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Are off-the-shelf computers there yet?


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with discount store complete PC systems now to be had for as little as $399.00 bucks with a 1.4Ghz processor, are any of these storebought boxes up to snuff for doing 24bit audio? seems that at some point, as speed continues to climb, that having to buy a special "tweakable" (read more expensive) box should become less of an issue than it used to be. anyone got any insight? -d. gauss
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Mine is an off the shelf HP pavilion and for what I do and what I use it's worked flawlessly. From alot of reading I've done on the net it should have been a pain in my ass but it hasn't been. The only problems I've had is related to an Audigy soundcard I'm temporarily using and that hasn't been as big of a deal as I'm reading about on Audigy related newsgroups. So I've been lucky. I'll let you know if my luck continues when I jump to a 24bit card.

William F. Turner

Songwriter

turnersongs

 

Sometimes the truth is rude...

tough shit... get used to it.

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Off the shelf PC's get a bad rap, but the truth is most of them are fine for your average audio task. The big thing to keep in mind is that you are probably going to want to flatline any OEM PC to get rid of any software the manufacture has installed besides Windows.
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[quote]Originally posted by d gauss: [b]with discount store complete PC systems now to be had for as little as $399.00 bucks with a 1.4Ghz processor, are any of these storebought boxes up to snuff for doing 24bit audio? seems that at some point, as speed continues to climb, that having to buy a special "tweakable" (read more expensive) box should become less of an issue than it used to be. anyone got any insight? -d. gauss[/b][/quote]Depends!!! Some off-the-shelf PCs are bad for mundane tasks. Others are pretty good for most tasks, including audio. The reason why I would build my own computer (whether I was doing audio or something else), is expandability + the mix of components that I like. I like towers with extra slots that I might want to use later etc, and the HW combo of my choice. Building your own box certainly won't save you too much money, if any at all, since of the shelf stuff is so cheap now.
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A friend of mine had a computer built by a computer store so that he could run Pro Tools. The store, apparently, cater to the pro audio market and know what's involved. He would have been better off buying an off-the-shelf PC. They only put in one hard drive and the CPU fan isn't strong enough, so the computer crashes once he starts running Pro Tools. Most off the shelf computers are pretty good these days, and if you do need to add an extra hard drive or a stronger fan then you don't feel quite so stupid doing it :) -- Rob
I have the mind of a criminal genius.....I keep it in the freezer next to mother.
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Like most other products, a generic label like, "are they there, yet?", is too global. It is still too easy to buy older technology and not be as satisfied as you should. But, there are some good systems out there... Dell's Dimension T4500 series... [url=http://www.dell.com/us/en/dhs/products/series_dimen_desktops.htm]Dell Dimensions[/url] Even Emachines Have good units (the T1800 series)... [url=http://www.emachines.com/products/]eMachines[/url] I still prefer to roll my own with ASUS boards. Port expansion and a great Northbridge/Southbridge chipset on the MoBo is crucial! the Intel *845G* and *845E* chipsets are good performers. Also, the *SiS645* chipsets are great performers (found on the ASUS *P4S333* and *P4S533* boards. [url=http://usa.asus.com/mb/mbindex.htm]ASUS MoBos[/url] {Hate seeing typos as I click the button :) }

 

"It's all about the... um-m-m, uh-h-h..."

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The $400 Emachines has a small drive and memory. memory is cheap these days, stick $100 worth of ram in, $120 drive.... Say $700 with monitor. Versus: $45 case (Antec, 400 watt Best Buy) $200 "Decent" mobo (Asus, local) $100 memory $200 drive (80 gig WD) $100 video card (whatever) $100 keyboard/mouse (whatever, pref. IBM) $150 processor (equivalent) $100 monitor (equivalent) About $1,000. Does it perform 40% better? I don't think so, maybe if tweaked. The hard call is the security of whether the motherboard is a flakey design or not. That's a safer thing these days I think, so.... Tricky. On the other hand, you can buy one, stick your pro audio card in it, see if it works... if it doesn't, take it back. Big hassle, but maybe you save $400 if it's sufficient?

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Just about anything can put up a bunch of tracks these days. The issue becomes more critical when you want to run a bunch of tracks, and plug-ins, some virtual instruments, do real-time mixing...you get the idea. One potential source of trouble is whether the power supply can handle the juice of extra cards and drives. Computers are like anything else. A Sears vacuum cleaner will pick up the dust, but it's not what a professional janitorial service uses. My computer was integrated by East Coast Music Mall about 3-4 years ago, has performed like a champ and gone from 400 MHz to 1.2 GHz with expanded drives and I/O. I doubt it would have been as easy to "grow" a budget model. Regarding computers...expect a big surprise in an upcoming EQ. Craig
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So true Craig. I'm running a semi custom unit that's over 2 years old. It's run flawlessly for what I do. I disabled the on board sound card & did not upgrade the video. I added MEMORY & a fast drive. I've also done some internal and windows tweaking. That's all helped. To get the best for music out of this, a multi purpose machine, I dis-able averything I can that does not have anything to do with music processing. I have gone in and disabled all background running programs, those that boot in the background but can't be seen with a ctr/alt/del sequence. It entails a reboot for the recording session and remembering to reset the other paramaters for the next bootup but it's worth the effort. I can definitely see the need with a pc for only music to get a very good mother board with NO built-ins. Get the chipsets that are set up for the processor you are going with and make sure they are capable of handling the music applications. If you go with the stuff set up for video work you'll do ok & it's probably easier to find. Then NOTHING else on the machine that's running in the background. Is that's what's coming next Mr. Anderton? At an affordable cost? Will you clue us in? No? We'll have to wait won't we?

 

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"When you come slam bang up against trouble, it never looks half as bad if you face up to it." The Duke...

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I have been building PCs for pro audio for a while now and if it helps I have tips to share. (Sorry if you already know this, but when I was starting out I would have loved to have gotten this info!) 1) Big chassis. Lots of fans. A full sized tower is a very good idea. 2) The Audio Card. Unless you are only playing back audio you will need a card that can keep your latencies down and your playback clean. You can spend a lot of money here but there are some great alternatives to the Nuendos and other expensive cards if you are not needing multitrack audio right off. I am very impressed with the M-Audio Audiophile 2496. It has midi in/out as well as stereo in/out in analogue and digital. ASIO compliance etc. 3) For the OS Win XP running in "Standard PC" power mode, (not the default power mode ACPI as this will interfere with both audio playback and midi management as it forces your sound card to share IRQs with your USB controller, your video card, your sink etc!) 4) As much and as fast of RAM as you can put in it. The more you have the better. (Duh ;) ) 5) Same with the processor. I have come around to the AMD Athlon series. I have been continually impressed with the XP processors. But it does not have to break the bank and you can get a great processor for around $150-200 now. 6) Research the chipset for the processor and RAM configuration that you are considering. This is VERY important and there is good information at places like tech-report.com about the latest and the past winners. A bad chip set can really slow down your system! 7) A good 300+ watt power supply. 350W+ if you are going with the latest P4s and XPs. (Watch the processor core voltage to make sure it is within limits!) 8) Dual hard drives. One with the system and programs on it and one dedicated to recorded and accessed media only. (I recomend 60GB drives as a good starting point as the larger drives still have a few issues) 9) A video card that can run dual monitors is a big plus. The nvidia GeForce Ti-4200 card is a great choice and cheap for being one of the fastest cards on the market! (Like as low as $175!) 10) An additional tip. If you are having latency problems try these things: Set your performance to favor "Background Services" instead of "Applications". Sounds strange? Try it... Also make sure that your C drive, (or whatever you call your systems drive), is not the host for your virtual memory. Put that as far away as posible for an additional performance enhancement. Best of luck, - DJDM
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[quote]3) For the OS Win XP running in "Standard PC" power mode, (not the default power mode ACPI as this will interfere with both audio playback and midi management as it forces your sound card to share IRQs with your USB controller, your video card, your sink etc!)[/quote]I am also building custom PC's for audio use and I agree with all the advice that DJDM offered but I wanted only to add something to the above information. I have found that newer motherboards which have APIC (not a typo support will not force the sharing of IRQ's. They in fact give you more IRQ's than previously available, 23 in fact as opposed to 15. So the necessity for manual IRQ assignment in Standard PC Mode is most often not necessary. We've been using Asus P4B-266 motherboards with WinXP and have found them to work well with ACPI enabled. Here's an article from Microsoft about it: http://www.microsoft.com/hwdev/platform/proc/IO-APIC.asp The thing about the Off the Shelf Systems is that it is almost certain that you are getting the cheapest components in the case of the bargain stuff. On the other hand the better quality stuff like Dell computers is very well built but some of the BIOS features are disabled which can lead to frustration if you need to do some tweaking. Generally though I have found the Dell computers to be very good. I wouldn't look for really cheap PC's for any kind of audio work generally. To me the whole native DAW thing is an incredible bargain as it is so why scrimp on the hardware at the risk of losing reliability.

Mac Bowne

G-Clef Acoustics Ltd.

Osaka, Japan

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[quote]Originally posted by Anderton: [b]Regarding computers...expect a big surprise in an upcoming EQ. Craig[/b][/quote]I don't expect you to spill any beans, but at least tell us WHEN, exactly, can we expect a big surprise? /Mats

http://www.lexam.net/peter/carnut/man.gif

What do we want? Procrastination!

When do we want it? Later!

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The biggest problem with off the shelf is you usually don't know what chipset your'e getting,and if you get a Via hybrid(common)your'e going to have possible audio driver problems(most likely).Also you'll get locked out of crucial bios tweaks.And on some(Gateway)some of the important bios stuff is actually on part of the HD,so if you ever reformat your'e in for a big surprise.Quality boards/parts are so cheap these day's and it's so easy to assemble a killer PC that off the shelf is actually more costly in the long run.You can get away with it for a hobbyist sort of thing,but if you wan't serious Daw performance with clients hovering over your shoulder......,let's put it this way,if I didn't build it,no way jose.Another "huge" problem with off the shelf PC's are on board Video and other perephials that all contribute to loss of hair ;) .
"A Robot Playing Trumpet Blows"
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<> If all goes well, the August issue of EQ. As soon as we know for sure that we can pull of what we're trying to do, I'll spill the beans here. We're getting very, very close. Testing begins tomorrow.
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