"Recording Computer Facts & Information"

The next thing to think about is the computer...

Pick your poison:

Apple Power Macintosh

Windows PC


Apple Power Macintosh

The Macintosh has been the computer of choice of creative types for nearly twenty years. Most major recording studios and record companies use Macs to control their digital audio installations. The MacOS is "user friendly," and Macintosh computers are relatively easy to upgrade and maintain. Although Macs are expensive when compared to typical Windows PCs, the extra cost is well worth it for many people. Should you decide to base your studio around a Mac you'll want the following...

1) A recent-issue Power Macintosh. Even a humble eMac, iMac or iBook can be equipped with a FireWire multichannel interface like the Mark of the Unicorn 828, while a G4 or G5 "tower" can house one of the several PCI card/audio interfaces available, such as the RME Hammerfall DSP or Mark of the Unicorn 2408 MkIII. In some cases, you can upgrade an older PowerMac with a G3 or G4 processor upgrade.

  • Get as much RAM installed as you can afford. The absolute minimum you should have for MacOS 9.x or higher is 256MB; 384MB or more will make things run much more smoothly.
  • There is no reason to play around with older, pre-PowerPC Macintosh computers. Sound editors and MP3 encoders rely heavily on a fast floating point processor ("FPU" or "math co-processor") for processing their data. All PowerMacs have an excellent FPU integrated into the main processor, while some older Macintosh computers don't have any FPU at all.
  • The PowerMac G4 and G5 processors in new Macintosh computers are actually faster cycle for cycle than any Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon. This means that a Pentium 4 at 2.4 GHz is really no faster than a Mac G5 at 1.6 GHz. Forget the bigger numbers; a Mac G5 will be a lot faster than a Pentium 4 at the same clock speed.
  • The eMac, iMac, G4 and G5 come standard with an IDE hard drive and a CD-R or combo CD-R/DVD drive, as well as decent quality 16 bit audio playback built in. The eMac/iMac/G4/G5's major selling points are their speed, easy Internet connectivity, ease of use, and the fact that they're very nicely styled. You may have noticed that these new Macs have no serial ports (the old "modem" and "printer" ports) for connecting older MIDI interfaces or Mac-compatible printers. Instead, these new Macs have USB and FireWire (IEEE-1394) ports. This means that Mac users upgrading from older PowerMac G3's up to an eMac, iMac, iBook, G4 or G5 will have to buy brand-new USB MIDI interfaces. Also, only the G4 and G5 tower models have PCI slots — and only the G4 notebooks have CardBus slots — so a FireWire audio interface will need to be installed for recording high-performance multitrack audio to an eMac, iMac or iBook.
    • Mark of the Unicorn offers two FireWire digital audio interfaces, the MOTU 828 and 896. These can be used with any Mac G4, iBook, iMac or eMac equipped with a FireWire port. The Digidesign Digi 002 also connects using FireWire.
    • Digidesign offers an entry-level ($500) Pro Tools interface called the Mbox, which connects to the host computer through USB and uses Digidesign's Pro Tools LE software. If you want to play with what the big boys use, here's your chance.
  • The Apple G4 and G5 lack the old, familiar Mac SCSI port, so if you already have a SCSI hard drive, CD burner and/or scanner, you will need to buy and install a PCI SCSI accelerator card to make use of them. The Cube, eMac, iMac, iBook and PowerBook have no PCI expansion slots, so a SCSI accelerator card cannot be installed in these computers.
    • The eMac, iMac, iBook, G4 and G5 PowerMacs do come with FireWire interfaces (also known as IEEE1394). The FireWire interface is the interface of the future. It can be used for hard drives and CD-Recordable drives, and there are now audio interfaces that connect via FireWire too (see the description of the Mark of the Unicorn 828 and 896 in the soundcards page). FireWire allows for hot-swappable connection of up to 64 devices, and allows for a theoretical maximum throughput of around 40MB per second. You can now find plenty of FireWire hard drives in the online e-stores, or even at your local CompUSA. (You can roll your own by taking any IDE hard drive and putting it in a FireWire enclosure.) These new FireWire hard drives are advertised as having a throughput of 15MB/second, which is about as fast as UltraWide SCSI, but not nearly as fast as Ultra2Wide (LVD) or Ultra320 SCSI — or ATA-133, for that matter. But maybe FireWire 800 will change that.
  • The latest G4 and G5 computers come equipped with Apple's new Unix-based operating system, OS X ("OS Ten"). OS X is radically different from previous versions of the MacOS, so a few music equipment manufacturers may not have updated their drivers and applications to work well with it. If you're planning an upgrade, you should first make sure that your music hardware and software is fully supported in OS X.

2) A big IDE, SCSI or FireWire hard drive, at least 20GB. If you have a G4 or G5 tower, it's best to install a second internal ATA hard drive (7200 rpm with 8MB cache, 80GB or larger). If you have an older SCSI-equipped Mac, getting an internal SCSI hard drive will save you a good chunk of money, as long as you're willing to open up your Mac and install it yourself. For a G4 laptop, iBook, eMac or iMac, you'll want an external FireWire drive. USB hard drives are too slow for working with multitrack audio.

TIP: If the thought of opening your Mac's case makes you shake with fear, you'll probably be better off spending the extra $75 to $150 on an external hard drive.

3) Software is generally more expensive on the Macintosh platform, but some of it is as good as it gets, like emagic Logic, Mark of the Unicorn Digital Performer, TC|Works Spark XL and BIAS Peak for example. There is some Mac music shareware available, though not nearly as much as exists for Windows.

It should be noted that most of the "heavy hitters" in music software developed their applications for the Mac long before they started coding for Windows.


Windows XP Optimizations and Troubleshooting:

Listed below are a few things you can do to optimize your Windows system for use with Pro Tools. Only Microsoft Windows XP Home and Professional Editions with Service Pack 2 are supported at this time. Media Center, Professional 64, and Tablet PC versions remain untested by Digidesign, and we cannot guarantee these versions will work with Pro Tools. If you are using these versions, we recommend you upgrade to one of the supported platforms mentioned previously. There have been rare cases reported where unresolvable issues on Media Center Edition have been fixed by upgrading to Home or Professional.

Items in red are recommended for most laptops, and are required for those supported models with Intel Core Duo processors. Note: Not all Intel Core Duo laptops can be reconfigured with these options, and therefore may report constant buffer errors [-6086, -6087, -9093, -9125, -9129] when recording. Please contact your computer manufacturer if you need assistance disabling some of the listed options, but realize that we can only fully support the models we have tested. (
see additional compatibility info).

Also, we strongly recommend that you use a secondary physical hard drive for saving your sessions, audio, and sample libraries to. If you only have one internal system drive (C:), then you can purchase an external drive. The drive will need to meet the following specifications:

  • FireWire 400 or 800

  • Oxford 911, 912, or 924 chipset

  • 7200RPM

  • Less than 10 milliseconds of Seek Time

You’ll find the most common brands meet these requirements, such as Lacie, Glyph, and Maxtor.
Note: this may lead to an unsupported configuration when using a laptop with only one FireWire port and a FireWire audio interface, such as the Digi 002 or 003. You may need to purchase a PCMCIA (PC) or Cardbus (Mac) expansion FireWire card for an extra FireWire port to run the drive from to attain maximum track count (although connecting the drive to the secondary port on the Digi 002 or 003 may work, it is not supported for maximum track count. Also, though the manual states that the Digi 002 or 003 should be connected to the FireWire port on the back of your drive, this is suggested only to prevent data loss - having the drive connected to the Digi 002 or 003 will have slightly better performance, but you MUST properly remove the drive and turn it off before powering down the 002). We currently only support one model, found here.


Creating a new hardware profile:


  • Right-click on My Computer and select 'Properties.'

  • Click on the Hardware tab and select Hardware Profiles - you should see a list with your computer's default profile. This profile will become the Pro Tools optimized profile, so you can rename it accordingly.

  • Click Copy to create a duplicate profile before the changes we'll make - this will be your computer's access to the internet and other applications, so name it accordingly as well (i.e. Pro Tools (Current) and Default).

  • Then make sure that 'Wait until I select a hardware profile' is checked. Close the Hardware Profiles dialog.


Disabling non-essential devices:


  • You should be back in the Hardware tab of System Properties - click on Device Manager.

  • Click on the '+' symbol next to Network Adapters.

  • Double-click on the first device listed and select the 'Do not use this device in the current hardware profile (disable)' option under Device Usage.

  • Close that device's properties dialog and repeat the last step for the next device listed.

  • All items under Network Adapters, Ports, and any default or built-in soundcard listed under Sound, Video, and Game Controllers should follow suit (disabling your network adapters will prevent you from using the internet).


  • Open the Universal Serial Bus controllers, and for any USB Root Hub, do the following:

  • Right-click and select 'Properties.'

  • Click on the Power Management tab and uncheck the 'Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power' option.

  • Click 'Okay' to go back to the Device Manager.

  • If you have any external FireWire drives, open the Disk Drives list and right-click on the icon of that drive to select 'Properties.'

  • Go to the Policies tab and make sure the device is set to 'Optimize for Quick Removal.'

  • Click 'Okay' to go back to the Device Manager.


  • You can now close the Device Manager and go back to the System Properties dialog.

Note: Combined with the previous step, you will now have two Hardware Profiles to choose from during boot. The 'Pro Tools' profile will now have these devices already disabled, whereas the 'Default' profile will not (i.e. your internet will still work on your "Default" profile).


Disabling non-essential startup tasks and services:


  • Click on the Start menu and select 'Run.'

  • Type "msconfig" in the prompt and click 'OK.' This will bring up the System Configuration Utility.

  • In the General tab, click the 'Selective Startup' radio button.

  • Uncheck everything but 'Load System Services.'

  • Click on the Services tab, and you'll see a 'Hide all Microsoft services' checkbox at the bottom - ensure this box is CHECKED, then select 'Disable All.'

  • Now uncheck the 'Hide all Microsoft services' box, and you should see the list of services refresh with some default services and a green check in their box.

  • Click 'OK' on the System Configuration Utility window to close. It will ask you to restart - do so.

  • Note: If you want to go back to your normal startup, simply run 'msconfig' again and select 'Normal Startup.' Also, this step will disable most anti-virus software (this is a good thing when running Pro Tools).

Now that you've optimized your computer for running Pro Tools, it's important to check for anything that might be causing a conflict. The next steps can be advanced, so if you are unsure, please e-mail or call Tech Support before continuing.


Entering the BIOS:

The BIOS is the core of your computer. It tells the system how to communicate to all of its hardware; so it's important to not change something if you're unsure of what it does. That being said, there are several ways to enter the system BIOS, and you can only do so for a short period of time before Windows launches and you have to restart and try again. Some manufacturers like to set the BIOS entrance key to 'delete' on the keyboard, others use different function keys (i.e. F9, F4, and F2 are common). Most often, the motherboard will have a "splash-screen" upon boot that will tell you which key to press to enter the BIOS (often only referred to as 'Setup') - others, you either have to read the motherboard manual, or guess. In any case, BIOS manufacturers have their own way of doing things, as should be noted in the general descriptions that will be given for navigating the BIOS itself - without a manual of your specific motherboard handy, I'm limited to a very general framework. It might be necessary to contact your computer/motherboard manufacturer to complete the steps below.

With that said, let's enter the BIOS now...

Disabling RAID:
RAID is a type of array configuration for your hard drives that can save files between discs or mirror the file to a backup. Unfortunately, this causes erratic and often catastrophic errors with Pro Tools. To disable this feature, find the RAID controller option - it's usually found under the 'Advanced' menu. Even if RAID is not being utilized, it's important to disable this option.

Disabling Speed-stepping:
This option is referred to as AMD Cool n' Quiet in AMD processor motherboards, and can show up as various things in Intel-based boards. Sometimes it simply shows up as 'speed-stepping.' If your motherboard has this option, disable it, as it can cause major conflicts with the processor scheduling of Pro Tools and the USB bus. It's usually found under the 'Advanced' tab.

This option is usually disabled by following the steps in the ‘Getting Started Guide’ that’s supplied with your product by setting your Power Options to the ‘Always On’ scheme (found in the Control Panel - for some Dell laptops, this can also be called Dell Quick-Set Performance Mode). Some manufacturers supply their own power management system - please confer with those manufacturers to find the correct option, or follow the step above to bypass their management and turn this off directly from the BIOS. Also, sometimes the manufacturers limit your access to the BIOS and you cannot disable speed-stepping - if you cannot set Power Scheme to ‘Always On’ or disable speed-stepping on a laptop,YOUR LAPTOP MAY BE INCOMPATIBLE WITH PRO TOOLS.

Note: Disabling Speed Stepping in the BIOS is NOT necessary to make Pro Tools work on a Core Duo, but may solve otherwise irresolvable issues. Disabling this feature may increase stability, but will cut your processors clock speed almost in half (to prevent over-heating).

Disabling C-State Transition and Optimizing Integrated USB Hub:
This option is specific to Core Duo laptops. If you see C-State Transition anywhere in the BIOS, be sure to disable it. Also, find the Integrated USB Hub and set it to High Speed. Note that not all computers or BIOS will have these options.

That’s the last of the optimizations specific to Core Duo laptops; however, if you’re still encountering buffer errors and are on an unsupported model, you can try to disable one of the processor cores in the BIOS as a last-ditch effort. If that doesn’t fix the problem, then you may need to run Pro Tools on another computer altogether.


Disabling on-board audio:

This option simply activates or disables the audio card that's built-in on some motherboards. Disabling the on-board audio can free up resources and prevent IRQ or resource allocation conflicts. It's usually found near the 'PCI' or 'On-Board' options. Many users will want to use their built-in soundcard for playback of Windows sounds or programs other than Pro Tools; these users should bypass this step.


Other optimizations:

Aside from the steps above, here are some optional settings to get maximum performance from Pro Tools.

Display Performance:
Another way to free up resources is to minimize the amount of processing Windows needs for display. This can be done in a few ways.

  • First, right-click on My Computer and select 'Properties.'

  • Go to the Advanced tab and select 'Settings' under the Performance section.

  • In the Visual Effects tab, select 'Adjust for best performance' - this will change the way that Windows looks somewhat (to that nice 'classic' feel).

  • Then click on the Advanced tab and set both Processor Scheduling and Memory Usage to 'Programs.'

  • Close the Performance Options and System Properties windows by clicking 'OK.'


  • Now, right-click on a blank space on the desktop and select 'Properties.'

  • In the Display Properties dialog box, select the Appearance tab.

  • Click Effects to bring up the Effects dialog box and disable the check-boxes next to the font-smoothing and shadows options.

  • Click 'OK' and go to the Settings tab of Display Properties.

  • Set the 'Color-Quality' to 16-bit, then open the 'Advanced' dialog.

  • Under the Troubleshoot tab, set the 'Hardware Acceleration' to None.

While it won't be the prettiest OS, it should be running like a cheetah. More importantly, you have just maximized the performance of Pro Tools - now it's time to create!

DEP Fix:
This option disables execution prevention, a feature of Windows Service Packs that can sometimes cause errors. This won’t harm anything, but also isn’t always necessary. To do this:

  • Right-click on My Computer and select Properties.

  • Click on the Advanced tab and select ‘Settings’ under Startup and Recovery.

  • In the Startup and Recovery window, click on the ‘Edit’ button. This will display a text document with system execution parameters - we want to find the part of the text that reads: “ /NoExecute=OptIn “ and change the “OptIn” to reflect “ /NoExecute=AlwaysOff “ - note that the ‘A’ and ‘O’ are capitalized and there are no spaces.

  • Then go to the file menu and Save the document.

  • Close the document and click ‘Okay’ in Startup and Recovery.

Even more troubleshooting:

If you have any questions or are still running into errors, there might be deeper conflicts with the system. Check your RAM - Pro Tools needs at least 512Mb to operate - 1GB or more is recommended (note that Windows XP can only allocate about 2GB of RAM to an application).

Some chipsets can also cause Pro Tools to stop in its tracks - to determine your chipset, download PC Wizard. Check your listed chipset against the compatible / incompatible chipsets listed here - namely, make sure you're not running an Intel 915G, 915P, or 925X on Intel-based computers; SiS and ATI Radeon chipsets (on the motherboard, not graphics card) have also been reported to cause conflicts with AMD-based machines.

Both AMD and Intel have released updated drivers and processor accelerators that can fix some irresolvable buffer errors and generally improve Pro Tools performance.



Windows PC

For the more budget-conscious, there's the "Wintel" or "PC" platform. It used to be that the "Wintel" PC was an artistically-inclined person's worst nightmare, but things have really changed since MS-DOS was put out to pasture. Even though Windows 95 and Plug 'n Play made PC's much easier to use, they're still more of a challenge to configure and use than Macintosh computers. But if you're willing to become a bit of a computer nerd you can get a lot of power for less money. Here's what you'll need to get started:

Recommended PC configurations:

  • Processor:
    – If you are getting a new Windows PC, I would recommend an Intel Pentium 4 at 2.6 GHz or faster running on an 800 MHz front side bus, using dual-channel DDR SDRAM.
  • Motherboard:
    – for Pentium 4: Asus P4B800 series with i865 or i875 chipset.
  • AMD Processors:
    – If you need to pinch pennies, a good choice would be an AMD Athlon XP 2800+ or faster running on an Asus A7N8X or other name-brand motherboard based on the nForce2 chipset.
  • RAM:
    – 512MB minimum, 1024MB better (PC3200 or faster DDR SDRAM recommended).
  • Hard drives:
    – One 20GB or larger IDE drive to hold your Windows installation and programs, along with a separate, 40GB or larger Maxtor or Western Digital 7200 rpm ATA-100 or ATA-133 drive for your audio files.
  • CD-Recordable drive:
    – Plextor (internal IDE, or external FireWire or USB 2.0 interface)
  • AGP video card:
    – Matrox DualHead or other twin monitor card, with two reasonably good video monitors. Audio apps take up a LOT of screen space — and once you get used to having your mixer in one screen and your track view in another, you'll never want to go back to a single monitor again.

1) A Pentium III or Pentium 4 equipped IBM-PC or compatible computer. The Intel Pentium 4 processors are good for audio work, and are the most compatible with the various soundcards and other peripherals made for use with Windows PC's. The latest Pentium 4 processors operate with an 800MHz front side bus (FSB) speed (really 200MHz "quad-pumped").
The Intel Celeron with 400MHz FSB (1.7 GHz and faster) should also be OK for audio work, though it won't be as quick as a Pentium 4. The
AMD Athlon XP is as fast as the Pentium 4 and seems to work quite well for audio—and costs a lot less. The AMD K6-2 and K6-III chips (Pentium clones) are now completely obsolete. Avoid the IBM/Cyrix 6x86, MII and MIII, and VIA C3 chips, as they never worked well in music computers. Using anything slower than a Pentium II 450 will make it very difficult to work with large digital audio files.

  • In general, it's best to use a PC that is built on a motherboard (the big circuit board inside the case) made by a well-known, reputable motherboard manufacturer. Each motherboard is built around a 'core logic chipset' that functions as the 'heart' of the computer system. You want to choose a motherboard based on a chipset that is compatible with all of your hardware and software. For Pentium 4 and Celeron, the Intel chipsets are the most compatible, because all the software and sound card manufacturers design their products to work on Intel hardware first, before they check their products on the other chipsets. For Athlon XP, the nForce 2 chipset is generally best, though some say the latest chipsets from SiS work just as well. Motherboard manufacturer names to look for include Intel, ASUS, Gigabyte, ECS, MSI and Soyo. I recommend ASUS or Gigabyte for best performance, Intel for widest compatibility.
    • At one point it was necessary to use Rambus R-DRAM if you wanted to use a Pentium 4, but this is no longer true. Today's dual-channel Double Data Rate (DDR) SDRAM is every bit as fast as Rambus, but less than half the price. The latest P4's with 800MHz FSB use dual-channel DDR-SDRAM.
    • For the 1999-era Coppermine core Pentium III and Celeron processors, the best chipset choices were the Intel i815e and VIA Apollo Pro133A. It's best to avoid the Intel i810, i820 and i840 chipsets, as these had bugs that were never completely ironed out. Generally, it's a good idea to avoid chipsets from SiS, PC-100, PC Chips, Aladdin or others.
    • For older Celeron, Pentium II and Pentium III processors up to 500MHz, a good motherboard built on the Intel i440BX chipset is your best bet. (The Intel i440BX was very stable and remained in production for a long time.) The Intel Seattle BX-2 motherboard is still widely available. The ASUS P2B and CUBX, and the A-Bit BH6 and BX6 were the "classic" i440BX motherboards.
    • Dell and Gateway computers always use Intel processors and are always built on Intel motherboards, which always use Intel chipsets. Computers made by these manufacturers are usually a safe bet if you specify one that uses a chipset that is well supported by the audio card manufacturers (such as the Intel i845, i865 or i875 chipsets).
    • At the time of this writing (December 2003) the best chipset for use with the latest AMD Athlon XP CPUs is still the nVidia nForce2. According to all trustworthy sources, it's better than any of the recent chipsets for Athlon XP from VIA and SiS, although some people are reporting good results using SiS chipsets. Everybody seems to be afraid of VIA chipsets.
    • If you already have a lot of PC133 or DDR SDRAM you want to keep using and you're looking to upgrade, I would recommend using a Pentium 4 2.4GHz or so, with an Intel, Asus or Gigabyte motherboard based on the Intel i845 chipset (unless you're running a ProTools 24|Mix setup, in which case you'll need to ask Digidesign what you should be using). If you are re-using your old PC133 SDRAM, make sure the motherboard you choose is designed to accept it. Likewise, if you're using DDR SDRAM, make sure to get the version that will work with that. NOTE: The ASROCK 8I845G motherboard is very inexpensive ($65 or so) and can run at 533MHz FSB using old PC-133 SDRAM. It also has two DDR-SDRAM slots, so you can upgrade without buying a new motherboard.
    • A great resource for heavy-duty PC tech talk is Tom's Hardware Guide, where you can learn all you ever wanted to know about PC performance and related topics. Also check the RME-Audio website for computer audio-specific info.
  • There are now several companies that will custom build a PC optimized for music production. These often include your choice of CPU, RAM, operating system, audio and MIDI interfaces, and software. Check out Central Computer Systsms and Wave Digital Systems. Some large music stores are also custom building music computer systems, including Sweetwater Sound.
  • If you're building your own PC (or upgrading), always use high quality parts! I've seen systems malfunction because of weak power supplies, substandard "generic" RAM or lousy motherboard design. Stick with well-known name brands and you should be OK.
    • For RAM, Crucial, Mushkin, Corsair and Micron are my favorites. I've also had good luck with Kingston, Siemens, Hyundai, Hitachi and Samsung RAM. Beware of "generic" RAM!
    • For IDE hard drives, I've had good luck with the recent-production Maxtor 7200 rpm drives. Western Digital drives are reputed to be good too. I've found Fujitsu drives to be very reliable, if a bit slow. A 5400 rpm drive is fine for the system drive (Windows and apps), but you should choose a faster 7200rpm drive for your audio disk. Get one with an 8MB buffer if you can afford it.
    • For SCSI hard drives, I like IBM UltraStar LVD or Ultra160 drives. Again, the faster the rotational speed, the faster the drive. I've had bad luck with Seagate and Quantum drives, but that is my own experience. But who uses SCSI anymore?
    • For CD-R, I've had good results using Plextor drives. Others have reported good results using Panasonic, Sony, Lite-On, TDK, Ricoh and Hewlett-Packard CD-R drives. FireWire, USB or IDE CD-R drives will only work well with recent-issue, fast computers (500MHz or faster). For older computers, use a SCSI CD-R drive (with an appropriate PCI SCSI controller card, of course).
    • A frequently overlooked piece of hardware is the power supply (usually supplied with the case). An underpowered power supply will cause instability. It's always a good idea to get a good case and power supply from a quality manufactuer like Enlight, Inwin or SuperMicro. (Good after-market power supplies are made by Antec and Enermax.) If you're running an AMD Athlon XP processor, make sure your case has an AMD-approved power supply installed, and be sure to install adequate cooling fans in your case! Intel Pentium 4 systems require power supplies designed especially for them. A great place to look for high quality cases and power supplies is PC Power & Cooling.
    • Also watch out for compatibility issues between peripherals. If you're really set on a particular soundcard or audio interface, check the manufacturer's website for links to user forums or newsgroups where you can read about users' experiences with various types of peripherals and software. You may find that advanced features of a particular soundcard won't work in your favorite audio program, or that a certain video card will cause problems in your particular system. This is the price of the PC's "open architecture"—there are many possibilities, but hidden pitfalls abound!
  • Your best bet for a "Salvation Army Special" is an old Pentium II 266 to 400MHz based PC. The original Pentium is too slow for multitrack editing, but will work fine for stereo recording/editing. If you're scrounging around for a 'freebie' starter PC, definitely avoid older (pre-1996) Pentium 60, 66 or 90MHz PC's. These often have ISA, Vesa Local Bus (VLB) and PCI slots all on the same motherboard. These first-generation Pentium machines had a lot of problems and are not compatible with most modern hardware, such as the latest sound cards, video cards or RAM. Also, AMD K6, K6-II or K6-III ("Super Seven") were unreliable, and are not recommended.
  • For the operating system, most of you will want to be running Windows XP Home Edition, although some prefer Windows XP Pro Edition (XP Pro has more advanced networking features, but either one will work fine for audio apps). You'll want a 1GHz or faster PC loaded up with at least 512MB of RAM for running multitrack audio with XP. Pentium III computers faster than 450MHz or Athlon computers slower than about 1GHz will run well with Windows 2000 Professional with Service Pack 4. Pentium II/Celeron slower than 450MHz or older Athlon/Duron computers will probably run best with Windows 98 Second Edition or Windows Millenium Edition ("Windows Me").
  • Windows 98 Second Edition is a good choice if:
    • You have an older computer that will work well with it, like a typical Pentium 166 MMX or faster, loaded up with at least 128MB of RAM, ...NOT a Pentium 75 with 16MB of RAM.
    • You are using ATA-100 hard drives, USB, FireWire devices, and/or you intend to attach digital video (DV) cameras to your computer. All of these technologies are supported better in Win98SE than in Win95 or WinNT.
    • You are doing extensive MIDI work and must have good MIDI timing and lots of MIDI channels. By turning off the extra doodads that Windows 98 installs by default, you can usually get very good MIDI timing in your sequencer apps under Win98. Also, check out 98lite for a cool way to strip Win98 down to its bare essentials.
  • Windows Me is a good choice if:
    • You have an older computer that will work well with it, like a typical Pentium II 300 or faster, loaded up with at least 128MB system RAM (256MB or more is recommended).
    • You are buying all new hardware, including the latest USB and FireWire gadgets.
    • You never need to run a DOS prompt.
  • Windows 2000 Professional is a good choice if:
    • You are very good with PCs and you don't mind being the System Administrator for your setup. If you don't know what this means, Win2000 is probably not for you...
    • You have a fairly recent PC that's not quite brand new, like a Pentium II 300 MHz or faster, loaded up with at least 256MB of RAM (384MB or more is highly recommended), ...NOT a Pentium 200 with 32MB of RAM! If you're getting a new PC, Windows XP is the better choice.
    • You have software that will work with it, like Cakewalk Sonar or Pro Audio 9, Sound Forge 5, or Cool Edit 2000, and NOT Digidesign Pro Tools Free.
    • You have music hardware that will work with it. While most audio hardware will work in Windows Win2000 using WinNT 4.0 drivers, not all hardware that works in Win98/Me will work in Win2000. Check with the manufacturer(s) of your hardware to see if it is compatible with Win2000, before you upgrade.
    • You are doing mostly audio work, not intensive MIDI sequencing work. This is because MIDI timing is generally worse in Windows 2000 than in Windows 95/98/Me, due to Win2000's fully protected-mode, 32-bit architecture. Since Win98/Me allows 16-bit real-mode access to the hardware, MIDI can be made to run much more smoothly. The downside is that this makes Win98/Me less stable. Please note that this does not affect audio timing, which is often better in Win2000 than in Win98/Me.
      • NOTE: This becomes less of a problem with a faster processor and hard disk subsystem. Cakewalk recommends at least a Pentium III 500 MHz processor for use with SONAR 2 in Win2000 or XP. Now that systems with 2GHz processors, 1GB of RAM and 120GB+ hard drives are commonplace, this shouldn't be much of a problem.
  • Windows XP Home Edition is a good choice if:
    • You have a recently made computer that will work with it, like a Pentium 4 running at 1.3GHz or faster, loaded up with at least 384MB of RAM (with RAM prices being so low these days, 512MB or more is highly recommended). Your aging Pentium II 300 with 128MB of PC66 SDRAM just won't cut it for XP.
    • You have software that will work well with XP. Check with the manufacturer of your music software to make sure (most newer software works just fine in XP).
    • You have music hardware with drivers that will work with XP, like the Digidesign Mbox and Digi 002, Lynx Studios LynxONE, DAL CardDeluxe, Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live! or RME soundcards, or a MidiMan BiPort 2X4s or Roland MPU-401 or compatible MIDI interface, ...NOT the MidiMan 1X1 or 2X2 MIDI interfaces, as these are for Windows 98 or Me only.
    • XP has a lot of cosmetic bells and whistles that can slow a system down for no good reason. LitePC (who brought us 98lite) makes a utility that allows users to remove a lot of the useless bloat from XP. It also works for Windows 2000.
  • Linux is slowly getting to be a viable alternative for musicians, and there is work going on aimed at making Linux a workable OS for the masses. Unfortunately, Linux still seems to be aimed at the programmer crowd, so most average musician-types will find it a challenge to get a Linux DAW up and running (command lines, switches, X-Terms, conf files...). But remember that the whole point of Linux is that you can get a powerful and stable OS with high quality software up and running for nearly free, given some extra time and effort.

    There are a couple of nice-looking multitrack audio sequencer/editors available for Linux, and more programs are sure to follow. Check out
    Planet CCRMA, Rosegarden and Ardour.

    More soundcards are gaining Linux support, including many from Sonorus (STUDI/O), SEK'D, RME Audio, M-Audio and others. Musicians who are interested in Linux should check out the ALSA Project and the Linux MIDI & Sound Applications website.

2) PCs often come with poor quality sound circuits built in, so a better quality soundcard should be purchased and installed. Soundcard marketing is a morass of false advertising and hyperbole, but there are many really good products available. I have direct experience with several soundcards, and it definitely pays to do your homework before you buy.

3) A big IDE or SCSI hard drive, at least 18.2GB or larger. You'll have to decide if you want to use the typical PC's internal IDE (a.k.a. ATA) hard drives and CD-R/CD-ROM/DVD drives, or if you want to invest in a SCSI adapter to connect your PC to SCSI hard drives and CD-ROM/CD-R drives. While older PCs worked much better for audio when equipped with SCSI hard drives and CD burners, newer PCs are so fast that they're able to work just fine with today's "ATA-133" IDE and FireWire drives.

Confused by all this talk about hard drive interfaces? Read the article "Which is Better: IDE, SCSI, USB or FireWire?".

4) Software: There is a lot of fine quality Windows music "shareware" available on the Internet. Don't be afraid to try these programs out, some are excellent. A great shareware stereo sound editor is GoldWave. Of course there are tremendous commercial Windows sound editors, such as Samplitude and Steinberg WaveLab, as well as MIDI/Audio sequencers such as Cakewalk Sonar and Steinberg Cubase SX on the high end, with Raw Material Tracktion, PG Music Power Tracks Pro Audio and FASoft n-Track bringing up the low end.

  • Speaking of software, there are a number of things that can really screw up a PC's ability to play and record clean sounding digital audio — resource-greedy device drivers, overly intrusive anti-virus programs and fancy fax software are examples that come to mind right away. Excessive "feature bloat" is the kiss of death for good audio performance from a PC. If your first priority is music production then it is essential that you fine tune your computer system for your musical uses as opposed to playing games or viewing multimedia on the web. Check out this article for tips on trimming down WinXP for better music production performance. And don't forget XP Lite!



Hard Drive Requirements - Pro Tools LE for Windows

Pro Tools LE Audio File Storage Requirements for Windows XP and Vista
As with all Pro Tools systems, drive performance depends on a number of factors, including track count, edit density, and the use of crossfades or processing such as plug-ins.



Mbox 2, Mbox 2 Mini, Mbox USB Interface Systems:

  • Full 32 track, 24 bit, 48 KHz performance from just one dedicated IDE/ATA or SATA audio drive is supported.

  • Qualified for up to 48 tracks of 24-bit/48 kHz audio with 2 drives (with Music Production Toolkit or DV Toolkit 2 options for Pro Tools LE 7.1 and higher)

003 Factory, 003 Rack, Mbox 2 Pro, Digi 002, Digi 002 Rack FireWire Interface Systems:

  • Full 32 track, 24 bit, 48 KHz performance from just one dedicated IDE/ATA or SATA audio drive is supported.

  • Full 32 track, 24 bit, 96 KHz performance from two dedicated IDE/ATA or SATA audio drives is supported.

  • Qualified for up to 48 tracks of 24-bit/96 kHz audio with 2 drives (with Music Production Toolkit or DV Toolkit 2 options for Pro Tools LE 7.1 and higher)

Digi 001 & Audiomedia III/ToolBox PCI Interface Systems:

  • Full 32 track, 24 bit, 48 KHz performance from just one dedicated IDE/ATA audio drive is supported. (SATA drives not tested with Digi 001 or Audiomedia III)


Not Supported

eSATA Hard Drives
Although there have been no reported issues with eSATA drives, these have not been tested by Digidesign, and are therefore not supported.

USB 2.0 Hard Drives
USB hard drives are NOT recommended or supported for use as recording drives. Limited testing has shown that performance with USB drives is inferior to that of FireWire drives.


SCSI Drives

Using a dedicated SCSI drive and SCSI HBA (Host Bus Adapter) card will, in general, provide the same performance as an IDE/ATA drive, with the exception that IDE/ATA drives may take a couple seconds longer than SCSI drives to start recording large numbers of tracks.

When using an ATTO SCSI HBA (Host Bus Adapter), ATTO driver and firmware v1.66 is required. Before upgrading to ATTO 1.66 driver and firmware, disconnect all drives connected to the ATTO SCSI controller card. ATTO driver and firmware updates are available from ATTO:

For more information about SCSI card requirements, please see the following page:

Avid & Digidesign SCSI Storage Options

  • Avid MediaDrive rS300/320 LVD

  • Avid MediaDrive rS146/320 LVD

  • Avid MediaDrive rS73/320 LVD

  • Avid MediaDrive rS36/320 LVD

  • Avid MediaDock Shuttle iS146/320 LVD

  • Avid MediaDock Shuttle iS73/320 LVD

  • Avid MediaDock Shuttle iS36/320 LVD

  • Avid MediaDock Dual

  • Avid MediaDock Dual+

  • DigiDrive SCSI Drives

  • DigiDrive MediaDock

  • SCSI-128 Kit (with ATTO Express PCI-UL3D)

Not tested with Pro Tools 6.9 and higher:

  • SCSI-64 Kit/ATTO Express PCI-DC


FireWire Hard Drives

The Avid MediaDrive rS250, Avid MediaDrive rS80, and DigiDrive FireWire 80, and third-party 7200 rpm FireWire 400 drives with the Oxford 911 chipset have been qualified for record and playback with all Pro Tools LE systems for the following:

  • Qualified for up to 32 tracks of 24-bit/48 kHz audio with 1 drive

  • Qualified for up to 48 tracks of 24-bit/48 kHz audio with 2 drives (with Music Production Toolkit or DV Toolkit 2 options for Pro Tools LE 7.1 and higher)

The Avid MediaDrive rS250, Avid MediaDrive rS80, and DigiDrive FireWire 80, and third-party 7200 rpm FireWire 400 drives with the Oxford 911 chipset have been qualified for record and playback with 003 Factory, 003 Rack, Mbox 2 Pro, Digi 002, Digi 002 Rack FireWire interface systems for the following:

  • Qualified for up to 32 tracks of 24-bit/48 kHz audio with 1 drive

  • Qualified for up to 24 tracks of 24-bit/96 kHz audio with 1 drive

  • Qualified for up to 32 tracks of 24-bit/96 kHz audio with 2 drives

  • Qualified for up to 48 tracks of 24-bit/96 kHz audio with 2 drives (with Music Production Toolkit or DV Toolkit 2 options for Pro Tools LE 7.1 and higher)

For more information and specific requirements for FireWire drives, including information on FireWire 800 drives, see the following:

For additional information on using FireWire drives with Digidesign Pro Tools LE FireWire interfaces, see the Getting Started guides for 003/003 Rack, Mbox 2 Pro, Digi 002/002 Rack.

Please Note: PC vendors change or remove components such as Firewire hosts often. Please confirm with your vendor that your machine includes a compatible card from the list of Digidesign-Qualified FireWire/1394 HBA Cards for Windows XP.


Hard Drive Requirements & Formatting

For IDE/ATA, SATA, FireWire or SCSI Drives
Record and Playback Drives:

  • Minimum speed of 7200 RPM & average seek time of less than 10.0 ms

  • NTFS or FAT32 file system for Windows XP with Pro Tools 7.3 and lower

  • NTFS file system for Windows XP and Vista with Pro Tools 7.4 and higher

    • Windows XP is unable to create a FAT32 partition on a drive that is larger than 32 GB. If your drive is larger than 32 GB, either use a partitioning application such as PartitionMagic or use the NTFS file system.

    • Windows NTFS or FAT32 formatted drives supported on Mac OS X for transfer only

  • Please Note: FAT32 Volumes Not Supported for Recording with Pro Tools 7.4 and Higher for Windows

    • Pro Tools 7.3.x is the last version of Pro Tools that supports FAT32 for Recording.

    • Pro Tools 7.4 and higher for Windows XP and Windows Vista do not support FAT32 for recording, but will continue to support FAT32 formatted volumes for Playback and Transfer.

  • Recording to boot drive not recommended or supported

  • For 24-32 tracks, drives must be dedicated for audio (internal or external)

  • Each IDE drive must have DMA enabled in the "System" Control Panel. This can be changed in the "Settings" of each IDE drive on the "Device Manager" tab of the "System" Control Panel. For detailed instructions, see the following page: DMA Mode Enabled Instructions

  • Pro Tools does not support RAID technology. Please do not activate this feature on any Pro Tools recording drives.

  • Pro Tools only supports Basic drive Types (Dynamic drive types are not supported)

  • Drives should be formatted with Windows XP disk administration without Dynamic Disk selected

Mac HFS+ Disk Support Option
Pro Tools 7.3 and higher only

The Mac HFS+ Disk Support option lets you interchange sessions between Mac-based and Windows-based Pro Tools systems using local HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) formatted hard drives.

With the Mac HFS+ Disk Support option installed on a Windows computer, you can mount an HFS+ drive on a Windows-based Pro Tools system, and record and play back Pro Tools sessions directly on that drive as if it were natively formatted (for example, NTFS or FAT32) for Windows.

  • A Digidesign-qualified Pro Tools|HD® system or Pro Tools LE™ system running Pro Tools 7.3 or higher on a Windows computer

  • A qualified hard drive formatted on a Mac computer as HFS+ (Mac OS X Extended)

For more information, including installation instructions and session compatbility, see the Mac HFS+ Disk Support Guide (available for download below).

For systems lower than Pro Tools 7.3, Mac HFS+ formatted drives are supported on Windows XP for transfer only by using MacDrive 6 software by Mediafour (purchased separately).


Storage Guidelines

Approximate Storage Consumption (Megabytes per Minute per Track)

16-Bit Audio Files:

  • 5 MB per minute per track @ 44.1 kHz sample rate

  • 5.5 MB per minute per track @ 48 kHz sample rate

  • 11 MB per minute per track @ 96 kHz sample rate

24-Bit Audio Files:

  • 7.5 MB per minute per track @ 44.1 kHz sample rate

  • 8 MB per minute per track @ 48 kHz sample rate

  • 16 MB per minute per track @ 96 kHz sample rate


  • Pro Tools has a single audio file size limit of 2048 MB. This equates to about 4.5 hours at 24-bit, 44.1 kHz.

  • High Speed Drives require manufacturer-approved enclosure to ensure correct heat dissipation, required for sustained drive reliability.


DV Tookit 2 & Music Production Toolkit Options — Maximum Track Count Information

The purchase of either of these options expand a Pro Tools LE system from 32 total voiceable tracks to up to 48 mono or 48 stereo tracks. Note that maximum track count may vary depending on CPU, OS, number of edits, drives, or other factors. To help achieve maximum track count, Digidesign recommends the following:

  • 2GHz or higher processor

  • 1GB total system RAM or more with Pro Tools 7.1-7.3

  • 2.5GB total system RAM with Pro Tools 7.4

  • 2 or more qualified hard drives dedicated for audio record and playback

How To Remove Digidesign, Avid, & Other Related Expired Software


Every time I launch Pro Tools, I get "This version of (plug-in name) requires authorization for you to use it. Please press the Authorize button to begin the authorization process." The only options are to Authorize/Buy or Quit. How do I remove expired (trial) plug-ins?


Pop-up Authorization Messages

All Digidesign plug-ins and software that require an additional purchase (and many from third-party developers) require an iLok license for authorization.*

When the Pro Tools application is launched, a message will appear for each plug-in or software option that requires iLok authorization if the license for that sofware is not found on an iLok connected to your computer.

Pro Tools installers and installation disks include various installers for optional plug-ins and software in order to allow existing owners of these options to install or update software for which they have licenses.

If you have installed optional plug-ins or software that you did not purchase, and you do not have an iLok license to use these items, you can remove the software using the instructions below. Once you do, the pop-up authorization message will no longer appear during Pro Tools startup. The procedure for removing the expired (demo) software is different depending on the software type and platform. Information on trial licenses is at the bottom of this page.

*With the exception of MP3 Option ( Click Here for more info)

What Plug-Ins Are Included With My System?

  • To find out what plug-ins are included with your Pro Tools system purchase*, see the Products Section of the website.

  • Choose your Pro Tools system, then click on the "Bundled Plug-Ins" tab.

*While the DigiRack plug-ins are included with all Pro Tools software upgrades, promotional bundles such as the Ignition Pack software are included with the purchase of new Pro Tools HD and LE hardware systems only. The Ignition Pack bundle is not included with Pro Tools software upgrades. DigiRack Plug-ins, original Ignition Pack, and Ignition Pack 2 software do not use iLok authorization (only the Ignition Pack 2 Pro includes extra softare that is iLok-authorized). DigiRack plug-ins require no authorization for use in Pro Tools, while the Ignition Pack software includes instructions for authorization on the printed cards for each Ignition Pack 3rd party product.



Use Add/Remove programs to remove any plug-ins that you do not want on your system. To manually remove:

C:\Program Files\Common Files\Digidesign\DAE|Plug-Ins

Mac OS X:

Go to Mac HD/Library/Application Support/Digidesign/Plug-ins and delete the relevant plug-in(s), then empty the Trash.

In some cases, there may be multiple plug-in files for one plug-in installation. For instance, D-Fi consists of these 4 plug-ins, which you would remove from your plug-ins folder:

  • LoFi

  • RectiFi

  • SciFi

  • VariFi

Optional Software & Bundles

DigiTranslator, DV Toolkit, DV Toolkit 2, and the Music Production Toolkit are optional software purchases that are not included with the regular purchase of Pro Tools software or hardware systems. Some of these software components are installed in the Pro Tools folder instead of the Plug-ins folder:

The Pro Tools folder can be found in C/Programs/Digidesign/ on Windows, and Hard Drive/Applications/Digidesign/ on Mac OS X.



DigiTranslator may be removed by deleting the OMF.dll or OMF.bundle file from the Pro Tools folder.


Music Production Toolkit

Music Production Toolkit can be removed by deleting the MusicProductionToolkit.bundle (Mac) or MusicProductionToolkit.dll (Windows) from the Pro Tools folder. In addition to the Music Production Toolkit file, Music Production Toolkit also includes these 5 plug-ins:

  • TL Space Native

  • DINR LE (plug-in is named "Broadband Noise Reduction LE", iLok license is named "BNR LE")

  • Hybrid

  • Smack! LE

  • SoundReplacer

DV Toolkit 2

DV ToolKit 2 can be removed by deleting the OMF.bundle (Mac) or OMF.dll (Windows) AND the DVToolkit2.bundle (Mac) or DVToolkit2.dll (Windows) files from the Pro Tools folder. In addition to the DV Toolkit 2 and DigiTranslator files, DV Toolkit 2 also includes these 3 plug-ins:

  • TL Space Native

  • DINR LE< (plug-in is named "Broadband Noise Reduction LE", iLok license is named "BNR LE")

  • Synchro Arts VocALign Project LE (plug-in is named "VocALignLEX", iLok license is named "VocALign Project LE"

DV Toolkit

DV ToolKit can be removed by deleting the OMF.dll or OMF.bundle file and the timecode.dll or timecode.bundle from the Pro Tools folder. In addition to the DV Toolkit and DigiTranslator files, the original DV Toolkit also includes these 2 plug-ins:

  • DINR LE (plug-in is named "Broadband Noise Reduction LE", iLok license is named "BNR LE")

  • Synchro Arts VocALign Project LE (plug-in is named "VocALignLEX", iLok license is named "VocALign Project LE"

Additional Notes

iLok Information
For more about iLok licenses, see the following page:
iLok & iLok.com Information & Assistance

Pro Tools 7 Plug-ins Trial Licenses

A system to obtain trial licenses for many Digidesign plug-ins for Pro Tools 7 is now available on the website. Trial mode lets you try this software on your system before purchasing it. To activate a time-limited trial license for this software, you must have an iLok and a valid iLok.com User ID. Please Note: Trial licenses are not available for every plug-in, most non-plug-in software options, or the Pro Tools application.

To obtain your trial license using the online activation process:

  • Go to the Pro Tools Plug-Ins product section

  • Select the page for the Digidesign, Digidesign/Bomb Factory, Digidesign/Trillium Lane Labs, or other Digi-distributed plug-ins you are interested in trying.

  • Go to the download section for each plug-in

  • Click the link that says [Activate Now]

  • Enter your iLok.com User ID

  • If you have not previously tried the plug-in, the time-limited trial license will be deposited to your iLok account

Challenge/Response Authorization

Digidesign and Digi-distributed plug-ins and software that require an iLok authorization do not use the challenge/response authorization method. Although you may see a screen giving a challenge code, that is a random message generated by the PACE license software, and cannot be used with iLok-authorized plug-ins.


How do I transfer ownership of a Pro Tools system?

How do I transfer ownership of a Pro Tools system?


To transfer the registration of used Digidesign hardware, you will need to fill out a Transfer of Ownership Form. Transfer of registration only entitles you to participate in the Digidesign Hardware Exchange Program and certain repair services for your hardware (repair fees will apply). Please download and print this form and follow the same instructions listed above for new registration. You will find a link to the form here:



If you are selling a used system, you should fill out the seller's portion of the Transfer of Ownership Form and include it with the sale.

The Pro Tools license is included with Pro Tools core hardware systems and cannot be sold separately (this includes any upgrades to the Pro Tools software). If you sell a core system, the included Pro Tools license then becomes the property of the new owner, and any future update or upgrade rights are transferred as well.

The seller is responsible for providing all Pro Tools software and Pro Tools authorizations for that software that should be included with a used core system. If the current software and authorizations were not included, the buyer must purchase a Pro Tools software upgrade from the DigiStore or an Authorized Digidesign Dealer. All purchased Pro Tools upgrades are complete installers that do not require previous installation of Pro Tools or registration, either to purchase or install the Pro Tools upgrades.

Registration of Plug-Ins and Optional Software Not Transferable

Digidesign will NOT transfer product registration for used plug-ins or other optional software from the original owner to another owner. Transfer of iLok authorizations by buyers and sellers can be done at www.iLok.com. Transfer of iLok licenses are between the individual parties. Digidesign will only register software purchased by the original owner, and only when purchased from an Authorized Digidesign Dealer.

Authorized US Digidesign dealers do not sell Digidesign products on eBay.com or other online auction sites in the US. If you purchase a Digidesign product from an online auction site - such as eBay -you may be purchasing from someone other than an Authorized Digidesign Dealer, and your software product may not be registerable.


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