• Register
  • Help
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 13

Topic: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

Share/Bookmark
  1. #1

    The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    This post discusses the components selected and the philosophy behind my current PC DAW setup.
    A DAW to suite demanding criteria.
    I wanted to share what has worked for me AND why.

    Part 1: Overview and foundation. CPU. Motherboard.

    My main focus has always been PC based Midi orchestration so I am speaking primarily to those wishing to sequence complete orchestral mockups utilizing todayís quality libraries such as the EWQLSO platinum play and Vienna Instruments.

    I mention these two libraries as they happen to represent a standard for the serious Midi orchestrator covering all 4 sections; Strings, Brass, Woodwinds and Percussion.
    They also happen to support a 64 bit operating system.

    But this is not just for the Midi Orchestator.

    Whilst sequencing orchestral scores has always been regarded as the most demanding both in terms of the necessary skills and the quality of both software and hardware, one may still require a fairly current DAW setup for genres such as New Age, Instrumental, World Music and Popular; perhaps a blend of all. A lot depends on the specifics of your software synths and sample libraries, not to mention how complex you intend your sequences to be.
    There are almost unlimited variables for a compatible hardware and software solution so I can only speak to what has worked for me; largely due to trial and error.
    Iíve purchased both off the shelf computers and constructed DIY custom systems. With a little knowledge and careful planning one can build a system for less than store bought and it will be superior in every way.
    Apart from specialized vendors like ADK Pro Audio that are reputed to build superb DAWs, off the shelf computers from your local retail store are almost useless.
    Dell may be the exception here as they can be customized to some extent but again, building your own or finding someone to help is definitely the better path.

    There is another reason for doing this; knowledge.
    Learning to put together a computer is a rewarding venture and rest assured you will never look at your system in the same light.

    Hardware: CPU and Motherboard

    I will mention that whilst I prefer Intel chips there are many who successfully use AMD. Itís just a personal choice.

    For the past year Iíve been using 4 dedicated E8400 Intel Core 2 Duos running WinXP 32 with 4 gigs of RAM.
    Whilst the Core 2 Duo is a powerful CPU, it is not up to the task for serious Midi orchestration; not as a singular solution.
    Networking 3 together will enable you to throw a lot its way but the i7 is far superior, as are the LGA 755 socket Quad cores.

    Iíve been told (although I have not tried myself) that the overall difference between the Quad and the i7 is only 10% or so.
    Some benchmarks utilizing non music software support this claim, at least what I have read.
    However there are definite advantages to the i7. Itís designed to utilize faster DDR3 Ram and it also happens to provide far more cache.
    Hereís an interesting look at this.
    http://www.legitreviews.com/article/824/1/

    Recently I upgraded 3 of the machines to the Intel i7 920s.
    The difference between the Core 2 Duo and the i7 is quite staggering.
    The all important chipset is the Intel x58 and although itís early days it appears to be a solid design for audio applications.
    For now, I have left one Core 2 Duo on Win XP Pro 32.
    For the i7s I moved to Vista 64.

    The mobo I chose was an Asus P6T Deluxe V2
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131365
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juGAE-0kuJA

    It supports 24 gigs of DDR3 RAM via 6 slots in 1x4 gig strips however I couldnít locate 1x4 strips so I just installed 1x2 gig strips.
    (I knew this prior to purchasing the board) This gave me 12 gigs of RAM.
    When the 1x4 strips are available the cost will be high. For the time being though having 3 networked machines each with 12 gigs of RAM is proving more than sufficient even for the most demanding circumstances.

    Most people however will want to get by with a single computer.
    The question is just how realistic is that?
    The short answer is it depends.
    It depends on your checking account balance.

    A single i7 machine with 12 Gigs of RAM is certainly a formidable beast but you will not be able to sequencing a complete score running 200 plus Midi tracks with effects and Virtual Instruments. To achieve that you will need 2 of these beasts AND your goal should be 12 Gigs of RAM minimum.
    12 Gigs may meet your needs and if it doesnít you can always get more when price and availability is not an issue.
    Obviously people have different requirements. Many do not need to sequence 200+ MIDI tracks. For many users who do not require high track counts utilizing high end orchestral or even general libraries a single DAW that offers 12 Gigs of RAM utilizing an i7 or Quad core will probably suffice.



    So, for those who need a powerhouse you have 3 main options.
    1. Purchase a mobo that provides at least 6 Dimm slots.
      This way you can start with 12 Gigs of RAM (6◊2) and when finances and or availability permit; 24 Gigs with 6◊4.
    2. Purchase a server motherboard; some have at least 16 Dimm slots.
      This would allow you to buy 2 gig strips that are around $40 each and add as you can afford. Many of them cater for 2 processors also.
      If you have 2 x i7s with 12 Gigs of RAM you should be fine.
    3. This is an option that can work well for the financially challenged. Build an i7 DAW and grab a used Core 2 Duo or two to help take off the load. You can grab one for around $250; spend another 200 or so to bring it up to speed.
    Perhaps thereís even a spare one somewhere around the office
    Whilst some developers suggest a single DAW have 8 Gigs of RAM, I would argue that 12 be the absolute minimum.

    For a single 64 Bit DAW one should plan towards 24 Gigs.

    Hereís something that is mind boggling re the Ram issue!

    I just saw this todayÖÖ..
    Hereís something that is mind boggling re the Ram issue!
    http://www.engadget.com/2009/01/30/samsungs-4gb-chip-promises-32gb-ddr3-memory-modules-for-pcs-and/

    The basic cost of this DAW-

    Intel Core i7 Quad 920
    $294
    Asus P6T Deluxe V2
    $289
    DDR3 PC-10600 RAM 12 gigs
    $240
    Seagate 160 gig Sata drive
    $50
    Seagate 500 gig Sata drive x 3
    $210
    750W Thermaltake Power Supply
    $175

    Total of $1258

    Power Supply Units-

    This is a subject that attracts much debate.
    Some say you need a gazillion Watts of power whilst others suggest that a 400 watt will suffice. I will say this.
    The PSU is about the most critical piece of hardware inside that precious box of yours.
    A 400W PSU may prove to be underpowered and hence create an unfavorable scenario; or worse.
    Many PSU are NOT rated within industry guidelines and hence you cannot trust their specs.
    Spend the money and get a quality unit from manufacturers such as FSP Group, Tagan, OCZ, Thermaltake, Corsair and Cooler Master.
    For a modern DAW with multiple drives and USB devices a minimum would be 600W.
    More power can produce greater heat and noise though. However, there are some quality noiseless power supplies out there.

    Check out this link below, I found it interesting. When I tried it the program suggested my requirements were a 600W PSU.
    Fill in all the pertaining details and it will tell you what you need.
    Add a couple of extra Sata drives and an extra PCIx card when you fill it out.
    However, Iím not completely convinced this is something to rely on.
    http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp

    Do NOT buy generic power supplies from computer stores.

    Hard Drives-

    I donít know what the ultimate hard drive is, be it brand, size and type.
    I use what works for me. Not withstanding that I will say Iíve tried W.D, Maxtor and Seagate. The first two did not deliver favorable results; Seagate did, so thatís what I use.
    It is worth mentioning that ADK Pro Audio who produce high end turnkey DAWs suggest that Seagate are currently the better drives.
    Many agree with this opinion.

    A word on Raid-



    The two reasons for Raid are essentially-
    1. Redundancy. Each bit of data is stored on 2 separate drives for easy backup and recovery if need be. However, sample libraries can simply be re-installed.
    2. Speed. Transfer of data is spread across drives in parallel, called stripping. But a Raid setup will not increase seek times. Thatís really the most important factor for sample streaming.
    Not withstanding these points there are advantages for general data storage. However there is no real advantage for sample library content users.

    A word on 10,000 RPM High Speed Drives-

    High speed drives are NOT necessary for Audio and they can be noisy and create additional heat.
    (The new 10,000 rpm Western Digital VelociRaptorís are fairly quiet)
    The cost is about $270 for a 300 Gig drive.
    Again, not required for audio but you could use it as a C: Drive to speed up loading of programs and boot time.

    What WILL affect performance significantly are things like file structure, file types, available space, size of drive, temperature, fragmentation, corrupt or missing files and so on.
    I only use Sata 3 gbs drives.
    Sata 11 drives as many call them which is incorrect.

    The following is the best way to organize your hard drives.
    You need at least 3 if you wish to accommodate todayís large sample libraries.

    • Drive 1: 160 Gig C drive. Windows Vista and programs.
    • Drive 2: 500 GB or 1TB each. For library content of your sample library.
      (I use three in each machine for my libraries)
      Install the actual program on the C drive.
    On one of these drives I installed ONLY EWQL Gypsy, RA, Silk and Voices of passion. Each is on a separate partition.
    • Drive 3: 1 TB for Audio tracks.
      You may if need be add Paging file, backup and mixed sample library content but again you should make partitions.
    There is much debate about the effects of installing different sample content on the same drive. Perhaps you have a EWQL Play library and the Vienna special edition.
    You may have some older Akai, Giga or Kontakt libraries too.
    As far as my older Akai libraries and mixed content I just put them on a separate drive.
    If you do have EastWest play libraries or even the older versions I would suggest not installing other brands on that drive/s.
    The same goes for Vienna/VSL.

    I DO believe in keeping different developers libraries on separate drives as the means to interact with them technically differ.
    This method also helps with faster access and load times.
    EWQLSO Platinum should be installed and split over multiple drives.
    I have split this over 2 computers and 4 drives.
    Strings, Brass, Woodwinds and Percussion each on its own drive.

    The O/S drive could be a 160 Gig but no more.
    You should partition the OS.
    Donít fill it up with a lot of crap and keep the file structure as basic as possible.
    Donít use too large a C: drive.

    It is critical that they are all the same brand and type.

    Video/Graphics cards-

    Do not use a high end gaming card. All you need is a 256 Meg dual head so you can take advantage of dual monitors.
    You could even use an older 128 Meg card but you probably wonít find one anymore.
    Another thing to think about is PCI slots and conflicts.
    If you use a PCI based Audio card you should avoid using a PCI video card.
    In the early dayís PCI Express caused some concerns and even conflicts but those days are gone as far as I know.
    I use a PCI Express card and have had no issues.
    Some plugins require Open GL.
    I think Waves still does so onboard graphics MAY be an issue.

    Also, donít get a video card with a built on fan, more noise is not needed.
    The video card is the least important aspect of the DAW.

    Audio Interfaces-

    Iíve tried quite a few over the years but I love RME.
    There are many other quality interfaces on the market; brands such as Echo, MOTU, Digidesign, M-Audio and Lynx.
    Generally the price difference between similar interfaces that support a similar feature set will be due to the converters and overall build quality.
    Decent converters are fairly cheap now. Really good ones are expensive.
    The better converters being stand units such as Apogee.

    The majority of Interfaces/Audio cards that are on the market today work well. Whilst there are audible differences with many there are a few that stand out and not all of them are expensive. Some are under $500.
    Whatís important first is to decide what protocol you wish to utilize.



    Letís look at them in order of performance.
    • PCI: This is still the best Iíd say. It will be phased out though and replaced with PCI Express.
      Most of todayís mobo have limited PCI slots; usually 2.
      If you wish to use PCI think about other expansion cards you may require.
    • PCI Express: This is going to be the new PCI as it already is happening.
    • Firewire: The next best thing and most motherboards have dedicated IEEE1394
    • USB. Not the best option in my opinion. Especially with version 1.1 due to its bandwidth limitations. If you wish to record above 24-bit/48kHz formats than you may run into some issues but with USB 2.0 this should not be a concern. Many of the lower end cards use this protocol.
    I for one do not like using too many USB devices on my DAW.

    These are the interfaces Iíve used with Cubase 5 and had great success with-

    RME Fireface 800
    RME Multiface 11
    http://www.rme-audio.de/en_products_overview_pci.php

    Echo Layla 3G
    Echo Gina 3 G
    Echo MiaMidi
    http://www.echoaudio.com/Products/PCI/Layla3G/index.php

    The popular Delta 1010 and a few other USB interfaces returned somewhat negative results for me. Stable, yet it was a sound issue primarily.
    The best I have ever used in terms of performance and sound would be RME. The Layla is very nice too and I would place it firmly in the upper mid level market. For those requiring multiple analog and digital I/O I would take a serious look at it.
    As far as budget interfaces go I would have to vote for another Echo product; the MiaMidi.
    At around $175 itís a great performer, also has Midi.
    Almost every popular audio card is going to produce at least decent results. A $150 audio card will work but there is a difference in sound and performance between $150 and $500. You DO get what you pay for and when it comes to a DAW itís worth spending as much as possible on your audio interface.
    I would argue that given a budget that would allow $1000 split on an audio interface and monitors; I would spend about $500 on the audio interface.

    Hereís a good link to some useful information re audio interfaces.
    http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/nov04/articles/pcmusician.htm

    One of the best methods of learning is pursuing the forum pages of your sequencer. Cubase and Sonar cover a lot on hardware and software issues; you can learn a lot from end users.

    Part 2 Link. Software-
    http://www.northernsounds.com/forum/showthread.php?p=619554#post619554


    Chalfant-

    Last edited by Chalfant; 05-22-2009 at 12:56 AM. Reason: change layout
    2 X Intel i7 920 sys. 12 gigs Ram. XP & Win 7 64
    Cubase 5. Kontakt 4. EWQL C.C.C. (Play)
    Vienna Instruments SE & Plus. Symphobia. GPO.
    RME HDSPe AIO KRK V8s Avalon Vt-747sp
    M-Audio Keystation Pro 88


    My two passions. Music and Cooking.
    Both require just the right ingredients....

  2. #2
    Member
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Germany (Duesseldorf)
    Posts
    63

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    Hi Chalfant,

    Thank you for that very interesting post! - I recently bought a custom-built music notebook: 2,8 GHz Quad processor, 3 x Seagate 320 GB 7.200 rpm in RAID 0 setup, (only) 4GB RAM, Vista 64 Bit, BIG screen (1.920 x 1.200). The performance is outstanding. It beats my desktop music PC that was good but still affordable 3 years ago (Core 2 Duo / Win XP / 2 GB) for semi-professional music production.

    Just an example. I can run BFD2 (all available slots packed with drums/percussions) without trouble or glitches but lots of FX and Kontakt 3 utilized. I cannot realize on my desktop PC.

    But I have an issue. Non of my audio interfaces works with Vista 64. So I bought a new one that I found out should work with V64. It is the E-MU Tracker Pre. I did not get it installed, although I had downloaded the latest driver and contacted their customer support. - So believe it or not, for the time being I work with the onboard-sound system as long as I only *layout* music when I am on the road.

    Do you have a suggestion which cost-conscious audio interface I can use with V64?

  3. #3

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    Quote Originally Posted by Schmandie View Post
    Hi Chalfant,

    Thank you for that very interesting post! - I recently bought a custom-built music notebook: 2,8 GHz Quad processor, 3 x Seagate 320 GB 7.200 rpm in RAID 0 setup, (only) 4GB RAM, Vista 64 Bit, BIG screen (1.920 x 1.200). The performance is outstanding. It beats my desktop music PC that was good but still affordable 3 years ago (Core 2 Duo / Win XP / 2 GB) for semi-professional music production.

    Just an example. I can run BFD2 (all available slots packed with drums/percussions) without trouble or glitches but lots of FX and Kontakt 3 utilized. I cannot realize on my desktop PC.

    But I have an issue. Non of my audio interfaces works with Vista 64. So I bought a new one that I found out should work with V64. It is the E-MU Tracker Pre. I did not get it installed, although I had downloaded the latest driver and contacted their customer support. - So believe it or not, for the time being I work with the onboard-sound system as long as I only *layout* music when I am on the road.

    Do you have a suggestion which cost-conscious audio interface I can use with V64?
    Hi there.

    I need some additional info to suggest anything.
    Are you looking for an interface for your laptop or desktop?
    What sequencer do you use?
    Do you need ASIO2?
    What connection type?- USB, PCI, Firewire?
    How many ins?

    Like to help but just need some more info........
    2 X Intel i7 920 sys. 12 gigs Ram. XP & Win 7 64
    Cubase 5. Kontakt 4. EWQL C.C.C. (Play)
    Vienna Instruments SE & Plus. Symphobia. GPO.
    RME HDSPe AIO KRK V8s Avalon Vt-747sp
    M-Audio Keystation Pro 88


    My two passions. Music and Cooking.
    Both require just the right ingredients....

  4. #4
    Member
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Germany (Duesseldorf)
    Posts
    63

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    I need something small for my notebook when I am on the road. USB or FireWire, 1 XLR In, 1 Instrument In and a headphone Out would be fine for me. ASIO (2?), 96kHz and 24bit would also be necessary. - I use Cubase 5 and sometimes FL-Studio.

    Thanks.

  5. #5

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    There's really only a couple to consider in the budget range.
    This product is actually darn good.
    The Echo AudioFire2
    It's about $180 US

    It will do everything you want. Latest drivers are Vista 64 compatible.
    http://www.echoaudio.com/Products/Fi...ire2/index.php

    Hope this helps, let me know.
    2 X Intel i7 920 sys. 12 gigs Ram. XP & Win 7 64
    Cubase 5. Kontakt 4. EWQL C.C.C. (Play)
    Vienna Instruments SE & Plus. Symphobia. GPO.
    RME HDSPe AIO KRK V8s Avalon Vt-747sp
    M-Audio Keystation Pro 88


    My two passions. Music and Cooking.
    Both require just the right ingredients....

  6. #6
    Member
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Germany (Duesseldorf)
    Posts
    63

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    Thanks, Chalfant.

    Looks good. Maybe it's bigger brother nr 4 will be my choice as it also has XLR Ins.

  7. #7

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    Have you done any experimenting with SSDs? I realize theyíre still a work in process, but the Intel X25-M is looking pretty good, at least for the OS drive.

  8. #8

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    Haven't touched them.
    Going to wait and see what happens with respect to development.

    There are obvious advantages for certain non audio applications but it's not a serious contender for us yet.
    We demand high volume storage at a resonable price point.

    Perhaps in a year or 2 it will be worth revisiting.
    2 X Intel i7 920 sys. 12 gigs Ram. XP & Win 7 64
    Cubase 5. Kontakt 4. EWQL C.C.C. (Play)
    Vienna Instruments SE & Plus. Symphobia. GPO.
    RME HDSPe AIO KRK V8s Avalon Vt-747sp
    M-Audio Keystation Pro 88


    My two passions. Music and Cooking.
    Both require just the right ingredients....

  9. #9

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    Quote Originally Posted by Chalfant View Post
    There's really only a couple to consider in the budget range.
    This product is actually darn good.
    The Echo AudioFire2
    It's about $180 US

    It will do everything you want. Latest drivers are Vista 64 compatible.
    http://www.echoaudio.com/Products/Fi...ire2/index.php

    Hope this helps, let me know.
    I actually have one of these that I am going to sell for $100. PM me if you are interested.
    Composer, Logic Certified Trainer, Level 2,
    author of "Going Pro with Logic Pro 9."

    www.jayasher.com

  10. #10

    Re: The new standard for a PC based DAW. Part 1

    Thanks for posting all the info Chalfant!

    I'm currently adding a 64-bit PC DAW into my setup. I already have 3 PC's with 4GB (two older ones running GigaStudio that handle all my older libraries and a 3rd that I use to run Sonar plus any virtual instrument plug-ins I need.

    This new machine is intended to run some Play Libraries I just got (Symphonic Choirs and SD2) plus the new LASS library. I haven't decided yet if I will base my Sonar off of this machine or leave it on it's current machine.

    I'm totally onboard with getting 12GB RAM. What I'm trying to figure out is the Hard Drive situation. You mentioned, and I've heard it before, that the PLAY libraries like to be on their own drive. It is merely enough to buy a 500GB drive and partition it and keep Symphonic Choirs on one partition, SD2 on another and then put the LASS stuff on a 3rd? Or do you recommend actual different drives for each library? At some point, that would be a TON of drives.

    Also, I've gone simple and just gotten Dell machines in the past because they are easy to work on with their toolless cases. However I'm not sure they sell one that can support 4 hard drives. Do you have any recommendation on "build it yourself" shops that might be good for speccing out this type of machine?

    Thanks again!

Go Back to forum

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •