The state of pre-built PC’s

So I have a friend who wants to buy a PC for music work. He wants something that’s reasonably powerful now and that he’d be able to continue using for a good long time with few upgrades beyond storage. He had said to me the other day that a lot of the gaming pc’s, with a little downgrade in video and upgrade in RAM, seem like they’d be very good for him. He’s not a pro and not a gamer but I could see him taxing a system with track count, plug-ins and VI’s. So what I’m wondering is if people here who are primarily PC users (I’m primarily a Mac guy but have built PC’s in the past) have bought prebuilt and if they have, if they’ve bought things like Dells or even the Alienware version of that or someone else’s, or if they have found compelling reasons why a fully customized PC was the only viable solution.

I build my own PC’s but if I didn’t I’d probably go for something like the Scan 3XS audio range or you could make a build of your own using the same parts.

I’d say the main consideration after getting the right performance is finding a system that works for your audio interface. For example if you have a TB interface then you’d need a more specific build.

Thanks for that link - very helpful for specs, though I’m not in the UK. It’s certainly true about wanting to spec something for the interface. My inclination is always to have the basics (USB-C) and something forward-thinking but backward-compatible (Thunderbolt 4 and PCIe 4).

This is not for me; I’d build a PC if it were something I needed - it’s fun. My friend isn’t the guy to do that and he would likely be very resistant even to installing an internal drive. That’s why I ask if people are having success with essentially off-the shelf gaming builds or if there are particular pitfalls to this. Because for him something that has lots of USB and a thunderbolt port means he can add storage when he wants, and have an interface on a separate bus - but he could also have someone put in a PCIe card for him to further increase his options.

I’m also understanding from a few sources that latency issues with Ryzen processors have gone away above the 5300 series - so a 5950 would be just fine - but I’m hesitant because of my impression of AMD chips as being a bit more ragged-edge than Intel, as in running fast but hot and not truly designed for longevity. I have no direct experience with that at all, but I have used Intel processors for many years without any failures at all (which since anecdotal isn’t useful data). And as of yet I have no data about the life expectancy of AMD chips - though it could be that folks who buy them often expect to upgrade within a few years because they can be less expensive and run at higher clock speeds.

I’ll also say that I’m not overly excited about jumping on Intel’s new performance core/efficiency core platform. Seems like that may take a moment to get right for audio folks.

So - anyone with direct experience running an Alienware or similar?

Ah right, no worries. I’m sure there’d be an equivalent to Scan in your country. If your friend is going pre-built it may as well be from a system builder geared towards audio

Ryzen has been fine latency wise since 3000 series, with the appropriate memory. In my experience they do run on the warmer side but nothing that can’t be overcome with just a half decent case and air CPU cooler. They still have the best bang per buck over Intel. If you’re looking for TB though there is less choice on the AMD side.

Gaming set-ups for DAW use is a bit of rolling the dice. If you’re not going to be doing any tweaks then I wouldn’t expect amazing things out of it. Assuming here that the goal is running lots of sample libraries and plugins at low buffer settings. Hopefully someone here can chime in with an exact setup that’s working for them.

The upfront issue with gaming rigs is that gamers care mostly about the GPU so that’s where a decent chunk of your money will go. Most will also be set-up with high thermals in mind to accommodate that chunky GPU so the cases/fans etc will be tuned on the high (noisy) side.

Thanks, Clinton. I know those exist, and they are great, especially for those of us who need things to just show up and work and will pay for the privilege. It’s really one of the most justifiable expenses out there when one’s time is valuable or at least when the meter is running. But I’m curious about less purpose-built ones and how well they do. Considering that there’s nothing magic about the components and there are only a few settings that one would tweak to optimize, which could be handled with a phone call, I really want to hear if anyone has used one of these pre-built ones from Dell or whoever, as opposed to the specialty ones.

I have used both custom and prebuilt pcs for use with Studio One and both worked fine. The key was using a fresh install of Windows on an SSD drive. That really sped things up. I am now using a MacBook Air with an M1 processor and GarageBand. I will use Studio One eventually but GB is great and easy to use especially with the built in drummer. This ran about $1000 and i love it. Tell the guy to get a mac and forget PCs. They are a waste of time. I just use my Lenovo Legion 7i to play Steam games requiring hi res graphics and do music with my MacBook Air. It is port challenged but eventually will see if i can get some kind of dock for it but my 4 port hub is fine for now. Especially since you know mac you should be able to get him setup. I used pcs for 25 years or so and now solidly in the Apple world. What a relief. PCs are so buggy.

I’ve been managing an electronic music studio with computers since around 1996. I’ve always used PCs, and have always chose my components separately and then have a local store build it for me. With today’s CPUs, memory options, and SSDs, it’s probably going to work to buy a known brand that comes as a package. The only problem I see with that is it will often come with software you’re not going to want, use or need, particularly if its a computer dedicated to music production. When I need to buy another machine, which probably won’t be for 3-5 years, I’ll still choose the individual components rather than buy a complete machine.