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Rackmount PC anyone?
Old 16th October 2013
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Rackmount PC anyone?

Hey guys!

So I'm hoping to start the process of either buying and or making my own rackmount PC. Why rackmount? Well for what I do, it is going to fit my needs perfectly, simple as that. So what do I need in this rackmount?

Lets start with the motherboard
  • A solid motherboard with at least 5 PCI-e ports. two for video cards (allowing me to have at least 4 monitors), one for a firewire 800 port (for an RME fireface 800), one for a wireless N (or maybe AC) card, and the two others for expandability.
  • Support for up to 64gb of ram (I'll probably start off with 16g to see how it fairs. My current has 9gb and I sometimes push it when I have a heavy amount of soft synths loaded)
  • Support for at least 6 drives. Two 240 SSD... one for OS+DAW software (I know you probably shouldn't mix your DAW on the same drive as your OS, but with running a high performance SSD, I figured I wouldn't get any major issues) and one for Project files. two 960gb SSDs to hold samples from soft synths. 2+ for expandability, since those two 960 SSDs will be pretty much full when I purchase my other sample package. No backup drive? Yes and no... I won't have an internal backup drive, I will however have an HDD that I'll hook up via usb 3.0 to do my backing up. I just don't want the HDD to be inside the unit for noise and durability purposes.
  • Support for the latest Haswell chipsets (Ivy Bridge would be okay too)

Now lets look at the rackmount case
  • The rack has to support the amount of SSDs and PCI-e cards that I have listed up above.
  • It needs to have room (not sure if I should run a u4 or u5?) to run liquid cooling. Why liquid cooling? Well, the unit is going to be in between other devices such as rackmount power supplies, a headphone amplifier, RME's Fireface 800 etc., which means it will only get to breath through the back, which makes me way to nervous to trust air to cool my system when everything around it is probably going to be pretty warm.
  • Not a necessity, but I would like the case to look pretty sweet :-P

So as you can tell, I have very specific needs and wants for this guy. Which you might think I should build. I would think so too, but when I start thinking about the pros and cons of buying, it makes me second guess.

Speaking of Pros and cons, I should probably show you my list so you can understand why I keep on second guessing myself in the battle of build or buy...

---Building---

Pros:
  • Choice of the exact gear that I want without compromise (for the most part)
  • I can buy, for the most part, over time, allowing me to upgrade my current system with the new hardware, then eventually plug everything into the new rackmount system.
  • The pleasure of knowing I built a very fancy rackmount unit
  • Inherently cheaper, at least in theory

Cons:
  • Possible unforeseen hardware to software to hardware to whatever issues
  • No full product warranty, only individual device warranties. (I like safety nets!)
  • The amount of time to research components + building the dang thing (especially when dealing with liquid cooling)


---Buying---

Pros:
  • Buy and be done. No worries of hardware compatibility glitches, since the manufactures (at least the one I'd be buying from) took the time to make sure they would all run well together.
  • OS Tweaks - some manufactures that I have looked at tweak the operating system as well as the bios to make sure everything will run to it's best ability.

Cons:
  • Pricey! Like, the system I described above would run me $4500+ and that's without factoring the 2k Fireface 800!
  • Have to buy everything at once, which means I can't upgrade my current system as we go to get some of the benefits that the new guy will give me when he's all put together.
  • I have to compromise on some selection because the manufacture doesn't offer it (like liquid cooling)

Now, I know the decision is inherently up to me, but I would love to hear some of your guys' insights. Maybe point out something I missed as far as a pro or con or maybe something in regards to my wanted hardware choices. Also, If you have any experience with liquid cooling and or rackmount units, I’d love to hear about it! Anyway, can't wait you hear from you all!

-Jason Dennic
Old 16th October 2013
  #2
Quote:
[*]A solid motherboard with at least 5 PCI-e ports. two for video cards (allowing me to have at least 4 monitors), one for a firewire 800 port (for an RME fireface 800), one for a wireless N (or maybe AC) card, and the two others for expandability.
2 Graphics cards? Rather get one that has 4 ports. 2 cards is not ideal.

Quote:
[*]Support for up to 64gb of ram (I'll probably start off with 16g to see how it fairs. My current has 9gb and I sometimes push it when I have a heavy amount of soft synths loaded)[*]Support for the latest Haswell chipsets (Ivy Bridge would be okay too)
Current Haswell boards only allow up to 32 GB. I suggest an LGA2011 board.

Quote:
[*] (I know you probably shouldn't mix your DAW on the same drive as your OS, but with running a high performance SSD, I figured I wouldn't get any major issues)
You SHOULD install all software on the OS drive since a part of the installation data end up in system folders and the registry anyway. Only libraries from instrument plugs and DAWs should best be installed on a separate drive, and usually you get an opportunity to do so when installing the application.


Quote:
[*]It needs to have room (not sure if I should run a u4 or u5?) to run liquid cooling.
Tough one. Current systems run very cool, especially the new Ivy Bridge LGA 2011 CPUs. Unless the system indeed rests on an amp or power supply, I woud use air to cool it. Liquid cooling will probably require a larger case, but I might be wrong in this case.
Old 16th October 2013
  #3
Here for the gear
 

I would suggest building as you say you will have time to build up your own system and use the money for best components or other gear.
As for tweaks you will find that most DAW sites have suggested tweaks which are easier enough to perform.
There are only a few bios tweaks necessary which i will happily help with or i'm sure some other informed guys on here will help with.

Most rack cases will have venting on the front and rear, as long as you get some large slow turning fans, air cooling will be sufficient and also quiet. I can whole heartedly suggest noctua products for this.

Just make sure you don't leave any hot spots in the case particularly around the graphics cards.
Old 16th October 2013
  #4
I don't have experience using Wireless AC cards, but wireless network is often the reason for high DPC latency spikes, so make sure you turn it off when doing audio.

For multiple monitors, AMD Eyefinity cards support up to 6 monitors (but often the same resolution) so single card will handle your request as DAW PLUS pointed out. Check "Eyefinity" in amd.com to find out what it is.

For other questions, well....I have to say rackmount PC is primarily meant for servers, so the cases/fans are noisy. If you need to ask all these questions, which indicates this is your first build, you may find it very challenging along the way. I would say rackmount PC building is for folks with some previous experience with regular towers.
Old 16th October 2013
  #5
Quote:
Originally Posted by Masaaki View Post
For other questions, well....I have to say rackmount PC is primarily meant for servers, so the cases/fans are noisy.
Not really, many studios just put the rackmount in a rack, either in the control room or in the machine room. They can be made very silent, it depends on the components used.
I agree that building it yourself can be very challenging to make things fit and keeping them silent, especially when using a 520mm or 450mm 4U rack which are for music racks.
Old 16th October 2013
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by DAW PLUS View Post
Not really, many studios just put the rackmount in a rack, either in the control room or in the machine room. They can be made very silent, it depends on the components used.
I agree that building it yourself can be very challenging to make things fit and keeping them silent, especially when using a 520mm or 450mm 4U rack which are for music racks.
I should have said rackmount "chassis". As far as 5 or 6 rack cases I bought (they are all cheap ones, btw), fans came in the box were all high-RPM noisy fans (good airflow, of course). So, I ended up replacing with quieter fans, also the drive mounting didn't have insulators like the one in Antec Sonata or Fractal Define R4, so I put some parts from quietpc, endpcnoise, etc. If it's all SSD, it would be fine. But 2TB of SSD? That's expensive.........
Old 16th October 2013
  #7
Gear Maniac
Current single processor boards only go to 48 GB (8 GB modules work in many board, and the i7s have 6 slots). Dual processor versions of Haswell aren't out, in fact Ivy bridge-E for SMP is just about to come out.

You can't buy a server class 19" computer for audio applications, they are too loud. You need to buy a 3 or 4 unit case after you review the fan configuration (2x 120mm should be ideal), then you dump all the fans and put fans of your (noise) choice. You can't exclusively do watercooling since many on-board chips need some airflow.
Old 16th October 2013
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by uOpt View Post
Current single processor boards only go to 48 GB (8 GB modules work in many board, and the i7s have 6 slots). Dual processor versions of Haswell aren't out, in fact Ivy bridge-E for SMP is just about to come out.
Haswell only allows 32 GB, single CPU LGA2011 chipsets can handle 256GB RAM.
Old 16th October 2013
  #9
Gear Maniac
Right, no triple channel on Haswell desktops, so no 48 GB.

As you say I also overlooked that you can have single processor Sandy Bridge E with quad channel RAM. Whether that's a good tradeoff with the older processor is a different matter.

People who just need lotsa RAM cheap should also look into used single-processor AMD G34 boards. Those take registered RAM and have dual dual-channel (not really quad channel performance wise, but twice the slots).
Old 16th October 2013
  #10
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by DAW PLUS View Post
Current Haswell boards only allow up to 32 GB. I suggest an LGA2011 board.
Gotcha, I didn’t know that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DAW PLUS View Post
You SHOULD install all software on the OS drive since a part of the installation data end up in system folders and the registry anyway. Only libraries from instrument plugs and DAWs should best be installed on a separate drive, and usually you get an opportunity to do so when installing the application.
Yeah and that’s what I do now on my current system and I don’t have any issues with it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DAW PLUS View Post
Tough one. Current systems run very cool, especially the new Ivy Bridge LGA 2011 CPUs. Unless the system indeed rests on an amp or power supply, I woud use air to cool it. Liquid cooling will probably require a larger case, but I might be wrong in this case.
Gotcha… Yeah my concern was heat, but I forgot to add it’s also noise. However, I know there are some good fans out there that are exceedingly quiet. Well, I was actually going to sit it on the power supply haha. But, if it’ll save me some money and the headache of messing with liquid cooling, which I’ve never done before, I don’t mind mapping out my rack differently :-P.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dub Gussett View Post
I would suggest building as you say you will have time to build up your own system and use the money for best components or other gear.
As for tweaks you will find that most DAW sites have suggested tweaks which are easier enough to perform.
There are only a few bios tweaks necessary which i will happily help with or i'm sure some other informed guys on here will help with.

Most rack cases will have venting on the front and rear, as long as you get some large slow turning fans, air cooling will be sufficient and also quiet. I can whole heartedly suggest noctua products for this.

Just make sure you don't leave any hot spots in the case particularly around the graphics cards.
Okay cool. I never thought to look around my DAW’s website to see if they have suggestions on tweaking the OS. Great tip! I just might hit you up on that offer for tweaking my BIOS, although it’ll be awhile until I’m ready to build the whole thing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Masaaki View Post
I … As far as 5 or 6 rack cases I bought (they are all cheap ones, btw), fans came in the box were all high-RPM noisy fans (good airflow, of course). So, I ended up replacing with quieter fans, also the drive mounting didn't have insulators like the one in Antec Sonata or Fractal Define R4, so I put some parts from quietpc, endpcnoise, etc. If it's all SSD, it would be fine. But 2TB of SSD? That's expensive.........
Awesome, thanks for the tips. That is also one of my main concerns is noise, but as I said, Rackmount is pretty much the perfect solution for me, so I got to make it work. 1tb SSDs are pricey but they have dropped significantly in price since they first started offering them to the general consumer. A Crucial M500 960gb SSD runs at about 549.99 on Amazon. Yeah that’s still expensive, but nowhere near the price they were ?


Anyway, lots of great info here, thanks a bunch! After looking at all the info you guys have given me, it looks like building might be the better option for me.

So, any recommendation on a good rackmount case that has all that I need? I’ve looked around a bit and haven’t found one that I really like.

Thanks again!

-Jason Dennic
Old 17th October 2013
  #11
Lives for gear
Check istarusa for rack cases. I bought one from them for my rackmount daw pc. Seems very sturdy and is aesthetically pleasing .
Old 17th October 2013
  #12
Gear Addict
 
John Reid's Avatar
 

Honestly, there's NO reason to water cool (WC) this type of system.... especially if you've never done it before.

Modern air coolers are extremely efficient & quiet (Noctua, mentioned above, is a great brand), so WC enthusiasts usually go down the water path for the possibility of a massive CPU or GPU overclock, or just for the fun of the hobby.

Also, going WC doesn't necessarily mean silent; there are always going to be fans turning (the bigger the WC loop, the more fans you need to exhaust the heat from the radiators, & there'll also be pump noise).

Depending on the setup, it's usually LESS quiet than a good air cooler will produce (obviously excluding video cards, which can sometimes be the noisiest component in a system if they're doing intensive 3D work).

Hell, most hardcore WC enthusiasts would tell you to avoid WC unless you really enjoy the constant tweaking, flushing the system every year (complete disassembly of the flow path to clean out biological contaminants and sludge), and the possibility of leakage & fried components.

Another note: "All in One" liquid cooling systems (AIOs) are not really ready for prime time if you're looking for a quiet system, either. Here's a link from a recent roundup where they pit AIOs against the Nocuta NH-D14 air cooler.

This graph is for noise/ acoustic efficiency (cliff note: the Noctua was the quietest overall at 28 dbA):

Noise Results And Acoustic Efficiency - Four New Closed-Loop Liquid Coolers Versus Noctua's NH-D14

Good luck!
Old 18th October 2013
  #13
Gear Addict
 
xcskier's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Dennic View Post
So, any recommendation on a good rackmount case that has all that I need? I’ve looked around a bit and haven’t found one that I really like.
We used an Antec 4U for our last build. It's almost 9 years old now and just as solid as new. A great case, has some weight to it. We used it in a shock-mount road case for location, and in studio. (Actually the road case was previously used in a cryogenics operation but that's another story...)

However, the Antec 3U and 4U seem to be out of stock everywhere. Anyone know the story?

For our next rackmount case, I've been looking at Norco. Anyone with experience? Quality of hot-swap bays/caddies ?
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