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Q. How powerful a PC do I really need?

I've been a reader of your very fine magazine for about a year now. I'm essentially a drummer, but have also been getting into a bit of writing and recording for the last two years or so. I currently use a Yamaha MD4 multitrack and Yamaha QY70 sequencer, with Alesis outboard effects, but I now want to get into the computer side of recording, and am being told that I need different things by different people. I'm confused!

I have a trusty old PC (64Mb RAM, 10.5Gb hard drive, Celeron 500 Processor), which I know I'll have to upgrade to use Cubase VST. However, I'm confused as to whether to upgrade or buy a new package, as I've been told the upgrade I'll need will cost approximately £1200. Does this sound right? I've been told I need: a Pentium 4 1.5GHz Processor, 256Mb RAM, 20Gb hard drive, 7200rpm hard drive for audio, Yamaha 16x10x40 SCSI CD rewriter, PCI SCSI‑II Card with external connector, and a Midiman Delta 66 soundcard.

What do you think? I have specifically asked for the Delta 66 because I want to record directly into Cubase and bypass the MD4, which seems to be the most logical way, and I need the CDR to master to. Someone else told me to upgrade to 128Mb RAM and that my processor was fine.

I have seen some good packages at both Digital Village and Turnkey (the Carillon stuff), and think if it is going to cost as much as quoted I may as well buy one of these.

Kev Paver

PC specialist Martin Walker replies: There are always an awful lot of 'experts' out there that will tell you what you really need, but in many cases they will be wrong. In your case the true answer lies somewhere between the two extreme ones you've been given already.

Although your existing Celeron 500MHz with 64Mb of RAM and a 10.5Gb hard drive is seriously underpowered to run Cubase VST to the max with lots of software plug‑in effects, if you have modest requirements in this department, or are happy to record effects 'on the way in', using your existing rack units, you could certainly scrape along by simply upgrading your RAM to 128Mb. However, this might be a suitable opportunity to upgrade to a new PC if you can afford it — after all, there's nothing more frustrating than having your songwriting compromised by lack of options at the writing, arranging and mixdown stages.

However, I very much doubt that you would need a new PC of the spec you've quoted, just to get into the computer side of things. To put this into perspective, I've recently put together a new PC for my own music, as well as for reviewing all the latest hardware and software packages for SOS, and this 'only' has a Pentium III 1GHz processor, although it does have 256Mb of RAM, two 30Gb 7200rpm EIDE hard drives (one for audio), a Yamaha CRW8424 EIDE CD‑RW drive, and Echo Mia and Yamaha SW1000XG soundcards.

In my opinion, a Pentium 4 1.5GHz processor is far more than most musicians will need, unless they intend to run soft synths for the majority of their music. However, your proposed hard‑drive spec sounds fine, although a 30Gb drive is preferable for storing loads of audio files, and will probably cost exactly the same. 256Mb is an excellent amount of RAM for a musician, and is currently a bargain at less than £50.

The Yamaha CDRW drive also sounds fine to me, but I personally wouldn't bother with a SCSI version, or the PCI SCSI Host Adapter. I have used both in the past, but unless you specifically need the external connector to attach other external SCSI gear, modern IDE CDRW drives should provide excellent performance without the added complication of SCSI, which can itself throw up more than its fair share of problems at times. You also retain an extra PCI slot for other uses, as well as an extra IRQ, which will all make future expansion simpler.

The Delta 66 is a high‑quality soundcard with four analogue inputs and outputs (I reviewed it in SOS January 2001), and is especially versatile when coupled with M Audio's Omni, which adds mic and high‑impedance preamps suitable for guitar. If you want to record in this way, direct into Cubase, this combination might be more suitable, although if you intend to mic up your drum kit you'll probably need to use a minimum of four mics and suitable preamps, so buying a small mixer and the Delta 66 might make more sense. However, if you're only intending to record one line‑level instrument at a time then you'll only need a stereo in/stereo out soundcard such as M Audio's Audiophile 2496, Terratec's EWX24/96, or Marian's Marc 2, and can save yourself some money in the process.

Finally, buying a complete system from Carillon or Digital Village does mean that your PC will arrive ready‑configured for music‑making, and if you already have a suitable monitor and Cubase you may be able to buy one of their 'bare bones' systems at a much cheaper price.