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> Building Your Own Daw -- For Guitarists...
JamesT
post Nov 23 2009, 10:22 PM
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Ok, after building my own workstation, I decided to write a primer for guitarists on how best to go about this fun and rewarding task:

Step 1) Browse web for companies that make DAWs.
Step 2) Pick the highest performing one that fits your budget.
Step 3) Order it.
Step 4) Get back to playing guitar. That's what you love most, forget the hassle of putting the pieces together. biggrin.gif biggrin.gif


Seriously folks, it's got to be kind of a "labor of love" if you're going to put your own workstation together. I learned the hard way by buying all the parts to save a few bucks, and let me tell you, it's not for the faint of heart.

First, let me say that I have quite a bit of experience with this stuff. I'm an electrical engineer by education, and a software engineer by profession. Being an early adopter of the latest technology comes with a price. So here's my story in hopes that you too don't fall victim to the tortures of PC building. biggrin.gif

Since I have already got a nice rackmount case, power supply, DVD r/w drive, and hard disks, I thought it would be good to upgrade instead of purchasing a new PC outright. So I went out and bought the motherboard (Intel, ATX), CPU (i7 920), Memory (DDR3, 12GB), new hard drive (500GB), new OS (Windows 7, 64 bit), new DAW Software (Sonar 8.5), and a few extra toys to make hot-swapping of my hard drive easy to do without opening the case (drive bay tray's).

It all went pretty well at first, the parts came in in about a week, and the company that I ordered from was first rate for pricing, service, and availability. After that, the pain began ... two weeks worth of agony, a trial of patience, and most devastatingly, two weeks of not being able to dedicate myself to my guitar playing. mad.gif

Well, it all started with a simple thing like me ordering 4GB more ram than would fit into the motherboard (little did I know that most if not all motherboards only come with 4 sockets (including mine), and that if you want more than 8G, you have to order the bigger memory sticks. Oh well, I thought to myself, no big deal, I can get by with 8G. So I was comfortable moving on to bigger and better things like putting the machine together. Easy enough, I thought to myself. Just plug in the parts and you're good to go. Well, the truth is I found out later that if your old PC is more than a few years old, you're not going to get by re-using too many of the existing components like the power supply, the CDROM drive, and hard drives. I was hoping to re-use all of these things but nooooo tongue.gif , the new motherboard arrived with SATA peripheral connections only, thus rendering my old IDE hard disks, and CD rom drive useless. Add to that, a new power connector on the motherboard dedicated to supplying power to the CPU that my old power supply did not have, and this means that I need a new power supply. So after the stores open the following day, I run out and get a nice modular (read dangerous laugh.gif ) power supply that's up to current standards with a huge fan so that it runs nice and quiet and cool. (quiet is important for when you go to record your acoustic, and cool is important so that your PC doesn't shut down in the middle of a take from overheating!).

Ok so I get everything in order, plug everything together bolt it all into the case, and all seems ok again. I'm ready to start the long and tedious process of installing software. First up is the new Windows 7 64bit (a.k.a., early adopter OS with very little driver support, especially from old expensive music outboard gear like Yamaha Motif ES7 with "Mlan" firewire interface and Yamaha i88x pre-amp ADC interface also with Mlan). So I install the new Windows 7 and lo and behold learn two things: 1. you can't install an "upgrade" version without having the previous version (XP in my case) without having the old version resident on the hardware. Long story longer, now I have to send back the OS for the OEM version.

A full week later, I'm back to installing the sofware. Ok. OS install went well (after finding a large magnifying glass so that I could read the microscopic print of Microsoft's license key. Now, onto drivers... simple enough, you might think, but for Windows 7 most of my outboard gear is still in beta version, and Yamaha isn't even supporting mlan anymore, so I'm SOL on hooking my Motif and i88x into my system unless I can figure out how to get around Microsofts ingenous (read consumer averse) driver signing requirement. So I get the drivers installed and then Sonar (which went extrememly smoothly by the way), and then I was able to test out the POD X3s USB interface. The PODs beta version surprised me as it seems to work fine. Cool, now I can record dry takes while monitoring the full mix extremely painlessly.

Ok, so now the new toys arrived (a little late but not to worry, so I think) , the drive mounting units which allow SATA HDDs to be hot swapped from the front of the case. This is useful for doing backups if nothing else, but also for when you go on vacation and want to lock away important info in case someone breaks into your house to seal your PC.

Well, I put thsee in and get ready to bolt up the box, and have one last thing to do. With the new drive bays, I have to reconfigure the power cables to the SATA HDDs. So I run a new cable from my new super modular power supply and plug in the drives. ...ready for final testing. ... hit power switch .... pfffft,ssssssttt, silence. Ouch, what was that. After about ten minutes of troubleshooting, I realize that my hard drives are no longer spinning and the BIOS won't recognize them (no kidding, if they won't spin, they won't work). So I find the culprit and learn that on the new power supply is a special connector that's dedicated to PCIE power and nothing else. Now this connector has the same number of pins as the SATA connectors but the guess what ... a different pinout! mad.gif This means that in laymans (or guitarists) terms, boom, I just fried the hard drives. mad.gif .... sixteen hours of work, a week of waiting, a couple of product returns, and my new $1000 dollar PC is a pile of burned up worthless junk. That is, unless I go out and pop for another $80 hard drive.

So I go down to the store, get a new drive, and repeat the whole OS, driver, and software install again, (about 12 hours work if you have a lot of junk like I do to install).

Finally, at last, everything is now up and running, but at what cost? All the down time from guitar playing was really a bummer, not even my metronome isn't dependent on my PC and the internet. Well, I'll let you all know if I'm liking the new PC. So far, so good. The new Sonar is pretty cool. It came with GTR3 which sounds great and even has some good presets. Windows 7 even seems pretty cool, but the jury is still kind of out until I get familiar with all of it's new features. Microsoft sure seems to want to hook you into receiving a marketing plug every time you click something.

So once again my friends... if you like to play guitar and not dink around with electronic gizmo's, just leave the PC building to the pros, pay a few bucks extra and have it delivered complete and tested to your doorstep. You just might save yourself some agony. biggrin.gif


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Staffy
post Nov 23 2009, 10:55 PM
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QUOTE (JamesT @ Nov 23 2009, 10:22 PM) *
So once again my friends... if you like to play guitar and not dink around with electronic gizmo's, just leave the PC building to the pros, pay a few bucks extra and have it delivered complete and tested to your doorstep. You just might save yourself some agony. biggrin.gif


I couln't have said it better myself!!! (Im also a computer tech/programmer) I stopped to hazzle with building computers some years ago since the time You have to spend on it really dont pay-off in the bitter end..... sad.gif
You have to be very skilled to put the right hardware/software together and make them work as expected - unless You're not buying some sort of a complete kit. I will also add that older versions of Windows does not support more than 3-4 GB of RAM, which als must be considered when choosing operating system. Same goes with some software that might not be compatible with Windows 7, eg. drivers, plug-ins, DAW software etc.

Very good information indeed James!!!

//Staffay


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Nov 24 2009, 12:10 AM
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I would choose the "cheaper" version, but this is only because I LOVE to browse for various components months before buying. Consider it like my hobby cool.gif


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Staffy
post Nov 24 2009, 12:33 AM
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QUOTE (Ivan Milenkovic @ Nov 24 2009, 12:10 AM) *
I would choose the "cheaper" version, but this is only because I LOVE to browse for various components months before buying. Consider it like my hobby cool.gif


Sure, nothing wrong with that, but I was working as a technician at a company with some 15-20 servers, and was also server-responsible, so my brain just got tired of mounting and de-mounting, mounting and demounting, switching parts, reading manuals and using screw drivers all the time.... btw. I bought a very cool tool for this, the Swiss Army knifes has a special version for IT-pro's, its invaluable !!! I even think that the new version has an USB-memory built-in. Kind of nerdy...Huh..???


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Guitars: Ibanez AM-200, Ibanez GB-10, Fender Stratocaster Classic Player, Warmouth Custom Built, Suhr Classic Strat, Gibson Les Paul Standard 2003, Ibanez steel-string
Amps: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, Marshall JMP 2103, AER 60
Effects: BOSS DD-20, Danelectro Trans. Overdrive, TC-Electronics G-Major, Dunlop Wah-wah, Original SansAmp, BOSS DD-2
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Ivan Milenkovic
post Nov 24 2009, 12:36 AM
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QUOTE (Staffy @ Nov 24 2009, 12:33 AM) *
Sure, nothing wrong with that, but I was working as a technician at a company with some 15-20 servers, and was also server-responsible, so my brain just got tired of mounting and de-mounting, mounting and demounting, switching parts, reading manuals and using screw drivers all the time.... btw. I bought a very cool tool for this, the Swiss Army knifes has a special version for IT-pro's, its invaluable !!! I even think that the new version has an USB-memory built-in. Kind of nerdy...Huh..???

you kiddin? I'm a tool nerd too, I love tools - I have a mini screwdriver set on my key chain (right next to the earplugs) laugh.gif


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Staffy
post Nov 24 2009, 12:41 AM
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QUOTE (Ivan Milenkovic @ Nov 24 2009, 12:36 AM) *
you kiddin? I'm a tool nerd too, I love tools - I have a mini screwdriver set on my key chain (right next to the earplugs) laugh.gif


Oh boy, then You should see my basement, I have all strange kinds of different tools for different purposes. On of the coolest ist the Dremel mini-drill that You can do just anything with... Some years ago I was trying to get my son into modelling-railways, but he still prefers computers.... laugh.gif But I guess, when it's time for retirement I will set there building computer controlled model-railways !!! biggrin.gif


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Guitars: Ibanez AM-200, Ibanez GB-10, Fender Stratocaster Classic Player, Warmouth Custom Built, Suhr Classic Strat, Gibson Les Paul Standard 2003, Ibanez steel-string
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Emir Hot
post Nov 24 2009, 02:48 AM
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This was a very interesting read. Sorry about all the trouble you had. I used to put many PCs together and I was pretty good at it. Today I prefer to buy tested and "ready to go machine" from a proper computer store as things have changed a lot. At least you learned a lot of new stuff along the way smile.gif Now enjoy recording.


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JamesT
post Nov 24 2009, 03:43 AM
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No doubt about it, if your're a hobbyist, it can be fun as long as you're prepared for the headaches.

And if you'd really rather play and record guitar, then the turnkey solution is the way to go.

No doubt, for me, I do get enough technology at work which is definitely where my heart is career wise. But I did get a serious refresher course here on PCs by doing this. New in the PC world since my last PC upgrade are : 64 bit CPUs, elimination of the front side bus (better performance), SATA for all peripherals, changes to power distribution, elimination of AGP bus (oh yeah, that made me have to buy another video card too to replace my 250 dollar AGP screamer.)

For anyone considering building or rebuilding your own, there are lots of good sources for learning the details on-line. Just Google things like "blown power supply", "fried hard disk", "kamakazi computer monitor", and "what the heck is a boot sector". biggrin.gif biggrin.gif

This post has been edited by JamesT: Nov 24 2009, 03:44 AM


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kahall
post Nov 24 2009, 05:42 AM
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I went through trying to use old parts for a new build before. Learned the hard way that ordering all new is the way to go. Then sell the other as soon as you get all your stuff off of it if you don't need it anymore. I never get much out of my 2 year old stuff but that is the price you pay to be on the cutting edge. Sounds like you built yourself a nice system even though it was a pain. Enjoy!


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Gary
post Nov 24 2009, 06:25 AM
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Great read James.. and yes..there is a lesson in there somewhere wink.gif
Us engineers often have to learn these lessons the hard way...lol

Keep us informed as to how Windows 7 works out. I have 64 bit Vista on one of my machines at work and do not care for it much. Waiting for Windows 7 to season a bit before I make the switch.

Cheers!

Gary
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audiopaal
post Nov 24 2009, 08:34 AM
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QUOTE (Staffy @ Nov 24 2009, 12:33 AM) *
Sure, nothing wrong with that, but I was working as a technician at a company with some 15-20 servers, and was also server-responsible, so my brain just got tired of mounting and de-mounting, mounting and demounting, switching parts, reading manuals and using screw drivers all the time.... btw. I bought a very cool tool for this, the Swiss Army knifes has a special version for IT-pro's, its invaluable !!! I even think that the new version has an USB-memory built-in. Kind of nerdy...Huh..???

Whut!? I need that knife NOW! biggrin.gif
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Staffy
post Nov 24 2009, 08:55 AM
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QUOTE (audiopaal @ Nov 24 2009, 08:34 AM) *
Whut!? I need that knife NOW! biggrin.gif


Here ya go !!!



Can be found at Swissarmy.com
Btw. it also has a laser-pointer.... biggrin.gif

//Staffay

EDIT:

This is the one I have.....



This post has been edited by Staffy: Nov 24 2009, 08:59 AM


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Guitars: Ibanez AM-200, Ibanez GB-10, Fender Stratocaster Classic Player, Warmouth Custom Built, Suhr Classic Strat, Gibson Les Paul Standard 2003, Ibanez steel-string
Amps: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, Marshall JMP 2103, AER 60
Effects: BOSS DD-20, Danelectro Trans. Overdrive, TC-Electronics G-Major, Dunlop Wah-wah, Original SansAmp, BOSS DD-2
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audiopaal
post Nov 24 2009, 09:46 AM
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Neat biggrin.gif

I like the second one better though, lots of useful tools in there smile.gif
I used to have one a long time ago, but don't know where it went...

Thanks!
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Sensible Jones
post Nov 24 2009, 02:21 PM
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QUOTE (Staffy @ Nov 23 2009, 11:41 PM) *
On of the coolest ist the Dremel mini-drill that You can do just anything with...

Dremels RULE!!!!!
I am a complete Tool Nerd due to a background in Mechanical Engineering!!
biggrin.gif


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Ivan Milenkovic
post Nov 24 2009, 02:26 PM
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Wow, that second one is really great! smile.gif


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Daniel Realpe
post Nov 24 2009, 05:14 PM
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Assembling computers can be such a pain. I've found myself bringing the PC to the repairshop when I get stuck on a little problem I can't figure out, but it has only happened a couple times, it's very annoying,




cool swiss knives!! there should be one with internet connection on it tongue.gif


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