Small form factor Windows machine ruminations

As @jobrazy noted, there are compromises. In response to @JonFair Jon’s question, NUCs are noisy at anything but dead idle. The fans are ridiculously small, so when you get to the higher performance processors the cases are no longer as small as the NUC form factor, you can fry eggs on them, and they are still noisy, and you still can’t fit a big graphics card in them with a few exceptions, but those still don’t have room for liquid cooling so… you get the idea. If you want a monster PC rig you are looking at an ITX board and a minimum 11 liter case - and the shape of that matters if you expect to fit everything (and the big graphics cards require high power SF series power supplies). Cable routing can make or break a build when it gets that small. With successful builds though you get a full blown tower rig in 30% of the space, quiet enough that even at full load you can’t hear it, and cool. No laptop can even come close, but those are the tradeoffs. In my case I use it for other work than my music and it’s beyond what most people would need though.

As Jon said:



Given the fan noise, I won’t ask Santa for an NUC. :wink:

Back when I was doing sound for picture (not professionally), it was all about RAM for orchestral samples. It would be even more important with today’s larger libraries. My current needs are simpler, so a 16GB Mac is adequate.

If I can get a Mac Mini to boot with a tablet running on Sidecar, that might be my ideal setup. It’s cheaper than a laptop and has a smaller form factor with no screen that has to be popped open. I could use my noisy daily driver Mac laptop as the emergency backup.

Also, I’m using Logic for composing backing MIDI and automation. It’s nice to have everything in the same machine during preproduction.

That said, the NUC looks to be really cost and space effective, if the heat and fan are acceptable. In a few years, we’ll carry our live rigs on our keychains, if not in our phones.


I know that a lot of MainStage users are using this kind of setup - so this should be working with GP as well :wink:


I picked up a 2014 Mac Mini on eBay with 16g ram and a 2t SSD drive. I found this dongle called Luna Display that lets me use my iPad Pro as the monitor (either USB or WIFI). This lets me have touchscreen capabilities with GP…really nice. I’m still in the early stages of using it. But, after a couple of small gigs…so far, so good.

Also, if I need to access anything on the iPad I just swipe up and there it is. Then, just touch the Luna icon and it’s right back to GP (and GP continues playing in the background too).


Wow, you really got this going, gents.

As is my chaotic custom I already moved beyond what the thread title may have suggested, After some consideration NUCs are out of the race - because of the limitations inherent to this particular platform and the noiiiizzzzze :slight_smile:

I moved on to the so-called “Mini PC” - sold on big A as “Slim PC”, and if I multiply the dimensions I count 15 litres holding capacity :slight_smile:

Macbook, alas, is out of the race, too. The config I’d need (lots of RAM) amount to just a tad over 4.000 Euros, which is about double my budget for this.

This “Shuttle PC” is able to be driven by an Intel 10000 series CPU - not the top-of-the-line most recent machine but … well, it’s okay, I guess. Specs say 65 W max, so the “K” series with unlocked multi ceases to apply.

I feel I must add some clarification about what I intend to do with it … and maybe a teensy bit of background:

I’ve been “into” DAWs since Cubase 1,0 - Atari ST times, these were, and I LOVED those times. Before it was C64 and DIY MIDI interfaces on perfboard. I’ve almost always had a Cubase version on my “work computer” - even have been paying for it since version 6 - go figure.

And from time to time I tried to take this setup - the current synth in local off mode + current cheap USB audio interface + current Windows box or laptop - to the stage, even if the current Windows box was a full-blown tower and a U.G.E. screen (I need big screens for my bread job), keyboard, mouse and all.

I vividly remember one occasion this whole thing went pearshaped by myself placing the (at this time) laptop on top of the PA subwoofer. Where it froze and died 4, 5 songs into the set. Vibration? Electronmagnetic mayhem? I’ll never know. But, as I said, I always have “local on” as a fallback.

And I mostly do my thing (mostly tracking, arranging and a bit of lyrics-melodizing) at home on a stationary Windows machine with a separate de-bloated “Music” partition. Live gigs’ve been few and far between until recently when I started to notice a certain interest sprouting within myself to do the “stage thing” again, even in my advanced age and complacency.

So my “Live Rig” should be comfortable, hassle-free and powerful enough to give me the user experience I have at home on stage, too, i.e. enough power to play some of the more demanding sample libraries (something with “k” in the name) and soft synths (I just mention the brand name Arturia in passing).

I don’t earn money with my stage presences any more (never amounted to much anyway, there are so many gals and guys out there that earn a living doing it, and even if part of me envies those great players I can’t imagine this life for myself. My mobile and flexible days are long over). I have a full-time job that’s totally not music-related. So, though I’m sad to say it, you could say I’m a hobbyist now. Thus my budget. I won’t expect a ROI on this so I simply can’t afford to put a good month’s wage into a thing I need once a month if not less frequently. But I still DO jam, and I still get more or less regular “side jobs” as an arranger and contributor to various recording projects.

Home Rig: RME HDSP 9632 in a i7/z97/64 GB RAM machine - almost a decade old but still alright for my needs.

I can forget about the RME card btw. - nobody does mainboards with PCI slots any more, so I bought the ESI MAYA44 card (150 Euros, by the way) that will do the job on stage, I suspect.

After this rather long and rather personal digression:

I need a smooth, mostly error-free setup. I would prefer MacOS because of its native digital music capability and the good build quality but there ya go. It just gotta be as smooth as the home machine and far less cumbersome, transport-wise.

There has already been a similar thread where i showed my personal solution for this topic… :sunglasses:
Maybe you can gain some further information from there:


Yes, I know :slight_smile: I’d dearly love to change the OT title - guess I have to notify an admin or so. You happen to know who and how?

I can do it. What title would you prefer?

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Hm … “Small form factor Windows machine ruminations”? :slight_smile:

…and so it is! :mage:


Heh. Thx!

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Nice. Not applicable in this case, but nails an oh too common problem. Good friend of mine does film scoring. He took the plunge once, some years ago, and bought the VSL - at least a good solid hunk of it. And he upgraded. Oh, how he upgraded. Must have about 64 cores now (I didn’t keep book) and 128 GB of RAM and whatnot. Still: Things like that are for clusters, not workstations :slight_smile: Me personally? I wouldn’t touch a sample library my machine couldn’t actually play back. Why should I?

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IMHO the M1 Macs are great machines and super fast, but expensive in terms of memory capacity. If you run lots of sample based plugins, you might find the 8Gb/16Gb memory restrictive, but if not, it will probably be the better performing option.

On the SFF PC front, I am running a Lenovo M920q that I have effectively upgraded to an M920x by swapping the CPU from a Core i7-9700T with a 2nd hand Core i9-9900 and have 32Gb RAM installed. The form factor is great and have it in a cradle with VESA mount holes allowing me to mount it to my keyboard stand using a VESA mount. I access it via a 13" touchscreen velcro’d to my MIDI controller attached to the PC using a single USB-C cable.

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Bingo on the Mac M1s. A 32 GB version would be killer.


Thought some pictures might add some perspective. The tower HP Z420 dual Xeon with 128gb ram, a Quatro P4000 graphics card and it’s air cooled is under the desk. My NUC, which I still use, is between the Triton Rack and my new rig. My new rig is 11 liters (overall size is 12.6 liters), has a z590MB, Intel 11th generation i9 11900K chip, 64gb F4-4600 DDR4 ram, SF750 watt PS, Gigabyte RTX 3070 graphics card, 2 x 2tb Samsung 970 Evo NVMe SSDs, and Corsair H115i liquid cooler. The noisiest of the 3 is the NUC unless the Z420 spools up. I can’t hear my new computer even though I sit next to it. The coffee cup should provide a relative idea of size :slightly_smiling_face: As many have said, it just depends on your own personal situation and what you want to do. It is amazing what can be had in small packages these days,


Now that’s a power horse there! Well this should be able to handle about anything that gets thrown its way :slight_smile: SPECtacular, so to say :slight_smile:

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So I settled with a setup:

Shuttle PC Slim Line XH410G (XH410G - Shuttle Europe)
Intel i9 10900 10 x 2,80
G.SKILL RipJaws SO-DIMM Kit 64GB, DDR4-3200, CL22-22-22
Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1 TB PCIe 3.0
Dell P2418HT, 23.8" Touchscreen
ESI Maya44 eX (if this doesn’t work out I’ll settle for the Steinberg UR24C; my HDSP won’t fit into the Shuttle with an PCIe/PCI adapter boardlet. Worst case I take the plunge and buy the RME Aio Pro)

Bits & bobs are ordered, will arrive during the next 10 days.


I bet they WILL blast out two additional M1 versions: one with 32 GB and one with 64 GB of RAM. Give’em a year or 18 months. And I will hang my head and cry :slight_smile:

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:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: @KarenColumbo The amount of misery we suffer waiting for something that might or might not come…!

Do the best you can at the time you need it and enjoy making some music for the next several years when the cosmos will have changed anyway.

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