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DAW Components

Last updated March 21st, 2014

As a rule, Steinberg software runs on all standard computers, provided that these satisfy the system requirements printed on the given product’s package. Happily, you’ll see that today's market offers a computer to suit every application and budget. Affordable computers for smaller projects are readily available, as are highly specialized multiprocessor systems for professional applications in the music and movie industries.

Depending on what you wish to accomplish with the software, your computing demands may entail special requirements. These requirements hinge upon the type of project you intend to work on. Several performance-related factors figure prominently, such as sample rate and bit depth, as well as the number of tracks, plug-ins, instrument voices and effects used in a project. So, if you need a computer to realize elaborate projects, ask yourself this question: 

"Which computer is right for my application?"

To answer this, you must first determine what it is you want the computer system to do. Depending on the tasks you have in mind, you may be looking at very different hardware requirements: If you wish to employ many VST instruments, happiness lies in fast hard drives, acres of RAM real estate, and a relatively fast processor. If your focus is on pure audio recording, a fast hard disk with a slightly slower processor can get the job done nicely, contingent upon the number of tracks and format. Be sure to take your working environment into account when weighing the relative merits of systems. By and large, you’ll find that the more powerful the system, the higher the noise level. The reason for this is that higher-performance hardware generally necessitates more intense cooling. And if you’re aiming to go mobile without mains power to tie you down, be aware that frequently a fast laptop equipped with a gaming-enabled graphics card adversely affects system latency because it draws a lot more power from the battery pack. Lesson learned: The fastest system is not always your first choice!

Help is near if you feel that your projects may entail special demands. To assist you in pinpointing the computer system that is right for you, you’ll find some vital tips below that complement the information on Steinberg products’ individual system requirements as indicated on product pages and packaging. This supplementary info will help you zero in on and choose the right computer system and rise to every challenge a project may pose using Steinberg products.

  • Processors
  • Chipsets
  • Hard Drives
  • Random Access Memory
  • Audio Cards
  • Graphic Cards
  • Operating Systems

Processors

Steinberg products work excellently with the standard processors found in PC and Mac computers today. When selecting a processor, speed certainly counts because it has such a tremendous impact on many processes within the computer. This is why Steinberg applications support multiprocessor/multicore systems and enable very high performance. Below you can find an excerpt of current processors/systems that can cope with today's demands and large projects. If you feel the need to upgrade your DAW, take a closer look at the hardware listed below. Nevertheless, it is of course possible to use an Intel Core 2 Quad system or an older Apple Mac Mini depending on the environment and workload.

AMD Processors
Model Category Cores
AMD A Mobile/Desktop 2-4
AMD Phenom II X4 Desktop 4
AMD Phenom II X6 Desktop 6
AMD FX Desktop 4-8
AMD Opteron Desktop 4-16
Intel Processors
Model Category Cores
Intel Core i3* Mobile/Desktop 2
Intel Core i5* Mobile/Desktop 2-4
Intel Core i7* Mobile/Desktop 2-6
Intel Xeon* Desktop 4-6
Apple Systems
Model Category Cores
MacBook Pro (Intel Core i5/i7)* Mobile 2-4
Mac Mini* Desktop 2-4
iMac (Intel Core i5/i7)* Desktop 2-4
Mac Pro* Desktop 4-12

* This processor supports Hyper-Threading. See details...

Chipsets

The chipset used on any motherboard is one of the most crucial components of a DAW (digital audio workstation). It handles all aspects of the communications between system components (e.g. processor, system busses, periphery) including the integration of the audio devices. Especially on the PC Windows platform there are several options available, including chipsets from Intel, AMD, and nVidia. However, we can tell from our own experiences that not all chipsets are equally suitable for demanding audio applications. The need for low latencies and high data transfer rates for hard disks, audio cards and DSP cards can make one specific chipset or motherboard either completely inappropriate or highly recommended for audio production. As this is again a matter of compatibility between all hardware components rather than between our applications and the hardware, we recommend that you contact the manufacturers of the audio and/or DSP cards of your choice. They can provide all the necessary information on compatible and recommended chipsets as well as the chipsets you should avoid. A well configured and compatible hardware is the most important basis for being able to work satisfactorily with our applications!

Hard Drives and Solid State Disks

As a rule, Steinberg products may be employed in connection with every hard disk or Solid State Disk found in contemporary computers. The capacity to enable elaborate projects involving many audio tracks and serve as a delivery medium for sample content destined for VST instruments that work with disk streaming technology hinges upon the following factors:

  • Hard Drives
    Rotational speed:
     Some manufacturers equip their laptops with 5,400 RPM (rounds per minute) hard disks, and they deliver acceptable performance in terms of the audio track count. If you’re looking for professional-grade performance for audio systems running scores of tracks, you will find what you’re seeking in laptops sporting 7,200 RPM hard disks or Solid State Disks (see below). Another option for attaining sufficient hard disk performance is to choose an external hard disk offering good data throughput and connect it via Thunderbolt, FireWire or USB 2.0/3.0.
    If you’re in the market for a desktop system, avoid hard disks that run slower than 7,200 RPM. Hard disks rated for 7,200 RPM normally deliver the data throughput required to enable elaborate audio projects with many tracks and at the same time furnish sample data to VST instruments. Bear in mind, though, that this is one of those cases were more is indeed better. For example, S-ATA (see below) 10,000 RPM hard disks or SAS hard disks (see below) with up to 15,000 RPM can certainly help prevent throughput bottlenecks. Another strategy for boosting audio data throughput entails using several hard disks. Experience teaches that partitioning makes good sense: Dedicate one hard drive or Solid State Disk to the operating system and installed applications, and the other to audio data. If you wish to make extensive of use of sampler plug-ins, you could even devote a further hard disk exclusively to sample content delivery.
    For some time now, so-called hybrid hard disks that utilize additional internal flash memory are an interesting alternative. These devices combine the advantages of an affordable price tag with an improved performance compared to regular hard disks. The flash part of these "SSHDs" shorten the access times to access the disk content by caching often used data. Apple's "Fusion Drives" make use of this combination as well and can be found in many systems at least as an option.

  • Solid State Disks (SSD)
    Solid State Disks offer the best performance by far. SSDs use flash technology exclusively and thus do not need any mechanical components. The advantages are obvious: the access times are much lower than those of regular hard disks and the data transfer rate is usually higher which makes them the first choice for sample content streaming. In addition, they are extremely robust and silent. However, SSDs are still rather expensive and most do not offer the same storage capacity as conventional hard disks. When using SSDs, Windows 7 or Windows 8 should be the preferred operating system as they automatically detect a SSD and make certain optimizations for best performance (e.g. disable defragmentation, support of the TRIM feature). TRIM support on Mac OS X has been activated with Mac OS X 10.6.8 for Apple's own SSDs. Third party SSDs will still have to work without TRIM or it has to be activated manually for the time being.

Cache: Hard drives come with a buffer memory called a cache. It also influences hard disks’ access speed. In the main it can be said that the bigger the cache, the better the hard disk’s capacity to handle large amounts of data. Large cache sizes have proven very useful for applications in the audio field. If you wish to use the hard disk for streaming sample content, be mindful of its cache size. Along with rotational speed, cache size has an immediate impact on the amount of individual samples you can load at a time, say, while VST instruments (for example HALion) are being played. Currently, hard disks with 32 to 64 MB cache are the most common choice.

Interface: The access protocol for hard disks is particularly important if you want to run an audio workstation tweaked for top-drawer performance. ATA debuted as a parallel protocol, but a serial version (S-ATA) was introduced to replace it. It is the preferred standard used today for Mac and PC systems. S-ATA revision 2.0 and 3.0 are boasting even higher data throughput rates and optimized disk drive addressing (for example NCQ, short for Native Command Queuing, a related technology "borrowed" from the SCSI world).
SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) as the successor of SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) is also a very high-performance solution. However, the components are rather expensive and thus this option should only be considered in very special cases. If you are entertaining this notion, be aware that heat and noise build-up is a factor with such systems. If you intend to set up an ultra efficient media server for a studio network or carry out epic recording sessions with hundreds of tracks, SAS is certainly a good choice. Alternatively, you can connect several S-ATA hard disks in a RAID system and use it to serve the same purposes.

Random Access Memory

For Steinberg applications, nothing less than 2 GB RAM will do. However, all up-and-running applications and the operating system access the main memory at the same time, so installing more RAM is highly advisable. You may find that even sizable main memory acreage of 2 GB won’t suffice to deliver satisfactory system performance for larger projects. The reason for this is that VST instruments and audio projects load audio samples into the main memory and read them there. If you have don’t have much RAM installed, less material can be buffered there, and more data must be handled via the slower hard disks. This means access takes longer. Under normal conditions, Windows 32-bit editions can use up to 2 GB RAM whereas Mac OS X and Windows Vista/7/8 for 64-bit can address much more than that in connection with Steinberg’s current Cubase/Nuendo versions. More RAM definitely does good things for your system’s overall performance.

Audio Cards

Audio devices are available on the market today for all leading computer interface

  • USB 1.1
  • USB 2.0
  • USB 3.0
  • Firewire 400 (IEEE 1394)
  • Firewire 800 (IEEE 1394b)
  • PCIe
  • Thunderbolt

Now, which of these interfaces should you choose? That depends largely on the type of application and computer system. For example, most of today's systems  lack PCI slots. What’s important is that ASIO 2.0 (PC) or Core Audio (Mac) compatible drivers are available for whatever audio device you have set your sights on. These drivers serve to achieve very low latency on both platforms and are therefore highly recommended. Particularly when working with VST instruments and auditioning the recording signal via the software, driver-induced delay may not exceed a few milliseconds; anything higher is noticeable and quite annoying. Alongside a well-configured and powerful system, the audio card’s driver is one of the most vital components of a good DAW. It takes both to attain latency as low as 1.5 ms.

Graphic Cards

The dark days of incompatible graphics card drivers are for the most part history. All three leading graphics cards manufacturers today offer solid drivers, so these vendors’ products are viable options. All of them offer cards for multi-monitor setups. Some even offer HDMI and Display Port connectors in addition to DVI and VGA.

Video Engine
With the release of Cubase 5.5 and Nuendo 5, Steinberg introduced a completely overhauled video engine which is now able to utilize the GPU for scaling and playback of a video which is a noticeable improvement especially when dealing with HD material. There are some requirements that have to be met though:
The graphics card needs to support OpenGL 2.0 or higher and the correct (usually the latest) driver should be installed. However, the OpenGL 2.0 specification is available since late 2004 and almost all current desktop or laptop solutions support at least version 2.0.

A very comprehensive overview on the supported OpenGL versions can be found in the Wikipedia articles for AMD/ATInVidia and Intel.
But even without an OpenGL 2.0 capable card, you should be able to play back video files although the overall performance of the system will be reduced. In rare cases and with very old graphics cards, only the video import is available but no playback is possible. Our applications will display a dialog hinting at this. However, no system that meets the system requirements for current Nuendo or Cubase releases will have such outdated cards installed.

For details please have a look at the dedicated knowledge base article on the new video engine.

Operating systems for Apple computers

We generally recommend the current version of Apple's operating system. Unless noted otherwise in the system requirements of a specific product, this version is best suited for current Steinberg products.

Operating systems for PC systems

We recommend using Windows 7 or Windows 8 for our current product range. Please have a look at the system requirements on our website and on the product boxes for additional information!

Using a 64-bit edition is recommended.