I have been contemplating building a new desktop computer for writing. What components would be most important in the build?
I got a new PC some months ago, with an Intel i7, 2TB of SSD and 32 GB of RAM, and I’m very happy with its performance in Dorico.
Given the latest developments regarding NotePerformer and other virtual instruments, I guess you just can’t have anough RAM. Get as much as you can, or at least don’t fill all RAM slots so you can easily upgrade later.
And make sure you have enough USB ports
On Windows, it seems like audio drivers seems to be a regular ‘issue’. Make sure your audio hardware gives you low latency and does have any limitations.
I would echo Ben’s comments about audio hardware: it is definitely worth investing in an external audio interface, which will ensure both good performance in terms of latency and a generally smoother experience with pro audio software like Dorico. Steinberg’s own UR-C interfaces are absolutely fine, as are interfaces from Focusrite, Audient, RME, M-Audio, etc. You don’t have to spend enormous sums on an audio interface, but it’s pretty much essential to have one, in my opinion.
In terms of the general specifications of your PC, you don’t need to go crazy with a CPU with 16 or 24 cores. An 8-core CPU with strong single-core performance is probably the sweet spot. Dorico is multi-threaded, but the nature of the way its processing works (lots of short bursts of parallel processing that have to be marshalled back to the main thread quite frequently, rather than long-running per-core tasks) means that it’s not really able to take full advantage of those extra cores. Other software you are planning to run might take more advantage of those cores, of course.
I’d suggest going for a motherboard with at least two M2 NVMe slots, and populating at least one of them with the largest NVMe drive you can afford – a 2TB drive can now be had for around £100.
And yes, buy as much RAM as you can afford. 32GB will be more than enough for Dorico and its built-in sounds and provide you with plenty of headroom for future expansion, but if you’re planning on using the really huge sample libraries out there, especially with NotePerformer 4, I’d seriously think about 64GB RAM.
I’m mostly just echoing what was said above, but I built my current desktop a couple of years ago with 128GB of RAM. I host my various instrument libraries in VEPro, so with it open and my default sounds loaded, I’m already using 37GB. If I add NPPE with the BBCSO Pro library fully loaded, that number jumps up to 104GB and that’s without anything else open other than my usual background stuff. If you’re planning on using some resource intensive libraries, or thinking about maybe purchasing some in the future, definitely get as much RAM as you can afford.
My motherboard has 4 M2 slots so I have drives on all 4, but you’ll certainly want to put your OS and programs on one. If you have or think you might want a higher level audio interface, many are Thunderbolt, so you might want to consider a motherboard with Thunderbolt built in, or make sure the motherboard has a connector for a Thunderbolt card, as many do not. As Daniel mentioned above, you’ll almost certainly want an external audio interface if you don’t have one already.
Thanks for your insight!
Thanks, Daniel! Great info!
On RAM there’s actually a range that is useful. I’ve got 128GB in my machines but in practice that’s not really necessary if you’re looking to save some money and just working in Dorico, 64GB is the max you would really need, definitely not less than 32.
On Thunderbolt you have to be careful as it’s not as universal as we could wish. For example, if you were very serious I’d recommend the Focusrite professional RED series if you have the cash (and can write it off your taxes). Hands down that’s the best professional solution if you need multichannel, but you have the check the that the TB interface is supported by the RED driver. It’s not super finicky but you can make the wrong choice. Basically that means Intel, and check on the TB Chip revision number (RED has a list).
If you want to keep it simple I’d recommend a Focusrite 8 channel (non pro but excellent) USB. I have one for my writing desk and it works great. On other brands I’ve had a bunch and liked none of them.
If you just stay within Dorico then you don’t need tons of cores & RAM, but if you’re simultaneously going to work in say, Dorico, Cubase/Nuendo, VEPro and NP4 for big orchestral scores then you definitely do want to max out. I’ve got a HEDT with 128GB, NVMe and red interfaces and it has nary a hiccup with this scenario doing ATMOS. So think ahead.
Really great motherboards aren’t too expensive comparative to other components. Everything else you can do now or later flows from there - like the slots, quality of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi… I have been really grateful for my MSI.
Dorico does love its CPU. I’ve been on my soapbox before, but the real world CPU performance you get is heavily dependent on how you cool the CPU. I’m so glad I listened to the gamers on custom builds for that one - and it’s a desktop/ tower advantage you can’t match in a laptop. My cpu cooler looks like a cylinder from a motorcycle engine - so keep that in mind when you buy a case.
Honestly if you don’t need 8 mic pre’s, I wouldn’t pay for them. A Focusrite Scarlett Solo would do you just fine, and it’s $140.
And an RME interface has the best drivers in the business and will likely be USB 2.0, which of course is plenty for audio and no need to splurge for TB4.
You might need Thunderbolt for other things like fast storage or a screen.
+1 if the OP doesn’t have anything. That’s my usual recommendation to students who are looking to improve over just using an iPhone. One of those and an SM58 are they’re up and recording.
I’m using a Thunderbolt UA Apollo for recording, and an SPL Marc One as my usual DAC / headphone & monitor controller. The SPL is a perfect piece of gear for me! Really small footprint and has analog inputs in addition to USB, so I can have my Nord Piano 4 go into it as well as all my PC sounds. Obviously then there’s 0 latency with the Nord and I can even use it with the computer off. AKM4490 implementation still sounds great. Easy to reach switch to turn off monitors, and the L/R>R/L switch is useful for transcribing as sometimes a hard to hear inner part will magically become apparent when hearing it differently.
On interfaces, there are PCIe cards available – ESI Maya, which is adequate, or there’s an RME option ( RME HDSPe AIO) that’s hard to get, rather more powerful, rather more expensive.
Regarding USB interfaces, I’d say look out for USB3 or USBC options – they are the more recent standards.
I’d endorse the 4 M2 slot motherboard – that’s what I went for. I’ve got 3 installed at the moment and they fill up ridiculously quickly after you buy a few sample libraries.