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Desktop PC Recommendation

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by Fastnbulbous, Mar 5, 2018.
  1. Fastnbulbous
    Several years ago I had great luck with an HP Envy. It served me well for nearly 5 years which is really good for a PC. However when I upgraded to a more recent model, it was a dud, all sorts of problems with running low on memory (despite doubling the RAM and processing power of the older machine), static and other issues through my USB DAC.

    I thought it was just a fluke, so I foolishly got another Envy in Aug 2016, this one with an Intel Core i7-6700, 12GB RAM, 2TB HD, etc. It sucks even worse. I think part of the issue is that as my music collection grows to over 6TB, between my MediaMonkey and Logitech Media Server reindexing nearly every day, it's left gasping for memory and I need to reboot it multiple times a day or it starts degrading the signal sent through USB to my DAC in the form of static. Also now my LMS is making horrible noise in between songs.

    I'm going to try out Roon for my multi-room music management, and read that it's recommended to have a fast SSD drive, so I probably need to upgrade either way.

    I DO NOT want to build my own. I tried that once and it was the worst three months of my life. I hate that stuff, hate troubleshooting. I just want something that works. I don't want a Mac either.

    Normally I don't pay more than $800 since the lifespan is so short on these, but will go higher this time if needed.

    Requirements, minimum 4 USB3, decent CD drive to rip audio (horizontal, not vertical), 250-500GB SSD, Quad Core i7, 16GB RAM. I wonder if there are any that have two sets of USBs on different buses? It's been mentioned that can create problems when it's accessing an 8TB external drive for the music files, then outputting audio via USB on same bus.
  2. d34dj3d1
    You may not want to build your own but for what you want it would be your best bet.
  3. onevstheworld
    Pick your parts and just get the store to build it for you... you'll find off the shelf brands like HP will skimp on the non-headline parts (e.g. MB, PSU). Other option is to go with a boutique builder.
  4. Fastnbulbous
    Guys! No! My repeated first hand experiences with custom built machines is that they have nothing but problems. Different parts in the PC world inexplicably do not work well together even when they should. There's something to be said for established setups that have been thoroughly tested and have support. Years ago a well-meaning colleague in IT had a powerful machine custom built to render video and multitask. It repeatedly failed and had to be serviced. At the end of it's troubled 1.5 year run, the $5K+ machine literally ignited on fire.

    I don't think there's even any place that does custom builds around here. Microcenter closed and is online only, but I wouldn't trust them to assemble anything. So, no. Gaming machines seem to have what I'm looking for. I'm looking at Alienware right now.
  5. canthearyou
    Alienware is Dell. Good luck!
  6. Fastnbulbous
    So helpful. I'm aware of their connection with Dell. I've been researching reviews and user feedback and it's consistently high. I don't see any better suggestions so far.
  7. onevstheworld
    Regarding boutique builders, Origin PC is the only NA company that I know of, but I'm sure there are others.

    Have you tried asking on PC forums?
  8. d34dj3d1
    Your "continued problems with custom built machines" is most likely due to the fact that you have no clue what you're looking at or what parts to buy. The statement you made about how parts don't work together even though they should proves that. Yes, there is something to be said about "established setups" and whats to be said is they're put together with the same parts that you claim "inexplicably do not work well together even when they should".

    I'm also going to go ahead and call BS on your comment about your "well meaning colleague in IT" If the guy was in IT why did he have to have the machine built for him? Why couldn't he have done it himself and further more. Again, if he was in IT wouldn't he also know exactly what parts to buy and whether or not they would work?

    t seems to me that you came here not looking for advice but to try to make yourself sound like you know better then the people who you asked for advice and just didn't get the answer you wanted. Also BTW, Alienware is overpriced garbage so you go ahead and stick with your "established setups".
    Reckless95 likes this.
  9. Fastnbulbous
    Wow. My first machine I built at the insistence of a friend who does that kind of stuff. I bought the parts per his advice, but just couldn't make it work. He kindly bought the parts off me to make it work himself, but he had a lot of trouble too, an industry pro with decades of experience. He had to start over and replace a couple components. Sometimes there's just a part that doesn't behave with others like they should and it takes a lot of time to troubleshoot. I don't have that kind of time. My work colleague built the other machine for me. He was the hardware guy, and of course he knew what he was doing more than me. The custom built machine should have worked, and it did, sometimes. But there were constant issues. I'm sure that doesn't always happen, but I'd prefer not to risk it.

    I clearly stated what kind of help I'm asking for and what I'm not in the original post, not sure why you're getting sulky and insulting Mr. Deadhead. I find it hard to believe there isn't a single company capable of assembling good, reliable PCs.

    Alienware is just one of the ones I was looking for, and while it is highly rated, I'm considering others. Origin was what I was looking at last night, thanks onevstheworld.
  10. Fastnbulbous
    I thought if I started with this forum I've been on for 12 years, with friends who might want to spend more time enjoying music than tinkering with PC hardware, I might get people sharing good customer experience stories rather than insulting my intelligence. That of course wasn't you, onevstheworld!
  11. ZMG885
    Short answer: Yes. You can buy a reliable, long-lasting PC with the specs you listed, but you need to look in the right place, and that would be desktop workstations sold to corporations for media, CAD and video production. You will want to up your budget a little bit. Here is my recommendation: An HP Z240 Series Tower Workstation $1200 at B&H photo (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1363213-REG/hp_2vn35ut_aba_z240_tower_e3_1245_3_7ghz.html). An alternative for something to lay flat to have a horizontal CD tray is the HP Z240 ZFF (Zero Form Factor) (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1383488-REG/hp_z240_series_sff_workstation.html) at a similar price point. Note: the 3.7 GHz Intel Xeon E3-1245 v6 Quad-Core is equivalent to an i7 core but has integrated GPU and can support ECC memory.

    I have a Z240 ZFF I bought in 2013 from B&H and it has run flawlessly. I needed something for day-trading with real-time data access I could leave on 24/7 so I run 32Gb of ECC memory. I run 3 monitors off of the integrated Intel GPU without a hitch.

    Longer answer: Workstations sold to corporations are PC makers best kept secret. They don't really cost that much more than the one's you see in Best Buy, but are designed and certified for heavy use, contain a minimal amount of bloatware and have much better designed cases and a list of certified addons. Tech support is better. No, the cases don't have see-through glass, multi-colored LCDs lighting up translucent cooling tubes. Nor will they come with the lastest incarnation of NVidia's gaming GPU, but they are well designed for cooling, quiet and designed for internal access. Even under load, I can't hear my Z240 running. If you want to add gaming, then add a certified GPU card, but from your specs, you don't need that so money better spent on other features. The internal graphics will work just fine.

    Someone will chime in and say you could build one for much less money. Let's address that. Before I found the HP Z240 I was convinced I had to build one myself. I used to do this for a living so I wasn't shy about getting it done right. I listed my specs and went about finding the parts that would work. I really didn't want to mess with water cooling so that limited some parameters including cases. The challenge was finding a decent case that wasn't butt ugly, or make my head spin trying to fit parts, had good access and was QUIET. Easier said than done. I had about 50 hours of research and three potential configurations, when I realized I was going to have a giant box I didn't want, and wouldn't be quiet (and yes, I scanned dozens of sights including quiet pc for research.... i'm picky). At that point, I was ready to go back to running Windows 7 in a virtual machine on my Mac when I discovered the HP workstations. Looking at the specs they were at most $200 over my build cost, would do everything I needed to do with a solid warranty. So I jumped on one and have never regretted the decision.

    Another point to consider. This type of PC should last much longer than 4 years, unless something fails and can't be replaced. CPUs have reached their zenith, and we're unlikely to see a push in data paths beyond 64bit for the forseeable future. The lastest and greatest CPUs from intel are only slightly faster than even 3 generations ago, with most gains coming in heat disipation and some instruction optimizations. But if you're not overclocking, then even a hot CPU like the i7 class should run for years and years. The big push in consumer PC sales growth is the GPU trying to run games at increasing higher frame rates on high-definition screens. It's a big market driver right now, and there are newer and newer generations of GPU coming from nVidia and AMD dramatically improving speed on the last. If you've got a solid workstation design and build, you can add that if needed, so your box will not become obsolete in four years. I could be wrong, but I've routinely gotten over 6 years out of every PC and Mac I've owned.

    Hope that helps.
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2018
    Fastnbulbous likes this.
  12. Fastnbulbous
    Thanks for taking the time with the long thoughtful answer!

    With Origin I was really warming to the idea of having two SSD drives. It seems the faster access speeds and stability would avoid some of the issues I've had with slow reboots and programs freezing on me while doing seemingly simple functions like updating tags on a handful of albums. But you are correct, I'm no gamer and don't need the video stuff, even if VR sounds interesting. B&H has options to customize too, so I will reach out to them.

    Also, does anyone have a favorite program for auto nightly backups of updated music files?
  13. onevstheworld
    If whatever you get does come with a discrete GPU, you can always sell it and use the iGPU (assuming your CPU has integrated graphics)... mid to high end GPU prices have been pretty steep because of the demand from Bitcoin miners. May drop off soon since crypto prices aren't a one-way bet anymore. Removing your GPU may even reduce the amount of EM noise inside your PC.
  14. ProtegeManiac Contributor
    Just note though that the reason why many build their own is that you get better parts for the money. For prebuilts you have to pay the assembly costs.

    Reliability sucks for a number of reasons related to cooling, which impacts reliability:
    1. You can get Core i7 and GTX 1070 and such, but outside of Asus commonly providing a decent graphics card, the motherboards all tend to be crap. VRM and chipset cooling are practically just a little bit better than the heatsink blocks you can get off Amazon.
    2. The RAM sticks don't even come with heatsinks.
    3. The CPU cooler is usually what comes in the processor box instead of something that can draw more heat away from the CPU, like a 240mm or 280mm wide, dual fan radiator, or a giant tower cooler (installation on these sucks but people still use them so as not to worry about liquid cooler leaks).
    4. Mainstream brand PC prebuilts use the worst possible cases for airflow. There is very limited airflow so there's less air to get the heat off, and what air that does make it in isn't getting filtered properly (add to that most people who buy prebuilts don't open them up to clean them, so that dust accumulates and further reduces cooling capacity).

    Since you can go higher than $800 you might as well look into gaming PC builders. They'll at least use cases with proper airflow, albeit larger than prebuilts that sometimes use the same chassis they sell for office PCs (ie those that don't need graphics cards can be mounted to the back of a monitor). They'll set up the bios fan profile too so you don't need to tweak the fan profile - just have them set it to Silent profile (even the preset on modern motherboards will work, they just aren't the default setting when you boot it up); the fans will ramp up depending on temperature build up anyway (ie workload or hot ambient temp), and the filters on modern cases are easier to access for cleaning. The only real added expense here is that when you order one the orders will include a graphics card, but you could probably find one that pairs an i7 to a GTX 1060. These typically use liquid coolers now, but if you're not stressing the CPU or having the GPU dump a lot of hot air in the case, you're not getting the water in there hot enough for permeation to be a problem.

    Speaking of i7 - they're no longer Quad Core for desktop units. They're Hexacore now, and AFAIK all the U-series mobile CPUs are now quads, and the Y-series for fanless ultrathins still have Dual Cores but now come with Hyperthreading. So overall they're a lot better for multi-tasking albeit running lower clocks speeds. Turbo speeds are faster and unless you're using a software that doesn't trigger turbo mode efficiently (like some CPU-heavy games) this is the better way to do it (ie why gamers just overclock the CPU, basically running at more than the stock turbo setting all the time, but they also tend to invest more in CPU cooling).

    If you totally don't need a graphics card, you can check if any of the prebuilt makers can make you one in a fanless chassis that doubles as its heatsink (see https://www.hdplex.com/) so you won't have to deal with dust getting past filters (you just need to wipe the exterior whenever you clean the house, not stack anything on them, etc). AFAIK, Frys charges a fee for assembly, so if you're near one you can go there and show the tech the fanless chassis website and have them check if they have motherboards that can fit in them. Best part is they're smaller than the more common, more affordable gaming PCs that tend to use ATX size motherboards.
    Fastnbulbous likes this.
  15. Fastnbulbous
    The HDPLEX fanless chassis is very slick. I've been eyeing the be quiet! Silent Base 800.

    I noticed that the Origin systems pay close attention to to cooling using a variety of liquid systems. Even with some of those options, I could get close to what I want for around $2,000. When I said more than $800, I was expecting around $1,500, which would definitely be doable with the less sexy workstations available at B&H. When I spec out the parts of exactly what I'd want, it's still over $1,800. I've temporarily resolved a couple issues with my current machine by reinstalling a couple programs, so I'll have some time to research and figure it out.

    Here's my part list. Not all prices and parts are exact, it's just what was in the list. For example, for some reason it didn't list the Seagate 8TB Barracuda ST8000DM004 drive that's available for $193, or the be quiet! Straight Power 800W Gold Certified Semi Modular power supply for $130.

    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018

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