What are the ideal computer requirements for an electronic music producer? That’s like asking what the length of a piece of string is. Your needs depend on your intended tasks and whether you will primarily use software synthesizers, drum samples, loops, or orchestral samples.
The amount of RAM is one of the most critical concerns. Eight GB would typically be sufficient for projects with up to 25 audio tracks, a few virtual instruments, effects plugins, and sound effects. For a project with 30 to 60 tracks and large orchestral samples, you should have at least 18 GB.
It is essential to know how much RAM you need to build a computer for music production. It would also help know what purpose RAM serves and how it interacts with the other components of your system. Arming yourself with this information will enable you to build a high-performance computer that meets your requirements.
What you need to know about RAM
RAM or Random Access Memory is the short-term memory of your computer. It is used to store information and lets you interact with applications. RAM transfers data much faster than your hard drive. However, all data stored in it is lost when the computer is switched off.
Computers can have anywhere from 4GB to 128GB of RAM. Most users start out with 4GB or 8GB and upgrade to 16 GB or 32GB as needed.
It is important to note that plenty of RAM won’t necessarily make your computer faster. However, it will prevent it from operating more slowly if you have multiple programs running.
How do you check how much RAM is installed on your computer? Go to system information and scroll down the list until you get to Installed Physical Memory. This is how much RAM you have on your computer.
For Mac users, this information can be found by clicking on the Apple icon at the top left corner of your screen. Select “About This Mac”, and you can see the size and specifications of your RAM next to the ‘Memory’ heading.
Mac users could also click on the “Go” button and select ‘Utilities” to get to the ‘Memory’ tab. From here, they can see how much memory their system is using and how many processes are running.
Windows users can find the necessary information by clicking on Task Manager and selecting ‘Memory’. From here, you can tell how much RAM your system is using when running your music production applications. Ideally, your memory usage should be less than 70% of the installed memory.
Types of RAM
Most modern computers use double-data-rate (DDR) RAM, which allows for multiple simultaneous file transfers. DDR4 RAM is the current benchmark, with transfer speeds of up to 25 gigabytes per second. DDR5 RAM, which is poised to replace DDR4 RAM, will allow file transfers of up to 50 gigabytes per second.
The speed of the RAM varies even within the same RAM type. DDR4 Ram currently runs at speeds of 2330 MHz (megahertz) to 5000 MHz, although 2500 MHz is most common. The higher the MHz rating, the faster the processing speed.
You don’t necessarily need the fastest RAM to improve your computer’s performance since processing speed depends on many other factors. The speed at which applications are processed is only marginally influenced by RAM speed. The processor and hard disk that you use will have more impact on your production speed.
How CPU affects performance
The CPU is the processor that controls the various components of the computer system. It processes instructions and operates the system and all your applications.
Most early computer CPUs had only a single processing core. Modern CPUs have at least two processing cores (dual-core) or even four processing cores (quad-core). There are even CPUs with six processing cores called Hexa-cores and some with eight processing cores called Octa-cores.
Some computers may even have more than one CPU with multiple processing cores. These computers may have as many as 12 to 16 processing cores.
The number of cores in a computer has a significant effect on the performance of the computer. All factors being equal, an Intel i5 computer with a quad-core processor will outperform an Intel i7 computer with a dual-core processor.
Because RAM is becoming cheaper and cheaper all the time, it is often advisable to start with the least amount of RAM you can get away with, which for most users is 8GB. You can then upgrade your RAM as your needs dictate.
On the other hand, you cannot upgrade your CPU as easily. You would therefore be better off getting a powerful CPU at the outset. For music production, a dual-core or quad-core is highly recommended.
CPU benchmark (score)
The score is the result of a series of tests measuring the performance of a computer CPU. At the very least, a CPU should have a score of at least 3500. If you want to use it for music production, a score of 7000 or higher is recommended.
CPUs for music production
Two CPU manufacturers, AMD and Intel, have dominated the CPU market for many years. Both manufacturers offer a range of CPUs that are suitable for music production.
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 ($226)
The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is an inexpensive Hexa-core CPU. A 12-thread processor with an included cooler, it delivers 2,581 single-threaded performance score and has a CPU mark of 17,827.
Intel Core i3 10100 ($115)
If you are on a budget and prefer Intel over AMD, this would be an excellent choice. A quad-core CPU with an 8-thread processor, it delivers 2,646 single-threaded performance and has a CPU mark of 9,021. The 10100 is capable of speeds of up to 4.3 GHz.
AMD Ryzen 7 2700X ($213)
The AMD Ryzen 7 2700X is an Octa-core, 16-thread CPU that delivers sufficient performance for most applications. A reasonably-priced option, it operates at a frequency of 3.8 MHZ and can be boosted to 4.3 MHZ. The 2700X has a CPU mark of 22,709.
Intel Core i5 10600K ($288)
The Intel Core i5 10600K is a mid-range Hexa-core processor that delivers sufficient performance for most applications. It operates at a frequency of 4.1 MHZ and can be boosted to 4.8MHZ. The 10600K has a CPU score of 14,951.
Hard drives for music production
The hard disk drive (HDD) serves as the primary storage device for your computer. It reads and writes data on a spinning disk, hence the name. Solid-state drives (SSD) store data in flash memory in the same way as a USB flash drive but reads and writes data at much faster speeds.
Because SSDs do not have moving parts, they transfer data four to five times faster than mechanical drives. A 7200 RPM HDD will transfer data at a rate of 80-160 MB/s. The top speed of SSDs is approximately 3,500 MB/s.
SSDs also tend to be more durable than mechanical drives and are more likely to withstand impact. Although they are more expensive than mechanical drives, their increased durability and faster speeds make them excellent options for music producers. And with newer SSDs capable of storing up to 4 TB of data, there is no reason not to go for an SSD in your main music computer.
Here are some of the benefits of using an SSD for your music computer:
- System startup will take seconds rather than minutes
- Music applications will launch more quickly
- Virtual instruments and plugins will load faster
- You will experience fewer lags when using sample-heavy virtual instruments
- You will experience fewer glitches and stutters when playing back audio tracks
Ideal SSD size for music production
A 500GB SSD is a good choice for music production. An SSD of this capacity gives you enough space for your operating system, music production software, plugins, and audio files. It even provides enough space for sizable sound libraries and project files.
SSDs are generally lower maintenance than mechanical drives, but they do benefit from proper usage. It is good practice to back-up data to an external disk periodically to keep your disk from getting filled. This helps improve performance and ensures that you have a copy of your crucial data.
It’s also a good idea to defrag your disk regularly. When you delete files, clusters of data are left throughout the disk. Defragging moves the clusters to the beginning of the disk, making it easier to read. This helps improve read and write speeds and consequently boosts disk performance.