How to build a Linux Audio PC?

Hi there,

after my iBook is showing its age and after I decided to have one dedicated Linux PC for my audio stuff (since Ardour is my weapon of choice), I wonder how I am gonna get one. As of now money is a bit tight and so I looked for relatively cheap but sufficient components for this PC.

I decided to go with an AMD Athlon64 X2 4850e CPU (2,5 GHz Dualcore) and 4 GB of RAM. I spotted the ESI Juli@ as a possible candidate for an affordable PCI interface. Its MIDI part doesn’t seem to work in Linux, but since I barely use any MIDI stuff that isn’t a problem for me. By the way: Is it possible to cascade the Juli@?

I haven’t decided yet if I am gonna get two Harddisks, but from what I’ve read it’s better to have one for the system and another one for data (I think it should be possible to start with one HD and throw in another one later).

Is this basic configuration enough for a decent amount of tracks with some plugins in Ardour? I will record a small Funk/Jazz band in the summer, so I will need at least twelve tracks of audio with the usual plugins (compressor, room, delay etc.) – nothing too fancy. At home it should be easy: I have outboard gear (mostly guitar stuff, so no CPU hungry amp simulation necessary) that I will use a lot, so I think the PC shouldn’t have too much to work.

Is there anything I have to look for or to be cautious about? I really don’t have any clue about this, because the last time I built a PC was 1998 and I appreciate any help or hints you can give me.

Please do not get me wrong.

I have enjoyed my linux experience.

I am just out of gas…

GMaq please keep me posted on your future releases.

I’ll second M-Audio or RME on the interface side of things. Our cutting room has a linux system with a M-Audio Audiophile 2496, and it simply works. Our main recording setup is based on a RME card, but using cubase. Same thing though, simply works. I’ve never had any driver hassels with M-Audio or RME, quite contrary to MOTU oder Digidesign.

You could always buy a Mac…

And once you’ve fixed stuff why do you keep breaking it?


I do empathize with your frustration, I have been there myself, enough so to create one of the Linux Audio distros that you refer to as being in “LaLa land” to achieve what I want. Your frustations have a root in two different problems: Linux will never be a great choice for cutting edge hardware because there will always be a lag in the Kernel developers ability to catch up, adapt and in many cases reverse engineer drivers and support for new hardware. Few hardware manufacturers (if any) are asking Linux developers if they want a heads up for what is coming 6 months down the road so they have to play catchup once it is already on the street. As far as distros go most of them are relying on 100% FREE VOLUNTEER labour, People that despite their love of the F/OSS movement have jobs, families and other obligations, Even the big ones like Ubuntu Studio are totally overwhelmed…they have asked me to join their dev team so indeed they are desperate!! Even my small distro has a development team of one…with a full time job and growing family.

Paul is one of the very few cases I know of that is getting ANY money (not enough) out of his endeavors. You can’t expect free Operating Systems with free software to give the same level of service, support and consistency as their corporate counterparts, no hardware manufacturers design their wares for Linux so there is little support from that side either.

I don’t blame you for being frustrated, but perhaps it is a question of evaluating your expectations in light of what Linux can realistically offer.

Are you sure the delta 66 has MIDI support? I doubt it.

Thorgal said “the Delta line”. Perhaps he also should’ve added “where applicable”.

Delta 66 and 44 doesn’t have MIDI, but you could probably use the game port interface on the built in soundcard (assuming there is one) with some configuration.
Alternatives are the 1010, 1010LT or Audiophile 2496 that do have it, but according to what Jan said MIDI wasn’t a crucial requirement.

If you don’t need 96kHz all the time, go for the Hammerfall with ADAT. We have 3 AD/DAs on it, rock solid. No problems recording 24 tracks at once. And, you can eliminate ground loops easily. You can get it rather cheap used, but of course you’ll need external converters.

I have skimmed through the above posts so if this has been covered please forgive me.

I should start a topic on how not to build a linux audio pc.

I decided to go with the amd phenom 9850 an ok quad.

But the motherboards I chose have been disastrous

I have bought and tried two MB in the last month.

I am past frustrated.

I started with the “ECS A780GM-A” rtried fedora 10, 64 beta 3, these would not install.

Finally got UBS 8.04.1 to install but very klunky everything felt like it was about to go up in flames. And finally did. My power supply blew up.

But the MB was spared.

So I had the bright idea to do some more research and try another MB.

I have now the “NVIDIA nForce 730a” .

And my experience has worsened.

The pisser is that there is not one!!! not one… Linux audio distro that is not in limbo… just floating around in la la land.

So before you decide or even think about a sound card.

Decide on a MB that will work with a distro that is floating around in la la land.

Just dont think “Oh I will get this MB and Processor and try all the wonderful flavors linux audio has to offer”

La La La La La La life is a dream.

And then when you find one… oops the upgrade knock out my graphics card driver for my dual monitor set up… Now what???

Stop creating… and start a new carrier being a Google master.

The point to all this sarcasm is do not buy stuff from NEW EGG… Go to a second hand shop and get hand me down hardware.

Now what really pisses me off. After 2 and a half years of doing the linux audio thing breaking and fixing breaking and fixing breaking and fixing.

Ardour the best DAW in the world runs on a platform that has no standard. No standard between distros no common goal to produce a base that just works.

1000’s of distros with their own world stopping reason to create the next thing = selfishness.

The freedom of linux has gotten out of hand. Everyone wants to be different. This defeats the purpose of an artist who is not a super geek, who just wants to create and record music.

Sorry for the rant.

I have had enough.

I have an RME Multiface II, great stuf!! if you can afford it, it won’ t be wasted money. The mixer app that controls it (TotalMix in windows, hdpsmixer in linux) can allow you to do about anything in terms of routing.

I looked at RME, spm_gl, but at the moment they are a bit pricey. But they seem to be a very good solution if you want to have options and expand your system over time. Especially the Multiface II is very intriguing. Maybe next year.

M-Audio has, along with RME, the best pro audio support actually.

As for CPU, notice that Ardour can’t use both cores for effects processing. The best it can/will do is use one core for audio and the other for the GUI/other stuff. So if you can find a used 3.8GHz P4 it might even be better (and possibly cheaper) for audio work.

Also make sure to use jack2 (aka jack-1.9 aka jackdmp) that does support multicore, if possible.

Thanks a lot for your quick answer!
I haven’t thought about M-Audio until now. I didn’t know they had good Linux support. The Delta 66s street price is good here in Germany (around 150-160 €), that seems to be in my price range.

So the PC config is fine. I still can’t figure out if there is any noticeable difference between AMD and Intel CPUs, but in my case it wouldn’t really matter, I think.

can you afford a M-Audio Delta 66 ?

your PC config is close to mine:

  • Core 2 Duo E6600: 2 x 2.4 GHz
  • 4GB RAM (PC6400)
  • 2 HD: one OS and one data. I used to have a second one but I use it for something else now.

The number of tracks will be dependent on the disk throughput at least.
For the PCI card, make sure you get something at least semi-pro. The M-Aduio Delta line is quite OK and well supported by linux (MIDI included).

the delta 44/66 do not have midi.
if you want midi maybe you should consider the audiophile 2496.
this is the one i own. i was ready for the delta 44/66 until i see they do not support midi

Thank you all for your help.

I didn’t know that Ardour cannot use Dualcore for distributing the effect work, but I think I will be fine – the last time I worked with Ardour on a PC I had an Athlon with 800 MHz under fluxbox (that one from ten years ago), and that went pretty well, actually. I see it as a relief that Ardour will separate GUI stuff from the audio work with the two cores, because my iBook seems to have some problems with keeping the GUI up with the audio. So what I will have in the new PC will be a big step up in any case. :slight_smile:

The most important thing regarding hardware seems to me now the throughput of the disks, as thorgal pointed out. I have done some research in this forum and there is obviously much of work that can be done in the BIOS and the kernel area, so that – at least to me, correct me, if I’m wrong – is also one area where one can improve the performance of the system.

As for MIDI-support: I don’t think I will really need MIDI that much, so that will be not a criteria for the card. Maybe I will do some keyboard stuff in the future, but for that I can always buy a little interface. The most simple ones cost around 20 Euros and will do the job.