Do you really need the most expensive Mac or PC to handle big track counts and lots of plugins in your home studio?

The short answer is: no. The computer you already have is probably fine.

In fact, as of this writing I’m still rocking a 6 year old Mac Mini in my studio. I did, however, just do some upgrades to it that have helped a lot.

In fact there are some strategic things you can do (or upgrade) to optimize your Mac or PC to be a beast of a DAW machine. Let’s unpack those now.

mac studio

Max Out Your RAM

In the “old” days of DAWs – how much RAM you had really didn’t’ matter. This was because the operating systems and DAWs weren’t 64 bit, and they could only allot a certain amount of RAM (memory) to any one program at a given time.

Not so anymore. These days, most DAWs can take all the RAM you through at them, giving you more power and quicker response in a dense mix.

Since third party memory is both so cheap and easy to install or swap out, this is the obvious place to start.

Since I’m a Mac guy, I’ll point you to my favorite place to buy RAM for my Macs and that is OWC (Other World Computing). Great products. Great prices. And great tutorials/support.

For example – my Mac Mini came with 4GB of RAM 5 years ago. I immediately doubled it to 8GB. And then just this month I doubled it again to 16GB. Makes a huge difference.

Record To (And Mix From) An External Drive

This one is so simple and so huge. Do not record to or mix from your internal system drive, the same hard drive that has your operating system and DAW installed on it.

Instead, hook up a USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt drive that is used only for recording to.

Why? Because it will free your system drive up to just run the software, plugins, and OS. Much like studios used to have tape machines and consoles each doing their own thing, you should have a separate hard drive feeding your DAW audio and not combine the two. Keep it clean and separate and you’ll get better performance.

Of course, if you (like me) have two internal hard drives in your computer then you don’t need an external drive. The point is to save all your sessions on a separate drive and pull from that when recording and mixing.

Replace Your Hard Drives With Solid State Drives

One of the other more recent upgrades I made was replacing my standard 7200 RPM drives with SSDs (Solid State Drives). These have no moving parts, make no noise, and are ridiculously fast.

Not only will you notice your applications and programs opening with more zip, but your computer will run with more power and speed overall.

For example after swapping out my old spinning drives with SSDs and putting more RAM in my Mac Mini I was able to run a Pro Tools session with 50 audio tracks and 250 reverbs!!

PT Reverb Test

BONUS: Close All Other Applications!

I thought about almost not mentioning this because to me it seems so obvious, but then I changed my mind. I’m sure someone out there reading this needs to hear it. So here goes:

If you want your DAW to have as much power as possible, then for goodness sakes, please close all other programs and applications when recording and mixing!

This is simple math. Your computer has a finite amount of power and resources at its disposal. Why on earth would you share that with another application if you need it all for your DAW?

Just in case it hasn’t sunk in yet, let’s get specific.

When recording or mixing you need to close out of the following:

  • Email software
  • Web browsers
  • Chat software
  • iTunes or other music players
  • Video games
  • Video streaming apps

Just close out of everything that’s not your DAW and you’ll be in good shape!

The 5 Year Rule

One final thought for you my friend. Like anything in life you purchase, your goal should be to get maximum value out of it. It’s the only way to justify spending your hard earned money on something.

So when it comes to computers for your home studio, I use a simple rule of thumb: always keep your studio computer for at least 5 years.

That’s it.

If you are swapping out your computer every 2 or 3 years, you’re losing money. And it probably means you didn’t buy the right computer for the job.

I view computers as an investment so I want to buy the best computer for my money. I prefer Macs over PCs. I never buy them new, I only buy refurbished, and I always use them for 5 years minimum before I replace them. With my current Mac Mini I just dumped a few hundred dollars into it to give it more life rather than replace it, but that still fits within my rule.

Is Your Computer Optimized?

So what about you? Have you optimized your computer for your home studio?

Leave a comment below and answer these two questions:

  1. What kind of computer are you using? (Specs and all)
  2. And what is one thing you’ve found that helps optimize it for recording and mixing?