I would like to set up Ardour on a Dell Optiplex 745 with a Pentium D and dual, 4 gigs, and 2 PCI slots - using two Delta 1010LT cards.
Should I consider another PC that would run more optimally with Ardour?
Finding more modern PCs with two full-size PCI slots is not easy.
There’s no possible way to answer this. PC hardware varies to an insane degree and it is not possible to make any recommendations - you can only test an actual system. In the past there have even been systems where two “generations” of the same motherboard, with the same product name, behave in functionally different ways.
Older, slower systems can easily handle the recording and playback aspects of what Ardour does - they limit the amount of signal processing (“DSP”) that can be performed by plugins, especially the very CPU-hungry ones like reverbs.
Ardour will probably run on that, but it may not be the smoothest experience especially once you get into mixing. I remember running older versions of Ardour a long time ago on much weaker hardware, but still was able to get work done, just had to be careful on the amount of plugins I used, etc. especially on larger sessions. Newer versions of Ardour are likely somewhat more resource intensive.
I agree it is tough to find anything modern with two PCI slots. Eventually you will probably have to upgrade your audio interface, I just sold my old RME HDSP that was PCI only for this reason sadly. So the question is going to be, would it be better to upgrade your audio interface at the same time as your computer or not.
As an older machine diehard this has been my experience, take it or leave it if it’s relevant to your scenario:
I can answer both scenarios with some experience although not in the same machine… Until very recently I’ve done all my production on a Dell laptop with an older 32bit-only Core Duo Centrino @ 2Ghz and only 2Gb of RAM. My workflow is mostly Audio-centered with very little MIDI or synthesis and I run my Reverbs and Delays in busses and usually just use channel dynamics in tracks with the occasional effect. My arrangements are usually 20 tracks or less and I’m quite happy with Ardour’s performance on a machine this old. In short if you are not relying on a lot of synthesis plugins and other modeling type plugins (ie amp sims, Pianoteq etc) on MIDI tracks I think you can get along with the Pentium D just fine. The problem is running 20 tracks or so on a machine like that will likely get you well into 60%+ CPU usage, which is fine, however just adding one CPU-hungry synth will easily kick things up into 70-80% and then things can get a bit dicy. I have increased my use of MIDI and therefore have moved from an 11 year old machine to a 6 year old one…lol
I have also run 2 1010LT’s with success on older desktop machines, it is crucial to feed the SPDIF out of one card to the SPDIF in of the other for clock sync. As you’ve said the lack of PCI slots in Mobo’s is a pain in the ass for those of us with perfectly good but older PCI audio and video gear. Even 6 years ago I had to very carefully select an Intel Quad core mobo for a desktop to run my 2 1010LT’s so I’d guess it is far worse now. Admittedly I ended up moving to FireWire and USB Interfaces and getting away from the 1010LT’s when I wanted my recording rig to be more mobile with a laptop…
Just wondering… Have you looked at any reseller lease-return machines? In my experience some corporate lease returned DELL and HP machines are very well built with good spec hardware and most of them run Linux without any issues, there are now a lot of Quad and early “i” series processors coming onto the reseller market and although many are small form factor, occasionally there will be some full tower workstations mixed in there which may still have enough PCI slots. Usually 200-300 dollars can get you a pretty nice machine.
I would say if you plan on large arrangements of Audio and MIDI you will want to up the specs, for Audio only under 20 tracks without copious amounts of effects you may be quite content with the Pentium-D for the time being.
GMaq - Great information - especially about the clock sync. I hope to move to an outboard USB unit in a Quad core (or greater) at some point. The crux is that I do rely on effects, but on fewer than 20 tracks usually.
FYI the Optiplex 745 with a Pentium D and two Delta 1010LTs is working. I have recorded 8 tracks simultaneously, added all sorts of plug-ins on playback of 12 channels, master channel effects, and no degradation. Ardour 3 seems to be working - not one crash. I am hesitant to change any settings as it appears to be working well. I have yet to bridge the two cards to increase the number of recorded tracks. But, all seems good for working with this older PC.
Please ensure that you are using Ardour 4, not Ardour 3.
Here is a guide I did a few years back, I think the info should still be good:
GMaq - thank you so much. Paul, Ardour 4 does what I want very intuitively. Building from source worked well. I still do not know of a better combination of audio interface and PC for Ardour. The Optiplex Pentium D, now 8 gb ram, 1 TB hd, and 2 Delta 1010LTs perform flawlessly recording and playing back 10 tracks simultaneously. I will not upgrade a thing.