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Config for a sub-$1k PC for audio production?
May 7, 2011 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Please help configure a sub-$1k PC for professional audio and video production.

(Posting for a friend):

I'm looking to modify the Gamer Xtreme 3000 to suit my needs as a audio/video producer and non-gamer, and save some money doing so.

I know I can safely downgrade the processor to the i7-2600 since I am not overclocking, but still want that monster processor.

I am also planning to use that 96gb ssd for my boot drive for apps, and get another 1tb drive for storage, unless someone thinks there is a better option.

My main questions are where else I can downgrade, particularly in the motherboard and video card departments?

I don't do much video editing now, but I would like a machine that can handle a fair amount in a somewhat professional way.

I really know nothing about motherboards, so any advice there is much appreciated.

There are also a bunch of other options I have no idea about, so if anyone sees something they think might be of use to me, please let me know!

My goal is to keep this between sub $1000-$1100.
posted by k8t to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I doubt you really need a i7-2600. I would consider going with a AMD Phenom II X6 1100T, but if you must go the more expensive Intel route, then I would do something like this:

Your i7-2600 (should run you $300 or less)
Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R motherboard (should run you $200 or less)

Regarding hard drives, SSD isn't necessarily the best way to go. If you get a VelociRaptor 10,000 RPM drive for your OS drive, you won't notice much difference between it and an SSD as a user. Read this article for more information: http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/IDE/SSD_vs_VelociRaptor_vs_Raptor/SSD_vs_VelociRaptor_Raptor.html

But, let's say you stick with that drive. Should cost you $170 or so.
A 1TB WD Black (or similar quality 1TB drive) is going to cost you about $90.

8GB of memory should run you about about $85 for good quality. The G.Skill Ripjaw series is good.

You should probably put at least $75 in a high quality, well-ventilated case.

A reliable Antec workhorse power supply will run you $60 for a 550 watt one.

So far, the price comes to $835. Add a basic optical drive to bring the total to $860.

What graphics card you use will depend on your video editing software. Vegas actually barely relies on the system's video card at all, so you can be cheap if you use that software package. An nVidia 8400GS with 1GB of memory should be just fine for most video editing software (cost $50 or less). If you want to go a bit overboard, try a MSI N460GTX Cyclone for under $200, an ATI 5770 for under $150, or an ATI 6870 for under $200.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 10:01 AM on May 7, 2011


Oops... I missed adding something in there when coming up with that $860 number -- Sorry! If you really want to get under that $1,000 price point, I would look for cost savings in a 10,000 RPM drive, an AMD X6 (six core) processor, and (if you go the AMD route) an Asus M4A88TD-V EVO motherboard. That combo should save you close to $200 and not sacrifice performance in any kind of meaningful way.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 10:06 AM on May 7, 2011


If sticking with Intel, a main deciding factor between the i5 and i7 in my opinion is whether you want to make use of Hyperthreading. If your video editing software doesn't make use of it (usually Hyperthreading is for higher end algorithms found in 3D games and photo editing software) then there should be no noticeable difference with a cheaper i5 of equal core count/clockspeed.
posted by samsara at 10:11 AM on May 7, 2011


you haven't talked about what audio i/o setup you want to use. how will you get audio in/out of your workstation. also, latency is a huge issue and is very dependent on hardware/software compatibility... protools? usb? firewire? pci card?

not an expert but any audio i/o solution you choose will have associated forum discussions.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:12 PM on May 7, 2011


About motherboards:

Some things you want to look into:

The kind of socket, which will dictate what processors are compatible with it in a physical/electrical sense. If you want Sandy Bridge (iX-2XXX processors), you want LGA1155, not LGA1366 (like the GA-X58-UD3R GnomeChompsky mention) or LGA1156.

Then you have the chipset, which needs to be compatible with your processor too (not really an issue with Sandy Bridge), and which needs to give you the functionality you want. Your options are P67 (overclocking, no possibility of using your processors video capabilities), H67 (no overclocking, can use the video capabilities) and H61 (like H67 but stripped down to the basic functionality).

Currently, overclocking on Sandy Bridge is only possible with the i5-2500K and i7-2600K, and a P67 motherboard (it will be possible on the soon-to-be-released Z68 motherboards).

A lot of people only buy from the "big three", MSI, Gigabyte and ASUS. Pick a chipset (P67 or Z68 if you want to overclock), then look at the functionality (expansion slots, interfaces [USB, firewire, etc.]), and read some reviews.

It would seem to me that the cheap ASUS P8P67-M Pro might suit you. It's a smaller, micro-ATX board, has quite a few bells & whistles, and it's not too expensive.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:49 PM on May 7, 2011


The video card selection doesn't match your needs. The GTX 560Ti is a higher-end gaming video card. It's currently in the fifth tier of Tom's Hardware's graphic hierarchy chart. It's an easy place to knock off cash as this card is not at a good value point. I don't want to start a AMD/nVidia fanboy discussion, but for the last 6-12 months the AMD cards have been a better value of price vs. power per most of the benchmark charts.

If you are using something like Photoshop, most will tell you that it's your processor that matters and not the video card, which means you could save $100 and have little to no performance loss. I'd suggest the GTX 460 SE or AMD Radeon 6770 on the CyberPower PC configuration due to both having the least loss of graphics power vs. savings. AMD Radeon 6870 and the nVidia GTX 470 perform equally with the 560Ti, with a $35 and $20 savings respectively.

If you are using programs that benefit from Workstation graphics cards, then you don't want a gaming class video card at all. Firepro (AMD) and Quadro (nVidia) are the cards you'd be looking for. Not all graphics and video programs benefit from these types of graphics cards, and they carry a very high price premium due to their different programming. In some cases they can cut rendering times down 75% or better. These cards also do awful at gaming. I can't give a recommendation as I don't work with these cards and there isn't much benchmark data available for them.

SSD: The only 96GB SSD listed there is the Kingston one. Don't buy this one, they are notoriously crap. They are much slower than their counterparts. If you are going to get one for this computer, it's probably going to be the Intel 320 80GB, and even then I wouldn't recommend it as they didn't benchmark well. I'd pass on velicoraptors as well. Use regular 7200 RPM hard drives.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:05 PM on May 7, 2011


Assuming you want to buy from cyberpowerpc.com and not build one yourself, here is the setup I would use for your system... This build costs $1113 on the site you linked. You may want to upgrade the RAM to 16GB at some point and/or add 2TB+ of storage (videos takes a lot of space).

Some other notes:

GnomeChompsky
If you get a VelociRaptor 10,000 RPM drive for your OS drive, you won't notice much difference between it and an SSD as a user. Read this article for more information: http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/IDE/SSD_vs_VelociRaptor_vs_Raptor/SSD_vs_VelociRaptor_Raptor.html

That article is three years old. The claim that you won't notice a difference is a total joke. Here's what the author has to say...

While I'd prefer using the MemoRight GT SSD instead of even a hard drive as fast as the VelociRaptor, its price/performance ratio is way off for desktop use in my opinion. I've been using it as a system drive for over a month now, and its performance is great – most notably when launching applications for the first time after boot, thanks to its excellent random read performance. By putting all of my login items onto the SSD my account is usable almost instantly after login (Previously I had the login items on the Raptor, and it took roughly 20s to open them).
I'd really like to have a 128+ GB solid state drive to hold the OS, applications and my user home, but that would set me back like $3,569


So the author would prefer an SSD if it wasn't so expensive? 128GB SSDs cost $250-$350 these days, and they are a lot faster than what is tested in this article. This article might be a little better (and from a more reputable source). Choice quote: "It’s the difference between a hang glider and the space shuttle; both will fly, it’s just that one takes you to space. And I don’t care that you can buy a super fast or high flying hang glider either."

samsara
If sticking with Intel, a main deciding factor between the i5 and i7 in my opinion is whether you want to make use of Hyperthreading. If your video editing software doesn't make use of it (usually Hyperthreading is for higher end algorithms found in 3D games and photo editing software) then there should be no noticeable difference with a cheaper i5 of equal core count/clockspeed.

Don't know where to start with this one. (1) Any video video editing suite you would want to use supports "high end" algorithms that can take full advantage of as many cores and threads as you have. (2) You will notice a difference between a Core i5-2500 and a Core i7-2600.

Mister Fabulous
The video card selection doesn't match your needs.
If you are using something like Photoshop, most will tell you that it's your processor that matters and not the video card, which means you could save $100 and have little to no performance loss.


Really false. Many (most?) modern video and image editing software suites (Adobe Premiere, After Affects, and Photoshop) encode and transcode video on the video card, in addition to doing various other tricks. Better video card = less time waiting, more time doing.

If you are using programs that benefit from Workstation graphics cards, then you don't want a gaming class video card at all. Firepro (AMD) and Quadro (nVidia) are the cards you'd be looking for. Not all graphics and video programs benefit from these types of graphics cards, and they carry a very high price premium due to their different programming. In some cases they can cut rendering times down 75% or better. These cards also do awful at gaming. I can't give a recommendation as I don't work with these cards and there isn't much benchmark data available for them.

This is true, but only when you are using 3D modeling or CAD software. For video editing, consumer class hardware is supported by a lot of programs. Also, yes, that second article is from 2009. Look at how many video editing apps were accelerated by video cards then. Now add 2 years.

I don't want to start a AMD/nVidia fanboy discussion, but for the last 6-12 months the AMD cards have been a better value of price vs. power per most of the benchmark charts.

AMD cards don't support CUDA, which many GPU accelerated video editing apps use (including all Adobe programs). Sony Vegas supports AMD cards, but you are really limiting your options if you go AMD.

FWIW, I've been building systems for over 10 years and am less than a year away from a PhD in CompSci. One aspect of my research involves accelerated image processing on video hardware. Apologies to all if I come off like an asshole, but there is a ton of misinformation in this thread and it happens to be an area I know reasonably well.
posted by doowod at 5:35 PM on May 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, having said all of that, 3 more points...

(1) If I had to cut anything on that build, I would take the CPU down to a Core i5-2500. There's a performance hit, but it's not that bad compared to dropping anything else. That cuts the price to $1017.

(2) You might want to consider 2x500GB drives in RAID0. Premiere requires this for editing uncompressed video. This adds $22 over a single 1TB drive.

(3) Technically, of all the Adobe apps, only Premiere requires CUDA and an Nvidia GPU. Photoshop and After Effects can accelerate with any video card using older, somewhat hackish technology. Instead of using GPU computing specific code like CUDA or OpenCL they shoehorn general purpose computations into OpenGL graphics-specific code. For a long time this was the only way to do things, but now there are many better options. I would not count on this approach being used in future releases of the software.

Nvidia hardware is still the most attractive option because both the hardware and low-level software have been heavily optimized for general purpose computing (AMD, not so much) and it already has a lot of software written for it that won't work on AMD cards.
posted by doowod at 9:30 PM on May 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The difference between the i5 and the i7 is there, however marginal when it comes to video encoding/transcoding. Yes, you will see a increase in performance when using HT and working with video, especially with effects. What you seem to be looking for however is a decent performance "budget system" for around $1000 with a focus on video editing. If the extra $100 or so seems worth it between the i5 2500 and i7 2600 by statistical comparison (yes, benchmarks aren't everything...but you can see the i5 is still a very solid contender) then sure, the i7 is great, go for it! But you're really talking about a marginal difference in processor performance when that $100 could be put towards a faster main HDD or more future-ready mainboard that for when the time comes. (eg. Great! I have $$$ for a killer processor/video card/capture device!)

doowod: Apologies to all if I come off like an asshole, but there is a ton of misinformation in this thread and it happens to be an area I know reasonably well.

Oh no offense taken doowod. Just be careful that you don't get overconfident. I wasn't very clear on what I was suggesting and it deserved clarification. Hope the above paragraph clears up my take on i5 vs i7 for budget computing. Also, congrats on being so close to earning your PhD. Just be sure to not let it go to your head! It's a common mistake I've seen many of my friends with master and doctorate degrees get themselves into...so a little humility goes a long way.

Anyway, there's a few mistakes with your suggested builds above. These mostly have to do with memory configuration and suggested hard drives. With the Mainboard suggested, you'll only get a max FSB speed of 1333 which will make the 1600mhz DIMMs cycle down to 1333. The same goes for the HDs which are SATA III, but that mainboard, it only supports 4 SATA II channels. The memory configuration of 4x2GB DIMMs will also not work as the MB only supports a single channel (2xDIMMs).

The rest of your suggestions are pretty solid however.

So here's an alternate build taking into consideration our combined suggestions (~$900 with the cheapest case, and without peripherals or OS):

•CPU: Intel® Core™ i5-2500 3.30 GHz 6M Intel Smart Cache LGA1155 (decent performance for the price...however you'll get two additional cores, hyperthreading, and a slight performance increase with an i7 for ~$100 more)

•Main working HDDs: 500GB SATA-III 6.0Gb/s 16MB Cache 7200RPM HDD (500GB x 2 (1 TB Capacity) Raid 0) (use this as your main OS/temp file/video processing drive. SSDs are nice, or even the 300GB Velociraptor drives in RAID 0 would be a noticeable boost here for rapid video/large data crunching...but these 500GBs should be very decent)

•Data storage HDD: 2TB (2TBx1) SATA-III 6.0Gb/s 64MB Cache 7200RPM HDD (use this to store videos not being worked on, I recommend an external backup solution within the first 2 years to ward off drive failure consequences)

•MEMORY: 8GB (4GBx2) DDR3/1600MHz Dual Channel Memory Module (Kingston HyperX) (leaves 2 DIMM slots for a future upgrade to 16GB if desired.)

•MOTHERBOARD: [CrossFireX/SLI] MSI P67A-GD53 (B3) (the P67 is more expensive than the H61, however with the P67 you get legacy PCI support, an extra PCIe slot for future upgrades, as well as better DIMM flexibility...4 slots instead of 2)

•SOUND: HIGH DEFINITION ON-BOARD 7.1 AUDIO (if you're looking at studio quality audio capabilities, you might want to pick one of the expansion cards that support higher Mhz capture and playback)

•VIDEO: NVIDIA GeForce GT 440 1GB DDR5 16X PCIe Video Card (decent middle road GPU, should be fine for the most part. You'll want to look elsewhere for a decent video capture card however)

I would also suggest spec'ing out this system entirely on NewEgg, or similar sites to get the best deal/shipping rate available for the parts you want.

The strategy I've gone with for the past 20 years or so has always been bottleneck focused, which is usually not the processor, but moreso the HD, Mainboard (bus speeds, future upgrade support), memory size, and video card. Mainly when approaching the question of "What the heck is slowing me down?" it's usually one of those, if not the OS itself with uneccessary services/processes running. Good luck with your new PC!
posted by samsara at 11:02 AM on May 8, 2011


It sounds to me like you want to focus on audio production, with a view to eventually moving to video. Is that true? If so, does that include recording? If it does, I just want to make sure that you've left room in your budget for the most essential bits.

A good pair of studio monitors are definitely worth considering. Not computer speakers that "flatter" the sound, but tuned to reveal the detail and clarity. It's not an audiophile issue, it's making sure you've got a good handle on what your sound contains.

The other thing to consider is getting the sound out, and especially in to your computer. Any built in solution will have noisy, bad-quality A/D (audio to digital) converters. There are tons of posts around about which soundcard to get, so I'd recommend doing some research to find the best one for your needs and budget.
posted by Magnakai at 3:10 AM on May 9, 2011


Following ennui.bz and Magnakai, I claim that you're neglecting some of the most important hardware expenses that you'd need for pro audio/video production.

1. Get a PCI audio card that is designed for professional audio recording and therefore uses an ASIO driver. ASIO drivers allow audio to go from point A to point B without "taking the scenic route". The practical importance of this is that, when you play something, you'll be able to hear it fairly instantly. This is important if you want to play something and hear it in real time. I got an M-audio audiophile 2496 card on ebay for $70 and it's awesome. The better one -- because you can have so many inputs and outputs all at once -- is the M-audio Delta 1010; you can get them on ebay for $100, and they're legendary. By the way, PCI is faster than fire wire or USB, so don't bother with one of those external music interfaces whose main advantage is that they can be used with laptops.

2. I second Magnakai's suggestion that you'll need good studio monitors: that will cost a few hundred dollars. Headphones are not as good for doing a mix, although headphones are awesome if you want to sing and hear yourself in real time. Fortunately, the industry standard headphone monitors (Sony MDR7506) are only $100/pair. If you don't have good studio monitors, you won't be in a position to make very good choices about your mix. (It would be like editing photos without first calibrating one's monitor. Which brings me to my third point...)

3. If you're going to do any professional video editing, you'll need to calibrate your monitor. Try getting a calibrator made by x-Rite or Datacolor. For kinds of a cheap solution, try the Datacolor Spyder3 Express.
posted by Eiwalker at 11:25 AM on September 4, 2011


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