The Production PC

This PC is a combination of old and new as its really an upgrade of an older Pentium 4 system which in turn was an upgrade of a Pentium II system which had some PCI multimedia cards dating from last century that I want to keep going.

Multimedia Production PC

The case is an Antec Sonata 2. I chose it because it includes an air filter, a large 12″ case fan and wasn’t too expensive.

The motherboard is an Asus P5PE-VM. This is an odd board that allows use of AGP and traditional PCI cards with newer socket 775 processors. The processor is a Core2 Duo 1.8GHz (Intel 6320). The CPU is cooled by a huge Zalman 7700CNPS cooler which is a bit overkill for the efficient Core2 but it helps keep air moving around the Northbridge and RAM.

InsideI recently upgraded the RAM to 2GB of G-Skill CAS 2.5-3-3-6 which is very attractively packaged but chosen because I want all the speed I can get from this system. The motherboard doesn’t allow overclocking – the chipset is already at its limit with the Core2. There are two Western Digital drives (200GB and 300GB) with the OS and archives on a couple of partitions on the first drive and VMs on the second drive. The case has a nice caddy based mechanism for fitting the drives which helps reduce vibration.

The video card is a Matrox Parhelia 128 AGP; ancient by today’s standards but I like its hardware zoom capabilities and its a reliable performer in timing critical multimedia PCs.

There is a Pinnacle DV500 video capture board (the one with the daughter board). Its pretty old as well but does hardware acceleration of basic video transitions as well as analogue and firewire capture and replay. It integrates with Adobe Premiere 6. Whilst some modern video cards have capture capabilities, many of them rely on the sound card for the audio which can lead to sync problems. The DV500 handles quality stereo sound for input and output.
Lower view showing how tight the boards areThe oldest relic in the PC is a Gadgetlabs 8 channel 24 bit audio capture card (GL824). The company went bust in 2001 before releasing Win2K WDM drivers. Fortunately, a strong user community formed on the Yahoo forums and WDM drivers were written (thank you so much Mostek!) which got the card working under WinXP with ASIO support. With audio latencies of a few ms, multi channel real time synthesis and effects are fantastic.

There are only 3 PCI slots to play with and given the DV500’s daughterboard and the GL824 being a full length PCI card, it took a bit of juggling to get them in together. Fortunately everything just fit. The GL824 just touches the hard drive bay rail so I’ve slipped a plastic shield over its end. It seems recent motherboards and cases dont assume full length cards and populate the PCI area with jumpers, connectors and batteries.

Software wise, I have Premiere 6, Acid 5 and Sonar 5. It all runs great under XP which is just as well since there is no support for my 3 cards under Linux. While the cards continue kicking, WinXP will be the main OS on this system.

I run VMWare Workstation 6, with a couple of virtual machines including a Win2K VM for work and a Debian VM for web serving and site development. This blog is hosted on the linux VM. VMs are great for multimedia production machines because one can avoid installing a lot of software on the host system. This keeps the machine clean which is important when doing real-time audio.

The Gadgetlabs' break out boxHere is the connection break out box for the Gadgetlabs card. A bit much for the back panel of a PC.

If you are wondering why I would possibly need so many inputs and outputs on a sound card, here’s a picture of an even older relic, a Mackie SR824 I’ve had since the mid 90’s. Its no modern digital mixing surface, but there is plenty of analogue feel to it 🙂