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I currently have an old (2004, Pentium II, 4GB) desktop computer that's painfully slow to use even to web browse and fairly audible in terms of cooling fans and HDD, and I'd like to get into home recording. 

My goal is to buy a used computer with the following four objectives:

  • Have the computer be completely inaudible/silent in recordings of quiet things like fingerpicked guitar, acoustic hand drum, flute, quiet singing, etc. 
  • Have the computer be able to handle DAW work that's up to maybe 40 tracks with effects (not necessarily on every track), without any drop outs or latency that is going to throw me off as the performer or cause any other issues. 
  • Have the computer be able to serve as a "guitar pedal" for me, allowing me to practice electric guitar with effects on it without the latency being noticeable or at least in any way bothersome.
  • Spend the least money as possible. I'm hoping that can be no more than about $300.

I am confused as to what is a reasonable approach in 2021. Options that I have seen mentioned, with my thoughts in italics:

  • Get a top-of-the-line, pricey desktop powerhouse and make sure it has all sorts of passive cooling tech so it is also silent. I'm just not going to do that because it's too expensive.
  • Buy a much older desktop (say an i3 from 5 years ago) that will have some fan/etc noise, but put it in another room with long cables under a door so you can't hear it. Not an elegant or pleasant solution at all due to the cabling under the door. Not going to work for me.
  • But a much older desktop, but fit it with quiet fans. Just not sure if that will be enough.
  • Buy a laptop, which are often silent, and plug its video output into my desk monitor. But less computing bang for your buck, though. And I can't know it will be silent.

What can you suggest? 


kmetal Thu, 09/02/2021 - 17:54

300$ is really on the low side, to the point of being almost unattainable.

can you DIY or does it have to be pre built?

For around $400 you can get a prebuilt acer with an intel i5 (6 core) and 8gb of ram. You could upgrade the fans and have a reasonably powerful machine. For 500-550 you could get a ryzen 4700g (8 core) which would be even better. I think I’ve seen an i3 quad core acer for around 300$.

the issue with prebuilts is limited upgrade ability, cheap power supply, and proprietary parts like custom motherboards or PSU connectors that force you to pay a lot if you need to replace it.



in the diy your looking at a last gen ryzen 3600x or i5, both 6 core and around 150 for the cpu. You could go with a quad core but with today’s plugins you may max it out too soon.  You really want to be at least a 6 core and one fairly new ie last couple generations, since windows 11 isn’t supporting anything before 8th gen intel, and 2nd gen ryzen. 


you can get a cheap ssd for the operating system 20-75$ depending on size speed and quality, a 5 pack of arctic p12 fans for 35$ Which are the best bang for the buck for a quiet fan, and preferably a noctua cpu cooler for around 50$ for the lower cost model.

you may be able to get an older model fractal define case for around 80$ which would be quiet. Or go for an airflow case and keep the fans running low speed. 



when you compare price vs performance of a base model new computer vs an older one the newer ones are the way to go. Things just don’t get much cheaper than 300$ for something that will do 40 tracks with plugins, even older machines.




chelonian Thu, 09/02/2021 - 18:16

when you compare price vs performance of a base model new computer vs an older one the newer ones are the way to go. Things just don’t get much cheaper than 300$ for something that will do 40 tracks with plugins, even older machines.

I'm surprised, because I was seeing on other forums that really almost any computer from the last 10ish years is good enough for audio recording. Maybe the issue is the 40 tracks? Maybe I'm wrong to think I'd ever need that many. I just threw that number out there as a max number. My guess is, most of my music would have between 2 and 8 tracks, maybe 10. Something like progressive rock. 40 was just in case I have some more ambitious projects. (Even 20 feels like "what could I possibly put on 20 tracks!?")

Thanks for all the other great details. I'm going to re-read it and think about it and may have replies to specifics. Very useful!



audiokid Thu, 09/02/2021 - 19:42

Hi chelonian , welcome to our community.

I have to agree with kmetal.👍🏼
Just to help clarify, you are on a pro audio forum where many of us have used a lot of equipment, record professionally and it’s expensive at times. Computers and their add-ons are part of the equation.
Question we always ask/ ourselves… What’s most important when all is considered. 

I recently bought a new computer for basic web work and 2 track (mastering) and it was $1300.00. My multi track computer, which is ultra quiet too, cost $3500.00. It has 3 drive and they all sit on rubber mounts. The fans are heat sensitive so they spin at a speed on demand. That's really cool.

I should invest in SSD but have been waiting for that.

I personally need independent PCIe slots for the interfacing- ADDA, video card(s) and other slots. That can also be a consideration for some using gear that requires seamless low latency multitracking.

All being said, I use http://PCAudioLabs… and recommend checking them out to see what they use, copy what they do (as they are solid and tested recording computers) and maybe you could get great ideas there, maybe build your own from their examples.

You can also buy something used here from best buy but I doubt you'll get anything worth using for $300.

Hope this helps


paulears Fri, 09/03/2021 - 01:05

Few things are good about buying old cars. Buying old computers is far worse. You only buy new computers when the old one struggles, fails, annoys you, because you never get excited by the computer, only what it does for you. Many people HAVE to upgrade their computers because they update their software, and the perfectly good computer objects. It has to go, just to keep the latest versions running of your apps. The software is often more than you want to spend on a computer. Buying older kit means everything about it is at the edge of not working so your plan is flawed. I’ve bought old computers to run word and excel and do other non stressful tasks, but every year or so I buy a new powerful computer. Usually this is for the video part of what I do which is the critical one. The video computer moves to the audio job, where it’s an improvement on the old one. That one goes to do audio elsewhere. I’ve done this for years. I don’t run mega tough software, but Cubase with all my sample packages would simply be dead in the water on an old computer that wasnt cutting edge when new. My solution to noise was put all the computers the other side of a door in their own space. Cooling means noise, that’s just how it is. Your budget is simply far too low. Some software will be happy, but as soon as track count gets up with vstis and effects it’s going to be trouble. Three years is a long time in computers. Drivers dry up, new cards need new motherboards, new fans need extra space. Some cards need new power supplies. I3 in anything other than the fastest variety is a time bomb. Your budget doesn’t seem to even cater for external big storage or internal storage, or any of the pay for software you will want/need. A computer expert might be able to tweak and hone a system but so much software now assumes you have 16gb of memory, a fast processor, SSD storage and even video cards to take the load from the processor. With electric cars, we’ll soon be doing the same. Three year old cars becoming junk.  With a limited budget you need a local fell on hard times needing cash, or a crash course in computer building and living on ebay for a while grabbing the few bargains. 

pcrecord Fri, 09/03/2021 - 07:12

If there is an activity in which you want to spend the least amount of money, it is certainly NOT recording music. 

Old computers can certainly do home recordings. Some of us on RO did record on computers as far as 20 years ago.. Ressourcing one of those computers could be a big experiment idea but in reality, none of those computers could be used with today's softwares (DAWs, plugins and virtual instruments or interfaces).

You see we invest in good mics and preamps but we spend on computer and softwares. 

If I could I would still run my studio on windows 2000 (which was made for business computers) but no audio interface is compatible with those OLD OS and certainly not new softwares.. 

One thing you didn't say is if you are going for a Mac or a PC, this should be your first decision. 

Look which DAW and Interface seems to fit your needs, it will help you decide between the 2 platforms. 

Welcome to the marvelous world of Recording !! ;)

kmetal Fri, 09/03/2021 - 16:53

It’s not just a question of raw power. Yes any quad core or better from 2011 or newer will handle 40 tracks.

it’s a question on an old machine, of wear and tear, upgradability, software and hardware compatibility, and how well current software will fare on an old machine. Old hardware will have potential issues with newer audio interfaces and ssd support, and uses old ddr3 ram. DDR5 ram is arriving in October with the new intel 12th gen.

then there is price. Even an old quad core isn’t going to be much cheaper than 300$ and a current quad core will be 50-100% better in performance.

a regular smart phone could handle 1-10 tracks in my experience.

imho the absolute oldest you would go would be intel 6th gen skylake which is a quad core i5. But when you weigh up the cost vs a brand new budget acer i5 10400 6 core for around 400-450 (with m.2 ssd included which is the fastest type) or a quad core i3 for 350-380, the performance per dollar just doesn’t make sense on an old machine. Plus all the other things mentioned.

chelonian Fri, 09/03/2021 - 22:38

Old hardware will have potential issues with newer audio interfaces and ssd support, and uses old ddr3 ram. 

I didn't realize that. I was under the impression that the consumer audio interfaces I've looked at basically required Windows 7 or up, or probably now Windows 10 and that hardware didn't really matter. And SSDs? I'd buy a computer with an SSD so wouldn't that not be an issue for me?

And why is DDR3 RAM a concern?

But when you weigh up the cost vs a brand new budget acer i5 10400 6 core for around 400-450 (with m.2 ssd included which is the fastest type)

I did a quick look for that Acer system and I'm seeing $595 on Amazon. Whereas I am also seeing this computer for $234 on Amazon:

  • Dell OptiPlex 9020-SFF, Intel Core i5-4570 3.2GHZ, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD Solid State, DVDRW, Windows 10 Pro 64bit (Renewed)

What will the Acer do (for $361 more), for my purposes, that this Dell OptiPlex won't? 

Thanks again!

kmetal Sat, 09/04/2021 - 19:44

The hardware may be compatible with windows 7, but the drivers will not be optimized for older operating systems. You won't get the most out of them particularly where latency and reliability are a concern. The windows ecosystem is pretty good with backwards compatibility but you want to be in the ballpark of current.

Anyway w7 is no longer supported by Microsoft so its a security risk, and software and hardware will start to not suppprt it officially. As it stands windows 11 is due out in October, and Windows 10 will stop being supported in 2024.

This is one primary reason you want to be into an 8th gen intel, or 3rd gen Ryzen, since windows 11 will become necessary in a few years, and those are the oldest officially supported chips (ryzen 2nd gen is supported, but 3rd is significantly better for audio.


If your computer has an ssd cool. You will want a 2nd ssd or hdd for audio projects, leaving the ssd for the operating system and program's. An ssd can handle both but its easier to just have 2 drives.

The problem with pre 7th gen intel machines is they do not support NVME type ssd. These are 5x-10x faster in general than a regular SATA3 ssd, and dont cost much more.

A decent modern budget system will have NVME ssd for operating system and sata3 for audio projects drive.


Ddr3 ram- is very old now, and much slower than ddr4, and way slower than the ddr5 which launches this year. Ram is a key component in an audio machine.

Basically ddr3 is long gone. And probably not a whole lot cheaper than current ddr4.


The optiplex- the 4570 is both old and mid level, and meager by todays standards. You will have trouble with modern plugins and daws. It still sells for 50-100$ which is the cost of a brand new ryzen ir intel quad core thats both faster, and brand new.

The power supply has been used for near 10 years, and that will be a point if failure. Since its a dell pre built computers for consumers, it will likely be a proprietary part that you can only get from dell and will be very expensive, like 150$, and its low quality. Its a 20$ psu dell sells for way more.

The PSU is the a place they cheap out on budget machines, and is a critical component.

Plus the CPU is nearly 10 years of use on it, and will be worn out and slow. CPUs slow down over time. So its a relatively slow CPU compared to current, and worn out running slow.


These are the best low cost machines out there for pre builts. Ive bought 2x of the HP one gor 450$, one for 550$, and one of the acers, but a couple years back for 400$. I recently bought but canceled the lenovo for 400$ cuz i wanted to get the hp with the ryzen 8 core instead of intel 6 core.

I did quite a bit of research on these since i wanted some budget pre builts these are the best buys, and often go on sale for closer to the prices i mentioned. Sometimes you will see the i3 version for 350-380, even 330 if your lucky.

With the acer vs the dell your getting easily double the performance of the dell. 6 core and 12 threads instead of 4c/4t on the dell, plus each core is much faster. The hp is going to be more like triple.

You get NVME ssd.

Ddr4 ram.

Windows 11 compatibility

 And with the HP and possibly the Acer, an open ram slot so you can just add more ram. The lenovo has both ram slots filled, so you lose half the ram when you upgrade.

And you don't have 10 years wear and tear on the machine, its brand new.

With a pre built you still have proprietary parts which are annoying. If you diy you can't get much cheaper but you can get better parts with longer warranties, lifetime on the ram, 3-5 on ssd and PSU.

These are going to give you the best performance per dollar as opposed to the used dell, more longevity, and better future compatibility.

This is a weird time to buy because ddr5 and pcie5 are just about to come out, so even current gen stuff is soon to be not current. Ddr and pcie introduce a new standard about every 5-7years and typically double in speed each time.

Anyway i just googled the model numbers when i was shopping a few months back and waited for sales which happen frequently and that is how i got them at rock bottom.

Hope this helps.

Acer aspire tc-875-ur12 and ur13

450- 1tb hdd…

470$ 256gb drive


500$ 500gb drive


Lenovo ideacentre 5 90ns0006us…

Hp m01-f1024…

paulears Mon, 09/06/2021 - 23:27

All good stuff here and the SSD info explained why one of my smaller SSDs was rather poor when I used it to upgrade an older machine, thanks! 

one old pc still worked great. A bit slow, I suppose, but solid. Then Adobe did the upgrades. They allow lots of computers but a limit to how many active and one day I needed audition on this old one. Stupidly I upgraded to the latest and it didn’t run. Insufficient RAM. Trying to find working old memory was a pain. None of the ones in my bits pile worked on it, and the new ‘old’ ones I bought didn’t either. It hadn’t been used really for three years and now is disconnected and will be the next case to have new innards. Old computers are just problems in the making.