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Buying an Audio Computer

Using a computer at the heart of your home recording studio can offer you flexibility, performance and power - but most importantly, it offers you creativity. In conjunction with a dedicated audio interface and the right cables, you have the ability to record and produce your music with studio quality results. However, as audio software develops so does the need for a computer that has the capability of running these applications comfortably.

Having a computer that is solely dedicated to audio use is a way of making sure that your projects runs smoothly and that your workflow is maintained. When considering a dedicated audio computer, it helps to know that certain components are more important than others for getting the best results for audio production.

The Motherboard

At the centre of any computer is the Motherboard, or main-board. The motherboard houses most of the system?s components which are either directly seated onto it, or attached via the appropriate cable. In terms of an audio PC, it is important to make sure that your motherboard has the necessary connections on its reverse-panel. For example, most audio interfaces are either connected by PCI, USB or FireWire. It is important to make sure your motherboard has the necessary connection on-board before purchasing hardware that will rely on it.

CPU (Central Processing Unit)

The CPU or Processor as it is also known is essentially the brain of any computer. It is used to make calculations in order to perform tasks. The speed and internal memory of a processor determines how well it performs and how quickly these calculations are processed. Multi-core processors are very common these days and mean that the workload of the processor is now distributed between multiple cores ? this offers huge performance benefits. For the audio user, the advent of the multi-core processor means that you can run multiple DAW?s, plug-ins and process audio all in real-time. Plug-ins can be CPU hungry, so if you are planning to run multiple plug-ins all in real-time, it is important to have a processor that can handle this. The speed of a processor does not always indicate its true power ? for example a 3.0GHz Core2Duo will actually not perform as well as 2.6GHz Core2Quad. Although, the processing speed is important, it is a lot more beneficial having the latest processing architecture.

Memory

Memory or RAM is the next essential item when considering an audio computer. RAM comes in different sizes, usually 1GB and 2GB sticks and also comes in different speeds (667MHz, 800MHz and 1066MHz for example). The amount of RAM you can have (and its type) is dictated by your Motherboard and by your Operating System. RAM is used as a temporary memory for real-time tasks, therefore it is recommended to have as much as it is possible within your system to ensure your system does not max-out during a crucial point in your mix.

Hard Drives

The Hard Drive is where all permanent data is stored. This includes the Operating System, your Software Applications and all other permanent file types. It is highly recommended having at least two Hard Drives on an audio computer - usually a ?System Drive? that contains the OS and all your program files, then a secondary ?Media? Hard Drive that would be used to store all your media files such as samples, mp3?s and pictures. The ?System? drive is usually internal and features a direct SATA connection to the motherboard. The ?Media? drive can be either external or internal. External drives are usually connected via USB 2.0 or FireWire. FireWire offers better transfer rates, but eSATA is becoming an increasingly common connection and improves on the performance of FireWire. eSATA is the external version of SATA. Choosing either an internal or external Hard Drive as your secondary source purely depends on your usage ? if you need something portable then you would need an external drive. If you will only be using your media files on one PC, then an internal would be preferred.

Operating System

The Operating System (OS) is the platform your computer uses to run its applications. Windows is the most used and well-known platform. In terms of an audio PC, it is important to check that your current hardware, such as your audio interface, has drivers available for your OS. For instance, specific hardware may not operate in 64-bit mode on the Windows XP Professional x64 platform because the developers haven?t developed drivers for it. This also goes for software which may also not function on a specific platform. Although there are variations within these two options, most OS comes available in either 32-bit or 64-bit operating modes. 64-bit mode does offer slight performance increases, but not anything that is extremely noticeable. The main benefit of 64-bit mode is that it allows you to install extra RAM, over the 4GB maximum that Windows 32-bit can recognise.

Graphics Card

A dedicated graphics card or GPU can offer two benefits to the audio user. The first being the performance benefit. A dedicated GPU has its own onboard memory which reduces the need to use that all-important system memory, giving you more allowance to the various programs and plug-ins you already have running. The second benefit is that a card with dual-output allows you to run your computer on a dual-screen setup. This is ideal for users who use multiple programs in ReWire for example as you can easily switch between programs and monitor each without the constant need for window-swapping and clicking.

Audio Interface

The last, but probably most essential part of any audio PC is the audio interface - or soundcard as it is more commonly known. The onboard sound of a stock system is fine for general use and playback of DVD?s etc. But when recording audio and monitoring it back through monitor speakers, it is important to have a dedicated audio interface that can convert the incoming and outgoing signals to a professional standard and that can process these signals quickly enough. An audio specific soundcard should use the ASIO standard. This is a form of driver that results in quality conversion at high-speeds. Most soundcards these days are external devices that run on either FireWire or USB; however, PCI which is an internal connection is also used. PCI is considered to offer the fastest transfer rates as it is directly connected to the motherboard, but because it is internally seated, the connections to it are usually limited or require a break-out box/cable. FireWire is the most popular choice as it offers fast transfer rates and usually come as a hybrid with preamps on board and sometimes DSP.

Posted on 25 Mar 2009 17:25 to category : Tips and advice

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