I tend to upgrade hardware infrequently but when I do I typically go for the best of breed so that I can get the maximum life out of my system. Having recently finished a project and suffered the pain of an underpowered system it was finally time for a big upgrade…
My new DAW for my studio which runs SONAR 8.5 was built using an Intel Core I7 950 with Windows 7 Professional X64. The system was build completely from off the shelf components all available at Newegg and was relatively inexpensive. (It helped that I bought most of the components the day after thanksgiving <g>)
For a CPU, I chose an Intel Core i7-950 Bloomfield, 3.06GHz processor. The Core I7 is truly a breakthrough in processing power and a great choice for a DAW because of its blistering speed. I passed on the Extreme Edition since I didn’t think it was a good value for the price differential. At Cakewalk, we worked closely with Intel on evaluation versions of the Core I7, optimizing and streamlining SONAR to work better with this chip, so this made it an obvious choice for me. During testing this processor broke all our benchmarks 🙂 I will post some results once I run our internal benchmark on my rig.
For the operating system Windows 7 X64 was a no brainer choice. During the SONAR 8.5 cycle we tested SONAR with beta and RC versions of Windows 7 and addressed all known compatibility issues. We also found that the kernel enhancements in Win7 to be complimentary to a lot of the optimizations we did in SONAR itself. I chose the Professional SKU because I wanted some of the extra’s like the XP compatibility mode and remote desktop host. More Windows 7 resources and some articles I contributed to can be found here and in this Create Digital Music article.
Installing the 64 bit version was also an easy choice since I wanted 6GB of RAM. There are also other benefits to a 64 bit OS even if you are primarily running 32 bit applications as outlined in this blog post.
Anyway here are the parts from my original newegg order:
PSU CORSAIR|CMPSU-620HX RT
CASE ANTEC|SONATA ELITE BK RT
MB MSI X58M 1366 RT
VGA EVGA 01G-P3-N945-LR 9400GT 1G R
CPU INTEL|CORE I7 950 3.06G 45N R
MEM 2Gx3|CRUC BL3KIT25664TB1337 R
HD 1.5T|WD 32M SATA2 WD15EADS %
DVD BURNER LITE-ON | IHAS424-98 R
WIRELESS ADAPTER LINKSYS|WMP600N R
I’m running this with two dual 22″ monitors – Acer’s that I had from my last setup.
Disk: The Western Digital hard disks is not especially a great choice for disk streaming performance, but I couldn’t resist the price of less than 90 bucks for 1.5 terabyte! So far the disk throughput has been fine for my needs though it has a Win7 performance rank of 4.5.
OS: Windows 7 Professional X64
Audio interface: MOTU 828 MK2
I was a bit apprehensive after reading some install problems from users on the SONAR forums. However I loaded the latest MOTU 828 64-bit drivers without too much trouble at all. I found that I had to explicitly run the setup program as administrator or it wouldn’t install properly :-/ Once installed, the driver itself works great and I can dial down the buffer size all the way down to the minimum size and it plays back flawlessly. And my motherboard has a Via chipset for Firewire too which MOTU doesn’t recommend – go figure!
The OS install went without a single hitch and picked up all the devices – but I went and installed native drivers for all the devices later since some were more recent than Windows update.
Do NOT buy the WMP600N WIFI adapter until Linksys fix their X64 drivers. They suck big time and. I returned the unit since the drivers performance were unusable with WIFI. This after the product is listed as being Win7 logo compliant! Instead I went with a wired solution which rocks. I’m using an old WRT54G converted into a wireless bridge using the opensource DD-WRT firmware. It takes some tweaking and requires you to be a bit brave with your router but its pretty well supported on that site. I now connected via standard ethernet to the machine which works great and I get 10MBPS internet speeds with it which is all I need. In general be wary of 64 bit WIFI drivers – they are notoriously bad.
I can categorically say that the SONAR/Core I7/Windows 7 combination is a match made in heaven for DAW users! I easily have way more bandwidth than I would ever need for the next several years on this rig. On my largest projects which would previously max out the CPU or drop out (an older dual CPU Windows 2003 based machine), I am now able to run at 128 sample buffers with a MOTU 828 MK2, at 24bit/96KHz with under 20% CPU utilization in SONAR!
We finally have reached a time when 64-bit computing, low latency performance and low cost components are a reality. It’s a great time for DAW users!