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Old 05-02-2006, 04:01 PM   #1
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Registered: Aug 2005
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need help choosing hardware for linux audio and some opengl

I am in the market for a new desktop PC, I need clues to make sure I pick the appropriate parts for my needs.

This is alot of text explaning the rationale for my decisions and my desires in a PC, feel free to skip reading parts of it and just coment on my component list, I tried to organize the words under headings so you don't have to read too much:

I have been fooling around with newegg wishlists for some time now trying to find the optimal way to spend my 1500 US dollars. I made myself a list of priorities for what I want to do with this machine that influence my decisions. My budget includes all hardware, case, monitor, mouse/keyboard, with a sound card being the exception that I will pay for separately. No printers or scanners or speakers or external things like that, no software either.

First of all, this machine must be quiet and linux compatible. Linux compatibility rules out Abit motherboards, for they use proprietary sensors. This machine must also be low in power consumption, I notice a trend of recent gaming machines getting bigger and more juice hungry, kilowatt psu's are insane. I am paying for my own electricity and my power company is a bitch, it is a double blow to my finances to pay extra for a machine that uses more power, I would only pay extra for a machine that uses less. I beleive computers should progress by getting smaller and less resource hoggy, not the other way around. With those considerations I rule out ATI cards, they are louder, use more power, and have inferior opengl performance, linux does not do directx, so nvidia is the gfx for this machine. My priorities are producing electronic music, using opengl, and playing oblivion, in that order.

Audio Considerations:
Music production machines are a different animal than game boxes, I need low audio latency, I need the pci bus to be free of stuff that takes priority away from the sound card. I need a motherboard that lets me rearrange IRQ's in the bios to give the sound priority access, I need minimal noise and elecromagnetic interference. All the sound will be generated by software or come in through my sound card's inputs, no microphones, I'm too poor for good ones and I prefer to make instrumental electronic music. I am hesitant to buy hot parts, or to punch holes in my case and add fans. Extra fans means more noise, extra holes for those fans would negate having a noise dampening case. I am willing to add aftermarket CPU, chipset, and VGA coolers. I am not willing to buy an SLI mobo just because it has a heat pipe, or to buy a passively cooled mobo only to have it require punching a hole in my case and adding a fan for the burning heatsink.

opengl considertions:
I dabble in SDL and opengl coding, I would like to be able to continue doing this, but I do not require bleeding edge graphics or high resolutions. I am optimizing this machine for sound so I refuse to buy something that is going to compromise my audio, but at the same time I would like a card that supports as many of the new features as possible, with those considerations I am leaning towards the 7600gt, possibly the gs. Basically I want a card that consumes a low amount of power, doens't make too much noise, supports dual monitors, and does decent opengl. I like to play games like Second Life, nexuiz, armagetron, and quake which are all opengl. I also use some audio software that utilizes opengl and I would like to try the opengl enhanced desktop features that are coming out on linux.

Oblivion Desires:
Oblivion is a vice of mine, ever since morrowind I have been longing to play it. I played morrowind on a laptop with a geforce 4 440 go, on 800x600 and it was great fun. I am not trying to do top end oblivion play, much like morrowind on my old geforce4, I would like the game to run smoothly and look nice, maybe something like 1024x768 with HDR, distant lands, but no antialiasing or shadows necessary. I would like performance equivalent to how morrowind behaved on my old geforce4, without comprmising my audio needs or breaching the $1500 buget, if this isn't possible I am willing to wait until prices drop.

I am hesitant to overclock, for one thing overclocking often means more power consumption which is something I have an aversion towards. At the same time I am not trying to compromise my cpu in order to conserve power, my last machine was a laptop and its crappy cpu gave me no end of frustration when trying to render sound, so I am not dipping into pentium m or turion territory. It seems that the amd64 x2 is the favorable balance, the new linux kernels support it and it has a nice balance between speed and consumption, enough so that it is on the front page of this site today. I hesitate to overclock an opty, but if I can get a better deal by doing this without raising the power consumption then I might try, but at this point im leaning more towards amd64x2 3800+, it seems a nice balance between power, quiet, consumption, and budget. Stability is also an issue, I've never OC'ed before.

Why linux? I am lucky in that I get free windows xp, visual studio, office and other things through the MSDN acadmic alliance, but I prefer to do my audio work on linux. For one thing, the pro audio mac and win apps are fettered with anti piracy and DRM stuff. In cubase sx3 nearly every function is tied to some antipiracy routine, I can't help but imagine how all the copy protection tendrils tangled up in that software are slowing me down. I've accumulated enough linux experience and know enough helful people at this point that I feel that climbing learning curves, tweaking settings, and putting up with all the quirks of the linux audio packages is faster than the DRM and copy protection stuff fettering the pro apps. I was actually considering buying an imac, I get a small discount through the school I'm in, but it seems that the good mac apps for audio are not ready for the intel macs yet, and by the time they are my machine would have obsolesced to a point where it would be wiser just to buy a PC. Not to mention, the macs have a trusted computing module in them, and it seems the next round of mobos for PC will as well. Dealing with DRM, lawyers, intellectual property disputes, and all that crap really thows a wrench in my artistic process, I like to create in an environment which is a sanctuary from all of that, so I am really favoring a socket 939 running linux, and a dual boot configuration for my guilty pleasures like olivion.

With those things considered, I have arranged two possible lists:
(I'll link to the lists shortly, I need more posts first, sorry.)

The antec cases are nice because they are quiet, I especially like the p150 for its neo HE psu and suspended hard drives. Lian li was another option but the quiet ones coupled with good psu's breach my budget. With the sonata 2 I don't have enough room for a scythe ninja so I opt for a small zalman cooler, with the p150 I am risking incompatibility with asus mobo's so I opt for the msi.

My research shows that for linux the prime choices in mobo are asus and msi. I want the thing to be quiet, I also appreciate the dual lan feature. Dual lan mobos usually have one nic on the pci bus and one not, I would use the plug not on the pci bus to free up speed for the sound card. Dual lan is a nice feature for that, but I am also willing to consider sinlge lan mobo's if I can be sure they don't fight my sound card for the bus. Chipset cooling is a problem, all fan cooled mobos seem to be noisy, but I am willing to replace the coolers. For the asus board in my first list that wouldn't be necessary, but I would also be paying for SLI which I will not need. For the MSI mobo I could do a heatsink, but I would need to cut it so it could fit under the gfx card, since I lack a dremel tool I put the vantec iceberg vga cooler on the list, because many people report it fitting on the msi chipset cooler and cooling it quieter and lower than the stock. This is a hard decision for me, if I choose the p150 case it rules out asus mobo's, if I choose the asus mobo I have to buy sli capabilities that I will never use, the nice features of these boards arent present in the boards like the a8n-e or the regular k8n neo4 f. The passively cooled gigabyte boards supposedly cant rearrange irq's and require extra case fans. I am leaning more towards the msi and the p150 case right now because the total is cheaper, the p150 has better airflow and is quieter, and the msi doesnt require me to pay for sli that I wont use.

I know I want nvidia for their opengl and linux advantage. I know I want to play oblivion but am willing to compromise oblivion in favor of low noise, low power consumption, and audio performance. The decision at the moment seems to be between the mainstream cards ranging between the 6600gs up to the 7600gt. The 7600gt seems ideal at the moment, I could put the zalman 700 cooler on it to make it reasonably quiet, I would get one of the models which isn't overclocked due to my power concerns. But I am not so sure about this, if a cooler quieter 7600gs can play oblivion acceptably then I am willing to consider that as well. The zalman vf700alcu seems to work well, it is lighter than the all copper model and looks to cool it sufficiently.

amd64x2, or OC opty?(or wait for conroe?) That is the decision for cpu. I will use a scythe ninja or a zalman 7000b cooler more for quiet than for overclocking, the ninja seems to be the quietest cooler on newegg acording to the things I have been reading, but it wouldn't fit in the sonata 2 case should I choose the asus mobo(Unless I take out that air duct).

I want 2 gigs that is relatively fast, basically the best deal on newegg that is compatible with my chosen mobo. This doesnt seem to be to tough to decide, if I dont oc it doenst seem like it would make much difference what I choose so long as the heat spreaders arent too big, and it is copatible with my mobo. A good deal for the OCz stuff is going on right now, maybe I'll pick the corsair xms, I dont care so much as long as it works and performs decently, but I'm certainly open to suggestions.

the samsung spinpoints seem to be nice and quiet and have a decent speed, 250 gigs looks to be the sweet spot for good dollars per gigabyte. I think I will buy a second HD later when I get more $$$.

external storage:
dvd burner, whatever works, it could be loud for all I care since it wont be running while I'm making my noise. The floppy drive with the card reader is nice, I could use that do give people minidiscs and of course to flash the bios if need be.

Sound Card:
M Audio delta, PCI card since linux isn't too good with firewire, not to mention firewire's cost more. The choice is limited here, RME hammerfall or m audio delta seems to be all that works. I would use the onboard sound for playing games and this card would just be for music. I am thinking the delta 66 or the audiophile 192

keyboard just has to be comfortable and durable, the logitec in my wishlists seems to fit those requirements. I want a nice mouse with lots of buttons should I get into an FPS or something, it also comes in handy for music apps, the MX518 seems a good choice, the G5 too much money at this point just for a friggin mouse that I wouldn't get a big advantage from.

Must be LCD, CRT's dont do well near big speakers. I'd like 2, but can only aford 1 for now. I picked a 17 inch 8ms samsung, could just as well be anything in that price range, a 19 inch would be nice too. I just want an LCD that I can game on a little and won't break soon.

Basically the strategy is to buy quality for the things that obsolesce slower, music production sound cards last a good bit longer, as do cases, keyboards, mice, LCD's, and heatsinks. CPU's, GPU's, mobos are the kind of things that drop their value fast, so I am not going overbaord with spending on them, I put my CPU and GPU threshold at 300 dollars, mobos at 150.

I would like to try and free more of my budget for a better CPU if at all possible, if I can get equivalant noise level and performance with different parts that would be fantastic. I absolutely must not breach 1500 total for the cost of these parts, aside from shipping costs of course. My budget really is 1400 but the move towards 1500 is the most flex I can give, so it must be under 1500 all in.

I would really appreciate some help in finding the optimal way to spend my money with my needs taken into consideration. My desires eliminate alot of parts from consideration, so that should help alot in selecting hardware.

Last edited by UnWorldly; 05-02-2006 at 04:02 PM.
Old 05-03-2006, 02:42 AM   #2
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Registered: Mar 2003
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My 2 cents: I think you've already identified how you want to spend you $$$ and all of your choices are good ones. The main suggestions I'd recommend would be to not overclock, and use a case that uses the bigger 120mm fans rather than 80mm fans, as the 120's can spin slower but still move more air. If you'll only have a single hard drive, a video card, sound card, and CD/DVD burner inside the cabinet, I don't think you really need to worry too much about overheating. As long as the airflow is unobstructed you should be good. Since your main factor seems to be system noise, the main culprit will probably be the PSU, so the quieter the better.

As purely editorial comments, when it comes to the CPU, and as you said yourself, today's top of the line, most expensive CPU is tomorrow's discontinued close-out model. Unless you have specific apps that would take full advantage of the AMD64X2's capabilities, you might be buying a lot of performance that is unlikely to be used, at least in the foreseeable future (sort of like buying a car with a top speed of 180mph even though there's a 65mph speed limit and traffic is usually so heavy that hitting 40mph is a minor miracle). Similarly, 2G of RAM is definitely high end, and perhaps 1G would be plenty. Assuming that you use something like gkrellm to monitor your current system, how often is your entire RAM in use and/or at least 30% or more of your swap is in use for sustained periods? The occasional spikes can be ignored, and although it's your money, unless the current system loads consume all available resources and are starving for more, perhaps 1G would suffice. Just trying to save you some dough, good luck with it regardless of your decision
Old 05-03-2006, 08:06 AM   #3
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hmmm, single core, different case, 1 gig ram, yeah I guess I could consider those. I just want to be sure I'm getting the right hardware for what I want to do with my computer.

My current system is(was) a dell laptop from 2002, I overwork the thing, and I killed its hard drive a couple weeks ago, which is the main reason for me getting a new system, knoppix gets old really fast. It has 384 megs of ram, and would lag miserably when I tried to render audio, not to mention having awful sound latency and problems with noise and heat.

Some of the audio apps can take advantage of dual cores at the moment, ardour for example can use one core for DSP tasks and another for the GUI and controls and stuff. I've never used ardour on a dual core system myself but I thought I might try it. DDR400 Ram is running pretty cheap right now since we are on the eve of a new amd socket which will obsolete all of it shortly, that was the main reason I was opting for 2gigs.

I'm looking forward to when I can post the URL's for my list so I can actually show ppl what I think I'm going to get.

I can now, HA!

here are the URLs for my parts list that I am trying to decide between:
and here is a URL for a typical audio system spec:
Old 12-05-2006, 04:22 PM   #4
Registered: Mar 2006
Distribution: Fedora, custom LFS, Ubuntu Studio (RT)
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Somewhat old thread, but I'd like to hear if you've settled for a platform and if you're happy with it since I'm looking for something quite similar.

Currently I'd like to go for core 2 duos, but I've been hearing so much bad things about linux support for the motherboards that I'm a bit put off. (hats off though to all the people doing kernel/driver development for free, the real heroes of this day and age). Maybe one day some hardware manufacturer will realize that full all-whistles-and-bells-out-of-the-box-open-spec linux support will guarantee a very large and loyal customer base.

I'm looking for a powerful workstation for audio work and software development so dual cores is somewhat of a must. I do OpenGL development as well which means I'm forced to use Nvidia at the moment, but as soon as there is decent acceleration for an open platform I'll jump ship faster than you can say NDA. The desktop vs. workstation pricing policy for practically the same hardware (geforce/quadro) is somewhat unethical in my opinion.

Regarding audio; if you haven't already, check out Planet CCRMA's repository of audio applications. They have everything a hobbyist or semi-professional musician should need, even a low-latency linux kernel that puts Window's ASIO drivers to shame. Another noteworthy project is "freebob", an open source user-space driver for certain firewire audio devices. Version 1.0 is quite mature and my Presous firebox both plays back and records using this.

As far as cases go, the Antec P180B has caught my eye lately (well, the black model is simply beautiful) and I've been trying to find out just how quiet it can run using the right fans and what the optimal components would be. (is it better to go for all passively cooled components with extra fans in the airflow's path around the case or to have each thing cool itself?)

Long story short, if I hear verified reports of a good Conroe motherboard working flawlessly in linux I'll go for that platform, otherwise I'll wait until AMD's top X2s become really cheap (much cheaper than today).



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