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Thread: BUILDING A NEW DAW: What to buy and better yet, what questions to ask?

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    BUILDING A NEW DAW: What to buy and better yet, what questions to ask?

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    I built my first DAW 3-4 years ago, and it was PAINFUL deciding what parts to buy, but believe it or not, this list below was Mack Daddy cutting edge back then:

    Athalon 600
    Asus K7V
    256M Ram
    18Gig Seagate SCSI & Adaptec adapter
    (I used to have a Gadget Labs 8in/8out card, but downgraded to a SB Audigy Platinum just before I realized that I really could use more than two ins and outs!)

    OK, so I'm at it again (and still thick as a brick) even though I work in the tech/computer industry (rumor has it that if you work on Linux servers that you're presumed to be "geekier than thou", well, I'm proof that it isn't necessarily so! I guess I like making music more than I like recompiling kernels and chasing down installation dependencies!).

    So, in preperation for building the new DAW I've begun the process of reading a bazillion BBS threads, and twice as many articles on the web, and the question of what parts to buy still makes me dizzy and I'm losing sleep!

    What I'm hoping to get from you all is a few quick pointers in the right direction and more importantly, I'd like to be reminded of the right questions we need to ask before buying one part over another as I'm well aware that in some cases one part isn't necessarily bad or better, but just might not be what you need or isn't worth the extra expense.

    First, let me start with a few assumptions about my next setup:

    1. I do NOT need the fastest, sexiest, beast on the block.
    2. I'm going AMD (read all the discussions and make your own decision)

    My needs/recording style:

    I use Cakewalk Sonar, and sometimes play with Acid or CEPro, and might get into Project5 or Reason and will probably start beefing up on the soft snyths.

    I record most of my music straight from my Triton keyboard, in stereo, vocals, some guitar (stereo, straight in through a POD or GT-6), some bass, but ultimately we're talking minimal tracks here, maybe 20 at the most at any given time, but more like 6-8 on average. So, what I'm getting at is that everything I do now runs fine on Win98, 600Mhz, 256MB, so I don't need to build a maserati, but I do want to upgrade now as I'm starting to record much more than ever and am starting to add midi and soft synths/effects to the mix and I see than increasing significantly.


    QUESTIONS:

    Motherboards:

    If I'm going AMD, are there really any issues still around regarding the Via chipsets or any others?

    Quote from another board:

    "stick to server/highend mobo's nothing with a VIA chipset

    i run a dual AMD mp setup on a TYAN tiger MP and its rock solid."


    Onboard sound (is it really significant if it has it or not? I haven't run into any problems with disabling in the BIOS)

    I guess USB 2.0 is a given (and on most boards?)

    PCI slots (need a few more than 2 I suppose

    FSB: 333, 400, (the age old question of when to buy and when to wait for the next big thing.. well, as you've seen, I've gotten by fairly nicely on the low end, so I'm really looking for that 'bang for the buck' cost/benefit analysis

    **Are there any boards that are REALLY problematic?


    Anything else on the Motherboard, any other relevant questions we should ask ourselves?

    _______________


    Soundcard:

    I haven't decided which sound card yet, so I'll probably plod along with the SB Audigy Platinum for a bit, but I'm pondering the new Ozone USB & Midi controller as an all-in-one deal, though I'm starting to think I'd really like more ins and outs (cost is the consideration, so keep in mind that this isn't a Santa Claus wish list DAW we're talking about!) ;-)

    To be honest, I'm not as worried about this part of the equation as there are a LOT of useful discussions and debates that will help me make that final decision, however, if anyone has any particuar KNOWN ISSUES with a sound card and an Athlon MOBO, please share.

    _______________

    CPU: I just can't seem to get my hands around any of the versions/styles/flavors of AMD CPUs (XP, MP, wizbang shaboom?)

    CPU SPEED: I Plan on looking closely at the cost/benefit/performance ratio, but suspect I won't go lower than say a 2.2 (I figure If I'm getting by on a 600, a 2.2 would keep me happy for at least another year??)

    DUAL CPUs?? (just for the sake of discussion, though I can't seem to see any reason a moderate home rec user would need em. Want em, well that's another issue (and thread!) ;-)

    ________________

    RAM:

    Bus speeds, manufacturers, 'Crucial' this, 2700 that, SD, DD, DIZZY... please tell me there is someone out there that can spell out in child like terminology the choices based on needs and relevant quality (the 256Megs I'm running is cheapo crap from BestBuy, seems to work for me, I mean, I'm not trying to run a Benchmark outfit or stacks of tracks and massive processing.. well, maybe in a few months I will!) ;-)

    Amount: I'll probably start with 512, but will move to a Gig a.s.a.p.


    _________________

    HARDDRIVES:

    ATA? 100? SCSI (I originally had SCSI, but don't think my setup warrants the additional cost)


    7200 is fine, right?

    Well, I just bought a WD800JB, and I suppose I probably should have gotten one of the Seagate V's as the sound level is much lower than the WD. (Oh, did I mention that I intend to get this machine as quiet as possible: Fans, power supply, case)

    From a different thread I'm on, here's some info on drive noise and heat dissipation:

    Here is a link to all of the drives and how they rate for noise:

    http://www.storagereview.com/php/be.../bench_sort.php


    One drive partitioned or Two?? (I do intend to keep the OS seperated from the audio, but i'm also thinking about backups...


    ...wondering if I should go RAID1 and write everything to a second disk (any special MOBO needs? I was told I could do all the raid stuff with software, but I keep seeing RAID as a MOBO feature?), or I could also make periodic Ghost images as I use Ghost a lot at work so I'm familiar with it.

    From a different thread:

    "i have a promise ATA100 RAID card in my box and it provides me with enough bandwidth to do pretty much anything i want..."

    Comments? Additional questions we should ask?

    ______________

    As far as the noise and heat stuff, I'm doing pretty good reading specialized sites and some custom jobs people have done. Maybe a drive enclosure, Fanless PSU, special case, custom materials inside to dampen the sound, and maybe some of the Zalmar fans?


    (http://www.siliconacoustics.com/silpc.html)

    http://www.silentpcreview.com/

    http://www.siliconacoustics.com/foratandpeni.html

    ______________

    Oh, and any particularly good online parts sources? I've seen Newegg come up a lot and I just bought the hard drive from them, the price was the lowest around and it arrived VERY quick.

    ______________


    Well, it's late and I've written way more than I should have, but I really needed to get this off my chest, now I go and pray to the DAW gods that you all guide me in the right direction and I make a decision on parts (ANY decision is better than frettin' and worryin' about it for so long that I'm spending more time researching and less time making music!)

    Ciao, and thanks in advance to all who share the experiene and technical wisdom!

    ~+~ 3des ~+~

    p.s. My brain's spell check was off when I wrote this, so that's my disclaimer! ;-)
    "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." --Thomas Edison

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    wow...long post...

    ok, here's my view:

    Motherboards:
    Everybody used to say to avoid Via like the plague... I bought my last DAW last year, based around a Via KT266a, and I built two more for friends, both based around the KT333.
    If you do your homework regarding relation soundcard-chipset you should come up with a list of what to avoid and what not.
    nForce 2 chipsets seems to have nothing but thumbs up from everybody. I'm building a new DAW for a friend this summer, and it'll be around a nF2 set, let's hope it works

    Onboard sound : disable and forget. My rule is to have a system that is as barebone as possible, meaning: disable all serial/parallel ports, disable USB if you don't need it (I don't), disable networking if you don't need it (I do need it) and leave nothing but a videocard and soundcard in it.

    USB2.0: should be standard.
    PCI slots: shouldn't matter, but try to find out how they are shared. There should be at least one PCI slot that has no (irq) sharing with the AGP slot, or any of the other slots. That particular slot will contain the soundcard.

    FSB: I run an Athlon 2,200+ with 1Gb DDR on a 266 FSB and have yet to run the project where the computer chokes... I'm using Cubase SX, Reason and HALion on a very intense base (+30tracks with plugs and VSTi's/Samples/MIDI)

    Anything else on the Motherboard, any other relevant questions we should ask ourselves?
    Don't get the newest, fanciest (eg. the tube mobo ) but try to get a 'classic', from a classic mobo manufacturer (if it means anything to you: Asus and Sovtek work for me)

    Soundcard: Dangerous topic, and 95% of it is subject to taste only. Try to find your needs and budget and don't exceed them. Go at least for a 2 in / 2 out soundcard with midi i/o.
    USB cards don't give me a boner, I'm a conservative PCI kinda guy. (but plz stay away from the soundblaster)

    CPU: XP= current model, MP=multiprocessor. Try to decide a budget for a processor .. I never buy a cpu that costs more than 125€ (an 2,500 is 105€ now)

    CPU SPEED: see above. imo you won't notice a difference between a 2,500 and a 2,600. Maybe FSB 266 is really passé, so go for at least the 333. 400 may be a little expensive (as the mobo, ram and cpu cost increases with FSB speed...)

    DUAL CPUs?? IMhO they cost more than the benefit you have from having a dual setup. (nd then there's noise, power needs, mobo costs more and less choice,...)

    RAM: el cheapo DDR 266 ram worked for me. If you never overclock I doubt it you run into problems. Buy warranted memory and test it the moment you have it (I have this memtest386 iso CD somewhere here, worked for me)

    Amount: my first DAW had 512 and I was cool. The one I'm using now has 1Gb and I'm in heven. I disabled the XP paging file and you DO notice the difference.

    HARDDRIVES: go 7200rpm. Cache size doens't matter (2Mb vs. 8Mb) Go with a 'big' brand and get 2 HARDDISKS. Whatever comp you build: GET TWO HARDDISKS. You'll notice.
    Size doesn't matter. I partitioned the disks because of defragmentation speed needed (archived projects are on a big disk, active projects sit on a smaller disk. Archived projects don't need to be defragged, active projects get defragged very often)

    NOTE: I'm not sure anymore if this whole defragging thing matters, but it makes me feel better

    noise
    I invested quite some money in silencing the DAW, but though it will be less noisy, it will never be silent, unless you move it out of the room or put it in a closet.
    I built a closet with adjustable fans for about 50$ and it made the comps a whole lot more quiet than the 300$ noise suppression materials I put in it. (and if I'd build a new closet it'll be even quieter, made some design mistakes the first time)

    side note: power supply !! it does matter, get a good one. Enermax gives me a hard-on

    RAID nay. You lose a lot of harddisk space and what's your gain ?? Security ? If you back up your projects often (CD-R, DVD-R,) you have nothing to fear.

    NOISE² Things I did:
    - Zalman heatsink and fan (lowest speed)
    - Zalman northbridge heatsink removed noisy fan
    - Matrox G550 video card (dual head AND fanless)
    - Enermax 431W PSU with adjustable fan (set to lowest speed and turn the speed up until just below where you could here the fan getting louder)
    - PAXmate foam lined inside Aluminium case

    It helps, but will not SILENCE the rig... Putting the stock internet comp inside the computer box (there's two comps in there) made it as quiet as the modified DAW, and it cost me a lot less.
    (now the modded DAW inside the comp box with the fans set to lowest speed is near-silent of course)
    It depends on budget.


    Oh, and any particularly good online parts sources? I've seen Newegg come up a lot and I just bought the hard drive from them, the price was the lowest around and it arrived VERY quick.
    We pay much more for our comps here in Europe, so I can'tt comment on that.


    Other thoughts
    - video card: matrox is standard and rules: fanless, fast and dual head is a bonus
    - display: taste and budget decides here.
    - harddisks: put one as master on one controller, the other as master on the other controller. If you add a cd-writer, put it as slave on the first controller, so that the audio drive has as little interference as possible. I guess you won't be needing a dvd-drive or other computer-cluttering devices.


    IMPORTANT (to me anyway)
    Try to separate the DAW from anything non-DAW related. How you do it, I don't care (doulbe boot or dual computers) but it helps a lot.
    I tweaked my Windows XP (different sites, but I recall blackviper's being supergreat): non-fisher price look, no visual effects, disbling all services I don't need (there's no internet, printing, dialing, ... on the comp, only a basic networking client and sound) and only installing programs I need and that I know work.



    Hope this helps,
    Herwig

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    Wow long post(s) .

    I am going to skip answering each individual question, cause I don't have time to make a long post this morning.

    Some people here pointed me in the right direction as far as reading material, (toms hardware guide), and this is what I came up with;

    mobo, the most important part. ASUS A7N8X deluxe. (Nvidia 2 chippage here) Yes it is fairly loaded, and fast, and most importantly agrees with my soundcard. I put an athlon XP1800+ into it for a processor, and it beats the hell out of my old compaq speedwise. there is also 512 ddr ram in there. One of the reasons I went with this mobo is because at a later dater if I so choos

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    Wow long post(s) .

    I am going to skip answering each individual question, cause I don't have time to make a long post this morning.

    Some people here pointed me in the right direction as far as reading material, (toms hardware guide), and this is what I came up with;

    mobo, the most important part. ASUS A7N8X deluxe. (Nvidia 2 chippage here) Yes it is fairly loaded, and fast, and most importantly agrees with my soundcard. I put an athlon XP1800+ into it for a processor, and it beats the hell out of my old compaq speedwise. there is also 512 ddr ram in there. One of the reasons I went with this mobo is because at a later dater if I so choose, I can update the ram and processor quite significantly. Whats in there now is very minimal.

    As far as soundcards go, I went with an m-audio. I also have a soundblaster (POS) and the onboard sound going. No problems whatsoever. If I had another soundcard, I'm pretty sure I could chuck that in there with no grief as well. Like DeadPoet said tho, danger danger!!!...soundcard selection is a little more subjective, and at that, a subject all unto its own. You will see a lot of people swear by m-audio tho.

    As far as being quiet, I got an enermax dual fan 'whisper'. It is pretty quiet, but I think realistically if you are going to record using those nice condensors in the same room as your puter, you should look into makin an ISO box for it.

    I have a WD 40 gig 7200 RPM 8mb cache bla bla bla, and its kinda noisy, coupled with the power supply fans, I really go to town covering it with blankets and stuff when I am recording .

    I use my computer for absolutely everything, gaming, net, DAW , e-mail ...everything. I really think the one thing that makes this possible is the OS, XP PRO...98 is about a tenth as stable as far as I am concerned.

    OK I gotta go (longish post anyhow)...but just another note, I ahev also had a variety of video cards, and soundcards in different slots, and I never have had any problems thus far.

    This is coming from someone who really is clueless about a lot of this stuff, so if it worked for me it should work for you!!!

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    Originally posted by DeadPoet

    I built a closet with adjustable fans for about 50$ and it made the comps a whole lot more quiet than the 300$ noise suppression materials I put in it. (and if I'd build a new closet it'll be even quieter, made some design mistakes the first time)

    So are you bringing in any outside air into your closet?

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    Originally posted by DeadPoet
    wow...long post...

    ok, here's my view:

    Hope this helps,
    Herwig

    Helps? Just the mere fact that you posted one a slong a smine takes the heat off of me! ;-)

    But seriously, you've provided tons of great real world and practical information that I will surely incorporate into my decisions, and you have great "tone" too (not guitar tone, but the way you share your opinions, much appreciated!)

    Thanks for the info, and thanks for plowing through the long post!

    ~3des
    "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." --Thomas Edison

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    Originally posted by badassmak
    Wow long post(s) .

    I am going to skip answering each individual question, cause I don't have time to make a long post this morning.

    Some people here pointed me in the right direction as far as reading material, (toms hardware guide), and this is what I came up with;

    mobo, the most important part. ASUS A7N8X deluxe. (Nvidia 2 chippage here) Yes it is fairly loaded, and fast, and most importantly agrees with my soundcard. I put an athlon XP1800+ into it for a processor, and it beats the hell out of my old compaq speedwise. there is also 512 ddr ram in there. One of the reasons I went with this mobo is because at a later dater if I so choose, I can update the ram and processor quite significantly. Whats in there now is very minimal.

    As far as soundcards go, I went with an m-audio. I also have a soundblaster (POS) and the onboard sound going. No problems whatsoever. If I had another soundcard, I'm pretty sure I could chuck that in there with no grief as well. Like DeadPoet said tho, danger danger!!!...soundcard selection is a little more subjective, and at that, a subject all unto its own. You will see a lot of people swear by m-audio tho.

    As far as being quiet, I got an enermax dual fan 'whisper'. It is pretty quiet, but I think realistically if you are going to record using those nice condensors in the same room as your puter, you should look into makin an ISO box for it.

    I have a WD 40 gig 7200 RPM 8mb cache bla bla bla, and its kinda noisy, coupled with the power supply fans, I really go to town covering it with blankets and stuff when I am recording .

    I use my computer for absolutely everything, gaming, net, DAW , e-mail ...everything. I really think the one thing that makes this possible is the OS, XP PRO...98 is about a tenth as stable as far as I am concerned.

    OK I gotta go (longish post anyhow)...but just another note, I ahev also had a variety of video cards, and soundcards in different slots, and I never have had any problems thus far.

    This is coming from someone who really is clueless about a lot of this stuff, so if it worked for me it should work for you!!!

    Thanks, more great info.


    Well, it "sounds" like I overlooked the importance (added value) of an ISO box for dealing with that large diaphram condensor I have in the middle of my uncarpeted all wood floor in my SMALL apartment! Based on what you and DeadPoet mention, that sounds like the way to go when recording those quiet female vocals, which is primarily all that gets recorded with the condenser.

    Any good postings or links for a DIY PC ISO? (othewrwise I'm quite handy at using Google)

    I've also already got an XP Pro install that I'm fully tweaking and DE-CARTOONING, it already runs a lot faster than my ex's XP install (that thing ha so much cartoon crap running it's like being at Disneyland!) ;-)
    "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." --Thomas Edison

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    I just ordered a new motherboard and CPU should be here around the middle of next week. Looks like your in the same boat as I was about 4 days ago, (trying to figure all that AMD stuff out, I was going to go with intel but just too much money, infact the MB and CPU I ordered where the same as an Intel CPU alone) Here's what I came up with after searching around:

    as allready mentioned nForce2 motherboard is concidered the only way to go, (Abit, Asus...) I went with Epox myself.

    Cpu the golden price point one(for me) is XP2100 (Thoroughbred-B core, a must have for easier overclocking)

    RAM (again for me) dual 256 3200 (you need two to take advantage of the dual memory channels of the nForce MB)

    HD: right now I have a 40G-7200 Maxtor for system will get another bigger drive for DATA

    I myself will be overclocking me system, so should get performance better then an AMD XP2700, which is double the price of the XP2100.(some people are even getting them up over the XP3000)

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    Cool

    >I haven't decided which sound card yet, so I'll probably plod along with the SB Audigy Platinum for a bit,

    If you are serious about Audio I'd go with the MIDIMAN Audiophile at minimum. Your converters and the circuitry/connectors to deliver your signal to same are where it is at. The Audiophile isn't the best card out there-just the best bang for the buck.
    Last edited by drstawl; 06-27-2003 at 21:55.

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    Originally posted by therage!
    So are you bringing in any outside air into your closet?
    Yep... The design (I'm not worthy calling it a design, but anyway.. ) is fairly simple:

    originally it was an MDF box with a door in front and a hole in the back for the cables, lined with 1" foam on the inside.
    Problem #1: when I powered the computers, heat went up to about 75°C, so I added two holes at the right side, at the bottom and installed two old computer fans, and drilled two more holes at the left upper corner as outtake and installed two more left-over fans (one 90mm, one 120mm, the last one made too much noise so it isn't running anymore)

    Hook this up to a standard 1.5-12V transformator and voila, you have yourself an adjustable fan control station.

    Problem #2 was more of a practical nature: the hole at the back for cables is too small, and the space between the comps is too small, so if I had to remove/add something inside the comps it would take me 30 minutes to remove cabling - so I added a little door at the back as well.

    Things that could be better:
    - measurements I'm no carpenter and the front door is off a few centimeters
    - fan in and out could be at the back, should rething airflow in the box, maybe add one or two fans inside the box for airflow at the computers' sides.
    - get some real silent fans, these are just ripped of a few old PSU's.


    Herwig

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