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 Post subject: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programming
PostPosted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 5:49 am 
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Hi everyone,

I am studying Music Composition and Computer Science. I wanted to buy a custom PC for composing (electroacoustic, algorithmic music), live concerts, programming and robotics. I need it to be portable (SFF), silent (very important, in every component), cool, and powerful.

I thought the following specs would go well for my PC:
- Processor should be fast. I was thinking about an i7 quadcore with at least 3Ghz, but maybe i5 or even AMD work fine for audio/programming.
- Regarding motherboard, I need around 4 USB ports (better if they are USB 3.0, better if more than 4), wifi/wired connection to internet, bluetooth if possible, and foremost one Firewire port (for an external sound card).
- RAM should be DDR3, 8GB.
- Disk should be 600GB-1T, preferably with good read/write speeds and acceptable RPM. Maybe SSD or HSDD (cheaper) would be fine, but I don't know the actual differences between them regarding speed/noise.
- Graphic card doesn't need to be powerful (nothing about gaming/graphic design), but I need to connect two monitors and play HD videos, and eventually designing audiogames. My laptop has an Nvidia Gforce GT 320M CUDA and it works fine for me, even when playing videogames, although it may be too hot in reduced space.
- Case should be as small as possible as I would need this PC for auditions and concerts. Considering the PC as a musical instrument, it's reasonable to think that it doesn't need to be constantly moved, just like a cello player doesn't need to be running with the cello while performing a musical piece :lol: . Cirrus7 nimbus, Corsair Obsidian 250D mITX seem to be small, quiet and cool. Bitfenix Prodigy looks good for moving it thanks to its handlers and big enough to install plenty of coolers and sound dampering.
- OS would be Linux (suppose that Arch Linux, Gentoo Pro-Audio Overlay or Lubuntu), so no need to buy Windows.
- No need of installing lights or things like that :D (this is intended to be part of a computer orchestra, where audience attention should not be focused on visual aspects but on sound sensations).
- My maximum budget is 1400$.

Once I have said this, I would really appreciate if anyone could give me an advice about what components to buy.

Thanks indeed, Álvaro


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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:12 pm 
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Welcome to SPCR.

Sizing the system before choosing a case:
If you only plan to have a handful of tracks / voices, then an i5 is good enough. If it's orchestral levels of VSTs, then, maybe you need an i7. Look at your specific recording s/w and see if it can make use of hyperthreading. If it doesn't, than stick with the i5.

What's your build timeframe? For a new Digital Audio Workstation build, I'd recommend going with a '97 chipset motherboard as Intel fixed the horrid DPC latency found in the original Haswell mobo's ('87 series has 150ms, '97 has <50ms). However, it was just released in mid-May, so there will be the inevitable bug fixes for the next few months.

The less moving parts, the better. Use an SSD for OS/Apps/VSTs. Use a 2.5" 5k rpm HDD for storage.

You should be able to use the integrated graphics and not need a graphics card - unless your monitors are something exotic (what are their resolutions and input connectors).

If it turns out your apps load is i5 friendly, then maybe a fanless mITX case could work or even a NUC spinoff. That would be the smallest footprint and easily portable. If you need a full speed i7, then something slightly larger and fanned in the mITX space.

Firewire is out of favor on motherboards since Thunderbolt arrived...I don't think there is a Haswell motherboard with it. If you need to support an existing peripheral, then you'd need to get an add on card with the port, ignore the NUC, use up the only PCIe slot on a mITX, or go uATX.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 1:49 pm 
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alvarocaceres wrote:
and foremost one Firewire port


One of the very few product still available (if any) is the Intel DH77DF: it's not cutting edge, but probably a better option over x87/Haswell.
As there should be just a few available, please note that I'm not aware of any other SFF with onboard 1394 IEEE (set aside - maybe - industrial motherboards, usually difficult to purchase, expensive, and almost always with an horrible fan support).

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Tue Jun 03, 2014 9:33 am 
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Regarding processor, I have the intention of using my PC as some kind of "conductor" of the computer orchestra, which means acting like a server dealing with data, sound or even image of several PCs, processing them, sending to one PC or to other one... the idea of concurrency (threads), together with the fact that I am going to use orchestral VSTs, gives me the idea of taking the i7 instead of the i5.

Sorry for my poor English, but... what do mean by "build mainframe"?

The possible monitors I normally connect to have all VGA input (d-bus) and 18.5''/19''/19.5'' (I only connect to two of them each time).

Oh :lol: I was convinced that I needed the Firewire port to be included in the motherboard, but in fact I can obviously use a PCI card (sorry).

Given it will need size for coolers, it seems Bitfenix Prodigy would be the best choice for case... well, the best out of the ones I have found interesting. I have tried to search it on SPCR reviews but it seems it has not been reviewed yet. Has anyone tried it (I suppose it will need proper sound damping panels inside)?

Btw thanks indeed for answering so quickly!


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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Tue Jun 03, 2014 4:51 pm 
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Not mainframe. Timeframe. As in, when do you absolutely need to build this PC? If you can wait a couple of months for the usual early production bugs to be worked out, then I would recommend an H97 chipset based motherboard. Asus H97I-Plus looks good. Or, if you need Bluetooth and Wifi built in, get the Z97I-Plus.

You have two VGA input monitors? They don't have DVI-Dconnectors at least? The harsh truth is you will find motherboards with one VGA connector, but never two. You can either buy an additional video card just to plug in an old monitor or get a new LCD monitor that supports newer connectors (DVI-D, Displayport). I'd recommend the latter as it's more forward thinking. Also, if you want to use a mITX case and motherboard, you only have one PCIe slot available.

There have been some Prodigy builds by members - maybe one will speak up. Offhand, it seems to be a fairly quiet case. You'd have to build and test to see if the case fans are quiet enough for your use or if you need to get quieter ones. There's also the Prodigy Mthat will work with micro ATX motherboards...in case you do need more PCIe slots.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 12:50 am 
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CA_Steve wrote:
There's also the Prodigy Mthat will work with micro ATX motherboards...in case you do need more PCIe slots.


Whether the OP won't aim at truly portable enclosures (something like the Lian Li Tu100 or Tu200), IMO that latter is strongly preferable (given that overall dimensions are the same).

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 2:40 am 
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I have to wait for several months for sure before buying the PC, therefore I could purchase one of those motherboards from Asus (I have seen Z97I-Plus doesn't differ too much in price with respect to H97I-Plus so I would probably choose Z971I-Plus).

Regarding monitors, I could take a converter to DVI-D/Displayport, or just buying a different one. I prefer that instead of adding a graphic card.

Just in case Prodigy M fans are not sufficiently silent, would Noctua NH-L9i LP be a good option? I saw it in this post http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=67495 which according to the description and opinions seems to be a silent and cool build. Shold I put three fans to get the components cool?

Looking up the recommended SPCR PSU's I found these interesting:
- Antec TruePower New TP-750
- SilverStone Decathlon DA700
- Nexus RX-8500
... maybe I don't need so expensive PSU for my build? (I have been all my life with laptops so no idea about pricing and quality of PSU's.)

You told me about choosing 5000 RPM hd for files (and ssd for OS, software and vst's). Would I need to add an acoustic isolation enclosure?

Thanks indeed


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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 2:57 am 
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alvarocaceres wrote:
Looking up the recommended SPCR PSU's I found these interesting:
- Antec TruePower New TP-750
- SilverStone Decathlon DA700
- Nexus RX-8500


First of all, don't go for the recommended lists, they're outdated: instead, check directly the recent reviews.
Then, even with a Core i7, you don't need more than 100W.
Last but not least, as a consequence of the first point, all the above mentioned PSUs are discontinued and not the most quiet by contemporary standards.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:22 am 
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alvarocaceres wrote:
Regarding monitors, I could take a converter to DVI-D/Displayport, or just buying a different one. I prefer that instead of adding a graphic card.

You'll need an active converter to go from DVI-D or Displayport to VGA. ~$25.

alvarocaceres wrote:
Just in case Prodigy M fans are not sufficiently silent, would Noctua NH-L9i LP be a good option? I saw it in this post http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=67495 which according to the description and opinions seems to be a silent and cool build. Shold I put three fans to get the components cool?


I'm going to back up a bit. If you think you will only ever need one expansion slot (for the Firewire card), then get the Prodigy and an mITX board. If you think you might need more than one expansion card, go uATX and the Prodigy M. The non-M's layout is a little better.

If the case fans aren't sufficiently quiet through motherboard control, we can recommend some other case fans. You'll only need 2 fans - one intake and one exhaust.

There are better coolers that will fit in a Prodigy and Prodigy M. Given that this will be a portable PC, a lightweight tower cooler like the Scythe Kotetsu might work.

You're system's stressed load power is in the 130W range. Actual load will probably be under 100W. So, you can go with a fanless PSU or one that's fanned but doesn't spin at your loads. Seasonic SS-400FL2, Corsair RM450 come to mind.

alvarocaceres wrote:
You told me about choosing 5000 RPM hd for files (and ssd for OS, software and vst's). Would I need to add an acoustic isolation enclosure?

You could go with a 2.5" HDD and you won't hear it.

It's too bad you need Firewire. If your audio interfaces worked with USB 3 or Thunderbolt, you wouldn't need the expansion slot and could fit into one of the tiny passive mITX cases.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 8:05 am 
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A couple of other points..

Wander over to Phoronix.com. They are a good resource for finding out which mobo mfgrs are the best for linux compatibility.

Since you have a couple of months before parts ordering, it would be useful if you can run some benchmarks on your current system (or a borrowed system) in order to see if you really need an i7 or if an i5 will do. Try running it with the load you plan to use for the orchestration and see if it can handle the load. What's it's cpu utilization and what's the system spec? From that, we can specify the new system with enough headroom for future uses.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 8:44 am 
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quest_for_silence wrote:
Then, even with a Core i7, you don't need more than 100W.
You need a little more than 100W (for the standard none S/T), accorditing to SPCR Intel Core i7-4770K Haswell Processor, 123W under prime. I been looking for this numbers as im about to move my i7 to a dedicated Camera server but since it will be 24/7 operation, i wanted it to be as efficient as possible, sadly i cant use my picoPSU 90XLP + 80W meanwell because of this, so ill have to move toward the picoPSU 150XT and 150W brick that should be enough to sustain the setup.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Wed Jun 04, 2014 9:08 am 
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Abula wrote:
quest_for_silence wrote:
Then, even with a Core i7, you don't need more than 100W.
You need a little more than 100W (for the standard none S/T), accorditing to SPCR Intel Core i7-4770K Haswell Processor, 123W under prime.


Point taken. I stand corrected about: my intention was to point out a Core i7 (IGP) won't need not even by mistake the proposed PSUs, for such a setup a white SG05 Lite/silver SG06 Lite coupled with a SST-ST30SF is probably anything you may want, noise&portability-wise.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 2:33 am 
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From all your comments I have thought this would be an idea of setup:

- Audio interface: Cakewalk FA-66 (firewire, 192KHz/24bit, midi, zero latency and foremost, full linux support from FFADO linux firewire compatibility project)
- Case: Silverstone sg05 lite (dimensions are much smaller than the ones from bitfenix)
- Fan: the silverstone comes with 1 x 120mm intake fan at 1200rpm (any ideas for the exhaust fan?)
- Firewire: an ebay firewire 800 PCIe card with 1394a and 1395b from ebay :lol: (no brand)
http://www.ebay.com/itm/PCIe-3-Ports-Firewire-800-1394a-1394b-Combo-PCI-E-Express-Controller-Card-/111029601641?pt=US_Internal_Port_Expansion_Cards&hash=item19d9e14569
- HD: WD Red 1TB (I needed it to be 3.5'' to fit into the silverstone)
- Headphones: Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80 Ohm (I know it is a little offtopic, I just wanted to recommend this headphones, wonderful for realistic audio creation, specially in Classical Music).
- Motherboard: Asus Z97I Plus (as far as I know from Phoronix.com posts, Z97 boards are Linux compatible.)
- Processor: I have certainly no idea. As you said I would need to test my laptop to see if the i5 is enough for me... but now I am taking final exams at university + final auditions at conservatory so that I don't have too much time. I'll start testing it after July the 2nd.
- PSU: Silverstone SST-ST30SF
- RAM: 2 x Kingston DDR3 4GB 1600MHz Desktop
- SSD: Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB (for OS, software and VSTS... are 250GB enough?)

How do you see it?
Thanks indeed for your help


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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 7:52 am 
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Just have a few minutes, so here's quick feedback:

alvarocaceres wrote:
- Audio interface: Cakewalk FA-66 (firewire, 192KHz/24bit, midi, zero latency and foremost, full linux support from FFADO linux firewire compatibility project)

Roland classifies this as a "Legacy" product - in other words, it's no longer sold. Do you already have this? If not, Roland is using USB2 for all of their current products. That solves the Firewire card issue and also opens you up to getting an even smaller case...possibly a passive one if your CPU needs aren't in the i7/true 84W TDP range.

alvarocaceres wrote:
- Case: Silverstone sg05 lite (dimensions are much smaller than the ones from bitfenix)

That could work.

alvarocaceres wrote:

If you end up with Firewire, I wouldn't screw around with no-name add on cards from e-bay. Look at the addon cards from Amazon or Newegg, etc where there are lots of customer reviews.

alvarocaceres wrote:
- HD: WD Red 1TB (I needed it to be 3.5'' to fit into the silverstone)

2.5" will fit and the vibration/seek noise will be less.

alvarocaceres wrote:
- PSU: Silverstone SST-ST30SF
The SG05 is the SG05-Lite plus this PSU, I think. There may be better PSUs..

alvarocaceres wrote:
- SSD: Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB (for OS, software and VSTS... are 250GB enough?)

Should be. Unless your VST library is incredibly large.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 4:38 am 
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CA_Steve wrote:
alvarocaceres wrote:
- PSU: Silverstone SST-ST30SF
The SG05 is the SG05-Lite plus this PSU, I think. There may be better PSUs..


No, Steve, whether you're talking about this unit, it's unlikely there may be anything better for such a task, and other SPCR readers can confirm that, noise-wise (you may ask to ggumdol about it, if you mind). Anyway, I don't think the current retail unit, it's the originally reviewed PSU (even casing is different).


CA_Steve wrote:
alvarocaceres wrote:
- SSD: Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB (for OS, software and VSTS... are 250GB enough?)

Should be. Unless your VST library is incredibly large.


Whether the Crucial M500 was cheaper, I'd go for it. About Sandforce-based SSDs (like the Kingston is), the OP could also give a look to Sandisk Ultra Plus SSD prices.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 6:06 am 
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quest_for_silence wrote:
Roland classifies this as a "Legacy" product - in other words, it's no longer sold

I thought of that Roland audio interface because it is sold in a Spanish online music store.

Btw, believe me when I say I am not obsessed with Firewire :) . The reasons why I am trying to build my system for a FW audio interface, are the following:
1. FW allows for wider amount of data transfer than USB 2.0.
2. FW offers less latency (although I know, there are zero latency USB 2.0 cards).
3. USB 3.0/Thunderbolt audio interfaces prices are definitely out of my budget.
4. I could go for USB 2.0 audio interface, but as ALSA compatibility wiki states, even the most supported cards (M-Audio) don't have a fully Linux support.
I am not a sound engineer but a classical music composition student, so in case any one of my points is wrong I would really thank you to tell me so (it's not my wish to spend more money and time to use FW if USB can work).

CA_Steve wrote:
I wouldn't screw around with no-name add on cards

Yeah, I supposed it wouldn't be a good investment... then I would buy a Vantec UGT FW210. Newegg and Amazon show good customer reviews when working with FW audio interfaces, as well as with Startech and SIIG Firewire 2 cards.

Regarding cases, I came across Lian-Li cases on the internet:
-pc-q03
-pc-tu100
For me they are a bit more stylish than the silverstone, more portable if you take into account handlers, similar in size and with expansion slots. Could they work too? (I know I told you PC visual aesthetics were not important at least for my compositions, it's just about day to day use.)

CA_Steve wrote:
2.5" will fit and the vibration/seek noise will be less.

Then I would choose WD Scorpio Blue 500GB.

quest_for_silence wrote:
Whether the Crucial M500 was cheaper, I'd go for it.

Thanks! I can save a good amount of money with the 240 gb model compared with the Kingston (at least considering shipping to Spain). And you say I should take the aforementioned PSU?


Last edited by alvarocaceres on Sat Jun 07, 2014 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 8:43 am 
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I'm certainly no DAW expert, I just seem to field a lot of build questions. There are a couple of DAW specific sites with user forums that you could ask about specific audio interface/linux compatibility... gearslutz.com is one, homerecording.com is another. Might be useful to search for DAW build threads here, too.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:39 am 
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I am not sure at all (as a matter of language) but maybe this
alvarocaceres wrote:
Btw, believe me when I say I am not obsessed with Firewire :) . The reasons why I am trying to build my system for a FW audio interface, are the following:
1. FW allows for wider amount of data transfer than USB 2.0.
2. FW offers less latency (although I know, there are zero latency USB 2.0 cards).
3. USB 3.0/Thunderbolt audio interfaces prices are definitely out of my budget.
4. I could go for USB 2.0 audio interface, but as ALSA compatibility wiki states, even the most supported cards (M-Audio) don't have a fully Linux support.
I am not a sound engineer but a classical music composition student, so in case any one of my points is wrong I would really thank you to tell me so (it's not my wish to spend more money and time to use FW if USB can work).

sounded rude. I apologize in case it sounded that way. Quite the opposite, I really thank all you who have answered me because as I say I have little idea when going to those details.

Also thank you for the suggestion of seeing those webpages, I'll try with them. Anyway, any help related to the components themselves (PSU, case, coolers...) is welcome, firstly because (in fact) my PC is intended to be quiet and this webpage is known for dealing with that; and secondly, because I am sure I know less than half what all you know on these topics even if not related to DAWs.

Thanks indeed


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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 2:53 pm 
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alvarocaceres wrote:
Regarding cases, I came across Lian-Li cases on the internet:
-pc-q03
-pc-tu100
For me they are a bit more stylish than the silverstone, more portable if you take into account handlers, similar in size and with expansion slots. Could they work too? (I know I told you PC visual aesthetics were not important at least for my compositions, it's just about day to day use.)

Aluminium enclosures are more prone to denting and scratching, take that into account for a daily use, while the Q03 (without any handle) isn't more "portable" than the Sugo SFF chassis: and broadly speaking they may more easily suffer of vibrations.

Said that, their thermals are not that great, so at first glance they would seem a bit less suited to run quietly a Core i7, while with a less demanding Core i5 they may offer viable alternatives.


alvarocaceres wrote:
And you say I should take the aforementioned PSU?

That PSU is more probably that not the most quiet available in the SFX format, and it's really cheap: alternatively, you may look to some high power PicoPSUs (150W and up), which should free up space for some bigger (quieter) CPU heatsinks; on the other hand, the TU100 might easily accomodate some of the quietest ATX PSU (Corsair, EVGA, Super Flower, Seasonic), but they will cost you at least twice the little Silverstone unit.

Take also into account that bigger ATX units, as well as big tower heatsinks aren't perfectly suited for portability, as they might more easily lead to some hardware damages when you will move the enclosure: definitely they demand to be handled with (more) care.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 07, 2014 4:02 pm 
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No worries. You didn't come across as rude.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sun Jun 08, 2014 5:51 am 
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Location: ITALY
alvarocaceres wrote:
I thought of that Roland audio interface because it is sold in a Spanish online music store.

Btw, believe me when I say I am not obsessed with Firewire :) . The reasons why I am trying to build my system for a FW audio interface, are the following:
1. FW allows for wider amount of data transfer than USB 2.0.
2. FW offers less latency (although I know, there are zero latency USB 2.0 cards).
3. USB 3.0/Thunderbolt audio interfaces prices are definitely out of my budget.
4. I could go for USB 2.0 audio interface, but as ALSA compatibility wiki states, even the most supported cards (M-Audio) don't have a fully Linux support.
I am not a sound engineer but a classical music composition student, so in case any one of my points is wrong I would really thank you to tell me so (it's not my wish to spend more money and time to use FW if USB can work).


I don't think the Roland/Edirol interface is a bad choice just because it's phased out, as some of its contemporary competitors (like Focusrite Saffire Pro 24DSP) are still in the market.
On the other hand, as there's plentiful of options for an audio interface under 500 EUR with six or more channels, I also think that Steve's suggest (to look for advices from dedicated communities like Gearslutz and HomeRecording) "sounds" actually good: perhaps we can advice you on how to work out a quiet rig, but to determine which audio interface is the best candidate to fulfill your professional/academic needs can turn out a tad beyond the current resources of the (diversely focused) SPCR collective mind (obviously, IMVHO).

Eventually, about where to buy such interfaces in Europe, give a look at Thomann website.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 2:29 am 
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quest_for_silence wrote:
Aluminium enclosures are more prone to denting and scratching

quest_for_silence wrote:
Said that, their thermals are not that great

quest_for_silence wrote:
bigger ATX units, as well as big tower heatsinks aren't perfectly suited for portability

OK, in that case I'll go for sg05l.

quest_for_silence wrote:
Eventually, about where to buy such interfaces in Europe, give a look at Thomann website.

Yeah Thomann and Musicstore have good prices, shipping etc. I may buy from them as I have done previosly, in case they have the interface I am searching (once I have decided :D)

I will ask in Gearslutz and HomeRecording; anyway in three weeks I will try to test how much can I do by the moment with my laptop, in order to know how much resources do I need for my idea of the computer orchestra.


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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 2:49 am 
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alvarocaceres wrote:
in three weeks I will try to test how much can I do by the moment with my laptop, in order to know how much resources do I need for my idea of the computer orchestra.


Take into account that mobile CPUs are usually noticeably slower than desktop CPUs, even if they sport similar names.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent, powerful PC for music performance and programmin
PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2014 6:47 am 
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...and be sure to look at both CPU and RAM usage.

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