Computer Hardware

You probably already have a computer, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this. However, with the rapid pace of hardware development, it makes sense to buy a new computer every few years.

If you are buying a new system as your main computer, you should consider all the things that you want to use it for to determine what you need. If audio recording and working with Overtone Analyzer are among your intended uses, here are a few things to look out for:


Perhaps surprisingly, I believe that noise is the single most important factor when buying a new computer, especially for audio work. Computers have all sorts of moving parts, especially fans and harddrives, and those can be extremely loud. Many websites and magazines suggest that raw power is the only thing that matters about a new computer and try to get you to buy the latest and fastest machine. However, the most powerful machines often also run very hot, which means the fans need to work very hard and will be very loud. Even a new mid-range machine is probably still much faster than your old computer, and it could be a lot quieter.
Awareness of computer noise has increased in recent years, and it has become easier to find reviews of a system that address its noise emissions and not just its speed.

Laptop or Desktop

If you can afford it, get a laptop. The increase in mobility opens up new ways of using your computer that you may not even have considered before you had a laptop. Many (not all!) laptops are also quieter than a comparable desktop. That is because laptops are optimized to maximize battery life and to consume as little power as possible, which also reduces the need for loud fans.
To find a quiet laptop, look at mid-lange systems. Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs often run cooler (and therefore quieter) than comparable AMD CPUs. Also, a high-end gaming notebook will be optimized for maximum performance and therefore run very hot and loud. But in the end, you have to look at specific models and read their reviews, or ideally test them before you buy one.

A desktop is less mobile than a laptop, but it can also be a bit cheaper, more ergonomic, and easier to upgrade. While many desktops are not optimized for noise and can be very loud, it is possible to get absolutely silent desktops using fanless cooling and a flash hard drive, but those will also be more expensive.

One downside of laptops is that they are less ergonomic because the keyboard, mouse and screen are in a much tighter space and offer less flexibility in their positioning. If you do use a laptop for daily work, you might want to get an external monitor, keyboard and mouse, because that will allow you to set up your workspace in a more ergonomic way, and still have the benefits of using a laptop.

Operating System

Should you get a Mac, a PC, or a Linux box? If you want to use Overtone Analyzer, you need a PC running Microsoft Windows. Ideally it should run Windows XP, but if you are buying a new PC, it will probably have Vista. This is fine, Vista is not great but useable, and if you are not comfortable with installing a new operating system, you should keep the one that comes preinstalled on your new machine.

Downgrading a new Vista system to XP

Most new systems can be downgraded to XP, but you will need a full XP installation CD, a valid license, and XP drivers for your new system. If you know you want to install XP on your new machine, do a web search for the specific model that you want to buy to see if you can find all the XP drivers for it. For many laptops there are dedicated forums with detailed instructions how to install XP.

Hardware requirements

For using Overtone Analyzer, most computers that are not older than five years will be adequate. If you have a newer machine with a good graphics card and lots of memory and hard drive space, you will be able to run higher screen resolutions, increase the precision of the analyzer, and edit longer files.

If you are buying a new machine (with Vista), get at least 2GB of memory and try to avoid integrated graphics controllers that share their memory with the main processor. Graphics cards from NVidia and ATI are usually dedicated and faster because they have their own memory, while most others, especially those from Intel, are usually less powerful and slower.

Summary and Conclusion

When selecting a new computer for audio work, I believe that noise is the most important factor, and ideally you should buy a fanless system that is specifically optimized to be silent.
However, a quiet laptop is probably more practical. Current laptops with an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 2GB of memory, and a dedicated graphics card start at about 600 Euro.
Having to get Windows Vista can be a bit annoying, and if you know how to downgrade to XP, or you know someone who can do that for you, make sure that XP drivers for your new system are still obtainable.

In any case, there is plenty of computer buying advice on the web, and for many laptops there are reviews and forum posts about its noise performance (and about most other aspects as well).