When choosing a PC for your studio it can be hard to know what sort of specs are optimal and within your budget. So here are my findings from my research that I did before settling on a PC in the most basic terms I know. There’s a lot of good information out there for Video Production PC’s but unfortunately if you want it for Audio Production a top of the range Graphics card isn’t going to help you much. So what is the optimum setup for a composer/artist?
CPU (Central Processing Unit)
Your CPU has a big role in processing your audio, both in realtime and “offline”! Unfortunately, unlike graphics, there is no current processing unit dedicated solely to processing audio at this time which would be cool (but is also completely unnecessary). So what makes my ideal CPU, and why… what role does each factor have?
When deciding on a CPU it’s important to take into account specs such as the frequency (sometimes referred to as “clock speed”), the core count, and the version (Standard or Server grade : ie. Intel core i5 or Intel Xeon). So why are these factors important?
Frequency (Clock Speed)
Your frequency value shows you just that, how frequent your processor is running. 1GHz is 1 billion cycles per second, so if your processor is running at 2.9GHz it means it’s running at 2.9 billion cycles per second. So is it important? Yes! The faster the frequency the faster your processor handles the tasks you give it.
If you didn’t already know, most processors these days will have multiple cores! But what are cores? Cores are like mini processing stations within a single “unit” (processor chip), so if you have a processor with a core count of 2 it can handle twice the number of tasks simultaneously than a processor with a single core. Basically the higher the core count the more it can do simultaneously. Does my DAW take advantage of multiple cores? Yes, most of the popular DAWs take advantage of multiple cores. It’s very unlikely these days for the latest DAWs to only use a single core.
Standard vs Server Grade
Is there a difference? Yes! While in some instances performance can be the same or similar where specs are the same, there is a difference in price and quality!
Standard off-the-shelf processors are built with the consumer market in mind! They often have a smaller core count, they can come across occasional reliability issues and generally have a shorter lifespan but are more affordable when bought new! Server Grade CPU’s are built with the business market in mind. They come with a higher core count, they rarely ever have reliability issues, and are built to last but are way more expensive when bought new!
RAM (Random Access Memory)
RAM?? What is it, and why is it important? Random Access Memory (RAM) is a temporary storage facility that your computer uses mostly to store snippets of data and location information to find data. By storing location information, it helps the CPU to find the resources it needs to complete tasks more efficiently. When loading large sample libraries it is important to have a large enough capacity to hold all the data, but it’s also important to have RAM that runs at a decent frequency. The RAM on the market as of 2019 is measured in MHz.
Keep in mind that there are two types of RAM… regular RAM and ECC RAM (Error Correcting Code). EEC RAM needs to be compatible with the motherboard and the CPU so make sure which type of RAM you have.
To make things a little more complex there are different generations of RAM. The two you need to know are DDR3 (Double Data Rate 3rd Generation) and DDR4. DDR2 is now out of date and its limitations are a sign of that. Remember to check the frequency as the higher your RAM’s frequency, the faster your task is processed. Don’t forget to see if your motherboard supports the RAM.
Is storage really something to shout about? Yup! A good amount of storage is vital as a Studio PC is always being added to! But should you go for an HDD (Hard Disk Drive) or an SDD (Solid-State Drive)? For audio processing we want fast Read/Write Speeds. HDD’s are ok for keeping your OS (Operating System) on but can be a bit of a pain when trying to use your sample libraries. HDD’s have a habit of going to sleep, so they can be time consuming in a time-pressured industry. SSD’s on the other hand have very fast read and write speeds which could end up meaning you actually have time for lunch! SSD’s allow you to store less audio data on RAM (freeing up room) while maintaining speed.
Below is an example of specs that you might look for in order of expense (cheapest at the top).
CPU Core Count
Quad Core (4)
16Gb, DDR3 1333MHz
Hex Core (6)
24Gb, DDR3 1333MHz
1Tb HDD 7200rpm + 3 Tb SSD
64Gb, EEC DDR3 1333MHz
2Tb HDD 7200rpm + 2 x (2 Tb SSD)
128Gb, EEC DDR4 2666MHz
2Tb HDD 7200rpm + 2 x (4 Tb SSD)
Got a setup you’d like to share, let us know in the comments below!