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Diary of a New Computer - Pentium 4 1.7

Getting a new PC for music & setting it up

A little background. I first started writing music on computers in 1986 on an Atari. At that time Macs were not up to the task and PCs were those cryptic boxes that had to have command lines entered. The Atari had built in midi and a wealth of music programs and was at that time the computer to use for music composition. DR. T's KCS was my first sequencer. In about 1992 I finally bought an Apple Mac, for the purpose of publishing a music magazine. It was a IIci and for the time it was a pretty hot machine. I soon however found that PRINT was too challenging and instead went the CD-ROM route. At that time I did not use it for music, and was still using the Atari. In 1994 I bought a Power Computing clone of an Apple, the Power Tower Pro, which I bought mainly to do digital video editing. Still I was relying on the Atari for music composition.

In 1998 I finally made the transition and had bought an Apple G3 266 expressly for the purpose of building a music studio around a Mac. I'll spare the details but started with Cubase VST as my sequencer. Shortly after that in 1999, I also got myself a PC, although not initially for music, but rather for web development. A Micron P2 450.

Although not intended for music composition, I soon found there was a ton of cool software for the PC that was not available for the Mac. But it kept choking. It simply was not up to the task.

So I went back to the Mac, upgraded the processor to a G3 450 and set up a MOTU 24i audio card to do 24 tracks of simultaneous audio with external SCSI drives. It was finally a dream machine and after tweaking, it handled the job admirably.

But that just wasn't good enough. I wanted to also do the same on the PC and was determined. I tried upgrading RAM on the PC, getting a bigger faster Hard Drive on and on... I got Cubase VST 5 and a nice 24 bit MAudio audio card and started to do more on the PC. However the PC still kept on choking and simply was not up to the task of multi track audio recording. In particular Reaktor, my favorite program, could not put up with the PII and just choked on the more substantial ensembles.

So the research began. I read up on everything I could find relating to music on PCs. It was a daunting task. There simply was not a lot of information available relating to multitrack digital audio recording. Sure, lots of hardware reviews, but mostly with benchmarks relating to GAMES and OFFICE PRODUCTIVITY with a slight bit of MULTIMEDIA. But multitrack digital recording is a whole other animal. It's needs are very different than say encoding an MP3 file or playing QUAKE. SO I contacted music manufacturers and the consensus was clear... get the fastest CPU possible with a good motherboard, healthy RAM and fast hard drives. Unfortunately the Micron was a mass merchandised machine and had severe limitations as to upgradeabilty. I pretty much already maxed it out. The bus was only 100 MHz so I could only go up to a 500 processor. So after careful consideration I opted to go with an all new computer which I would build from scratch.

After 2 months of research and price shopping, I found the prices kept dropping on P4 CPU's... Plus there was debate as to whether Athlon or PIII was actually better than the new P4s. So I patiently waited and came to the conclusion a fast P4 would be the ticket. I made a list of the components I wanted and started hunting around... SO finally, just the other day (9/20/01) I got out the phone book and found a local computer repair shop that would buy the parts and build it at a comparable price, almost as low as the low bid. What really sold me was the dude had knowledge in high end PC's and was local (Burbank, CA). While not specializing in multitrack audio he had built several high end video editing PC's, including a 24 camera set up for live recording of video and audio. What really topped it off was that he'd let me watch him put it together and help me set it up.

So... here is a diary of my last couple of days chronicling the set up of my new P4 monster music PC.

I decided that a Pentium 4 1.7 ghz was the best value. Only a week earlier I would have ended up with a 1.4, but prices had dropped and the P4 1.7 was now the best buy now. Getting a Pentium 4 limited the motherboard choices and RAM as well, but since these boards were made just for the P4, it was easy to decide on the Intel D850 GB with 256 MB of RAM. I opted for a better case with a 350 watt power supply and a 80 GB Western Digital 7200 RPM IDE drive. I plan on adding SCSI later and a dedicated SCSI drive, but for now will try out the IDE. Initially I was going for a 40 GB 7200 RPM drive but $80. more would get me the 80 GB. I also got an ethernet card, ATI Radeon VE 32mb AGP video card and a Sony 12x CDRW drive. I opted for Windows 98 SE, as I do reviews and need the PC to be compatible with a lot of applications. Although 2000 seemed a viable option with purported speed benefits, I felt 98 SE was the safer way to go. Out the door for a little over $1,380. built to order.

Day 1 9-20-01

So, Jeffrey the computer dude, put the monster P4 together as a friend and I watched. It took longer than expected. 4 hours total, but that is mainly because the 40 GB IBM drive I initially requested was a dud and we had to go get a new drive. It clicked and made noise. Not good. So we switched to the 80 GB Western Digital 7200 RPM drive for only $80. more. He installed the OS and all the components drivers and we cleaned the registry and tested the machine thoroughly. It was a speed demon. Fast boot and it opened Word in about a second. The machine was incredibly quiet, especially considering there were 3 fans in it. My other PC made a lot of noise. Now that the machine was set up and the basics installed, I packed up the big PC and brought it home in a box.

Initially I was going to set up the PC and install the audio card when I got home that night, but as it was late I wisely saved it for the next day.

Day 2 9-21-01

I eagerly awoke ready to hook up my new PC. I hooked it up to the Monitor and sure enough the display was awful. It flickered. I went to the control panel and could not find a refresh setting which surely would have cured the problem. Finally after trying every possible setting I called ATI, who promptly told me that since I used the default monitor setting there was no refresh setting. They helped me find the Viewsonic 21 inch profile and voile - it had the refresh settings. I set it to 85 and the flicker went away. Beautiful.

Next task was to set up the TCIP to get my DSL working and then update Windows with the very useful Windows Update via Explorer (it installed v 4 initially). First I did the critical updates. Then I did IE 5.5. Then I did more critical updates. Then I did the update to the latest version of Windows Media Player. I did this so that I wouldn't have to install any of this junk AFTER my audio card and audio software, hopefully preventing any potential problems with driver compatibility etc. Better safe than sorry.

Next I moved onto setting the ethernet so I could do the network thing with my old PC. Fortunately Jeffrey walked me through this on the phone and soon I had both PCs sharing drives and communicating with each other.

Now was the most crucial of tasks... taking the PCI Audio card out of the old PC and installing it on the new PC. An Audiophile 2496 from MAudio (Midiman). I first checked the web site and got the latest driver. Then disconnected the power and opened up the cases and moved the card to the new PC. It installed the drivers and control panel upon boot and it worked instantly with no fuss. I played a few files in Windows Media Player and it sounded great.

Next, I had to copy my "music library" from the old PC to the new P4 so I could install Sonic Foundry's Siren Jukebox and hopefully retain all the database settings. First I copied the files (which took over an hour) and then I installed Siren and registered it. Fortunately it found all the files and the database was intact! Major victory, as I did not want to have to enter artist names and such again for all those mp3's (mostly from my CD music collection as well as some from Napster).

So I ran Siren and opened as many other applications as possible at the same time and Siren has not choked once. On the old PC it would stutter when you opened or used other applications.

I was very eager to install Cubase VST 5, but once again I played it safe and hung it up for the day, saving that task. I had major problems with Cubase on my old PC and did not feel like dealing with any potential problems. Instead I just listened to music and wrote in my journal. End of day 2.

Day 3 9-22-01

Well, so far everything has going as well as can be. But today's program installs would really test the abilities of the new P4 PC. Installed Cubase VST 5.0, dongle etc. Set up MME and launched. Still had that pesky problem with Cubase muting a channel on the Audiophile 1296. Bummer. This was a problem I had hoped would go away. Initially Steinberg & MAudio had said it was the IRQ conflict that cuased it. Ironically it is only when I use Cubase that this mysterious mute problem happens (I got email from others with the same problem by the way). I checked the IRQ settings and even though I am only using 2 of the 5 PCI cards the PC is sharing the IRQ between the Audiophile 2496 and the Radeon Video card. I'll go back later and try to set the IRQ's to see if that helps. In the meantime it is only an inconvenience as you can uncheck the MUTED CHANNEL in the Audiophile's control panel. I then updated to Cubase 5.0r6. Still had that problem but Cubase does work like a champ. Tested all midi gear, controllers and installed Cubase included plug ins. Worked great.

Installed Native Instruments Reaktor 3 and then the updates. Tested stand alone and as plugin in Cubase VST 5. and it performed like a champ. Big ensembles that previously maxed out and crashed my old PII 450 PC, now ran smooth as silk, barely denting the CPU usage, Typically the cpu meter read from 5% to 15% which is very impressive considering all my previous problems.

Installed Battery 1.0 and tested. Worked great as standalone but got error dialog: "The program performed an illegal operation". Updated to version 1.01 but still the same error on closing the program. Tested in VST and it worked flawlessly.

Installed CoolEdit 2000 and tested with .wav & mp3 files. Worked great.

Installed Fruity Loops 3.1.1 and tested. Did a test song with 2 Battery Kits (VST plugins) and 3 Reaktor plug ins along with a few of the sample based sounds and it worked flawlessly.

Day 4 9-23-01

Installed Native Instruments Pro 52. Tested in VST and then with Fruity Loops. I tried to max out the CPU in Fruity Loops by using 2 hefty Reaktor ensembles, 2 Pro 52s and 1 Battery plus the native sounds and barely dented the CPU USAGE at 38%. I'll come back later to try and push it to the limits, but not even a crackle or stutter with 5 VST plug ins going at the same time. I could barely use 1 VST plug in with Fruity in my old PII 450. So big improvement already.

Installed Steinberg Waldorf PPG Wave + the update. Tested in VST and Fruity Loops. Again, no probs.

Installed Propellerheads Reason but opted not to do the update (1.01). Worked great.

Installed Acid Music 2.0 and runs fine.

Tested all the other various programs to see if any conflicts or problems appeared but everything worked great.

Day 5 9-24-01

So far everything has been pretty easy and painless. Other than the strange error dialogs and occasional crashes, the new P4 was working like a champ.

Installed Quicktime 5. Tested with video on web pages worked fine. CoolEdit did freeze when opening a wav file. Had to pull the plug as the pc would not let go of the task. Worked fine after that (did scandisk thing but no errors) and hasn't happened again. I guess crashes are to be expected on occasion???

Installed Prosoniq Orange Vocoder 1.40... Problems... Cubase VST now had an error message upon startup "the Plug In Orange Vocoder crashed when trying to open it". I tried the Cubase fix patch which adds the plug to the registry. Still had the error dialog on startup of Cubase. Rebooted. Still had that problem. I tried Fruity Loops and no error at startup and Orange Vocoder worked just fine. Oddly enough, even though I got the error dialog upon starting Cubase, the plug did work in VST. I sent emails to prosoniq support and Steinberg support and got replies. Steinberg said to uninstall it and reinstall it. Prosoniq said that it was a problem with Cubase and if the plug in worked I just had to accept it unless Steinberg fixes this. Oddly enough, I never had that error dialog with Cubase on my PII PC. Oh well, I guess I'll reinstall it at a later date...

Installed Reloop2, a cool program for mixing together loops. Worked great. End of day 5.

Day 6 9-24-01

Tried to max out Cubase VST running multiple VST Instruments and EFX but only hit 50-60% CPU usage with the following: 4 Reaktor Instruments (big cpu intensive ones), 1 Battery w/ 1 FX Reverb, 1 PPG Wave, 1 Pro 52, 1 stereo midi (external to Emu XL-1 to audio inputs 1 & 2) w/ 1 FX Double Delay, 1 Audio Loop (stereo) w/ 1 FX Orange Vocoder. Occasional warbles as I clicked on buttons but in general it flew along happily only peaking at 60% cpu. Added all new instruments and FX while song was playing and saved while playing. All in all it handled 7 VST Instruments, 3 FX, 2 audio channels and 1 midi with out trouble. So hopefully this means I can at least add 4-5 more fx, a few eq's and maybe 4 or more VST instruments before maxing out. That is what I am estimating at this point. I'll go in again and actually load it to the gills to see how much it will really handle before showing signs of trouble.

On my old PC I'd run into trouble just using Orange Vocoder on a track. It'd crackle and pop if I tried to add a VST instrument. Also it barely let me get in 2 VST instruments. In fact I would always have to bounce the VST instruments to audio immediately to free up CPU so I could work on songs. SO this is a massive 1000% improvement. So, it is safe to say the P4 is really delivering so far. More tests coming soon.

9-30-01

OK, so I've finally stopped counting days... Actually it was time to get back to work, so I've neglected the new P4 PC a bit. BUT I have done a few things with music...

I installed Rebirth which was a major hassle. First off it caused problems overwriting newer files. In particular it caused Reason not to work becuase it overwrote rewire. I had to uninstall Reason and reinstall Reason... hassle, but it now worked. Why can't software detect if a version of a file it is replacing is actually newer?

Also after a few days I ran into a problem opening Reaktor. It wouldn't open. I got the error dialog: "Msvcirt.dll file is linked to missing export msvcrt.dll : ??_u@yapaxi@z". Now this one was familiar... It happened to me on my old PC and now that I think of it - it was also Rebirth that caused the problem... Well... I searched the net and found an article in the Microsoft Knowledge base and it told how to fix the problem... Kinda... not really. The directions it gave did not apply to Windows 98 SE for some reason... It said to do the following: SEE MSVCRT solution article for details. Moral of the story is that I figured it out on my own. Click the previous link for the solution.

4-13-04

2 years and 7 months later I am still using this same PC as my primary computer. It is the longest I have ever kept one rig as my major computer. I've added RAM (up to 512) and have 2 hd's + a dvd-ram etc. I am still pretty happy with the thang.

My biggest complaints are with certain programs that cause annoyances... Dreamweaver and Outlook are on that list. Slow open and close and quirky behavior....

more to follow

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