Building a Custom Audio PC

I started working on a project that required HD video and some some heavy audio processing. Seeing that I’ve built a few custom pc’s in the past, I didn’t hesitate to jump right in and begin my research. My budget was $1500 (Canadian dollars) taxes in, I knew it would be tight, but definitely feasible.

Unfortunately nothing was salvageable from my last builds, time goes by fast in the tech industry and as they say… your computer is only as strong as it’s weakest component. To begin here’s a breakdown of the parts I would need:

 

 

  1. Processor
  2. Motherboard
  3. GPU (video card)
  4. RAM
  5. Hard drives
  6. Case
  7. Operating system
  8. DVD drive

[Processor] I started by researching the type of processor I wanted to go with, because some of the following parts depend on this for compatibility. The new generation of Intel-core Sandy and Ivy bridge seemed like the way to go in terms of performance with quad core processing you can’t really go wrong. I’m not one to overclock the hell out of my components, so I wanted something strong out of the box and would require the least amount fiddling. At the time of purchase the Intel i7 3770 fit the specs for the price I wanted.  Some specs: (For full specs click here)

  • Intel i7 3770 – Ivy Bridge
  • Max clock speed of 3.4 GHz
  • 4 cores
  • 8 threads
  • 8 MB cache/smart cache
  • 1155 Socket compatibility
  • 32 GB Max memory

The 3770K version was a bit more expensive, but allows for heavy overclocking.

[Motherboard] Next up the board and with an Ivy bridge the Z77 platform seemed the way to go. I opted for the ASUS P8Z77-V LX due to it’s recommended 1155 socket compatibility with the above 3770 processor. It’s known as a budget board that can outperform mobo’s in in more expensive categories and allows for some overclocking to maximize performance. My only criteria was a PCI 2.0 expansion slot for an RME HDSP system and it had 3. This would connect via firewire to an RME Hammerfall DSP Multiface.
Specification short list (For full specs click here)
  • Z77 Intel chipset
  • 4 x DIMM, 32 GB, DDR3 MHz memory
  • 4 x USB 3.0 ports, 10 x USB 2.0 ports
  • Supports Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2
  • Realtek® ALC887 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC
  • ASUS Fan Xpert+, ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution
  • 1 x PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16, 1 x PCIe 2.0 x16 , 2 x PCIe 2.0 x1, 3 x PCI Expansion slots
  • 2 x SATA 6Gb/s ports, 4 x SATA 3Gb/s ports Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10 Storage
[GPU] I wanted something that can handle HD video editing and as well as high resolution gaming. The EVGA GTW 560 Ti had both options covered with CUDA core architecture, great overall specs and performance reviews. (For full specs click here)
  • Dual DVI connectors and 1 HDMI mini
  • 2 Monitors supported
  • 2560 x 1600 Maximum resolution
  • PCI Express 2.0 interface
  • GDDR5 memory type
  • 1024 MB memory
  • 384 stream processor
[RAM] I’ll be honest when it comes to RAM so many companies produce a solid product with similar specs, making a choice is tough. I relied on the recommendation of the Videoguys DIY9 build guide. They speak highly of the G. Skill RipjawsZ, so I coped 4 x 4GB, DDR3 1600 MHz RAM. Includes lifetime warranty, 240-pin DIMM, Intel XMP certified. (Full full specs click here)

 

[Drives] I’ve been hearing fantastic things about SSD drives and the advantages it brings to your OS speed. This was a logical choice and is honestly quite impressive between boot time and launching applications. OCZ vertex had a great price for an SSD 128 GB, without hesitation I bought it. Here are some quick specs (For full specs click here):
  • SATA III / 6Gbps (backwards compatible with SATA II / 3Gbps) Interface
  • Up to 1GB DRAM cache
  • NAND Controller: Indilinx Everest 2
  • 5 years parts and labor limited warranty
Also grabbed a Seagate SATA III 2TB as my media drives. I use this for storing anything media related, audio libraries, audio sessions, itunes library, photos, etc. Everything a part from the actual applications.
[Case] This is one of the more important components, not in terms of performance, but how well it diffuses and absorbs sound. Looking for a reasonably priced silent case is tough, as audio enthusiasts our impression of quiet may be different from manufacturers. There are many companies that claim silent but leave much to be desired. The Coolmaster silencio 550 had excellent reviews and includes some nice features. The side panels include acoustic foam covering up the large surface. I tested the loudness after the build and my room came it at 33 dBA, not too bad. Top of the case contains 2 x USB (2.0, 3.0), line-out, SD card, power and reset button.  (For full specs click here)

[Power supply] I received a lot of tips for power supplies some that suggested up to 800W of power, which is a bit of overkill in my opinion. Based on my system I was probably going to pull no more than 400W. Being a fan of Antec products I picked up the Antec Earthwatts platinum 550W. (For full specs click here)
  • ATX12V / EPS12V type
  • 24Pin main connector
  • 5 SATA connectors
  • SLI Ready
  • Not modular

[DVD] Now a days it seems a bit ridiculous to buy a DVD drive, but good to have around especially for OS installation and old programs. Picked up an LG for $15.

[OS] Seeing that I don’t plan on upgrading to more than 16 GB of RAM the need for Windows Pro isn’t a requirement. That said, i’m sporting Windows 7 home 64 bit. There are other advantages to Professional, Entreprise or Ultimate… check out the comparison chart.

This time around I had the fine folks at Canada Computers assemble it. They provided great cable management and component / bios updates (A big time saver for me). Even with this 50$ cost I ended up under budget with it totaling up at $1496 Canadian dollars taxes in. Having used the computer for over a month with varying degrees of performance there’s been very little comprise in component vs. price.  Also a big shout out to Chester at Canada Computers (the DDO store) for the great recommendations.

*** [OS Installation and Optimization] I’ve been a fan of blackviper’s configuration since XP. Always a clear and concise guide to optimizing your operating system for better performance. But be weary, I would avoid dabbling too much if you’re not familiar with this stuff. Tweak and test as you go to insure every step works seamlessly. Select your OS and begin!

Also check out Native Instruments tuning tips for audio processing. A great guide to customize your audio machine even further.

Windows 7 guide
Windows Vista
Windows XP
__________

Hope this guide helps you select your next machine or can provide optimizing tweaks to make your PC a more powerful audio station. Add any feedback you have in the comments. Enjoy!

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  1. Pingback: Building a Custom Audio PC | Creating Sound

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