Notes from the Shore

Work, marriage, kids and music

It Is Alive!

Finally, after several months of finagling, I have finished building my music computer. I can’t believe how many obstacles there were to overcome, and how many of them could have been more easily overcome by the application of additional money – but we work with the resources available. (Note: this is a very technical, geeky post. If you are only reading this for the music, skip the rest!)

This all started early this summer with the realization that I had pushed the limits of my existing system, and something had to change. The biggest problem was memory – I had filled up my 80 gig hard drive completely. After deleting everything I thought we could spare from the family computer, I still didn’t have enough memory free to install the new Garritan Steinway that I bought.

I started with a plea to friend and family that upgrade, shall we say, frequently. I ended up with a hand-me-down gamer system that absolutely screamed in it’s day. I installed a 500-gig SATA drive and a dual-layer DVD reader (just about all music software is delivered on DVD these days). Not having an operating system, I took advantage of the free Windows 7 release candidate and installed it. At least, I tried to.

Unable to get Windows 7 to install, I tried several versions of Linux – still no luck. I took it back to the friend who gave it to me, and he worked at it for a while. Finally he discovered that the memory was bad. Got that fixed, got the hardware in, and installed Windows. Loved the DVD drive, loved the SATA hard drive, didn’t have any luck with audio output. No matter how I set things, I got break-up and crackling.

In retrospect, I probably could have fixed it, but I was stuck on the fact that my “new” music computer had a 2-GHz Athalon processor, and my “old” Dell had a 3-GHz Pentium 4 – and I knew that it worked. So, I swapped. The gamer machine became my kid’s Internet computer, and the Dell would be repurposed to a dedicated music machine.

Mostly dedicated, I guess. It’s still connected to the Internet, and the larger hard drive on it serves as the family server. But, it was mine. First things, first, need to install the new hard drive on it so I can transfer all my files and wipe the system drive clean!

Hooking up the SATA drive turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Okay, I eventually gave up. I put the struggle in a recent post, so I won’t relive it here. A continuation of that post is that the SATA to IDE adaptor also didn’t work, so I took the SATA drive back to Best Buy and swapped it for a 320 gig IDE drive (320 IDE cost the same as the 500 SATA – ugh). Installed it worked the first time and it was time to transfer files.

It seemed like the file transfer took forever, and it pretty much locked up the computer while I was doing it. I thought, well, we’re using a lot of processing power, so maybe that’s just it.

All the necessary files transferred over, I dropped in my old Windows XP CD that came with the Dell those many years ago and reformatted the drive. Whoops. I had no idea how many drivers wouldn’t work when the operation was complete. I first had to download the driver for the Ethernet port on another computer onto my thumb drive to load it onto the Dell so I could get onto the Internet to download the other drivers!

That done, I started installing my software. (I still haven’t found the Windows Office CD yet). Installation of the various sample libraries onto the secondary drive again seemed to take forever, and locked up the computer while working. Everything installed, I loaded up a very simple song in Sonar with two audio tracks (from the secondary drive) and tried to play it. Ouch! Terrible.

Thinking I did have a problem with the new drive, I went onto the Internet and found a program called HD Tach, which will give you feedback on your drive throughput speed – 2.5 M/sec. I should be getting more than 10 times that.

The on-line help at Western Digital provided the answer. After four (4!) tweaks, including moving jumpers around, swapping cables and a change to the system bios, I had it up to 35 Meg/Sec. No where near the 200 Meg/Sec I should get with a SATA drive, but sufficient for my purposes.

Lastly, I downloaded the latest drivers for my M-Audio interface, and I’m in business! Next post, back to music!

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