Build a DAW

Discussion in 'Computing' started by BennisHahn, Dec 3, 2003.

  1. BennisHahn

    BennisHahn Guest

    Now, I am planning to build my own DAW for the first time. This pc is going to be completely dedicated to audio, with no games, MS office type stuff, or internet on it. I am going to run a delta 44 for I/O and use Sonar 3 producer ed. I will also have Nero for burning and possibly Fruity loops, but that is still up in the air. I am running no synths or anything else other then sonar and plugins.

    I have been doing some research and I am not sure on how "into" this I should get. I don't have $1200 to drop on the pc alone so trying to find a balence of features and minimal price here.

    I was thinking somthing along the lines of this:

    P4 2.4 Northwood, 800fsb,
    ASUS P4P800 mobo, DDR 400 support 800fbs
    Kingston DDR 400 Ram 1 Gig (2X 512)
    Maxtor 80 Gig HD w/ FDB (x2)
    ATI Radeon 7500
    M-Audio Delta 44
    Win XP Pro

    The main thing I am wondering is when type of case/cooling should I be looking at. I want it to be fairily quiet but I can't spend Opraph scratch on it. Should I get a case with multiple fans? I won't be recording more then 2 tracks at a time 99% of the time and won't be running more then 16 tracks max for a song.

    Sorry if this post is disorganized, it's late and I need some sleep. Any advice welcome.
  2. SonOfSmawg

    SonOfSmawg Well-Known Member

    Sep 10, 2000
    I know it's hard to build a DAW on a tight budget. Unfortunately, cutting corners is usually like cutting off your nose despite your face. If you use inferior components, they'll often give you major headaches and you'll end up having to buy what you should have bought in the first place anyway. If you want a good, dependable DAW, with as few hardware-related problems as possible, you're going to have to fork out some cash. As this is your first DAW, you really want to ensure that you at least minimize the possibilities of "hardware issues". The small difference in cash saved is not worth the invited headaches.

    If you buy a cheap case, you get a cheap power supply in it. Once you get your DAW together and finally figure out that your cheap power supply is what is causing your problems, you end-up forking out more cash for a good power supply. So it ends up costing you more than a good case and power supply would have cost you in the first place. Here's one of the best bang-for-the-buck case/power supply combos you can get for a DAW:

    Antec at Newegg

    You may even find them a little cheaper somewhere else, but I prefer Newegg due to their quick delivery shipping method and their customer service. BEWARE of prices "too good to be true" on Pricewatch!

    Whether you go with Maxtor, Seagate, or Western Digital, make sure you get the hard drives with the 8Mb cache. It makes a noticeable difference!

    DON'T use that Radeon 7500! Drop an extra $50 and get a Matrox G550. Graphics cards can have major incompatibility problems in DAWs, and the Matrox G550 is notorious for being the most omni-compatible card for DAWs.

    Feel free to ask if you have any other questions.

  3. kinetic

    kinetic Guest

    I agree with SonofSmarg - the power supply is an often overlooked component but is actually extremely critical. You should always buy a good quality overspecc'd power supply - think of it as an investment. There are lots of good ones from the likes of Antec, Enermax, CoolerMaster etc. Here in Australia I think I paid about $250 for a 500 watt Antec.

    Also, while I'm not an Intel man (all my systems are AMD) I don't think cooling is that much of an issue unless you are overclocking. Noise may be an issue however. I use stock standard (supplied with the processor) CPU fans with my systems and never have a problem with heat. These fans are also fairly quiet compared to some of the super screamers.

    I wonder why you haven't considered an AMD system, but it's getting as bad as the PC versus Apple syndrome, so I won't go there.

    Good luck
  4. BennisHahn

    BennisHahn Guest

    Well, honestly I thought about going with AMD but, (and I don't want this to turn into a war) I have used Intel in every computer I have ever owned. I have a friend who went with and AMD and they get really hot. I prefer not to spend the money on extra cooling, plus the added noise.

    I have been thinking of going with a rack-mounted case lately and want some opinions about it please. Are they much noisier? I know they cost more but space it at a premium so if I can stick this thing in a rack I will be very pleased.
  5. CustomProd

    CustomProd Guest

    Yes, Rack mount it if possible. The noise will be lower from the fans. Some cases even have sound deadening material inside them to squash the Hard Drive noise. Times may have changed (correct me if wrong), but Rack cases are a little more in cost, but worth it in the long run.

    I know that OPUS should really respond here on the Rack-Case issue. He built a machine with one and loved the results that he got.

  6. Tordyvel

    Tordyvel Guest

    Another good case from Antec is "Sonata".
    The hard-drive bays has got some kind of "anti-vibration- thing so the vibrations from the HD's won't make the case vibrate.
    Sorry for my bad english... I have a cold and my head doesn't work... can't find the proper words.
    Anyone tried Artic Coolings CPU-fans/heatsink?
    I was thinking of getting one for my new build:
    P4 3.0 GHz
    ASUS P4C800 E-deluxe Northwood, 800fsb,
    Samsung or Kingston DDR 400 Ram 1 Gig (2X 512)
    OS-HD Western Digital 80 Gb 8 Mb cache
    Audio-HD Western Digital 120 Gb 8 Mb cache
    Matrox G550 Videocard
    M-Audio Delta 410
    Win XP Pro

    Is it true that the 800 FSB boxed CPU's fans are louder than the 533 FSB ones?
    If so, I really need another heatsink/fan.
  7. Pez

    Pez Active Member

    Dec 27, 2002
    Yes, the stock fan on that CPU is too loud. Get a quiet heatsink/fan with a fanmate control so that you can slow down that fan a bit. The chip will still run cool enough with the fan cranked all the way down as long as you use some good thermal paste when you install your new heatsink. It is a mistake to overclock as it'll just make your chip run hotter which in turn requires more cooling which equals more noise. I have modded my Enermax power supply by installing Panaflow fans and reducing the voltage on them so that it runs nice and quiet. I have even added a switch hooked up to the out-take fan on the power supply that inserts a resistor so that I can switch that fan to half speed whenever I feel the need. The computer is so quiet that I can record in the same room without fear of noise. I have the hard drives suspended in the case so that no vibrations are transmitted through contact with the case itself. Be sure to use a motherboard that only requires a CPU fan and uses passive cooling (heatsink) elsewhere.
  8. bmanzer

    bmanzer Guest

    Hi John,
    I was just looking at Zalman case fans and they use a cable with a resistor to cut the fan speed down, just like your switch. What size resistor do you use?
  9. This is bunk... AMD chips don't get very hot at all unless you overclock them (and why would you do that in an audio machine?)

    I see there are different versions of the P4P800 motherboard... none of them use a VIA chipset, though. This is good. If you do decide to go with an AMD based system (I would) do not get a board with a VIA chipset. VIA is notoriously buggy and unstable with audio applications.

    Someone also talked about harddrive manufacturers. Do not buy Western Digital. Maxtor or Seagate should be your only choices (I would go with Seagate). I've had enough Western Digital harddrives crap out on me in the last five years that I will never ever buy another one as long as I live.

    If I were you I'd build an AMD machine and take the money you saved and put it into a kick-ass case (rackmount) and/or extra memory. Memory makes all the difference in a DAW.
  10. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Distinguished Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    We used an AMD chip in our DAW computer with a VIA chipset in it. It was nothing but trouble. We use Wavelab and it would simply not run. Suggest you do not use a VIA chipset. I try and stay all Intel.

    I would also say that we use mostly Western Digital drives and have had no problems with them (sound of knocking on wood)

    I too feel that "cheaping out" on your purchase of a DAW is false economy. You will do more cursing and more knashing of teeth than you thought possible if you start having problems and you will if you don't get the best you can not afford.

    As to noise. There are lots of fans out there with speed controls on them so you can adjust them to a slower speed. If you do you will need more fans since they will not be running as fast.

    The other way to handle this is to put your computer in another room and remote control everything. You can usually get away with 15 foot extention cards for everything including keyboard, mouse and monitor You can put your computer in another room and run the cables though a hole cut in the wall and stuff the hole with acoustical foam or a product called DUCT SEAL that will prevent noise leakage and can be easily removed.

    Hope this helps.
  11. Bill Park

    Bill Park Guest

    In my opinion... forget a rack mounted case. It trasfers the various vibrations to the rack, making them louder.

    Have someone build your computer for you. Yes, you can do it yourself, and cry and whine, and curse the skies while you figure it out, or you can let a pro do it for you for a few bucks more, and it is worth it.

    I've always built my own, but I had the last two made to order. The first one was an Athlon, and I literally gave it away. It was a dog. The second one was a P-IV, built by Chris Smith ( and it rocks. And it was only a little more than the cost of buying the components and doing it myself.

    XP Pro would be my suggestion.


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