New Audio Workstation Build

Introduction

This is a moment that I have been waiting for quite a while and finally having access to the kind of computing power that my work has grown accustomed to over the last several years. The last six months have been a stretch by having to work within the confines of just a laptop. It has been a humbling experience and has reinforced my love and need of the desktop. My corner of the computing world revolves around professional recording and mixing, design work, and WordPress. These are three areas that OS X excels at as well as being compatible with my software. The last cycle of Macintosh desktops have left me wanting more in terms of value for money and overall specification. Hence my choice to keep moving with the world of OSx86 builds. I do think the new Mac Pro’s are promising little machines that finally offer the new generation of components while being to upgrade and service them at yourself. In the long run I would like to get my hands on one that I can lovingly use and maintain for the next couple of years.


The Build

I love it when a job starts with a giant pile of boxes! In this case it turned out to be an early birthday present to myself.

Specifications:

  • Intel i7 3770K
  • Gigabyte GA Z68X UD7-B3
  • 16GB Crucial Ballistix DDR3 1600 RAM
  • EVGA GTX 760 ACX Graphics Card
  • Seasonic 850W 80 Plus Gold Power Supply
  • Corsair H60 CPU Hydro Cooler
  • Antec Tru-Quiet 120mm Fans
  • Antec 302 ATX Case
  • Logitech G500s Laser Mouse
  • Razer Sphex Mouse Pad
  • Apple Keyboard
  • Intel 530 240GB SSD – OS X 10.8.5
  • Intel 320 Series 80GB SSD – Windows 7
  • Intel 320 Series 80GB SSD
  • Western Digital 2TB Green Drive
  • Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7200RPM Drive
  • Toshiba 500GB 2.5″ Drive
  • LG Optical Drive

All great things start as a pile.

Packages Received

All great things begin as a pile of stuff.

Bare Case

The Antec 302 case has been unboxed and emptied of nearly everything.

All Put Together

It looks far more exciting when it's in pieces. Here it is all put together and with the Axiom 25 MIDI Keyboard hiding in the back.

Cooling, CPU, and Graphics

Since the Antec 302 does not include front side fans I picked up a pair of 120mm fans. Their selling point is that the fans mount to the case with rubber grommets and cut down on mechanical noise. All while keeping the hard drives nice and cool.

The motherboard and power supply are mounted. There was an internal debate on whether to mount the power supply with the fan facing upwards into the case or pulling air from the bottom since the case has a bottom vent for the power supply. I did end up ignoring the air vent and had the power supply pull air in from inside the case.

This is the winning candidate for the position of graphics card for this build. It offers plenty of power, good value for money, and will run 2-3 displays when called for.

It was nice to opt for a fan and heat sink design that was different than the standard blower designs that so many cards use.

Enabling Open CL acceleration for Adobe CS6 is a straightforward task. Did I mention it plays video games really well too?

The final cooling setup involves the two front fans pulling in air, a side case fan pulling air in and blowing it at the graphics card. The card in turn expels air inside the case where it is removed by the power supply fan. The CPU Hydro Cooler has an intake fan that blows air over the radiator. The top of the case uses a 140mm fan to remove the rising hot air. So far the CPU idles at ~32°C, ambient case temperature is in the low 20°C range, and the graphics card idling at 30°C. The ambient room temperature is 20-22°C.

I have become a big fan of liquid cooling over the last couple of years. Mainly because of the efforts to build smaller and more practical systems. In the past liquid cooling required a huge degree of internal plumbing and was definitely not a practical endeavour. I have used this particular model in several computer builds in the last two years and so far they have all worked well. The purpose of this machine is to be a quiet powerhouse. In the past I have used 90% rubbing alcohol to clean thermal surfaces. For this build I opted to try out the Arctic Silver Thermal Surface Cleaner and Purifier products. The two came in a set that also included a tube of Arctic Silver 5, which I was also in the market for.

The cooler comes with all the mounting hardware you will need for either an AMD or Intel setup. Pictured above is the Intel specific bits as well as the first application on this CPU. There were more applications as I will later explain.

Cases that feature a large CPU cutout for the mother board are the way to go. Otherwise mounting this cooler would be a pain that requires the motherboard to be out of the case. Here is a before and after of the end result.

Case with front fans

Front fans attached with rubber mounts to reduce mechanical noise.

Motherboard Installed

The motherboard and power supply have been mounted. The power supply is in its first position before I flipped it over.

EVGA GTX 760 ACX

The GTX 760 is a solid midrange card that packs a solid punch without breaking the bank. This is the EVGA ACX model that features a custom heatsink and fan cooler.

Corsair H60 Unpacked

One freshly unpacked Corsair H60 Hydro Cooler. The Arctic Silver thermal paste remover at the side is ready to do its job.

Corsair H60 Cleaned

Clean copper is happy copper. With the heat probe attachment cleaned it is now ready to be tinted and placed on the CPU.

Corsair H60 Mounting Hardware

This is the Intel specific mounting hardware that came with the cooler.

Arctic Silver Application

Slightly more than the grain of rice application recommended in the instructions. I used this as an opportunity to experiment with different amounts. Gone are the days of spreading it around the area of the CPU.

H60 Case Mounted

The H60's radiator has found its way onto the back of the case. The fan is set to pull cool air from the outside with the top case fan exhausting the hot air.

H60 Mounted to CPU

The heat probe and water pump have been mounted to the CPU and bolted down. Note that the water pump connects to a 3 pin 12 volt header on the board and fan connects to the CPU fan header via a 4 pin PWM cable.

Custom Wi-Fi

The layout of my current house does not make running ethernet cable an easy task and as a result I had to opt for a Wi-Fi solution. After looking around for cards that are compatible in both OS X and Windows and the price ranges I decided to opt for the DYI Wi-Fi card approach. The x86blog provided me with the instructions and components list for the Wi-Fi card. A quick visit to eBay netted me a BCM94322MC Airport card and mini PCIe adapter card.

Here are the parts as they came out of their packaging. The PCIe adapter did not come with any screws and required a little bit of work to make the screws I used work with both the adapter and card. I shaved the holes on the Airport card to make room for the thicker screws.

The Airport Card is nice and snug and the mini BNC antenna connectors are plugged in. Take care to tuck the cables in nicely in order to avoid damaging them with the metal cover. The cover will strip the shielding off the cable. The next steps are to put the cover on and fit the antennas.

For the cover to fit I needed to make a small cut out on the left side near the antenna so that it would not hit the connector. The metal is thin enough for a pair of scissors to easily do the trick. Here is one last shot of the my DIY Airport card nice and happy in its new home.

Wi-Fi Card Parts

One BCM94322MC Apple Airport card and a Mini PCIE adapter. Did anyone order a custom Airport card?

Wi-Fi Antenna

The Airport card is in the adapter and the antenna cables are connected to the card.

Wi-Fi Card Assembled

Here is the card all put together with the cover on.

Wi-Fi Card Installed

Installed in the PCIE x1 slot.

Hardware Philosophy

Hardware choice is the single biggest factor in being able to a achieve a stable and straightforward installation. The reason I pursued this particular Z68X chipset is the native inclusion of Firewire and specifically using the Texas Instruments TSB43AB23 chipset. I do enjoy the large support and install base that firewire audio cards. The ability of these devices to work correctly often relies on the stability and quality of the Firewire controller. Most manufacturers do provide lists of compatible and recommended chipsets. The board also includes a generous amount of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, eSATA, and plenty of PCIe and PCI slots.

I grew up building gaming computers and have since then come to see the overlap between a solid gaming machine and how much of the same requirements can go into an audio computer. Both require clean power, generous helpings of CPU capacity, lots of RAM, solid graphics card(s), future expandability, quiet and efficient cooling. These are to name but a few. In the end each person is free to pursue their own design philosophy. This just happens to be mine.

OS X Installation

Now that the hardware part is sorted out we can move ahead and talk about installing Mountain Lion on this machine. The best way to go about this is to research your components ahead of time and to identify any potential problems and their related solutions. It is worth noting that the OSx86 community tends to be amazing about supporting and solving past and present problems. My many thanks to the people and community from TonyMacx86.com What you need:

  • App store copy of Mountain Lion (10.8.5)
  • Unibeast 3.0.1 – Mountain Lion installer utility
  • Multibeast 5.5.5 – post installation utility

Booting into Unibeast for this hardware setup required:

GraphicsEnabler=No

These are the essential options that you need to select to get the system working after you have completed your initial installation. My optional extras are: the classic Chameleon theme, 1080p bootloader screen, FakeSMC plugins. The universal USB 3.0 driver now fully supports my Renesas USB 3.0 chipset to a full 5Gb/s.

Despite the native support for GTX 760 in Mountain Lion I did have to install the Nvidia web drivers in order to have the card correctly recognized in the System Information. Otherwise the card registers as a GK104. This did not appear to have any negative impact on performance, but the GK104 designation did not play nicely with the CUDA activation for the Adobe Suite

Instructions regarding installing the Nvidia web drivers can be found here:

http://www.tonymacx86.com/graphics/111311-nvidia-updates-web-drivers-10-8-5-supplemental-update-313-01-03f02.html

This is a screenshot of my chameleon.plist file. I did not use the darkwake=0 string and only used:

<key>Kernel Flags</key>

 <string>nvda_drv=1</string>

The only task left to is to enable this graphics card for CUDA acceleration in Adobe CS 6. Please check out this link for more instructions.

http://www.vidmuze.com/how-to-enable-gpu-cuda-in-adobe-cs6-for-mac/

A crucial post installation item to take care of is TRIM support for your SSD. We have been using TRIM Enabler for the longest time and they have been amazing with updating their software. This utility ensures you will not bog down your SSD into oblivion with old garbage data.

MultiBeast Configuration 1

Here is the initial Multibeast configuration.

Chameleon Plist File 1

The initial Plist file used during boot.

Little Hiccups

The Z68 board I purchased had been sitting on the shelf for a while and as a result was running an older BIOS version. For my new Ivy Bridge 3770K CPU to work the BIOS needs to be F10. In order to get around this issue I tracked down an older Intel G840 Sandy Bridge CPU to use so that my motherboard can boot in order to flash the BIOS using the Q Flash utility. Since the board features dual BIOS I had to make sure to flash the F10 BIOS across both chips. With both chips flashed I could finally move on to installing software. In the long run this did result in a few applications of Arctic Silver.

Benchmark Results and Conclusion

It is always nice to be able to point at charts and tables and say “Ooh, look, numbers!” It is also important to take benchmarks with a grain of salt. I am happy with these solid numbers and that they do in fact compete with other well built machines. I will take the compliment and move on with my job. Happy with the knowledge that my computer will be able to take whatever I throw at it for the foreseeable future.

Thus far everything works, the computer successfully enters and wakes from sleep, it knows what all of its body parts are, and it is not self aware. It stays cool and runs quietly. The graphics card is hands down the coolest running I have ever seen only reach 52-55°C while under heavy load. I did ask EVGA to email me the BIOS which slow down the GPU’s fan idle speeds to 31%. This machine is even better than my last audio build and preserves all the features that made the last one so stable to use. The Z68 chipset will go down as one of my favourites. Newer is not always better depending on your application. In this case Sandy and Ivy Bridge have been very hospitable places for studio computers.

Cinebench CPU Benchmark 1

Cinebench results on stock i7 3770K.

Cinebench GPU Benchmark 1

Cinebench results for the GTX 760.

Geekbench 2 x64 Results

Gb 2 results run on a stock speed i7 3770K.

Feel free to share your comments and questions.

Stay tuned for more articles on what life with this work station.

Thank you for reading!

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