Tips for Building a Music PC

Feel free to hi-jack this thread for your own PC Build

My 2011 MacBook Pro has been in decline for years and it is time for an upgrade. Please help me build the most stable, reliable desktop Windows PC for $1000 (more or less). This would be dedicated solely to music production and would not be used for any sort of video/image editing or casual personal use at all (No Netflix, YouTube, etc). I plan to disconnect it from the internet aside from DAW updates. Last time I built a PC was about 13 years ago for gaming, so I am way out of practice.

I’ll be running a combination of Renoise/Reaper, two of the leanest DAWs out there. No Orchestral Libraries or Kontakt or anything like that. I don’t think I’ll need the most powerful machine on earth. I’m pretty set on the Babyface Pro FS as the audio interface.

The specs I’m looking at right now (which of course will be upgradeable, something I miss greatly)

  • i5 or i7 CPU
  • 16gb RAM
  • 256gb SSD M.2 NVMe (Boot Disk and to run DAWs off of)
  • Second 256gb SSD (Internal or External, to write/record to)
  • Ports: 3-4x USB, 1-2x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, 1x HDMI
  • Possibly a very inexpensive graphics card to lighten the load on the CPU
  • Windows 10 Pro 64

Case, power supply, motherboard and cooling I’m clueless. Let’s leave monitor, keyboard and mouse out of this, I have those covered.

Any tips, recommendations, suggestions? Specific components, brands, things to look out for, ways to optimize the build for music production, etc.

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GPUs and CPUs are not interchangeable in terms of the types of tasks they process. If your motherboard doesn’t have some sort of built in GPU you’re going to have to buy one regardless. Built-in GPUs are sort of a thing of the past at this point.

Plus…
A CPU fan. The bigger the quieter.
A proper AC.
A box to wrap it up. Cheaps one are noisy.

You don’t want to hear your computer =)

I just went down this rabbit hole. I ended up with a Lenovo thinkcentre m93p. not because it is super fast, or even because of the name. I got it from a friend who gets a lot of ewaste at work. I was also looking for a small for factor, because my studio is super small. It has a i7-4770, which is twice the speed of my laptop. I think it also has a decent GPU card built in. It also came with 24gb ram, which my friend found another 8gb, so I now have max 32gb (not gaming, high speed, just the stuff it came with)
I searched a lot for desktops before my friend found one… If you aren’t looking for a gaming PC, you can get a quadcore system from 3-5 years ago for really cheap. Now they are up to 8 cores (which would be fun, but they are expensive). If you are shopping, what I did with the processor, was check the cpu-benchmark.
This is my cpu rating -
https://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i7-4770+%40+3.40GHz&id=1907
The “Average CPU Mark” is what you want to look at. My laptop is three thousand something. The new i9’s are in the 14,000 range, and if you want one, you can get one for under a thousand bucks.
This for example is the new version of my aging new computer-
https://www.dell.com/en-us/work/shop/desktops-all-in-one-pcs/vostro-small-desktop/spd/vostro-3471-desktop/smv3471w10ph217r7
I have zero problems with fan noise (which was a major concern). When I want to start working on music, I just go to my studio and turn it on. If you would like to build your own, I’m sorry I can’t help. That’s something I would rather not spend my time on. As long as I can do what I need to do…and I can with this PC, I’m happy. I don’t need to spend time doing anything but music work.

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If you have the i7 2011 MacBook Pro this would be your benchmark…
https://www.cpubenchmark.net/cpu.php?cpu=Intel+Core+i7-2720QM+%40+2.20GHz&id=883
Pretty fast for almost 10 years old. But, Having 16+gb in ram can be a game changer for audio.

I’ve been lurking around various PC groups channels thinking to do my own build. I try and stave it off as much as possible to keep my coin, but still the gas lingers.

Do you know pcpartpicker? Check it out online. You can piece all your parts together and suss out any compatibility issues. Thunderbolt is obviously a mobo concern but u want to make sure your case has the connections also.

Its a slippery slope, and a lot like modulargrid. I’m constantly prototyping various build shopping carts, oscillating between budget and master race (lol).

But it’s funny. I’ve been a Mac stalwart my whole life but now Windows is appealing to me for certain reasons. There’s nothing in particular keeping me on Mac anymore, however my 2017 15” MBP certainly seems to still cover all of what I need it to do. It’s surprising how capable laptops are these days.

With PC, the bang for buck argument still stands, if looking to save cash it can be the way to go. But PC laptops I’ve found are in the same ballpark price-wise for the same specs, sometimes even more expensive (such as Razor laptops).

Still, audio won’t nearly be as demanding as video, so just get the best CPU you can afford. A decent GPU will cover off any video processing your apps need.

I’ll be sure to post my build here if and when it gets off the ground. Me personally, I’m in love with the mini ITX scene and see myself heading down that road, eventually.

If you are self building a PC primarily for music applications you do not need a GPU, the in-built graphic capabilities of the i5/i7 CPUs is more than sufficient (even for watching videos).

Installing an unnecessary GPU demands more power, creates more heat and can even cause software conflicts.

?? All CPUs have built in GPUs and at this point they’re good enough for all but the most graphics-intensive tasks.

Look into the AMD Ryzen range OP, tons of power for less money than Intel.

I would rather add a small gpu instead of using the onboard graphics. The system performance benefits a lot from a dedicated graphic chip. If you stick to the usual Geforce or Radeon cards you won´t have any problems with drivers or compatibility. Heat and power are minimal if you don´t use it for gaming or video editing.

It’s high time I do another PC build.

@mattleaf thank you for pcpartpicker.

  • what about light video editing? 1080p from a phone/dslr to go along with track excerpts on IG? Maybe some videofx applied? Does that require a gpu? If so, more power too? I don’t plan on doing any serious gaming (maybe an old school nintendo port or two)

  • in audio, does it help to have daw/samples/vsts on an ssd or is an hdd good enough?

  • what killed me in my last pc build was the socket I chose was only good for one iteration of cpu. How often do they change sockets?

As long as you have sufficient RAM there are no system performance benefits to be gained by adding a dedicated GPU to a PC (assuming you don’t engage in heavy video applications like games or 3d rendering etc.).

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Using only SSDs is probably the biggest speed benefit you will see in a PC build. I have swapped out HDDs for SSDs on many peoples older laptops to give them a new lease of life. With the current prices of SSDs there is no need to consider HDDs unless you require TerraByte storage space.

You can always add a GPU to your PC build at a later stage if you require greater graphics processing power.

If you use one of the better current generation of CPUs you shouldn’t have to worry about MB socket changes for quite a few years. Current generation computers are really powerful for most (if not all) audio applications.

Also, make sure to select a good quality power supply of sufficient Wattage and note that many audio devices are/can be USB powered.

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First priority is fastest single core speed figures. Not all DAWs can take advantage of that sick 24 virtual core monster CPU so single core speed is the stat to maximize. Research your DAWs to see how much they can use multi core and hyper threading.

I highly suggest you go bigger on your music drive if you can.

Research DPC latency performance of the motherboards you consider. You won’t always find this info but DPC latency is the biggest killer of audio performance so better to know before you go in.

The GPU isn’t necessary unless you buy an Intel CPU that specifically does not include the onboard Intel HD graphics. FYI everyone onboard intel graphics are discrete GPUs but they live on the same die as the CPU. Yes you are sharing memory but I would challenge anyone to put up proof that their music production would be hampered because of the onboard GPU.

If you buy a GPU internet wisdom will tell you to go AMD/Radeon as NVIDIA is a common cause of DPC latency issues. My DAW PC (Intel i5-9600K) does not run a GPU but my last one had an NVIDIA 1070 and the drivers often caused DPC latency leading to snaps, crackles, and pops.

Invest in a dedicated USB card for your audio interface.

Noctua Fans - high performance and nearly silent even at full tilt. Don’t even look at other fans/coolers unless you can’t Find one that fits your case.

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@Stickhit @IMA_JRK thank you both. Amazing info. I’ve been reading articles on PC builds for audio and not one has mentioned a lot of this stuff ( esp not DPC).

@IMA_JRK (which you aren’t) the USB card should be in addition to whatever USB is available on the motherboard?

I built my new PC some months ago; it’s a dual boot Win10 Pro PC (boot 1: Music - boot 2: Games).
The components are:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X;
  • Mobo: Asus ROG STRIX X570-I GAMING;
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 64 Gb DDR4;
  • GPU: Sapphire Radeon RX 5700 XT;
  • SSD: 2 x Kingston KC2000 SSD M.2 2280 NVMe 2000 Gb + two old 500Gb Samsung 840 Evo;
  • PSU: EVGA SuperNOVA 750 G3;
  • Case: Raijintek Case METIS Evo Als Silver Mini-ITX;
  • Fans: 2 x Noctua NF-A9 PWM + 1 x Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM;
  • CPU cooler: Noctua NH-L9x65 SE-AM4.

The CPU mark on that is insane! Over 32,000! Wow. I had no idea.

The standard Ryzen don’t perform so well at low latency, theres a thread at GS with a lot of detailed. I have 3550h which is , just about, high performance series and I use 64 buffer settings.

Don’t buy 1 256gb HD, just buy 512.

If you’re building a new one just start with 16gb ram too.

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Yes. Your first priority is to give your audio interface as much chance to record error free low latency recordings. Best way is to get your audio interface on its own USB interface connected to PCI bus so it’s not sharing a bus with your key lair and mouse.

Generally I would suggest looking for a card with NEC/Renasas USB chipset and maybe avoid ASMedia.

What kind of interface do you have? If it has Thunderbolt you can skip the extra ISB Card.

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There is a dedicated thread on gearsluts that I always visit for inspiration when building a new system.

I5 or i7 for me would be dependant on how you work. If you run out of cpu fast, then go i7. You really notice the speed difference.

I have a amd GPU as my onboard Intel and a nvidia gave me the problems stated a few posts up. Not everybody has these problems though.

What I like to do is not get the newest stuff, but the good stuff that has already dropped in price. Most of the time the new stuff is overpriced.

I’m back because now it’s get-er-done time.

I need to build a new PC. Pretty limited budget, unfortunately. I wondered if you could offer some feedback on the parts I’ve picked out. Any tips or suggestions on anything is most welcome.

Here’s what I already have
COOLERMASTER RC-590-KKN1 Centurion
Western Digital WD Green WD20EARX 2TB 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5
WD 640GB 7200rpm 64Mb SATA2 WD6400AARS
CORSAIR TX650W
External Seagate 5TB

The parts I’ve picked:
Gigabyte H410M H
Intel i5 10400
Aegis 2x8gb 30000mhz
Kingston A2000 250gb SSD
Sapphire Radeon RX-550 4gb
Cooler: suggestions welcome. the stock cooler on my old cpu is too noisy. I won’t be doing any hardcore gaming so don’t need anything serious but quiet would be nice.

Clearly a budget build. I could stretch it a bit, but not much. Audio production is first priority, light gaming second. Video editing and streaming games (I have a teen) would also be great. I use an RME Babyface with Behringer ADA8K.

I took seriously the discussion above about DPC. Unfortunately I couldn’t efficiently figure out how to search for a motherboard with quality components (PCI switch, Intel LAN etc). How can I look for motherboards with these kind of specifications?

I mostly use Reaper as a recorder for my hardware. I don’t usually do more than 16 tracks but it would be nice to ensure I have the room to spare. VSTs are most often employed to edit as oppose to sound design. I often use Reaktor. I would like to use VCV and Zebra more often. I am interested in someday getting into something like Max or Bitwig but that’s a long way off.

Any tips or suggestions you have would be most welcome. Thank you in advance.