DAW Hardware

Digital Audio Workstations can come in several different forms.

Rather than tell you that this is a workstation designed to handle a digital data stream (not helpful), let me tell you what it means for your home recording studio.

It's a combination of a physical computer with an Audio Interface and DAW Recording Software installed.

All 3 of these things come together like Voltron to form your Digital Audio Workstation... but unlike Voltron you combine common, affordable products and not futuristic bad-ass robot lions.

Because the parts of this system are so closely interwoven you may hear the term DAW used to refer to any part on its own or the system as a whole.

Semantics aside, let's take a look at the different components that make up the DAW hardware portion of your rig.

Yes! - the computer that you probably already have will be the horsepower behind your home recording studio.

Here's a list of the important categories we'll examine further to assist in choosing a computer for your setup:

  1. Processing Speed
  2. RAM
  3. Hard Drive
  4. Monitors & Video Cards
  5. Operating System

1 - Processing Speed

You don't have to go for a screamer here, but a slow processor will be a constant thorn in your side.

Anything older than ~2008ish will probably start to choke up on some of your digital audio data.

Dual processors are more and more prevalent and would be a great option as prices continue to drop.

Digital effects and processing, virtual instruments, basically anything really fun will take a heavy toll on your CPU resources.

Going with hardware based effects is one way to avoid over-taxing this part of your Digital Audio Workstation.

That being said, software based FX have a huge advantage in that they take up no physical space, require no additional cabling, and interface seamlessly with your DAW Recording Software.

A slightly slow processor can be jump-started with a sufficient amount of RAM, which brings us to...

2 - RAM

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. The story here is simple - more is definitely better.

Depending on what operating system you a running, there may be a hard limit on how high you can go.

A good rule of thumb is to load up at least 4 GB.

Memory is cheap and the added juice will make all the difference as you get into more complex audio functions.

I would suggest maxing out your Digital Audio Workstation with whatever your operating system can handle - but no less than 4 GB.

With the emergence of 64-bit operating systems the upper limit on RAM has been raised to unrealistically high levels, but the story remains the same.

Spend a few hundred bucks to get some more RAM in your system and you'll be to chew up that digital data more effectively.

3 - Hard Drive

Only you can know how much is enough... this stuff is dead cheap now. You'll need one to use as a primary storage and another for backup and archiving.

External USB drives are great too because you can swap them out easily and they don't require you to take you machine apart. They do, however, eat up another USB port so make sure you have one available in your plan.

The obvious stat here is the total storage capacity. Like buying a big screen TV, go one size bigger than you think you need and you'll never regret it.

"This TV is just waaaay too big and awesome"

See how silly it sounds

Also don't forget to consider rotation speed for magnetic disk format. These drives spin a magnetic disk to store information and can go "bad" if the mechanical parts fail.

Most you buy today will be around 7200 RPM which is plenty fast.

Solid state style hard drives are very quick but more than twice as expensive.

It uses short electric pulses to store information, and doesn't spin or have moving parts like traditional magnetic drives.

It's rugged, runs lighting fast, and is a great option if you can afford it.

4 - Monitors & Video Cards

Working on your Digital Audio Workstation is a lot like doing any other work at your desk.

You'll need to spread out if you want to be organized and have quick access to things, and this is no different.

As far as monitor sizes...I'd suggest going no smaller than 20".

If you have the funds you can also put 2 monitors (or more) side by side using a video card with 2 outputs.

This not only looks really sweet, but allows you to have a ton of space to work.

Nothing will stifle creativity quicker than dealing with a bunch of windows all stacked on one another as you try to uncover your application in a dogpile of programs.

Flat screen LCD monitors are so cheap now, this is the perfect excuse to finally go out and get one (or two).

In fact I believe the only place you can still get a CRT is from a technology exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Between rebates and sales at major electronic outlets, you can pick one up for less than you probably think... so go ahead and treat yourself to a couple.

It'll help your workflow and make you feel like a true, multimedia superstar.

5 - Operating System

I intentionally left this one until the end.

Instead of describing the pros and cons of the never ending Mac vs PC debate let me just say this:

Use Whatever You Are Most Comfortable With!

It really doesn't matter except that some software suites are only offered for one or the other.

I know the laundry list of complaints and praise for each, I know these multi-million dollar marketing campaigns make you feel like there's a difference, but ultimately it just doesn't matter.

I use a PC, if you're a Mac guy or gal, then by all means use a Mac.

Don't sweat this too much - Just dance with who brought you here.

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