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The Legendary Zoltan

I want to build a music making computer

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What are the ideal amounts of RAM, hard drive space, processor speed, a great sound card, the minimum required video card...? I don't really know ANYTHING about building my own computer. I currently use a laptop with sonar and I'm recording a full album of heavy metal. Occasionally the computer can't seem to handle the MANY audio tracks. There's one song where I haven't even put in the bass yet but I just can not play the song without it stopping again right away. And this laptop has 3 gigs of RAM! I thought that would be plenty! NOOOOOO! Any recommendations? Thanks a lot for your help.

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If you look at PC manufacturers like Dell or HP, pretty much all of the computers under the gaming section would work fairly well for making music.

The specifications for a great music PC would be similar to the following:

  • a multi-core processor like an Intel Core i7-3820

  • 8 GB (or more) of ram

  • 1 TB (or more) of hard drive space

  • a video card similar to an AMD Radeon HD 7500 series

  • a sound card similar to a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium

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If you're going to be doing music (especially any recording of instruments), get a card made for music, rather than gaming. I've had really good luck so far with my M-Audio Delta 1010LT, but it's a bit old and uses ol' PCI. If you've got a spare PCI slot (rare on some computers these days, depending on the motherboard), it's still a fantastic card. I'd recommend something like one of these:

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/FireStuMobile/ (FireWire)

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Delta1010LT/ (PCI)

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/KompAudio6/ (USB 2.0)

The way I have my computer set up is to where it uses the integrated audio on the motherboard for everything but my DAW, and my DAW then has full use of the add-on soundcard. Everything's routed through a small mixer, where I have headphones and speakers plugged in for monitoring options.

As far as other components go, I'll second the recommendation for 8 gigabytes of RAM (what I have), and at least a quad-core processor of some sort. An i5 or a higher-end AMD quad or 8-core chip should do the job pretty well, too.

Hard drive space? I'm almost at the end of my five terabytes. You'll need as much space as you can possibly afford.

Video card doesn't matter too much, but having a decent one helps if you're going to be doing any gaming on the side.

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Uwa! Quad core is the lowest option? This computer is probably going to cost a ton. Thanks, Flexstyle. That's extremely useful information. How do you make it so that your add-on soundcard is only used by the DAW? Can you do that on any computer in the control panel or something?

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Yeah, just make sure Windows is set to use your built-in soundcard as its default. You can set your DAW to specifically use the other soundcard instead, and it works just fine that way. I suppose quad-core isn't REQUIRED, but honestly, there are some really good options out there, and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble that way.

If you want, I can probably put together a list of parts on Newegg or something and give you the specs for a custom build. Building your own computer is a really rewarding experience, both because you'll save money and because it's more fun!

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So, I have this thing. http://www.rolandus.com/products/productdetails.php?ProductId=1089&ParentId=436

And it's worked quite well. I just wanted something for recording guitar and vocals. so I may not need the type of card that has inputs and stuff like that on it yet. I just need the thing that handles the processing of the audio data. Maybe that's not how computers work? Or perhaps, I'm getting my hardware mixed up and am simply thinking of the computer's processor? I actually plan to do a lot of orchestral music creation using a midi keyboard/controller. If I can do that smoothly without lag and stuff, I'll be thrilled. I can always upgrade later.

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Yeah, actually, that may well be all you need for now. You'll want to upgrade to a better interface when it comes time to do any sort of serious recording (because that way you can choose your microphone, etc.), but all the actual processing of the orchestral samples 'n such will happen with the processor. That's why having a good processor is so important.

And hey, you can always try out your Roland device, and if it ends up not working very well, just upgrade. From what I can tell, though, it should do the job just fine.

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Lol you don't need a giga-powerful computer at all. I don't struggle making tunes and I only have a dual-core 3.1GHz with 4gigs of ram (that's a joke compared to the other computers these days.. it's 6 years old..) 300 gig is plenty for music. It's actually not much at all but you should be able to manage it.. you can even backup online. I do have a good DAW and a great audio interface tho.. that helps. But all you really need is an audio interface and a DAW. You already have that but your audio interface is shit for mics, especially a condenser mic.. you should take a look at the audioboxusb (presonus). edit: yeah don't expect to reproduce a John Williams tune with a big VST orchestra tho)

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Believe me, with the kind of orchestral stuff listed as planned, hard drive space will be a huge issue. I speak from experience, here.

Also, whatever drive you get will need to be halfway fast. Most modern hard drives should be alright, but personally I'd recommend at least a 7200 RPM spindle speed.

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Believe me, with the kind of orchestral stuff listed as planned, hard drive space will be a huge issue. I speak from experience, here.

Also, whatever drive you get will need to be halfway fast. Most modern hard drives should be alright, but personally I'd recommend at least a 7200 RPM spindle speed.

Zoltan is thinking about getting Project SAM Orchestral Essentials, which, with only a 7 GB hard drive footprint, is nowhere near as large as a lot of other orchestra libraries.

Zoltan, if you plan to expand your collection of samples and can afford it, I would recommend having a second hard drive to use just for samples. That's something that's really easy to add later, though, so if Orchestral Essentials is the only large library you're going to be using, you should be okay with just one drive.

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Most everyone has probably clarified this by now (I haven't been reading), but it is good to have at least 4GB of RAM in the computer. That's what I run on. I run on a Mac with 4GB. And sometimes even that can be a pain. Lots of pros use 8GB and they never have any trouble. Some go as far as 16GB or even (if the computer can hold this much) 32GB of RAM (which is a ridiculous amount which I think is not needed unless you want everything up and running in literally a second--that's nice, but it's not all that important).

Yeah. That's my post (which was probably a waste of time as most likely everyone else has already given this answer or a better one haha).

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If you already have a monitor/case/keyboard+mouse and all that kind of stuff, you can build a great DAW for under $700.

8gb of ram is the bare minimum, you need to make sure you have at least 12-16gb. This also means you have to plan out your software options before you do anything else, because you want to make sure that you are going to be using as much of that ram as possible for music. That means having 64bit operating system and 64bit software.

The CPU will be the most expensive part, but you do not need something like an i7-3820. Sure it's nice but there are so many incredible options to choose from today that you don't need to buy the latest stuff to get great performance. The problem with the 3820 is that it uses a new socket type which is new and expensive, and you don't want to be paying $300 for a motherboard as well as a processor. So I say stick with the tried and true i7-2600k which costs about $300 and you can get a motherboard for it anywhere from $100-150 that'll be great quality and give you some great options.

You pretty much need to get a motherboard that supports 32gb of ram, so as 8gb sticks get cheaper you can max it out and be unstoppable B)! So look for something like an Asus P8P67 Deluxe (can probably get an open box one for maybe $125-150). You can get a decent deal on 16gb set of ram (gskill ripjaws are decent) at probably around $70-90. Next up get a 1TB hard drive, about $80-120. And most importantly, you need a decent power supply, about 550-600watts, $50-60. Assuming you have a version of Windows 7 64bit (if not you can get a student version for about $120-150) there's your computer.

Stay away from Creative cards, forever. I don't know who in their right mind would recommend them for music but they are wrong. That Roland UA-1G you got is perfect, and infinitely better than anything you can get from Creative.

In the end the most important thing you need to make sure of is that all your hardware is suited to work well together, since your system is only as good as the weakest component. Your software needs to be compatible and be 64bit (you can bridge old 32bit plugins to a 64bit host easily with decent results) so you can use the ram well, and get an arguably slight performance boost from the 64bit CPU. All this stuff isn't cheap but it'll be solid and last you for years.

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Thanks a lot for all of the advice guys.

I found a complete computer that I THINK meets my requirements for $1,000. It's a Japanese store but I tried my best to translate all the specs. Do you see any egregious failures? Also, do you know whether or not Sonar 8 (Not 8.5) Studio Edition is 64 bit? I can't find the box and it's not written in the manual. Thanks a lot.

Monarch LD-K

http://www.dospara.co.jp/5shopping/detail_prime.php?tg=2&tc=56&ft=&mc=2769&sn=0

Intel i7-3770K 4core, 3.5ghz, L3 cache 8MB

video: Inside the CPU, Intel HD Graphics

memory: 【PC3-12800】8GB DDR3 SDRAM(PC3-12800/4GBx2 dual channel

hard disk: 【SSD】Intel 240GB (330 series /SATA6Gb/

DVD Multidrive

Motherboard: Intel Z77 Express Chipset ATX

OS: 64-bit Windows 7 Home premium

Monitor: SAMSUNG S22B300B 21.5 inch Full HD Wide LED

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Believe me, with the kind of orchestral stuff listed as planned, hard drive space will be a huge issue. I speak from experience, here.

Also, whatever drive you get will need to be halfway fast. Most modern hard drives should be alright, but personally I'd recommend at least a 7200 RPM spindle speed.

If you plan Orchestra stuff, the extra processing power goes a LONG WAY.

I would look into getting 12 or 16 GB RAM if you plan on doing heavy heavy orchestration

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Yes, Sonar 8 can install as 64-bit. There have been reports on the Cakewalk forums of Sonar 8 not working properly on Windows 7 (8.5 was the first version that officially supported Windows 7), so you might want to do some Googling to see if you're likely to be affected by that. Sonar X2 is coming out this fall, and if you upgrade to X1 now, they'll give you X2 when it comes out. A Studio to Studio upgrade is $99, so if Sonar 8 doesn't work for you, that's how much fixing it will set you back.

Regarding the computer, I would recommend a larger non-SSD drive. 240 GB is not a lot of room. Maybe I'm behind on the current chips, but I don't think i7s have Intel HD graphics. I think they actually need a video card. Not sure what's up with the specs in that regard. (EDIT: Eh, never mind -- looks like the newer i7s do in fact have integrated graphics.)

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The specifications for a great music PC would be similar to the following:

  • a multi-core processor like an Intel Core i7-3770

  • 16 GB (or more) of ram which is cheap

  • 1 TB (or more) of hard drive space on a 7200RPM HDD, preferrably Western Digital

  • no video card, Intel HD 4000 goes a long way and can definitely display a DAW screen

  • don't get a sound card unless you need I/O

I fixed it! Woo!

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If you plan Orchestra stuff, the extra processing power goes a LONG WAY.

I would look into getting 12 or 16 GB RAM if you plan on doing heavy heavy orchestration

My studio PC is running xp with the max of 4gb of ram. I use EWQLSO and Play has been a huge pain in the ass lately for me. Even if all other synths are frozen, a quick bounce to audio will many times have cuts in the sound.

However, there are always ways to work around it. I wouldn't recommend building an underpowered computer for what you want to do at all but you always have options. For example, I can run two or three instances of play perfectly so I would create a bunch of audio tracks for each instrument then bounce to audio, place it in the track, then change what's on play to the next instrument. Going back and forth like that is time consuming and adds a few extra steps which can hurt work flow but it allows me to work within my limitations. I just don't get too fancy with the various settings on play because i would have to reprogram them every time i recorded.

Upgrading soon!

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Stay away from Creative cards, forever. I don't know who in their right mind would recommend them for music but they are wrong. That Roland UA-1G you got is perfect, and infinitely better than anything you can get from Creative.

I have a creative ;_;.

But having been with this for about 3 years, I'm beginning to see why, as far as support goes. I haven't had any issues aside from the developers not updating the drivers to work properly with Windows 7 which has been a thorn in my lung.

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A good orchestra based music machine will prioritize its specs in three ways:

- Lots of RAM (Orchestral samples can be some of the largest samples and require a great deal of space)

- Fast Drive Speeds (Orchestral based instruments are large and will need to stream from your disk in real-time)

- Many separate sample drives (Orchestral based compositions have large instrumentation and with simultaneous disk streaming, optimum performance is gained through spreading the stream load across multiple drives)

CPU performance is important, but not as important as these with the following exception.

A good Orchestral based machine will have high quality reverb FX, Compressors, Limiters, and EQs.

Your Sound Device should have excellent ASIO drivers which supports very small buffers.

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I feel pretty confident about the parts I've selected thus far. All I have to do now is find out which drivers are good on Windows 7. A computer expert said that the drivers you need should be already installed on the machine when I buy it. The default sound unit for the computer I'm looking at is onboard a Intel Z77 Express Chipset ATX motherboard. I'm trying to look for what drivers it already has on it but no luck yet.

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Hello everyone,

I feel like a machine with a strong processor and a fast sound card is whats needed let alone at least 4GB of ram

My setup as follows:

Processor: Hyper Threaded Quad Core Intel i7 950 (3.06 Ghz)

Memory: 12GB DDR3RAM

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-X58A

Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 6970

Sound Card: M-AUDIO Fast Track Pro

DAW: FL Studio

I have no issues with any performance problems to date. I built this machine myself. If you know what you're doing building yourself is the best way. [=

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