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Typical Setup 02/2000

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I wrote the original page about the basic configuration mid 1998. Since this time, things have of course evolved and to date, 10/02/2000, we are announced that there will be many neat things suitable to make us throw some more money on the table! Approximately, a state-of-the-art machine today will begin to be ridiculous by the end of, let's say, the next two years. During these two years, you will seriously enjoy your machine, until the day you start thinking that the animal trails itself. So, let's see what's a state-of-the-art machine today! Like with the original page I wrote two years ago, let's see what Steinberg say and let's analyze that point by point.

For this purpose I stole Uncle Charly's recommendations from the site of Steinberg France. I've retained only the recommended configuration because the basic configuration would make anyone sh*** his pants in laughter! Think, a Pentium 200 with 32 Mo of RAM, ha ! It works, but... Well, it's far from heaven for really enjoying VST.

Steinberg thus advises at least :

  • an INTEL Pentium 300 MHz processor
  • 128 MB of RAM
  • SCSI, U-DMA or E-IDE disc controller
  • Carte graphique 256 couleurs
  • Graphic card with 256 colors
  • And the funniest thing of all, a sound card ! I'm just quoting here...

The processor

It would be necessary to add to this list a 100-MHz motherboard !Gilles RAFFELSBAUER adds : "Take a motherboard having good reputation (Asus, Abit or a MSI currently) including a BX chipset for now or a I820 for later (be careful with SDRAM, I820 is definitely slower than BX)"...

A Pentium II 300 MHz. Mmmm. This thing is not even any longer on the market today but that seems to be indeed the vital minimum. The more so as the last series of Cubase, the 3.7Rx, are rather greedy due to the VST-Instruments and some integrated dynamic effects. In order to not see the performance bar getting too quickly up to the red zone, a Pentium II 450 (still on the market?) seems essential to me. The best thing being to have a look on the Pentium III, for which Cubase is optimized. Which means that VST calls upon the new instruction set. For your information, I've bought a P3 500 this month in spare parts for 2,200 French Francs (a bit less than 300 US bucks). With such a processor, I don't have any concern with the performance bar. Even when stuffing channels with effects, I do not reach 50 %.

There is an another path that could be followed, the Celeron's one. Those processors, conceived initially to counter the commercial attacks from Cyrix and AMD on the market of the inexpensived PC, have quickly increased in power to reach today hardly lower performances compared to a Pentium of equal frequency. The advantage is of course the price!

Last path : AMD ! These processors have been for a long time disregarded due to their lack of floating point computing power. With Athlon, AMD largely caught up with INTEL, so much so that certain tests give it as the outrageous winner, well ahead of a Pentium with the same frequency. With Athlon, one loses the benefit from VST being optimized for Pentium III, but the subscribers of the ML having tried the Athlon adventure do not regret it.

In short, aim at a frequency of 500 MHz, whatever the brand and model, knowing that Pentium III is a sure value.

Second level memory cache

The question is no longer of relevance because this memory, essential to good performances, is integrated into the processors. Depending on the brand and models, it will be 128, 256 or 512 KB, and will run either at the speed of the processor or at half of this frequency.

The RAM memory

Nothing has changed in two years! This component is always so essential, the programs like it always so much. Only the figure changed, from 32 MB in 1998, to 64, even 128 MB today. Prices having returned to a normal level, don't hesitate to equip your machine with 128 MB. With the 3.7Rx versions, VST Intruments and others plug-ins, you will never have too much of it. Especially when meanwhile, we've all, or almost all, shifted to Windows 98, which does not spit on an additional 64 MB of it ! Nevertheless, with 64 MB, things don't run too bad, the machine doesn't choke too much but well, it's necessary to plan for the future !

While speaking about future, the SDRAM that equips our machines currently starts to become a little slow. Other technologies start hitting the market out still remain well too expensive. PC100 or PC133 SDRAM still have beautiful days to live and we'll integrate it in our February 2000 configuration !

Hard drives

On that side, progress are less notorious but things evolve nevertheless. Exit the basic E-IDE interfaces, here come Ultra DMA ones.

The choice is thus restricted : SCSI or UDMA. UDMA 66 points the tip of its nose but no drive can yet really exploit it. A very good UDMA 33 drive remains a good choice. We can see from time to time in test benches, some UDMA drives that almost don't have anything to envy to their SCSI colleagues,if it weren't for the CPU's load factor that remains higher.

If you don't know very well what differentiates a technology from another,read this page, signed Martin BOYER which explains you all about SCSI and UDMA.

So, select a very good UDMA drive or straightforwardly a SCSI one. SCSI is more expensive but you will gain in performances, that's for sure. Size ? Oh, don't think you'll have enough. With the arrival of 24 Bits / 96 KHz soundcards, 10 GB seems to be a vital minimum and still isn't really. The ideal always being to devote a full drive to Audio files...

The graphics card

What to say except the fact that one is necessary? Ha Ha! Any 2D card will make the deal. If you have the means, take two cards and two screens !

Windows 95 ou 98

Here there's still a thing that didn't change so much : we have gone in vain from version 95 to version 98, Windows is always the source of many passions and hatreds. While waiting, we don't have any choice. Even if Linux seems to want to take off, nothing is announced from Steinberg about porting VST to this OS. As for BeOS, Steinberg launched the porting of Nuendo but put it to a halt last month, while waiting to know what Be Inc really wants to do. And our BeOS survey didn't change anything : Steinberg doesn't consider porting Cubase to BeOS ! So, we're left with our old Windows. The opinions are divided : there are people who swear only by W 98, as known for being more stable and less "blue screen of death", whereas others claim that the 95 OSR2 is the best ever released.

Still there is Windows 2000... Even Billy's largest critics reluctantly acknowledge that this new version of NT is cool. But the soundcards drivers are not all available, far from so, and moreover my first tests emphasized problems with Midi/Audio sync. In any case, Steinberg indicated to us that they don't support Windows 2000 yet as far as Cubase (Cubase 3.x !) is concerned.

In short, it's Windows 95 or 98. Marvellous choice !

So the basic ideal config as of February 2000 would be :

  • Pentium III, Athlon AMD or Celeron runing at about 500 MHz
  • a 10 GB Ultra DMA hard drive
  • 128 MB of RAM
  • a graphics card displaying 65536 colors
  • Windows 95 or 98

As far as price is concerned, I am of the opinion that nothing changes in fact. Let's not even mention PCs at 3,990 francs but to make us laugh! A good config, having last technologies always costs between 12 and 15,000 francs. Two years ago, for that amount you had a P2 233, today you have a P3 700. But the price didn't move !

To get assistance on the installation of Cubase and the maintenance of your PC, you can consult the new pages :

  1. Configuring Cubase and Windows
  2. A PC ready for Cubase (Defragmenting)
  3. 20 tips for Windows

Pascal VALENTIN, on the 11-02-2000

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