Archive for the ‘Nanashiwanderer’ Category

Holiday Guide 2008 : Core i7 The future of DAWs.

Friday, November 28th, 2008

So another year has come and gone. I’m 21 years old. The world looks like it might be ending, and I’m writing a article on how you can burn your money on toys in the midst appending dooms day. Intel and AMD have both launched new CPUs, though Intel has expanded  dominant position in the market. The introduction of Intels latest CPU  the Core i7 means that whats availible for those of us looking to build hardware now and through next year will be drasticly different, from those who built over  the last two years. In this article I’ll go into a brief whats to know about intels new CPUs, as well as what looks good for those of us looking to build computers.

I.Introduce Nehalem: Nehalem or by its Common name the Core i7,  is the first major change in Intel Processors since the introduction of the Core 2 at the end of summer 2006. It does a number of things differently from traditional Core 2. First the Processor is more similar to AMD’s Phenom in some ways, predominately the use of an unified Quad core, integrated memory controller, and cache hierarchy.

Intel effectively uses a unified quad core essentially meaning all cores are on a single die, instead of have two dual cores on a single piece of silicon for intels previous quad core. In previous generation this seperation meant less effective communication between cores, in addition a core 2 quad had two seperate sets of caches for all its processors, and effectively had more power sitting idle at various points, as processors could not access the other cache. The Core i7 reintroduces intel’s Hyperthreading technology effectively allowing it to work on 8 threads at once, instead of just 4.  (Hyperthreading allows a core to go work on a different process during a Cache miss, where normal CPU’s would have been waiting for a process to simply finish ). Intel platforms also feature turbo mode, which auto oveclocks CPU if the processor runs cool enough, or when cores are idle by  turing off core, and overclocking used core. This is a benifit if you payed 60$ for an after market cooler like some people.

CPU finally moves away from a seperate memory controller VIA northbridge to an integrated controller like AMDs. This will significantly improve memory bandwidth.  The draw back to this is that each generation of CPU is locked to a memory standard in Intel’s case a DDR-3, and new memory standard will only be introduced with new CPUs as opposed to New mobos. This poses a problem for budget users in some ways, if any of your remember the Pentium IV in early days, expensive ram bus memory made it near impossible to afford for average end users. As new chipsets and Motherboards came out, the same Pentium IV CPU could be accross several different generations of memory standards.  SD-RAM, DDR, DDR-2, Dual Channel DDR. Whats more many of these transitions may not have happened, with out third party development of chipsets (VIA released the first DDR Chipset for Intel, effectively was sued for intel for lack of liscence), which forced the DDR standard on inte platforms.  The i7 uses tri channel DDR-3 to achieve peak bandwidth, meaning for peak performance you’ll need 3 or 6 sticks. The integrated memroy controller puts a limitation on careful overclocking as raising the voltage to high risks destruction of the whole CPU. Standard spec on DDR-3 at this point  is @ 1.5V  7-7-7 for DDR-1066. and 9-9-9-24 @ 1.5V for DDR-3. The memory for this is quite affordable. There is a notable performance increase to DDR-1600 however there is no standard spec for DDR-3 1600. Not all mobos will be compatible with all mdoels, and voltages will be unlike standard and latency varied. It will also cost a premium. It is my faith that DDR-3 1600 will be coming in the future with a standard spec, for now due to my own policy I will not be looking at any DDR-3 1600 sticks. Keep in mind if you choose to find DDR-3 1600 you should look for memory that operates at 1.65Volts or less.

The last major change is a Cache hierarchy similar to AMDs with a small L2 Cache (1MB) and a L3 Cache instead (8mb). The draw back to this is this does not benifit many typical desktop applications, rather large code based operations typically run on server environments. This cuases the i7 to net mixed results on many of todays applications, or common applications.

The effective consequence of all this jargon is the i7 is really well designed for multicore computing. However the net results of its performance is 10-40% performance increases in many tasks with huge potential future improvements if multicore takes off.

The Core i7 (bloomfield) range from 300$-1000$ and are readily available. the most affordable model is the 2.66Ghz 920  which range 3.20 which is 300$-1030$

II. The existing Core 2 Quads provide a great value as Nehalem has come out. Their is some price drops, but one of the more interesting phenomena is the introduction of lower midrange quad cores, that are designed for those who have tighter budgets. Intels CPU remain an overall better value at this point. Offer a great performance for those of us not ready to jump ship. Core 2 CPUs range from 180$ in value to 550$ for a Q9650. The more expensive QX9770 extreme is still 1550. The major benifit of the Core 2 Quad is the cheaper ram, and motherboard (you’ll spend more on the mobo for the i7  you’d spend for both the motherboard, and ram for a core 2 Quad, and most of the i7 mobos cost 300$ a pop).

III. Cases. Not much has changed in department of Cases. For silent cases antec remains the standard, but aluminum cases seem to have gone out of fashion. The top cases still remain the Antec P180, P182, Cooler Master Cosmos. The Antec Solo and Sonata designer have significant deals

IV. The Power supply market has exploded in size, and there are many silencing options. Antec Signature,Seasonic, Corsair (made by Seasonic), Enermax,   made provide cost effective solutions for quiet power supply’s. Antec Earthwatts and Thermaltake provide some decent cost effective options.

V. The video card wars have left us with a myraid of video card choices compared to last year where DAW just settled for lowend graphics, as most highend cards were to expesnive and to noisy for making DAWs. The ATI RADEON HD3800 series changed this and created a nice actively cooled midrange offering in graphics, at a bearable noise level. However the introduction of the NVIDIA 9600GT has created a low power consumption video  which can be passively cooled for a mere price of a 120$, that has fairly decent gaming performance. There are also passively cooled 9800GTs and 4850 with fairly good reputations. Giving gaming DAWs a massive expansion The 9800GT from ECS is a 160$ is getting fairly decent reviews.

V. Motherboards. As far as motherboards go there isn’t a lot of maturity to the existing i7 models, but Gigabyte continues to make boards that have features sets that are great for DAW. The initial reviews seem positive. On the i7 Platform they remain the dominant player, and my top choice. All gigabyte biards feature Ti Firewire, and Silent Pipe technology

VI. Hard Drives. 32mb Cache has become a standard with some decent drives being available. Price drops have caused 640GB and 1TB Drives to be extremely affordable.

VII emerging technology. 2009 should see price reductions that make certain emerging technologies extremely affordable to the mainstream. High speed solidstate disks are dropping rapidly in price, though still quite effective. This technology has much faster read write than most hard drives and will have drastic potential for power users who record lots of tracks simultaneous or people who just want things to load up faster.  In addition Blu Ray is falling price as well with DVD+/-RW Blu RAy combo drives approaching 150$. Burners still remain pricey at 225-400$ but approaching more affordable prices rapidly

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Some ideas Upper Midrange i7 Rig 1900.00

Antec P180/P182

Seasonic S12 650watt PSU

3x Scythe S-flex D120mm Casefan

Intel Core i7 920 2.66GHZ

Gigabyte GA-EX58 Motherboard (300$)

3×2GB DDR-2 1333MHZ Corsair XMS Memory (CL9-9-9-24) 1.5Volt (225$)

3×1TB 7200rpm Western Digital w/32mb Cache (120 each)

1x Gigabyte Passively Cooled ATI RADEON HD4850 (Passively cooled Gaming, Good airflow is a must)

LG 6x BLU RAY Burner (225)

Pioneer 12x DVD ROM and 6x Burner (150$

Microsoft Windows Vista Business 64 (downgrade to XP if preferred)

$ 2000.00

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Antec Sonata

Antec Earthwatts 500 Power supply

Scythe 120mm Case fan & Scythe 92mm Casefan

Intel Core i7 920 2.66GHz

Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD5

3×1GB DDR-3 1066z Crucial CL7-7-7

2x 640GB Seagate 7200rpm w/32mb Cache

Pioneer 20x DVD+/-RW

ATI RADEON HD2600XT HIS Hightech Fanless

Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition SP3

$ 1233.00

Holiday Guide for Designing a new DAW.

Sunday, July 27th, 2008


– by nanashiwanderer Ive been on a week long hiatus. and over the week I had a good chance to really look the computer hardware market, and coming up for christmas. I have to say Im a lot more enthused about the current hardware market than I was about the hardware market 3 months ago or 6weeks a month. Intels new chipsets are very solid, amd finally seems to have some good options for motherboards, and competitive for lower end DAWs. Manufacturers have realized theres a high demand for silent PCs and have really ramped up the Market for silent cases, with Antec Leading the way, but also a nice offering from cooler master. PC Power & Cooling, and Antec (seasonic) both have released quiet energy effecient Power Supplys.

This time around I’m not going to give a fixed template of what to build but general guidelines. These selections are untested, and made from a general knowledge of how hardware works, and an understanding of PC Design. The designs them selves are untested and any one who chooses to do so builds at their own risk. Before reading this article I suggest some, particular novices to DAW design, read my first article on how to select DAW, which would give one an idea of what to look for in DAWs.

Cases & Power Supplies. Power Supplies are probably the most important core component over looked in most peoples PCs. Since on paper, they seem to have no tangible effect, on the PCs power. However, Power supplies have a drastic impact on stability of PCs. After ram, the power supply is the second leading cause to PC instability.In general for my philosophy when designing a DAW, Stability, compatibility, comes before power. In todays market, the power most DAWs far exceed the ordinary engineer or musicians needs, with the given software. As new and inventive things come , we may need more power, but you can always buy a DAW for those days. No matter what PC you buy theres a finite life. For this reason I dont recommend skimping on the power supply for a bit faster CPU or a nicer video Card. Other than the Quality of the Unit itself, the two biggest factors that one should consider when purchase Power Supplies is the size of the unit (how much wattage does it provide), and the noise level. There are several manufacturers.
How much power does one really need ? Cheaper power supplies often underrate the value of their power which provides more power at a lower temperature levels. The problem is most computers are not room temperature, particularly sparsely cooled systems like DAWs. At the minimum most DAWs today use A Dual Core Processor, with 2GB of RAM, Dual Hard Drives, a DVD Burner, and a low end to mid range graphics card. This means most computers at a bare minimum will need A very effecient 400watt Power Supply. Higher End units, which use Quad Core CPUs, 3 or 4 Hard Drives, a Mid range Video card may want as much as 500watts.

So what are my selections for power supplies ?
PC Power & Cooling Silencer Seems like a solid choice for many people particularly, ones who aren’t buying one of the new Antec Cases. With a long standing reputation for making some of the best Power Supplies in the Industry,The Silencer 470 is 83.00$ and just the wattage one would want to cover most midrange DAW’s running a modest graphics card.
Antec has released a new line of energy effecient power supplies from Seasonics called Earthwatts which are of extremely high caliber and very low noise. (Seasonics is the leading manufacturer of quiet power supplies, and makes Power Supplies for Corsair, Antec and other companies). The best thing about the Earthwatts Series is the 500watt (price stand alone at a modest 80.00) is being included with many of the Sonata Series Cases, which are top choices for DAW.

Antec as of late has stepped up on the quiet case market, and has paid some attention to our own DAW market, with the introduction of the Studio Series Cases. While the Studio-Series is nothing to write home about. The Performance series has been. With 4
models, the P180, P182,P190, and now the Sonata III Designer. The Series has a number of features for quiet which can be found in reviews. The major ones are a dampening system on the side doors (Which makes these a monster to lug around, these are fixed install), and rubber grommet suspension system for the Hard Drives, which isolates the drives stopping that annoying popping and clicking sound. The Cases are equipped with 92mm or 120mm fans instead of standard 80mm. Which allows the user to purchase slower fans, 92mm and particularly 120mm fans push much more air at much slower speeds than traditional DAW fans.

A recent addition to the market of mainstream Quiet Cases is Cooler Masters new cosmos which also has a “sound proofed” side panels. The main aspect of the case it is large, spacious, and luxurious it has the type of features that will make it more of a pleasure to work with than Antec, which tend to be vanilla. Cooler master construction on their highend cases are usually flawless. But at 210.00 with out a Power Supply. It doesn’t come with out a price.

Antec’s new sonata III . Is a midtower case and has a variety of models, including the Sonata 3 Designer and Sonata Plus, the differences can range from size of the fans, the model of power suppy but all use Highend Power Supplies manufactured by Seasonics and have at least 500watts of power. They share majority of the core features of the Performance Series making them an astounding value. Sonata III which ranges from 140-160$ in price (including shipping.) It has room for 2x 120mm fans, and comes with an Antec Earth watts 500..

and can use 3 Isolated hard Drives, (or carry 4 total using normal mounting) and has 3x 5.25″ Drive Bays. The biggest complaint is the removal of the Firewire header that is present in its larger Performance 18x Series Cousins.

AMD or Intel, at the current moment Intel and AMD are admidst of a price war, and Intel has a firm grasp of the the highend crown. Price of Processors are lower than ever due to massive price cuts in the last year. A Quad Core 2 Duo @ 2400mhz (1066FSB) is right now 280$. and fast Dual Cores like The E6750 (2.66ghz 1333FSB) @ 195$. Intel’s processors clock for clock are 30 to 50% faster than AMD’s. Making Intel pretty much the only choice for highend. AMD hopefully will have more competitive processors once there new Barcelona desktop edition is availible. However at the given prices theres still place for AMD on the modern processor market. @ 65$ Athlon X2 4000+ gives a fair bit of power, for those of us on a budget. To top it off nicer AMD Boards can be found for 85 $ or So, versus nice Intel Boards costs 200- 2800$. Where money is tight AMD Can fill a gap. With the Price drops, there processors are right now a somewhat viable alternative. Factoring in that the cheapest Core 2 DUO 800mhz costs over 130$.
The Penryn Intel’s next generation architecture has been revealed at this point and will work with Intels exisiting X38 and P35 Chipset. Benchmarks show it to be a small improvement 5 to 10% over existing core 2s and quad cores, but much more over clockable. Since over clocking is generally a feature DAW users avoid this won’t be excitement to most people. The Penryn is a 45nm Die Shrink of the Core 2, and increased cache. Launching at a 3ghz and 1000$ the Penryn won’t be the choice processor for most new DAWs.

Processor Chipsets. Currently for Intel on Audio PC’s the top choice is their own chipsets. Though not in favour by Maximum PC and the like for a lack of SLI support. A simple troll through newegg will reveal why… Intel retains dominance in the Audio world. If one compares the reviews of the top choice NVIDIA boards, for the intel platform, such as the Asus Striker, and EVGA, one will be over whelmed by the abundance of negative reviews, this is a stark contrast to what one will read when one looks at top Choice 975X and P35Boards like the Bad AXE2, the New Gigabtye boards, and Abit IP35Pro. Intel’s own chipsets tend to be the most reliablie, fairly generous in terms of features, and motherboards based on the chipset, seem to have easier time integrating with DAW hardware. The only area that they are truely defecient in the eyes of many enthusiasts, are the lack of SLI Technology.

Intel Boasts two Chipsets for Audio that have similair features. The X38 and the P35. Both Chipsets have demonstrated very good performance and have a selection of motherboards that are Ideal for DAW use. The platforms are accomodating for the future as they offer both options for the current DDR-2 standard and DDR-3.

The X38 is intels luxury platform, while the P35 targets the upper midrange crowd.

For AMD a variety of options exist but the Nforce 5 with a good Firewire card is probably the best choice at the moment.

Memory in the current market, memory is with in a transition, DDR2 Prices are approaching their lowest prices, and DDR-3 has been introduced. Currently DDR-3 like most newly introduced version of DDR offers a lot of bandwidth, at the expense of latencey and a high price. Most Intel Processors don’t benifit too much from DDR-3’s performance and often do worse, at significantly higher price and AMD is a now show on the platform at the moment. As bandwidth increases and prices fall DDR-3 will replace DDR-2 (though DDR2 will be availible for many moons even once its no longer the standard.) Factoring, cost, and performance DDR-3 simply is not worth it in today’s market.
Current DAW Standard still uses Windows XP Service Pack 2 32bit, as Vista’s launch has been a nightmare (a resource hog, and annoying). With the life of Windows XP extended till at least this june. I suspect DAW’s will be running XP for quite some time. As a result the ideal amount of memory is Dual Channel 2 Gigabytes. (meaning two 1xGB sticks, or on some older motherboards 4x 512mb Sticks). The defacto spec that is compatible with most new computers is DDR-2 800mhz CAS 5 1.8V is considered standard spec in todays market. and will work with most new motherboards, provided its bought from a reliable company (corsair, crucial, kingston, mushkin, patriot, twin mos, samsung ect.)

The Hard Drive market is in full swing, with 32mb Cache drives already floating around newegg. In general a bump in cache size means a bump in speed. and at not much of an extra cost, these drive are worth jumping on. Seagate’s Barracuda 11 which features this 32mb Cache and 500Gb of ram costs around 125$. Making it well worth jumping on. With a 5 year warranty, Seagate and an excellent track record is still probably one of the safest companies to bank on.

Graphics cards… Direct X10 offerings are availible from both ATI and NVIDIA, at every price point. While power full graphics aren’t needed for DAWs, a Direct X10 card is a worth while investment, to ensure smooth transition, when we finally must move to Vista. Mid range graphics cards are of interest to those of us who also use PC’s as a general entertainment computer, most of the midrange cards such as the 8600GT and ATI X2600 Pro /XT have the power for light gaming, and features such as a hardware decoder that oddly higher end video cards lack, are of interest to those of us watching planning too watch HD movies. My personal Choices for Video Card would be a passively cooled NVIDIA 8600GT. Which seems to have a better track record than the ATI Cards. Though the ATI Cards have there merits, the 2600 Series is a better performer, and actually lower power consumption (though the 2900 is not) than its Geforce rival.

Motherboards. The motherboard market is looking good today. For intel Gigabyte and Abit have a number of boards with DAW features. The two of my particular interest. are the Abit IP35 Pro and Gigabyte P35-DS4. Both of these boards have Intel P35 Chipsets and ICHR9 which has a number of nice features, like lots of USB 2.0 ports, Built in SPIDF I/O. Lots of SATA Ports. The biggest strength of these boards though is they all have built in Texas Instruments Fire wire, which is a must have feature for those of us using external Firewire interface.

For those interested in the best of the best, utilizing Intel’s Flagship X38 chipset theres the Gigabyte GA-X38-DQ6.

For AMD Boards my suggestion doesn’t have my fullest confidence. Particularly because the Nforce chipset is hit or miss with some audio interfaces (presonus comes to mind). However with a fairly good track record for audio, for the budget concious the Nforce chipset could still be a viable choice. The MSI K9N4-SLI is the first AMD board I’ve seen in a while that has pretty solid ratings all around. MSI lacks any firewire which means someone would have to add their own firewire card. For that the best option is probably Siig NN-440012-S8 Texas Instrument Card.

Heres Some Ideas for DAW availble today this ones 675Antec Sonata 3 140
AMD Athlon X2 4000 65
MSI K9N4SLI F 85
2×1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 CAS5 1.8V Memory 61
2x 250GB Seagate Barracuda w/16mb Cache 70
Samsung 20x DVD+/-RW PATA 28
Arctic Silver 5 & Vantec Stealth fan 120mm Case 23
MSI 8500GT 256mb PCI-E Passive Cooler 75
Windows XP Home 95
Siig Texas Instruments Firewire 33
Or How about this for 2480?Antec Sonata 3 Designer w/Earthwatts 500
Intel Core 2 QX6850.
Gigabye GA-X38-DQ6 Motherboard
w/Arctic Silver 5 2x Scythe 92mm Stealth Fan
2x 1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 SD-RAM 1.8V CAS5
2x 150GB Western Digital Raptor (RAID 0) 16mb Cache (audio Write)
1x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache (OS/APPS)
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x
3ware 8006LP-2 Hardware RAID Controller (more Reliable Better Performance)
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb
Microsoft Windows XP Home
Acronis True Image 11 (you better factor this in on A RAID System)
Microsoft Works 8.5
Microsoft Natrual Keyboard 4000
Logitech G5
Mid range model total price is 1150ish with a Core 2 Q6600 is 1230 or so. 1145
Antec Sonata 3 Designer 140
Intel Core 2 Wolfsdale e8400 195
GA-X38-DS4 or GA-P35-DS4 185
Arctic Silver 5, 2x Scythe 92 mm Case fans 35
2x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache 250
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x 28
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb 156
Microsoft Windows XP Home & Acronis True Image 11 140
2x 1GB DDR-2 6400 PC-800 CAS5 1.8v SD-RAM (mushkin) 61
Upper Mid Range for 1600.00-1650Antec Sonata 3 designer w/Earthwatts 500
Intel Core 2 Q6600
GA-X38-DS4
Arctic Silver 5 2x Vantec 120mm Stealth Fans
2x 1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 CAS5
2x 150GB Western Digital Raptor (RAID 0) 16mb Cache (AUDIO WRITE)
1x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache (OS APPS ECT)
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x
3ware 8006LP-2 Hardware RAID Controller (more reliable, better performance)
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb
Microsoft Windows XP Home

PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750
Cooler Master Cosmos
Intel Core 2 QX6850.
Gigabye GA-X38-DQ6 Motherboard
w/Arctic Silver 5 w/Zalman CNPS9700NT
2x 1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 SD-RAM 1.8V CAS5
2x 150GB Western Digital Raptor (RAID 0) 16mb Cache (audio Write)
2x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache (OS/APPS & Backup)
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x
3ware 8006LP-2 Hardware RAID Controller (more Reliable Better Performance)
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb
Microsoft Windows XP Home
Acronis True Image 11 (you better factor this in on A RAID System)
Microsoft Works 8.5
Microsoft Natrual Keyboard 4000
Logitech MX Revolution

$ 2950.00
Apr. 15th, 2008 @ 05:37 pm

Daw For the Holiday Season.

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Holiday Guide for Designing a new DAW.

– by nanashiwandererI’ve been on a week long hiatus. and over the week I had a good chance to really look the computer hardware market, and coming up for christmas. I have to say I’m a lot more enthused about the current hardware market than I was about the hardware market 3 months ago or 6weeks a month. Intel’s new chipsets are very solid, amd finally seems to have some good options for motherboards, and competitive for lower end DAWs. Manufacturers have realized theres a high demand for silent PC’s and have really ramped up the Market for silent cases, with Antec Leading the way, but also a nice offering from cooler master. PC Power & Cooling, and Antec (seasonic) both have released quiet energy effecient Power Supplys.

This time around I’m not going to give a fixed template of what to build but general guidelines. These selections are untested, and made from a general knowledge of how hardware works, and an understanding of PC Design. The designs them selves are untested and any one who chooses to do so builds at their own risk. Before reading this article I suggest some, particular novices to DAW design, read my first article on how to select DAW, which would give one an idea of what to look for in DAWs.

Cases & Power Supplies. Power Supplies are probably the most important core component over looked in most people’s PC’s. Since on paper, they seem to have no tangible effect, on the PC’s power. However, Power supplies have a drastic impact on stability of PCs. After ram, the power supply is the second leading cause to PC instability.In general for my philosophy when designing a DAW, Stability, compatibility, comes before power. In today’s market, the power most DAWs far exceed the ordinary engineer or musicians needs, with the given software. As new and inventive things come , we may need more power, but you can always buy a DAW for those days. No matter what PC you buy theres a finite life. For this reason I don’t recommend skimping on the power supply for a bit faster CPU or a nicer video Card. Other than the Quality of the Unit itself, the two biggest factors that one should consider when purchase Power Supplies is the size of the unit (how much wattage does it provide), and the noise level. There are several manufacturers.
How much power does one really need ? Cheaper power supplies often underrate the value of their power which provides more power at a lower temperature levels. The problem is most computers are not room temperature, particularly sparsely cooled systems like DAWs. At the minimum most DAWs today use A Dual Core Processor, with 2GB of RAM, Dual Hard Drives, a DVD Burner, and a low end to mid range graphics card. This means most computers at a bare minimum will need A very effecient 400watt Power Supply. Higher End units, which use Quad Core CPUs, 3 or 4 Hard Drives, a Mid range Video card may want as much as 500watts.

So what are my selections for power supplies ?
PC Power & Cooling Silencer Seems like a solid choice for many people particularly, ones who aren’t buying one of the new Antec Cases. With a long standing reputation for making some of the best Power Supplies in the Industry,The Silencer 470 is 83.00$ and just the wattage one would want to cover most midrange DAW’s running a modest graphics card.
Antec has released a new line of energy effecient power supplies from Seasonics called Earthwatts which are of extremely high caliber and very low noise. (Seasonics is the leading manufacturer of quiet power supplies, and makes Power Supplies for Corsair, Antec and other companies). The best thing about the Earthwatts Series is the 500watt (price stand alone at a modest 80.00) is being included with many of the Sonata Series Cases, which are top choices for DAW.

Antec as of late has stepped up on the quiet case market, and has paid some attention to our own DAW market, with the introduction of the Studio Series Cases. While the Studio-Series is nothing to write home about. The Performance series has been. With 4
models, the P180, P182,P190, and now the Sonata III Designer. The Series has a number of features for quiet which can be found in reviews. The major ones are a dampening system on the side doors (Which makes these a monster to lug around, these are fixed install), and rubber grommet suspension system for the Hard Drives, which isolates the drives stopping that annoying popping and clicking sound. The Cases are equipped with 92mm or 120mm fans instead of standard 80mm. Which allows the user to purchase slower fans, 92mm and particularly 120mm fans push much more air at much slower speeds than traditional DAW fans.

A recent addition to the market of mainstream Quiet Cases is Cooler Masters new cosmos which also has a “sound proofed” side panels. The main aspect of the case it is large, spacious, and luxurious it has the type of features that will make it more of a pleasure to work with than Antec, which tend to be vanilla. Cooler master construction on their highend cases are usually flawless. But at 210.00 with out a Power Supply. It doesn’t come with out a price.

Antec’s new sonata III . Is a midtower case and has a variety of models, including the Sonata 3 Designer and Sonata Plus, the differences can range from size of the fans, the model of power suppy but all use Highend Power Supplies manufactured by Seasonics and have at least 500watts of power. They share majority of the core features of the Performance Series making them an astounding value. Sonata III which ranges from 140-160$ in price (including shipping.) It has room for 2x 120mm fans, and comes with an Antec Earth watts 500..

and can use 3 Isolated hard Drives, (or carry 4 total using normal mounting) and has 3x 5.25″ Drive Bays. The biggest complaint is the removal of the Firewire header that is present in its larger Performance 18x Series Cousins.

AMD or Intel, at the current moment Intel and AMD are admidst of a price war, and Intel has a firm grasp of the the highend crown. Price of Processors are lower than ever due to massive price cuts in the last year. A Quad Core 2 Duo @ 2400mhz (1066FSB) is right now 280$. and fast Dual Cores like The E6750 (2.66ghz 1333FSB) @ 195$. Intel’s processors clock for clock are 30 to 50% faster than AMD’s. Making Intel pretty much the only choice for highend. AMD hopefully will have more competitive processors once there new Barcelona desktop edition is availible. However at the given prices theres still place for AMD on the modern processor market. @ 65$ Athlon X2 4000+ gives a fair bit of power, for those of us on a budget. To top it off nicer AMD Boards can be found for 85 $ or So, versus nice Intel Boards costs 200- 2800$. Where money is tight AMD Can fill a gap. With the Price drops, there processors are right now a somewhat viable alternative. Factoring in that the cheapest Core 2 DUO 800mhz costs over 130$.
The Penryn Intel’s next generation architecture has been revealed at this point and will work with Intels exisiting X38 and P35 Chipset. Benchmarks show it to be a small improvement 5 to 10% over existing core 2s and quad cores, but much more over clockable. Since over clocking is generally a feature DAW users avoid this won’t be excitement to most people. The Penryn is a 45nm Die Shrink of the Core 2, and increased cache. Launching at a 3ghz and 1000$ the Penryn won’t be the choice processor for most new DAWs.

Processor Chipsets. Currently for Intel on Audio PC’s the top choice is their own chipsets. Though not in favour by Maximum PC and the like for a lack of SLI support. A simple troll through newegg will reveal why… Intel retains dominance in the Audio world. If one compares the reviews of the top choice NVIDIA boards, for the intel platform, such as the Asus Striker, and EVGA, one will be over whelmed by the abundance of negative reviews, this is a stark contrast to what one will read when one looks at top Choice 975X and P35Boards like the Bad AXE2, the New Gigabtye boards, and Abit IP35Pro. Intel’s own chipsets tend to be the most reliablie, fairly generous in terms of features, and motherboards based on the chipset, seem to have easier time integrating with DAW hardware. The only area that they are truely defecient in the eyes of many enthusiasts, are the lack of SLI Technology.

Intel Boasts two Chipsets for Audio that have similair features. The X38 and the P35. Both Chipsets have demonstrated very good performance and have a selection of motherboards that are Ideal for DAW use. The platforms are accomodating for the future as they offer both options for the current DDR-2 standard and DDR-3.

The X38 is intels luxury platform, while the P35 targets the upper midrange crowd.

For AMD a variety of options exist but the Nforce 5 with a good Firewire card is probably the best choice at the moment.

Memory in the current market, memory is with in a transition, DDR2 Prices are approaching their lowest prices, and DDR-3 has been introduced. Currently DDR-3 like most newly introduced version of DDR offers a lot of bandwidth, at the expense of latencey and a high price. Most Intel Processors don’t benifit too much from DDR-3’s performance and often do worse, at significantly higher price and AMD is a now show on the platform at the moment. As bandwidth increases and prices fall DDR-3 will replace DDR-2 (though DDR2 will be availible for many moons even once its no longer the standard.) Factoring, cost, and performance DDR-3 simply is not worth it in today’s market.
Current DAW Standard still uses Windows XP Service Pack 2 32bit, as Vista’s launch has been a nightmare (a resource hog, and annoying). With the life of Windows XP extended till at least this june. I suspect DAW’s will be running XP for quite some time. As a result the ideal amount of memory is Dual Channel 2 Gigabytes. (meaning two 1xGB sticks, or on some older motherboards 4x 512mb Sticks). The defacto spec that is compatible with most new computers is DDR-2 800mhz CAS 5 1.8V is considered standard spec in todays market. and will work with most new motherboards, provided its bought from a reliable company (corsair, crucial, kingston, mushkin, patriot, twin mos, samsung ect.)

The Hard Drive market is in full swing, with 32mb Cache drives already floating around newegg. In general a bump in cache size means a bump in speed. and at not much of an extra cost, these drive are worth jumping on. Seagate’s Barracuda 11 which features this 32mb Cache and 500Gb of ram costs around 125$. Making it well worth jumping on. With a 5 year warranty, Seagate and an excellent track record is still probably one of the safest companies to bank on.

Graphics cards… Direct X10 offerings are availible from both ATI and NVIDIA, at every price point. While power full graphics aren’t needed for DAWs, a Direct X10 card is a worth while investment, to ensure smooth transition, when we finally must move to Vista. Mid range graphics cards are of interest to those of us who also use PC’s as a general entertainment computer, most of the midrange cards such as the 8600GT and ATI X2600 Pro /XT have the power for light gaming, and features such as a hardware decoder that oddly higher end video cards lack, are of interest to those of us watching planning too watch HD movies. My personal Choices for Video Card would be a passively cooled NVIDIA 8600GT. Which seems to have a better track record than the ATI Cards. Though the ATI Cards have there merits, the 2600 Series is a better performer, and actually lower power consumption (though the 2900 is not) than its Geforce rival.

Motherboards. The motherboard market is looking good today. For intel Gigabyte and Abit have a number of boards with DAW features. The two of my particular interest. are the Abit IP35 Pro and Gigabyte P35-DS4. Both of these boards have Intel P35 Chipsets and ICHR9 which has a number of nice features, like lots of USB 2.0 ports, Built in SPIDF I/O. Lots of SATA Ports. The biggest strength of these boards though is they all have built in Texas Instruments Fire wire, which is a must have feature for those of us using external Firewire interface.

For those interested in the best of the best, utilizing Intel’s Flagship X38 chipset theres the Gigabyte GA-X38-DQ6.

For AMD Boards my suggestion doesn’t have my fullest confidence. Particularly because the Nforce chipset is hit or miss with some audio interfaces (presonus comes to mind). However with a fairly good track record for audio, for the budget concious the Nforce chipset could still be a viable choice. The MSI K9N4-SLI is the first AMD board I’ve seen in a while that has pretty solid ratings all around. MSI lacks any firewire which means someone would have to add their own firewire card. For that the best option is probably Siig NN-440012-S8 Texas Instrument Card.

Heres Some Ideas for DAW availble today this ones 675Antec Sonata 3 140
AMD Athlon X2 4000 65
MSI K9N4SLI F 85
2×1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 CAS5 1.8V Memory 61
2x 250GB Seagate Barracuda w/16mb Cache 70
Samsung 20x DVD+/-RW PATA 28
Arctic Silver 5 & Vantec Stealth fan 120mm Case 23
MSI 8500GT 256mb PCI-E Passive Cooler 75
Windows XP Home 95
Siig Texas Instruments Firewire 33
Or How about this for 2480?Antec Sonata 3 Designer w/Earthwatts 500
Intel Core 2 QX6850.
Gigabye GA-X38-DQ6 Motherboard
w/Arctic Silver 5 2x Scythe 92mm Stealth Fan
2x 1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 SD-RAM 1.8V CAS5
2x 150GB Western Digital Raptor (RAID 0) 16mb Cache (audio Write)
1x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache (OS/APPS)
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x
3ware 8006LP-2 Hardware RAID Controller (more Reliable Better Performance)
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb
Microsoft Windows XP Home
Acronis True Image 11 (you better factor this in on A RAID System)
Microsoft Works 8.5
Microsoft Natrual Keyboard 4000
Logitech G5
”Mid range model total price is 1150ish with a Core 2 Q6600 is 1230 or so. 1145
Antec Sonata 3 Designer 140
Intel Core 2 Wolfsdale e8400 195
GA-X38-DS4 or GA-P35-DS4 185
Arctic Silver 5, 2x Scythe 92 mm Case fans 35
2x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache 250
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x 28
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb 156
Microsoft Windows XP Home & Acronis True Image 11 140
2x 1GB DDR-2 6400 PC-800 CAS5 1.8v SD-RAM (mushkin) 61
Upper Mid Range for 1600.00-1650Antec Sonata 3 designer w/Earthwatts 500
Intel Core 2 Q6600
GA-X38-DS4
Arctic Silver 5 2x Vantec 120mm Stealth Fans
2x 1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 CAS5
2x 150GB Western Digital Raptor (RAID 0) 16mb Cache (AUDIO WRITE)
1x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache (OS APPS ECT)
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x
3ware 8006LP-2 Hardware RAID Controller (more reliable, better performance)
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb
Microsoft Windows XP Home

PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750
Cooler Master Cosmos
Intel Core 2 QX6850.
Gigabye GA-X38-DQ6 Motherboard
w/Arctic Silver 5 w/Zalman CNPS9700NT
2x 1GB DDR-2 800mhz PC-2 6400 SD-RAM 1.8V CAS5
2x 150GB Western Digital Raptor (RAID 0) 16mb Cache (audio Write)
2x 500GB 7200rpm Seagate Barracuda 11 w/32mb Cache (OS/APPS & Backup)
Samsung DVD+/-RW 20x
3ware 8006LP-2 Hardware RAID Controller (more Reliable Better Performance)
MSI NVIDIA 8600GTS Passively Cooled 256mb
Microsoft Windows XP Home
Acronis True Image 11 (you better factor this in on A RAID System)
Microsoft Works 8.5
Microsoft Natrual Keyboard 4000
Logitech MX Revolution

$ 2950.00
Apr. 15th, 2008 @ 05:37 pm

Selecting a DAW

Friday, June 13th, 2008

– by nanashiwandererSelecting a computer in the Home Studio.

January 2007

Part I The importance of the DAW in modern recording studios, and criteria for selection.

The personal computer has revolutionized the modern recording studio. In many cases it has functionally replaced tape, and made once difficult editing a painless process. In professional studios, for better or for worse, it has made it possible to correct minor mistakes from performances during tracking. In a large portion of today’s home studios the personal computer serves as the center for a digital studio. It often not only provides the medium which sound is recorded and edited, but functionally replaces every aspect of the studio. Increased processing power of modern computers, make it possible to use several plug-ins to completely functionally replace the role of hardware units. In addition, in the last 3 or four years the availability of high quality plug-in has drastically increased, that is often superior to the hardware within the budget of the average home recording studio. However, despite the crucial rule computers play in the home studio, their value is often under rated and overlooked. People often spend more time mulling over what sound card or microphone to buy ,before even checking if their pc is actually compatible with the audio interface they are running or suitable for audio. Others realize the importance of their DAW; however make mistakes of paying to much attention to system power, speed, at the expense of stability, reliability, and compatibility. The purpose of this article is to explain some of the considerations one should take while selecting a Digital audio work station, for their home studio; As well as explore the pros and cons of different routes a person can take when selecting a DAW. This guide will refrain from complex in-depth technical explanations of how components in a DAW work.

So what considerations should one actually take when buying a personal computer for studio use?

If someone asked this question in the mid-nineties the first answer that comes to mind would be system power and speed. In the past it was often a tedious task to even run a few plug-ins, and realistically computers were suitable for minor editing. However, the computing power has drastically increased in the last few years. The average new computer has well over 25 times the processing power, of the average pc 10 years ago and likely at a significant cheaper price. A top of line PC DAW can now days record near 100 tracks (often more), and is often capable of running multiple plugins on every channel. This kind of processing power greatly exceeds the needs of most home studios. Even computers from three or four years ago, as of this writing in have significant processing power, and often with minor adjustments and upgrades can be used for audio. In my personal opinion the great increases in power, has shifted the primary concerns of modern DAW, from power to compatibility, stability, overall reliability, and silence.

Most audio interfaces and soundcards are fairly finicky about the hardware their attached to. If the soundcard/audio interface, for a lack of a better term, doesn’t like your hardware numerous issues can occur; an example of such issues are system instability, pops and clicks when recording, cyclic redundancy errors. The reason for this fickleness is unlike consumer soundcards, like the Creative Labs SoundBlaster, which are just designed primarily to playback audio from your computer, audio soundcards have to perform a task which is far more complex. Sound cards used for recording have to be able to take an input source (often multiple input sources), which is often analog, convert it to digital, which the computer then stores, and then often play the signal back (which requires the computer to perform a digital analog conversion), in a time period that is indiscernible to the human ear. A soundcard doing this needs frequent attention from the computers CPU, or for the pc illiterate the computer’s brain. The CPU generally can only do one thing at a time, so it switches back in forth between tasks. An audio pc as a result has to be configured in a way that your audio interface isn’t fighting with your other hardware for different resources. For the aforementioned reasons I usually consider compatibility as the most important factor when selecting any DAW. DAW compatibility is the ability of your computer’s recording hardware to be configured with the rest of your computers hardware and software, in a way that it can actually be used.

Help guys I’m not good at transitions at all

Once compatibility of audio hardware with a given system is established, the next most important criteria for any system stability and reliability. A stable system is a system that isn’t prone to crash, or other errors, and a reliable system is one that isn’t prone to hardware failures. The reasons why one would want to have a stable system should be fairly obvious; no one wants their computer to crash in a middle of a recording session. This can mean often loosing unsaved data, and mean re tracking whole projects. I doubt anyone, wants to replace a pc, or send their pc to the repair shop shortly after they bought it. One may wonder, shouldn’t compatible system be reliable, a compatible system merely means, your computer can work properly together; it doesn’t mean it has to. A compatible, stable and reliable computer is a system which works the way it’s supposed to vast majority of the time.

The last criterion for a good audio pc is silence. This is especially true of home studios, and smaller project studios which are unlikely to have a dedicated machine room, or sometimes even a control room. In single room studios, where the pc is located with in the room one is using for tracking, one runs the risk that the microphones will pickup background noises from the pc’s cooling system. In smaller semi-professional and professional project studios, a loud DAW in the control room, can compromise ones listening environment. As a result, how quiet ones PC is becomes an very important factor when choosing a pc for audio.

Part II. F.AQ.

Okay nanashi this is all fine and dandy, but I already have a desktop pc, can’t I just use it?

In many scenarios, a person new to recording, may not want to take the time to purchase a dedicated for audio. Because, modern computers generally exceed the power requirements for the basic needs of most hobby musicians, often an older computer can be suitable for the task of music production, with minor upgrades, and modifications. In general the user should take power, compatibility, and how quiet the pc is into account. Generally a user should already be aware, if the pc is stable or reliable.

A musician wishing to use their old pc, should already have a rough idea of what their looking to do, and consider the software they wish to use before hand, to get a measure of the power requirements. On software boxes usually there are system requirements, and recommended specifications; one should realize it is more realistic to buy software, based on whether or not their computer fits the software’s recommended requirements. Recommended requirements are usually the resources a program should have for normal use, not when the software is pushed to the maximum. Generally there are three major factors that come in to play when determining power requirements with software, the CPU/processor speed (example a box may say Pentium III or Athlon 1GHZ required, Pentium 4 1.5 GHZ or better recommended), the ram/memory (example continued, 256mb required, 1GB recommended) and hard drive space (example continued 1GB required, audio data takes up additional space). If your system meets the CPU requirements, it can be upgrade to meet the other two, assuming the system has the upgrade capacity to add another hard drive (or replace an existing one), or add more ram. Crucial.com (as well as a few other memory distributors), has a memory finder which can determine the type of ram one needs, and how much ram their system can support, based on the computers model number. If the system does not have the horse power to run software, it is generally advisable to purchase a new machine, as replacing the CPU will often require other components to be replaced. As of this writing, most computers 4 years old and newer meet the recommended requirements for lighter software such as Cubase SE3, or Mackie’s Tracktion 2).

The second thing one should do is determine, what sort of interface/soundcard one wants, and come up with a list of possible interfaces that match their budget. The individual should then try to determine whether the interface is compatible with their, machine. Usually, the best way to do this especially, for window’s users is to determine if their pc is not compatible. Generally Hardware manufacturers, will list systems that have potential incompatibilities with their hardware. People who wish to use Digidesign pro-tools le, should take note that digidesign spends extensive time testing which systems are and are not compatible, and keep archives of systems that were previously compatible on their website.

c. is it quiet enough? This is the big breaker for many people, and should be considered carefully, especially if the computer one is using is made by a big OEM. Most OEM PC’s made by dell, HP, Compaq, apple. Use what are called proprietary components. These components are custom designed to fit the manufacturer’s design, as opposed to retail hardware which follow usually standard sizing specifications. Often the use Proprietary components make it impossible to replace certain components usually the CPU fan, Power supply and motherboard. Power Supply and fans are usually the two components that introduce the most noise into a computer system, followed by the hard drives. Oftentimes irregular sizing of proprietary cases mean that the cooling system selected because they allow for safe internal temperatures for the computer system. Generally quieter cooling system means the use of passive cooling or using slower case fans, which are less effective at cooling then louder components.

The summary: often computers which are a few years old are suitable with minor modifications, especially for users in home studios. However, the flipside is that it may require so much modification its easier to buy a new pc.

What about me!!! Nanashi, I have a laptop? I bought for school can I use it?

Unlike PC desktops, whether or not a laptop can be used for audio is a far trickier business. As of this writing (Quarter1 2007) the answer is it may be possible if your laptop is under 5 years old, however there are no guarantees. Like with desktop’s the criteria for using an old pc laptop for audio remains the same, does the system have enough power, can it be made to work with ones hardware, is it quiet enough however, modifying a laptop is far harder than a desktop, and often times impossible.

Determining whether a system has enough power is fairly simple. One should simply follow the same methodology discussed for determining whether their desktop pc has power. The major bottle neck for power with most laptops is often the hard-drives. Laptops generally use hard drives, with slower rotating internal components (the platters for the tech savvy) than desktops. Slower, hard drives generally mean slower read and write times and usually entail that a user cannot achieve as high a track count as one would on the desktop. As a result it is recommended that one use an external hard drive with high rotation speed (7200rpm as of this writing), when using any laptop for audio. In recent times modern laptops hard drive performance has been much closer to desktops, and it is possible to replace the internal hard drives on many laptops, however often times the drives are difficult to access making it impossible for average consumers to easily replace. A common solution is to use the external drives that connect using the firewire bus. While the data read/write performance is not as fast as an internal desktop drive, it often is a drastic improvement over the laptop drives. In even more recent times (laptops no older than 2 years) have been made it possible to hook up external SATA hard drive controllers (SATA is the communications bus that most new hard drives use, to connect to your computer) which allow users to add an external desktop hard drive running at the native speed of internal drives.

The most major concern with laptops is it even possible to perform major audio editing duties with a notebook. With many older notebooks or low-end models manufactured new, it is not. Older and lower-end notebooks often suffer from resource conflicts due to sharing of interrupt request lines (IRQ). IRQ conflicts often are a source of unwanted pops and clicks in your recording, and render many laptops unusable for serious audio editing tasks. (An IRQ is an interrupt request line. The computers hardware uses this to signal the computers CPU, the brain, that it needs it to do something a.s.a.p. an IRQ conflict occurs when two devices are fighting for access because they are sharing a request line, its best to think of the IRQ as the emergency line to the manager of a business). On desktops the number of IRQ is standardized and conflicts can be solved by disabling communication ports one is not using (the serial bus fore example) or moving the location of internal devices so they have a different line. On laptops, which are highly integrated machines, there is often no way to change which IRQ your audio interface is assigned too, which makes many laptop prone to IRQ conflicts. Assuming your laptop is not prone to IRQ conflicts, and has the power you need to accomplish the tasks you wish to do.

The next major concern is audio interface compatibility with. Since laptops do not have the same internal expansion slots as desktops, the types of sound cards one can use with a laptop are limited mostly to external audio interfaces connecting using USB or Firewire. Majority of USB (2.0) interfaces cannot record more than stereo at this time, and will not be discussed in detail, generally firewire interfaces due to the design of the firewire protocol is a more effective solution for recording audio, in addition almost all the complex audio interfaces are firewire soundcards. As with desktop it is important to check for the compatibility of the interface with one’s system and similar rules apply. Generally manufacturers will list which systems are incompatible with their interface. However, in the case of firewire interfaces often times incompatibilities can be fixed since the incompatibility maybe potentially caused by the firewire chipset the laptop is using. If your laptop has a PCMCIA or express card expansion slot it is often possible to add a firewire expansion card. A general rule of thumb is most firewire audio interfaces work the best on firewire ports which utilize a chipset manufactured by Texas instrument. Often times device conflicts with firewire interfaces on desktops and laptops can be corrected merely by adding a firewire card using Texas Instrument Chipset.

The Summary: Some laptops are able to handle serious recording tasks, and other laptops will always unsuitable for recording. Usually those laptops which are unsuitable for recording cannot be modified period to be made suitable for studio purposes. Those which are suitable for recording, usually benefit from a faster external hard drive. General audio interface compatibilities with laptops suitable for recording audio can often be solved by addition of Texas instrument firewire board.

Part III Nanashi I read the rest of your boring drivel, and I’m convinced I need a new pc? What are my options?

Essentially in the market buying a desktop pc theirs 6 routes one can take. One is going to a store and buying a big name desktop or big name laptop pc. The 2nd is going to a local vendor and have them build a pc customized to your needs. The 3rd option is to go to a vendor which specializes in building pc’s for the tasks you plan to use it for. The 4th option is to build your own Desktop PC, using retail components (my preferred method). The 5th Option is to buy a pc from apple.

Big OEMs Desktop

The acronym OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, which essentially is a fancy term for any company which resells components of another company under their logo. Oftentimes components are marketed as OEM components when they are intended for use in an OEM system, such components are sold open box at normal retail computer warehouses like newegg.com; Generally these components come without warranty as opposed to retail box where the hardware is bundled often times with accessories, software and has a complete package and full warranty. Dell, HP, Compaq and almost all computer vendors are OEM’s since they do not manufacture the internal components of their machines. Instead they either bulk order components, such as hard drives, optical drives from companies which do produce such products, the really big OEMs will often contract vendors to manufacture certain products for them like cases, motherboards and power supplies (and this is how proprietary computer hardware originates.) So what is a big OEM? A Big OEM refers to the large companies, which sell mass distributed computers intended mostly for the general public. The key major players are Dell (also owns Alien-ware), HP/Compaq, Gateway/E-machines.

So can OEM’s be used for audio? Generally OEM PC’s are intended for use by the general public and not designed for specific tasks. Rather they are geared to do basic tasks like play music, web surfing, watch movies, e-mail, word process. As a result the hardware and system are configured for the needs of general public. OEM machines can often times used for audio, but it often has to be optimized for audio, and may have to be upgraded and modified for use. Most of the large OEM companies use proprietary components and often the expandability and upgradeability of the system is limited by small power-supply, the use of proprietary power supplies and irregular case sizes often makes it impossible to replace power supply to increase expandability. Other problems occur in the fact that OEM’s use custom motherboard, and often do not state what chipset the motherboard uses (the chipset is the device the CPU, or brain, uses to communicate with the rest of the computers hardware, kind of like your spinal chord). This means that it’s often hard to determine if your audio interface is not compatible with a big name pc.

So are there advantages to the OEMs? Generally serious home studios, or professional studios and project studios would be better off investigating other options, which are more easily suited for audio, however the OEM does offer the advantage is they are comparatively cheap. Generally, when a person has a PC budget under 800 $ including the cost of windows, it is very hard to beat the performance and relative quality that OEM PC’s can offer. For home studios and hobbyist engineers who maintain a rigid budget may benefit from the fact, that the right OEM PC with modifications may be suitable for audio.

~ Nanashi’s tip if your limited to buying an OEM Pc, try to get one certified for use with Protools even if you want to use sonar or Cubase. Generally a pc that is certified for Protools will be suited with a number of audio interfaces. Also do research for tweaking windows for audio.

Summary

OEM PCs aren’t ready for audio out of the box from the get go. The hardware they use is not 100% replaceable, and upgradeability is somewhat limited due to use of proprietary core components, mainly the motherboard (the thing everything inside connects too), and the power supply. The advantage to OEM’s is they are relatively good for tight budgets, because other options are not as affordable.

  1. The local store or online stores with design it your self options.

Believe it or not there are probably companies in your town which manufacture computers. These stores are under the many different types of small OEM vendors, and use what I’ll call retail channel hardware. Retail Channel hardware that essentially can be purchased by the consumer market, and not just by vendors. The implication of this is a person could build a computer themselves using the exact same components. The advantage to retail hardware is there is a wide market, and many options exist. The top end of retail hardware is considerably better quality in terms of performance, and reliability than the components inside the average (like the pc’s large OEMs make) PC. The bad thing about retail hardware theirs a lot of sorting through the trash, considerable research needs to be done to actually create pc’s that are higher quality than the Big OEM’s.

So what’s the advantage to the local store? Often times small vendors and local stores will build pc’s for a cost that’s cheaper than specialized pc vendors. Since, Small OEM’s use retail components often they’ll often allow users input to the core components they use. A user who is willing to do research can essentially design a pc custom tailored to their needs, and tweaked to their needs. In edition they still will have the security of knowing that they have a technician they can go to that will help fix or trouble shoot system (of course depending on the vendor but this is on average). The draw back, these vendors often do not specialize in audio computers and the user must do some of their own research, to get a well suited system. In edition, the user could have saved the cost of labor by building a system himself.

Summary

A Small OEM uses retail components, and the user can design a system to suit their needs. These systems are generally more costly than OEM systems; however the use of retail box hardware means better hardware options are available provided the buyer/vendor uses the hardware in the system. The user has technical support, and warranty he would not have if he built the pc himself, however could have saved himself the cost of labor if he had chosen to build himself.

Option 3 the DAW Vendor.

In the computing world there is small retail OEM companies that often specializing in building certain types of computers. The advantage to such vendors, are assuming that they are a reputable brand with in their specialty (Such as Falcon-Northwest or Voodoo PC in the gaming world), they have a product which is suitable for a specific task right out of the box. The best DAW vendors, take the time to research which retail hardware is most suited for audio work, and provide the most performance. In edition they will configure and tweak the computers Operating Systems. Generally the best specialized vendors use top quality hardware, and have better reliability over all then most OEMs, due to higher quality standards. In edition, these class of pc vendors on average have better overall technical support then most OEM counterparts, and are more likely to have a technical support staff that actually constructs machines, and is technically skilled with computers.. The main draw backs, to good vendors, is the cost of the system is often immensely higher costing significantly more than all other avenues of buying pc. In edition, many times those not familiar with the respected specialized vendors within an industry may fall for retailers of lesser quality which advertise them selves as specialized vendors (and often times barely qualify). In my opinion for serious professional studios, buy a DAW from a pro-audio vendor is the correct choice. It saves these studios the time and effort of having to design a DAW, and is ready for audio out of the box. Hobbyist studios and home studios who do not want to worry about configuring, tweaking or spending enormous time researching components might also do well to buy from a pro-audio vendor provided they have the money.

Summary, Buying from a respected pro-audio vendor quality PC with tech support out of the box. However, the price tag can be quite high, and the internal components are retail. In addition some research must be done to determine which vendors are respectable with in a field and which ones aren’t. For a professional studio, buying such a solution is effective since it saves them the hassle of having to research pc components, or tweaking and configuring a system for audio. In edition the tech support, is often quite good.

1. Mythical Magical Macintosh apples.

** Please wait one moment while Nanashi puts on a flame suit!**

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, with apple’s Mac that statement is at least partly true. Due to the design of OS/X, the smaller market share Mac possesses, mostly due to the OS design, Macintosh computers cannot get severely damaging viruses. Unbelievably many Mac users do not bother with a virus scan. So what is an apple? I think it’s a red fruit, that is quite good when juiced, but some people describe it as an alternative to a pc. In my opinion, the Macintosh is an alternative to Microsoft Windows, which is run by majority of consumer desktops and laptops.

There are many myths surrounding Macs, especially with the introduction of the transition to Intel Macs. Essentially Apple is a large OEM which gets its own class. Like the large OEM’s they use proprietary components, and for the most part their target market is the average consumer, with an eye on media professionals. Currently new apple computers use Intel Processors, and have made hardware transition to the X86 architecture that windows pc’s have used for many years. In the past, Apples machines used a fundamentally different hardware design that was not comparable to the X86 architecture used in PC’s. In the essential the philosophy of how hardware function was different (RISC Macs, vs. CISC/X86 for pc), ironically this exact architecture has been adopted in Microsoft’s XBOX360. The implications of the Intel transition, on the architectural level (the type of hardware being used, not the brand or specific model) is fundamentally the same as any other pc. Modern Macintosh are capable of running windows, as long as the drivers (the software that makes your hardware work) for their hardware are available for Microsoft’s OS; as of this writing apple has introduced boot camp, which does allow apple to run windows natively. The reverse implication of this is apple has also made it theoretically possible to release OS/X for all pc’s and has chosen not to do this at this point.

The positive side to buying Mac’s for audio, is in general their pc are media editing friendly assuming the user has bought enough ram, and CPU power. The driver scheme for Apple called core audio makes integrating an audio interface with apple’s product quite easy. Particularly, Digidesign protools le and Motu’s audio interfaces are quite Mac compatible and can reduce headaches about which audio interface to use. In edition Mac’s OS/X is designed to work with the hardware within the Macs, and the design of the kernel itself makes Mac computers quite stable.

So are their drawbacks to purchasing Macs. The main concern is expandability apples are highly integrated machines and marketed as a software hardware package. If you want to use OS/X you have to use apples hardware. While the hardware in today’s apple is fundamentally the same as their pc counterparts, the number of options for expansion is quite limited, as hardware bought for Mac’s has to have a driver supported by apple. Like most large OEM’s their hardware is proprietary though this often isn’t an issue since the only motherboards OS/X supports are the one’s apple has chosen to distribute. However, many of the lower end models offered by apple offer no expansion slots, and completely prevent users from adding in any type of internal cards. The quality of apple’s hardware is at least on par with most of the large OEM’s, but according to many owners somewhat better. I have my reserves about remarking Mac hardware as high quality due to issues with the Intel laptops.

****Wait Nanashi what about price****

Apple is more or less competitively priced with most of the large OEM’s which it is competing with. The lowest end models which are highly compact can be bought as low as 700$ configured with 1 Gig of ram and a DVD+/-RW. The higher end Mac currently offered(February 2007) is a pc server, and the base configuration isn’t much more expensive than building a personal computer using the same chip. However, there are options using a different chip that can offer comparable performance that is not offered by Mac. As of this writing the Lower End Intel Mac’s use laptop processors (including the iMac, and Mac mini). The high-end Mac pro uses a server chip, and the line of Intel processors intended for majority of consumer desktops are not offered by apple.

Summary and conclusions

Essentially with macs you get a more or less working system out of the box, but have little ability to configure a system that fits your exact hardware needs. In my opinion the best reason to buy a Mac is that you want to use OS/X. Another potentially good reason is if you have one desktop pc for internet use, and basic tasks and audio. The price of Macs are competitive to their competitors.

5. Building your own desktop.

Okay we’ve reached my favorite method, as a result I’ve resolved to talk about it the least.

The advantage to building a DAW is you can configure it to fit your needs exactly provided you have the budget. A DIY pc is generally the most cost effective way to purchase a computer as long as the user spends over 1000 $ or more. Generally, A 1000$ worth of DIY parts will cost you 1200$-1300$ to build a similar system from any OEM, 2000$ will generally cost 2500$ or more from the same OEM, so generally the “savings” increase the more you spend. Because a DIY pc uses retail channel hardware, the quality of well designed pc can be as good as the best professional DAW vendors for fraction of the cost. The catch is you have to choose the right hardware, and you have to do this research your self, choosing the wrong hardware can yield a poor system. As mentioned earlier in this article, there is a lot of garbage among retail channel hardware. Other major draw backs include with a DIY system you have no technical support, the trouble shooting of the whole system is up to you though you have individual component warranties, and component support. The other disadvantage is it requires a considerable amount of research. While any one with half a brain can screw a pc together choosing good components for a pc is actually far harder and more tedious its not a process you want to rush. In addition, many forums and research avenues geared towards DIY PC builders are largely oriented towards performance enthusiasts and gamers, and the conceptions of good may not be what are suitable for audio.

6. PC Laptops for audio.

Essentially it is best to read over the discussion of pc laptops in part II of this article. I will however state that generally Macintosh Notebooks and laptops distributed by pro-audio vendors are suitable for audio. As of this date Macintosh Notebooks use slower 5400rpm hard drives and it is advisable to buy an external hard-drive for use with macs.

If buying a pc notebook, one should consider buying a notebook that is certified by digidesign or from a Pro-audio vendor. The major problem with the OEM’s, is an inability to tell which notebooks are quality and which are not. Almost none of the OEM market manufactures a notebook from components, rather the redistribute notebooks from ghost vendors, at most they add the basic components such as ram, hard drives, CPU and very occasionally optical drives in graphics cards. Essentially pro-audio companies test which model ghost notebooks are suitable for audio and distribute only those.

I would like to take Bruce Valeriani, Jon Scripps, and Jay Walsh for their input on how the computer has changed professional studios.

Disclaimer 1. I do not guarantee that this article is up-to-date, or accurate

Disclaimer 2. Opinions expressed here are sole opinions of the author, and is not representative of Tweakheadz Lab, Studio-Central.com, or Audio-Pro Central.

Selecting a DAW

Friday, June 13th, 2008

– by nanashiwanderer

Selecting a computer in the Home Studio.

January 2007

Part I The importance of the DAW in modern recording studios, and criteria for selection.

The personal computer has revolutionized the modern recording studio. In many cases it has functionally replaced tape, and made once difficult editing a painless process. In professional studios, for better or for worse, it has made it possible to correct minor mistakes from performances during tracking. In a large portion of today’s home studios the personal computer serves as the center for a digital studio. It often not only provides the medium which sound is recorded and edited, but functionally replaces every aspect of the studio. Increased processing power of modern computers, make it possible to use several plug-ins to completely functionally replace the role of hardware units. In addition, in the last 3 or four years the availability of high quality plug-in has drastically increased, that is often superior to the hardware within the budget of the average home recording studio. However, despite the crucial rule computers play in the home studio, their value is often under rated and overlooked. People often spend more time mulling over what sound card or microphone to buy ,before even checking if their pc is actually compatible with the audio interface they are running or suitable for audio. Others realize the importance of their DAW; however make mistakes of paying to much attention to system power, speed, at the expense of stability, reliability, and compatibility. The purpose of this article is to explain some of the considerations one should take while selecting a Digital audio work station, for their home studio; As well as explore the pros and cons of different routes a person can take when selecting a DAW. This guide will refrain from complex in-depth technical explanations of how components in a DAW work.

So what considerations should one actually take when buying a personal computer for studio use?

If someone asked this question in the mid-nineties the first answer that comes to mind would be system power and speed. In the past it was often a tedious task to even run a few plug-ins, and realistically computers were suitable for minor editing. However, the computing power has drastically increased in the last few years. The average new computer has well over 25 times the processing power, of the average pc 10 years ago and likely at a significant cheaper price. A top of line PC DAW can now days record near 100 tracks (often more), and is often capable of running multiple plugins on every channel. This kind of processing power greatly exceeds the needs of most home studios. Even computers from three or four years ago, as of this writing in have significant processing power, and often with minor adjustments and upgrades can be used for audio. In my personal opinion the great increases in power, has shifted the primary concerns of modern DAW, from power to compatibility, stability, overall reliability, and silence.

Most audio interfaces and soundcards are fairly finicky about the hardware their attached to. If the soundcard/audio interface, for a lack of a better term, doesn’t like your hardware numerous issues can occur; an example of such issues are system instability, pops and clicks when recording, cyclic redundancy errors. The reason for this fickleness is unlike consumer soundcards, like the Creative Labs SoundBlaster, which are just designed primarily to playback audio from your computer, audio soundcards have to perform a task which is far more complex. Sound cards used for recording have to be able to take an input source (often multiple input sources), which is often analog, convert it to digital, which the computer then stores, and then often play the signal back (which requires the computer to perform a digital analog conversion), in a time period that is indiscernible to the human ear. A soundcard doing this needs frequent attention from the computers CPU, or for the pc illiterate the computer’s brain. The CPU generally can only do one thing at a time, so it switches back in forth between tasks. An audio pc as a result has to be configured in a way that your audio interface isn’t fighting with your other hardware for different resources. For the aforementioned reasons I usually consider compatibility as the most important factor when selecting any DAW. DAW compatibility is the ability of your computer’s recording hardware to be configured with the rest of your computers hardware and software, in a way that it can actually be used.

Help guys I’m not good at transitions at all

Once compatibility of audio hardware with a given system is established, the next most important criteria for any system stability and reliability. A stable system is a system that isn’t prone to crash, or other errors, and a reliable system is one that isn’t prone to hardware failures. The reasons why one would want to have a stable system should be fairly obvious; no one wants their computer to crash in a middle of a recording session. This can mean often loosing unsaved data, and mean re tracking whole projects. I doubt anyone, wants to replace a pc, or send their pc to the repair shop shortly after they bought it. One may wonder, shouldn’t compatible system be reliable, a compatible system merely means, your computer can work properly together; it doesn’t mean it has to. A compatible, stable and reliable computer is a system which works the way it’s supposed to vast majority of the time.

The last criterion for a good audio pc is silence. This is especially true of home studios, and smaller project studios which are unlikely to have a dedicated machine room, or sometimes even a control room. In single room studios, where the pc is located with in the room one is using for tracking, one runs the risk that the microphones will pickup background noises from the pc’s cooling system. In smaller semi-professional and professional project studios, a loud DAW in the control room, can compromise ones listening environment. As a result, how quiet ones PC is becomes an very important factor when choosing a pc for audio.

Part II. F.AQ.

Okay nanashi this is all fine and dandy, but I already have a desktop pc, can’t I just use it?

In many scenarios, a person new to recording, may not want to take the time to purchase a dedicated for audio. Because, modern computers generally exceed the power requirements for the basic needs of most hobby musicians, often an older computer can be suitable for the task of music production, with minor upgrades, and modifications. In general the user should take power, compatibility, and how quiet the pc is into account. Generally a user should already be aware, if the pc is stable or reliable.

A musician wishing to use their old pc, should already have a rough idea of what their looking to do, and consider the software they wish to use before hand, to get a measure of the power requirements. On software boxes usually there are system requirements, and recommended specifications; one should realize it is more realistic to buy software, based on whether or not their computer fits the software’s recommended requirements. Recommended requirements are usually the resources a program should have for normal use, not when the software is pushed to the maximum. Generally there are three major factors that come in to play when determining power requirements with software, the CPU/processor speed (example a box may say Pentium III or Athlon 1GHZ required, Pentium 4 1.5 GHZ or better recommended), the ram/memory (example continued, 256mb required, 1GB recommended) and hard drive space (example continued 1GB required, audio data takes up additional space). If your system meets the CPU requirements, it can be upgrade to meet the other two, assuming the system has the upgrade capacity to add another hard drive (or replace an existing one), or add more ram. Crucial.com (as well as a few other memory distributors), has a memory finder which can determine the type of ram one needs, and how much ram their system can support, based on the computers model number. If the system does not have the horse power to run software, it is generally advisable to purchase a new machine, as replacing the CPU will often require other components to be replaced. As of this writing, most computers 4 years old and newer meet the recommended requirements for lighter software such as Cubase SE3, or Mackie’s Tracktion 2).

The second thing one should do is determine, what sort of interface/soundcard one wants, and come up with a list of possible interfaces that match their budget. The individual should then try to determine whether the interface is compatible with their, machine. Usually, the best way to do this especially, for window’s users is to determine if their pc is not compatible. Generally Hardware manufacturers, will list systems that have potential incompatibilities with their hardware. People who wish to use Digidesign pro-tools le, should take note that digidesign spends extensive time testing which systems are and are not compatible, and keep archives of systems that were previously compatible on their website.

c. is it quiet enough? This is the big breaker for many people, and should be considered carefully, especially if the computer one is using is made by a big OEM. Most OEM PC’s made by dell, HP, Compaq, apple. Use what are called proprietary components. These components are custom designed to fit the manufacturer’s design, as opposed to retail hardware which follow usually standard sizing specifications. Often the use Proprietary components make it impossible to replace certain components usually the CPU fan, Power supply and motherboard. Power Supply and fans are usually the two components that introduce the most noise into a computer system, followed by the hard drives. Oftentimes irregular sizing of proprietary cases mean that the cooling system selected because they allow for safe internal temperatures for the computer system. Generally quieter cooling system means the use of passive cooling or using slower case fans, which are less effective at cooling then louder components.

The summary: often computers which are a few years old are suitable with minor modifications, especially for users in home studios. However, the flipside is that it may require so much modification its easier to buy a new pc.

What about me!!! Nanashi, I have a laptop? I bought for school can I use it?

Unlike PC desktops, whether or not a laptop can be used for audio is a far trickier business. As of this writing (Quarter1 2007) the answer is it may be possible if your laptop is under 5 years old, however there are no guarantees. Like with desktop’s the criteria for using an old pc laptop for audio remains the same, does the system have enough power, can it be made to work with ones hardware, is it quiet enough however, modifying a laptop is far harder than a desktop, and often times impossible.

Determining whether a system has enough power is fairly simple. One should simply follow the same methodology discussed for determining whether their desktop pc has power. The major bottle neck for power with most laptops is often the hard-drives. Laptops generally use hard drives, with slower rotating internal components (the platters for the tech savvy) than desktops. Slower, hard drives generally mean slower read and write times and usually entail that a user cannot achieve as high a track count as one would on the desktop. As a result it is recommended that one use an external hard drive with high rotation speed (7200rpm as of this writing), when using any laptop for audio. In recent times modern laptops hard drive performance has been much closer to desktops, and it is possible to replace the internal hard drives on many laptops, however often times the drives are difficult to access making it impossible for average consumers to easily replace. A common solution is to use the external drives that connect using the firewire bus. While the data read/write performance is not as fast as an internal desktop drive, it often is a drastic improvement over the laptop drives. In even more recent times (laptops no older than 2 years) have been made it possible to hook up external SATA hard drive controllers (SATA is the communications bus that most new hard drives use, to connect to your computer) which allow users to add an external desktop hard drive running at the native speed of internal drives.

The most major concern with laptops is it even possible to perform major audio editing duties with a notebook. With many older notebooks or low-end models manufactured new, it is not. Older and lower-end notebooks often suffer from resource conflicts due to sharing of interrupt request lines (IRQ). IRQ conflicts often are a source of unwanted pops and clicks in your recording, and render many laptops unusable for serious audio editing tasks. (An IRQ is an interrupt request line. The computers hardware uses this to signal the computers CPU, the brain, that it needs it to do something a.s.a.p. an IRQ conflict occurs when two devices are fighting for access because they are sharing a request line, its best to think of the IRQ as the emergency line to the manager of a business). On desktops the number of IRQ is standardized and conflicts can be solved by disabling communication ports one is not using (the serial bus fore example) or moving the location of internal devices so they have a different line. On laptops, which are highly integrated machines, there is often no way to change which IRQ your audio interface is assigned too, which makes many laptop prone to IRQ conflicts. Assuming your laptop is not prone to IRQ conflicts, and has the power you need to accomplish the tasks you wish to do.

The next major concern is audio interface compatibility with. Since laptops do not have the same internal expansion slots as desktops, the types of sound cards one can use with a laptop are limited mostly to external audio interfaces connecting using USB or Firewire. Majority of USB (2.0) interfaces cannot record more than stereo at this time, and will not be discussed in detail, generally firewire interfaces due to the design of the firewire protocol is a more effective solution for recording audio, in addition almost all the complex audio interfaces are firewire soundcards. As with desktop it is important to check for the compatibility of the interface with one’s system and similar rules apply. Generally manufacturers will list which systems are incompatible with their interface. However, in the case of firewire interfaces often times incompatibilities can be fixed since the incompatibility maybe potentially caused by the firewire chipset the laptop is using. If your laptop has a PCMCIA or express card expansion slot it is often possible to add a firewire expansion card. A general rule of thumb is most firewire audio interfaces work the best on firewire ports which utilize a chipset manufactured by Texas instrument. Often times device conflicts with firewire interfaces on desktops and laptops can be corrected merely by adding a firewire card using Texas Instrument Chipset.

The Summary: Some laptops are able to handle serious recording tasks, and other laptops will always unsuitable for recording. Usually those laptops which are unsuitable for recording cannot be modified period to be made suitable for studio purposes. Those which are suitable for recording, usually benefit from a faster external hard drive. General audio interface compatibilities with laptops suitable for recording audio can often be solved by addition of Texas instrument firewire board.

Part III Nanashi I read the rest of your boring drivel, and I’m convinced I need a new pc? What are my options?

Essentially in the market buying a desktop pc theirs 6 routes one can take. One is going to a store and buying a big name desktop or big name laptop pc. The 2nd is going to a local vendor and have them build a pc customized to your needs. The 3rd option is to go to a vendor which specializes in building pc’s for the tasks you plan to use it for. The 4th option is to build your own Desktop PC, using retail components (my preferred method). The 5th Option is to buy a pc from apple.

Big OEMs Desktop

The acronym OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, which essentially is a fancy term for any company which resells components of another company under their logo. Oftentimes components are marketed as OEM components when they are intended for use in an OEM system, such components are sold open box at normal retail computer warehouses like newegg.com; Generally these components come without warranty as opposed to retail box where the hardware is bundled often times with accessories, software and has a complete package and full warranty. Dell, HP, Compaq and almost all computer vendors are OEM’s since they do not manufacture the internal components of their machines. Instead they either bulk order components, such as hard drives, optical drives from companies which do produce such products, the really big OEMs will often contract vendors to manufacture certain products for them like cases, motherboards and power supplies (and this is how proprietary computer hardware originates.) So what is a big OEM? A Big OEM refers to the large companies, which sell mass distributed computers intended mostly for the general public. The key major players are Dell (also owns Alien-ware), HP/Compaq, Gateway/E-machines.

So can OEM’s be used for audio? Generally OEM PC’s are intended for use by the general public and not designed for specific tasks. Rather they are geared to do basic tasks like play music, web surfing, watch movies, e-mail, word process. As a result the hardware and system are configured for the needs of general public. OEM machines can often times used for audio, but it often has to be optimized for audio, and may have to be upgraded and modified for use. Most of the large OEM companies use proprietary components and often the expandability and upgradeability of the system is limited by small power-supply, the use of proprietary power supplies and irregular case sizes often makes it impossible to replace power supply to increase expandability. Other problems occur in the fact that OEM’s use custom motherboard, and often do not state what chipset the motherboard uses (the chipset is the device the CPU, or brain, uses to communicate with the rest of the computers hardware, kind of like your spinal chord). This means that it’s often hard to determine if your audio interface is not compatible with a big name pc.

So are there advantages to the OEMs? Generally serious home studios, or professional studios and project studios would be better off investigating other options, which are more easily suited for audio, however the OEM does offer the advantage is they are comparatively cheap. Generally, when a person has a PC budget under 800 $ including the cost of windows, it is very hard to beat the performance and relative quality that OEM PC’s can offer. For home studios and hobbyist engineers who maintain a rigid budget may benefit from the fact, that the right OEM PC with modifications may be suitable for audio.

~ Nanashi’s tip if your limited to buying an OEM Pc, try to get one certified for use with Protools even if you want to use sonar or Cubase. Generally a pc that is certified for Protools will be suited with a number of audio interfaces. Also do research for tweaking windows for audio.

Summary

OEM PCs aren’t ready for audio out of the box from the get go. The hardware they use is not 100% replaceable, and upgradeability is somewhat limited due to use of proprietary core components, mainly the motherboard (the thing everything inside connects too), and the power supply. The advantage to OEM’s is they are relatively good for tight budgets, because other options are not as affordable.

  1. The local store or online stores with design it your self options.

Believe it or not there are probably companies in your town which manufacture computers. These stores are under the many different types of small OEM vendors, and use what I’ll call retail channel hardware. Retail Channel hardware that essentially can be purchased by the consumer market, and not just by vendors. The implication of this is a person could build a computer themselves using the exact same components. The advantage to retail hardware is there is a wide market, and many options exist. The top end of retail hardware is considerably better quality in terms of performance, and reliability than the components inside the average (like the pc’s large OEMs make) PC. The bad thing about retail hardware theirs a lot of sorting through the trash, considerable research needs to be done to actually create pc’s that are higher quality than the Big OEM’s.

So what’s the advantage to the local store? Often times small vendors and local stores will build pc’s for a cost that’s cheaper than specialized pc vendors. Since, Small OEM’s use retail components often they’ll often allow users input to the core components they use. A user who is willing to do research can essentially design a pc custom tailored to their needs, and tweaked to their needs. In edition they still will have the security of knowing that they have a technician they can go to that will help fix or trouble shoot system (of course depending on the vendor but this is on average). The draw back, these vendors often do not specialize in audio computers and the user must do some of their own research, to get a well suited system. In edition, the user could have saved the cost of labor by building a system himself.

Summary

A Small OEM uses retail components, and the user can design a system to suit their needs. These systems are generally more costly than OEM systems; however the use of retail box hardware means better hardware options are available provided the buyer/vendor uses the hardware in the system. The user has technical support, and warranty he would not have if he built the pc himself, however could have saved himself the cost of labor if he had chosen to build himself.

Option 3 the DAW Vendor.

In the computing world there is small retail OEM companies that often specializing in building certain types of computers. The advantage to such vendors, are assuming that they are a reputable brand with in their specialty (Such as Falcon-Northwest or Voodoo PC in the gaming world), they have a product which is suitable for a specific task right out of the box. The best DAW vendors, take the time to research which retail hardware is most suited for audio work, and provide the most performance. In edition they will configure and tweak the computers Operating Systems. Generally the best specialized vendors use top quality hardware, and have better reliability over all then most OEMs, due to higher quality standards. In edition, these class of pc vendors on average have better overall technical support then most OEM counterparts, and are more likely to have a technical support staff that actually constructs machines, and is technically skilled with computers.. The main draw backs, to good vendors, is the cost of the system is often immensely higher costing significantly more than all other avenues of buying pc. In edition, many times those not familiar with the respected specialized vendors within an industry may fall for retailers of lesser quality which advertise them selves as specialized vendors (and often times barely qualify). In my opinion for serious professional studios, buy a DAW from a pro-audio vendor is the correct choice. It saves these studios the time and effort of having to design a DAW, and is ready for audio out of the box. Hobbyist studios and home studios who do not want to worry about configuring, tweaking or spending enormous time researching components might also do well to buy from a pro-audio vendor provided they have the money.

Summary, Buying from a respected pro-audio vendor quality PC with tech support out of the box. However, the price tag can be quite high, and the internal components are retail. In addition some research must be done to determine which vendors are respectable with in a field and which ones aren’t. For a professional studio, buying such a solution is effective since it saves them the hassle of having to research pc components, or tweaking and configuring a system for audio. In edition the tech support, is often quite good.

1. Mythical Magical Macintosh apples.

** Please wait one moment while Nanashi puts on a flame suit!**

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, with apple’s Mac that statement is at least partly true. Due to the design of OS/X, the smaller market share Mac possesses, mostly due to the OS design, Macintosh computers cannot get severely damaging viruses. Unbelievably many Mac users do not bother with a virus scan. So what is an apple? I think it’s a red fruit, that is quite good when juiced, but some people describe it as an alternative to a pc. In my opinion, the Macintosh is an alternative to Microsoft Windows, which is run by majority of consumer desktops and laptops.

There are many myths surrounding Macs, especially with the introduction of the transition to Intel Macs. Essentially Apple is a large OEM which gets its own class. Like the large OEM’s they use proprietary components, and for the most part their target market is the average consumer, with an eye on media professionals. Currently new apple computers use Intel Processors, and have made hardware transition to the X86 architecture that windows pc’s have used for many years. In the past, Apples machines used a fundamentally different hardware design that was not comparable to the X86 architecture used in PC’s. In the essential the philosophy of how hardware function was different (RISC Macs, vs. CISC/X86 for pc), ironically this exact architecture has been adopted in Microsoft’s XBOX360. The implications of the Intel transition, on the architectural level (the type of hardware being used, not the brand or specific model) is fundamentally the same as any other pc. Modern Macintosh are capable of running windows, as long as the drivers (the software that makes your hardware work) for their hardware are available for Microsoft’s OS; as of this writing apple has introduced boot camp, which does allow apple to run windows natively. The reverse implication of this is apple has also made it theoretically possible to release OS/X for all pc’s and has chosen not to do this at this point.

The positive side to buying Mac’s for audio, is in general their pc are media editing friendly assuming the user has bought enough ram, and CPU power. The driver scheme for Apple called core audio makes integrating an audio interface with apple’s product quite easy. Particularly, Digidesign protools le and Motu’s audio interfaces are quite Mac compatible and can reduce headaches about which audio interface to use. In edition Mac’s OS/X is designed to work with the hardware within the Macs, and the design of the kernel itself makes Mac computers quite stable.

So are their drawbacks to purchasing Macs. The main concern is expandability apples are highly integrated machines and marketed as a software hardware package. If you want to use OS/X you have to use apples hardware. While the hardware in today’s apple is fundamentally the same as their pc counterparts, the number of options for expansion is quite limited, as hardware bought for Mac’s has to have a driver supported by apple. Like most large OEM’s their hardware is proprietary though this often isn’t an issue since the only motherboards OS/X supports are the one’s apple has chosen to distribute. However, many of the lower end models offered by apple offer no expansion slots, and completely prevent users from adding in any type of internal cards. The quality of apple’s hardware is at least on par with most of the large OEM’s, but according to many owners somewhat better. I have my reserves about remarking Mac hardware as high quality due to issues with the Intel laptops.

****Wait Nanashi what about price****

Apple is more or less competitively priced with most of the large OEM’s which it is competing with. The lowest end models which are highly compact can be bought as low as 700$ configured with 1 Gig of ram and a DVD+/-RW. The higher end Mac currently offered(February 2007) is a pc server, and the base configuration isn’t much more expensive than building a personal computer using the same chip. However, there are options using a different chip that can offer comparable performance that is not offered by Mac. As of this writing the Lower End Intel Mac’s use laptop processors (including the iMac, and Mac mini). The high-end Mac pro uses a server chip, and the line of Intel processors intended for majority of consumer desktops are not offered by apple.

Summary and conclusions

Essentially with macs you get a more or less working system out of the box, but have little ability to configure a system that fits your exact hardware needs. In my opinion the best reason to buy a Mac is that you want to use OS/X. Another potentially good reason is if you have one desktop pc for internet use, and basic tasks and audio. The price of Macs are competitive to their competitors.

5. Building your own desktop.

Okay we’ve reached my favorite method, as a result I’ve resolved to talk about it the least.

The advantage to building a DAW is you can configure it to fit your needs exactly provided you have the budget. A DIY pc is generally the most cost effective way to purchase a computer as long as the user spends over 1000 $ or more. Generally, A 1000$ worth of DIY parts will cost you 1200$-1300$ to build a similar system from any OEM, 2000$ will generally cost 2500$ or more from the same OEM, so generally the “savings” increase the more you spend. Because a DIY pc uses retail channel hardware, the quality of well designed pc can be as good as the best professional DAW vendors for fraction of the cost. The catch is you have to choose the right hardware, and you have to do this research your self, choosing the wrong hardware can yield a poor system. As mentioned earlier in this article, there is a lot of garbage among retail channel hardware. Other major draw backs include with a DIY system you have no technical support, the trouble shooting of the whole system is up to you though you have individual component warranties, and component support. The other disadvantage is it requires a considerable amount of research. While any one with half a brain can screw a pc together choosing good components for a pc is actually far harder and more tedious its not a process you want to rush. In addition, many forums and research avenues geared towards DIY PC builders are largely oriented towards performance enthusiasts and gamers, and the conceptions of good may not be what are suitable for audio.

6. PC Laptops for audio.

Essentially it is best to read over the discussion of pc laptops in part II of this article. I will however state that generally Macintosh Notebooks and laptops distributed by pro-audio vendors are suitable for audio. As of this date Macintosh Notebooks use slower 5400rpm hard drives and it is advisable to buy an external hard-drive for use with macs.

If buying a pc notebook, one should consider buying a notebook that is certified by digidesign or from a Pro-audio vendor. The major problem with the OEM’s, is an inability to tell which notebooks are quality and which are not. Almost none of the OEM market manufactures a notebook from components, rather the redistribute notebooks from ghost vendors, at most they add the basic components such as ram, hard drives, CPU and very occasionally optical drives in graphics cards. Essentially pro-audio companies test which model ghost notebooks are suitable for audio and distribute only those.

I would like to take Bruce Valeriani, Jon Scripps, and Jay Walsh for their input on how the computer has changed professional studios.

Disclaimer 1. I do not guarantee that this article is up-to-date, or accurate

Disclaimer 2. Opinions expressed here are sole opinions of the author, and is not representative of Tweakheadz Lab, Studio-Central.com, or Audio-Pro Central.