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How to choose a killer CPU for audio production

What sort of CPU is best for music and audio production? Will your DAW benefit from more cores or a higher clock speed? Read on to find out. . .

The CPU, or central processing unit, is at the heart of every computer. It’s the bit of your computer that does most of the actual, well, computing. Getting the right sort of CPU for the sort of work you’re doing is therefore really important. But music and audio production puts some very particular demands on a computer, and not every CPU is right for the job.

There are some really powerful CPUs out there these days. Between Intel’s Core and Xeon processors, AMD’s Ryzen and Threadripper chips and Apple’s new M1 system-on-a-chip, we are spoiled for choice. But it’s not uncommon for people in our profession to spend a lot of money on a super-expensive CPU that actually performs worse in an audio context than many cheaper alternatives.

So in this article I’ll explore how a CPU works and what to look for when buying one for audio work. In a follow-up article, I’ll be looking at the suitability of several types of CPU for audio production workflows, and explain why we at OPUS 101 have chosen (SPOILERS) AMD Ryzen™ 5000 series processors to power our machines.

CPUs: the Basics

The CPU’s job in any computer is to crunch numbers, perform logic operations, control disk I/O (input and output) and tell the other hardware in your system what to do. Software and hardware devices are constantly sending instructions to the CPU. … Read more

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How to choose storage for your audio PC

Whether you’re laying down audio tracks, hosting multi-gigabyte sample libraries or working with humungous 4K video files, chances are you’re going to find yourself straining against the limits of your storage space soon enough. These days there are several options for expansion, and this article is designed to give you a quick overview, with an emphasis on what’s most important for the modern music or audio production professional.

If you’d like a quick summary of how best to kit out your new OPUS 101 audio PC, skip to the bottom of this article for our recommendations.

The Workhorse: SATA 2.5″ SSDs (Solid-State Drives)

Solid-State Drives (SSD) are undoubtedly the MVPs of the world of storage

Solid-State Drives (or SSDs) offer many key advantages over the traditional spinning drives (“hard disks” or HDDs — see below) that used to be the mainstays of our computers, and these advantages are especially keenly felt by those of us working in music production.

The first and most significant advantage is speed. For composers dealing with sample libraries and large DAW templates, streaming samples to memory from a traditional spinning HDD can prove a significant bottleneck. To understand why, it’s important to understand how SSDs physically differ from HDDs.

An HDD consists of a spindle which holds multiple circular disks called “platters”. These platters spin around past a read-and-write head, which stores and retrieves data. To read data from the disk, the read-and-write head needs to move into the correct position and then wait for the disk to spin around to the right sector, where the data it wants to retrieve is located. … Read more

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Why RAM is so important for your audio PC’s performance

Why do sample libraries need so much memory? And how do you know what sort of RAM to buy? Read on for everything you always wanted to know about RAM but were afraid to ask. . .

RAM is one of the biggest bottlenecks when it comes to smooth playback of digital audio, especially when large sample libraries are involved. We’ve all been there: splurging on some juicy Black Friday deal only to find that the monster 50 GB library we’ve just installed now causes our whole template to grind to a halt. At some point, an upgrade is inevitable.

So in this article I’m going to explain what RAM actually is, how it gets used by your DAW, why we music professionals often need so damned much of it, and what factors you should be looking out for when it eventually comes time to buy more of it.

Table of Contents

What is RAM?

The performance of a computer ultimately comes down to how fast your CPU (Central Processing Unit) can execute instructions. The CPU itself is the main factor in this, with the number of instructions it can execute per second being determined largely by clock speed — the number of execution cycles it goes through per second. A processor like the AMD Ryzen 5900X (as used in our CADENZA system) has a base clock speed of 3.7GHz — meaning it can execute instructions on each of its six cores 3.7 billion times a second — and it can boost as high as 4.8GHz. That’s a lot of instructions per second.

In order to process all those instructions efficiently, the CPU needs a ready stream of instructions to process. These are stored in pools of memory which are at various levels of physical proximity to the CPU. The closer to the CPU they are, the faster they are, but the less data they can hold.

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