Pros: Wicked fast multimedia kernel, both 32bit and 64bit versions, a good assortment of multimedia tools “out of the box” and enough standard apps to use the install as a casual desktop as well, syncs up to true debian repositories and seems mostly compatible too.

Cons: Still has a couple of wrinkles to smooth out, could stand a healthy shot of branding, custom artwork, sound examples, etc. Beginners will likely find the lack of any sort of centralized system configuration tools disheartening.

Final score: 7 / 10

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