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Building Professional Audio PC

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October 12, 2009 3:16:53 PM

Just got a $20,000 small business loan to improve my studio. We just bought a new Sony DMX-R100 console (its freakin' sweet!!!) and 2 PCI cards to get the full 36 channel interface.

Now its time to build a PC from scratch to accommodate the new console. So I can drop a few thousand on a new PC and I know we want it to be a 64-bit OS system. The main need for this new PC build is for it to be able to process a lot of DSP and VST plugins in real time and retrieve data very very quickly. We will have situation where there will be up to 36 audio files at about 40-50mb a piece being played simultaneously. So I need a computer that will retrieve the data quickly and processing power that can handle about anything we throw at it with no lag.

Suggestions?

More about : building professional audio

October 12, 2009 3:22:15 PM

just how many thousands were you going to drop on the PC? I would make different suggestions for $2,000 as compared to $3,000 or $4,000. Also, there are a few other questions like will this system be used for overclocking, or are there other primary tasks it will need to complete. Also, I'm assuming you'll want this to be a system that is quiet as possible given your primary use, so that in itself will influence parts selection and budget.
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October 12, 2009 3:36:43 PM

Good points! Here's the scoop:

The quietest possible system
Budget ~$2500-3000
I'd like to stay within system spec, but if OC'ing is possible without lessening the life of the computer, then go for it.
Enthusiast video card is not necessary, but i may end up breaking into video production in a year or two beyond the audio setup this will be intended for
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October 12, 2009 3:37:47 PM

Another note, this system will never be online. Its meant to be a dedicated computer just for the studio. Only meant for audio projects (possibly video later on). No gaming, no microsoft office, no solitaire :-) just production
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Best solution

October 12, 2009 3:58:55 PM

Here's a starting point for you, though number of HD/SSDs, 6GB vs 12GB RAM, Optical drives, etc. You can easily hit your target budget.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ASRock X58 board $169.99 ($159.99AR)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Intel i7 920 $279.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... OCZ 3x2GB DDR3 1600 CAS 8 $129.99 ($109.99AR)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Corsair 650TX 650 Watt PSU $89.99 ($69.99AR)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Antec P183 $144.95
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Intel X25-m G2 80GB MLC SSD $239.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... WD Caviar Green 1TB $84.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Gigabyte Radeon 4850 Fanless $129.99 ($109.99AR)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... Standard SATA DVD burner $28.99
$1298.87 -$70 Rebates = $1228.87

I saw in the OP that your system will require 2 PCI cards. This is actually going to restrict some of your choices since some current boards are starting to phase out PCI. The ASRock I selected has 2 PCI, so you'll be fine as long as you don't need any more. Also, I'm not sure what your high end sound interface actually does, but will it take the place of sound output as well? Otherwise you will be relying on not so great integrated sound, and if you go with a discrete sound card, you'll have to look for PCIe x1, or switch to a more expensive motherboard that gives you more PCI slots.
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October 12, 2009 4:05:04 PM

Going over your OP yet again, you might want to double the intel SSD and put them in RAID 0. This will give you 160GB of primary storage with extremely fast Read/Write for active projects. The 1TB Green drive would be used mainly as storage, but the Read/Write on those is pretty good, so it could be used as a source drive for processing if need be.
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October 12, 2009 4:49:51 PM

Wow, you pretty much did all the research for me. I've done quite a bit of research myself but i thought I'd get a complete objective second opinion uncolored from my thoughts on what I've looked at. I was also thinking about 2 SSD's in raid 0. I don't think i need to mirror the drives since they will be for active projects and will be eventually stored in the 1TB hard drive. The audio setup we have will take care of all sound applications, so no on board sound card will be needed.

I'm definitely tech savvy when it comes to assembling the computer itself, so this setup seems easy to put together. I'll probably throw in an OEM version of Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate.
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October 12, 2009 5:10:19 PM

Workstation class graphics cards are an option, but unless you are going to be doing 3D rendering or AutoCAD work you aren't going to be gaining a lot of speed for that amount of money. A single Radeon 5870 would probably be your best single card option, which you will probably want to go with since dual cards will add a lot of heat and noise. XFX Radeon 5870 would be my top choice, though supplies of 5870s are currently very limited, so you may need to be flexible on brand. These currently run about $379. Do you know if your Sound hardware will be drawing a significant amount of power? most likely not, but it may be a good idea to bump up the PSU to a Corsair 750TX for 750 Watts of power.

Also, forgot to suggest an aftermarket heatsink and fan. You won't really need it for overclocking since you're leaving that as an optional possibility, but a quality HSF will cool better, and much more quietly than the Intel stock one. Noctua brand coolers would be the first place I'd look for this build since they are quiet and cool very well, Scythe has some nice options if you don't want to spend $70+ on a cooler, though aren't quite as good at cooling.

As for going with Windows 7 Ultimate, that might be a bit of a waste for this system. The benefits of going with Ultimate are almost all related to improved network functions at the enterprise level, like booting from hosted virtual drives, using server hosted applications, advanced network security, remote desktop, etc. If you aren't planning on even using a net connection, much of this would be wasted. The only possibly useful advanced function I can think you might need is XP mode (virtualization by means of using a valid Win XP key) and this is also available with Windows7 Professional. Otherwise, Windows 7 home premium should do what you want.
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October 12, 2009 5:28:10 PM

Just thought of something else that might be a problem. If you do want to go with a Radeon 5870, they are huge by graphics card standards. The ASRock has a very good motherboard layout so no issue there, but I think the Antec P183 may be too small front to back to fit it. I chose the Antec P183 because of it's excellent acoustic properties, but you may need to go with something else to fit larger graphics cards.

The review on high end gaming cases a few days back on Tom's Hardware is a good resource to look at for current best cases. the Antec P193 is an updated version of the P183, and should have no problem with the long graphics cards. Here's the results from the review: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-case-review,...

The other cases they reviewed are also nice, but crazy expensive. The only other "reasonably priced" case I'd choose is the Panzerbox, but it isn't optimized for quietness so not a good option for your application.
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October 12, 2009 6:01:55 PM

Thanks for the info on graphics cards and cases. As far as case noise, my aim is certainly keep the db's low, but i also have an isolation case that the CPU will end up going into. They are made for audio console CPU's. It isolates the computer from the reset of the control room while keeping good airflow.

As for large cards, I'll definitely be keeping that in mind. Overall I'd rather focus on the audio application right now and worry about the video aspect later. As for your question about audio power consumption, that's a non-issue. other than the two pci cards everything else power wise will be outside the computer.

The console itself has its own computer for the console functions, automation. The console is pretty sweet. It has a 9" touch display so you can do some signal flow configurations right from the display.
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October 12, 2009 6:12:16 PM

Well if you have an isolation case already, I don't think you could get much quieter than that. Everything else is pretty well covered. You probably have already checked this, but before you commit yourself to a 64-bit OS, I'd make sure your equipment has drivers that support 64-bit, and that any required software also runs in 64-bit. My company has started rolling out Windows 7 64-bit to our laptops, and we had nice little surprises like our VPN client doesn't work with 64-bit, so I wasted a few days on finding a work around.
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October 12, 2009 6:15:58 PM

Oh yes, we definitely took that into account. The PCI drivers for the console actually just released 64-bit this spring.
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October 13, 2009 9:50:13 PM

good evening..There are some systems already out there you can look at for reference,like Sweetwater's music PCs..The reasons are many,yet mostly,the average PC is just not optimized for music/audio,and the operating systems need to be pared down and tweaked,so you dont have unwanted things like screensavers and power settings going on and off during recordings and sound design.Secondly,you do want the PC quiet,efficient,cool,and preferably NEVER online.Your projects should be sent directly to your hard drive and an external drive,and if you can afford it,even tape as well.Yeah,yeah,people still talk that mess about digital/new stuff is better yet that fact is,many major studios still use tape,which has PROVED itself,along with magneto-optical drives,to be quite robust and lasting.Anyway,there are some things about your music computer to consider...

lots of RAM...helps with those plugins and multiple tracks

sound card....the Creative Lab's stuff was ok,yet the RME,MAudio,and Lynx cards are known for their awesome converters

Operating systems?...XP is fine and if you want,go with the 64 bit version..Vista/Win7 will NOT make your music sound better or help you work faster..as a matter of fact,the more bloated the operating system,it can tend to work AGAINST you in the studio,which is why Macs usually rule in the music world...not that I care,because whatever works,works,and i have PCs,Sun,and SGI machines..

software...
Ableton Live7/8 if you want realtime control
Reason.Native Instruments,and there is a 'new' one on the scene..Reaper
ProTools is the industry STANDARD,so please dont allow people to tell you that you wont need to learn and get nice with it,unless you dont plan on selling your music and making money...

the rest,Cubase,Sonar,Samplitude,etc,etc...you just have to try them and pick the ones that work well for you..

The folks that speak more about application,efficiency,quiet cases,voltage regulators,UPS devices,basic video cards,and keeping things simple are on point.You are making music,not a movie,not Toy Story 4,and if you are going commercial,it makes more sense to spend just enough to MAKE MORE money,so you can pay bills,have the computer pay for itself and the software,and expand your studio as needed..
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November 3, 2009 5:43:56 AM

BassBallz, congrats on securing the loan!

FYI, should you reside near a microcenter.com retail location, you can acquire the processor specified in the newegg list for $199.

I'd skip the video card purchase unless you'll require multiple monitors. Wait to make that purchase until you're certain to be entering the video editing field to get the maximum bang for your buck.

You could go watercooled for maximum silence; consider it if you're at all concerned about the isolation cabinet you've got. I take it you're no hack at this and realize the insane sensitivities of excellent microphones! I'd oc this system to get max performance at lowest latency, particularly doing realtime plug-ins and streaming heavy track counts.

There's a silent 450w PSU called the "nightjar" that's passively cooled. New Egg has is for $179, I think. It would work well in a case with a perforated exhaust port above the mounting location.

Poke around the various forums online to pick the brains of experienced engineers who've built systems for similar usage. Their reflections may make a huge impact on your decisions.
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November 3, 2009 5:20:58 PM

tapher - great post!

As for video card, we do have 2 monitors we'd like to hook up with DVI cables, so some research will certainly go into which card in particular.

I didn't even think about the liquid cooling option. I was looking at it more like we don't need that kind of cooling yet that would make things fan-less, good suggestion!

The iso box the computer would be in is pretty remarkable. It has underside ventilation so it wouldn't become an oven if the CPU is in there. As for the power supply, I'm not sure if that's going to be an issue. The machine doesn't necessarily have to be dead silent, after all the computer would be in an isolation case that is off to the side in the control room, while the microphones and everything is isolated off to the live room. Any issue of bleeding sounds in the microphones is negligible. You'd be more likely at that point to pick up the breathing of the drummer before the computer itself! :-)

Thanks again for some great suggestions!
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December 22, 2009 9:47:56 PM

Thanks, Wathman. It's been 5 years since I built a new system and almost 3 since I bought a prefab, so I was a little out of it hardware-wise.
Your system design here was an awesome starting point for my new system. I bought most parts from MicroCenter, and the rest from newegg. I wound up going with an ASUS P6T motherboard instead of the ASRock, and I got a killer deal on the Corsair 750TX so I went with that. I bought the Antec P193 instead of the P183 based on your other comments, and I found a Dane-Elec rebranding of the 80 GB Intel X18-M with a 2.5" conversion plate for only $199 (since newegg went WAY up on the price of the X25-M).
Finally, since the Gigabyte video card has been discontinued, I found a close enough match with the HIS Radeon HD 4670 iSilence4.
Thanks for your post -- it saved me a LOT of research time and helped me build a killer music PC for a little over 2K (including the Emu 1616M sound card).

Thanks!
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