Processors and RAM
No matter how well your computer runs now, you'll need to tweak the setup for home studio use. Audio recording places special demands on the computer that are very different from the demands of surfing the Web or checking your mail. The more power the better here.
In order to really get your machine running smoothly, the best thing you can do is start over. If it's at all possible, and you know how to do it, back up your important data and reload a fresh copy of your operating system. While this might seem drastic, the majority of computers get lethargic and become error prone due to old files hanging around the system. Generally speaking, spring cleaning like this will always help. Starting fresh can breathe new life into a machine that starts to feel old and slow.
Consider dedicating one computer to music alone. No e-mail, no instant messenger, no Internet — only music. In professional studios, a dedicated audio computer is standard. Think what would happen if you got a virus on a computer that holds all your music. You could lose everything!
The processor, properly called the central processing unit or CPU, is the brain of the computer. The speed of the processor is the first consideration. It's all about speed! The speed of your computer is measured by the frequency at which the processor is able to perform an instruction, called instructions per second (IPS). This number used to be stated in megahertz (MHz), which implied a million instructions per second or MIPS. Now that chips are faster than 999 MHz, the term gigahertz (GHz) is used for any chip that exceeds 1,000 MHz (1 GHz equals 1,024 MHz). What do megahertz and gigahertz mean to you? The higher the number, the better, because the higher the number, the more “tasks” the computer can do at once and the faster it can do them. More powerful processors are able to play more tracks, add more effects, and perform more elaborate edits, and so on. Unlike studios-in-a-box and analog tape machines, computers come with no guarantees on how many tracks and effects you can run in the software. Your possibilities (or limitations) of what you can do with software are largely based on how fast your machine is. But many variables — not
Different Types of Processors
When you compare machines from the IBM world (PCs) that run the Microsoft Windows operating system with the Apple/Mac world, you might notice that the Apple/Mac processors have a lower stated speed when compared with the PCs. On the surface, this seems to indicate a decreased processing power, but this is not the case. Apple/Mac's processors are very different from the Intel/AMD processors used in PCs, and they cannot be compared simply by their processing speed. What's important is to look at the relative speeds of other machines. Compare the speed of one Mac to other Mac machines currently in production. Compare PCs to other machines that run Microsoft Windows.
Random access memory, or RAM, is another vital system component of your computer, also another number you want to be high. RAM is a specialized area where data is stored temporarily while the computer is on. It is called volatile memory because it is gone when you turn off the computer. RAM is superfast and data can be written into it and read from it at much higher speeds than from the hard drive. RAM comes in the form of an integrated circuit, sometimes called a chip, which connects directly to your motherboard. Installing RAM is not difficult, and the price of RAM chips has fallen dramatically.
Computers place into RAM memory important information that needs to be accessed quickly. RAM is measured by how much data it can store at one time. Having a lot of RAM will speed every computer up, no matter what speed your processor is. You could have the fastest processor on the market, but with only a small amount of RAM, the computer will crawl. Most software manufacturers suggest minimum and recommended RAM amounts. Check out Web sites and call companies to see what they recommend. To run music-recording software, most computers need more RAM than what they typically come with. However, computers have limits on how many RAM chips can be placed in one machine, so your ability to increase RAM is not infinite. Pay attention to this when you are purchasing equipment.
Generally speaking, you should fill your computer with at least half of the total RAM it can hold. If your machine can hold 1,024 megabytes of RAM, 512 megabytes of RAM will set you up well.
Your magic number for RAM will differ based on what you do with the computer. If you plan on recording only a few tracks, and not going crazy with effects, filling your computer with RAM won't be necessary. However, if you plan to use high track counts (sixteen or more), or do anything with samplers or virtual instruments(see Chapter 17), RAM is crucial. In this case, you can't have too much.