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Extreme Makeover

Transforming an aging audio production workstation into a Dual Core monster for about a grand By Frank Moldstad

Intel's Dual Core Pentium D
Every couple of years I give my main audio production computer an extreme makeover, which effectively makes it a new computer. In fact, I’ve had the same computer case through three operating systems now – but the case is practically the only thing that remains constant.

I did this again recently, replacing the motherboard, CPU, RAM, power supply, and other assorted components. The transformation practically doubled the machine’s performance for an outlay of about $1,000. The “new” Intel Dual Core computer is Windows x64-ready, and includes cutting-edge technologies such as SATA and PCI Express, but still accommodates legacy IDE and PCI devices.

It replaces a once- blazing dual processor Athlon 2000 MP+ machine based on a Tyan Thunder K7 motherboard that was stable and chugged along pretty well. But it had some increasingly important drawbacks. For one, it was happy running Windows 2000 Professional, and no amount of BIOS flashing or other remedies could convince it to accept an upgrade to Windows XP Professional, which I bought six months ago for $199 and couldn’t use.

This was a serious problem, because more and more professional PC audio software is XP-only, such as Cakewalk’s SONAR 5 and Adobe Audition 2 – in fact, the entire Adobe Production suite now requires Windows XP. Since Microsoft itself no longer officially supports Windows 2000, developers will be dropping Win 2K compatibility at an increasingly rapid rate. And, of course, Windows x64 is already upon us – with huge benefits for extended memory use.

So the system I built – or rebuilt – has one foot in the present and one foot in the future. All told, the makeover cost me about $1,000, which isn’t chump change, but it’s a lot less than buying a new ready-made computer. The major decision was what kind of motherboard to get, because from there all things would follow. In the end, I chose an ASUS P5WD2-E Premium motherboard ($240). There were several reasons for this.

ASUS P5WD2-E Premium motherboard
One, the motherboard had three legacy PCI slots, which was the bare minimum for my needs. There are three PCI cards that remain vital to my workflow, a UAD-1 plug-in processing PCI card, an RME Hammerfall Digiface PCI interface, and an Adaptec 2940 Ultra-SCSI PCI card. I love the quality of the UAD-1 plugins, and the card’s onboard processing takes a load off the computer CPU. The RME Hammerfall Digiface is a 24-bit/96k 24-channel interface with a breakout box that connects to other devices in my setup via optical cables. And the Adaptec card is necessary for connecting an internal SCSI hard drive frame that I use for swapping out removable drives.

Two, the ASUS motherboard supports both Serial ATA (SATA) and IDE drives. Although SATA offers blazing throughput speeds, I have almost a terabyte of Ultra ATA Seagate Barracuda storage that I didn’t want to sacrifice. In the future, I can upgrade to SATA devices as I go along.

And three, the motherboard is built for Pentium D Dual Core processors. This was the most important forward-looking aspect of the whole deal, because it allowed me to select the Pentium D 930 CPU ($360), which features Intel’s EM64T for compatibility with Windows x64.  

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Related Keywords:audio production, Intel, dual core, Pentium D, computer, Asus, SONAR 5, Adobe Audition 2

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  • Extreme Makeover by DMN Editorial at Apr. 18, 2006 8:37 pm gmt (Rec'd 2)

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