Thursday, May 26

New studio PC build

I finally decided to take the plunge and build a new PC for my studio. My now previous machine is about five years old now, and it's specs, while not terrible, could be a lot better by todays standards.  I found that running resource-heavy plugins in Renoise, was maxing out CPU usage within no time at all. Aside from that, I was running an old Biostar motherboard that had no USB 3.0 on it.  I was getting all kinds of electro-magnetic interference from this machine and it was driving me mad.  All kinds of things were causing issues, such as moving the mouse, opening a program, accessing the hard drive etc. Doing any of these would cause EMI over audio from the machine and could be heard on my monitors.  I'd tried a bunch of things to combat this issue, such as different plugs, grounding, running as many of the main things in the studio from the same wall socket junction.  The only thing that helped, albeit very slightly, was buying a bunch of clip on ferrite core rings for the USB cables.  I'd read that poor quality USB cables caused issues too and replaced all those with 22AWG shielded, but that didn't fully solve this issue.  Certain units such as the MOTU Midi Express 128, MOTU Micro Lite and the Korg SQ-1, all added even more EMI when plugged in, no matter what type of cable.  Seriously frustrating. Anyway, back to this new computer build...

I always use Intel for my studio PC's, so AMD was not even an option, so after some research I decided that the new Socket 1151 i7 6700K 4.0ghz Quad Core was the way to go.  Newest Skylake socket from Intel, so futureproof for a short while you'd hope, plus the price and performance is really good right now. Here's a quick comparison between my previous CPU and the new one if you're interested:

I ran into a major issue when choosing the motherboard, which was I needed 2 PCI slots still.  PCI is obviously outdated technology now, but both my RME Multiface units connect to the computer via the HDSP PCI cards that RME make.  They look like Firewire cards, but they aren't and you can't replace them with Firewire cards either. They just won't work.  So I had a dilemma - get a board with 2 PCI slots, or replace both of these HDSP PCI cards with the HDSP PCIe cards.  Replacing both of these would have added a further $1100 to the build cost, so I decided not to bother on this build.  I ended up going for the MSI Z170A Tomahawk AC motherboard, which is aimed at gamers mainly, but it had everything I needed, even two M.2 ports for adding the latest SSD technology.  Speaking of, I went for the Samsung EVO 850 1TB V-Nand SSD for my operating system, and I'm very happy with the performance once put into RAPID mode with Samsung Magician.

I was shocked at how cheap memory is right now.  I ended up getting 32 gig of Corsair Vengeance RAM, which has always been great for me in the past, for $100.  It's DDR4 2400 too, so latest spec and decent speed.  I think it can even be overclocked, but I don't really care too much about doing that with my computers. So on top of this, I went with the EVGA Supernova 550W modular, mainly as it's a lot easier to deal with when building the unit, to not have wires and cables everywhere from the PSU.  I added two Noctua NF-F12 silent PWM fans - one to replace the stock fan on the Corsair H60 closed loop water cooler I bought for the CPU and one to add to the case.

So onto the case.  Well let me tell you, I've tried many cases in the past and none have ever impressed me as much as this one did.  I went with the Fractal Design Define R5 in white.  No real reason why I went with white, other than I fancied a change from the usual black cases!  Anyway, this case is a fair bit wider then the usual ATX mid size cases, but once you open it up, you realise why.  There's plenty of space to thread cables through and store them out of the way.  I felt this was important as I was going to mount the second Noctua fan on the front of the case, behind the door and have it directing towards the inside of the case, so the radiator and the second Noctua would blow out of the case, in the same direction. The main thing about this case is the panels and the ability to customise it.  Not only are they all soundproofed from the inside, but you can pretty much config the inside anyway you want with fan placement, water cooling, removing the mounting bays if you don't need them etc. Finally, I installed Windows 10.  I REALLY didn't want to, due to all the bullshit telemetry and shit it forces on you, but I'd read up on guides on how to disable most of the crap it forces on you and how to customise it to your liking.  The main thing that made me switch from 7 to 10 was the MIDI timing accuracy, so that was worth an install to try.

The moment of the truth then when switching it all on and installing everything...  After fighting with Windows 10 ever so briefly and getting it to stop all the bullshit services and data collecting, plus disabling crap like Cortana and OneDrive (ugh), things were looking good.  Drivers were all installed for the USB devices and it was time to plug it all in.  First thing I noticed, ZERO EMI problems!  This made me as happy as a pig in shit, I can tell you!  After fighting those issues for so long and then just eventually putting up with them, this was such a relief. The next thing I noticed is how fucking silent the machine is!  I had to put my hands next to the fans to check they were working, since they were so quiet.  The sound proofing on the case also is fantastic. Without a doubt, this is the quietest PC I've ever built. So what else?  Performance wise, it's a dream to work with.  After a few days of fucking about with installations and drivers and forgetting the odd thing here and there, I'm back up and running in here and ready to get back to work.

So there it is.  I doubt many of you will find this interesting, but I figured I'd make a blog post about it just in case there were any of you out there looking to build/upgrade your studio PC's and I figured I'd share my experience with you all.  Anyway, that's enough typing for now.

Peace out.

Edit: Here's the build list on PCPartPicker -


grassepatch said...

Dig it. Plan on building a new one in a few months for the new Deus Ex game, which brings me to my only question... I guess you're not into pc gaming at all, as I see no mention of a GPU.

Glad you're happy with the new build.

ASC said...

@grassepatch - No, I game too occasionally, but I have a separate machine I use for gaming and net use. I like to keep the studio machine off the net and used solely for production. I've got a GTX770 in my gaming rig at the moment, but I'll probably get a GTX1080 later this year sometime.

grassepatch said...

Oh right on, can definitely see why that would be more appropriate for your work.

Noodles said...

Interesting to read what kind of gear you're using.
I remember seeing a picture of your studio on that resident advisor feature a while back.

I'm also curious about how you listen to music, production aside, be it either headphones or speakers (or studio monitors?)

I've been going through different gear without ever been 100% happy with it, and tbh I might as well sell everything and just get a pair of powered monitors and be done with it.

that aside, I've been recently listening again to many of the mixes in the auxcast and deepspace series..there's a massive amount of content that span through what, 5-6 years?

plenty to dig in to (again), so thanks for that!

ASC said...

@Noodles - I listen to music on my monitors (Focal CMS65 & CMS Sub) and hardly ever on headphones, other than when I'm not at home.

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