An long term value PC audio setup


New member
Hi guys,

This is my first postings on SOFT - I'm thinking of upgrading my PC audio setup from scratch with everything new on a hardware budget of S$2000. What I'll still be keeping are my old Roland A50 master keyboard as a midi controller, the Edirol SoundCanvas SC-8850 midi module & Samson Audio C01U (USB) condenser mic. I'll be using virtual effects plugins. Don't intend to do any live instrument recording. Hence no pre-amps or external mixers required.....

FYI in the last one month or so I've been doing my own online research & in all honestly I've tried to scrutinise on the choices of the hardware (PC & audio) components so that the end result will be a machine that is fast & stable enough to handle large audio arrangement with multiple effect plugins on low latency.

Below is the complete breakdown for my setup listing which fit the original budget:

Intel Core2Duo E6750 2.66GHz 1333FSB
Gigabyte motherboard P35-DS3L
4 x Corsair 1GB DDR2 667MHz SDRAM
2 x 500GB Samsung Sata-II HDD
SAPPHIRE Radeon X1050 HM 128MB
20" ACER X201W LCD flat panel 1680x1050 with built-in speakers
Internal DualLayer DVD+/-RW
NZXT Hush chassis
CoolerMaster Extreme 430W PSU
BenQ keyboard + optical mouse combo
M-Audio Audiophile2496 HD audiocard
M-Audio StudioPro 3 monitors

The combination of the above CPU+Motherboard offers a good overclocking capability using Intel's own stock heatsink. I wanted a fast C2D with reasonable pricing so I have chosen the E6750 which is not as expensive as the E6850. At this time of writing the latter is approx 40% more expensive but only gave a meager increment in performance!

I choose Gigabyte even though Asus mobo seems to be the favourite brand among the pro audio PC systems designer. The reason for this is on the low to medium pricing scale models, Gigabyte seemed to have a slightly better performance when compared to its Asus counterparts.

I know 4GB of ram are never fully utilised in Windows XP but since SDRAM are really cheap nowadays might as well fill up the four empty slots! Why didn't I go for the 800Mhz DDR2? That's because the 667Mhz memory speed is divisible by the processor's FSB of 1333MHz. Apparently if you put a faster but non-synchronised (i.e on its denominator speed) ram you will not see a significant performance gain.

The price of HDD is also falling. How I determined the size of HDD is based on the lowest cost per gigabyte. Over the last two years the 320GB has been the most economical 3.5" HDD (presently 33.75 cents/GB) but the trend is likely to be changing soon with the 500GB version which is currently at 34.2 cents/GB. These are based on the best pricing I've seen at Sim Lim Square last week.

I needed two 500GB hard drives but I've read somewhere that perhaps it's better to manage with three HDDs (independently for O/S, recording & preloading sample playback like my Garritan Orchestra). Does any of you actually have a triple HDD combo for this purpose?

The cheap Radeon X1050 video card is adequate for digital audio stuff. Can anyone confirm this? I've chosen that 20" flat screen LCD from Acer because it gives an amazing 1680x1050 resolution which is ideal to view audio & midi editing on the sequencer.

Has anyone used the NZXT Hush chassis? It's supposed to seal the noise & fans inside but I'm not sure how quiet is it? As for audio card & near field monitor, I planning to get the trusted M-Audio brand from Sinamex.

Apologies if I sounded too confident on my DIY setup but as I said most of the information I've only understood from reading on the internet & various magazines. Actually I've been really out of touch with midi recordings for many years now and is reviving the interest again recently.

I would like to hear what members here have to say regarding my DAW configuration system. Are some of the things overkill or inadequate? I hope to make this desktop PC strictly as a dedicated DAW with hopefully no hardware upgrade in the next few years. And I will continue do my other work like email & websurfing stuff on my old laptop.

It will be at least three months before I move into my new home & commit the above which time most of the prices would have dropped further. In any case there will only be minor adjustments to the list. Please feel free to use the information here for your own intended PC audio upgrade.

well i don't really have a chance to read in detail.. it's 1.30 am now and i gotta work later mornin'. but I saw the specs, you're "Safe".

just remember , in the world of IT , "what's best today, is normal range in a month's time". as long as it performs your purpose should be safe dude. also - "maintenance!"
Hi, you did not factor in software cost.

A few comments.

1. Do consider Seagate or Maxtor drives as they have faster seek/read time. Although this may not be important to you now seeing that you are not using softsamplers (GPO is RAM-based) and not going to be recording 10-20 tracks, still you want to be prepared in case you move into other software that require streaming.

2. Do consider Vista as a possibility as DAWs are moving into 64bit. That way, you can theoretically have unlimited RAM. However with XP, you can utilise up to 3GB RAM by what we call a 3GB-swtich by altering the registry. Otherwise you're right, XP only uses 2GB of RAM.

3. Remember the key to a stable and fast DAW is to make it a dedicated machine. If you are also going to use it for other work, dual boot it. Then keep one boot partition dedicated to DAW.

4. Consider using XPlite (if you are using Windows XP). This nifty little program removes all unecessary Windows bloated software (including Internet Explorer, which you won't be using in a DAW). This speeds up your machine amazingly. They have not come up with their Vista version yet.

5. 2 HD are fine. I used to use 3 HD (1 IDE, 2 SCSIs). This is because I use Gigastudio which requires a dedicated HD to stream samples. For you, 2 is sufficient - one to run all the programs and data storage, the other to record. If you move into softsamplers, then you will have to consider a dedicated HD for that. And no need to get it now. You can always expand it later when you need it.

6. 500GB is huge. There has been discussion about large HD in SOFT before. My concern about huge HD is that the plate may be thinner causing faster wear and tear with extensive usage. In the past, we were recommended never to go above 120GB for sample streaming. Nowadays, I think it's safe to go above 200 GB. In fact, I just got a LaCie 250 GB external drive a few days ago to stream my Gigastudio samples. But 500GB...I'm not sure. It's more than cost per byte - it's performance and reliability that you need to be concerned about.

7. As I said, you have not factored in software. Are you already using a DAW software?

8. You are correct. You do not need one of those 3D video cards for DAW. Something simple will do. Those expensive video cards come with fans and heat sinks etc - which will increase noise. Although you are not recording live, we still try to keep our DAW as silent as possible.

9. I would suggest getting an audio card with a breakout box. Audiophile 2496 is fine. But I find fiddling with wires at the back of the case messy.

My 2 cents.
Thanks for your replies, blueprintstudios & cheez!

Indeed I've not factored in the cost of software which is seperate. Although I originally started on the Mac almost two decades ago using Performer, I eventually moved to the PC with Cakewalk. It's interesting how things have evolved on software based instruments like the GPO which I bought last year.

The biggest issue I've been concerned is whether the chosen hardware will integrate well with all the existing softwares - obviously we want to fit in the appropriate hardware TO the software (and not the other way around). Software issues can be resolved with patches & updates but unfortunately when one starts off with a non-optimised hardware combination, the replacement fix can sometimes become expensive.

Have you or anyone tried using the /3GB option successfully on XP? The reason for this is because I'm reluctant to go for Vista or 64-bit XP. At the moment the XP seemed to be the most stable O/S for the PC (after the Mac platform..that is!) plus widest support on ALL hardware & software.

As for vocal recording, I'm relying on my never used condenser mic C01U by SamsonAudio. There have been rave reviews of it being a perfect mic for podcasters which is why I bought it but now wonders how it compares with other reasonable mics for digital audio recordings. Its digital specs are not the best though: only 16-bit & 44.1kHz. But I can get away without using a pre-amp because it's via a USB directly into the PC.

The only real audio connection are the stereo line outputs from my Edirol module into the Audiophile 2496 while everything else will be internally digital on VSTi.

There is more than just the audio. You also have midi. But if you think you're not going to fiddle around too much with wires at the back of your casing, then Audiophile is OK.

3GB switch works for many people. But do note that 64bit is coming on fast. The problem with 64 bit is with MME and WDM. But in ASIO 2 (which you would be using), there is little problem. The title of of your thread suggest you want something to last longer rather than change again in a year's time. When you say cakewalk, I imagine you are using Sonar, which supports 64bit.

Also, you may want to consider Echo's MiaMidi. I find Echo's product giving me the best stability and low latency. Latest drivers of Echo's products all support Vista in 64-bit mode. Echo's Gina3G is also a good option.

If I were to use a notebook, I would stick with XP in 32bit. But if I am to upgrade my desktop (which means I can put in lots of RAM), I would seriously consider 64bit.
Hi Cheez,

Yes, I'm using Sonar now & previous to that was CW Pro Audio.

I just checked the specs of MiaMidi and it seemed to be similar to Audiophile's 24bit-96kHz, has midi in & out, SPDIF in & out, 2 analog ins & outs, Vista ready. Mind you the Edirol SC-8850 also has a midi connection via USB. So it can be used to link my master keyboard to the PC. I also have somewhere in my study room the small Edirol midi interface (1 in & 1 out) with USB.

I agree it's just a matter of time before 64bit machines become the mainstream but that's going to be another learning curve for me to familiarise with the updated features ;)

How about if I go on this path: Build this present 32bit desktop system and maybe in a few years time add another fully configured 64bit system (with unlimited RAM!). I'm sure with advance network system of the future, both machines will be able to 'talk' to each other.

As you can see, I'm not a pioneer with technology stuff - I really dislike Vista O/S on my wife's laptop! While the GUI is more attractive, the hardest part is having to learn all the new changes. I would rather wait till the new O/S mature a bit more....maybe after they release Service Pack 2 just like what they did with XP? Call me old fashion but I was on Win98SE until two years ago before I switch to XP!!!

Sure. XP should suffice your needs with GPO and your Edirol sound module + recording. I'm sure Audiophile 2496 is OK. Just need to know that we cannot just base our decisions on specs. Specs gives us a rough idea, but it's the real-life application that counts. Echo gives me super-low latency and great stability. And Swizer is great for support. That's the reason for me using Echo for so many years. But I'm sure you'll get good support from Sinamex as well.

Just remember to check out XPlite since you are going the XP path.
Thanks Cheez,

I agree that specs are only theoretical data which may not reflect the actual performance of a particular hardware. Following your recommendation, I will consider Echo as the alternative should I encounter problems with M-Audio later.

Will also try to optimise the OS with XP Lite.

I just learnt that some of ATI graphics card utilises HyperMemory (HM) which basically shares some of your PC's memory for graphics processing:

My original plan is to get the 128MB Sapphire Radeon X1050 video card which can go as high as 512MB on HM. Now I'm just wondering if using this video card will compromise the performance of my DAW?

Any other budget card recommendation?
Technically, there is a significant overhead when there is an "intrusive" reservation of physical system memory, or any dedicated memory in that matter (in this case memory is dedicate to input/output, processes, and not for display adapter).

I would not recommend a gfx with shared memory in any situation since it is intrusive memory-mapping. Well, not that anything big will go wrong though :lol: Anyway a 6600GT now costs like what, $50? I bought the ATI equivalent sometime early last year @ $90, it's an X800GT, handles FEAR very well w/ 2GB RAM at max details.

P.S: A DAW has no use for video memory above 16MB (much of that goes to caching the millions of colours, rendering basic 2D/3D pixels), unless the operating system and software (Vista) have heavy graphical elements.
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Thanks for your advise. So let me get this right: Although we should avoid using a shared memory GFX because of performance degradation, on the other hand since DAW software will not eat up more than 16MB of the video ram then it's safe to use it?

I'm planning to maximise the 1680 x 1050 display resolution so I hope the built-in 128MB video ram is adequate for this.

Also my new motherboard does not have an AGP slot so I don't think I'll be able to use your suggested NVidia 6600GT card. Anyway the X1050 is also around fifty something bucks now.....
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Great! Thanks so much for those useful links. It reassuring to know that the X1050 can be an ideal (yet budget) video card for DAW stuff :)