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Neil Ottenbreit

Newbie DAW build and I need some tips.

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Hi Guys,

I'm an old Sonar user from Sonar 2 and I'm still running Sonar 5 Producer Edition. I am currently running on an off the shelf HP computer so I know very little about purchasing/building a new DAW.

I plan on upgrading to the newest version of Cakewalk and I want a decent performing machine to match. Since this is the Cakewalk forum I figured it was the right place to ask.

I don't need the latest and greatest technology as I am trying to put this together on a reasonable budget. I'm perfectly fine with last years model as I don't anticipate being a power users and needing crazy track counts, etc.  I am not against buying an off the shelf computer from BestBuy, etc. If someone has a recommendation on a specific model I would be happy to look at that too.

I'm not against putting my own system together either, although I have never done that before. Not sure how difficult it would be.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks

Neil

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How much is reasonable budget ?

I just bought a PC off a system builder that I've detailed in the link below.  It was around £800 and probably about the best bang for buck I could have gotten, and I've been monitoring prices and performance and new processor launches for about 18 months so I've done lots of research.

If you want to spend less a Ryzen 3700 is great value for how well they perform. AMD is outshining Intel by quite some margin with this latest generation so much so that the i5 / i7 9th gen don't really make much sense at the moment by comparison.

Processor aside the must haves I would say are:-

SSD Drives - For Windows, all your programs , stuff like Kontakt Libraries etc..go for as much as you can afford and just use the old style HDD's for samples or backups etc 

16gb ram - Think this is a minimum now. 

GPU - Intergrated is fine for DAW use. The basic one in mine works and causes no DPC latency even though it's a pretty lowly £30 card - I don't play games or edit videos  or I would need a better one.  

500w PSU & stock cooler should be fine if you don't want to overclock

Win 10 - If you don't have a licence part of the cost of an off the shelf is the licence for it. You can get Win 10 licenses cheaply elsewhere if you can buy without an OS.  I ordered mine without and it still came installed , just without an activation code which I got for peanuts. Saved me £120

 Stuff like HP & Dell often use their own custom parts with weird connectors, so if for example you wanted to upgrade the PSU down the line you might be stuck.  So I would try to use a company that builds PCs , most of them seem geared towards gaming now but they'll often have a bunch of  ' Office PCs' listed and the better ones of those are where I saw the most suitable machines for my needs. 

 

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any new off the shelf will show a performance gain over your current thing... the latest sonar - now called cakewalk by bandlab - doesn;t require much more oomf than previous versions

if you've never built a pc before, then building one for daw specifically might be stretch

fwiw, i recently went from a 5 yr old i5 to a refurbished i7 (both laptops) and it's like a new thing :) for games too (ducks and hides)

good luck, and enjoy :)

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Others will be able to advise better than me what spec to go for but if you are in the UK want a ready built PC I can highly recommend Chillblast - I've had mine about 7 or 8 years now and it's been brilliant. I'd go to them like a shot if I ever need a replacement!

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Posted (edited)

I prefer a bare bones system and install my own OS rather than one with a corporate image with associatted craplications I didn't ask for.   But no reason not to just buy one anymore. Back in the olden days when we had to whittle our DAWs out of fine mahogany for the best tone it was different because the off the shelf stuff  wasn't optimized for the storage capacity and speed needed to run, and the only reasonable interfaces for latency had to sit in the PCI buss (Although an ISA powered SoundBlaster 2496 was better than anyone ever gave it credit for). These days, interfaces are usually offboard on a fast buss (USBc being the latest hotness and I really like it). I'd simply look for a system with enough available USB3 or USBc ports, ability to support 2 drives:  at least ONE SSD, either SATA, SAS or NVMe for the OS and apps, second one could be rotational rust for capacity if you aren't putting your storage offboard ona NAS, plenty o' RAM, and a decent CPU. No point into getting anything super duper for a graphics card.  Personally Id pay attention how loud the system fans are too.

This one is the sort of thing I'd personally be looking at...figure you need to add storage and an OS. https://silentpc.com/powerhouse-pcs/coffee-lake-tower-pc

Edited by StudioNSFW

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4 hours ago, StudioNSFW said:

This one is the sort of thing I'd personally be looking at...figure you need to add storage and an OS. https://silentpc.com/powerhouse-pcs/coffee-lake-tower-pc

I agree with your sentiment but the site linked seems really expensive for what it is to me ? Coffee Lake is 2 yrs old now and to be honest the Ryzen 3000's have ripped Intel a new one and rewritten the value proposition over the past 6-9 months.  

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Posted (edited)

Silence isn't cheap ( ask me about my divorce!) . A silent power supply capable of putting out any sort of decent wattage is around $300 (or at least it was when I bought this one), Passive CPU coolers are $50 or so,  a decent case is $100, etc, etc.   Rest of the components are good enough and I don't think you could save enough on ASUS Mobo, etc piecing it together to justify the lack of any hardware warranty, sorting out drivers from the various vendors or time and frustration in getting it to work, flipping BIOS settings and boot orders and stuff.  I'm thinking like someone who has never built a PC,..and I have built a lot of them.   Assembling can be fun if you're a nerd like me, but I don't view it as a cost savings but a way to make sure something meets the specs for what I need (like the PCI slot for my ancient Delta 1010 - something you don't find on a system on the shelf at your local Costco.). 

 

Edited to add: Then I went in and actually configured it with something other than the basic config and...Holy Carp! You are right. Silly expensive.   Expensive enough to justify learning the arcane art of PC building and optimizing!

15 hours ago, Mark Morgon-Shaw said:

Stuff like HP & Dell often use their own custom parts with weird connectors

HP used to be like that and maybe still is (I stopped working on HP PCs for that very reason) but Dell has built to industry standards for a very long time.  In fact, they usually have a hand in creating the standards. There was a pin out on the power supplies on stuff around 2005 (Specifically the Dimension 8100) that was flipped but that is the only exception I can think of.   Dell drives and builds to standards because commodity hardware is what makes their business model make sense...They pay a lot less for the hardware because they order it by the container load and have excellent credit for 180 days payable to the vendor.  You buy a PC from them one day 1, they pay for the components 6 months after the system is shipped, having enjoyed 6 months of "Float" on your money.  Same would go for XPS and Alienware - I fed my family for a couple years as a Dell phone support person on the consumer side and got to know that hardware intimately. XPS and Alienware are sweet machines but they are optimized for gaming, not DAW, so money is spent on the wrong things for a DAW, like superduper graphics cards for zombie killing excursions.

Note that the BIOS on a Dell is proprietary and the mobos are specific to Dell for the most part, and the image from the factory will include bundled craplications but that's the extent of the custom components

Edited by StudioNSFW
My opinion changed...

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, StudioNSFW said:

Edited to add: Then I went in and actually configured it with something other than the basic config and...Holy Carp! You are right. Silly expensive.   Expensive enough to justify learning the arcane art of PC building and optimizing!

I guess it depends how quiet you need it for what you're doing. Personally I don't record a lot of live parts but if I do this off the shelf machine is fine . It 's not silent but it's not loud either, no louder than distant traffic or the central heating boiler.

It's fine for stuff like vocals and strummy acoustic guitar that I record..you can't hear any noise. I mainly make electronic music or working with Kontakt instruments but If I was recording a delicate nylon guitar part then sure it's something I might need to deal with damping the noise down some more. YMMV I guess depending on use case.

I'm not advocating a DIY build either, although I'm perfectly capable ( I sold PC's for 10yrs as my job ) I just got this new machine and it's running like a champ but it wasn't expensive for what it is - here is the link to the page..it would have cost £400 - 500 more from somewhere like Scan as a dedicated DAW build. Guessing I would have got a more expensive mobo - case - PSU and maybe GPU but honestly I don't feel I need them and I spent the money saved on a new Audio interface and streamdeck. 

https://www.awd-it.co.uk/elite-amd-ryzen-9-3900x-4.6ghz-twelve-core-ddr4-business-and-home-pc-system.html

I put the details in the Ryzen thread and how it's working now I got it all set up.

Edited by Mark Morgon-Shaw

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10 hours ago, Neil Ottenbreit said:

I found a local university student that will put a custom build together for me if I supply the components for $100. Yee Haw! 

It may not cost any more from a system builder company local to you. Actually it's not that hard these days compared to what it used to be.

 

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Yeah...I'm old and have a hybrid signal chain - lots happening outside the box -  and I  track a lot live,  plus whirring fans bug me anyway.   If you're going to build your own you can factor those preferences in.   The current DAW didn't cost much to put together  because I was able to scrap the power supply, 10Gb NIC card and case from the olde one, along with that antique Delta 1010.  One advantage to going into a custom built PC is that usually after the first one you have some components that can be repurposed into the eventual replacement. 

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