I don’t like computers. I like the idea of them well enough, just not the actual boxes. Meanwhile I don’t even like the idea of shopping, even for things I like. Not online, not in stores, not in a box, not with a fox, not here or there, not anywhere. However, when I screwed the pooch on my last working machine I was forced to get out there and get something.
Now some other background fun facts based on buying/building DAWs for nearly 20 years:
As an over arching philosophy of hardware and software: forget about what should work. Just give it up. I am completely burned out on technicians, engineers, support staff and sales people telling me what combination of the hardware and software should work. Either sound comes out of the speakers or it doesn’t. Either I can use my hosts and plugins or it blue screens my system. No other industry I know of promises so much and gets away with so little so my work around has been to accept that I will get overcharged for basic, if uneven, performance. To adopt a common axiom in every other walk of life:
If it sounds like it “should just work”, it’s probably too good to be true.
Or put another way: Buying cheap gets you cheap. In the old days I used to go (or dispatch others) to swap meets to pick up parts and build PCs. In those days an off-the-shelf PC was completely out of the question for a DAW, even a MIDI-only box (recording audio was pretty much out of the question, even after you souped up a PC). Opening up a box to replace the hard drive, put in a sound card, adjust jumpers on the MIDI card, etc. were going to happen anyway so you might as well build the whole box.
Then the Internet happened and, even though it was slightly more expensive, the advent of bare-bones systems that would be built for you and shipped to your house.
Here’s why I stopped all that that about 10 years ago:
- Even though I was building my own boxes and trying to move components like hard disks and sound cards forward to save money, I almost always had to replace those components anyway with the new box because of compatibility issues (e.g. bus size).
- These machines were louder than a drier full of sneakers.
- They only worked about 50% of time. Sometimes they never booted up from the box, sometimes they lasted a few months before I had to reformat every week or so to recover from crazy errors.
- About 10 years ago off-the-shelf brand computers started showing almost enough muscle to be DAWs.
Here’s what’s left of all the arguments NOT to buy an off the shelf brand name computer for a DAW:
- You will probably spend $300-$400 more, probably for features you will never use
- You have to spend a day uninstalling all their “partner” software,
Now that I have external USB hard drives and USB sound devices I haven’t opened up a PC in almost 10 years.
I just bought what amounts to one of these at Fry’s mainly because it was the baddest machine they had. The version I have is a Dual Core 2 Duo with something called an Intel “Viv” chip. Don’t have a clue what that is. This was not the best informed decision I’ve ever made, I have a nagging feeling that if I had more time to research it and wasn’t desperate to get back up and running I might have ended up with a similar dual-boot Intel based Mac, maybe for about the same money. Or maybe not. I wanted to experiment for once: I wanted to see if part of the problem I’ve had is being too cheap for my music’s own good.
Here’s what I do know: Ableton Live 6 was designed to work with dual core in mind and for the first time in my life every I have zero latency on MIDI or live guitar recordings. I pummel the thing with high powered, CPU hungry plugins, then I run Reason in ReWire mode with it’s own full rack of instruments and FX and I can’t the CPU meter above 7%.
I load FL Studio with a project that I had to split up because my old machine was freezing when I hit ‘play’. On my new DAW I add half a dozen of the heaviest FX I have and the CPU tops out at 22%.
There are several variables including an empty hard disk and twice as much RAM as my last machine that could easily account for this. Still, the fact that there are 2 CPU cores, both running dual mode have to be making a difference.
I’ve heard people give mixed reviews of Dual Core systems so I’m sure having 2gig of RAM has to be a huge factor. Either way, I’m impressed with the performance and have run out of excuses for using brand name computers for DAWs.