Hey Brian - Actually, everybody has an opinion (or 12), surprised nobody's picked this one up yet. Here are some general guidelines:
First of all, if you don't want to get your hands dirty, you should dig deeper and have a music oriented place build you a machine. There are several, none too cheap because of the time involved in tweaking the extra crap out of the way so the machine can do one job well. Check out Soundchaser.com (well-reviewed in a few magazines) then when their prices scare you, go to RME.com and click on their "reference PC" section - they have a company that builds them in Europe for sale over there, but you can also take their "shopping list" and put together your own. Their audio hardware is the "intel" of sound - it works and works well.
There are several other manufacturers of audio interfaces, all of which seem to get along well with the Intel chipsets - One that does NOT seem to like PC's (and vice versa) is MOTU - they are originally a Mac oriented company, and from all the feedback I see they apparently still don't know what a PC is.
Virtually nobody's audio hardware dislikes Intel chipsets - of those, today's choice for an audio machine (unless $100 more will break you) is either the i845D chipset or the i850. The 845d supports DDR ram (lots faster than SDRAM, almost as fast as Rambus (RDRAM) - the 850 chipset supports dual channel Rambus. The 850 chipset and RDRAM is better for CPU intensive applications like lots ofplug-ins DSP on every track, etc - but the 850 has a "bug" which intel calls an "errata" - at IDE (disk) data rates of over 100 MB/sec, (like ATA133 for example) the 850 chipset loses chunks of data (very bad for audio) so with the 850 chipset you get a few more DSP functions but are limited to ATA100 on drives, which cuts down on the number of tracks that can be played back from disk.
The 845D chipset gives you a little less DSP availability, but is compatible with ATA133 controllers so you can get more tracks on playback. This also means that you can use higher sample rates/bit depths with the same number of tracks. It's a math thing - 16 tracks at 32 bit or 32 tracks at 16 bit, and so on.
Processor - the newer "Northwood" versions of the P4 have twice the onboard cache memory of the previous P4's - sometimes they are referred to as "a" models, P4-1.6a, etc. However, a lot of places don't use the "a" suffix. Watch for "512 K cache), all these are "Northwood" procs. Also look for ".13 micron" - this is the thickness of the silicon wafer the chip is made on.
Ram - 512 MB should be the absolute minimum for an audio machine - 1 GB is really good, 2 GB is better. Older Windows, like 95, 98 can't handle more than 512 MB, but I saw something about a "fix" on MicroSlop's website - haven't checked it out, but if you're building a new machine your only choice should be between Win2K and WinXP.
2k has been around longer and will be more likely to have drivers available for your choice of hardware, XP is mostly a facelift of 2k, with support for 8 more interrupts, a few more whistles and bells, and less likelihood of finding drivers for your particular hardware choice.
Motherboard - Some of the more popular manufacturers are Abit, Asus, GigaByte, Iwill, Soyo, Intel, and SuperMicro. Look for at least 5 PCI slots (room for more add-in cards)and built on features that will save you having to take up a PCI slot and pay extra for - If you need a Network Interface Card or Firewire port there are MoBo's with those items built in. Other built-in features may get in the way of an audio-only machine, but they can be disabled either with jumper settings or in BIOS setup. There are a few MoBo's now with built in "raid" controllers - All of these that I've seen will allow you to use the controller as another pair of IDE channels, so they would be a good choice for maximum flexibility in a system.
I haven't seen anybody else's claim on this, but both the i845D and the i850 chipsets support a total of 24 Interrupt ReQuests, which is supported by Windows XP. So, theoretically, you could set up an audio machine that doesn't have to share interrupts with any other component. This can make for less hiccups to sort out.
It helps to know what hardware and software you're going to use on the machine, so you can decide if you need firewire, raid, NIC, USB, etc. One of the quickest ways to narrow down your choices for MoBo is pricewatch.com - If you use their search function and type in all of your "wish list" with spaces in between, like "i845D socket 478 lan raid" for example, will return all MoBo's with DDR ram, P4, NIC, and raid on the board. (You have to watch the i845D part - I've found a lot of resellers who call the 845D just "845" then they say afterwards "supports DDR ram" - I've gotten more complete results searching on "845 DDR".
If you do the above search, then look at just the better known MoBo's, it will cut down your choices to an almost reasonable number. Also, base your prices on "retail" versions of MoBo's - they include little things like cables, headers, etc. that will drive you crazy trying to find elsewhere.
Case- Lian Li, Supermicro, PC Power & Cooling, Antec, and others - before you decide on a case, you need to know how many and what type of drives you want. If you're going to go crazy and set up a system with a 4-drive raid, boot drive, scratch pad drive, and 2 customerplug-ins plus firewire optical drives, you can't get there with a mid-tower that only has 5 drive bays.
Power supply - get at least a 350 watt supply for a 2 hard drive system, bigger if you can afford it. Go with the quietest one you can find if you plan to have the PC in the room with you, instead of remoted to a closet or other room. Bigger power supplies don't use any more power, they just have more "headroom" if you add more components, and they tend to run cooler. Check out
they're not cheap, but you shouldn't ever have to think about it again.
Drives - Maxtor (#6LO80J4)(#6LO80L4)the ones with the "L" instead of "J" are fluid bearing drives - more money, quieter, otherwise same drive. Both are 80 GB drives, the numbers in the middle change for smaller. IBM 60 GXP; Stay away from IBM's 75GXP drives, particularly the 40 GB size - I think that's the size they had all the hoopla about crapping out. the others are great. In any case, 7200 RPM is minimum for multi-track audio, and as a boot drive it will be faster as well.
This was kind of a synopsis of the hundreds of threads already on this site - look around - If you go to the Daw World main page and search on DAW (in title only) you'll get over 30 different threads to read - if you read them all, the two things you will come away with (minimum) are 100 more questions, and a BIG FREAKIN' HEADACHE... This means you'll be more like the rest of us trying to get 3 million dollars worth of "big boy" toys for $1800 - you'll know a lot more, and feel a lot dumber at the same time. If you want to avoid all this, and pay some extra for the privilege, re-read the second paragraph of this post and act on it.
Your choice - if you read all the threads you get by searching "DAW",your next post will have a lot more specific (and harder to answer) questions. Happy reading... Steve
Man, look at all the time I coulda' saved myself (and you) if I'd read the title of your post AND the post - I have no experience with either of the two interfaces you mention - However, maybe the book I wrote answering the question you didn't ask will answer some of the questions you didn't know you had (say wha...?) Steve
Thanks for the reply though LOL! I had already ordered a Dell system before I got the reply but I'd also checked out the DAW World section & found it helpful! The good thing is that I've got quite a few friends who are top IT managers in town and they like helping me as their charity case! So any changes to the system will at least have pro-hands to make the mistakes! Thanks for the book though - I'm cutting & pasting it into an email to one of the IT guys so he can go to work helping me route out the bogey men before I get started!
I run a 001/LE system on an AMD Athlon XP1800+ based PC, and I'm really happy with the results regarding stability, performance and flexibility of it. A 001/PTLE system is really great if you want to work with Pro Tools and you are on a budget; the only thing that you have to take into account to have a stable and fast system is the PC configuration: it is critical that you closely follow the compatibility docs in the Digi web site, and, personal suggestion, poke your nose in the Digidesign Users Conference (DUC), a place where you can find boatloads of infos, tips and suggestions on how to build and run a killer PC for a 001; I built mine following those guidelines, and my results are great.
Unfortunately I can't speak for the other system, I don't know it .
Any other questions please let me know.