For musicians, bands and project studio audio engineers there comes a time when their existing music pc is just not cutting it anymore. Eventually the software becomes more demanding and freezing music tracks gets tiresome. As plug ins become more CPU hungry there is a need every 4-7 years to buy or build a new music production PC. This is to keep things stable and capable of keeping up with todays demanding software. There is absolute merit in buying a ready built music production PC, no hassles and support is provided but there are many people still up for the challenge of doing a DIY music pc build.
We are going to discuss ways of minimizing the headaches that can come with DIY music production pc building. Firstly make sure you have a laptop or another computer that is internet enabled before commencing as you may need to research online during the build.
A really sensible plan is to research the components with quality and reliability in mind and not just speed and performance. One of the best ways to do this is to go to some websites of known music pc builders and start making a list of parts that keep commonly recurring. This is a great way to ensure that you are putting decent quality components in your pc that are being used by people who do this for a living. Especially check out motherboard manufacturers and part numbers, the motherboard is an essential item of equipment in the PC and all peripheral components will rely on it to operate effectively.
One motherboard manufacturer has consistently appeared in music and audio pc builds both commercial and DIY, and that is ASUS. ASUS have a good reputation for high quality motherboards and this is what I have exclusively used over the last 10 years in my own DIY pc’s and in ready built systems. The more you research your old components requirements, your new components and your new operating system before you start building the pc the better. This will make the entire building process more stream lined.
The CPU is going to do all the number crunching, I recommend going for 1 or 2 CPU models down from the current fastest. This way you will get high performance without the often huge jump in price associated with having the fastest CPU that any given manufacturer has to offer. Currently my suggestion is to look into the Intel i7 processors. This is a very shrewd way of keeping the price of the machine down without sacrificing much in the way of performance.
3. Operating System
ok, currently there are a lot of Windows 7 machines out there and it is a great OS, check to see if this is still the case when you build your machine on the music pc builders sites as it will give you a gauge as to whether Windows 8 is working well yet or not. If you opt for Windows 10 it makes a lot of sense to check if your audio drivers and any new PC components and other equipment is going to be compatible with the Windows 8 OS. research every item individually to avoid any technical surprises.
If you you are moving from a 32 bit installation to a 64 bit installation check your DAW, audio interface and any DSP based cards (like UAD or Liquid Mix) are going to play nicely with the 64 bit OS environment.
If you are going to be using a lot of sample libraries it is going to mean you need a lot of memory, consider what you will be using the production machine for and if you have any memory hungry software or sample libraries then ensure you have installed sufficient RAM.
5. Power Supply (PSU)
One of the least interesting parts of a pc in most people eyes, which is often overlooked or skimped on is the power supply. The power supply is somewhat akin to the heart of the PC. Every component will rely upon it and it is a false economy to not spend the right amount on a very high quality power supply.
The best power supplies are usually in the 3,500 – 7,000 INR ($40 – $150) price point and you should check out their efficiency, estimated reliability, warranty and noise levels. Stable and clean power can make a difference in the longevity of the machine. And in some instances where sound cards are driven from the internal power the sound quality that your system produces can be affected. Ensure you do plenty of research into this critical component.
6. Hard Drives
Consider the SSD (Solid state) hard drives, these operate from flash memory and have no moving parts, they are produced from flash memory. They can be extremely fast. However this is still relatively new technology and care should be taken to understand any potential issues related to this technology. Check out the term “SSD write endurance” online. Research the best models available today for reliability. All SSD drives will be more than capable of playing back many audio tracks simultaneously.
7. Keep It Quite
Noise control is going to be a big consideration for a music pc, it goes without saying that you need the machine to be as quiet as possible. Check out what the best cases are for keeping the internals isolated, check out case fan noise levels, CPU fan noise levels and consider buying a graphics card that does not require a fan to force cool it.
Consider hard drives and install rubber/neoprene mounts and sleeves to reduce resonance and vibration. I also recommend a product known as Arctic Silver which is a highly efficient heat sink thermal compound which helps bond the heat sink to the CPU for optimal heat conductance.
8. Make time, have patience
Make time, have patience – It is always best to have a full and free day in order to construct your pc and install your software. If you have a lot of software to install focus on construction and installing the OS on day one and install the music related software the following day. Never force components into slots, they should all mate gently without requiring excessive force. Avoid the temptation to over tighten screws or bolts which risks cross threading them or graunching the tops. This should especially be the case when installing CPU’s on their mounting systems. If you cross thread something it can be a real headache to resolve the problem and/or remove the devices in the future. So take your time and be gentle.
Ensure that you observe electro static precautions as most PC parts are very sensitive to static discharges. One way to do this without a wrist tag is to install the power supply in the case, ensure the power supply is off at the PSU flip switch (on the PSU itself). Insert the mains lead and plug it into the mains with the mains power 100pct switched off. Make certain the power is definitely off and do not proceed to built until this is the case. This way the metal parts of the casing are earthed and you can discharge yourself by occasionally touching the chassis as you build.
It is always a good idea to have a separate laptop or another computer which has internet access and a spare USB2.0 stick, this way you can troubleshoot online, read forums and download software that may be needed to get the machine running in the event of teething problems. Be calm, methodical, patient and take your time, this will minimize frustrations and potential construction problems.
9. OS tweaks
Windows has numerous tweaks that can be found online, some tweaks have marginal benefit so check them with care. Install your operating system and search the internet for any audio/music specific operating system tweaks. Be diligent when applying any OS specific tweaks and do so with care. If you are unsure about any given tweak try and get a second opinion on a forum or other resources before proceeding. All of this can be done before you even order your PC parts, in fact the more ground work and research the more smoothly the entire build will go.
10. Keep it up and running
A couple of optional considerations for your your new build are to use an uninterruptable power supply which will protect your computer in the event of a power cut. Also consider using an Integral SATA copy station to clone your system drive once you have a fully working system. Should you encounter a hard drive failure this makes the process of getting back to a working system very quick and painless.
To summarize, plan well, research well, take your time and build the PC in a methodical and calm manner. Happy music pc building and music making.