Music PC Upgrade Spiral

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on commercial computer circuits will double every two years – a prediction that has held true since Moore first proclaimed it in 1965. This increase in density brings a commensurate increase in power, but does this really mean we need to upgrade our music computers every other year?

Music PC Power

My first PC was an IBM 286, which could do little more than run a word processor. For computer musicians, the single most significant DAW breakthrough was arguably the advent of the software plugin in 1996, which brought expandable functionality to programs such as Cubase, WaveLab and Sound Forge.

At this stage, the most powerful commonly available processor was the Intel Pentium, running at speeds under 200 Mhz. The subsequent years saw a fierce clock-speed war develop between Intel and AMD, but when these speeds hit the 3.4 GHz range it became clear that improvements in processor architecture were called for in order to avoid overheating issues.

How Does PC Speed Affect Music Production?

Personally, I think the critical threshold of processing power was somewhere around the Pentium III era. Although it’s always good to have more speed, a Pentium III can run programs like Reason with ease… and many great albums were produced on Pentium III era machines (although the majority of these were probably done on the equivalent Mac system).

Of course, a lot depends on your techniques and requirements. If you use a lot of CPU-hungry reverbs and software instruments, you might easily bring even the most powerful machine to its knees. However, in terms of sequencing raw 16-bit 44.1kHz audio, even the cheapest PC available today would be capable of running (at least) a dozen stereo tracks – which is certainly enough to get started with.

In fact, a more careful workflow can greatly reduce the need for CPU cycles. If you bounce down your tracks on a regular basis, you’ll find that you can achieve the same results on a far lower spec machine – and you’ll probably have a far tidier project as a result, albeit losing the ability to go back and tweak some settings later on.

Music PC Hardware Requirements

Martin Walker reckons his 2.4GHz dual-core music PC will keep him going for quite a while yet, and the latest Mac Pro is more hardware than most users will need, but remember that you’ll need an audio interface to go with your computer. Here’s a few observations on choosing a sound card, whether you need a Texas Instruments firewire controller, and you can also download this guide to buying a music PC laptop


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