Computers are a necessary part of today’s music production arsenal, and being able to identify the important parts will help you to get the maximum performance out of your audio equipment in your home studio.
There are lots of different types out there, from small notebooks to large tower desktops. But they all feature the same core parts, so I’ve gone through what I think are the essentials. It definitely pays to become familiar with the terms and what they mean.
The full name for the processor is the central processing unit, or CPU for short. You’ll also hear the term microprocessor being used. The CPU is connected to the motherboard, and the most popular brands are Intel and AMD. I’m sure we’ve all seen the Intel adverts on our TV screens.
When you run a program like Cubase or Logic Pro, the CPU is used to execute the program’s instructions and calculations. The faster the CPU, the more calculations it can perform in each second, and the program you’re running will be faster and more efficient. So I’d advise you to get the fastest CPU that you can when you’re looking for your own studio machine.
The motherboard contains most of the computer’s important electronics, and is also where a lot of other connections are made with the rest of the device. The CPU and the RAM are found on the motherboard, alongside hard drive and video card connections.
The software programs inside your audio PC are stored on the hard drive. But when you want to open and run a program, the hard drive can’t communicate with the CPU quickly enough to keep up with the pace of all the calculations and instructions that are needed whilst the program is running.
To help with this issue, when a program is opened a copy of the program and all the data it uses is stored in the device’s main memory, otherwise known as RAM or Random Access Memory. The RAM has a direct connection to the CPU, meaning the program and the data can be accessed more quickly and more easily during the time it is running.
But this main memory is also ‘volatile‘, so data is only stored there temporarily. When the PC or Mac is restarted or turned off, everything stored in the RAM is lost. So always remember to save your work at regular intervals to your hard drive, and also to other backup formats.
The hard drive is where all of your programs and data are stored, even when your computer is turned off. It has a direct connection to the motherboard of your desktop or laptop.
I’d definitely recommend you get as big a hard drive as you can, so you don’t have to worry about running out of space with your audio recordings. Having a larger hard drive also means you can record at a higher sampling rate because of this extra room to store the audio files.
The CPU processing power needed to run audio programs can be quite intensive. To help with this, a good video card (also called a graphics card) can be used which processes the graphical display of your PC or Mac separately from the main CPU. This helps with both the smooth running of the visual display and also frees up processing power for your audio needs.
An operating system (OS) is the core piece of software that runs on a computer, continually working in the background. It’s responsible for the running of other software programs and applications, as well as the integration of a system’s hardware with the relevant software.
The most popular operating systems out there are Windows, found on PCs, and OS X, found on Apple Macs.
These days, I think it’s very useful to know a few basics about how computers work, and how some of the important parts of your studio’s machine can affect how smoothly and efficiently your recording and producing time goes.