1. CPU (Central Processing Unit)
The CPU is the brain of your computer. It controls every other part of which the computer was built off. All processes and instructions given are running in a logical order. Dual- and Quad-Core means that a computer has two or four cores. Usually, the more cores are built-in, the faster all tasks, like rendering a movie-file, can be completed.
Now let’s have a look at a „real world example“. There are two big companies on the market that provide us with CPUs – Intel and AMD. When you check the specifications of your computer or the one you would like to buy, you will find as following (I take Intel as an example for now): Intel Core i7 - 7700K Quad-Core 4.2 GHz.
The first number is „i7“. What you need to know is that there are thousands of CPUs out there and they need to be structured, so we can recognize them. The most common CPUs (at least which still fit our pockets) are i3s, i5s, i7s, and i9s. The higher the number, the higher the performance.
However, we need to have a look at the other numbers as well, so we can compare the different CPUs. So, the first number of 7700 the „7“ refers to the generation it was built. In our example, this CPU belongs to the generation called „Kaby Lake“.
The last number 7700, so „700“ (the model number), tells you how powerful this central processing unit is. Again, the hight the number, the higher the performance power.
The letter „K“ says what specific task this CPU was built for. In our case, „K“ is standing for „overclocking“. „T“ for example is standing for energy-efficiency. What does overclocking mean?
Overclocking, called Turbo-Boost as well, means that the processor's speed is exceeding the usual clock rate which is measured in Gigahertz (GHz). You will find something like Intel Core i7 7700K, 4.2 GHz (Turbo-Boost up to 4.5 GHz).
There is one more important thing to have in mind: When you buy a new computer, take your time and definitely check the CPUs and the generations. It can be that an i3-Core is performing better than an i7, due to a newer generation optimization. Check out this website to compare CPUs.
2. RAM (Random Access Memory)
Have you ever wondered why your computer has slowed down after you have opened another program? Welcome to the club! Most likely your RAM, your main memory of your computer’s brain, came to an end. What does that mean?
Every time you open a program, it is first recalled from your hard drive. However, to have faster access to your data, the memory is being stored on your RAM sticks due to much faster access times compared to your hard drive.
RAM is important as well if you run many programs simultaneously. The more information you want to have access to (faster and at the same time), the more RAM you will need. This is maybe one of the reasons why RAM is quite expensive on the market. But it is really important if you want to run your computer operations smoothly.
If your computer has a high-end CPU, let’s say i9, the more RAM it can handle, compared to an i7 processor (i7 = 64GB RAM; i9 = 128GB RAM). The more RAM you have installed, the better the overall performance of your computer will be, especially if you run many applications at the same time.
Okay, so how much RAM do I need now? Well, it depends on your personal situation, how much money you have actually to upgrade and of course how much RAM your CPU supports. I give you my example first: I work with many RAM hungry sample libraries that need a lot of RAM.
At the moment I run my sessions with 36GB RAM. (Actually, I have 40GB installed, but the computer already eats up 4GB to operate the whole thing.) My CPU on my iMac is the same I have mentioned before, so potentially I have excess to 64 Gigabytes.
If you are composing full orchestral scores or want to dive into cinematic music composing, be prepared to go as high as possible. I have sessions here and there where I don’t feel comfortable anymore, as my libraries exceed the 36GB RAM I have. However, it’s still possible to make big productions.
The solution would be printing your MIDI tracks to audio inside your composing session. I worked that way for more than eight years, and I know that it’s still possible to make an impact, even though I only had 8 Gigabytes of RAM on my older MacBook Pro from 2011.
So there are absolutely no excuses! However, if you have the opportunity, definitely think about 16GB of RAM at least. It will give you more options to experiment before you start rendering your MIDI files in the session.
If you are just mixing and mastering, you don’t need to go higher with RAM, instead, you would need to go higher with your CPU, especially when running CPU hungry audio plugins like iZotope or UAD.
3. Hard Drives
Hard drives are your all-time memory friends. They keep all of your data, even if you switch off your PC. It’s called permanent memory access. It can’t be said about RAM. It’s being erased the moment you turn off your computer. Big difference.
As audio creators, we are always confronted with two types of hard drives: the HDD (Hard Disk Drive) and the SSD (Solid State Drive). HDDs are bigger than SSDs – in size and disk storage as well. They are slower than SSDs, as they are built off moving components.
SSDs are based on flash storage, so if they fall down, they will most likely survive. However, when they break, the data-restoring-process is much more difficult than with a hard disk drive.
So, no matter what hard drive you use, if you want to be professional and you care about your work and data, you need to backup everything. I will share another article about backing up the system, as I have a great story to tell, even though I am happy it wasn’t my personal experience.
However, this story will teach you how you should really think about the potential disaster! So stay tuned by joining my newsletter, if you haven’t already. You will receive a gift as well! Back to our hard drives.
The question is now: Which hard drive should I get as an audio creator – SSD or HDD? Simple answer: Both! You should benefit from the super-fast access times of an SSD but use an HDD to store everything related to your projects. The SSD will operate much better, if you use it to run your system on, so all your applications.
When working on projects, you can use a second SSD for storage, however, they are still expensive. I personally use one 4TB HDD (7200 rpm) for running and saving my projects on, and a second one for backup. Both drives are plugged into a docking station. Right now, it is the best option for me and I am quite happy.
Some more information about hard drives: The most common HDDs are 5400 rpm and 7200 rpm. RPM means „rotation per minute“. So, obviously, 7200 rpm HDDs can read and write data faster than 5400 rpm drives. What I have researched is that 7200 HDDs can handle roundabout 200-250 MBits/s and smaller HDDs around 100-150 MBits/s.
These numbers are just a direction. What is more important for us is to know what we actually need. So there is no need to have a 7200 rpm HDD for backup for example. The first reason is that you don’t really need that extra speed, and second, you don’t need to spend extra money because higher speed HDDs will cost definitely more money.
Because SSDs are flash-based storage drives, with no physical moving parts, they can go up to 550 MBits/s, which is almost three times the speed of a 7200 rpm hard drive. Due to the fact they are much faster and smaller, they cost more money.
Info: If you want to know how many megabytes are transferred in a second, you need to divide the megabyte-number by "8", as eight bits are one byte. The reason is that storage capacity is measured in bytes while data transfer is measured in bits.
There is one more thing which might be interesting for you – the cache. „Chache“ is nothing else than a small memory access built into your hard drive. My WD Black has a chache of 64 MB. So every time I visit a folder that I have already visited before, this information is stored in that cache. When I visit the folder again, I have much faster access to it.
Down below is a list of products I like, have and used before. These are Amazon affiliate links.
Products mentioned in this article:
To your success,
Creator of Make Better Music Now
Hi, I’m Alexey aka JLX,
it’s nice to meet you!
I am a Germany based composer,
sound designer, mixing engineer and coach.
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