I started building a new PC for audio and I have been posting on Twitter about it. For anyone thinking about building a PC like this for themselves, I have two things to say to you.
Just do it. Yeah, it's expensive, but trust me, I am NO expert on computer hardware and even through a few hiccups, the vast majority of the process has been really easy. Think about it: it's 2017. In the modern age of computer technology there has been so much research and design done, why should any of the parts be expected to be overly difficult. It will be time consuming and there are a few parts that are difficult (installing the motherboard's I/O guard, fixing CPU cooler to the CPU) but the rest is just a matter of time and research. Then more time.
Right now I'm not done with the build yet because I am waiting on the delivery of three items (RAM, mount for Hard Drive Disk, mount for Solid State Drive). That leads me to
Here is a list of all the parts.
This is not, I repeat NOT a gaming PC build. I mean you could probably change a few parts out to make a sick gaming PC for under $1500 but I made it specifically for recording and mixing music and such. You'll see why that changes the build in a bit.
CPU (PROCESSOR) - Intel Core i5-6600K 3,5GHz Quad-Core
Honestly I don't remember why I picked this particular CPU, but this is a good starting point for the theme of this build. Do you know why most people don't go to buy PC parts and just buy an Alienware or something that has already been assembled in a shiny case? Aside from ease of access, your build really comes down to what you are going to be using the PC for, in which case there are kind of no wrong answers. For the processor specificially, the big boy out there right now would be the Intel Core i7 line. So why did I go with the i5? Cost-effectiveness. I'm not going for any "PC builder of the year" awards. I'm not a tech guru or even much of an enthusiast. I have ran an i5 in my Alienware for years and it still mostly runs like a dream. When it comes to speed, you are mostly looking into memory (RAM) more than the processor to my understanding. The i5-6600K is essentially one of the higher end models of the i5. So like most things on this build, it isn't necessarily high end or state of the art, but on the high end of the mid-ground to shave cost while still getting all of the necessary functionality. Keep in mind again that this is for a PC that will be primarily running a digital audio workstation like Pro Tools... but primarily Reaper. In today's age, and with a DAW as fast as Reaper, getting an i7 would be overly gratuitous and to a certain extent stupid. The i5 is still a standard thing that even software developers still use, so don't feel like you are short-changing yourself with an i5. Again, I'm no expert, but this is something I'm currently doing and I think that mindset is useful when looking for a road map of how to do this, hence this blog.
CPU COOLER - Cooler Master Hyper 212 LED 66.3 CFM
For those of you who are new to this as I was, note that a CPU cooler is not necessarily a fan. I mean, it is a fan, but it is different from a case fan. A cooler is designed to adhere to your CPU to directly cool it, since if that thing fries, your whole operation is pretty FUBAR. My choice of the Cooler Master Hyper 212 LED I might have changed in hindsight. It isn't a bad cooler by any means, I'm sure it's great, but this thing is huge. You can get CPU coolers that don't jut out or look as inherently ugly as this. Fortunately, it's going to be a PC in my home office so who cares? This model over its cousin Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo is that this one has a big red LED on it. For those of you who don't know what that means, it just means that there is a light on it that makes it glow red. This is just flashy, and I figured if I was going to choose one or the other, why not?
To adhere a cooler to the CPU is actually one of the most difficult parts in the build, and you will need something known as thermal paste. Note, and this is important, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 LED comes with a small packet of thermal paste. I did not know this and went out in a panic to buy thermal paste. I ended up needing it because I goofed a little on installation but it really isn't that hard, I'm just an idiot. Thermal paste can cost you anywhere between $6 and $16 so with this whole process already being as costly as it is, maybe just don't buy extra thermal paste... and also don't screw up. Remember to clean up the thermal paste after application. Stick that sucker on there and wait a few minutes and now it is absolutely not going anywhere. I said this is one of the most difficult steps, and it is, but even then it's not too hard.
As for what to look for in a cooler? Pretty self-explanatory. Longevity and good air flow. All of this tech stuff looks complex, and yeah if you are going to go full geek on it, it is complex, but for the rest of the casuals like me, some of the parts don't require a lot of know-how or extensive research to know if you are getting ripped off or not. Cooler Master is one of the leading brands in this stuff. I'm not saying they are the best, because I honestly have no idea, but a few of the pieces I researched for this project seemed pretty great.
MOTHERBOARD - Asus Z170 Pro Gaming ATX LGA1151
All those big hooplah numbers and stuff there are kind of important actually. The ATX is what kind of motherboard you have, which will affect which case you can buy and how to adhere your cooler. The LGA1151 to a lesser extent is also definitive of cooler installation, but should fit in a wider array of cases. Beyond that, with a lot of choices out there, this is something you are going to have to do a lot of Googling for. I don't remember all the reasons I chose this one to be honest. Basically here is something that is going to possibly blow you away. Some of the parts you will see for parts lists on the internet have parts that are not necessary to building a functioning PC. They are incredibly helpful but not necessary. This, again, is a build for an audio PC. How would I benefit from spending hundreds of dollars on a sick graphics card? I wouldn't. In fact, depending on your CPU and motherboard, you actually do not need to buy a graphics card at all. The Intel model mentioned before allows minimal graphical capabilities. In layman's terms, it can perform HD graphics. You basically won't be able to play Smite on it, but can it load something like say Reaper? Microsoft Word? Absolutely! Even if you are building a PC for something other than gaming (i.e. Audio, Illustration, Graphic Design, Modelling Software, Video Editing) don't stray from the gaming-branded parts. A gaming PC is built to produce things fast and clean, and gaming in this age can take anything a run of the mill PC has to offer. A gaming PC part is designed to do it's specific task in relation to something that is going to constantly drain resources at sporadic amounts, and as a user, you want consistency, something that is going to do those tasks that clean for hours on end. If these parts can do this for Overwatch, then they can do it for your CAD design PC as well.
MEMORY (RAM) - G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4 SDRAM 2133 Z170/X99
RAM is almost the equivalent to how fast your PC will run. Right now, you can run a decent PC on 8GB and save a load of money. However, some video games specifically have issues or many not run efficiently at all on 8GB of RAM, hence why the current line of game consoles (Switch, PS4, Xbone) run on more than 8GB of RAM. Whatever PC you are building, I would recommend getting 16GB. If you want to splurge, like I did, get 32GB. Why splurge though? Technology is constantly evolving due to research and development. The 16GB is standard today, but will be progressively as obsolete as the 8GB in a future tomorrow. Fifteen years from now, you could have a PC that you built that is still standard. Not sub-standard. Not "ehhh, it does the job". Good. Functional. Fast. As for what model and brand to pick, just look for general durability and customer reviews. RAM doesn't work like your disk drives, motherboards and OS's in the sense that you are going to have to install something or actively see it do something different than other parts in its field. It is just something that the other parts run on.
HARD DRIVE DISK (HDD) - HGST Travelstar 500GB
This is where you actually store files. There are a lot of options here, and HGST (Hitachi) is one of the ones I found popping up the most. I went with this one because to save on shipping costs, I actually bought the vast majority ($860 worth) of my parts in a brick and mortar store. I recommend everyone do the same. You have people there you instantly know what you're doing even if you don't say it, and they get paid to help you. Most of them are also enthusiasts, they live for this stuff, it will be (in so many words) fun for them to help you with this. Let them. It saves you shipping fees. I repeat: it saves you shipping fees. That money adds up. Also unexpectedly the guy gave me a coupon that the store was running because I bundled my CPU with a certain SSD (solid state drive) and saved me $30. That's like, 3 case fans, or one crappy optical drive. Now why this HGST? I wanted that brand and about that size and it was in the store. Here's the thing with an audio PC, or at least a great audio PC: you want a big hard drive. You are not going to fill up a lot of this hard drive, or at least not most of it. DAW's like a lot of room to play in, they are bitchy like that. The fastest way to run software like this is to install the software on the hard drive (HDD) and then put session files and plug-in files and what have you on the separate and probably faster SSD. If you tuned that part out because you don't do audio, read that part again, because I found it also works the same for software like Adobe Illustrator and to a slightly less important extent, Steam. With something like Pro Tools for example, this is almost required for it to run smooth at all. Again, to clarify, this isn't so you can store massive amounts of files on the HDD, this is so the software isn't bogged down with all the other crap you have neighboring the installation files
As far as the hardware of it goes, you need something to mount it in the case. They make mounts for this, but other people have just used industry strength Velcro. This also means you can stick it almost anywhere in the case. I am waiting on a metal mount in the mail though. The cost isn't that far off from buying Velcro.
SOLID STATE DRIVE (SSD) - Samsung 850 EVO 500GB2.5"
If it wasn't clear from the last paragraph, SSD's are awesome. Get one. They will be worth the extra money in the long run. I was hesitant getting one in my Alienware many years back, and now I can't imagine it without one. If you want something that is efficient and also won't set you back an extra couple hundred dollars than it needs to, I recommend the Samsung EVO series. The amount of room on it is really just up to what you think you need. I've seen as low as 100GB and I've seen as high as 4TB maybe even 8TB if I'm not mistaken. Before you go as low as possible to save a buck, keep in mind this is where most of your bigger files are going to be going, so I would shop for this part with the mentality of "rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it". Reaper is a small DAW, and unless you are recording 100 projects a week, 500GB should be plenty of room.
I think most of these come with mounts, but mine did not. The literature that comes with my EVO SSD even shows a picture of screws and a mount, yet came with none of that. Not sure what's up with that situation. But I'm waiting for a mount to come in the mail with this one as well.
VIDEO CARD - Ummm....
I don't have one as of now because again, this is an audio PC. If you are building a PC for gaming, video editing, or illustration, get a graphics card. Just get one. And get a good one. If you are doing gaming or video editing, get a great one.
CASE - Corsair Carbide Series 300R Windowed ATX Mid Tower Case
This is a great budget case. It's small but still surprisingly easy to get your arm in there and move around. It comes with two front-USB 3.0 ports and two case fans are already installed. In relation to most of the chunky, heavy cases for custom PC's out there, the 300R only weighs about ehhh.... 30-40 pounds? I haven't weighed it. I love this thing though. For ventilation and installation purposes, you might consider something a bit bigger, but personally I like it compact. I also like it costing less than $80 for an awesome case.
POWER SUPPLY - EVGA SuperNOVA G2 650w
Honestly, this is just the thing that powers everything, AKA the thing that plugs into your wall. You could argue from that statement that this is the most important part of the PC, but also it really doesn't take that much research or anything. I know it seems lazy at this point to just say "make sure it's durable, look at customer reviews, and do minimal research" but I mean, this is just a giant box that powers everything. The SuperNOVA line, or at least the 650 G2 does have an extra optional feature where it saves power when it doesn't need to use everything it has at one time. So that's pretty cool. Main advice I would give is get a Gold (the G in G2). At this point you are already spending over $900 for an awesome PC, why not make sure it doesn't fry on you?
OPTICAL DRIVE - LG WH16NS40 Super Multi Blue Internal SATA 16x Blu-Ray Disc Rewriter
You may not actually need an optical drive for a PC if all of your installation comes on a drive, but I think most motherboard installation stuff comes on disk. Now this optical drive that I picked is overkill and still only $65. Meaning you can get one that gets the job done and never use it again for $40. Hell, probably way less than $40. You can also get a portable USB one for cheap, install everything you need to install, then return the thing if you know you aren't going to use it for anything else. For me, I figured, this is an audio PC, and a lot of audio is on CD. My first full-length album was sent to me via mail on a disk when the masters were completed. So it just seemed stupid to me to not get a disk drive. But again, I went overkill. If on a lunch break I want to watch Rick and Morty for the millionth time, I can do that here, because it can handle CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray. If for whatever reason I ever need to WRITE a Blu-Ray disc for someone, this can do it too. This is really as over the top of an optical drive as I can imagine one ever needing.
OPERATING SYSTEM (OS) - Microsoft Windows 10 Home Full 32/64-bit Drive
I actually really like Windows 10, when it works, but that's dependent on what Microsoft wants to do. A lot of the time their "updates" actually downgrade a lot of features so it is kind of a gamble. This was another scenario where I was thinking for the future. I see down the road a lot of games not being compatible with Windows 7 and maybe even 8 anymore so I went with 10. Plus I have been using 10 for a year or two now and I'm just so used to it. This version of Windows 10 is on a flash drive, meaning I don't have to choose between 32-bit and 64-bit. This is kind of convenient for audio because some plug-ins only function 100% on one or the other, but for the most part just getting 64-bit is fine. Beyond this, there is Home and Pro when it comes to Windows 10. Pro has a lot of extra features, but they seemed more geared towards a computer for a company that a lot of people are going to be using. A niche thing. So if you are doing a lot of projects on your own with this PC, you might as well get Home. If this is a gaming PC you are building, I see absolutely no point in getting Pro. Illustrator, same concept as my audio PC: unless you have to network with a lot of the same people in the same company for several years on the same PC, just get Home.
Reaper - an awesome DAW that you can try for about two months and buy outright for $60. It comes with so many useful plug-ins that would each individually cost you an arm and a leg otherwise, and you get it for the price of a used mic.
TuxGuitar - a free and very small tablature software I use to write music with, although if you are familiar enough with piano roll you can probably just write in Reaper even easier.
Microsoft Office... not - I actually decided against this because my Alienware already has all that junk. I use that junk quite often, but I also have 2 monitors, so if I need it in the midst of a project on the audio PC, I can just boot up the other monitor and bring up whatever file I need on the Alienware.
CASE FAN - Cooler Master SickleFlow (Red) 69.7 CFM 120mm
This is an extra piece, but I bought it because it would glow red with the CPU Cooler. And because I thought I needed an extra fan. But the Corsair case I bought already comes with two case fans screwed in and ready to go. So this fan really is an extra fan. But it's installed, and they say you really can't have too much cooling in your PC unless it comes to water cooling, which I don't know anything about. Case fans are usually fairly cheap, so if you are paranoid about a hot PC, you might as well sink in for another fan.
MONITOR - Uhh... Ummmmmmmmmmm
I don't actually know the models of my monitors. The right one (main) is a Samsung and the left one is an AOC. I got the AOC as a Cyber Monday deal for less than $200, which is great considering it is a 27-inch. The Samsung has worked for ages and is still in great shape and can also handle two HD ports and some form of analog. The AOC already has a dead pixel. Samsung wins?
AUDIO INTERFACE BOX - PreSonus AudioBox 44VSL
You don't need this at all unless you are building an Audio PC. Even then I guess you don't need it to function but should consider it. Especially this particular thing, because it is awesome. Capable of phantom power, so it can handle up to 4 dynamic or cardioid microphones at once (big deal for me because I like dynamic mics a lot). Has a nice mixer knob so you can control the blend of input and PC sound that you are hearing, as well as the standard input faders for each input and output knob. But wait, there's also a separate one for the headphone jack! Oh yes! It also comes with software so you can add compressors and other things that would usually require you to buy a whole separate pre-amp or two but it's all in the this little USB box, ready to go.
SPEAKERS - KRK Studio
My left and right speakers are KRK Rokit 5's and my subwoofer is a roaring KRK 10s. If I put this on anything other than a lower setting, it literally shakes the house. But that's some clear bass response right there, so no real complaints.
That's my audio PC. How does it run? I don't know yet! My RAM is still in processing so I don't even know if I did it right. But like I said, a lot of it is pretty easy to set up. Just read all of the instructions that come with your parts, and then read them again, and once more. If you still feel unsure, Google it. I'm sure someone has encountered a very similar problem. I hope this helps someone or was at least interesting to someone or served some purpose or something I don't know! I might buy a sound card in the future if I deem it necessary. If I do, I'm sure I'll post about it on Randomrings Blog.
Starting budget: roughly $1000
Ending cost: approx. $1100
Ending cost if I would have settled for 16GB RAM instead of 32GB RAM: approx. $950