Top spec DAW Workstation PC build for musicians, composers, audio engineers, pro and home studios

cubase-7-screenshots-3

Being a system builder and musician myself, (keyboard player/pianist of 30 years experience) I have decided to build a top spec PC DAW Workstation PC for running industry standard recording software such as Avid Pro Tools 11, or CakeWalk Sonar X3, or Steinberg Cubase 7, PreSonus Studio One 2, Ableton Live, or any other audio software for that matter. As is clear, there is a fair selection of DAW software available for the PC, but discussing those options is outside of the scope of this article.

Without further ado let’s get straight to the build. The first step when building a PC is the hardware list or list of parts necessary to complete the build. Usually, I start by deciding which processor platform to base my build on, that makes the hardware selection much easier, as it dictates which motherboard will be required.

DAW requirements

DAW PC’s have a specific set different from say a gaming or home-office PC. The number one priority is low-latency for audio drivers. This will be taken care of by the soundcard/audio interface to some degree, but if the overall system performance is slow, then the end result will not be good.

Graphics can play a part in a DAW too, not to run the latest games, but to run high-res monotors, and some DAW users utilise multiple monitor setups so as to have the main DAW work area/track view on one screen, while the second monitor displays the mixer for example

Part 1: Hardware selection

For this build I will utilise the power of the Intel Core i7 series processor. Now, there’s a choice here of processor socket, either the Socket 1155 (3rd gen i series) or the newer Haswell chips require a different socket 1150. If you were hoping to utilise a previous socket 1155 motherboard for this build then I’m sorry but you’re out of luck. Intel has changed the LGA pin configuration with their latest Haswell chip. At time of writing, 3rd gen processors ARE still available, so if you have an existing 1155 motherboard, you could opt for that route, but bear in mind if you intend upgrading to a Haswell chip at some point in the future, then you will need to oust the board again.

Processor selection

For this build, I will use the 4th generation processors, or Haswell, as they are codenamed. The CPU I will use the Intel Core i7 4770. As it’s a workstation PC and not for  gaming, over clocking is not required, so therefore the K version of this chip is not necessary. Also, over clocking would require more airflow and more fans, and for this article a quieter PC is required, so as not to be so audiably intrusive when recording audio.

483087-467674-290

Motherboard selection

My motherboard manufacturer of choice is Gigabyte, but I have heard complaints of Gigabtyte of audio-whine with some Gigabyte boards. Another alternative would be Asus (pronounced Asus as in Pegasus, not Azeus, like some people say, there is no e!). Another board of choice would be AsRock. While some may say they are budget boards (lower-end Asus boards) they are perfectly good for this purpose, and I have a fair amount of experience with AsRock boards, and I can confirm they are good with audio, i.e should not cause any whiny interference noise.

The board I will choose will be the Gigabyte Z87 chipset, full ATX board, not a mATX as with the previous build, as the dual graphics card option could be used here for multiple monitors, or just to improve the overall graphics from the on-board intel HD4000 graphics. Some DAW’s, like Pro Tools, recommend a dedicated graphics interface, refer to the AVID hardware recommendations page on the AVID website, as they offer video integration facilities, as used by audio people in film and TV work.

 

8009_big

RAM – memory

With full ATX boards, there is generally a higher RAM specification available, up to 32GB generally, the limitations of 64bit, so you could potentially have 32GB RAM in the system, which will be ideal for loading multiple VSTs or creating many simultaneous audio or MIDI tracks. DDR3. Corsair Vengance Pro RAM is highly recommended for Intel Core i7 based PC’s

2223260-l-a

Chassis

There are several candidate here too, my favourite being the Corsair Obsidian 550D. Why this case? Because it includes noise-dampening foam material in the side and front panels to prevent the case from vibrations and further quietening the case. Another choice would be the excellent Cooler Master Siliencio series or the Antec P180 case.

If rack mounting is preferred then the Silverstone Grandia could be a viable option, as this is marketed as a HTPC case, but with rack mount possibilities. These cases are also quiet and ideal for a studio PC.

31625-265400-290

CoolerMaster Silencio

Primary system drive

For this build, a fast SSD drive will be utilised as the primary system drive, this would be beneficial to the audio workstation, as it’s totally silent and much quicker than mechanical drives.

51zyaIr48hL

Storage  or separate audio drive

For this build, a second drive will be added for added storage of VST’s, samples, or your audio projects.

Power Supply

Corsair 750watt builder series modular PSU
Corsair CSM 750W Semi Modular 80+ Gold Power Supply
Black Coloured PSU with a 120mm Silent Cooling Fan. Equipped with a Single 12v Rail Delivering up to 43 Ampsp;
Equipped with 2 PCI-E Connectors for Graphics Card
600365-584217-290

Optical Drive

The optical drive is more important in a DAW build as doubtless there will be times when CD’s need to be burnt, to send a demo off to the record company, or to produce your own demos.

Optional items

While the system spec is generally complete, there maybe a few nice options to add to further enhance the usability of the system, such as those items listed below.

Card reader

It maybe useful having a memory card reader in your system as you may need to import audio or video from field recorders such as the Zoom H2n or similar. The card readers are generally 3.5 inch, and will require a 3.5 inch to 5.25inch drive bay. adapter but these are readily available and easy to install. The card readers are connected to the motherboard USB headers.

WiFi-card

If you do not have a hard-wired ethernet network in the area where your Audio PC will be, then you will need to add a WiFi card. This can either be a WiFi PCIe card, or a Wifi dongle, either will work fine, but bear in mind the USB dongle will occupy a USB port. EdiMax USB WiFI dongles work well. However, Wifi cards can introduce pops and clicks or latency into the system, these are the worst culprits for it.

 

7184-278087-290

FireWire 1394 PCIe card

Some audio interfaces are FireWire and therefore require a FireWire 800 port. This can be easily added to our build via a PCIe x1 expansion slot. There are several makes of FireWire cards, but it is generally recommended that you purchase a FireWire card with the TI chipset, as opposed to the VIA chipset, as it is more stable. Makes available are StarTech, Lindy or Belkin to name a few.

Coming soon in Part 2 – Parts assembly

Assembling the parts – install the PSU into the case

Assembling the parts – install the optical drives into the case

Assembling the parts – install the processor and RAM into the motherboard

Assembling the parts – Install the motherboard standoffs and install the motherboard

Parts assembly – install the cables – cable management

Part 3 – Testing the build

Testing – setting the BIOS – POST screen etc

Testing – installing the Operating System – Windows 8.1 pro or Windows 7

Setting up – How to optimise Window 7 for audio recording

Setting up – How to install setup an Audio Interface

Setting up – How to install DAW Software – PreSonus Studio One Free or Pro Demo

About admin

Mike Gisbourne is an IT Professional/System builder from the UK with 20 years experience of PC building. Building PC's since 8086 days and Windows 3.1/95. Mike specialises in PC hardware, server administration, hosting. He is also a musician, keyboard player.