Building Out a Powerhouse PC

Jul 9, 2010 1:12 PM, By Gary Eskow

COMPLEX SESSIONS, 64-BIT, FROM A SINGLE WORKSTATION

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The new Windows 7 operating system

The new Windows 7 operating system

SYSTEM THREE ($3,800 TO $4,400)
At this point, you’re most likely going to own a dual Intel quad-core Xeon E5520 processor-centered machine running at 2.26 GHz. This will effectively give you 16 CPU cores using Intel’s hyperthreading technology. Major audio programs such as Cubase 4/5, Nuendo 4 and SONAR will all take advantage of Xeon’s multithreading. You now have at least 16 Gigabytes of RAM loaded into your box, a higher-res video card and the ability to load and organize up to four screens at one point.

These are theoretical models, but the distinctions blur once you begin to tailor a computer to your needs. For example, you may not need the fastest processor but will require extra drives. Mixing and matching components to taste is the key.

IS 64-BIT READY FOR EVERYDAY USE?
Getting closer, and not soon enough. I had no problem finding 64-bit drivers for my RME Fireface 800 interface and MOTU MIDI Timepiece. Many companies—Spectrasonics, VSL and East West among them—offer both 32- and 64-bit drivers for their products, but be careful because some companies (though none of those I just mentioned) are less clear about driver installation than they should be. While installing products from several companies that to date only offer 32-bit versions of their material, I made the error of placing the .dlls into Steinberg’s 64-bit VST plug-in folder, making a copy of these .dlls and dropping them in the 32-bit VST plug-in folders. A no-no, according to Chris Ludwig, who took a look at my system via a remote-control session several weeks after I bought the computer.

“Many of these manufacturers assume that the customer has knowledge he shouldn’t be expected to have,” Ludwig says. “This is a good example. Putting 32-bit .dlls in Steinberg’s 64-bit VST plug-in folder may work, but in the long run, it will bog down the system and lead to instability.” Ludwig helped me out of another deep hole. The CD Burn function of WaveLab 6 wasn’t working, and Steinberg tech support simply told me that WaveLab 6 doesn’t support Windows 7. During our remote session, Ludwig navigated his way to Steinberg’s FTP site and downloaded a component that rectified the problem.

“I would like to see the end of 32-bit operating systems altogether,” adds PCAudioLabs’ Tom Bolton. “It’s time that we move on to 64-bit computing completely. Offering 32-bit versions of new operating systems such as Windows 7 allows the audio hardware and software industry to drag its feet on releasing 64-bit versions of their products, which is seriously stifling innovation. By continuing to offer 32-bit operating systems, the move to 64-bit is optional and therefore tends to be considered unnecessary.”

What if you want to make the move to the 64-bit universe but need to access some of your 32-bit plug-ins? Your main sequencer may, like Cubase 5, have its own method of addressing them, but there are other options. If you rely heavily on VSL products, you may want to check out Ensemble Pro, VSL’s hosting and mixing environment. This app lets you load up VSL products and those from many other manufacturers. I created a template that included Absynth 4, Stylus RMX and Omnisphere—all 64-bit plug-ins. Side-by-side with the 64-bit version of Ensemble Pro, you can run a 32-bit instance to shelter all of your 32-bit plug-ins. Ensemble Pro acts like a wrapper within your host, giving even a 32-bit digital sequencer the ability to use 64-bit plug-ins. Best of all, you can invoke the Preserve function and move between projects without having to reload the samples that form your template, even if they’re residing in a network comprising multiple computers.

THE TIME IS NOW
There is value to mining deeper into the science and theory that girds computer technology. It can help you decide whether you want to build a computer with 7,200 rpm SATA drives or climb up to the 10,000 rpm level. But before you make a decision, you should do some research, ask the experts a few questions and make a purchase based on confidence and price—and have someone to yell at if things don’t work out!

Having tried to create complex sampled scores on single-computer DAWs for years, I can report that we have finally arrived at the point (notwithstanding the advantages of multicomputer networks that Nagata mentioned) where a single computer can handle enough detailed sample sets in real time and with effects to make that dream a present-day reality—even if you choose to purchase the least expensive computer designed for sample-based compositions.


Gary Eskow is a contributing editor to Mix.






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