Is A Texas Instruments FireWire Controller Vital For Your Audio PC?

Every couple of years or so it becomes necessary for the computer musician to consider upgrading the hardware at the heart of their Digital Audio Workstation. For me, this involves spending quite a while researching the best machines and components available, making a decision and then losing touch with the hardware scene completely until upgrade time comes around again. Well, that time has come around again and I see that the ‘you must have a Texas Instruments Firewire controller for audio production’ argument is still alive and well…
(from DAW)

Matching Your Hardware To Your Production

First things first – it’s important to match your hardware to your usage requirements. People who are seriously into their hardware tend to want the very best components available; this is great on one level, as they can give you advice on creating a rig that will probably last far more than two years. However, a lot of home studios will probably never get close to pushing the limits of the latest hardware; if you are a solo musician laying down a few tracks by yourself, then you probably couldn’t buy a machine today that would have any problems with this, in terms of processing power.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t just mean that you can buy the cheapest machine available and expect it to play nicely with your expensive Firewire audio interface. You might be lucky and discover that everything works perfectly; if you’re just playing in the range of ten or so 24-bit audio tacks at 44.1kHz, then any PC should have enough power for you, but the specific components of your build may not be compatible with your particular sound card.

Matching Your Motherboard To Your Firewire Audio Interface

Therefore, it is a good idea to do a bit of research to determine in advance if your motherboard is compatible with your Firewire interface. The general consensus is that the Texas Instruments Firewire controller is the one to have – this is compatible with pretty much any audio interface out there. VIA Firewire controllers are supported by many audio interfaces also; but you should check the website of the sound card’s manufacturer to make sure that it will work.

It’s not simply a case of getting a TI controller and all will be well; it’s a matter of compatibility. For example, the ideal controller for the Focusrite Saffire Pro 26 is the Via VT6306 VIA Fire II chipset – but many other chipsets will work also. Generally speaking, the TI is the one to have because it is compatible with a broader range pro audio interfaces, but most people will only be using one interface (or maybe two).

Many people advise against the Ricoh Firewire controller; many people also report using them with no problems whatsoever. Again, the demands you’ll be placing on your DAW will determine how important it is to get a TI controller; if you need relatively few channels of audio (e.g. fewer than 20) and don’t use huge numbers of plugins, then the chances of encountering Firewire controller problems are quite small.

On some Dell laptop systems featuring the Ricoh controller, some users’ problems with audio glitching have been solved by replacing the original DVD drive with a Nec DVD drive. As these cases were reported in the middle of last year, I would imagine that Dell now uses the Nec drives as standard with new builds, but it’s worth checking before you buy. Other users have reported that disabling the Wi-Fi card solved their audio problems.

Some Motherboard Suggestions

Here are a few motherboards that may be worth trying if you’re building a new DAW (depending on what audio interface you plan on connecting, of course):

  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3P
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus P5W DH Deluxe
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus P5GD2 Deluxe
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus A8N-SLI
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus P5LD2 Deluxe
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus A8N-SLI
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus M2N-SLI
  • Texas Instruments Firewire Controller – Asus M2N32 WS
  • VIA VT6308 Firewire Controller – MSI Neo Family
  • VIA VT6308P Firewire Controller – Asus P5K Family

At the moment, the P35 chipsets offer the best price/performance ratio, particularly if coupled with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4GHz, but this may change as the X38 and new Penryn processors begin to gain market share. However, as there’s always something better on the horizon, there’s no point waiting around – just get the best deal on offer now and start making some music.


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