[linux-audio-user] New member wants to build a reliable DAW

Jon H october001 at gmail.com
Wed Dec 20 02:34:54 EST 2006

On 12/19/06, Kjetil S. Matheussen <k.s.matheussen at notam02.no> wrote:
> October:
> >
> > Hello Mark!
> >
> > Coincidently a similar question was asked on a list many of us are
> > members on the very same day you submitted your questions!  It might
> > serve you well to follow that thread too:
> >
> > http://lists.agnula.org/pipermail/users/2006-December/011707.html
> >
> > Basically I build pretty much the same machine I would build for
> > serious "gaming", perhaps dropped back a few notches on the video card.
> > The motherboard and PSU being the true heart of the system, it's
> > certainly no place to skimp!  Asus has long been my favorite brand of
> > motherboard... out of the last dozen or so machines I've built around
> > their boards I've only had one with problems and their 3 year warranty
> > is genuine.
> >
> I second that. Asus is a safe one. But even more important is the chipset
> in use, because not everyone works very well with linux. Personally, I
> have always had good experience with via or intel, but I have heard SiS
> is working fine too. Stay away from nvidia, at least the newest models.
> (the older the chipset, the less problems you will have)

I disagree.  I've built on Asus boards for linux several times now including
the SiS chipsets, which worked just fine, and the latest nforce4 chipsets
which also performed under a modern kernel and distro just dandy "out of the
box".  Nvidia is linux friend :D

> Power Supply needs to be rated at least 500w, higher if you are going
> > to run a RAID or something in the case.  Enermax is my pick for best
> > value, PC Power & Cooling if you have a bunch of extra money to spend,
> > Antec and Thermaltake seem to also be popular brands.  Don't try to save
> > money on a bargain brand power supply!  It will come back to haunt you,
> > for sure!
> >
> > As much RAM as you can afford to put in the system is good...  my
> > current machine has 2x1024 DDR and I'll probably double that to 4 gigs
> in
> > the future.  Processor should be fast but doesn't need to be bleeding
> > edge either and multiple cores are not well supported (yet) so while you
> > can buy  top end CPU(s) for future-proofing just don't expect to get the
> > full worth out of them immediately.  Same can be said with running a
> > 64bit.  There are 64bit distros out there that are "usable" but at the
> > moment are probably better recommended for developers and bug-hunters
> > than for serious audio production.  I currently run a 32bit debian based
> > linux on a 64bit AMD single core but Intel should serve you well also...
> > more of a matter of personal preference here as far as brand goes.
> >
> > I mentioned video cards...  I really prefer nvidia under linux, due to
> > the quality of the proprietary drivers and ease of installation, and
> This is a bad advice. The proprietary drivers from nvidia cause xruns, and
> should be avoided. But older (ie. at least 2-3 year old) nvidia cards can
> be used with the open nv driver instead, which I will recommend, because I
> have had experience with numerous nvidia gfx cards, and have had very
> little problem.

Actually anything you do visually will require a video card.  The more
capable the card and the drivers the less resources it will take away from
the  remaining system that is busy processing your audio.  With a good video
card that handles the majority of graphical rendering I experience almost NO
xruns, that's at 5.8ms latency using an onboard (nforce4) chipset, and lower
than that with a dedicated soundcard like the M-Audio stuff.  Relying on the
CPU and system ram to render FFT graphics and such will cause xruns, a good
video card will not.

Further more gaming is pretty much on the forefront of graphics as far as
linux is concerned.  Gamers under linux means big money to any game company
that chooses to support linux as well as hardware manufacturers like Nvidia
or ATI.  I know you aren't talking about wanting to play games here but any
piece of hardware that is optimized for gaming WILL be optimized for audio
as well, I guarantee it.  Nvidia's proprietary drivers work quite well.  I
can't really comment on ATI's drivers because I've long been an Nvidia fan.

> dual monitor (dvi) is something I couldn't live without in my studio.
> > Currently I run 2 x 21" Dell CRT for a combined desktop of 3200x1200
> > which makes tending to several music apps at the same time much easier
> > than crowding everything together on a single screen.  Any mid-range
> > gaming card should do this well.  Plan on spending at least US$100 here
> > (monitors extra!)
> >
> Well, not everyone thinks so. Using a descent windows manager, where you
> can change virtual screen quickly, makes multiple monitors unnecessary.
> What is faster, moving your head or eyes (where you have to refocus) to
> look at a different screen. Or, pressing a button on your keyboard? In
> windows, with its horrible unconfigurable interface, I guess it can make
> sence, but in X, you don't need more than one monitor.

When I'm composing music I'd rather not have to touch the keyboard at all.
Most modern video cards support multiple monitors these days... why not make
use of it?  Half the desktop space when you don't have to?  Why?  Throw a
dozen samples at Ardour (plus it's mixer), envy24control, qjackctl, seq24,
plus a handful of DSSI or VSTi plugins and you have a very busy desktop.
Why worry about flipping between virtual desktops when you can see all of it
at the same time?

> I run a pair of Western Digital IDE drives but if I could afford the
> > upgrade I really want it would be at least four (maybe with a few spares
> > for backup) 200 GB or larger SATA drives set up in a software RAID 0+1
> > or maybe RAID5.  Firewire or SCSI would be nice as well as would an
> > outboard rack if you are going with many more drives than that.
> >
> Do you really need RAID for audio work? How many tracks do you use?
> Are you sure you couldn't get a way with a single IDE drive?

The original thread asked a  question about rack mounted arrays.  RAID is a
natural for this discussion.  If I'm recording several takes of several live
feeds I can easily burn up many gigs of storage in a single session.  Also
the cost of harddrives is going down rapidly.  Soft RAID now offers an easy
and relatively inexpensive way to not only increase storage performance but
redundancy at the same time.  I wouldn't consult on a serious studio setup
without pushing for redundant storage regardless.  Anything worth recording
is worth protecting, don't you think?

> I run a Delta44 which works great under linux but do most of my actual
> > mixing and line-in in a seperate mixer.  A Delta1010 should be
> > fantastic!
> >
> Good advice. The ice1712 driver works really well on linux.
> I also want to add another important thing to concider, which is noise.
> It can be better to degrade the performance a bit to also reduce the
> noise. Power hungry processors cause more heat inside the case, which
> cause the fans to go faster. Same with lots of harddisks, don't do
> that, only use one. Same with gfx card, don't buy a fancy fast one that
> either makes a lot of heat or have a large fan. You don't need a fast gfx
> card for audio use. You should also use most of your money on the power
> supply. Not because of stability problems, but because of noise problems.
> The power supply is usually the noisiest part in a computer, and buying
> an expensive silent one is well worth the money. It doesn't matter if it
> can support 500W, 300W or even 200W is usually enough, but it must be
> silent.

I run an  Enermax  500w "Liberty" in my personal studio machine.  It is so
quiet that for a long time I would catch myself holding my hand by the back
of the case, on occasion,  to make sure it was actually moving air at all!
It uses a 120mm fan at relatively low RPM to do the cooling.  An excellent
unit.  Other companies make similar hardware as well.

As for graphics card?  It is exactly as Kjetil has said, without meaning to,
I'm sure...  it's *either* "a lot of heat OR a large fan".  Which do you
prefer?  Modern cards, at least Nvidia's, are almost dead silent in relation
to ambient noise levels in a recording enviroment.  Especially if you plan
on running anything that requires OpenGL accelloration or VSTi
compatibility, as many of them are quite graphically intensive.  If you run
dual monitors as I have suggested then *definately* pass on anything that
doesn't have dedicated active cooling!  Anything that relies on passive
cooling (without getting into water cooling and other exotics) is just
asking for trouble in this sort of enviroment.

Just my US$0.02 worth!

Jon Hoskins
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