Having tried and failed to get my aging Dell system to play nicely as an Ardour host, (primarily 'cus it has trouble doing Ardour + Qsynth + playback at the same time with lots of xruns etc), I’m seriously thinking of getting a new rig just to do Audio. So the question is, what should I buy?
It sort of has to be Linux (don’t care what distro.) It has to support dual monitors, and it has to be quiet.
Or, alternatively, would setting up a dedicated windoze machine be a better option (I haven’t used *doze for 15 years so I don’t know.)
Money is a limiter, so no insanely expensive options. That will preclude apple products.
If anyone out there has recently set up such a thing, please share what you did.
Looking around I can’t see a guide to what is required that is up to date.
if we can get enough info together, I’m happy to write/produce a new support tutorial to get some current guidance together.
Please also read this, so that you understand how hard it is to predict what "good hardware" really is: http://manual.ardour.org/setting-up-your-system/the-right-computer-system-for-digital-audio/
CPU power is only important if you are going to run a lot of plugins (including some instruments, particularly physical modelling synths).
RAM only matters if you use much too little or plan to use many or very large sample libraries.
Everything else is much more important, and unfortunately, you will not be able to find out very much about specific hardware.
I go for second hand corporate with tons of RAM. Xeon workstations and such, stripped down Ubuntu Linux LTS (XFCE) with low latency kernel, no anti virus rubbish to worry about, and if you add the repos from KXStudio, enough toys to keep you happy.
@chippyash, what kind of the audio interface have you already got (USB,FW,PCI,…)? How many channels (max.) are there in your sessions?
I use USB interfaces only and I do small sessions, max. 16 channels. Last year I bought a very affordable Dell laptop (for cca 400€) with 4 GB of RAM and Intel i3 CPU, low end gear, I suppose. I set up dual boot system: both systems are Debian 9, first system is standard Gnome desktop and second system is minimal install Debian with Fluxbox WM only, rt kernel, without Pulse Audio and with audio only applications installed (besides web browser and file manager). The only tweak in the standard desktop system is “threadirqs” edit in the /etc/default/grub file. Both systems can run Ardour + Qsynth without xruns, even through the extremely cheap Behringer UCA222 sound card (with CPU frequency set to max.). The second system, the one tweaked for audio, can record 8 channels simultaneously @96k/24b (M-Audio FTU8r) for more than an hour (possibly much more, but since I don’t need that much, I didn’t test it) without xruns.
The second computer I have is absolutely silent because it is fanless. It is Fit-PC4 pro by Compulab. I heard of the company because they collaborate with Linux Mint team. I was interested in Fit-PC4 for the same reasons as you: it is silent, it has dual HDMI port, two disks can be installed (one mSATA and one 2.5’’) and can be loaded with up to 16GB of RAM. It was a bit more expensive because I had to order it directly from the factory in Israel, but now it is available through Amazon. All together with shipment, Custom fees, HDD and mini SSD and 8GB of RAM it was priced little more than entry level Mac Mini. I set this computer the same way as my laptop (the only difference being KDE instead of GNOME). This computer was a little trickier to set for the audio, but with rt kernel (stock rt kernel, available from the Debian repositories) it runs as good as my laptop, perfect for my needs. Compulab also makes silent computers with Intel i5 and i7 CPUs which are probably much better for the audio, but they cost twice as much.
i built a rig form suggestions in this magazine
I’t not English I’m afraid but they are very good. Mine was a year or 2 earlier, they do a new one every Christmas season. they are meticulous about choosing components for a given use case. Mine is almost silent through a quality 120mm fan.
How aged is your Dell system? Since you did not give any specifics about the hardware or distribution you are using it is hard to know whether your existing system could possibly be tuned to work acceptably. People have run Ardour on some very low end systems without problems as long as the track count and plugin count was low enough. The FluidSynth Wiki has information about running FS on a phone, so I can’t imagine it is extremely resource hungry.
Without verifying that your problems are actually caused by hardware limitations and not configuration problems there is a chance that you spend a lot on a new system and then the same configuration problems cause poor performance even on the new system.
MOTUs Thunderbolt / AVB / USB line of devices seem to have fairly good USB class compliance.
I 2nd the MOTU AVB usb interfaces. They do perform pretty good. It would be nice if the kernel could establish native avb/tsn driver support as an alternative to usb.
This is a useful and interesting article about CPUs which might be useful guidance:
That Scan Computers article is interesting from the point of view of processing power - how many plugins you can run without losing data - but says nothing about latency i.e. how low a frames/period value you can get without xruns. That depends more on motherboard hardware, interrupts, drivers and your OS kernel, and actually has very little to do with CPU speed or clock efficiency.
CPU speed may not impact the achievable latency, but does determine how many plugins you can run at that latency.
Furthermore the CPU architecture can also play into this.
E.g. while the Ryzen AMD’s are absolute beasts, apparently they fall behind Intel when running at very low latencies (64 frames or lower).
Another thing that can have a massive impact when using Firewire is not just the chipset but how well the card is built (electrical stability = lower jitter = lower xruns).
I recently changed from a no name TI Chipset firewire card to a name brand one (Startech) and I went from unstable at 64 frames, to super stable at 64 frames. xruns only occur when plugins behave badly…
Desktop is always the cheaper way to get a fast reliable build.
A current build on an intel 8600k with 16gB of RAM and a decent SSD should have you well and truly covered.
I have a 4 year old intel 4930k overclocked to 4.2 GHz . I use Mixbus 32c (which is based on Ardour with a super CPU heavy DSP mixing engine) with around 24 channels on average and a few plugins on top of the Mixbus 32c DSP engine, usually multiple instances of the x42 eq plugin (which is also quite heavy).
Running at 64 frames (jack periods) and I’m using about 50% DSP (using 5 out of 6 cores for DSP and hyperthreading disabled)
The 8600k similar CPU in that it has 6 cores and is an earlier iteration of the same core design. From what I can see the 8600k will be about 30% more powerful than my current CPU and runs cooler.
That should leave you with plenty of head room for software synths e.t.c. and keep you running for a number of years, even without overclocking.
You can throw KXStudio or AVLinux on top of that and avoid paying for a Doze license.