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How to Build a Production PC for Under $1k

When you’re first starting off with music production, there’s usually no need to purchase a whole new computer. A Custom Production PCdecent, modern desktop or laptop is enough to get you started. Especially if you’ve taken our advice and began with a simpler DAW program.

As you progress however, you might come to find that running multiple virtual instruments and hoards of samples tends to bog down your computer, and can even crash your machine entirely.

Once you start running into these problems, it might be time for an upgrade.

Now, there are 3 main elements you need to consider when upgrading your computer. CPU (processor), Hard Drive, and the RAM  – arguably, in that order of importance. The purpose of all other components of your computer will be to support the function and collaboration of these three components.

CPU (Processor)

The processor is basically the brain of the computer. It executes most of the calculations and functions when called upon. So, in short, the faster the processor, the quicker your computer works.

At a minimum, your processor should be a 2 GHz dual-core processor, however, this is the most important part of your system to spend extra money on, so go for the fastest one you can afford. The latest and greatest by Intel are the Core i7 CPUs. With Quad-core technology and 3.4GHz, these are blazing fast and you can find one for under $300.

– Intel processors sometimes tend to be over-hyped, and come with a premium price tag for the brand name and reputation of Intel. For the sake of cost effectiveness, check out the AMD Phenom II ($120) – it’s also a 3.4GHz quad-core drive.

Note: If you’re not interested in gaming, a good way to save money is by getting a CPU with built-in visuals (like the Core i7) instead of purchasing a separate graphics card.

Hard Disk

Everything from your software, to your samples and finished tracks will be stored on your hard drive. Thanks to Apple, we’re all pretty familiar with converting number of gigabytes to number of songs.

However, with music production, there’s one major difference.

Most music files on an iPod are stored as the mp3 file format. While these are great for listening to and storing music casually, they are actually compressed versions of the original music, which means they are not capable of the highest possible sound quality. Producers deal with .wav files which can be 10 times larger. Just a handful of .wav samples can quickly begin to consume your free disk space.

So, while most modern hard drives will allow you to make music, the bigger it is, the better your experience will be. You should go for at least 500 GB to comfortably store your music.

Another important thing to consider in a hard drive is the speed, measured in revolutions per minute, or RPM. A good benchmark is to have at least 7,500 RPM, but go for the 10,000 RPM if it’s within your budget.

Getting a fast hard drive will ensure your programs and samples will load nice and fast.

If space ever becomes an issue, its pretty easy to add an additional hard drive, whether it be external or installed inside your PC. Many producers actually use a smaller, slower hard drive to store their operating system and software, and a larger, faster one for sound file storage and digital instruments that are constantly being loaded and booted up.

Western Digital

A good starting point for your music production hard drive is the Western Digital VelociRaptor 10,000 RPM 600GB drive. You can find it on Amazon for about $200.

RAM

There’s not too much to say about RAM, other then it’s basically your computer’s short-term memory. RAM is important when you’re running multiple programs, which is all the time if you’re serious about music production.
You’re going to need enough RAM to comfortably run your DAW along with any plugins and digital instruments, and the more tracks you have in any given project, the more RAM you will be using.

Many people tend to hugely over estimate the amount of RAM needed in music production. If you have the means and want the best of the best, it doesn’t hurt to get 6 or 8 GB. However, for someone looking to get the best bang for their buck, 4GB of RAM is plenty. You will rarely ever max out 4GB of RAM even if you have multiple plugins and tracks going simultaneously. 4GB of RAM can be purchased for under $30, and is really easy to upgrade down the road.

Sound Card

Your sound card is what links up all your Midi devices, including your controller/keyboard, computer, and output devices such as speakers and monitors. A decent sound card/audio interface will run you between $100 and $250. A good place to start is the Focusrite Saffire ($180). Check out the Wikipedia article on sound cards here (scroll down to USB sound cards – also known as audio interfaces).

Supporting Components

There are a couple other things to consider that will make your system run smoothly.
If you’re truly building your system from scratch, make sure to build your computer in a case with adequate cooling. You don’t want all your new components overheating on you.

In the case of a music production PC, sound is of primary importance, of course. So, it would be a wise choice to go for a case that can support large fans, with adjustable speed settings. Larger fans are capable of keeping your system cool at slower RPMs, so they make MUCH less noise.

Large Diameter Fans = Lower Speeds = Very Quiet

Also, when selecting a motherboard to tie all your components together, make sure to carefully understand its support capabilities. Not all motherboards can support the same components. Mainly, if you can afford to go with a newer processor, such as the i7, you need to make sure your motherboard can support it. ASUS makes good, reliable motherboards.

Finally, you need to make sure your custom machine has an adequate power supply. There’s a way to figure out the exact amount you need. Simple addition. All of your components will have a power rating on them. All you need to do is add them up, and get a power supply that’s higher then that (we recommend going about 1.5 times that number – better to be safe than sorry).

Putting It All Together

Now, that you have all the components for your new Dubstep Production work horse, you’ll need to figure out how to piece it all together. For the sake of keeping this article at a reasonable length, we added a video below by NewEgg.com (the hardware experts themselves), on combining all your components.

Also, if you need some help installing windows and getting your new PC started, click through to the next part of the video series by NewEgg.com (link is embedded in the beginning of the video).

 

Keep an eye out for our upcoming article on setting up your home studio work station to optimize performance and keep those creative juices flowin.

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