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How long does a recording computer last?

Hey guys,

My recording computer is a quad-core i7 iMac that I bought just over 3 years ago, the day that the 2011 refresh was released in early summer 2011. It has 8gigs of ram and purely solid state hard drive.

It has worked really great for me for three years now, but all of a sudden within the last month or two I'm finding that its performance isn't what it used to be. It still gets the job done, but up until a month ago I would have been comfortable calling its performance "perfect" for my use. Now I couldn't say that. It often freezes for a second or two, and updating the myriad of software I use doesn't seem as easy as it used to be. The biggest issue I've noticed is that when I'm editing or mixing a large, complex project in my DAW the audio isn't as pure as it used to be. There are often glitches and clicks that aren't in the raw audio files themselves, but are being added by the computer as it tries to keep up with processing. This used to happen once in a blue moon if I had tons of plugins and virtual instruments running, but now it happens often, even if I am running a more moderate project.

I don't want this to turn into a "tips for sickly macs" discussion- but I'm wondering for both the Mac and PC users out there, and also for those of you that build your own recording rigs or have them custom built for audio, how many years do you feel like you can get out of your recording computer before you feel like it needs an overhaul or replacement? I have often heard 4 years, and my experience with my iMac seems to fit with that figure (I could easily get another 10 months out of it, but would want to start shopping around for a replacement sooner than later.)

Pax Caritas et lol,


Josh Conley Tue, 08/26/2014 - 13:29
computers last depending on your ability to frankenstein them. im still using one i got in 2006, but not for audio ;) too slow now.

its the harddrive thats important. i have maybe 6 hdd's sitting in a drawer that are anywhere from 4 to 12 years old. none boot by themselves cause the os's are trashed, but all of them can slave to an existing drive, so they work.

removable drives, not the same. removable drives are not a question of if, but when they will fail. my first lacie drive died in 04 after 2 years of use. now i have 3 dead external drives (all western digital), and the 4th (something else) is soon to join them.

pcrecord Tue, 08/26/2014 - 14:18
Other than storage, a computer can last a very long time.
What usually makes them go bad is not the hardware but the amount of softwares we install, uninstall, virus, malwares etc...

Even if you don't go online with it, any trial you do with a new software may modify the configurations and therefor affect the stability.
Usually, the best practice is to install a fresh OS and the minimum of software needed for the job.
You can have a clone drive to make tests but going back to the clean OS to work.

As for the PC/MAC war, since Apple started to use intel CPU, it is a bit less true that MACs are more stable. When they crash, they can crash hard...

You need to know why it is freezing, the possible reasons : heat, HDD, Background software, Drivers, Memory failing.... Or OS need to be reinstalled..

audiokid Tue, 08/26/2014 - 17:09
I was concerned a few months back, but then I switched to MADI and the overall improvement was astonishing. Then, Samplitude did a few bug fixes a few weeks ago and its incredible. I also avoid 3rd party plugs like the plague, and notice my DAW always operates better.

My mastering DAW is 5 years and perfect. My tracking.mixing is 4. Still seems great. Although, I have some crap software I wish I never tried so I may do a clean OS install sometime.

ClarkJaman Tue, 08/26/2014 - 21:34
Yeah I did lots of research when I first purchased this computer, and that was the only disadvantage I found, other than the price. My biggest regret: for an extra $200 I could have got an additional 1TB drive and had two hard drives in my iMac, something which is impossible now that the new iMacs are only 5mm thick around the edge.

RemyRAD Tue, 08/26/2014 - 23:11
A couple of years ago, I took the plunge and converted my previous HP, high-end, laptop, over to Vertex 3 & 4 series, SSD. Strictly for the operating system, not for recording to. Nevertheless, I have noticed an increasing slowdown and similar hiccups to what you've also described Clark.

It is my belief, that the SSD drives, aren't quite really ready for prime time audio and video production purposes? Even when they are just running the operating system, software and plug-ins.

When one purchases, say, readily available, 120 GB, 240 GB SSD drives. They are in fact, nearly 10 times that data capacity. Since the fail rate of multiple read/write functions, destroyed chunks of memory, throughout their use. And those gaps, clicks and pops are the inability of the SSD drives, jumping over scads of memory, to get to uncorrupt functional memory blocks? I think that's what is causing these problems to arise, from regular use.

Audio recording, video recording and their respective postproduction requirements, put huge burdens on disk drives. We are still traveling through uncharted territory. They haven't been around long enough or improved, to circumvent such issues, in the current state of the art. I have been actually considering going back to mechanical SATA hard drives, because of this ongoing and irritating anomalies. But then again... it could be these blasted 64-bit operating systems? I really don't think they have the mathematics down, properly?

Today, unlike yesteryear, when items were created for critical applications and usage. Standards had to be established. And companies were not rushing products to market, as quickly as they scramble today, for the greed and profit marketing schemes that we all are spending billions upon. You only have to look at the profit motive to understand why this is happening. They've got us. They've gotten our money. And will continue to do so because they know we are all lemmings. A perfect example are the people that have Apple iPhone 5's. Who all lined up by the millions, to get the latest, Apple iPhone 5 S's. Making the previous Apple iPhone 5's, no longer viable. Which is total and complete, insanity at best. So the marketing plan works great! For the stockholders. Not for the end-users.

In a similar situation, ALESIS, with their HD-24/HD 24 XR's, were only originally designed to work with parallel, IDE hard drives. Of which there are still plenty available and floating around. But SATA is now the accepted hard disk interface protocol. Requiring additional IDE to SATA controller chips, to be installed in the hard drive caddies. Some of these have worked. Some have not. All are inconsistent with their operation, at best. And where this changeover to SATA, on these particular recorders, is actually far from necessary. But poor little brain dead morons, gotta hav'em. Why I do not know? Because you really can't give these FST formatted hard drives, to your clients. No computer operating system can read this FST format, directly, without the ALESIS FST format external software. Because people think they need 1 TB, 2 TB and 3 TB hard drives. They absolutely don't need drives that large, even though ALESIS originally claimed, that it could handle, up to 4 TB, IDE hard drives. But there were no 1 TB, 2 TB, 3 TB or, 4 TB, IDE hard drives, ever released.

The size of those drives and their capacity, are so huge, no one hard drives needs to have that many huge multi-track sessions, for a single album. It's crazy. It's insane. 320 GB IDE hard drives, are more than adequate. Even if multiple hard drives are required, for a single huge multi-track album project. Just like analog tape. No one could get a full album, onto a single roll of multi-track analog tape. So why can't people understand that? Because they're all stupid, dumb, retarded. That's why. No one wants to make sense in our business anymore because we are rife, with no nothing, entry level, stupid heads. And this is what the children want otherwise they will throw a temper tantrum. Regardless of their age and/or maturity level. And who possess little if any technical knowledge. So they all think it should work? It does and it doesn't, sort of. But you can't make recordings based on, sort of. We need reliability, first and foremost. That was not the focus. So we get gobbledygook. Yuck. Get it off! GET IT OFF! EEK! A BUG! But the bug has dug in and is sucking your blood, dry. The profit motive is all based upon parasitic planning. Whoops. It works great for the shareholders. Just look at the NASDAQ today. Holy cow!

Are Holsteins holy Jewish cows?
Mx. Remy Ann David

paulears Tue, 08/26/2014 - 23:41
My latest one had a nice big ssd drive and I put the OS on it expecting massively quicker start up, but just bad luck and it failed after a week, so I reinstalled on an other normal drive and windows 8 starts almost as quickly. I didn't bother replacing it when I got a new replacement.

For me, video editing is the toughest job we do here, so this is the one that gets replaced first, and the old video PC moves to audio duties, and that one moves to other duties. This means the ones in the store not used are spares, but are maybe not really that old. One on the shelf has vista on it and the oldest is xp pro. In need of a rack mount PC for a project that didn't need much oomph I started the vista one, and installed the lighting software. I noticed it had cubase 5 on it (and SX3) and loaded an old project. Everything about it was so slow, but the last time it was used I was using this slowness every day!

My long winded point being that as the processor speed and power goes up with each new computer, we think it's a bit faster, but in reality, it's a LOT faster than the one before the one before.

anonymous Wed, 08/27/2014 - 00:25
when was the last time you did some housecleaning?

Yes, drives can go bad, or start to give warning signs that they are having problems, or, they can just crash on you without warning.

But by and large, if you are seeing a performance drop, it could be because your registry and system are so clogged with various dead dll's, install files, old downloads, etc.

I remember talking to a PC guy whom I trusted about 4 years ago, who is into video like we are into audio. He claimed that he wiped his HD down to nothing every few years, and then reinstalled what he still used.

Now, he was also very meticulous about keeping all his project files stored separately on an external drive, as well as keeping all his software in a safe place, so when he did a complete wipe, he wasn't worrying about killing old projects, and when he reinstalled, he knew exactly where every piece of software that he wanted to continue to use was located, as well as a list of websites where previous patches, bugfixes and updates were located... He also did an entire system back up first, either to an external HD or to a Cloud - as insurance, should the ball take a funny bounce and he needed to reinstall the original versions and OS.

It sounds like a lot of crap to have to go through, and it is, but many times you don't need to replace your system, you just need to clean it. On my previous PC, before the one I have now, I was able to baby it and keep it working from 2007 to 2014. Almost 7 years. During that time, I wiped my systm drive down to nothing a total of 3 separate times... and each time I did, the PC wolred like it was brand new. The main reason I finally bought a new PC was to finally move into W8, because my previous OS was XP and Microsoft was discontinuing all support for it - and also because so many of the audio apps I was using were moving into 64 bit architecture, and XP - solid and reliable as it was - was limited to a total of 4 gig of ram because of its 32 bit build.

On a final note, I've been told by people whom I trust - and who know far better than I - that SSD's are not the optimum drive architecture to use for audio production... apparently, because they wear down faster than a standard drive will because they aren't able to handle - not for very long, anyway - the intense write/read processing that audio production requires ... so you might be seeing a performance drop because the SSD has seen too much W/R action.

I'm not a Mac guy (anymore) but I would think there would be some kind of online test from the manufacturer that would allow you to check your drive. (I'd stay away from third party websites that offer this)
Before I did that though, I'd make sure the Firmware for the drive was up to date. Find out which SSD drive you have, and visit the website for the manufacturer. They may even offer a drive testing service as well.



Chris Perra Thu, 08/28/2014 - 05:21
Unless you have a computer that has trouble with the recommended requirements of the OS and Daw software it should last along time.. My audio computer is 4 or 5 years old.. works fine. I replace the drives every 3 or 4 years.. I shut it off when I don't use it.. Make sure it's not in a dusty environment and well ventilated and it should last till the OS out lives the hardware if there's not defects in the hardware.. Everything will wear out eventually but 3 or 4 years old isn't that old unless it was at the bottom end of the system requirements when you got it.

Sounds like you need to replace the hard drives and reinstall everything.. It's a good thing to do every 3 or 4 years for a system that needs to work. I know guys that do it once a year.. They do a fresh install and then do a complete clone so that's all they have to do to reinstall quickly.. providing the software hasn't changed in that year.

If after a fresh install you still have issues it could be the ram, or Cpu.. For me performance issues were always fixed with new hard drives and a fresh install.

ClarkJaman Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:00
From the original post:
ClarkJaman, post: 418908, member: 42802 wrote: I don't want this to turn into a "tips for sickly macs" discussion

:irony: :rolleyes:

Doing a fresh wipe every once in a while is a good thing to do, but all of you guys offering advice on replacing hard drives and frankensteining your computers are obviously not iMac users. It's not as simple as that when you live in the apple atmosphere lol. And to be honest, I'm not interested in learning how to build/rebuild computers. Every minute that I spend frankensteining a computer in my studio is a minute lost not making music in my studio, not to mention the investment in learning time and tools.

As far as SSDs go, they are faster and better whether you are using them for tracking audio or what have you, no doubt about it, and they aren't prone to mechanical failures since there are no moving parts. But like I said at the beginning, they have a finite amount of read/writes and they are a lot more expensive. The real debate lies:
1) In whether or not they are worth the extra money
2) Between having two HDDs doing different jobs or having one SSD doing both jobs

For debate #1, I would answer that they are worth the money, moreso as time goes by and they get cheaper. For debate #2 I obviously believed that one SSD would outperform when I bought this computer, but 3 years later I have been converted against that opinion.

"In my humble opinion, of course."

Chris Perra Thu, 08/28/2014 - 10:22
Your choice.. a new hard drive is way cheaper than a new computer.. As far as how long it takes.. around 5 minutes with a P.C. The only tools I need is a Philips screwdriver..
No idea with a Mac.. the tower types should be the same.. With an Imac.. take it in to a repair place.. get them to do it. Or if you feel like spending a half hour..


If you have the money get a new one.. It's much easier.. and you'll have a better computer..

kmetal Thu, 08/28/2014 - 14:52
With my windows cp machine, I did a complete OS reinstall from scratch every couple years, and it still did what it always did, minus a couple points in performance for wear and tear or an 8yr old CPU.

Clark have you considered something's like a glyph hard drive for your audio data? That way your protected no matter what your iMac does? Also are you are running two drives right, one audio one system? Mac or PC, they are all computers and IMHO you get 2years of premium performance, then a slow decline, I find the 5 yr mark to be when they in general start becoming troublesome.

The real question is on the long term reliability of an SSd. Is the finite amount of writes/re writes sufficient, and how reliable is the data rockery of a failed one. I will say that if it's anything like my tablet experience, computers are heading in a good direction. But SSd is too new and pricey for me, I'll stick w the old for a while, maybe another couple years.

ClarkJaman Thu, 08/28/2014 - 15:32
kmetal, post: 418999, member: 37533 wrote:
Clark have you considered something's like a glyph hard drive for your audio data? That way your protected no matter what your iMac does?

Of course I have! But I wouldn't buy anything that wasn't thunderbolt, and they were always so darn expensive. But thanks to you I just checked on the price on those again and they seem quite reasonable now. The only problem is that I only have one port on this iMac and it's occupied by my second monitor... :/

I really appreciate all the suggestions everyone but I was just trying to spark a discussion on how long computers can last. If I wanted a new recording computer I am very blessed to have access to four brand new iMacs and two mac pros, it's just that my computer works fine for me right now and I want to finish the major project I'm on right now before I transfer all my software over to a new rig! This community is too eager to help!!! (y) Haha. (I know... I'm the young kid that everyone wants to give advice to... :P )

Chris Perra Thu, 08/28/2014 - 16:05
I guess it depends on what you quantify as "Last".... by your standards as long as the hard drives do.... which is somewhat understandable in your situation it being an Imac and you having access to other new ones.. Typically hard drives last 3 to 5 years.. Not sure about SSD.. I have 2 in my video computer.. reading up on them the ones I got could be constantly written and rewritten 24 hours a day for 5 or 6 years before they go down.

Using one to do both OS and data would drastically increase the read/write. Sounds like you use it alot so 4 years sounds like a good run...

ClarkJaman Fri, 08/29/2014 - 13:17
Chris Perra, post: 419001, member: 48232 wrote: the ones I got could be constantly written and rewritten 24 hours a day for 5 or 6 years before they go down.

The thing I wonder about is whether they will slowly decrease in productivity until they die completely or if they work fine for a few years and then just keel over one day.

kmetal Sat, 08/30/2014 - 02:24
Whoever this is is saying at least 4 years for most. Ive never had a hard drive failure, my laptop is 8 yrs old and still meh like it always was. I've never actually talked to anyone who has encountered a hard drive failure, or noticeable deterioration. Usually it's the computer processing as a whole just becomes obsolete. Although I saw sparks come out of one g5, and another the fans started racing big time so we put it in the back room. I think the sparks was a blown power supply but that thing is just for part.

This bring the obvious question, what's your backup method like? We have duplicate system and audio drives and I have a flash drive and another portable had drive. I've really been wanting to consolidate all of my external backups to one larg hd. I would guess SSd would be better due to lack of moving parts? I'm def not gonna remember to run my has every six months forever.

RemyRAD Sat, 08/30/2014 - 03:46
I still have a functional IBM, T-30, Pentium 4 M, with 500 MB of memory and a 40 gig, IDE hard drive, running ProTools 7.0 that must be over 10 years old and still chugging along. Running XP Pro. The machine and the software, still runs as fast as the day I loaded the operating system. You need the right housekeeping software such as Mal ware and add scanners. Virus scanners. Registry optimizers/cleaners. System optimizers such as regular defragmenting. But none of those running on a schedule or automatically. All that gobbledygook has to be defeated from starting up by using MSconfig, from the Start/Run, menu. And in the configuration, disable everything in start up. And a few other things and other tweaks. And no problems.

Problems start when you've gone to, too many, questionable websites. Cookies are fun to eat. The crumbs, screw up your computer. So toss your cookies. Then flush.

I'm still waiting to use the bathroom?
Mx. Remy Ann David

anonymous Sat, 08/30/2014 - 04:32
The best way to avoid viruses and malware on your production computer is to simply stay off-line with it.

Virus protection is a memory hog, and can bog down your workflow while recording and mixing.

Put your production computer online to do manufacturer updates, bug fixes, patches and firmware fixes only.

Chris Perra Sun, 08/31/2014 - 05:48
Longevity of a hard drive will vary.. But they all fail 100% of the time.. it's just when not if. 4 years is a good happy medium of when to replace as they usually fail sometime after that..
For around 5 years is when the standard Sata hard drives start getting weird.

I like having a dual boot for OS. So that one side I can go on the net with and other other stays off.

anonymous Sun, 08/31/2014 - 06:25
ClarkJaman, post: 419026, member: 42802 wrote: The thing I wonder about is whether they will slowly decrease in productivity until they die completely or if they work fine for a few years and then just keel over one day.

Well, both.

If you're lucky, you'll start to get some warning signs first... but, I've also had drives simply quit on me with no warning signs at all, so it all depends on how that particular hand grenade bounces...

Always be backing up. Always.

With the price of storage space these days ( meaning it's very affordable... you can get into a USB Terrabyte drive for what? like, maybe $89 or something? And we're talking strictly storage here, so there's no need to go all hi-tech and pay for SS or high rpm HDD's ) there's no reason to not have at least one backup storage system in place. ;)

ClarkJaman Sun, 08/31/2014 - 16:19
DonnyThompson, post: 419082, member: 46114 wrote: Well, both.

If you're lucky, you'll start to get some warning signs first... but, I've also had drives simply quit on me with no warning signs at all, so it all depends on how that particular hand grenade bounces...

You're talking about HDDs though. I'm wondering about solid states.

As far as backing up, Mac users haven't had to worry about that for years. It's called time machine. ;)

anonymous Sun, 08/31/2014 - 17:11
I take my advice from Rush You want a computer that runs? Get a mac!! I had a mac g3 that was still running os 9.6 when I gave it to goodwill last year. Internet explorer 3 for mac os 9.6 does not like css. You want good cheap back up storage (remember it NOT if it's when people) ? Get Idisk for $40 a month all the secure online back up storage you'll ever need. Unless you, like me have many tb's worth of storage back up, then remember they are so cheap because they like most other web hosts and sever over promise and under deliver (if you use anywhere near unlimited your data will be deleted and account terminated).

anonymous Sun, 08/31/2014 - 17:23
ClarkJaman, post: 419098, member: 42802 wrote: You're talking about HDDs though. I'm wondering about solid states.

As far as backing up, Mac users haven't had to worry about that for years. It's called time machine. ;)

solid states are like ram they generally don't fail unless they overheat which seeing as how fully buffered server ram FB-DIMMS almost never fails I don't see a solid state hard drive failing but when it does it would be like ram completely useless for anything other than a deepwater fishing sinker for pelagic fish ( Other fish don't seem to like circuit boards or crank shafts for that matter) and would probably cause the computer to shut off quick and there would be no warning signs once a solid state gate won't turn from on to off AKA 1 to 0 due to over heating it never will and generally more than one goes and the device useless.

kmetal Mon, 09/01/2014 - 02:13
Honestly I think the whole virus scan thing is both true, but overly stressed. When I retired my home CPU from music stuff an core 2due Xp, laptop, I used avast virus scan and went on the internet streaming youtube, and recorded tracks just as well as I did w no internet. I did fresh install every couple years and the CPU never once got connetecd. I think it worked fine cuz I was pushing it resource wise I think it's more that you need to be careful lol but w a reputable virus scan and using startup modes, if your going to connect it.

pcrecord Wed, 09/03/2014 - 05:04
RemyRAD, post: 419047, member: 26269 wrote: Cookies are fun to eat. The crumbs, screw up your computer. So toss your cookies. Then flush.
Mx. Remy Ann David

Cookies have nothing to do with HDD/computer performance and lifetime.
They only remember some info you entered on webpages and weight around 1ko. They are used only when you return to that website..
The only things that can slow down a computer is what uses ressources, CPU and memory. Also if the hdd becomes full or fragmented.
-From the internet ; anytime you say yes to a plugin, go on a webpage that hides a malware your computer modified behaviour may slow down the operations.
-You are the source of most slowing down. By trying software, saving data, installing and uninstalling stuff etc.
Before you go and replace your HDD and/or the computer, do a backup and reinstall only what you need to record. Then, you'll have the truth ! ;)

IT guy !

Brother Junk Sun, 08/21/2016 - 06:31
A studio owner I know specifically keeps the OS on one drive, and everything else he possibly can on externals. Not travel type externals, ones that stay where they are. Each one with two hard drives for redundancy. E.g. Mine is, I believe, a Western Digital 4tb. 2 separate 2tb drives, one is simply a duplicate of the other.

Then, every now and again, when things start acting glitchy, he just wipes the OS and reinstalls.

I haven't talked to him a lot about it. I'm usually picking his brain about other stuff, but he is a very efficient guy (brilliant musician/engineer). If he does it that way, I'm sure it's for a good reason. He is so friggin fast with PT it makes your eyes hurt trying to follow him. He knows every damn shortcut, just everything. What I'm trying to get across is that he is a great composer, bar none, the fastest with PT I have EVER seen (by light years), owns/runs his own studio where they do video shoots, they got green screens, booths, it's a big operation. They have half a dozen Mac Pro's hanging around, maybe more.

Pretty much all I know about it is what I mentioned, and that he does it so he can wipe the main drive every now and again to get more years out of the computer. It seems to be working, as they only recently got a trash can.

I'm sure he wouldn't be doing it if it didn't help in some way. He uses Pro Tools and Mac.


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