Custom Recording PC Build

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Hello geek people!

I've been doing my home recording for the past 9 years or so on an old Dell Studio Laptop... it still works, but yikes. It's showing its age. I'm looking to upgrade to a mid-market custom-built machine that'll last me another 8-10 years. I'm hoping this crowd of hobbyists might have some input.

Some parameters:
- The machine is dedicated to recording. It sits in my studio and has one job. No gaming, video editing, anything like that.
- I'm sticking with desktop rather than laptop... I'm not that mobile with my recording these days, and it's a lot more configurable. Size / form factor is not an issue.
- My main DAW is Ableton Live. Most of my recording is 20+ track stuff with lots of effects but generally not a ton of MIDI-based VSTs. (Ableton is big on multi-threading with multiple cores.) I'll occasionally run something like Komplete as well.
- I'm PC-based. No discussion of going Mac. My initial bias is towards Intel over AMD, with the understanding that multi-threading is handled a lot better in the Intel world. I can be convinced otherwise.
- My key metrics are *silence* and speed. Speed is pretty subjective, but my main focuses are on rendering and the real-time warping Ableton does. Right now, silent means SSDs over HDs, power supplies and coolers that focus on low-fan noise, and cases that feature some noise suppression while hopefully not turning the machine into a hotbox.
- My interface is a FocusRite Saffire Pro 40. It's firewire-based, but pretty much any Firewire card should handle that.
- My setup is dual-monitor, which may require a video card beyond anything built into the motherboard.
- All-in budget before non-OS software is around $1000, with a little tolerance for overage. My initial estimates are a little over that.

In a real sense, I can do MOST of that pretty well on my nine-year old i5 at 2.40GHz (albeit slowly), so a lot of my design could be overkill. But overkill is fun. Wink

Thoughts from the crowd?

Oh wow; if this was 2017 I'd be of some help. That's when I built my PC.
I had the same questions as you, however I'm a Reason user and apparently it likes single core...never really got a definite answer on that.
Anyway, I lost touch with all things PC tech after I built mine which is a shame. However, I am aware that there are some current Ryzen chips that are beating Intel's rear end; but I'm not sure if that is just in gaming benchmarks, which I know you're not interested in here. What I can say is that the BeQuiet brand popped up quite often on forums and videos where sound was a concern.
I'm not sure how Ableton performs with 20+ effected tracks, but with Reason, I'm running a Ryzen 1700 (8 cores, 16 thread) overclocked to 3.7ghz, a nothing fancy Kingston SSD, 16GB DDR4 memory running at 3000Mhz, with the 1700's stock cooler. I do run bunches of VSTs and that's my main meat of how I work, and I only run into problems when I start messing with an absurd amount of tracks (20+ is no problem so far) with a bunch of taxing fx on many of those channels. I DO get input lag if I slap an instance of Ozone on top of all that. So maybe that can give you an idea of how little is enough - if my 3 year old cpu still performs that well, you can kinda use that as a baseline?
I'm glad you posted this, as I am excited to hear what others who have kept up with things have to say. I do game on my machine, and its about time to think about upgrading, esp with the prices of CPUs nowadays. I think your $1000 is definitely gonna get you everything you need with money to spare - especially since you aren't concerned with any kind of gaming for this machine!
PC Partpicker forumss, a youtube channel called Tech Deals, were both instrumental in helping me pick components.
Good luck!

Thx guys. Im on the cusp of an upgrade. My very old desktop has done remarkably well, well past its use by date! This stuff already is a help to me! (Splitty this is why i haven't talked more about electronic music - im waiting to upgrade).

I'd read somewhere that multi threading and multiple cores are not really useful for music production. Something about it being hard to distribute the tasks. Clearly I am no computer genius. But it was something like that.

@splittybooms, I'm honestly not quite sure if gaming benchmarks relate to DAW work or not... and it's a niche enough topic that I haven't come across too much discussion yet. On one level, speed is speed, I guess. That gives me something good to look at with the Ryzen's though... That'd cut out a quarter of the cost right there. Also good to know re: the BeQuiet products. I saw them on PC Part Picker, but most of them don't have many reviews... I'd never heard of them and was suspicious. Your baseline is comforting... Reason and Ableton play differently, but I imagine the performance translates. I'm a heavy Ozone user too (and IzoTope in general).

@TomS, that was my impression for ages, but things look to be changing. This page on Ableton's site has an interesting breakdown. It's specific to Ableton, but it's cool. Not sure which other DAW's use multiple cores effectively.
https://help.ableton.com/hc/en-us/articles/209067649-Multi-core-CPU-handling-FAQ

I do custom builds for machines around my house when I can (gaming, HTPC, etc.), but most of those have pretty mainstream guidelines and use cases. This is an interesting hybrid, and most of the industry is Mac, which takes a lot of the customization out of the equation.

More stuff to research! Biggrin

I know you said you're pro-desktop, but... I did two custom PC builds trying to get the perfect near-silent machine for recording and every time ended up struggling to get the fan noise out of my songs... even with "silent" fans and noise-reducing cases. Finally gave up and bought a refurbished laptop a couple of years ago and have had zero problems ever since. From a noise point of view desktops just can't compete.

Some of your other points probably do imply that a desktop would work better (although I have two monitors running from a laptop at work, not that I particularly have any knowledge of how it's set up, and also it's Windows 10 running on a Macbook Pro for some reason, NOT my decision) but just thought I'd share that bit of my experience, it's so easy to get a powerful laptop for a good price these days so definitely worth considering for a noise-free option.

Hey just stopped in to share as I saw this on Twitter this morning. It's the exact drive I have... And it's 25 BUCKS!!
https://twitter.com/TechDeals_16/status/1151109467238490115?s=09

It's an interesting thread and ironic possibly since I am a minimalist Smile to read and join in. I learn where I can!

I got so put off by the many software packages that never delivered, and too, since was engaging more engineering, than songwriting, and solid recording, -- then to seek to mix it (recording is recording, mixing is mixing), -- that I finally moved to Linux (Mint) using only open source other, Audacity and otherwise try to just go "old school" for mixing.

For me, I can hear the plastic sound of some of the packages, and then mixed with "live" sources, -- so try to stick to what I do, -- again, maybe not useful here.

My life got allot easier with Linux, and was even able to convert a problematic Windows build into generic that actually worked anywhere I needed it, -- like at my Drum Kit exclusively. Again, I seek to Record well, close mic and fully saturated, if even "digital"; then do a old school mix, -- no fancy plugins.

So, that leads me to ask a question:
If all has been the same for all these years, -- how'd it slow down? mp3, wav is unchanged I thought? And, for example, with "Audactity" if there's a glitch, it's always a configuration issue since constantly unpluggin stuff and the OS goes to default, so have to simply rescan the device and make sure it's there.

Also, performance, for me, has always been tied to virtual memory, -- the more RAM you got, the bigger the Virtual Drive you can write to and the fastest it can be no matter the platform. Cache configs matter sometimes it seems, but the defaults in todays world are usually optomised because they want it to run it's best on the most generic and mid-price point, Industry Standard "stuff" (ala IEEE .org -- what it all conforms to).

I didn't see OS and RAM; and true unless a piece of software or software that runs hardware is coded to access the Architecture, it accesses the part it can and not utilize the multi threading available and RAM assisted devises.

So, the "it's now slow" comment brought all that to mind... how, why, what changed? (If windows os, could just be the os changed, "ohhh nooo" and so I went to Linux Smile ) (My bottleneck is file upload since can't get great Inet connection here, but, that's a post op thing not sound recording, or mixing.)

I looked to "upgrade" my Laptop (one of them I use daily) and was a few years old, only and found that, -- there was no "upgrade" Smile And saw on some newer systems, there was one new thing but then didn't have the RAM or HD size, tech the "old" system had. The "upgrades" to the upgrade looked ala cart expensive and not worth it.

One other thing I learned as I see here, -- go direct to the OEM and ask them for optimal spec for platform. And, if not on a budget see if they sell their stuff preloaded on that (well, not applicable to here maybe). But, there were some packages I never got loaded or others who took the same trip but not "hobbiests".

One can try to contact an OEM and ask what they use as a "sandbox" unit to test their stuff one. One might be surprised to know, if they'll say.

So, could be food for thought, but not if a "more power, overbuild" guy Smile I get that too!

I'll look for what you finally decide later in 5090, and the configuration specs too. I hope it's all plug and play for you, all!

https://youtu.be/zUcY5Yfij30
Hey just came across this today, under $1000 build.
Probably less if you choose a cheaper GPU.
Could probably pick a better case to suit your quiet needs... quieter fans, too.
Dunno what the issues are he's talking about regarding the mobo and the CPU compatibility...but this was just something I figured I'd share