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No matter which computer platform you choose , the stuff that you find inside your computer plays a major role in determining how smoothly (or how less-than-smoothly) your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) runs.

You should buy a computer that you can dedicate solely to recording audio, because running other types of applications (home finance software, word processors, or video games) can cause problems with your audio applications and reduce the stability of your system.

The following list clues you in on the various pieces of hardware that you find in your computer:

  • CPU: The CPU (processor) is the heart of your computer studio. The speed of your CPU ultimately dictates how well a program runs on it. As a general rule, for audio, get the fastest processor that you can afford. For most audio software, you need at least a dual core CPU.

    If you want a system that can handle the demands of recording or mixing many tracks (24 or more), you’ll need to step it up a notch or two and get a computer with a quad or multi-dual or quad core processors (Mac or PC – it doesn’t matter).

  • Memory: Computer-based audio programs and all the associated plug-ins are RAM (random-access memory) hogs so buy lots of RAM. Okay, that’s not very specific, but how much you need depends on your recording style.

    If you record a lot of audio tracks and want reverb or another effect on each track, you need more RAM (and a faster processor). If you record mainly MIDI tracks with instruments that already have the effects that you want, you can get by with less RAM (and a slower processor).

    For most software programs, the recommended minimum amount of RAM is around 2GB (2 gigabytes), 4GB is recommended for typical use, and 8GB or more enables the program to run much more smoothly. RAM is relatively inexpensive, so get as much as you can.

    Regardless of the platform that you choose (PC or Mac), keep in mind that you can never have a processor that’s too fast or have too much memory.

  • Hard drives: To record audio, make sure that you get the right type of hard drives. Yep, you should get more than one if you want to record more than a few tracks of audio.

    You need one hard drive for all the software and the operating system and another drive for the audio data. Having this setup greatly increases the likelihood that your system remains stable and doesn’t crash, especially if you try to run 16 or more tracks.

    As for the size of the hard drive, bigger is better, at least for the drive where you store your music. For the core system drive, you can get by with an 80GB (80-gigabyte) drive; for the audio drive, having even 120 GB is pretty conservative because audio data can consume a ton of space.

    Choose your hard drives wisely. For the software hard drive, you can get by with a stock drive (usually the one that comes with your computer). But for the audio side, you need a drive that can handle the demands of transferring audio data. Here are the main things to look for in an audio drive:

    • Spindle speed: Also called rotational speed, this is the rate at which the hard drive spins. For the most part, a 7,200-rpm drive works well for recording and playing back audio.

    • Seek time: This is the amount of time that it takes the drive to find the data that’s stored on it. You want an average seek time of less than 10 milliseconds.

    • Buffer size: Often called a cache buffer, buffers are memory units that store data as the data is being transferred. According to the audio-recording software manufacturers, you need a buffer size of at least 2MB (2 megabytes), but an 8MB buffer is recommended.

    • Interface type: Some audio-recording programs, such as Pro Tools, don’t interact well with USB 2.0 hard drives. so it is recommended that you go with either FireWire (400 or 800)- or eSATA-interfaced hard drives for best performance.

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