hardware question

hello , i want to make a new pc to run ardour.

Is there any benefit to have a quad core ?

should i prefer DDR3 ?

For HD, i think the new WD Velociraptor is perfect, should i make a raid system even ? if yes for system drive, audio drive , both ?

MOBO : which chipset is good ?

Any sugestion is welcome ! thanks !

Hello there.

Sorry, to add any confusion to the debate. Designing a new system from the ground up is about priorities. You decide what your priorities are and then work backwards from there.

My priorities are having a low latency system and getting my sound card on IRQ 9 (haha, priorities – IRQ). It doesn’t have to be super high performance but it does have to be quiet and have low power consumption. The IRQ 9 thing means I am pretty much limited to AGP and single processor/core.

If my priorities were high computational power (ie soft synths) then I would have to spend a bit more money and buy a dual processor dual core AMD or something like that…

Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that I am happy to limit myself to AGP based boards as it makes life less complicated, I can make one system and work on it, rather than spend all my time tweaking it. Also, I am constantly seeing people with PCIe based boards having lots of problems. A PCI sound card in a PCI based board is simple.

So, my process with designing a new system, AGP based, low power, small/portable (I forgot to mention that before). So, I built a matx based AGP board (having checked all the GNU/Linux hardware compatibilities first) and built it with a Socket 754 based chipset.

Before, I should have actually said, undervolted rather than underclocked, 'cos it’s running nearly at full speed, 2ghz but at only 0.95v (I haven’t bothered too much about CnQ). It works well, I can track at 96khz and record several channels with plugins and the computer does not break too much of a sweat.


Then you come along and say that an underclocked CPU on an old AGP board is a good idea.

I was trying to say in my post above that you need to find gear that works with audio (and tested as such). I’ve made excellent stable systems out of Athlons in the past so I do feel comfortable with them. Some people have recommended against using CPU throttling with DAWs. Personally, I don’t know about that and would definitely try and get it to work if it made a bit difference, but I aren’t going to get huge savings in power or heat even if I do get it to work. I calculated my Turion doesn’t make more than 13.5 Watts of energy if working at 100% as it stands. It won’t go more than 3C above ambient with mprime (admittedly it’s Winter here), and that’s with it running fanless.

Also, of late I have had a bad experiences with:

Asus motherboards. In the past they were excellent (they were the best) but now they seem to have QC problems. I had an A7M266 board, lostcircuits (that was the coolest site) recommended it. It was fantastic, but now I don’t think they are as good as they were then.
Matrox cards. In the past they were recommended as they had good solid drivers and were well made (G400 especially). I pretty much gave mine away as with all the new xorg X11 changes I could never get it to work properly (with Gentoo or with the unofficial drivers). I know they used to be recommended (here I think mainly), however, my recent experience leads me to think they are more trouble than they are worth. Plus, I’ve found a good replacement (below).

I’ve had good experience of late with

I use the ATI Radeon cards supported by the plain OS ‘Radeon’ driver, that’s (around) from the 7000 generation up to the 9600. They spent years getting those drivers to work and they work really well. I had good experience with my thinkpads and that made me move over to them.

SiS chipsets. They have an awkward Driver (you can get stuck if you have old sources in your kernel and a later version board). They are open source ‘unfriendly’ but I researched this one for about a month, and they are actually quite highly regarded in the industry. I came across a fantastic quote in the kernel mailing list and it persuaded me to get one of these.

I have a Zalman zm300b psu, I think it’s made by Fortron Source. It’s not the most efficient, but I’ve had it for about 4 years and it’s never missed a beat. However, I’ve bought several of the plain OEM FSP power supplies in the past and they went ‘boom’ or died quietly. So, I don’t think I’ll be buying another FSP based PSU

I really like my RME card! It’s the best

With GNU/Linux, you’re walking a tightrope, you don’t want to buy the latest and greatest unless you want to be the person ironing out the bugs. But you don’t want to be left behind with nobody supporting the devices. Audio is a bit the same, but you are looking for stability, solid implementations of hardware/software, and some speed. So, it’s many different things trying to balance out. I go the road-often-travelled route. If I do come across something I haven’t any experience with (a-la SiS chipsets) I spend some time and figure out if I am sure I can make it happen–well.


Most of your questions can be answered from the section on the right of the page.

“Further Reading”> System Requirements.

Here is the link.


Warning: Avoid VIA motherboards and chipsets wherever possible.

The tuning of your hardware to the software is more important than tons of muscle.


the page gives some good general things but is somehow outdated and incomplete (and bit longish, it maybe lacks a short version).

It’s talking about 1 GB of Ram - that’s about the minimum configuration today for a standard system. It’s good to know that it is enough, but it would be more interesting if DDR / DDR2 / DDR3 makes a difference or not.
As I’m writing this, I must apologize to the ones that have written the page - it’s great to have it, and I see that e.g. Steinberg’s Nuendo site reads 7 lines of system requirement, and on of them is the internet connection required to activate the software…

Nevertheless, as Ardour and linux is superior, this site deserves the best system requirement / recommendation page on the net :slight_smile:

I’d be willing to help updating / expanding the page, when a few questions are clarified (I’Ve got the feeling I saw this discussion before, but I don’t find it):

Dual / Quad - AMD / Intel difference
A quad is of course better, but I remember that Ardour only really supports more than 2 CPUs from version 3 on, nevertheless the more CPUs the better (moreso if you’re using Ardour and another app like e.g. Rosegarden simultaneously).

I don’t know if there is still a big difference between AMD and Intel (floating point etc.).

The faster the better? What about CL latency?

VIA chipsets (mainly old ones) are pretty bad, but which ones are good?


Hello there.

It’s a really difficult thing to answer. Full stop.

There are no one system that will rule all. You could spend a thousand days and nights and not come up with the ideal system.

I will lay out a few of the parameters as I see it:

  • Buy something that is known to work in an audio production setting. Seriously, find people running audio benchmarks like the Thonex series of tests and look for good solid results.

  • Look at the motherboard chipset first before deciding on a system. Find one that is known to work well in audio situations and then find a particular model of that chipset that in a motherboard that you can afford/beg/borrow/steal. The reason I say this is that, it was only recently that some of the PCIe based boards were outperformed by the 875 Intel and NF3 (AGP -based motherbards). This was because of the PCI bus being trampled on by PCIe graphics cards in particular. Bear in mind that you /still/ cannot get lower latencies than a top PCI based card in a well configured AGP/PCI board. This is because all boards still being manufactured are based on interrupts–IRQs. So, buying a quad core cpu with 2 lanes of 16x PCIe is not going to get you better latency (or that’s what I’ve found as of today). More audio processing power – YES! Lower latency no.

  • Then go for a good performing low-ish wattage cpu. (obviously you want to work with your mobo). Then get a really nice sound card that works with GNU/linux (–right? you didn’t say).

  • Buy a really well regarded PSU. A Seasonic or something like that. You will find any 300w power supply will run most every current set up out there. I’ve run dual 10k scsi drives, controller, optical, twin mobile athlon clocked at 2133mhz (this was in days before C2D) with a Tyan duallie with a 300w PSU Zalman.

So, I like to keep things simple (old skool) and built my new system around an underclocked Turion (running mprime as I write this) in an AGP -based desktop uatx board. I have my sound card alone on IRQ 9 (the best you can get) and I’m happy.

Full stop, indeed… based on what you’ve just said, I had a fairly good start. I scored a used Abit BH7 and a P4-M 2.8 for about $30 each… the board is 854PE based, has single channel RAM, 1 SATA port, AGP 4x and the ability to overclock like a champ. This was perhaps the last Abit board before 865 and 875 took over the intel lineup, and they did so well with the VRMs that it was able to run P4 “C” chips (800MHz FSB, hyper threading) even though they weren’t supposed to ever be used in an 845 board. One other thing I was happy about is a PCI latency adjustment in the BIOS, which often gets left out these days.

The P4-M is of course a mobile chip, a 478 Northwood with SpeedStep (not a Pentium M). I was thinking that with a stated Vcore of 1.2-1.5, I could pop it in the BH7 and make it churn out 3.6 GHz easily… silly, silly me… the thing runs at its lowest speed which is 1.6GHz in a desktop, and the Speedstep control is ACPI business-- this desktop board has nothing to say about switching it up to the high Vcore and multiplier. The multiplier setting in the SoftMenu overclocking BIOS page does nothing, so I’m kinda screwed… the FSB is supposed to be 533, so there’s headroom. Using the old OC technique, I can get the CPU back up to 2 GHz at least.

I even got an old dual-head Matrox G450 and put it in there, it was $5 unmarked in a bargain box at a local computer shop. It does work pretty well, for a 16MB card. And of course I already have the Delta 1010LT which is worth more than everything else put together :slight_smile:

Because the BH7 is a regular ATX board and I wanted to be able to transport it, I started hacking up a case to take up less room and a minimum of hardware (1 or 2 3.5" and 1 5.25" drive). I already gave up on that. I need something that works so I decided I’d use this spare NForce4 board with a spare mobile Sempron, integrated GF6100 and a decent bunch of over(under?)clock options itself. I ordered the ThermalTake Lanbox which is about the same size as my hacked ATX case but of course, microATX instead… with better internal layout and far more room for drives.

Then you come along and say that an underclocked CPU on an old AGP board is a good idea. (oddly mixed expression of satisfaction and pain) Now I’m back to the drawing board. Literally. I’d also need to find someone with a tack welder :wink:

Using the Sempron means I have gone to PCI-E even if I don’t use the slots-- the integrated video sits on such a bus and shares main memory, even worse because it’s single channel memory… Also there are only 2 PCI slots, not too bad considering I only need one and the second I can use for a 1394 card. Perhaps there’s a third option-- Can anybody recommend a mATX 865 board with an intelligent BIOS menu? How about the ability to control SpeedStep? Today, I am a noob.


I fired it up to start some tests, since I had already built a strictly audio-only Gentoo with P4 optimizations from the ground up. I looked a bit more closely and this BH7 has one of those BIOSes that allows you to assign IRQs to individual devices as well… Wow, I’m getting warm fuzzy feelings again. Plus I measured my “case” to be roughly 16x10x8 where the Lanbox is roughly 17x12x9, that helps with the decision a bit :wink:


Found out desktop boards can work with SpeedStep (EIST support) so long as it’s on this page’s list of supported chipsets. I tried my favorite online store for a socket 478 board, and there’s one there… has the necessary chipset, win… also is mATX, so far so good. But a review said the BIOS is crap, lose. Still open for suggestions.

Fanless, that explains (and confirms) it. I’m leaning toward water, also fanless if I can manage it but it’ll be silent anyway (120mm fans @ <1000 RPM are pretty quiet). And you touched on another major point… one doesn’t need gobs of CPU power unless they’re running lots of effects plugins or softsynths, and I plan on doing both.

A quick search for mATX and 478 and EIST makes it seem that the MSI board is the only one out there that fits everything and can run my P4 at full speed. Besides that, both of these boards work great so far as I can tell but the older one affords me the ability to tune for low latency. I already know I can make it perform significantly worse with those BIOS settings, so I just have to hunt down the combination that makes it better than having everything at defaults. There’s also the setpci method, as yet unexplored.

I found that my card always went to IRQ 21 or 22 unless I disabled APIC… is that why you are stuck with single core to use 9? Because MP basically mandates APIC? You know there’s a project out there, someone linked to it but I forget whether it was here… maybe I simply stumbled across it in portage. Anyway it allows you to route IRQs to different cores so you can power down all but one core or spread the load around evenly (video, disk, and software RAID on one, DSP and audio I/O on another for a bad example). Ah, found it.

Interesting notes, thanks.

I found that my card always went to IRQ 21 or 22 unless I disabled APIC…

I don’t know for sure about that. I thought it was the case but when I had a dual processor was awhile ago and maybe I didn’t look hard enough. No apic for me always

Re: that link. I saw it before but then promptly lost it as well :slight_smile: Up until recently I was using Gentoo which had the rtirq sh script as part of the pro-audio overlay. I don’t know how irqbalance fits in with that.

With this matx board I have which has a SiS chipset it was an experience for me trying to get the soundcard on IRQ 9. It didn’t matter which slot I put it in, the same IRQ would be following it. It’s the first motherboard I’ve had which places IRQs on devices according to what sort of device it was. I had to disable all on-board devices (including NIC) and disable the IRQs until 9 came up. Fortunately, by adding a PCI NIC I could get the NIC onto a lesser IRQ.

BTW, it was important I got an matx board for my new computer and sounds the same for you. However, that P4 board you said you already own looks fine, albeit ATX sized

I’m pretty sure it would change for a different PCI slot-- forgot to mention I never moved it around. It’s in the last one against the case wall (technically the bottom) and I’m adding a shield later for good measure.

And about the Speedstep bit… I found some discussions that suggest it could be toggled with a bit of hardware and a trip through S1 on every boot. Also there is an official Intel doc for motherboard designers who wish to allow running an EIST chip at full speed on the 845E… it’s a bit complex but I may be able to cheat. Fortunately for us brave ones, the #GHI pin is on the first outside row :slight_smile:

I’m pretty sure it would change for a different PCI slot– forgot to mention I never moved it around.

I’ve found that’s normally the case. All other motherboards I’ve had have done that. However, with this SiS based chipset the IRQ follows the card around like a bad smell. I thought it worth mentioning as it is different to other motherboards I’ve used

Pay please attention to tuning of the program and its dependences with the necessary flags gcc, g++. And also rebuild kernel. It considerably raises productivity.

Sorry My English.

Pay please attention to tuning of the program and its dependences with the necessary flags gcc, g++. And also rebuild kernel. It considerably raises productivity.

Sorry My English.

No worries re. your English, but wondering about if you posted in the wrong thread? This is one is really only about hardware

Of course-- I only meant mine didn’t change because I didn’t move it recently :slight_smile:

All my experience says SiS is not so good (mainly for performance, but especially for that of the integrated video) whether for Win or Lin so this is pretty interesting to hear after all. Of course it was always on others’ machines… I’ve only tried Intel 815, 845, Via KT600 and nForce 4 for my own stuff so the long-term testing wasn’t mine.

Well, RME did some tests and found that all integrated solutions are compromised for performance. The SiS board I have has integrated as well as an AGP slot. I have seen tests showing that with no AGP card in the slot this SiS motherboard slows down 20-30% trying to keep up and do the gfx at the same time. The tests I saw online showed that with an AGP card, this little board could easily keep up with all contemporary 754 solutions without a problem.