What computer should I buy?
Having a rock-solid audio system is made easy with the growth of processing power commercially available in the market today. But there are always some factors to take into consideration. While we cannot recommend any specific brands or models, here are some guidelines to keep in mind when purchasing a new computer for audio production.
The first step is to take a look at our minimum system requirements to get an idea of what spec is needed to run Live. Bear in mind that while these are the absolute minimum requirements need to run Live 9, in practice you'll need higher spec in order to work most efficiently.
Desktop or Laptop, Mac or PC?
It is wholly arbitrary which platform you use and we recommend to use whatever feels the most comfortable, within your budget.
If you are already using an audio interface, it is always a good idea to make sure that your system will support it. Ask yourself what requirements are important to run any existing instruments or hardware you have, for example:
- Is your soundcard compatible with the operating system that is included with the computer?
- Are there any known issues with different OS versions?
- Do you require special hardware specs, eg: USB, 6 pin firewire, firewire 800, Thunderbolt?
Most hardware companies have dedicated support sections or forums, filled with users documenting any problems they've encountered, and a quick google/browse should reveal any note-worthy issues.
Smaller laptops can come with limited hardware specs, so a little research can save any headaches down the line, avoiding wasting precious music time spent on troubleshooting.
Processor options when buying a Mac are usually condensed to high-performance Intel-based chips, but in with PCs the options are considerably broader.
Generally, multi-core Intel-based processors are considered among the best in the market, the most powerful being in the Intel i5 and i7 families. With high-end Mac computers, the Intel Xeon is widely regarded as one the most powerful processors in the market, and rightly so.
Slightly older dual-core Pentium chips, from the same lineage as the i-series, can also perform well but the i-series are a newer and more powerful technology. Intel Atom computers, while practical, are not built for robust processes like audio production.
The Intel website documents the differences between its current models in this detailed comparison chart.
It is also worth noting that some AMD chips can meet the same spec as Intel, and are not to be disregarded. Balancing your budget against performance is the key and a really useful tool to assist with this is CPUBenchmark.net, which provides performance test results for most CPUs on the market.
On Mac Live creates an audio thread per core, including hyperthreading cores, for as many cores are available on the computer, with no limit.
On Windows 10 Live also creates an audio thread per core, but the system limits it to 32 high-priority audio threads. On systems with more than 32 cores, there won't be a significant performance increase.
In basic Projects a regular hard drive will suffice, but when Projects become larger, especially when streaming groups of large audio files straight from a disk, speed becomes a factor.
There are two options to choose from, SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive). SDD drives are more expensive but they allow much better computer performance such as allowing the computer to boot faster, launch and run apps faster, and transfer files faster, including streaming audio files in Live.
HDD drives are spinning hard drives. They spin at a set amount of revolutions per minute (RPM). The advantage to using HDD is that they are much cheaper than SSD, but the performance is generally not as good. If using a HDD we recommend one which runs at 7200 RPM.
For more information on SDD and HDD drives, check this third party article from PC Mag.
Note: If you are running your system in a serious studio environment or if your productions become more complex, you can further optimize the performance with a multiple hard drive setup.
What about RAM?
We recommend using the 64-bit version of Live on machines with a 64-bit operating system and more than 4GB installed memory. On machines with 4GB memory or less, or on machines with a 32-bit operating system we recommend using the 32-bit version of Live.
Like CPUs, RAM also comes in different speeds, so checking the RAM benchmark website will further guide you in the right direction.
Please reference this article for further information on 32-bit versus 64-bit versions of Live.
Numbers and charts are well and good when shopping around, but the best advice to take, is to use the above information as a guide, and to buy the most powerful computer you can afford.