Build a Computer

Whether you assemble your own computer from scratch or simply want to make better-informed decisions while at the computer shop, the following suggestions may help you along your way. We've assembled these recommendations made by software test engineers, tech support personnel and software developers who work closely with many different types of multimedia software to help you make the right choice.

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) commonly called a processor is the brains of your entire multimedia computing operation. Buying the fastest processor your budget allows will yield the best performance. When pricing CPU's you'll notice the price/performance ratio drops quickly as you move away from the top of the line CPU. The sweet spot is usually a few models back from the top of the line. AMD and Intel both make great CPU's. Either brand would be a good choice. For intensive media applications such as recording digital audio and video editing you will benefit by choosing a 'Server' or Workstation' class CPU these provide higher processing speeds and are more commonly available in multi-processor configurations providing even more power. Below you can review comparison charts detailing the major families of currently available CPU's.

There are a lot of variables that can go into a CPU's power. We will look at the major ones here that can affect performance:

  • Clock Speed or Rate - This is measured in Giga Hertz (GHz) and defines how many billions of cycles the processor can achieve per second
  • Processing Cores - How many independent processors reside on a single chip. For example a dual core 2.0 GHz processor is one physical chip with Dual 2.0 GHz processors
  • Front Side Bus - The Front Side Bus (FSB) is the data transfer bus that carries information between the CPU and the northbridge of the motherboard. The faster the speed at which the front side bus allows data transfer, the better the performance of the CPU

Check to be sure your motherboard choice is pin compatible with the CPU you plan on purchasing as well as other hardware devices in your PC, especially audio cards. If you are using an Intel CPU, it is recommended to choose and Intel based chipset.

For recommendations, please see our Processor Spotlight.

Buy at least 1 GB of DDR RAM, or more if you plan on using a large number of loops and samples. Don't try to save money on RAM. Buy name brand and be sure to check what your motherboard manufacturer recommends, especially registered vs. unregistered memory.

With entire studios being based entirely on software, using multiple monitor setups are becoming more necessity than luxury. Multiple monitor setups require dual head video cards. We recommend a bare minimum of 64 MB of RAM in the video card—depending on your motherboard requirements, with 128 MBs being preferred. Buy an AGP or PCI Express video card, and make sure your motherboard and video card AGP bus speeds are compatible. Most current motherboards are 8x AGP. Older generation AGP cards should not be used.

Modern IDE hard drives will handle all but the most specialized tasks. Be sure to get a 7200 RPM drive. We recommend you use two hard drives, one for the OS and programs and a second for audio files. If you are doing video, you'll want to consider a third used exclusively for video files. Or, if you use any software instruments or samplers with large libraries you may want a third drive in which to store its samples. For the ultimate in high end HD performance—for a very large amount of audio tracks in projects, consider a RAID setup (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Hard Disk drives). Many motherboards include a serial ATA Raid controller built in. Go with Raid level 0 for speed, Level 1 for redundancy (and backup), or 0+1 if you want both speed and back-up safety. Proceed with caution when using RAID controllers. In most cases the added complexity is not necessary for the DAW to run your projects.

Don't try to save money on this one. The power supply is your computer system's lifeline. Get a solid case and at least a 400W power supply. Be sure to check with your motherboard manufacturer to see what power characteristics are required for your system. Aluminum cases offer better cooling characteristics, are usually more stylish, and are much lighter, but carry a bigger price tag.

Choosing the right audio hardware is one of the most important decisions you can make. There are a myriad of options available and a lot of important considerations to make:

  1. How many inputs and outputs do I Need?
Do you plan on recording an entire band or just your guitar? Its not a bad idea to plan ahead, if you think you might need to record a whole drum set at once consider an audio device with at least 8 inputs.
  1. Do I Need Microphone Preamps?
Not all audio interfaces include Mic Preamps and some may or may not include Phantom Power. If you plan on recording vocals, or micing a guitar cabines you may decide you need preamps. If you already own a Microphone Preamp you can use that instead.
  1. Do I Need Any Digital Inputs/Outputs?
It is very common now for audio interfaces to include some type of digital input/output. There are a few different types of digital I/O available, you can find a brief explanation of the various types in our Audio Hardware Guide
  1. Where Should I get Started?
For a broad overview of a variety of available options check out our Audio Hardware Guide.
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