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putting together a super-cheap music workstation


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#1
rch427

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I'd like to put it together into a usable workstation for recording, processing, mixing and mastering various instruments into songs, to the stage where they're ready to be sent to a CD-making place for duplication. For a few reasons (mainly my addiction to buying weird old instruments), I have to keep this project on a super-tight budget.

I've got a bunch of hardware that I've salvaged out of old computers, and I think I can assemble it into something workable. I've assembled a couple of basic PCs before, but I really don't know what I'm doing. Nor have I used any music software before, although I'm a quick learner. The main problem is that I don't know much about the specific needs associated with computers and music, so I thought I'd ask for advice. I'd really appreciate any input.

Here's what I have so far:

Dell motherboard with 1ghz P-III processor
NEC DV-5700A DVD-ROM
Pioneer DVD-114 DVD-ROM
Creative Labs SoundBlaster CT4-780 32mb sound card
NVidia GeForce 64mb video card
3Com 3C9058-TX ethernet card (for being able to network it with my "real" computer, download stuff, etc.)
2 sticks of 4mb SIMM
1 stick of 32mb SDRAM
monitor, floppy, keyboard, mouse, tower
good isolation headphones

Here's what I know I need:

hard drive (what's the minimum size? what kind?)
lots more RAM (how much is the minumum, and what kind?)
a better sound card? --what kinds of inputs and outputs will I need?
a CD-burner (is there one kind that's best for making CD masters?)
some sort of analog-->digital audio signal converter
and/or some sort of XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs
pair of monitors (powered?)
a music recording, processing and mastering app (Reason? Cakewalk?)

Can anyone tell me what (if any) components listed above should be upgraded, what else I'll need, etc.? I'll be sourcing the parts I lack as cheaply as possible (used, on eBay).

Thanks in advance --

Robert
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#2
warriorscot

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Everything really you are going to want a P4 with hyperthreading or the cheap dual core. About a gig of ram 512 mb min but thats still pushing it. Any CD drive that has a nice fast speed for burning discs. You will want at least a 200gig hard drive to make sure you have all the neccesary data at hand, and a audigy 4 or x-fi for a sound card. BUT none of that is cheap, i would say with what you have you arent going to be able to use any of it in a new pc to work with sound production its fairly intense thing to do with a computer.

The cpu mobo and ram i would say just arent cut out to do what you want it to , it would do it but it would take its time about it and would seem chopy with modern software running on it. So see what you can afford on that front, whats your real computer like you might just be able to use that and use the older one for storage etc.
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#3
Tyger

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On the other hand if you want to start with the motherboard you have I would say get a smaller, 20gb or so, hard drive for your operating system and programs and a larger drive to write the files to. Having two drives when you're processing is very handy, you read from one and write to the other, its speeds things up quite a bit.

And you definitely need more memory. One thing you didn't mention was what operating system you're going to use. If it's XP and you're running apps 512mb is pretty much the minimum.
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#4
rch427

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One thing you didn't mention was what operating system you're going to use. If it's XP and you're running apps 512mb is pretty much the minimum.

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Sorry; I should've mentioned that I've got installation disks for Win98SE, Win2K and XP; unless there's some compelling reason to go with something else. And I should point out that I'm not expecting briliant performance from the P3 system; I just want to find a way to record my music on this system, if at all possible. And I presume it *is* possible, considering people were doing home recording on their P3s, 4 or 5 years ago, before P4 came out, and when my 1ghz P3 was still state-of-the-art. Think of this as a challenge in making a system work on a miniscule budget; a budget that precludes buying a P4 processor & mobo, $300 worth of HDs, and so on. That's why I said "super-cheap".

OK, it sounds like two HDs are the way to go, and from the prices I see them for used, it looks like a 20gb for the OS and programs, and maybe an 80gb for storage, would be affordable. SCSI or IDE, or does it matter? And I'll need 512mb of RAM. DDR? SDRAM? Does it matter what kind, so long as it fits in the mobo slots?

Thanks for the input!
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#5
warriorscot

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Well i would imagine it is a ddr mobo but also since its so old i cant remeber what the average max ram was for a P3 system, well so you dont want a work station then just something to record on thats completely different really. A workstation means you would be manipulating adding modern effects and the like and reencoding to different formats(this will take a long time on a P3) The home recording scene 4 or 5 years ago wasnt very big nothing like today with a P3 you cant do it in the same level of proffesionalism as someone with a more modern system is able to know. You will also encounter problems finding new software for it the last music software i looked at needed a fair bit of power and ram, you will be able to get less feature laden simpler software just dont expect to be making the best stuff with it and you will have to be patient things are going to take a while on a 1ghz P3.

You arent going to have a workstation as such at least not in the modern terms, workstations are by definition powerhouses of PCs. You arent going to be able to afford SCSI and if you can afford it unless you are getting given it you should be able to pick up a newer CPU. You could probably get a recycled PC with a 2.6-2.8 Ghz P4 or an AMD equivalent for pretty cheap should come with a decent HD and a better mobo.

What is your real computer like, fomr the context i would asume it has better than a P3 in it so why cant you use that, if this is a serious thing though you are going to have to cutback on thw weird old instruments and spend some more money of all the things computers are they aint cheap.

Also windows might not be the best choice of OS for that PC to get the most out of it LINUX would be a good choice considering its for limited use.
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#6
rch427

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Thanks for clearing up my misunderstanding about the term "workstation". I had thought it referred to any computer that had one dedicated purpose, rather than a "general purpose" computer, would be used for e-mail, word processing, graphics, web surfing, etc. Apparently I was mistaken.

My other computer is another P3 with a 750mhz chip, 30 gig HD, etc. Not even as powerful as the one I'm putting together. What about overclocking the 1ghz P3 chip? Would that be difficult to set up? Would it provide significantly more speed? It's got a [bleep] of a heat sink/fan setup, so it should run cool, even overclocked.

I'm curious about installing Linux. Would that be a more efficient system? Is it compatible with all of the main music recording & editing apps? And would there be any compatibility issues between it and my other PC, which runs Win98SE?
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#7
Tyger

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One ghz was about as high as P3s went and you couldn't overclock them by much. First thing I would do in your case is get the manual for the motherboard, it will tell you what you can do. That's always the first thing I do and it saves a lot of trouble. It may say Dell on the case but some Dells used standard mobos. Of course somethng else you can do is check around for any good used mobos if you're on a budget. BTW the idea of using the faster machine for the processing and the slower one for downloading and browsing is sound. That way you don't have to worry about how long it takes.
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