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Putting together a custom PC for MAX/MSP

September 25, 2008 | 4:19 pm

I’m shopping around to setup a rackmount custom built PC (probably with windows XP)

Any suggestions about motherboard/CPU choices that are ideal for multi-channel midi and audio processing with minimal latency.

I’m also trying to create an all-purpose portable rackmounted setup (including the PC). Any suggestions on external sound cards and pre-amp/audio input combinations?


September 26, 2008 | 12:08 am

I’ve used PCs since 1998 and all of them were "custom". According to my friend who works for Intel, best results(surely not in audio) achieved with Intel main boards. I used Asus from the beginning and all of them are quite stable. Well, I am not an expert in bechmarks but most of the Asus mainboards would make you happy.

On the other hand, I have never used an AMD processor but I believe that worth to try, as far as the performance/cost rate is concerned.

One of the most important issues in PC is a good power supply, make sure that it feeds all the components, I may offer Thermaltake, Enermax or Silverstone.

About sound cards, it depends on your needs. I am using m-audio fireware 410 and Motu 8pre on different computers (one laptop and macbook) and I am quite happy with Motu/Mac combination. As you know, we’re in a transition from 32bit to 64 bit on OS’s, so don’t expect rock solid drivers :)

Why not you are consider buying a laptop if you want to move?

Best,

Mehmet


September 26, 2008 | 1:07 am

Thanks for the advice, the reason I’m going for a desktop (which really it isn’t a desktop) is because the options for speed/power are far greater than with a laptop (and cheaper) especially if you build it yourself.

The purpose for my system is to make a portable dual-purpose recording / interactive live performance module encased in a single rack-mount case. I’ve found a couple of websites that sell rack-mount PC cases and single unit LCD monitor drawers (which I can post here if requested) that would allow me to get around the issue of desktops being cumbersome to lug around.

What do you think?


September 26, 2008 | 10:08 pm

You are right, your decision is going to be more efficient both performance and cost-wise but you can do a lot with laptops. I’ve switched to laptop 4 years ago (Pentium M, 1.7 Ghz with 1 gb of ram) and mostly I have used it for VST’s with Cubase, live recordings and my improvisation environment/software developed in Max 4. with a M-Audio 410. It still works good but I have never used any Jitter application. If you have any intention to use visuals than it’s probably better to have a desktop with a strong card.

I realize something couple of years ago, if you are not in the "business" than you can find custom solutions for your needs, not necessary to follow the trend in CPUs or something else. As long as you don’t send a satellite to the space, most of the processors can help you in your projects. Believe me, it’s worth to put everything in a backpack and travel with your studio, less gadgets more happiness :)

It seems that we won’t be able to the understand real performance of the computers until Windows 7 BUT if you want to use any Linux distribution, that’s fine. Also OS X not yet stable enough, wild capitalism is everywhere! In any case, I am happy with my Mac since April, for the first time of my life after 10 years of window(s) (never worked more than one) it is statistically works :)

I’d go for a laptop if I were you.


September 27, 2008 | 4:17 pm


September 28, 2008 | 8:02 am

Chris Maynard schrieb:
> I’m also trying to create an all-purpose portable rackmounted setup
> (including the PC). Any suggestions on external sound cards and
> pre-amp/audio input combinations?

In the 80′s I had a "portable" rackmounted setup including a PC (a
Gepard computer you probably never heard of). It gave me hernia, and I
needed a BIG car to transport it, no way to setup anything alone as soon
there where some stairways on the way. Back in that days it was the only
way to go…

I will never ever go back, no matter someone tells me how "professional"
rackmounted systems are.
My setup of today fits easily into a backpack, I can even hitch-hike
with it. If I would be concerned about physical robustness of a laptop,
I’d rather carry a second replacement laptop. Especially the screen of a
laptop is far more transportable than any screen for a rackmounted
computer can be.

I guess that money is no concern, as any rackmounted setup will be also
5 times more expensive than what I would call transportable nowadays.

Get the fastest MacBook Pro with a lot of ram (the only computer which
gives you the choice for any important OS (OS X, Windows or Linux). Get
a RME Fireface, either a Fireface 400 (fits into a backpack) or a
Fireface 800 (rackmountable, 1 HE) if you need more than 4 mic inputs,
get a Behringer ADDA 8000 (1 HE, 8 Mic pre’s, dead cheap). Get a
Faderbox like an UC-33 to control your beast… Spend the rest of the
rackmounted budget either on VST’s or better for a teacher to create
your own processing in Max/MSP (none of the two adds weight to the set)…

Another underated feature of laptops: As a rackmounted computer has to
be more or less custom made, its not that easy to replace it. Though you
can run a Mac happily for several years, any computer is outdated after
half a year. Its much easier to sell an old MacBook than to sell an
outdated PC…

(If only robustness is your concern you could also get a toughbook, you
can throw it out of the window without breaking it, but its not really
optimised for music, unless you want to make music with the sound it
makes if it hits the floor… yeah become the Hendrix of laptop
musicians… ;-)


Stefan Tiedje————x——-
–_____———–|————–
–(_|_ —-|—–|—–()——-
– _|_)—-|—–()————–
———-()——–www.ccmix.com


September 28, 2008 | 6:19 pm

It is sound advice….
I do understand everyone’s arguments about portability, however when doing any gigging I have no choice but to lug around a large set up, so I figured I might as well have a computer thrown in the mix (which when compared to a a dozen rackmounted units and a 16 ch mixer isn’t a big deal)

PC or MAC? I’m not even going to touch that one. World war 3 is more likely to be between microsoft and apple than russia and the US.

VST’s and MAX: I’m concerned about using them for live effects on guitar/vocals without getting to much latency? Anything I should know about?


September 28, 2008 | 7:45 pm

Chris Maynard skrev:
> I’m shopping around to setup a rackmount custom built PC (probably with windows XP)
> I’ve found a couple of websites that sell rack-mount PC cases and single unit LCD monitor drawers
> options for speed/power are far greater than with a laptop (and cheaper)
unless you plan on doing some heavy-duty openGL or 40+ track streaming,
then that isn’t exactly true anymore – thankfully!
Have you made a complete budget for said rackmount pc + lcd drawer? I’d
wager you can get a full-on insane laptop for the same money… for
gigging there really is no viable alternative to the laptop, I think,
except a few of the Shuttle machines and the macMini, in a pinch…

Andreas.


September 28, 2008 | 11:40 pm

I know of a pretty good 1-rackspace monitor/keyboard/mouse, if you’re looking for one…. Try here:

http://www.ergo2000.com/ProductConfigurator.aspx


September 29, 2008 | 2:03 am

The laptop feasibility seams to be a recurring theme here. I am actually planning to (attempt) to experiment with the use of multiple GPU’s to boost processing capabilities which is not really an option with laptops.

For those pushing the programing in the park ideal for the laptop, I also prefer to sketch out MAX programs on paper. I know it sounds absurd, but it can really give you a different perspective when in your planning stages of a project. I was forced to once when the power was out (yes I realize it wouldn’t have happened if I was on a laptop) and I’ve been doing it ever since. I recommend trying it sometime.


September 29, 2008 | 2:16 am

>gigging there really is no viable alternative to the laptop

I completely disagree, with bluetooth the computer itself doesn’t need to be anywhere near you user space and again a computer case is nothing compared to a wack of amps, drums a p.a. ect…


September 29, 2008 | 9:02 am

Chris Maynard schrieb:
> VST’s and MAX: I’m concerned about using them for live effects on
> guitar/vocals without getting to much latency? Anything I should know
> about?

You can tweak it of course, anything which is in the same area as the
time the sound needs to travel from your amp to your ear should be
perfectly fine (aproxiamtely 3 ms per meter distance). And its a
constant latency, thus you can adapt to it musically…

The latency is also dependent on the kind of effect you are using, don’t
assume a hardware box isn’t facing the same problems in principal…

For vocals its not a big deal (unless you do beatboxing) and for the
guitar, you can actually feed the direct sound also through the computer
to add the same latency, you will fast adapt your playing style, as you
usually don’t hear the physical attack of the unamplified guitar…
(A missconcept about all these zero-latency talk, it depends a lot on
the situation if this is a problem or not. Sometimes adding (small)
latency can be a good thing, let your ear judge…)

Stefan


Stefan Tiedje————x——-
–_____———–|————–
–(_|_ —-|—–|—–()——-
– _|_)—-|—–()————–
———-()——–www.ccmix.com


September 29, 2008 | 10:32 am

>> gigging there really is no viable alternative to the laptop
>
> I completely disagree, with bluetooth the computer itself doesn’t
> need to be anywhere near you user space

It’s more an issue of portability. I’m often gigging overseas (and
flying), or else travelling around by train or even (to local gigs) on
foot.

Also: are you saying that you trust a consumer wireless technology for
a live on-stage performance?

> and again a computer case is nothing compared to a wack of amps,
> drums a p.a. ect…

PA is usually supplied by the venue.

– N.

Nick Rothwell / Cassiel.com Limited
http://www.cassiel.com
http://www.myspace.com/cassieldotcom
http://www.last.fm/music/cassiel
http://www.reverbnation.com/cassiel
http://www.linkedin.com/in/cassiel
http://www.loadbang.net


September 29, 2008 | 10:58 am

If any of you read the last Sound On Sound (september issue). It actually had info on buying a cheap ass PC/Laptop for music making and still having good memory and HD space.

There was some software that you could also store on a flash disk so you could test the ‘actual’ spec of the computer before parting with cash. I will post the link to the site when i get home.


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