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Thinking of Building a PC for Live Performance


CaptainUnderpant

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Has anyone else? Please share your build and experience.

 

After watching some MainStage videos and hearing the Oberheim OP-X II VST, I got pretty damn excited about putting together a PC for live performance. I have a decent laptop but I want to put together a dedicated PC for the purpose. My goal is to build out a Live Performance PC in the next several month while I try to get my laptop with Cantabile and OP-X II a whirl. Here are my build ideas.

 

Motherboard: In order to get a computer that I can carry with one hand. Something maybe a little larger than a lunch box, I have decided that I Micro-ATX form factor will be ideal. This will allow for a reduction in size, yet still offering plenty of upgrade ability.

 

Computer Case: Small, light, and durable would be ideal. My original thinking was something rackmount in a 3U size. This would be ideal if I already had a rack to mount this in, with other components, but I don't and there is enough space under my stand to place a computer. After lots of searching this looks like a good choice: Rosewill Legacy V4-B Black Aluminum Micro ATX Mini Tower . I could mount a handle on the top, making carrying it a breeze. It has enough room for full height cards, in case I want to have an PCIE audio interface card.

 

Other Considerations: that are different from a studio pc would be

1) No need for graphics card

2) Could I possibly run Monitorless, by having the unit boot right up into my VST host, Cantabile, or might I use Windows 8 with a small touch screen monitor like: Mimo 7" 800 x 480 touch screen monitor . The placement of this could be where ever I want, or maybe a larger touch screen?

 

My biggest question at this point is how much of an improvement an internal PCIe audio interface would make regarding latency, because the inclusion of an internal card to a great extent determines the size of the case. It just seems like there are not many choices for PCIe audio interfaces that are for simpler setups (two keyboards at most).

 

Hardware Choices so far:

Motherboard: ASUS GRYPHON Z87-LGA 1150 or GIGABYTE GA-Z87MX-D3H LGA 1150

Other Case Ideas:

LIAN LI PC-V351B or Rosewill Legacy U3-B Black Alloy Micro ATX Mini Tower or BitFenix Prodigy M Midnight Black Steel Mini Tower

Or maybe a 3U Size rack mount unit that could also be stood on end? Does a 3U size rack take a full height card?

 

Processor: Haswell Something

Memory: 16GB on two sticks (motherboards above had 4 slots)

CD Drive: Not needed

Powersupply: Undecided case may determine

HD: Samsung 840 Pro 256GB - OS / WD Black - have some 640gb's laying around

 

Audio Interface: This is my big question. Are there good choices for an internal PCIe card that matches up with my needs (driving one keyboard, maybe two eventually and one mic - maybe).

 

I think I am going to go ahead with Cantabile as the VST host. I am not sure if I should go Win7 or Win8 and try to incorporate a touch screen. So all suggestions and insight is welcome. I am not yet using a VST host, but plan on trying to get my laptop up and running for our next Rush tribute band gig using the Oberheim OP-X II VST. So I will be learning.

 

Thanks, John

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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First off, think about dust for these little boxes: lots of openings which without dust filter may well be kicked full of dust, on the ground of a bar or something.

 

The processor IMO shoul dbe fine, but not necessarily notably faster than the previous generation, and it probably has two instead of three memory banks, given the mobo socket. These run a little hotter because there are voltage regulators on chip, and of course you have th ebuilt in graphics processor which takes a little heat and memory, but of course which makes sure you don't need a graphics card.

 

That brings me to the main consideration for you to trade off the heat buildup in the small enclosure with not "on top" supply fan, especially the bigger and faster (4 core) chips will run hot rather easily, depending on their maximum power consumption and settings, so maybe you want to think about filling up to the three available fan seats with appropriate fans, or your hard drive may last short.

 

I don't know if you can "remote screen' on a ad hoc (wireless) connection with yuor notebook, but that's an option, just like using remote X windows if your software of choice runs on Linux (Like for instance Pianotec does). I have no experience with the "usb only" screen, but it is terribly small, mayb check if the software can be operated from such small resolution!

 

Audio-wise the coolest would be to use an optical connection with a good DA convertor, with it's own supply, or a digital mixer input, so you don't get the eternal hassle of supply and ground rattle and hum interference. Both a PCIe card (which on a fast machine I tested can run up to a interaction granularity of the equivalence of 200kHz) and a mobo audio card (some are pretty good and usable, except pf course for the need to glue th tiny plugs of the audio cable in place) most likely will either have sound issues or (if you cut certain ground connections) have safety issues. And if the power has surges or drops, you'll get strong audio plops you need to prepare speaker/amps for because you don't have a built in UPS like a notebook does.

 

Audio vibration would possible want me to all all SSD, but I have stage experience much with rotating devices, so maybe rock/disco levels are ok. Whichever cooler you'd put on the CPU is likely to be somewhat or a lot sensitive to picking the PC up (which I'd do with a super large Extreme PC too, but of course light and small is desirable), and driving vibrations, which can tear broken mobo lines or other damage.

 

T.

 

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I built several very small footprint, Windows 7-based performance computers. The main issue isn't the soft synths or setting up performances; rather, controlling the device by means other than MIDI CC. Microsoft, in their never-ending stupidity, will not allow another device (think: RDP) to completely control the music computer. Sure, you can remote access the computer but once you remote in you in effect take over the audio device as well. So good bye sounds.

 

So my specially build Win 7-hosted gigging machines are on a shelf while I use Apple iPad and Macbook Pro.

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

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My Professional Websites

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Yeah, I posted there first thinking that a hardware site might be more appropriate, but some of the responses showed that they didn't understand the idea from a Keyboardists point of view. So I thought I would move the conversation over here

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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I built several very small footprint, Windows 7-based performance computers. The main issue isn't the soft synths or setting up performances; rather, controlling the device by means other than MIDI CC. Microsoft, in their never-ending stupidity, will not allow another device (think: RDP) to completely control the music computer. Sure, you can remote access the computer but once you remote in you in effect take over the audio device as well. So good bye sounds.

 

So my specially build Win 7-hosted gigging machines are on a shelf while I use Apple iPad and Macbook Pro.

 

If I understand what you are saying.... You can either control the PC functions with a midi controller or with a Keyboard/Mouse, but when you change controlling methods the sound is aborted? As if the computer was being re controlled by a different user, as in the RDP (remote desktop) scenario when a different user takes control.

 

Does this happen only if you RDP into the computer. This I was not planning to do.

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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I built several very small footprint, Windows 7-based performance computers. The main issue isn't the soft synths or setting up performances; rather, controlling the device by means other than MIDI CC. Microsoft, in their never-ending stupidity, will not allow another device (think: RDP) to completely control the music computer. Sure, you can remote access the computer but once you remote in you in effect take over the audio device as well. So good bye sounds.

 

So my specially build Win 7-hosted gigging machines are on a shelf while I use Apple iPad and Macbook Pro.

 

If I understand what you are saying.... You can either control the PC functions with a midi controller or with a Keyboard/Mouse, but when you change controlling methods the sound is aborted? As if the computer was being re controlled by a different user, as in the RDP (remote desktop) scenario when a different user takes control.

 

In my experience, correct.

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

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My Professional Websites

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So Windows sees a locally installed keyboard/mouse/touchscreen as a different "User" than a midi controller.

 

And the system, essentially "Restarts" as if you were switching users or RDP'ing into the computer. Wow!!!! If this is the case, then this really sucks......

 

Thanks for the heads up. I will do some testing on my Win7 Laptop and see what I come up with.

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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So Windows sees a locally installed keyboard/mouse/touchscreen as a different "User" than a midi controller.

 

And the system, essentially "Restarts" as if you were switching users or RDP'ing into the computer. Wow!!!! If this is the case, then this really sucks......

 

Thanks for the heads up. I will do some testing on my Win7 Laptop and see what I come up with.

 

No. It has to do with the RDP remote control. Nothing to do with the MIDI controller at all. The Win 7 OS nor the user does not restart--just switches to the remote user mode, transferring the audio driver to the remote device. Now, if this were switchable then that would be OK; however, it is a all or nothing deal so it is unusable for our purposes. At least, that is my experience, and I tried everything I could imagine (including registry hacks) to bypass. No dice.

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

--------

My Professional Websites

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so it is unusable for our purposes. At least, that is my experience, and I tried everything I could imagine (including registry hacks) to bypass. No dice.

 

So if I were to switch between control of the computer by MIDI and then control of the computer through Keyboard/Mouse, the audio driver is "re-assigned" and audio is dropped. Correct?

 

I wasn't sure if the "Our" above related to how we as keyboard players would use the system, vs some special setup that you had. Sorry for being dense, but it sounds like you have already gone down a road and your experience is likely to save me much heartache, if I try to go down the same road.

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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You should have no problem controlling anything you need within your VST host with MIDI messages, provided that the host allows such functions to be mapped (not familiar with Cantabile specifically). Are you talking about somehow controlling the general functions of computer with MIDI, like sending signals to close and launch other programs for example? I'm a little lost as to what exactly you're trying to accomplish.
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You should have no problem controlling anything you need within your VST host with MIDI messages, provided that the host allows such functions to be mapped (not familiar with Cantabile specifically). Are you talking about somehow controlling the general functions of computer with MIDI, like sending signals to close and launch other programs for example? I'm a little lost as to what exactly you're trying to accomplish.

 

He wants to open the application on a remote screen.

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

--------

My Professional Websites

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He wants to open the application on a remote screen.

 

I don't think that what I am looking to do?

 

What I was considering was having the PC for the most part be controllable entirely with MIDI, but I was going to add a USB touchscreen Mimo Monitor for both feedback and control, only if needed.

 

Would a USB monitor using a touch screen functionality be considered a "remote screen"?

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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@Steve:

Have you tried opening the Remote Desktop Connection (on the remote computer), click on "Show Options," click on the "Local Resources" tab, click on "Settings" in the Remote Audio portion of the tab, and set Remote Audio Playback to "Play on Remote Computer"?

 

I haven't actually tried this (since I normally only use RDP to access my clients' servers remotely), but this setting is supposed to cause the audio to play on the remote computer (which would be the computer that is running the audio stuff).

 

Howard Grand|Hamm SK1-73|Kurz PC2|PC2X|PC3|PC3X|PC361; QSC K10's

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You should have no problem controlling anything you need within your VST host with MIDI messages, provided that the host allows such functions to be mapped (not familiar with Cantabile specifically). Are you talking about somehow controlling the general functions of computer with MIDI, like sending signals to close and launch other programs for example? I'm a little lost as to what exactly you're trying to accomplish.

 

Bridge, Pretty much what you stated above. Set up the Midi keyboard to manage most computer functions. Next Song, select patch, etc. But if not all functions can be mapped, then there would be the use of a keyboard/mouse. Of course, the keyboard/mouse would not be used while playing.

 

 

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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@Steve:

Have you tried opening the Remote Desktop Connection (on the remote computer), click on "Show Options," click on the "Local Resources" tab, click on "Settings" in the Remote Audio portion of the tab, and set Remote Audio Playback to "Play on Remote Computer"?

 

I haven't actually tried this (since I normally only use RDP to access my clients' servers remotely), but this setting is supposed to cause the audio to play on the remote computer (which would be the computer that is running the audio stuff).

 

I will dig out one of those systems and try it sometime this week. However, I do remember trying it and had no joy. Will try again.

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

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My Professional Websites

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You should have no problem controlling anything you need within your VST host with MIDI messages, provided that the host allows such functions to be mapped (not familiar with Cantabile specifically). Are you talking about somehow controlling the general functions of computer with MIDI, like sending signals to close and launch other programs for example? I'm a little lost as to what exactly you're trying to accomplish.

 

Bridge, Pretty much what you stated above. Set up the Midi keyboard to manage most computer functions. Next Song, select patch, etc. But if not all functions can be mapped, then there would be the use of a keyboard/mouse. Of course, the keyboard/mouse would not be used while playing.

 

 

Ok. Well, I imagine you could do pretty much anything like that within Cantabile via MIDI. I can't think of any reason why messing around with RDP would be necessary, but of course that doesn't mean the need doesn't exist. I think the worst case scenario is using something like the touchscreen interface you mentioned to take care of anything you need that's outside the realm of MIDI control if the need arises. I mean, I would probably get that anyway, because I like to see what I'm doing, but that's a personal choice.

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....because I like to see what I'm doing, but that's a personal choice.

 

Yes, I think the touch screen will be more of a security blanket / feedback, than for functionality.

 

But a USB touchscreen.... that is not synonymous with Remoting into the computer is it?

 

I will tell you one reason--restarting apps. I tried everything to go without a keyboard/video but no joy. And the RDP, although very promising, had the audio driver issue described above.

 

That is my thought on the Touchscreen.... a backup if I need a quick reboot or re-launch.

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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....because I like to see what I'm doing, but that's a personal choice.

 

Yes, I think the touch screen will be more of a security blanket / feedback, than for functionality.

 

But a USB touchscreen.... that is not synonymous with Remoting into the computer is it?

 

Shouldn't be. It's an input device just like a keyboard or mouse would be.

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....because I like to see what I'm doing, but that's a personal choice.

 

Yes, I think the touch screen will be more of a security blanket / feedback, than for functionality.

 

But a USB touchscreen.... that is not synonymous with Remoting into the computer is it?

 

Shouldn't be. It's an input device just like a keyboard or mouse would be.

 

Thanks for the clarification. I wasn't sure if switching back and forth from MIDI control to keyboard/mouse control created an adverse scenario, like RDP'ing into the computer. (this is my first foray into Software Sound - so please excuse my ignorance).

 

I guess someone would want to RDP into the computer so that they could use their Laptop to control/ manage the otherwise headless Performance computer if necessary?

 

So if a TouchScreen like what I am proposing for minimal control + visual feedback would work makes sense?

 

Then is running Windows 8 advisable (touchscreen cabability)?

Yamaha S90XS, Studiologic VMk-161 Organ

Small/powerful (i7, 32GB, M.2 SSD) PC controlled by 10" Touch Screen

Cantabile, Ravenscroft 275, Keyscape, OPX-II, Omnisphere 2, VB3, Chris Hein Horns, etc.

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I will tell you one reason--restarting apps. I tried everything to go without a keyboard/video but no joy.

Steve, could you elaborate on 'restarting apps'? Like @Bridog6996, I dont' see why you would need RDP where a simple USB Mimo Monitor would suffice. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but RDP is needed only when a separate device like an Android tablet is in the picture. And even then, there are alternatives like VNC...

 

- Guru

 

 

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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Having had experience with Cantabile I can confirm that you can map patch change and virtually all Cantabile controls that you might need for live performance including the 'panic' button to your controller.

 

Having said that, and as one with utmost faith in the infallability of computers when used live there is no way I would fly blind without access to a screen, keyboard and mouse in the event a VST crashes, or the fastest way back to normal is CNT ALT DEL.

 

To the best of my knowledge you cannot map OS events to midi.

 

As others have said a MacBook Pro with MainStage is shortest path from where you are now and VST heaven. Next is a Win laptop with your choice of host, Cantabile, Forte or Ableton Live. The longest most time consuming route is the custom PC you are considering and as has been pointed out you may not even reach your destination.

MainStage 3 | Axiom 61 2nd Gen | Pianoteq | B5 | XK3c | EV ZLX 12P

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I built several very small footprint, Windows 7-based performance computers. The main issue isn't the soft synths or setting up performances; rather, controlling the device by means other than MIDI CC. Microsoft, in their never-ending stupidity, will not allow another device (think: RDP) to completely control the music computer. Sure, you can remote access the computer but once you remote in you in effect take over the audio device as well. So good bye sounds.

Steve, I just tried it out - I used RDP to connect to my Win 7 laptop, hooked up to a TC Firewire interface, from my 5" Nexus phone. Audio works like a charm! No tweaking/setting/whatsoever, it just... worked. In Brainspawn Forte, I was easily able to switch between scenes (patches) and songs in my setlist from my phone, with the laptop lid closed and tucked away out of sight. Seriously, :cool:

 

The phone is just an proof-of-concept, though. For live use, I intend to use an 8" Android tablet.

 

Looks like there was some other issue with your setup. And like I said earlier, RDP is overkill, a Mimo Monitor is a much simpler and robust solution.

 

So my specially build Win 7-hosted gigging machines are on a shelf while I use Apple iPad and Macbook Pro.

 

This. :thu:

The thumbs up appears to be a tad premature in this case, brother S.G! :poke::D

 

- Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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I built several very small footprint, Windows 7-based performance computers. The main issue isn't the soft synths or setting up performances; rather, controlling the device by means other than MIDI CC. Microsoft, in their never-ending stupidity, will not allow another device (think: RDP) to completely control the music computer. Sure, you can remote access the computer but once you remote in you in effect take over the audio device as well. So good bye sounds.

Steve, I just tried it out - I used RDP to connect to my Win 7 laptop, hooked up to a TC Firewire interface, from my 5" Nexus phone. Audio works like a charm! No tweaking/setting/whatsoever, it just... worked. In Brainspawn Forte, I was easily able to switch between scenes (patches) and songs in my setlist from my phone, with the laptop lid closed and tucked away out of sight. Seriously, :cool:

 

The phone is just an proof-of-concept, though. For live use, I intend to use an 8" Android tablet.

 

Looks like there was some other issue with your setup. And like I said earlier, RDP is overkill, a Mimo Monitor is a much simpler and robust solution.

 

- Guru

 

Interesting.. Thank you for this update. Very glad it is working for you. Perhaps it was an OS issue at that point in time. :thu:

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

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My Professional Websites

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Did you have Win 7 pro installed ? Pro supports inward RDP. Might also have been one of the many undocumented tweaks in one of MS's updates.

 

AG I can see how a wireless connection between a tablet and a laptop is of benefit for remote operation of a software mixer running FOH or a DMX controller, what advantage does it have over having the laptop screen visible when running Forte?

MainStage 3 | Axiom 61 2nd Gen | Pianoteq | B5 | XK3c | EV ZLX 12P

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AG I can see how a wireless connection between a tablet and a laptop is of benefit for remote operation of a software mixer running FOH or a DMX controller, what advantage does it have over having the laptop screen visible when running Forte?

Ergonomics - think of it like a head-up display. I often sing, facing and engaging the audience, and having a big bulky laptop on my keyboards is an impediment and a distraction, and kills the aesthetic of my rig, IMHO :P.

 

I find closing the laptop lid and tucking it out of sight, suitably mounted in a case, very ideal. The case mounting allows me to neatly pre-wire lots of stuff, including power strip and other wall-warts, so the whole thing is as convenient as a hardware rack. My setup time is less than a minute! I'll start a thread sometime later with pics.

 

The 8" tablet can be mounted very inconspicuously on to my keyboards, visible only to me. As mentioned in the other thread, I dont *need* the tablet for patch selection, but the visual info (patch names, etc) from a convenient location is quite welcome.

 

- Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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To the OP - you might want to reconsider the whole project, in favour of a laptop, like @Markay suggests.

 

Trust me, given my context, I've thought about rackmount PCs a lot over the years. The advantages of a laptop - rackmounted, perhaps - are far more:

  • Built-in keyboard, touchpad and monitor, right there, for instant troubleshooting
  • Built-in UPS.
  • You can actually pre-load all your softsynths at home, put it to sleep/hibernate, and wake it up during setup. No bootup-load time!
  • A laptop is built to be transported, withstand shocks, etc.

Moreover, I get the feeling that you don't have a lot of experience with softsynths, especially in a live context. Building a computer without having a first-hand experience of your requirements amounts to putting the cart before the horse, IMHO. My suggestion is to use a laptop to understand the nature of the beast, and you'll know exactly how to design your own PC. If you still feel the need, that is...!

Good luck.

 

- Guru

 

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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