With the release of Kontakt 4.1 64-bit native, the game has now changed for having a serious one-stop 64-bit native farm system where the software can read all the RAM in the system.
Let’s start with the obvious. Here’s what’s 64-bit native. If you know others, add them to the list at the bottom of the column:
- Kontakt 4.1
- Spectrasonics programs
- Vienna Instruments
When I say 64-bit native, I mean that all of the above can read all of the RAM in your system, depending on how you have it set up. This has to be the caveat emptor, because if your system isn’t set up for 64-bit native, you’re back to the 4GB of RAM limitation.
Now, in a farm system, you have several options for integrating these libraries and using the farm system for submixing. While there are several solutions the one to really consider is the Vienna Ensemble PRO from Vienna. Check out the graphic below. This is pure elegance. And the great part is that once your farm system is built, you don’t need an audio card. All the audio and MIDI can flow direct from the farm system into your DAW. In talking to other composers, some run the audio/MIDI from system to system over a LAN cable while others prefer to run through their mixing boards with MIDIoverLAN and a separate audio card, quite often an RME 9652. A good reason to go this route is if you have a still working older computer like a G5. That’s my situation. I love the LAN option. But I have an RME 9652 card that I can connect directly to either my existing audio card or through a mixing board.
The point is this: you have good options that fit into a realistic budget.
Needless to say, check the system requirements for both the farm system and your sequencing machine before you buy the VE PRO.
SPEC’ING A 64-BIT SYSTEM
I’m not going to spec a system for you, but I am putting you in a direction.
What you can do now is create what’s called a server system with a setup that’s expandable and will last for years. The heart of this system is the motherboard, and I’ve found one from Supermicro that’s really over the top. Or as Guy Fieri of the Food Network’s Diners Drive-ins and Dives often says, “It’s off the hook.”
The motherboard is the Supermicro MBD-X8DTE-F-O Dual. It has a whopping 12 (!) RAM slots enabling you to upgrade from a low of 12GB of RAM all the way up to 192GB!
It has onboard video. However, heed these two warnings:
1. Even so, you still might want a separate video card – depends on your experience and who you talk to
2. For Vienna MIR, if you go that direction, you will need a separate video card
Now, to get to 96GB of RAM (12 slots x 8GB modules) is a cost of $7,740! That’s extreme! And totally off the hook!
But getting to 24GB of RAM with 2GB modules will run you around $700.
For $60 you can add a Firewire 800/400 card. And needless to say, for a PC, you want Windows 7 64-bit.
For cases, you have lots of choices. You can get a rack mount that can handle up to 10 drives or a pedestal server case. The pedestal has two distinct advantages. The first is that you can put your coffee mug or dinner plate on it. The second is the security of knowing that if anyone tries to steal it, because it’s so heavy they’ll get a hernia in the process.
Either type case allows for the C drive, then strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, and that famous orchestral section, other. Or you could set it up by companies: Kontakt (1-2 drives depending on what you’ve got), Vienna (1-2 drives), and Spectrasonics.
With this kind of horsepower, you’ll need a top notch power supply.
For hard drives, it depends.
You can get a very speedy Western Digital Caviar Black 1 Terabyte 7200RPM Drive with 64MB of cache for $99 or so.
One composer I interviewed built a system and for L.A. Scoring Strings and put the library on one SSD drive. The polyphony he achieved was nuts and with a reasonable amount of RAM was able to load an entire string template for himself. However, others achieve the same results with 7200RPM drives and 24GB of RAM. The secret to loading an entire template is recognizing you don’t have to load every program! Only the ones you really need.
Jay Bacal who does those excellent Vienna demos split the entire Vienna Instruments Cube over two (2) 10000RPM Raptor Drives. And he now does all his work on one system with Cubase 5 64bit. And you know how detailed his demos can be.
The question now is about the SSD drives. Let’s compare prices.
A 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200RPM with 64MB of cache is $99 vs. a 500GB SSD drive by OCZ for $1399.00. Even a 120GB SSD drive is just under $300.
The realistic problem is this: there’s not enough independent Consumer Reports-like testing to give us an idea of what the ideal hard drive setup is. What we know from history is that the 7200RPMs are a workhorse.
We also know from history that “bleeding edge” always comes down in price, especially around Christmas. So if you really feel you need an SSD drive, either get a small one to start, or wait for the prices to come down.
Excluding the SSD drive, the ideas I’ve put forth here allow you to assemble a super system that will take advantage of the 64bit breakthroughs by Kontakt, Spectrasonics and Native Instruments within a single expandable system.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE 32BIT LIBRARIES YOU OWN
Well, we all have them! But for the moment, I think you have to take these practical steps. First, look at what you’ve got and see how many libraries are Kontakt, Vienna and Spectrasonics to see if its worth creating an all 64bit system for yourself.
Then assess which of your libraries are 32bit and either keep them on your current DAW or consider moving them to a second less intensive machine for now.
The first question you need to ask is: How much RAM in stand alone does their existing 32bit player read today?
The second follow up question is: When do they expect their libraries to be 64bit native and at that time will they read all the RAM in the system?
These are fair, budgetary planning questions for a new farm system that composers need realistic answers to.
Overall, the i7 Quad Core should be plenty. There’s some discussion that a dual Xeon has more latency than an i7 Quad, but if you’re wanting MIR from Vienna and you’re planning on running a heavy template, VSL recommends at minimum the Dual Xeon 5520 CPU.
Again, you have options. My business suggestion is to plan an expandable server system for the long run, that as prices come down, with a little minor discomfort for backing up your libraries, you can continually upgrade your system for several years.
For pricing comparisons with an Apple Mac Pro Quad Core system, you can visit this link:
Alexander Publishing is not a dealer for any computer system developer, Native Instrument products, Spectrasonics, nor the Vienna Symphonic Library. Alexander Publishing is an authorized Audiobro dealer (L.A. Scoring Strings).