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I have an old computer setup as follows:

  • IBM Thinkpad T42 (single-core Pentium M 1.8 GHz, 1 GB RAM)
  • Windows XP and Pro Tools 7.3 (Or maybe Reaper 3.5) with Digidesign MBox 2 device

Is this good enough for recording an 1-2 hour radio show (2 mono tracks with 48 000 Hz/16bit quality)? In particular, I'm not sure if 1 GB RAM is enough or should I consider upgrading to 2GB.

I read this with great interest, but a related broader question is: how do DAWs actually utilize RAM and cores during a recording session? Which is more important? Also, is RAM typically (e.g. in Pro Tools) also used for storing the recorded audio, or is audio directly written to the hard disk?

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    Older RAM chips are very cheap, I've got lots of them in a drawer (PC and laptop). You may be able to upgrade your processor too for cheap. But you should upgrade RAM; It's easy and cheap with great benifit. Make sure to utilize both slots! – Marc W Aug 15 '16 at 12:58
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That should work, as long as you ensure that the PC is not running all sorts of irrelevant software and processes, and you make sure there is enough virtual memory allocated (about 3 Gb - it is probably 32Bit OS, so no point in allocating more - make sure you make a fixed allocation.. no "let windows handle things" here as you may get unnecessary disk activity).

Two hours of 48KHz / 16 bit audio is ~1.4 Gb, but you don't actually need to have free memory for all of it. Your software will write the data as you record, which is why in general the disk speed is the most important aspect when recording. But you're only recording two tracks. I wouldn't worry.

CPU and no. of cores relate to the processing power - for example if you have a lot of realtime virtual instruments and heavy effects like reverbs and amp modelling plugins going while recording. It is not the case here. Your single core will do. Just don't get any fancy ideas ;-)

You should be able to record in 24 bit too, which I strongly recommend. You can reduce to 16 bit as last thing after editing etc.

  • Yep; "ensure that the PC is not running all sorts of irrelevant software and processes" Disable all startup programs; stop undesirable processes and services. This helps a lot with older computers. See this question too sound.stackexchange.com/questions/35409/… – Marc W Aug 15 '16 at 12:46
  • @Michael Hansen Buur Many thanks, esp. for the pointer on virtual memory as I'm already using a striped-down WinXP. Also, Re: 24bit: this is interesting. But you think 24 bit recording won't cause too much overhead, considering the system I have? – martz Aug 16 '16 at 12:15
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    No, I don't think so - the additional 1/3 in size is definitely worth it if you want a nice noisefree result. If you record with 16bits only, you have to ensure optimal gain settings (i.e. as loud as possible) and that increases the chance of "overs" - i.e. clipping distortion. With 24 bit you just dial in a safe gain and record. Later on you add a comp or limiter to boost things. Try it out. I think you should consider what host to use though: you're only recording two tracks. Pro Tools is overkill. – Michael Hansen Buur Aug 16 '16 at 12:40
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    True, Pro Tools is overkill (even for radio editing). I'll probably use Reaper or Audacity. Or even finally set up a lightweight Linux-based system for non-daw which I find conceptually fascinating. But that will require more fiddling at this point. – martz Aug 16 '16 at 14:28
  • @MichaelHansenBuur: right, though even with 24 you should take some care to dial good gain settings. Bit quantisation is not the only source of noise. – leftaroundabout Aug 16 '16 at 14:39
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If you can use your old laptop as a recording device or if you can use it as a DAW with current up to date software are really two different questions.


I'm pretty sure you'll be able to use it as a recording device, if you don't do a lot of real time processing. Most of the work for recording will be done by the DCA chip of the audio interface anyway (be it in the motherboard or an external USB interface), the core of the PC itself will only do temporary buffering and writing of the recording file.

You may have problems with the DAW software if you use an update software version of an "heavyweight" application, as it may have difficulties running, both because of CPU and memory limitations. But an old software version contemporary with the laptop should run ok, or use a lighter software. Just for recording, Audacity is perfect and very, very light (I think Reaper is quite light too, but I've never used it with such an "old timer" PC).

If the operating system runs ok and with a light recording application, you don't need more memory to capture a couple of live tracks.


Now, a different story is using a DAW for editing and processing.

To manage and play a certain number of simultaneous tracks, the more tracks the more memory, so, depending on how the DAW manages memory, upgrading memory may help a little. But CPU will almost for sure be a severe limitation. When playing back, all the tracks need to be read from the audio files and processed and that uses a lot of CPU, specially if there are real time effects (EQ, compressing, etc.). The more plugins you use the more CPU you need. This gets worse if you use MIDI tracks with soft synths. It may help to render the effects and MIDI tracks to audio systematically, but that is too cumbersome to be used as a working horse DAW workstation (and BTW, how much disk space do you have to store all these audio files?).

In summary, you may be able to do some DAW work with your laptop, but choosing light applications and optimizing the environment is of the essence here. Get rid of anything that's not necessary for your audio work.

Upgrading memory may help (admitting you would be able to find appropriate memory DIMMs for such an old machine), but I wouldn't spend the money before actually trying it and see the results. You may find that CPU limitations alone don't allow you to do what you want.

Remember that when producers use old equipment, they are definitely not using the most updated version of the most powerful DAW in the market. They built an environment initially when they first got that machine and they have kept to it religiously for many years. I've read a report from a famous producer (I think it was Danger Mouse, but can't be sure) that even refused to connect is laptop to any kind of network, afraid that updates would ruin is environment.

  • Having tried out a bunch of Linuxes over the years, I'm definitely a optimization nerd. So thanks for the insightful explanations -- particularly for the DCA vs cores bit. And Danger Mouse. :) – martz Aug 16 '16 at 14:32

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