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My Proposed Computer

Buying or building computers for Hauptwerk, recommendations, troubleshooting computer hardware issues.
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bobhehmann

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Re: My Proposed Computer

PostSat Feb 27, 2021 10:06 pm

First, everything Ed said immediately above ^^^. You can absolutely acquire (MAC) or acquire, have built, or build yourself (PC) a wonderful VPO PC. Over the years, I've both personally and professionally dealt with all above options except contracting to have someone build me a fully custom machine (beyond normal mainstream vendor pre-configured customization of standard pre-defined models.) All have a creditable place in our VPO world. Apple has usually focused on high-perceived quality, tightly integrated, it-just-works models, with somewhat fewer options, at a price premium. And they paid special attention to the music world. At the highest end, far beyond VPO needs, this premium for the same performance could be 3-4x ($20,000 PC, anyone?) over a similar performing Windows PC - for the highest end workstations used by CGI creators as an example. At the consumer/pro-sumer level, the premium typically was far more reasonable, perhaps 50%-ish. Suitable Windows machines could be had, but those vendors didn't place much value having great audio performance without serious tweaking by the end user. Three or more years ago, you had to take special care with most Windows PCs to get glitch-free audio - you'll see lots of historical notes on this forum regarding that topic. I certainly had to pay attention to those "tricks" when playing HW on older/slower PCs.

More recently, I think the Windows world has caught up regarding tweaking - over the last 2-ish years, CPUs of middling or higher performance are fast enough that I've found my tweaking needs are exactly zero - just like the MAC experience. However, the integration complexity/choices are still there with Windows, far more than with MAC.

I can't make many specific hard-recommendations at this point for two reasons - I don't know your needs, and the market has simply gone crazy. C19 has damaged the silicon supply-chain that feeds the semiconductor industry. Some auto-assembly lines had to stop, lacking the chips to complete cars - they've now been prioritized, at the expense of a lot of PC parts. Common parts often can not be had at any price, or only from scalpers of dubious reputation at 2-3 or more times MSRP. I wouldn't personally attempt to build a non-trivial personal PC at this instant, haven't kept up, and couldn't in good faith make hard recommendations. However, I will suggest a few things to consider:

1) Regardless of your acquisition (purchase off-the-shelf, contract-to-build, build yourself...), figure out your best estimate of your gross needs. What kinds of sample-sets do you see yourself wanting now, and perhaps over the next few years? Simple stereo, or are you going to want to load/use various levels of surround? How much twiddling/optimization of sets do you want to undertake to get them to fit, if memory is limited? Budget: what is ideal and max. Great advice I heard this week - if you cannot afford 2x your ideal budget, you can't afford it. You may not need to spend the extra, but you need headroom.
2) Once you have an idea of your minimum acceptable capabilities, and ideal / grow-to capabilities, you can think about things like: how much memory? CPU? To a lesser extent, Case, Power, MOBO...
3) For myself, I decided I wanted to start with 64GB, but be able to grow to 128MB (which I've since done.) I saw sets like Laurenskerk in my future, and larger as providers take advantage of more memory. I purchase Alessandria last week, and can near saturate my CPU with it while playing simple 2-part counterpoint. No problems, less-obvious pipes will be shut down before it damages the sound production, but for the first time for me, something is actually driving my CPU. Most Intel/AMD consumer motherboards of normal size (called ATX) have four memory slots, and you can populate 1, 2, or 4 slots, ideally with the same memory in each slot. So if 64 to start, to grow to 128, then 2x32 to start, 2 more 32GB when you grow. For AMD processors of the class appropriate to a VPO (3600, 3800, 3900 (last year's models), 5600, 5900... (this year's)), memory of type DDR4-3200 or 3600 is appropriate. Faster than that hasn't proven to gain much in performance while costing a lot more. I'd go 3200 memory with an AMD 3XXX, 3600 clock on the more modern 5xxx family.
4) Assuming you are not going to overclock your CPU (not particularly needed for a VPO), just let the MOBO and CPU make the clock-speed decisions (Turbo-boost for Intel, PBO for AMD). Most chips of the class I listed above (those were AMDs, Intel has roughly competitively matching part numbers) can operate just fine with a decent high-quality, near silent fan tower for CPU cooling - water cooling not needed, and I would avoid.
5) Some CPUs of this class directly support basic monitor/graphic output, in coordination with their appropriate matching MOBO - in which case, an external graphics card may not be needed, unless you need more monitors than the MOBO supports. Other CPUs do not support graphics output from the CPU, even if their MOBO does - these need an external graphics card. You don't need a mid or high-end gamer's card for a VPO (those are in short supply right now, the market is impossibly mucked up), but a low end card (normal retail USD $35-75) should suite just fine. Main consideration will be how many monitors, 1, 2, or sometimes 3 being common configs.
6) Case size. The most common MOBO and Case is called ATX. These are mid-sized to huge, and generally fit most common options. Absent a high-end video card, cooling that case won't require too much - commonly an exhaust fan in back, and an intake fan in front. Some cases include their fans, some don't. If you want a small, minimalist case, things get trickier. There are standard sizes, and standard reduced size MOBOs to fit, but those have to start dropping things to reduce their size - for example, commonly only 2 memory slots, rather than 4. Less room for the CPU cooler. Fewer option slots. Perhaps only a small/short video card. Etc.
7) If shopping AMD, the B550 line of MOBOs can have excellent value. A year ago, when I bought, only the pricier X570 MOBOs were useful - but since then, this new reduced-cost line has made it to market, and you get 90% the bang for way less $.
8) Power supplies - add up your total expected power, and then leave some headroom, 40-50% extra at a minimum. This is not for expansion, but is the sweet-spot for efficiency and stability. Absent a high-end graphics card, I'm guessing you'll be in the range of 400/500Watts with the headroom included in that figure. Remember, the power supply only draws what it needs at the moment (plus efficiency loss i.e. heat!) - so if you're hardware is drawing 200 watts useful power, your PSI is only drawing slightly more (that heat loss) - the 450/500 or whatever is just the max. "Modular" supplies have plugs for all their cables on the PSU box, and include a substantial set of commonly used compatible cables - this way, you only need to install power cables for things presently in your case, reducing clutter. Bargain models generally solder all their cables in, so all kinds of unneeded cables are permanently attached to the PSU, and you have to figure out what to do with them inside your case. If budget allows, I'd go the few extra dollars for modular - and that is often associated with higher quality PSU electrical design - a major item. A failing PSU frying delicate electronics is one of the most common modes of eventual disastrous PC failure.
9) Storage - recommend minimum 1TB M.2-NVME SSD for your main boot drive, plus software, plus at least the HW cache. 2TB if budget allows - that will cost about twice as much, not much economy of scale. If possible, I'd add a second drive, perhaps a less-expensive SATA SSD, to store the less actively used data, such as the raw sample sets, HW intermediate data, user data et al: stuff you access, but not too often.
10) Have a backup strategy in place. Perhaps a large internal HDD (I use a 6TB Seagate Barracuda for this, but my machine is for far more than just HW VPO.) Or use a cloud-based backup, such as Backblaze. FYI, as an IT professional, I cannot overstate how poor most folk's backup strategies are. Doctrine is, for data you really care about, you ideally need three copies - the active original, a local backup (can be another internal disk or an external disk), and a remote/offsite backup. Your PC is stolen, or you have a fire? Did you just lose important data? If you intend to keep your VPO-PC 100% off the Internet, you might be able to optimize, but that is a big leap of faith. If you do have a backup strategy, test it once in a while. Your "C:\" drive (OS, HW, cache, most programs, most data) just crashed. Can you restore it? Your first run shouldn't be when a disaster strikes. OK, off soap-box, bad Bob....
11) Ports - lots of USB is useful. In this class, most MOBOs will support several versions of USB, including the latest USB3.2 ("C"). Except for the "C" version with its newer plug design, all the other versions are fully cross-compatible. The MOBO will expose a lot of USB ports on the back-side, and will have plugs on the board to connect cable to additional ports found on the front of your case. The cables for this will come with the case. Ideally, you will want a case that supports at least 1 (usually it is just 1) USB3C port - this is the latest, highest speed variant.
12) Audio - many mid-range MOBO's have excellent on-board audio, way better than a few years back. Good enough for a (stereo) starter VPO. Gamers drove this, they wanted high-end sound quality for their headphones. If you use that, be sure to use an "ASIO" driver, such as the free ASIO4ALL - this is far more efficient that the native Windows drivers, and will basically eliminate glitches in audio with these modern CPUs. If going eternal D/A (and many/most of us eventually do!), there are a huge number of available external devices with many channels of high-quality output. Most of these will work perfectly well with a mid-speed USB port, and often have an embedded MIDI interface also. They'll generally come with a specialized ASIO driver, which you will want to load and use, instructions will be in the box. FireWire is essentially dead, I would avoid it, and Thunderbolt is mostly seen in professional studio-level gear that makes money for its owner, and is priced on that assumption. Not much traction in the consumer space. For what its worth, I'd stick with a USB-based audio interface. A mid-speed USB port on the back of your MOBO should not be stressed by a 10 channel, 24 bit, 96kHz audio interface.
13) Windows - you'll need to acquire a (legal) license - Win10 Consumer or Pro are both fine. There is a tremendous amount of fraud / near fraud / deceit in the general marketplace, so if you don't buy it officially from Microsoft, you may not be getting what you think you bought, and you may not have recourse. These third-party licenses are often technically legal, but are often previously used in ways that may preclude your ability to move them to a new computer in the future, or make a significant upgrade to your existing computer and stay licensed. This is not theory, I've worked with Amazon and Microsoft running down a few of these fraudsters. If the price is too good to be true, then it isn't what you think it is. Presently, Win10 continues to run if not properly licensed, but will shut down some of its less important features (like all GUI customization), and start nagging. Of course, MS might change their policy, and it could just stop running at al in the future.
14) pcpartspicker.com - this website runs a rules-based engine that is aware of all the current parts on the market, and guides you through building a PC of any type based on presently sold parts. It understands with high accuracy and coverage how things interact (physical compatibility, power, logical compatibility...), and will guide you away from mistakes - such as how much power is needed, does this part fit in that case when I have this thingy also installed, am I missing something required to run, is everything technically compatible...? It is free, can keep you away from many common mistakes, and folks post their pet builds and prices for all type of machines, with implied competition for price/performance. You can even describe your target use, and publish a proposed build for community comment. Both amateurs and professionals use this site. It also links to current pricing and availability data for most common parts, and can price shop and even issue purchase orders for you to buy everything you want all at once. I don't know how that last capability is functioning in these virus-times, but useful when the market is normal.

A few thoughts, (a few too many!), I hope you find something useful in here, and sorry I couldn't be more specific at this time.
Cheers, Bob
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Erzahler

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Re: My Proposed Computer

PostSat Feb 27, 2021 10:21 pm

Many thanks Ed and Bob for your answer and experience.
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David Baldwin

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Re: My Proposed Computer

PostSun Feb 28, 2021 11:30 am

I would like to say thankyou to all of you for your comments. I didn't realise I had so many choices. I am in my 70's and this will probably be the last computer for Hauptwerk that I shall buy. (I started with HW v1) There are constraints on me, mainly financial. My wife has things she would like to spend money on and I do have other hobbies.
Some body suggested that I should specify what I want to achieve. I want to load sample sets faster and those of a larger size. My current machine has 24 Gb ram and an I7 processor. The ram is at a maximum. It is 11 years old and has worked hard. I have 2 touch screens so I shall take a graphics card from my previous machine.

Thank you guys, I am very grateful for your help.
(Dr.) David G. Baldwin
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engrssc

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Re: My Proposed Computer

PostSun Feb 28, 2021 12:26 pm

i7 is a good start and probably the most expensive component.

Which i7 version do you have? If you are running Windows 10, click on Settings, System. In the left column, scroll all the way down to bottom -About. Under Processor it will list which i7 version is installed.

Next it would useful to know which motherboard is installed. Relatively speaking, MOBO's aren't real expensive. For speed, esp loading speed, the mobo would need at least one M.2 socket.

What I'm getting at is it could be possible for you to reuse many existing parts in order to upgrade your system at a much less cost than a complete new computer.

Items such as the case, power supply and others possibly could be reused. And don't be intimidated by the thought of "doing construction" with your computer. If you've never done anything inside the computer "box" if you didn't already, have a look at this video which I mentioned previously. While it shows a new build, all the principles shown are basic which could be used for an upgrade.

[urlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_71ArmcP9G8[url]

One thing I do when getting into something new is to take many pictures from different angles. Then print them so as to have a place to write notes.

Rgds,
Ed
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engrssc

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Re: My Proposed Computer

PostMon Mar 01, 2021 3:17 pm

A recent analysis of the power behavior of Intel desktop CPUs illustrated that there’s no point whatsoever in buying an expensive K-class CPU if you do not intend to overclock. Your 65W CPU will display identical clock behavior to a much higher-power (and higher cost) CPU by default unless you take steps to force your motherboard to maintain that TDP limit. The thermal design power (TDP), sometimes called thermal design point, is the maximum amount of heat generated by a computer chip. It's well known that excessive heat can have a life shortening effect on electronic components unless they have been specifically designed to operate under those conditions..

AFAIK, Hauptwerk will not benefit from an overclocked CPU. I'd be interested if anyone has investigated this.

Rgds,
Ed
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bobhehmann

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Re: My Proposed Computer

PostMon Mar 01, 2021 6:51 pm

Agree with Ed regarding overclocking (OC.) I actively recommend against it, unless as a hobbyist you really want to deep-dive into your technology for its own sake and see how far you can push it, and HW is just your benchmark of choice. If that interests you, go Intel-K (K=OC capable); if not, the matching Intel non-K model will get you identical performance for much less $. Intel is a better OC choice than AMD, there is more headroom to explore. Modern Ryzen chips are technically all over-clockable, but real-world benchmarks show relatively little room to improve performance over what the CPU will do out-of-the-box without OC. Perf increases are likely to be highly workload specific - 5% more polyphony? Perhaps. 10% more? I'm skeptical. My intuition is you'd get there cheaper by just buying a higher-performance CPU to begin with, one that matches your needs and leaves you with some headroom for growth.

If you do go the OC route, be careful, you can burn-out your CPU by miss-setting a parameter, and you will need to pay close attention to cooling (which generally equals increased fan/pump noise (and $) while carrying away that excess heat Ed described - not really VPO friendly!) Intel began warrantying many (all?) of their K-series, you could get one free burn-out replacement. AMD has no such warranty - you break it by over-clocking, buy a new one - merely enabling user OC (not actually doing it) voids a modern AMD CPU warranty.

Both modern Intel (Turbo-boost) and AMD Ryzen (PBO) are quite adept at automatically getting very good performance across a wide range of workloads, while staying within safe thermal/power limits. Most can run several cores at the highest rated boost-speed for awhile, or fewer cores at a lesser speed, and all cores at a still lesser boost, and will automatically do so when the workload would benefit. For example, my AMD-3900x generally self-boosts all 12 cores to 4.02gHz forever if the work demands, but getting to 4.5/4.6 or higher would only be for a few cores for a short while, until heat caused it to throttle back.

An M.2-NVME SSD is probably the single biggest perceivable improvement for almost any use-case of any processor (or SATA SSD replacing a SATA HDD, if your motherboard can't support M.2-NVME.) In a VPO: boot time, HW start time (or any other software loading), sample-set load times all improve big-time. For example, from beginning of Win10 OS load (the start of the spinning circle of dots during boot, right after the BIOS has finished its diagnostics) to logged in and using my PC, including network up and Internet available, is <10 seconds on my present PC - that's the M.2-NVME SSD at work. Cold-boot, not sleep or hibernate. The SSD won't improve play-time HW behavior once a set is loaded, then the CPU/memory drive the show.

If you consider changing out a motherboard but want to retain your existing CPU, be sure to go to the new MOBO's website and check its CPU and memory compatibility list, no different than if you were buying everything anew. For the last few years, Intel used a rather widely varying number of different CPU sockets and supporting circuitry, so upgrade paths are trickier than with recent AMD. One could/can buy a single "AMD" MOBO anytime over the last three years that would/will run any AMD Ryzen 2XXX, 3XXX, some 4XXX, and all 5XXX processors, of any performance class - not all MOBOs, but you could buy one that ran everything through 4 generations of CPUs, as AMD kept to a single socket specification for several years covering everything. Intel tends to sub-divide somewhat more between generations and perf classes, so less universality (but perhaps more optimization.)

No need for premium class MOBOs - the actual improvements are narrow, and the bling-tax is excessive. Hypothetical - a typical line up that is using the same basic CPU-support chipset and targets the same class of CPUs might have 6-8 models ranging from $100-$600+ dollars. In that theoretical line up, optimal price/perf is likely found in the $150-ish range. The least expensive models often make compromises that can reduce reliability or eliminate actually useful features - but most of the useful improvements seem to enter the product lines well under the halfway point in cost. Well under.

Best wishes...
Cheers, Bob
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