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  • Recommendation for new computer

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    I’d first like to thank the VSL team for their amazing products and support, and the forum community for their thoughtful advice and help getting newcomers like myself up and running. I hope that one day I’ll be able to give back to the community a fraction of what I’ve learned and am learning from you all.

    I am looking to replace my current clunky computer with one that is better equipped to handle VSL samples and software, but I find myself overwhelmed by the many choices of models and specs to choose from. I don’t have a very good sense of what sort of processing power, RAM, etc. would be necessary for the types of projects that I have in mind, so I was hoping to pick the brains of those with more experience for some suggestions.

    A bit about what I want to do:

    - Samples: I’m slowly adding the VSL DVD collections to my SE and SE Plus (extended) libraries. Most of my projects are for smaller ensembles (10-15 instruments), though I would also like to be able to compose for larger projects with 20+ full VSL instruments.

    - Software: I currently use Sibelius 6.2, VI Pro, and VE, and I would like to add VE Pro 5 and MIR Pro to the mix as well. I don’t use any digital audio programs such as Cubase or Logic.

    - I input music almost exclusively by mouse clicking in Sibelius, with a bit of step-time keyboard input. I don’t need to be able to input music in real time, and I don’t have any need for inputs from external instruments.

    - I would prefer, if possible, to do everything on a single computer.

    Given the above, what kind of equipment should I be looking at? Specifically:

    1. What kind of processor will I need?

    2. How much RAM would be sufficient? 24 GB?

    3. I understand a fast, separate hard drive is recommended. I assume that means one hard drive for the OS and programs and another for samples. What sort of drive is recommended?

    4. What kind of sound card would I need? Again, I don’t need any fancy inputs for external gear – I just need something that will play music with the software and samples listed above.

    5. What other bottleneck specs/equipment should I be aware of?

    Without knowing much at this point, here are a few models that I would consider:

    a. VisionDAW Core i7 Workstation (http://www.visiondaw.com/productcart/pc/in_configurePrd.asp?idproduct=611)

    b. MacPro (quad core?)

    c. HP Pavilion HPE h8se series (http://www.shopping.hp.com/webapp/shopping/computer_can_series.do?storeName=computer_store&category=desktops&a1=Category&v1=High+performance&series_name=h8se_series&jumpid=in_R329_prodexp/hhoslp/psg/desktops/High_performance/h8se_series)

    I’m such a newbie that I’m not even sure if I’m asking the right questions, so I appreciate your patience. I would very much appreciate any advice or suggestions that anyone might have.

    Best regards,

    Brian


  • Some good questions...

    Unfortunately, there is not an easy answer.  The computer that can handle the 4 SE libraries well, along with a few full DVD instruments is not the same computer that is needed to run say 40-50 tracks of instruments from the full DVD libraries with far more complex templates.  The more you gravitate towards the full libraries, the more powerful computer will be needed.

    24 gigs of ram should be enough.

    As for processor, I would wait until a bit more is known about the just released new Sandy Bridge processors.  I did see one early DAW benchmark that indicated the new 3960X had a 40% improvement over the 980 (not the 990X).  As the new Sandy Bridge chips allow for tri and quad channel ram, the limitation of the 2600/2700 having only 4 ram slots is no longer an issue.  The 3930K was nearly as good as the 3960X and at roughly 60% of the 3960X's cost.

    As for audio interface, if you can afford it, go straight to RME - whatever card best matches your needs.  If RME is not in the budget, something like the M-Audio Profire 610 might be a good choice (note that it is firewire).  There are other good options as well: Lynx would be another to consider. 

    As for computer, VSL's own staff, and others, state that their software does work better on PC as compared to the Mac (the why is a long story best answered by a VSL staff member).  Given that the computer will be for VSL, a PC seems the better choice.  However, if you buy a cheap off-the-shelf system, results are very likely to be poor, as the cheap systems use cheap parts that generally do not hold up well under the demands of digital audio.  My own suggestion would be to stay away from the HP's, Dell's, etc., at least any of their home models.  A server class machine might be ok, but, there are good reasons to go with a DAW builder, as you will get a system designed specifically for the intended purpose.  The support from a DAW builder can also prove to be vital.  The DAW world is a niche market outside the realm of HP's, Dell's, and other's, tech support.

    Regarding drives, one can easily manage to stream all of SE from one hard drive.  As you start adding full DVD libraries, it is better to start spreading the libraries over multiple drives.  By spreading samples over a number of drives, one can have samples streaming from multiple sources, rather than having to have one drive try to cope with everything.  The future is SSD, but cost considerations still tend to favor traditional drives (again depending on the total space your samples require).  Generally, once a traditional drive gets about 55-60% full, performance starts to decline.  Also, a large cache on the hard drive is good.  As you stated, the o/s does go on its own drive.

    MIR Pro will require susbstantially more power.  For example, I run a rather small/average setup under MIR SE, 24 gigs of ram, on an i7 930.  MIR SE maxes out at 32 tracks, and at 32 tracks using primarily full libraries (with some SE mixed in), I am pushing that processor about as far as one safely dares.  I would not try to run MIR Pro on it - it simply would not be powerful enough (for that I would probably go straight at least to the 3930K.  Note that even in MIR SE, 12 gigs of ram is limiting.

    Based on your comments, once MIR Pro SE is released that could be a real option, especially for working with the munber of tracks you mention (assuming MIR Pro SE remains at 32 tracks, the same as MIR SE).  VSL has not said when MIR Pro SE will be released, but only that it will be released at some point.

    In general, if budget allows, it is better to build a computer with at least some headroom, so you aren't maxed out from the very start.


  • Thank you very much for the informative reply. That's exactly the type of information I was after, and I think I've made some progress towards narrowing down my search.

    I will indeed wait to see what the verdict is with regard to the new Sandy Bridge processors. They seem to be promising, according to the brief reviews I've read.

    I've heard good things about RME audio interfaces, though I admit I still need to figure out what makes one better than another. I'm now using a pretty cheap M-Audio USB one, and I can't tell the difference between that and the (even cheaper) integrated audio card of my current system. I suspect the differences will become more apparent as I use bigger samples and more demanding software such as MIR. Given the type and size of projects I plan on working on, I wonder what features, other than multiclient support, I should look for in an audio interface? Something to look into, for sure.

    I appreciate your suggestion to stay away from the generic HPs, Dells, etc. Without knowing otherwise, it would be easy to be drawn to the lower price for somewhat comparable specs. I'll definitely look into DAW builders instead.

    I hadn't considered the importance of streaming samples from multiple drives rather than a single drive. Perhaps something like the Anglebird Wing/Crest configurations might be something to consider.

    I'm glad to hear that VSL doesn't plan to discontinue MIR SE altogether. If the track limit of MIR Pro SE remains at 32, that may be much better suited to the size of my projects than the full-fledged version.

    So, I've got some homework to do, but you've truly helped me move in the right direction. Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

    Best,

    Brian


  • Thanks for the comment.  In general, a more expensive audio card will use better converters, giving better sound.  RME is particularly noted for having good drivers (another issue with cheap cards).  Poor drivers can lead to all kinds of problems.

    In my own situation, RME was not in my budget (wish it was), nor at this time are SSD's.  Angelbird Wing/Crest does look interesting, and if VSL suggests a product, it certainly warrants a long look.

    One thing you did not mention: what are you using to listen to your projects?  Having great samples, and a good audio card paired to very poor speakers/bad headphones (not to mention the listening environment itself) can be self-defeating.


  • I see. They're not cheap, but it sounds like RME will be the way to go then.

    Until now, I've just used some old speakers or cheap headphones to listen to my projects. I do like the idea of investing in some speakers of quality commensurate with the rest of the equipment I'm looking at, but the space itself is quite small with poor accoustics, so I wonder if I'd be better off just buying some good headphones.


  • If you search the forums, you will find at least a few threads asking about good headphones (and nearfield monitors/speakers as well).  Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Grado, and some others are all worth looking at.  I have an older pair of Sennheiser headphones myself (discontinued 580's).  The 650's are used by many, and would be one suggestion.

    As for what option is best for you in dealing with your room, I am not an expert about these things (know enough to be dangerous), and making a specific suggestion about what the best route for you to go would not be wise.  What can be said is that without decent listening options, without being able to hear what is going on, it is very difficult to get very far.  From your description, it seems like you will need to plan on addressing that area as well.


  • I found a couple of interesting threads about headphones here and on other forums. It may not be ideal, but at least it'll be less expensive than an elaborate sound system. For the time being, there's little I can do about the physical space I'll be working in; maybe someday down the road.

    Again, thanks so much for all the time you've put into helping me understand what I will need. I've got plenty of research to do now, so it'll be a little while before I make the plunge, but I'll report back when I do.

    All the best,

    Brian