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The Struggles of Building A Slave PC

The Struggles of Building A Slave PC

It’s finally time to upgrade my computer. I’ve been running my Macbook Pro mid 2010 for five years now, and it’s officially tired (but still going!) So what do you choose? There are so many options. Could get a full new Mac Pro, maybe an iMac, or even completely switch to PC. But as you may have guessed, I’ve chosen to go the route of slave PC.

Why A Slave?

Overkill? Or just right? ;)

Overkill? Or just right? 😉

There were two reasons I chose this. Partially it was a financial decision. I can get the same amount of power going with a PC than buying a new Mac for much less money. Secondly, I’ll be able to expand my rig easily. The slave PC will always be relevant, and I can just continue to upgrade the master computer. For my budget, building a PC provides me with a better long-term solution, than buying a marginally better Mac and upgrading again in a few years. Plus, I wanted to learn and build the machine myself.

So where to start? Building a PC is a pretty daunting task. There are a lot of great online resources, and if you’re about to start upon this quest, I recommend reading this guide! http://lifehacker.com/5828747/how-to-build-a-computer-from-scratch-the-complete-guide It explains each component well, and gives you advice on what to purchase. So instead of me reiterating that, I’m going to talk about some specifics I think are important for a composer’s slave PC, primarily the processor and motherboard.

 Processor Wars

AMD Vs Intel

Much like the Jedi and the Sith, this war will never end.

One of the first components to choose is the processor. It provides all of the power to your machine, and as a result, is one of the most important parts of rig. You can think of a processor in two parts – the clock speed (how fast the computer can execute instructions) and the cores (how many instructions it can carry out at the same time). For a slave PC, it is generally best to get more cores than clock speed so the machine can play back many different samples simultaneously. Obviously, having a higher clock speed will help, but it’s more important on the master computer since it’s running your sequencer and performing the majority of the commands. If you’re only building one machine, just get as much of both as you can!

I decided I wanted 8 cores, with the highest clock speed I could afford. Great, now it’s the decision between an Intel or AMD processor, the only two players in the processor world, and Intel owns about 75% of it. The Internet has varying views of who is “better”, with the general consensus being that Intel has an edge over AMD. Most of my music friends said Intel over AMD as well. However, the cost difference between them is huge. AMD is much cheaper than Intel for the same specs. But whether the same specs are equal or not is up to debate.

Personally, I am going with AMD because I can get a processor with 8 cores for a much better price than Intel. Both the PS4 and Xbox One use AMD processors, so they can’t be that bad. If I had an unlimited budget, I would probably choose Intel and spend the extra money. Perhaps I will eat my words in a couple months. I’ll keep you updated.

Motherboard Consideration

The motherboard is the foundation of the computer! Pick a well reviewed and trusted one over the cheapest!

The motherboard is the foundation of the computer! Pick a well reviewed and trusted one over the cheapest!

Okay great! So we have processor, now on to the motherboard. For the most part, following general specs for a high end PC will get you good results, but there are a couple more things worth considering! Since a composing rig runs a stupidly large amount of samples, it’s important to have a lot of RAM – I’d recommend either 32 or 64 GBs depending on how many samples you’re running. I probably would have done 64 GBs if I could find a board that I liked and memory that was compatible, but the best motherboards supported up to 32 GBs, and honestly that’s probably overkill for what I have right now.

Additionally, the number of SATA ports is an important consideration that I didn’t realize for a while! SATA ports allow you to connect hard drives to the motherboard, which gives you the possibility of creating a RAID array. A RAID array allows your computer to automatically create backups of your work each time to you write to disk. Super useful on both the slave and master computer. There are many different types of RAID arrays, the most common being RAID 1 or RAID 5. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2370235,00.asp

Aside from these considerations, you have to make sure the motherboard has the ports you need, enough PCI slots for adaptors, and integrated graphics if you like, and the correct socket type for your processor. It’s probably worth spending more on motherboard considering it connects all of the components to each other. But once you choose these two parts, the rest of it begins to fall into place.

All That Other Stuff


These are the majority of the parts you’ll need! Plus a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

As far as I can tell, for the remainder of the parts there aren’t any particular specs you need to be aware of to build a good slave PC. RAM is straightforward – choose how much you want based upon your motherboard, and then pick a well-reviewed bundle of sticks and you’re all set. For storage, a regular HDD should work fine. An SSD isn’t required for a slave, and they don’t have much storage to begin with. Plus they’re less expensive, so you can buy more for that sick RAID array.

A graphics card is simple as well since the PC won’t be used for gaming, so any well reviewed card under $100 should work perfectly well. Just have to make sure it doesn’t take up too many PCI slots on the motherboard and can support dual monitors if that’s something you want. And then finally once you have everything else picked out, input all your parts into this calculator, and it’ll help you choose the right power supply based upon how many watts you’ll be using. http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp

To summarize, just get high end, quality parts, that are compatible and everything should work fine. I’m hopefully going to start buying parts this week, and will let you know how things go! If anyone else has gone through this process, would love to hear some your thoughts on it!


  1. Great post Alex! I still have that mid-2010 mac too and I was thinking about building a slave for myself, so nice timing.
    I was wondering, do you even need a graphic card on a slave? Will it boot without it?
    I’m really curious to see what you come up with, keep us posted!
    Hugs from Seattle,


    • Marco! Glad you like it! As far as graphics cards go, you do need at least something, but some motherboards come with integrated graphics, and that’s all you need for a slave. Otherwise, any well reviewed card under $100 will be fine. 🙂

      Hope to travel there soon and say hello! 😀


  2. I could buy a Mac slave with an SSD and have a go at it but for far less money, I could build a PC with an SSD and know that at the end of the day I would have a more robust setup that would run my EW libraries in Vienna Ensemble Pro better and even some of my larger Kontakt libraries if I chose to. I could also load my Kontakt libraries on my Mac in Vienna Ensemble Pro for even more power and flexibility.


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