Saturday, July 10, 2021

FEATURE: What Sort Of Computer Do I Need For Music Production


What sort of computer do I need for music production?

It's a question I get asked.......a lot. 

As with most things in life the answer is not all that simple, but I can draw on some experience and share that with you as well as offer some general pointers with regard minimum computer specs and perhaps identify some common pitfalls. 

For the purposes of this piece, I'll look at the computer as the basis of a music production/songwriter system rather than more specialized applications such as live recording. 

I'll make no real distinction between desktop and laptop systems other than to point out that desktop processors tend to be a little faster due to the manufacturer not having to worry about battery life and power consumption, and there is greater potential for 'overclocking'. 

So there in itself lies our first point. If your system is not intended to be portable, and given that apart from the additional cost of a monitor, prices for equivalent desktop and laptop systems are similar, pound for pound a desktop PC is likely to offer you a bit more speed and power.  

Specs for music PCs.

Music applications, particularly music production platforms (or DAWs as they are commonly referred to) will place demands on a computer over and above general business or 'lifestyle' computing such as web surfing/publishing/photo editing so it's important to pay close attention to the major specs. 

These will include processor type/speed, hard drive type and size, RAM size and operating system. If you are looking for a portable/laptop computer, say, for busking applications, then battery life will also be a major factor to look for.

Processor Type/Speed.

In terms of processor manufacturer, you have two choices. Intel or AMD. A few years ago, most people would stick with Intel Core i-Series processors, but that changed with the introduction of AMDs Ryzen Series of CPUs and these processors are now often seen specified within very powerful computers designed for music applications. 

You really should stick to these processors for music and audio applications that can be taxing on your CPU. AMD non-Ryzen products will be a little too slow in my opinion and any Intel equipped computer that doesn't use a Core i-series chip (Pentium say) is probably going to be rather old now and not really worth consideration. 

If you're buying a new/boxed product then the CPU is likely to be among the latest generation of processors, so you don't need to worry too much about which 'generation' it is. In my next 'feature' computer hardware post I'll be taking a look at secondhand/refurbished computers, so we'll take a look at processor 'generation' then. 

For now, I would say that a late generation i5 or Ryzen 4000 series processor would be the minimum requirement. I started running music applications on an i3 (third gen) but did find that it started to reach it's CPU limit quite quickly as I built up tracks and used certain plug-ins, a problem which quickly disappeared when I upgraded to a seventh gen i5. Broadly similar performance is offered by the AMD Ryzen 4000 Series processors. 

As I said, I'm talking here of a typical singer/songwriter style setup with 1/2 track simultaneous recording. Applications such as 8/16 track simultaneous recording of live bands may require higher specifications. 

RAM Memory. 

The next link in the 'performance chain' for computer hardware is the RAM. RAM is high speed storage that a computer program uses to store and utilise temporary data. So it's the link between your software program and the computers hard drive, which is a more permanent storage device. The more RAM you have, the more information the computer and software can store before moving it to or from the hard drive (more on hard drives shortly). This plays a big part in the performance of audio programs and the more and faster RAM you have the better. 

I won't dwell too much on RAM types or speed, particularly if you're buying new, but I would suggest that 8 gigabytes would be minimum for a successful and capable music/audio system. But again, like all specs, if you're budget will allow for more, 16gb+, then go for it. It will mean more tracks, more plug-ins, and more processing, which means (possibly) better songs. 

Permanent Mass (Hard Drive) Storage.

Prices of SSD type hard drives has been falling dramatically over recent years since they were introduced into the computer mass market. The speed and reliability of these devices really means that for music production platforms it really is a 'no brainer'. HDD's, which use spinning disks and a 'transducer arm' to read and write data are really now considered 'legacy technology' and unless you wanted to store VERY large amounts of data, for example, if you were a DJ with thousands of songs needing storing, then you really should go for an SSD which uses 'solid state' memory technology with no moving parts or spinning disks. 

Writing and accessing an SSD is quicker and easier for a computer and therefore overall speed and system performance is generally better.

I would generally recommend 240gb as a minimum, and a 512gb if you can afford it. I bought my music computer a few years ago when SSD's were a bit pricier and so only got a 128gb. I do check out and review a lot of software, so I guess I was always going to run out of mass storage fairly quickly, but things like sample libraries can also eat up space so your probably going to need a bit more than 128gbs.

You can get additional internal drives for desktop computers, or external/USB types for laptops relatively cheaply these days, but using a computer with dual mass storage hard drive can bring some complications and inconveniences.  

Backing up your essential files and creations will be important, and for this you might find USB 'key' type memory devices very useful although 'cloud' storage is also becoming cheaper and very popular. 

So that's the three major performance factors covered. But there are one or two other things....

Other Things To Consider


Ports that allow our computer to communicate with external devices will be important for a music system. 

USB ports are used for most audio interfaces and input devices such as keyboards and pad/ controller devices, but we may also need them for external storage. I would recommend at least three. 

You can get devices that will 'split' your available USB port capacity but it is a rather inelegant solution which adds another external device to your system.

I was recently checking out the second hand market for a super-small 12" laptop and thought I'd found just what I was looking only to find it only had one USB port. 

Audio interfaces using other data transfer protocols such as Firewire and Thunderbolt are also available and obviously you'll need these ports if your using these types of audio interfaces. 

Operating System.

I would certainly recommend 64 bit versions of Windows for music applications. I think most relevant plug-ins are now 64-bit and a lot of up to date DAWs will now only run on 64 bit systems. Windows 10 32 bit is now discontinued, so, again, if you're purchasing new computer hardware it will more than likely be supplied with a 64 bit version of Windows. If you're buying refurbished/secondhand then check this out. It may be supplied with no operating system at all!


I still log into my programs and VSTs via the internet. Running an ethernet cable to my router would be a serious pain so Wi-Fi capability would be important to me and, I guess, for most people. Not a problem for any new or recent laptop, but some even 'not so old' desktops may not have it. 

Physical Noise.

If you're recording acoustic instruments or vocals from a microphone in the same room as your computer then you need to consider the physical noise your computer makes. Desktop computer power supplies are generally fan cooled and this may generate some physical noise. Microphone isolators will help with this problem but if you're buying a desktop you will need to consider physical/mechanical noise. 



So I think that about covers it. A mid/later generation i5 processor with 8gb of RAM and a 240gb SSD hard drive will take you a long way. It's the system spec of my laptop (the mass storage configuration is slightly different) but generally it's much the same. 

I run Reason 9 as my primary DAW as a singer/songwriter type system, but I also regularly use it to test and checkout other software to inform this blog site. It runs smoothly and quickly and really does everything I ask of it. Occasionally, with a project using lots of tracks and several instances of Steinberg's Halion 6 plug-in it will produce a CPU error message which I have to work around, but apart from that it all works rather well and allows me produce my little works of art which only a select few people get to hear. But that's another story.......



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The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software. 

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