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Computers for Audio: iQuit

May 25, 2012

This is (hopefully) the last Motherboard I will buy. The ASUS P5K which has just about everything I need (and maybe a couple extra slots should I decide to invest in 1-2 more PCIe DSP cards).

Don’t let the title of this post mislead you – it can imply that I’m tired of computers in general and that I’m quitting the use of them for audio work. Quite the opposite in fact; I love my current computer setup so much that I was motivated to write this to perhaps inspire anyone who might read it to work towards feeling how I feel right now about my current configuration: At Peace, with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

First, let me begin by saying that I’m currently on my fourth PC DAW build and that somewhere in the back of my mind, the reason why I’ve set aside weekends in the past to do nothing but assemble and configure a system has been to work towards an optimal setup (for me, that means having one that I can work with for as long as I want, without any problems).

Computers up to this point haven’t given me a sense of stability; the things I love and trust the most in my life are things that seldom change and I’ve always had a sense that a computer is a constantly evolving thing that is never static, either by choice or simply because that’s just the way things are. Somehow I had grown accustomed to believe that computers eventually break down and software eventually becomes corrupted (and they certainly do from time to time, but what I’ve learned is that they don’t do this on their own).

I’ve learned through the years that as you add/update software, you eventually come up with software conflicts and other issues (I do have to say that I’ve experienced this more with my PC systems than the Mac systems I’ve owned). Then you have viruses to worry about when you go online (again, less of an issue with Macs), so two things I have done to be able to have a solid PC DAW that rarely crashes is to stop updating existing software and only installing software I’m going to use for audio and I’ve also stopped using my DAW to go anywhere online. By now you’re probably saying “buy a Mac!” Well, my issue with Macs is that they’re great at making peripherals obsolete quickly. I still use 4 PCI DSP cards in a PCI chassis and there isn’t a current Mac on the market that I can use them on, as they’ve removed PCI slots from their newest systems. At the time of this writing, there are at least two major PC motherboard manufacturers who are making PC motherboards with 1-2 PCI slots.

About a year ago, I noticed I was getting crashes after a video card software update, so I reverted back to the previous driver and that solved my problem. Then I decided to remove any software that I didn’t need for audio work (PDF readers, web browsers, etc.) As I removed all the unnecessary software and disabled processes that were not needed, I noticed an increase in performance, with virtually zero crashes and even shutting down my system took a considerably less amount of time. Essentially, I reconfigured my DAW to run the least amount of software and also tweaked the operating system to run only the necessary services I needed.

The “General Message Board” for this particular effect is full of threads from users having issues with it on various DAWs.

Things were great for a few months until I downloaded a new plug-in effect that hit the market and I began having issues again. At the time of this writing, I’ve had this effect almost 1 ½ years and there are still bugs (it won’t completely crash my system as it’s been reported by other users, but it will occasionally crash Pro Tools).  One of my biggest frustrations when troubleshooting systems is dealing with developers who point fingers at each other. In this particular case, the developer of this effect blamed the host DAW developers for not sharing all of the DAW’s code, so they had to “guess” certain things and said basically that their hands were tied because of it (this is typically the end result after a support ticket goes nowhere).

I then asked myself: Do I really need this effect? Is it worth the annoyance of being in the middle of a mix session and then having this effect crash it? What’s the point in having a fast enough system that’s super responsive if it’s going to crash unexpectedly?  I decided to uninstall the effect and use something else I had in my toolbox (after some time, I realized I can get a similar effect by using 2-3 other existing effects with even more control) so that’s when I decided that I’ve had enough (and I mean enough as in I have enough effects to do what I need, but then it also dawned on me that it was time to stop installing software on my computer as well).

The truth is that I have everything I need for the work that I do. For example, I don’t have every single reverb effect out there, but I like the fact that I can create just about any sort of reverb effect I want with the ones I already own, and that goes for just about any other type of signal processing. For me it’s now all about techniques and this is what you have to come to terms with if you decide to stop chasing the latest in computer audio as well. You have to be comfortable with the fact that technology moves fast and that pretty soon, you’ll be left with a system that is considered severely outdated – just like all those old analog processors everyone’s modelling these days.

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