Which Computer for Recording?

DPC Checker - Essential computer test.

When someone asks advice about where to buy a good computer for music recording and mixing, many will simply suggest buying a Macbook Pro, and for those with the cash, and who are into the world of Apple, this is a good option. However, having a fruit emblem on your casing is not a guarantee of worry free audio. To get a high-quality Mac you’ll shell out well over $2K for the basic Mac Pro (With the needed upgrades, 7200rpm drive, and Warranty). Even the lower-end low-powered macs are expensive; and you will still find the experience of something like running ProTools, REAPER, or Logic a frustrating chore. (And, yes Margaret, Apples do have glitches and bugs and viruses.)

The standard Macbooks just don’t have the architecture to handle real-time audio processing for music recording. (Neither do most ‘standard’ PC’s). If you were to shell out the same amount of cash for a PC that you do to purchase a Macbook Pro, you could easily afford one of the high-end ‘Engineered-For-Audio’ PC computers, and you wouldn’t have to worry about it.

If you purchase a specialized Audio-Computer of the PC version, from Creation Station, PC Audio Labs,  ADK Pro Audio, or the like, you’ll pay roughly the same amount.

I’ve been using PC’s for music recording, editing, mixing, and mastering for years. (Ever since I sold my Atari computer, back in the 90’s) I currently use a Lenovo T Series, it’s my 4th ‘music-creation’ computer. However, not even all Lenovo’s will handle real-time audio production. To figure out which ones will give you trouble-free full-time audio processing, you’ll need to do some homework.

One way I’ve found to get information on a Notebook/Laptop computer is to have a look at NotebookCheck.net and search a computer’s specs for something called “Delayed Procedure Calls” (DPC’s). It is one MAJOR indicator as to whether or not a computer can run real-time music production software.
Just click in their search bar, type in the name of your computer model, and add “+DPC” (without the quotes).

More important than the brand-name of a computer (Mac or PC) is a basic set of fundamentals: a multi-core processor, speed = 2GHz or faster, a 7200rpm drive is a must-have, and very low DPC’s. If your DPC check goes into the red, it’s very bad news. (See graphic below)

How Do I Check My Current Computer’s DPC Latency?

Checking your DPC Latency is easy. Simply download the small utility at http://www.thesycon.de/dpclat/dpclat.exe and launch it. No software installation is required. Use the DPC Latency checker on your PC to determine if it will be able to run real-time audio. (The majority of computers, regardless of price, can have DPC interruptions which will wreak havoc with your audio):

Run the DPC Latency checker on your PC to determine if it will be able to run real-time audio without dropouts, essential for music recording. (The majority of computers, regardless of price, can have DPC interruptions which will wreak havoc with your audio).

Let it run for several minutes and it will give you a read-out of your DPC levels in colored, bar graph form. In general, green is great! Yellow bars are not so good and red bars are total audio interruptions.

If you have occasional red-bar-spikes, it still may not be caused by your hardware, per se. Check the website above for some suggested articles on “tweaking” your settings to reduce DPC’s. It is entirely possible that your computer processor’s Interrupt Request Lines (IRQ’s) are causing the traffic jams. You may be able to temporarily disable specific processes (Battery widgets, automatic updates, Internet protocols, etc…), and have much better results.

These IRQ processes are not an issue when you’re just using email or streaming audio or video content, but these DPC collisions can cause pops, clicks, and annoying interruptions when you’re recording and processing real-time audio.

You may also search for: “optimize my computer for audio” to find a list of recommended tweaks.

Take it from my personal experience, and try to avoid the costly hassles I experienced. Don’t buy a music computer unless it will pass this basic ‘litmus’ test. It is more about the computer’s architecture and processes than it is about excessive specs, or brand names.

Posted on: March 23, 2016, by :

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