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Computers For Audio Production

There has been a few questions on what kind of computer to buy/use for audio production. I'm gonna lay it down as best as I can. I am a computer repair specialist, and system builder... That's my job that pays the bills. I will be discussing what's what in these next paragraphs. Hope this will answer the questions plauging the new comers to the field of audio production and recording. I will not, however, be discussing what kind of audio hardware to use. I couldn't tell you what sound card to buy, or what mic sounds the best for recording rap vocals. However, I can tell you what kind of computer would be best suited for audio production, engineering, and recording.

"Should I buy a Mac or PC?"

Well, I'm gonna set things straight. Macs are always gonna be best for creating and recording audio, but like me, most of us grew up using a PC... we know Windows and we feel comfortable with the PC. Now, I have used Macs, and they really aren't that difficult to get used to, but they are expensive. The really good ones are $1700 or better. Now food for thought... Macs don't get viruses and malware like PCs... They stay clean and running fast... not to say they don't incur problems, but they have far less then a PC. They also integrate hardware (ie. MIDI interfaces, mixers, and the likes...) much better. That being said, PCs have come a looooooong way in the field of audio production. There's all sorts of software and hardware for them now, and with Windows XP setup correctly and with proper protection measures (Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, etc... We'll get into that later), they run very well... I personally have my laptop setup to run almost as clean as a Mac... I say almost, so some hardcore Mac user doesn't burst my bubble. So the answer to Mac or PC comes straight down to money. If you have the scratch to lay down a few grand on a small home studio, go for the Mac! It's not for playing WoW or CoD... its for laying down some serious sound! I'll always have a PC, even if I can finally afford a Mac... Even if just to play games and waste time... (BTW... I have never played WoW... Looks too.... what's the word I'm looking for?.. Oh yeah, retarded! CoD is kick ass though!)

"OK... So I don't have the scratch to lay down on a Mac. What PC should I buy? I saw this machine in Best Buy...."

Stop there buddy! The price you pay for a PC in a big box store like Best Buy or Circuit City, is always gonna be too much! You're paying for packaging, marketing, crap that's pre-loaded you don't want, free trials that you could care less about and more crap! I tell people to build your own. What's that you say? You don't know PCI from a hole in your head? Fear not my child! It really is easy. If you know how to use a screwdriver, and can plug things in... you're good. All the connections are what is called keyed. They can only go in one way... including all your memory, cards and yes... even the CPU is keyed to go in only one way! They have taken the worry out of the whole damn thing! Here's a run down of how to do it:
OK... make sure that when putting the motherboard in, that you have some sort of "feet" between the mobo (That's short from motherboard) and the case. Sometimes the case itself, has raised nubs to keep the mobo from grounding out to the case. As long as there is space between the mobo and case... you're good! Now, if the power supply, or PSU for short, isn't already mounted in the case, that's the next thing you should do. 4 screws on the back, line up the holes and screw it in. After that, you take the front off the case, (done by depressing tabs inside the case along the front side edges. Some have screws that need to be taken out. I leave those out) slide in your drives (hard drive, DVD drives, etc...) and secure them with the screws. Next add the CPU. There's an arrow on the chip and one on the slot... match 'em up and you're done with that. Next, slip in your memory. Can only go one way, press one side down then the other. This might take some elbow grease... but don't be a wuss! People think computers are these delicate little flowers... yeah.... right! Just apply a steady amount of pressure until you hear or see the little tab click into place. OK... the CPU cooler can be the tricky part... But just follow the instructions that came with the cooler. They all are slightly different. Now plug the PSU cables in. It's like kindergarten, you're just matching shapes to holes. You have the big 24pin one. Couldn't be easier! Sometimes it has 20pins, just detach the extra 4pin set (Comes right off, usually taped on) and let it hang. Connect the fans. They are usually little 3pin connectors, and are usually completely interchangeable. (See mobo documentation on that) Then you have this 4pin connector by the CPU... that is NOT the same as the 4pin you detached. You'll see a 4pin by itself, coming out of the PSU. that's the one. Now connect up the drives. IDE is that chunky 4 pin (Called MOLEX), SATA is the thin black one. They make adapters from MOLEX to a SATA connector if you have SATA drives and all IDE power connections from your PSU. They're super cheap if you need one. 'Bout 4 bucks. Connect up the drive cables. Again SATA sleek and sexy, IDE big and chunky. Can't miss where they go! Lastly, look at the mobo documentation. Somewhere it will tell you where to put those little wires and plugs that hook the power button, hard drive lights and front USB/Audio panel to the mobo. The little arrow on the back of the tiny plugs means that's the positive one. Why they didn't make it plus and minus is beyond me!

"But Matt, what should I buy??? I'm CLUELESS when it comes to buying the individual parts! There's so much to choose from!"

I know! That's why I let Tiger Direct bundle things together for me... They're called barebones systems... Here's a basic rundown of what's what.

1. Mother Board. I like MSI, Intel, and PCChips, in that order. Elitegroup is...OK, Biostar is better. Make sure the bus speed is 800MHz or better. 1000MHz bus is just fine!
2. CPU AMD or Intel, for audio production, I find they are equal. Get Dual Core, 2.0GHz or faster. But these Quad Core chips are dropping in price all the time. Which model of chip and blah blah blah.... doesn't matter unless you plan on overclocking. No need for that unless you plan on gaming as well.
3. Memory, memory memory!!! The more the better! No such thing as too much memory! Make sure it's at least DDR2 memory. DDR2-667 or higher. (DDR2-667 is PC5400) 2GB is a good standard.
4. DVD burner. Buy a generic $25 burner. They last as long as the $50 ones and do the same damn job.
5. Hard Drive. SATA is way better (and faster) than IDE. The bigger the better. RAID would be a bad idea, because if one drive goes all the info on both drives is lost! The 1TB (That's 1000GB) drives are $100 now.
6. CPU cooler. I like anything with copper heat pipes. I find that OCZ and Cooler Master have well built coolers. They run from $15-$50. I find the $15 one is OK, but I usually buy the OCZ Vanquisher. ($25) The colder you can keep your CPU the better it will run.
7. Case. Doesn't matter. Buy whatever case you want. If you think heat will be an issue, get one with fan more fan slots. For me, I buy the cheapest thing I can find.

"OK Matt! I got it, but what ones do you suggest?"

I'm glad you asked! I'm gonna start with this one. It's on sale and I might buy it myself! - $249*

These next ones are listed from lowest to highest price, the last two being quad core systems:
1. - $210
2. - $250
3. - $325
4. - $350*
5. - $430*
* = Mail-in Rebate

"Thanks! I built me a fine system. What do I do now?"

Well, start be installing Windows XP. Never Vista! Vista has SEVERE driver and hardware integration problems. Normally, you would need to get into your BIOS now to change the boot order in order to get it to boot from the CD, but since there is no boot info on the hard drive yet, just stick that Windows CD in the drive, reboot and let it do its thing. (If it somehow DOES need to have its boot order changed, you do that by pressing either F2, F10, F12, or the delete key. If you don't know which one, it usually tells you at the bottom of the screen when it first boots. Or you can do what I do.... mash them all at boot up! Works every time! That gets you into your BISO settings. Move around in that window till you find "Boot Order" and change it so the CD/DVD drive boots first. I leave it like this at all times) ALWAYS do a full, complete format, never the quick. Once it starts formatting, you can just leave it alone for a while. Eventually it will prompt you to set-up the time zone and stuff, then it will ask you for your CD key. It came with the windows CD it's on the back of the owners manual (or front... it's been a while since I used a real legit copy of XP) Let it finish up. The whole process should take about 1 hr, 20 min. If you want a suped up, trimmed down sleek version of windows, google LastXP. Download that and burn it to a DVD and you won't have to worry about entering keys and installing drivers. If that's what you want to do, e-mail me.

The CD that came with your mobo... use that after Windows has finished installing. That will give you your sound drivers, ethernet (network) drivers and update your video drivers. Just install the drivers one by one. Each mobo has its own set of drivers and they usually make a GUI program to install them for you. If it just has the raw drivers, e-mail me and I will walk you through the driver process.

Now it's time to protect your computer. The top anti-virus programs are as follows, in this order:
1. Kaspersky Internet Security Suite
2. ESET NOD32 Home (or business) Internet Security
3. McAfee
4. CA Security Suite

Pick one who's features fit your needs.

Next, install SuperAntiSpyware It's free. The pro version just allows scheduling. Pay for it if you are forgetful and lazy, otherwise the free version does the EXACT same job. Run that once a week.

Windows Firewall is good enough. McAfee's firewall suck the big one, as does ESET home edition. Business editions firewall rocks! Kaspersky's Firewall is the best in my opinion, due to the fact that it is completely and fully customizable for all your program exceptions. The only reason I use ESET over Kaspersky is that Kaspersky was having a problem with blacklisting my cooperate key I actually purchase. So all these people getting it for free was screwing up my paid subscription 'bout every other week. I kept having to call them and get a new key, finally just canceled my subscription 5 mo. early (with no money back... that's how peeved I was!) and got me ESET NOD32 Business edition with multiple keys for my customers.

Well, that 'bout sums it all up. I hope this has been super informative for you n00bz! If anyone has a question about building and setting up their own PC system after reading this, just e-mail me. I actually love this work no matter how much I tell you I hate it!!

Also, If I missed something on this topic, leave a post, and I'll add it in!

-Your friendly neighborhood computer tech,
Matt AKA Capricorn One

matt's picture

What a post! Good stuff Cap, I bet plenty of people are going to find this helpful.

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