Absolute Best Hardware for linux/ardour in 2023

Hello
I am about to change my computer for linux/ardour. Has anyone any ideas on what to get/avoid?
Thanks

Hi.

My experience so far is, that you don’t really need the “best” available hardware:

  • CPU: in my PC I have a (1st gen) Ryzen 7 1700.
  • RAM: initially I had 16GB, but a while ago I upgraded to 32G. The main reason for this was that almost all the 16GB were eaten up when using DrumGizmo (CrocellKit) and my guitar soundfonts within a MusE workspace.
  • harddisk: on the PC I record and work on a spinning disk. An SSD definitely will make things faster, but it’s not mandatory I would say.

I also have a laptop, a KDE Slimbook 15" (not the current model, but a ~3 year old one, having a 4th gen Ryzen CPU). It also has 32G RAM and an SSD instead of a spinning disk (so the fans are the only components with moving parts). What I really love about this laptop is the huge battery, allowing around 7 hours of Ardour usage when fully charged before. This is great when I e.g. visit my singer for a recording session, because I usually leave the power supply at home (means: one less thing to carry around).

To sum it up:

  • Don’t get the “best” PC or laptop, a “decent” one will most likely be good enough.
  • Take the saved money and buy a better audio interface / microphone / guitar / whatever instead. :slight_smile:

I’ve heard that AMD is better for Linux and it’s worth getting processors that aren’t the latest. In which case the support has already settled at a better level. And they are also not the most expensive either, because the newest one always costs more.

I can recommend AMD Ryzen CPU, no issues at all. Depending on your budget you can go to AM5 socket, but this is an expensive way, as the boards are not cheap and they support DDR5 RAM only. This is more future-proof though.
But imho the AM4 socket on good motherboard with B550 chipset can give you very good performance and stability for years. I can recommend Ryzen 7 5700X which is almost as good as 5800X but consumes much less power (65W vs 105W TDP) and has 8 cores/16threads. Building Ardour from sources (7.5-294) with this CPU takes only 6m 24s :wink:

I’m an Intel guy, but that isn’t a knock on AMD, just a personal preference from years of owning Intel machines. My advice is fairly generic, but if you are considering a laptop, I recommend going with a workstation model rather than a consumer grade one. You can find resellers on eBay who source machines retired from a couple years of enterprise use (just confirm the BIOS isn’t locked by a password the reseller doesn’t have) that will work well for audio and be on par with the price of a new consumer grade laptop. This is a spit-balling assumption, but workstation laptops have motherboard designs that are more accommodating of low latency audio work, especially if you use a USB interface. I bought a used top-of-the-line-in-2012 Thinkpad X230 off eBay years ago, and it still outperforms any consumer grade laptop I’ve owned when it comes to low latency settings without xruns (the only laptop I’ve owned that can reliably get down to 64 frames). It came with a dock, and I essentially use it as a desktop computer. It still runs fine, is very serviceable, and as much as I have the bug to upgrade, I really have no need to do so.

1000% avoid Chromebooks. This may seem obvious, but I have come across the opinion that Linux should run well on them because ChromeOS uses the Linux kernel, but that opinion is wrong, and I once poured out a lot of firsthand details on a forum failing to convince someone else of this. They agreed with everything I said after buying one. Believe me now and thank me later, they make horrible Linux laptops, and they are completely useless when it comes to low latency audio. You may think this is due to the under-spec’d hardware. That no doubt plays a part, but the main issue is it’s not possible to install Linux directly onto the internal drive of pretty much any Chromebook made today due to the BIOS security Google places on them, and running the OS from a USB drive is not want you want for audio work. As ChromeOS machines, they are fine, but even on the model where I did get Linux installed on the internal drive (I like to tinker), it makes no sense to suffer through that experience when virtually any other laptop performs better and is much easier to get up and running.

2 Likes

Hi,

A word of caution for getting too giddy about the latest AMD tech…

In 2019 I built a 24 core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2970WX system on a top shelf Gigabyte AORUS 399 gaming mobo, I even bought a one generation old AMD CPU and the CPU and my motherboard were manufactured in 2017. It took me 5 months of waiting for Kernel updates to make this machine stable with Linux with at least 5 completely infuriating random lockups per week, (sometimes more). Windows 10 ran like a watch right out of the gates and I was within an inch of tossing Linux forever (no I’m not kidding). Somewhere around Kernel 5.11 things turned around and lockups stopped and this machine is now rock solid with Linux

It took two and a half years after this CPU motherboard combo was manufactured to get reliable performance, I think this is not the normal thing to expect but it certainly does happen with some combos, your GPU can be a whole other can of worms (especially nVidia) so buyer beware…

Over the last 15 years, I have only ever used Thinkpad X-series (they all still work). First a X60s, then a X250 and now an X1.

The main benefit is that the BIOS allows to configure hardware interrupts. That way I was able to configure one USB2 port (the one on the left on the X60 and X1) to have an exclusive IRQ, which allows for reliable low latency

I have replaced the fan of the x60s three times, bought new batteries over the years for the X60 and X250, and replaced the keyboard for the X60 and the new X1.

I have however not bought them second hand. The nice thing with Thinkpads is that you do not loose warranty when servicing the machines yourselves. They even provide nice exploded-view drawings and list of replacements parts.

4 Likes

Hello, Ccee

Without being an expert, my personal experience is that you are looking for a good AMD or Intel motherboard with its corresponding processor, the most powerful that you can reasonably buy according to your budget, but it does not have to be the top of the top.

Look for a motherboard with a lot of possibility of installing a lot of RAM 32 or 64 or more depending on what is the standard today, I don’t really know what it is.

A processor according to the board you buy, the best that your budget allows, with its corresponding cooling system, the Noctua fans have a good reputation, or they are silent and there are different models according to needs, I have 2 on different machines and they work well for me .

A decent power supply and with plenty of power for the estimated consumption of the motherboard processor, RAM, disks and peripherals, do not look for the cheapest, look for something of a medium or medium high level, the power supply is an important element for the system stability.

My system that I use with ubuntustudio 22.04.2 lts is based on hardware that can be considered obsolete:

970 GAMING motherboard (MS-7693)
AMD FX™-8300 Eight-Core Processor
System Memory 32GiB 4 slots 8gb each.
display card GP107 [GeForce GTX 1050 Ti]

This pc can move more than 80 audio only tracks with a somewhat limited use of plugins, perhaps especially the reverbs.

Midi tracks and software instruments usually consume a lot of resources, but it’s a matter of “playing” with what you have, even with older devices you can do wonders.

Today I am not a sound professional, I was for a while but it was more analog times and the PCs of that time were limited, compared to those of today.

The basic idea is that you allocate a reasonable budget within your financial possibilities and depending on the use you are going to give it, if you use a lot of software (especially midi) you need more processing power, but if you have hardware outside of your PC and you are basically going to record and you are only going to process audio tracks, you may need less power, at least initially.

I can’t recommend specific hardware because I’m a bit out of the loop, as my PC at the moment meets my needs and economically I can’t spend much because I’m not very up to date.

I don’t know if my comments help you, are useful to you or not, I hope so, regards.

A lot of people gave you hardware recommendation for the PC itself, but since you’re going to be doing pro audio on linux it’s important to talk audio interfaces, controllers and misc. hardware.

Not every audio interface is linux compatible. As a good rule of thumb, the more it depends on proprietary drivers or software to function, the less likely you are to get it to work with linux.
What you need to look for is ‘class compliant hardware’ some manufacturers say it outright, some you’ll have to email to know. Here’s a list of interfaces that work afaik:

  • Focusrite Scarlett range (own and use a 18i20 gen 3 , there is a bit of trickery involved for smaller interfaces of the range to get them out of mass storage mode)
  • Focusrite Clarett range (according to what I was told after e-mailing them)
  • Motu (only some are class-compliant (you will need to e-mail them yourself for an updated list)
  • Presonus Audiobox iTwo ( I had one from 2016 that worked fine, don’t know about the rest of their products)

I have heard that behringer products work fine, but I only ever tried using X32s remotely from my laptop, never tried a Behringer interface myself.

For controllers I have a BCF2000 that works fine, and it’s probably where you’ll have the least trouble.
Apart from those considerations there isn’t much limitations. Maybe avoid UA Sphere mics, I’m unsure if the plugins for those work well or not with yabridge (maybe someone here has tried it?)

Pro audio on a linux machine is totally doable though, and in fact you’ll find the stability and ease of plugin management refreshing. Good luck in your switch!

Have Behringer UMC1820 and never experienced any problem with it. All devices in the UMC family are class compliant and don’t have to be controlled from a dedicated software (there is no such even on Windows AFAIK). I believe the same applies to Behringer ADA8200 ADAT interface which comes in handy when additional in/outs are needed.

But when it comes to audio performance on various hardware, don’t underestimate the importance of USB subsystem itself. I found the USB controller on my Gigabyte B550 MB to be just awful. Never be able to get rid of xruns completely unless really large buffers were utilized. Bought a separate USB PCI-E card for using with audio interface exclusively and all the problems gone. Easily can go under 64/2 or even 32/2@44,1 which gives me about 5 ms RTT latency and outperforms my legacy M-Audio PCI card on old PC. I’ve read that USB on Intel based motherboards is generally better suited for audio but never had the opportunity to check it myself on well optimized system.

I use a Behringer UMC1820 and a ADA8200. 18 channels of glorious sound, 2 headphone outputs. I have a Focusrite solo that I bought for portability. Not a big fan of the Focusright sound plus it tends to stop working intermittently.

Ok.
Audio interfaces and Linux… well…
Most important: Class-compliant: look for this feature because if an USB audio interface is “class-compliant” - the basic functionalities must work under Linux: playing audio and recording audio, using all outputs and inputs.

Then: Look for a device fully controllable by physical knobs and switches. There is quite a high probability that device controllable by a software will have limited functionality in Linux (e.g. turning on/off phantom power, channel gain control, extra preamp modes, e.t.c.). due to non-working applications.

I can recommend M-Audio AIR devices, they are fully-functional in Linux, and have great microphone preamps (Crystal preamps) that have less noise floor than SSL 2 audio interface!

Take look at the review: M-AUDIO AIR 192|4 USB Audio Interface - REVIEW (audio quality measured) - YouTube

I’ve replaced my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 with AIR 192|14 and this was a deal of life :smiley:

Thanks to all of all of you who replied. There has been some good info.
As concerns interfaces, I have been using a RME HDSP 9632 for about the past 6 years and it works very well. Now… It has a PCI interface which is not compatible with PCIe. The PCI slot seems to no longer be available on modern motherboards. Without trying to be a cheapskate, it’d be nice to not have to replace a 300+ Euro interface that works perfectly well. Does anyone know of a solution to this problem?

Thanks

Suggestion from #ardour IRC : Search for “PCI-E PCI Express X1 to PCI Riser Card”

So it would also need a driver, I guess. You might want to check up on that, whether one exists for Linux.

I had an Aardvark Q10 which I was really happy with but had to abandon it when I switched to Linux because there weren’t any Linux drivers for it.

It does, it actually is one of the better supported devices, and worked rather well in Linux when I had one for years.

    Seablade

Oh that’s extremely good to know. That will come in VERY handy in a couple of years when I get to -hopefully- set up a small recording studio.

Sad to say I don’t know if you will still be able to purchase a HDSP9632 in a couple of years as it is PCI based, and not really many/any machines coming out for desktop use with standard PCI slots instead of PCI-E. But by then we may have other options.

   Seablade

Probably some Matrix-style neural net jack that plugs in to the base of your skull… Of course Apple will make their own that is incompatible with everyone elses… Microsoft will track your every thought to sell you what you don’t know you need yet and Linux will take 4 years to reverse engineer it and then offer 14 incomplete GUI toolkits with 7 competing upgrade formats for it… :upside_down_face:

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Who said I’d buy one new? By then a lot of places will beg me to take their old RME gear after upgrading to the latest AI Modelling interface, that only works with janky software on Apple Silicon. But hey if that means I get a 32 channel PCI interface for free, I’m all for them spending 2k a year on fancy IRs