Build Your Own Music Production PC

Although computing is becoming increasingly mobile, and you can now make music on your laptop, tablet or phone, it’s still recommended to have a desktop computer at the core of your home studio. In fact, building your own can be a very cost effective route to take…

Building Sounds

PC Breadboarding

Although an off-the-shelf PC of pretty much any specification will do a decent job as an audio workstation these days, there are certain things you need to consider for music production. Probably foremost among these will be noise levels; cheaper computers can have very noisy cooling fans which may intrude upon your recordings – even if you create all your music electronically ‘in the box’, fan noise can interfere with monitoring.

With this in mind, remember that the faster your processor, the more cooling it will need. People were happily making music on computers ten years ago, but even a mid-to-low range CPU today will be faster than the fastest processor of a decade ago. If you’re not also gaming on your rig, then a basic video card will do the job (or even use the integrated graphics) – video cards also have fans, which can add to system noise. Top-end video cards can get quite noisy, though typically not during DAW work.

Connectivity is another important point to consider; if you have a Firewire audio interface, you’ll probably need to get a Firewire expansion card, as that particular type of port has pretty much been discontinued from modern motherboard designs.

Essentially, creating your own PC from scratch gives you the freedom to choose exactly what your computer is made of – tailored to your own requirements (and budget). Although the idea of assembling a machine from separate parts may seem daunting at first, it’s really just a high-tech Lego project – as well as being fun and educational, it should work out quite a bit cheaper than buying a pre-built system.

What’s In The Box?

Building your own computer requires these basic hardware components:

– Case (chassis)
– Motherboard
– CPU (processor)
– CPU Heatsink (cooler)
– RAM (memory)
– Power Supply (PSU)
– Storage (SSD or hard drive)

There are a number of guides available online which show you how to put these pieces together; you can even find videos demonstrating how to install the specific model of motherboard you’ve selected, for popular products at least.

In fact, most of the work will come at the product selection stage. As well as choosing each component in itself, you need to make sure everything works together – for example, if you want a top end Intel Skylake processor, you’ll need to have a motherboard that supports your chosen processor (in this example, a Z170 Socket 1151 motherboard).

Pcpartpicker can be a very useful resource for finding components and making sure they will all work together. There are also plenty of PC build services that let you configure a custom PC – their sites will usually alert you if a chosen component is incompatible with the build. Once you’ve selected everything, you can either buy the chosen PC and let them build it for you, or just make a list of the components and buy them separately elsewhere for assembling yourself.

Other Considerations

Once you’ve built the hardware and your PC is ready to boot, you’ll need to install an operating system. You can download a version of Linux for free and use that – Ubuntu is probably the most user friendly distro to start with (the free Reaper DAW would be a good choice for audio work here). However, most studios will be running Windows – in which case you’ll need your own copy of Windows to install.

Hard drives are still the cheapest option for storage, but SSDs are now very affordable – unless you’re on a very tight budget, you should have an SSD as your Operating System drive. A recommended setup would be to have your OS on a 256GB SSD, and then a separate high-capacity hard drive for storing data. Of course, if you can afford it, multiple SSDs would be the optimal solution – and the most silent. SSDs are also excellent for storing sample libraries, due to their quick access times. Of course, if you want to go cutting edge, then the new M.2 format promises even faster access times (though you’ll need to watch out for heat generation with some models)…


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