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zircon

Looking for a new workstation, need advice.

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Ok, so within the next month or two I am looking to buy a new workstation. My sweet spot for price is $1500, but I might be able to go up to $2000 if necessary. Basically, this will be a DAW - digital audio workstation - I don't plan on doing much game playing (if any). It's gotta be as lean and performance-oriented as possible. Here are the specs I am looking at, but I'm not entirely sure what I want.

* Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo (e6600 - the 2.4ghz one). This seems like the sweet spot for power:price. eg. THe e6700 is 2.66ghz, but seems to cost almost twice as much. Is there a better option?

* OS: I'm not too sure about this yet. I think I would like to go for XP w/ SP2, with a voucher to upgrade to Vista. Does anyone know if upgrading the Windows install to Vista means you have to reinstall all your programs, or will it be seamless (mostly)?

* RAM: Sort of dependant on OS. I would like expandability up to 8GB. To start with, I think I'd like 4GB. Is this wise? I do need massive RAM for audio stuff, but as I understand it, XP by default can only take advantage of 3 total. Will I actually experience problems if I have 4GB? I figure when I upgrade to Vista (assuming it's as good for audio as people say) given that its 64 bit it will be good as a future-proof.

* Storage: I have a 400gb external and 250gb internal hard drive, currently. For this new computer I would like the main apps drive to be a 76gb 10k RPM Raptor. I'd also like another internal - a 500gb Seagate, if possible, though this could come later. I have a lot of samples.

* Optical: A single CD/DVD R/RW drive.

* Video card: Nothing more expensive than $100-$120. I don't need a great video card, just something that gets the job done. For reference, I use a $30 ATI Radeon 9200 that sucked when I got it over 2 years ago, and I have basically no problems.

* Sound card: Probably will be purchased separately. I can port over my $100 EMU 0404 from my current machine, but eventually I plan to get a much nicer card, eg. a Creamware SCOPE. For now, ignore.

* PCI slots: I would like to have 4-6 PCI slots. Soundcard takes up one, extra USB card takes up one, and eventually I'll probably install things like DSP. I also have a nice network ard that will take up another one.

* Monitor: 22 to 24" widescreen. I saw a Dell PC in the University of Pennsylvania bookstore that had low/midrange specs and a 24" monitor for $1500 total (250gb storage, Pentium D 3.2ghz, 2gb RAM etc). My current monitor is 19" and it is definitely not big enough. Best options here? If it's going to put me too far over budget, forget it, but given that UPenn deal it can't be THAT bad. Alternatively, would 2 19" monitors be better...?

Any advice would is greatly appreciated. PREFERABLY not "do it yourself".

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OK whatever set up you end up getting make sure you get a 64bit processor. If I were you were I'd get an AMD processor any day over an intel. They are cheaper, faster, and use up less power. What more could u ask for? Try to go for one of the multi core AMD Athlon 64's.

Also the 64bit soundcards are starting to come out so watch out for some of those. I wouldn't spend an assload of money on a 24bit soundcard right now, but u said u were gonna wait anyways so...

Make sure you get the right power supply, with the xtra shite ur gonna put in here you need to be careful.

Wait to upgrade to vista it'll be buggy for at least the first 6 months of it's existence.

Make sure your motherboard will have a large frontside bus. A front side bus is just another part of the motherboard that controls how fast the information in transferred and processed. The only thing is, it's something you can't upgrade, unless you get awhole new motherboard.

For video cards, if your only using this as a DAW and no gaming there's no need to spend any money on a videocard. Save urself some $ and go to the movies or something.

If your goin to get anti-virus get trend pc cillan, it uses up a helluva lot less processing power than norton or mcafee.

Don't buy Dell, their reliability ratings have been tanking severly the past few years. I'd really suggest getting this custom built, as long as u can get windows for a cheap price from ur school. There are tons of whole-sale computer parts places on the internet you can find stuff mad cheap. There are also lots of "academic-superstoes" you can go to, to find crazy deals on all types of things.

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Err the e6600 is the best processor on the market in terms of how much power you get for the $. No AMD processor comes close, and Core 2 Duos (especially when overclocked) blow AMD's similar offerings out of the water in every review I have seen. Haven't heard of 64 bit sound cards... sounds really pointless, even 32 bit audio is a waste. 24 is realistically all you need.

Thanks for the advice though, I appreciate it.

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OK whatever set up you end up getting make sure you get a 64bit processor. If I were you were I'd get an AMD processor any day over an intel. They are cheaper, faster, and use up less power. What more could u ask for? Try to go for one of the multi core AMD Athlon 64's.

The speed and power use aren't as different as they used to be. Intel's catching up, and the Core 2 Duo does beat quite a few Athlon's as far as price vs performance goes.

Also the 64bit soundcards are starting to come out so watch out for some of those. I wouldn't spend an assload of money on a 24bit soundcard right now, but u said u were gonna wait anyways so...

64-bit soundcards? What are you gonna use those for when the vast majority of source material's not 64-bit? Interpolation doesn't help much either.

Wait to upgrade to vista it'll be buggy for at least the first 6 months of it's existence.

You mean applications will be buggy under Vista for a while. From what I've seen and used of Vista so far, it's more stable and reliable by default than XP was.

Make sure your motherboard will have a large frontside bus. A front side bus is just another part of the motherboard that controls how fast the information in transferred and processed. The only thing is, it's something you can't upgrade, unless you get awhole new motherboard.

The speed the FSB will be able to use depends on the RAM and CPU used as well, not just what the chipset on the motherboard dictates.

For video cards, if your only using this as a DAW and no gaming there's no need to spend any money on a videocard. Save urself some $ and go to the movies or something.

A videocard's still needed for output though, and onboard video tends to be crummy, resource intensive(It eats away some RAM) Not to mention that it's not an option on a lot of higher-end motherboard. Cheap VGA cards should do the trick though, since an audio workstation doesn't require fast 3D rendering and lots of pollygoons.

If your goin to get anti-virus get trend pc cillan, it uses up a helluva lot less processing power than norton or mcafee.

Don't buy Dell, their reliability ratings have been tanking severly the past few years. I'd really suggest getting this custom built, as long as u can get windows for a cheap price from ur school. There are tons of whole-sale computer parts places on the internet you can find stuff mad cheap. There are also lots of "academic-superstoes" you can go to, to find crazy deals on all types of things.

From the requirements, I'd directly advise against a pre-built system or a "custom" from a large manufacturer. Usually they tend to not come with the parts you need, or they cost a lot more than they should.

However, building a system yourself isn't something you wanna start on. There are sites and smaller stores offering custom-built PCs, or you could ask a friend to put the system together. One advantage would be that the other place can see if the parts you want fit the system you need.

Also, less "u", more "you".

In response to the actual first post: Good luck finding a Core 2 Duo motherboard with 4-6 PCI slots. Most(if not all) of them have less, and have PCI-Express ports in place now. However, recent mobos tend to have at least 8 USB 2.0 ports(Four on the back of the mobo, additional four through brackets), as well as onboard gigabit LAN.

Also, XP Professional supports up to 4 GB of RAM. Might wanna read this first though:

http://www.experts-exchange.com/Operating_Systems/WinXP/Q_21691179.html

There should be no issues with that amount of RAM though. Just remember that you'll need a lot of virtual RAM to compensate.

Upgrading to Vista doesn't mean you have to reinstall everything. Most applications and drivers will transfer rather seamlessly, although incompatible ones might cause issues.

As for the CPU: Stick to what you're planning on. You can always upgrade in the future provided your motherboard supports it, and when prices drop, you'll be happy.

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I say you go with the Dell deal.

EVERYONE that has built their own PC that I know has had problems with it - major problems at times - in the past. Personally, I purchase packaged stuff, drop the stuff that I need into it (bigger HD, Sound Card, RAM) and leave it at that. That is also good for warranty stuff. And Dell is awesome about customer service.

I think most people would disagree with me, but this is the course of action I strongly suggest.

As for the OS, you'll probably end up with XP - I actually don't know what's going on with Vista and if the music app companies are already working on converting their programs to Vista. Plus there are the bugs to think about and I'm worried about past projects converting over to Vista...

So there's my take. Best of luck.

Oh, and don't use it for anything other than music. No Internet, no chatting, no gaming - nothing. You don't want to get a virus and you want the computer to only know your music software. That's how I roll. Then shoot it over to the laptop here and put it online.

Yay.

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Regarding the RAM thing, Smoke, I can't read that article. It says I need to subscribe.

Mustin makes a good point about DIY... all of my personal experiences with DIY (even when expert friends built in) have resulted in problems down the line. Prebuilts do seem to be more solid, plus you can always uninstall all the crap they come with. Nonetheless, not sure if it's worth it.

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Zircon i'd say go with what ur most comfortable with. My bro and I have had custom built computers for years and have never had problems. I'm just really against pre-made packages due to what i've seen working in the tech field for a while.

If ur gonna get a premade computer the best bang for your buck all around would be gateway.

Here are some benchmark tests done with some of the processors you'd prob be looking at. Right in the middle are some of the audio tests.

http://xtreview.com/review115.htm

I'd try and check out more benchmarking tests with the processors, as different tests have different methods to the testing madness.

If ur wanting to use the computer for over 3 years try to get a processor that has the less amount of heat generation. If ur gonna be upgrading the whole system again in 2 years u don't really have much to worry about.

About the front side bus, the processor, FSB, and RAM all work together in transferring information. The only way to upgrade the FSB would be to buy a new motherboard in the future. So it'd prob be a smart idea to get a large one to begin with.

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Regarding the RAM thing, Smoke, I can't read that article. It says I need to subscribe.

Scroll down beyond the ads, that should do the trick. No need to register, it's just their way to get more subscribers.

Anyway, here's the important part:

It's worth noting that WinXP, while the 32-bit version does indeed "support" 4GB, Windows splits the 4 GB of available memory address space into two separate 2 GB address spaces. One of the 2 GB address spaces is used by the Windows operating system, and the other 2 GB address space is used for user mode processes (applications).

However, there is a /3GB switch used in the BOOT.INI file. The /3GB switch changes the memory allocation so that Windows is only allocated 1 GB of address space, and user mode processes are allocated 3 GB of address space. Splitting the address space like this helps Windows to better manage high demand applications. However, Windows is configured to have a 2 GB address space for the operating system for a reason. If you use the /3GB switch, you can severely impact Windows ability to run multiple applications simultaneously.

Also, WinXP 64 supports 128GB of RAM...not that many people can afford such a system.

There's also some stuff about being able to use more RAM at the potential expense of stability.

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Well, as far as the OS goes, if he wants to use more than 3GB of RAM, zircon can go for Windows XP64-bit.

I have it myself, and it is very stable. The only hassle is finding drivers for all your hardware (even though it wasn't really a hassle for me, just took a couple of google searches).

I have a dual-boot with regular XP Pro for certain hardware that wasn't XP64 bit compatible (two, really, and those were my Sony Camcorder and printer -apparently there are no 64-bit drivers for ANY printer out there, geez).

But everything else runs smoothly as can be. I have 4 gigs of RAM, and it is fun using Adobe Premiere to edit video with that much capacity!

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Remember my thread when I was making my studio? Yeah, I ended up buying a workstation from pcAudioLabs. Those guys are amazing, in costumer service and price. I also picked up a bunch of software from them at reduced prices when I bought the computer with em. Besides, since they build custom computers exclusively for audio work, they can do some nice features, like acoustic dampening, quiet fans, and rack mounted casings. Also, they clean up XP making it optimal for Audio work, and if you order any other hardware and software with them they will preinstall everything perfectly. They really are amazing.

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PCAudioLabs is INSANELY overpriced. I set up a system with no monitor and no extra storage besides the raptor and it came out to $2,600. DIY it would be $1,400. What a ripoff.

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I made a build based on what's I'm buying soon with some adjustments while browsing through newegg. In no particularly order:

LIAN LI PC-V1000BPlus II Black Aluminum ATX Mid Tower $199.99 (One of the best cases around)

GIGABYTE GA-965G-DS3 LGA 775 Intel G965 Express ATX Intel $134.99 (Great motherboard, but it only has 3 PCI slots, which is quite a lot on newer mobo sadly)

Antec SmartPower 2.0 SP-500 ATX12V 500W Power Supply - Retail $69.99 (Solid power supply for case)

Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 Conroe 2.4GHz LGA 775 Processor Model $317.00 (We already know it's the best CPU right now for value for money)

GeIL Ultra 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model GX22GB6400UDC - Retail

$219.99 (Meh, I don't think anything more than 2GB is worth it atm)

SAPPHIRE 100109L-BL Radeon X800 128MB GDDR3 PCI Express x16 Video Card - Retail $165.99

Western Digital Raptor WD740ADFD 74GB 10,000 RPM Serial ATA150 $159.99 (As ordered)

Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s $169.99 (As ordered)

SCEPTRE x22wg-Gamer Black 22" 5ms DVI Widescreen HDMI LCD Monitor $349.99 (meh, not much choice on newegg, but has HDMI making future proof for a while. It's also really really CHEAP)

$349.99

Subtotal: $1,824.99

No sound card as I don't really feel I could recommend one. It's also likely you could lower the price down to 1500-1600 as I have a habit on splurging on unnecessary things. Lastly, I don't know the stores for buying stuff in the US, but I believe newegg has a good rep (am I right?)

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PCAudioLabs is INSANELY overpriced. I set up a system with no monitor and no extra storage besides the raptor and it came out to $2,600. DIY it would be $1,400. What a ripoff.

Yeah, I tried it again, and it was expensive. I guess I got a good deal when I first used it because I bought a lot of hardware and software with it (A FirePod, NI Komplete 3, an external hard drive and Cubase all for about 2000 along with a comparable computer, totaling 4000 for the lot).

Regardless, it's a wonderful product. I was willing to go more for it because I needed a rack mounted case, and the extra hardware deal turned me on to them.

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Zircon, for a video card just get an ATI x300se. Very low power consumption, and even less heat.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16814121538

Be careful though, you will not be able to run Aero in Vista with that, but a card a couple steps down the page with the exact same core can. You need the 128mb version if you wish to run Aero.

The thing about DIY is, if you have problems, you know how to fix them. Dell and others thend to have custom hardware and that is a huge pain in the ass. Just ask Overcoat.

For the proc, get the 6600 Core 2 Duo. Nothing from AMD comes close, exept for the top Athlons and Opterons, and even they lose. Make sure you get good RAM though, Intel procs are much more dependent on the ram what with the FSB and all.

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Well, while places like Dell have custom hardware, THEY know how to fix them and they do offer support. If you can't figure out what happened to your computer, and you're not a technician, you're screwed - you don't have a support number. So, I always liked that aspect of prebuilt computers. But here are the two main problems.

1. Too expensive for places like PCAudioLabs, that are smaller and offer customized machines.

2. Not enough customization for places like Dell.

What other options are there?

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You really do not have much choice. Either you pay out the ass and get a nice prebuilt, or you build it yourself and save 2k monies.

The thing is, while places like Falcon Northwest

http://www.falcon-nw.com/

offer nice quality and customer service, you will pay for it in markup. If its worth it to you then fine, but for me it wouldn't be.

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I guess what I'm getting at is, is there a place that DOESN'T mark up by $1000, but still offers customizability?

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I got my computer from www.ibuypower.com

They aren't tailored for audio needs, but depending on what you get, it can be that way. Of course they don't offer acoustic sound dampening. You can look at some of my specs in "The 'Who Uses What' Thread". Got it for $1200. My only complain so far is the liquid cooling. It blocks two rams slots and is LOUD when on full blast. I'm getting rid of it as soon as I can.

Speaking of "Whisper Quiet" sound dampening (though I know you don't do much recording), I hear Sweetwater's Creation Stations are nice and full of quality. Full of price too though.

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Well, I'm just gonna chime back in again to say I got my Dell that I use as my DAW for $300 bucks. Dell's refurbished outlet or whatever, and I paid $399 (got $100 back in the mail later). Came with a mouse and keyboard. No monitor. I haven't had a single problem with the computer itself - the only problems I've had are my Echo MIA MIDI breakout cable frying, and SONAR being the bitch that it is sometimes. I run a studio, do music for serious clients (e.g. MTV2), and I'm happy with it. I think here in a year or so, I'll get a new machine by the same means that comes with Vista and hopefully SONAR and Windows'll have worked out the bugs.

The good thing is, that no matter what you get, we know you're going to keep making nice musics. ;)

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Well, I'm just gonna chime back in again to say I got my Dell that I use as my DAW for $300 bucks. Dell's refurbished outlet or whatever, and I paid $399 (got $100 back in the mail later). Came with a mouse and keyboard. No monitor.

Probably could've gotten the same thing for $200, but I guess $100 isn't a lot to pay to have someone else build it. Doing it yourself is kind of a hassle, but it's definitely worth the savings in my opinion. And it's really not that bad if you know what you're doing.

Back to zircon's situation, so far Hellcom's setup looks like your best option, sans the fancy case and graphics card. Toning those down will probably shave off about $200, but you'll be putting that back into RAM if you want that 4GB (also, I prefer OCZ). I don't think it's likely that you'll find a pre-built with your specs under your $2000 limit. And even if you did, would you pay hundreds of dollars in markup to save yourself a little time?

Also, keep in mind that if noise is an issue, you'll need to spend extra on noiseless fans/heatsinks for your CPU, case, and GPU (although some graphics cards actually already come in noiseless versions). This is kind of a necessity anyway, since it looks like you're intending to overclock.

Good luck on your decision.

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I guess what I'm getting at is, is there a place that DOESN'T mark up by $1000, but still offers customizability?

No

Building a PC isn't that hard, it's like lego blocks these days. You said that you have installed a sound card right? Well then you are more than qualified :P

Also, as the others suggested on my spec, tone down the graphics card as long as you are not intending to go for Aero or intensive gaming. The case I listed is one of the best cases for looks, wieght, material, space, and airflow allowing great longivgetiy and overclocking. However, it's not nessary to spurlge on that if you don't want to and there are plenty of other high quality cases at more affordable price ranges.

Edit:

Also the motherboard I listed, Gigbyte DS3, has plenty of USB ports, ten in total.

Internal I/O Connectors

1. 1 x 24-pin ATX power connector

2. 1 x 4-pin ATX 12V power connector

3. 1 x floppy connector

4. 1 x IDE connector

5. 6 x SATA 3Gb/s connectors

6. 1 x CPU fan connector

7. 1 x system fan connector

8. 1 x front panel connector

9. 1 x front audio connector

10. 1 x CD In connector

11. 3 x USB 2.0/1.1 connectors for additional 6 ports by cables

12. 1 x SPDIF In connector

13. 1 x COM port connector

14. 1 x power LED connector

15. 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector

Rear Panel I/O

1. 1 x PS/2 keyboard port

2. 1 x PS/2 mouse port

3. 1 x SPDIF Out connection (coaxial+optical)

4. 1 x parallel port

5. 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports

6. 1 x VGA port

7. 1 x RJ-45 port

8. 6 x audio jacks (Line In / Line Out / MIC In/Surround Speaker Out (Rear Speaker Out)/Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out)

Edit again part 2: I have also found an (old-ish) guide to building a PC, and it even features the case (slighty older model) I listed!!

http://tools.corsairmemory.com/systembuild/report.aspx?report_id=12472

Edit again part 3: Isn't there someone at your uni who you could pay something like $100 to build your PC with the parts you have collected if you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself?

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Yeah, I'm really happy with my DS3. Great overclocker...running my E6300 at 3.15GHz right now on stock voltage.

Lian Li does make amazing cases (it's what I wanted originally), but I couldn't justify spending an extra $100 or so on it. Ended up going with a Cooler Master Centurion instead (had a rebate ;) ), and it works just fine.

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