I've been making music for awhile, and until recently, I've never been gifted with great hardware. My laptop was the cheapest deal money could buy, and my desktop was an off-the-shelf bargain. Never once have I ever had a 'great' machine. Because of this, when making music, I've always learned to make the best of what I had. I didn't see any problem dealing with little nuances like popping noises, long waits while rendering audio, etc. It was all just minor frustrations that could be worked out given the time.
Recently, that very outlook on my hardware changed for me when I discovered potential business in composing and recording music. While I've always made minor upgrades here and there (i.e: a little more RAM, a USB audio interface with more audio inputs, etc), nothing really changed workflow. I always dealt with hangups. My HDD was 7200RPM, I was running Vista 32bit so I could only run about 3.5GB of RAM, and my processor was an AMD 2.9ghz dual core processor (the best processor my motherboard could support.) No wonder I was getting hangups!
I'm not saying my PC was a piece of junk or weak, but it was no beast either. I've been making music for people in a business capacity for about a year now and I've always delivered a quality product. However, when my latest client asked for something my machine couldn't handle, I became frustrated to a point where I decided I NEEDED a new machine.
I shopped around looking at various PC's, from Windows machines to Macs. I like Mac Pro's because of their cable-less design, and could rest assured that if anything went wrong with either my hardware OR software, I could just contact Apple. However, I didn't have $3k+ to spend.
I like Windows machines with Windows 7 because I'm used to it. I've used Windows 7 many times and I knew it would be a smooth transition. Also, for a good machine for my needs, I'd pay about half the cost of a Mac Pro. The only issue is when I buy from a company like HP, I have no say in the motherboard, and most company's install useless software no one likes that just eat up RAM.
So, I decided to build a machine. While I wanted to keep price in mind, I also wanted to make sure I got a quality product. I already had a 1TB HDD with all my virtual instruments on it, plus an empty 40GB SSD and an OEM copy of Windows 7. I needed a new case, PSU, motherboard, RAM, processor, and disk drive.
So, I went to newegg and got the following:
Total cost: $617.43
Needless to say, this beat out the price of ANY retail PC with similar specs. I went from 3.5GB of RAM to 8, Windows Vista on a 7200RPM HDD to Windows 7 64-bit on a SSD, 2.9GHz Dual core to 3.0 6-core processor, and I have an overall BEAUTIFUL looking machine.
The difference? No more pops in audio processing, windows boots in about 2 seconds as apposed to 2-5 minutes (this includes the amount of time it takes to connect to the internet wirelessly), and I can run 3 dozen CPU intensive audio plugins without peaking the CPU or using half the installed RAM.
Workflow is amazing. If you're getting into recording, and you're looking for an off-the-shelf bargain like I once did, you're going to run into snags that will annoy you over time. I still have the outlook "make the best of what you have" but I did that already, I needed an upgrade, and this made the difference.
In conclusion, if you're having hang ups and pops from your CPU spiking, look into upgrading your machine or getting a new one, because when making music, hardware matters.