Hardware recommendations?

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ken
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I've had Ardour on my various Debian boxen for years, but never had a box powerful enough to use it. Mostly I've got old laptops around here.

But I now want to seriously use it, along with specimen and ams and a bunch of other DeMuDi type software.

What do y'all recommend I buy?

- What CPU (Athlon still recommended, as docs say?)

- What MOBO (I understand VIA sucks, but which *do not* suck?)

- What Digital Audio card? Especially for analog input. Or, should I get a card that takes ADAT input and then ge t a digital mixer to do my D/A for me?

- What drives? Is SCSI or IDE/Firewire still recommended (as docs say), or is SATA better/cheaper for these apps?

- What MIDI card? I understand that the USB cards suck, but which ones suck not?

- Are old Matrox cards still the best for "playing nice" on the PCI bus? Or do the new AGP cards and onboard video work just fine nowadays?

If you were to build a PC to run Ardour simultaneously with other Linux music apps, what would you put in it?

Thanks!

sampo
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Joined: 2006-03-16
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Everything depends on what will you do with your system. If you are going to record a proximity-mic'd symphony orchestra, you will need a lot of disk i/o and memory. If you are going to do complex modular synth setups, you might not need that much i/o but a lot of CPU.

If you were to buy now, I would get a Core 2 Duo motherboard with the newest 1GHz memory bus, and a quite modest CPU. This is because Intel will be releasing a quad core processor quite soon. You can then swap the modest CPU for a quad core without changing your motherboard or memory. The memory bus is important as it will be shared by all four cores.

Your mileage and preferences might vary, but at the moment the truth is that Intel Core 2 Duos beat every AMD processor available. And I can personally vouch for their speed.

SATA disks are now the standard. They work very well. I see no reason to go for SCSI except if you are infact recording hundreds of channels at the same time. And I'm not even sure that there is a reason why you couldn't do that on a SATA disk.. I would advice against IDE disks because they are going away fast. You would have to select a "legacy compatible" motherboard which might not have optimal specs (or even worse: would not have a SATA controller at all, but just a SATA-IDE bridge and SATA performance would be compromised) and in a year or two, you will be hard-pressed to find an IDE drive anywhere anyhow.

If a stereo in stereo out type interface is enough for you, the audiophile 24/96 (NOT the 192, it does not work in Linux) is probably a good choice for you. It offers you both analog and s/pdif i/o plus MIDI. This will work for you only if PCI is the way you want to go. I don't know that much about USB cards than that I got burned by the M-Audio Quattro.

My advice on the sound card is to ask yourself whether two channels is enough for you. If you plan on doing live recording, you will want more, trust me.

If you don't need dazzling 3D performance, I would go with a well supported built-in graphics card with open-source drivers like Via Unichrome or Intel XYZ.

The open-source drivers are important for low-latency use. A lot of people have no problems whatsoever using proprietary drivers for their graphics cards, but we can't guarantee that. Nobody except the manufacturer can poke around the code and the community is not overly convinced that those drivers are completely real-time safe.

Regarding Matrox cards: the "playing nice" with the PCI bus is not a question of the chip, but a question of drivers. There are a lot of people using Matrox cards with heavy Ardour use and are very happy with them.

flinthearted@ar...
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CPU - The Core 2 Duo is currently the best chip available, but as soon as AMD gets is 65nm facilities online you can probably expect AMD to overtake Intel once again. If you want to build now, go with the Core 2 Duo, it should be more than competent for virtually any audio task.

MB - Tyan makes very nice motherboards, but they are expensive.

Audio - A few options here, depending on your price range. The absolute best would be to get any supported card (check alsa.org for support) with lots of digital i/o and a nice multichannel ADC (like Apogee, Lucid, or Mytek), but this will cost a fair sum of cash. If you only need two channels, you can always pick up a Lucid AD9624 and DA9624 (normally around $500 on ebay) and run it through any supported s/pdif card for excellent results. The next best solution is to pick some product supported by the FreeBOB project (http://freebob.sf.net). It probably won't sound quite as good, but it will be cheaper and simpler.

Drives - SATA. There is hardly a price penalty over IDE, and unless you are doing something truly *massive*, you won't need the bandwidth of a good SCSI setup (which will cost you quite a bit more). If you can, consider building a RAID 5 array.

GPU - Later Intel integrated GPUs should be fine for your purposes (i915, etc). Older ATI should be fine (something like aRadeon 9500) with open source drivers, but I wouldn't recommend newer ATI with anything. All nVidia has good support under closed source drivers, if you aren't ethically opposed that that sort of thing. Definitely get AGP or PCI express, not PCI. You don't need any more bandwidth competition on the PCI bus than is necessary to work.

Reuben
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Joined: 2006-03-30
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- What CPU (Athlon still recommended, as docs say?)

I prefer Athlon, but that's just preference. There were issues earlier with dual core Athlon clocks drifting between the cores, not sure if that has been fixed yet. (If it has, the fixes may not have had time to move downstream into the distros) If you've got $$ the Operton is highly recommended by others.

- What MOBO (I understand VIA sucks, but which *do not* suck?)

Depends on the make and model. I have a VIA chipset that works fine. I've heard bad stories about others. My computer is old though, and since then I've built Athlon machines with nvidia chipsets without any problems. If you use and Intel CPU, get an Intel chipset.

- What Digital Audio card? Especially for analog input. Or, should I get a card that takes ADAT input and then ge t a digital mixer to do my D/A for me?

Depends on what you want to do. Probably don't need a digital mixer though. Thay are generally overkill, expensive, and not as high of quality as a dedicated preamp and A/D converter. If you want ADAT then an RME Hammerfall card will work for you, but you have to have external preamps and an ADAT encoder. If you got money you could try a Apogee AD-16X + X-FireWire which offers 16 channels of A/D conversion piped in on firewire. But you have to get spearate preamps for that too. If you have less money a Presonus Firepod offers 8 channels of A/D conversion and preamps all in one package. Not as high end as the Apogee + nice preamps, but still nice and much less expensive.

- What drives? Is SCSI or IDE/Firewire still recommended (as docs say), or is SATA better/cheaper for these apps?

SATA Raid-5 Array is much more affordable and with more than enough throughput for most projects.

- What MIDI card? I understand that the USB cards suck, but which ones suck not?

USB midi should work fine. It's the USB sound cards that suck, not the midi.

- Are old Matrox cards still the best for “playing nice” on the PCI bus? Or do the new AGP cards and onboard video work just fine nowadays?

I use an nvidia with nividia's drivers. No problems. It's not been a resource hog. (in fact, the acceleration mode offloads a lot of work from the CPU, so in my experience, it has been a big help) The ones that "don't play nice" are probably only found on badly designed machines aimed a gamers where fps during game play is what sells the machine.

If you were to build a PC to run Ardour simultaneously with other Linux music apps, what would you put in it?

For recording: QjackCtl, lash, Jamin, Om, meterbridge, JAPA, ReZound, and any LADSPA or DSSI plugins you can find. That's about all you need.

If you plan on doing MIDI sequencing, softsynths, etc, the number of tools you will want/need grows quickly.

ken
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Joined: 2006-11-27
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Thanks, all! I decided to go cheap and bought a Core Duo Mac Mini. Small, quiet, nice audio chip (SPDIF and analog), etc.

I bought a used M-Audio Keystation 88 Pro as a controller.

Now I'll either configure Jack under OSX or I'll try to get Linux running with RT/latency... whichever is within the realm of the possible.

I found a pre-made system at a local computer store (http://www.centralcomputer.com/systems/Pro_Audio/system.asp) which I'll go with if the Mac Mini runs out of "oomph".