Small form factor Windows machine ruminations

I currently run off a HP Zbook G4 (windows). If/when I upgrade or modify my setup, it will be to a NUC type of rig, not a laptop.

I’m not sure that’s really more portable though, given that you need to load this into a cab and go… that’s a factor worth planning around. A NUC could be very portable, small pelican case and a cable loom ready to roll… but you’d need to really ‘line it out’ to make it ready for quick turns.

Windows needs time to thoroughly setup and tune the system but worth it in my opinion.

Is there no cross-platform / cross-grade option here?

Wonder if you could get a RME board into a NUC, something with a 4X slot?

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I searched “geizhals.at” (in English this would translate as “Scrooge”), a pretty useful metacrawler, and I only found three NUCs with PCIe slots: Barebones mit CPU-Kerne ab 8, PCIe x16: ab 1x Preisvergleich Geizhals Österreich
(I searched Octacore & PCIe 16x slot)
Since the RME is no monster card, it will easily fit into one of those.

Crucial thing is the additional screen. I have a small gig bag for the keyboard and a “custom” bag for the k&m stand plus peripheral doodahs (second tier). cables and crap go into a backpack - that’s where the NUC would reside, weren’t this touchscreen problem. Won’t fit in the keyboard bag. won’t fit in the stand bag. Bit too wide for the backpack. Hm. Well … I’ll sleep over this a coupla nights, I guess

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I’ve build pelican cases for PC’s before, admittedly large ones, where I worked the screen I was using into the lid. I wonder if you had a pelican or skb type case for your keyboard if a 16:9 type aspect touch screen could be packed into the lid of a case like this?

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Hm … you got me thinking now. Thx for the impulse - gotta chew this a bit

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same here I do have a few Pelican cases just collecting dust !

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I have an i7 NUC which I used for with GP for awhile but maxxed out the memory and CPU with the number of plugins I wanted, so was considering a new rig centered around a new NUC, just like you. The problem is the latest and greatest chips are still hard to come by/not available, and I did like and checked out the specs of the Xeon based NUCs. After further research it turned out that Xeons are not necessarily the best choice for audio processing. Between the cost and fact a Xeon based rig wasn’t going to be an audio slayer, and the fact that the latest NUCs are still not available (just checked simplynuc.com) I built my own in an 11 liter mini-ITX case by Streacom. The link to what I built is HERE. Just like as mentioned by others, I pack it around in a Pelican case with it’s associated gear, and it is everything I had hoped for. I’ve never seen it beyond 25% loading, it’s absolutely silent and it stays cool. But - it was expensive. By the time the dust settled the build and all the peripherals were over $4k. I personally don’t mind the 11 liter case, but it is substantially bigger even though it’s all in a case (screen, KB etc). I do a lot more with my rig than just GP and audio, so my rig is probably over the top for most other user’s needs.

Anyway, just my thoughts and recent experiences with this. I have hauled my old NUC around in my backpack all over the world without any problems, but it was more challenging, unlike a laptop just because of all the other unattached bits and pieces that you have to have. My new rig would probably fit into a taxi with the other gear you describe, but no doubt about it that it takes up a lot more space than just a NUC or laptop. I know nothing about Macs (although I love my iPad2!).

Normally I’d say go for the latest version (11th generation) of an i9 just below the “enthusiast” level - e.g. the CPU will cost you $500 - $600 instead of over $1000. The problem is that due to the worldwide chip shortages they just aren’t available in any form factor. Whatever you finally decide on, I highly recommend the fastest and as much RAM as you can afford with the largest, fastest M.2 NVMe SSDs you can afford assuming you are able to get a decent processor(s). At least it won’t disappoint and you probably won’t outgrow it. Good luck in your quest.

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Whoa, that’s more like it!

I#m doing this wrong, probably, but I’m always having my stationary “rig” (my work and gaming andCubase computer) as a benchmark. It’s a pretty neat but old i7 Quadcore with 32 gigs of RAM and a z97 mainboard. I’m doing all of my arranging and tracking work on this one (on a dedicated “music” partition with a highly de-bloated win 10) - thanks to my RME card I’ve never had any problems even with demanding Kontakt libs - I know there’s bound to be tons of libraries that just smoke this rig, but there’s no upper limit to that, is there?

Anyhoo, I think in these terms whenever I browse components, so there’s bound to be a compromise between your high-end rig (man, I’d LOVE to have one of those myself) and my humble day-to-day work machine I’m using right now.

And: money is always an issue. I can afford to spend 2k (€) on a new machine/upgrade, but that’s it for now. If it weren’t we wouldn’t read each other in this thread, would we? :slight_smile:

I had a bit of a read about this Xeon thing you mentioned - hm, thanks for this one. Seems server CPUs really ain’t got what it takes. Well, there ya go. Have to read myself into the Ryzen nomenclature, too.

Concerning space: There won’t be much besides keys, stand, touchscreen and computer. Wouldn’t much mind to utilize the “Mini PC” format - could still carry that around in a backpack. I’m not really a “heavy gigging” musician (I stay in my hometown, Vienna, Austria, most of the time), I just like to reduce everything to a comfortable minimum.

By now I have the feeling the Macbook’s becoming more and more the no-go option.

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I am on the opposite :wink:

I never had similar issues with MAC some WIndows User have.
No driver issue, no Midi Issue, No Grafics issue etc.

BUT: It is not cheap.

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Hm.

https://geizhals.at/shuttle-xpc-slim-xh410g-pib-xh410g01-a2420812.html
https://geizhals.at/crucial-ballistix-so-dimm-kit-64gb-bl2k32g32c16s4b-a2222932.html?hloc=at
https://geizhals.at/intel-core-i7-10700-bx8070110700-a2290986.html?hloc=at
https://geizhals.at/adata-xpg-spectrix-s40g-1tb-as40g-1tt-c-a2087602.html?hloc=at

about 1100-1200 Euros.

Probably will have to tinker with the cooling a bit.

Bitter pill: Gonna waste a good M.2 SSD on a PCIe 2.0 slot :frowning:

And no: did NOT want to start a Mac vs. MS discussion. We’ve all had enough of those. Let’s just assume there’s no driver problem with the sound card I will use.

I’m fine on the mac-side :slight_smile:

I left the windows world some years ago remembering driver issues, ASIO issues, misc. bits and pieces after the “usual” Windows updates.

Never had this on the mac side - besides: if there’s a major OS upgrade, wait until the release of 10.XX.2 or later and check the plugin and interface manufacturer support sites before upgrading.

Currently waiting for the release of the 14" MBP with M1X :innocent:

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Yeah . I’d love to do this VST stuff Mac only.- but I simply can’t afford the hardware :slight_smile: So I’ll make do.

Well, whatever works and fits your budget. To put this into a bit more perspective, my main audio workstation used to be my HP Z420 with two high end (of it’s time) Xeons, 128GB memory and lots of other peripherals and my new rig just smokes it in every regard. I also jammed a Gigabyte Geforce RTX 3070 into the case along with a Corsair dual 280mm fan liquid cooling system (a must due to the power profile of the CPU). 11 liters, as I mentioned. I wanted a one stop solution and that’s what I built, and although it’s still portable, it isn’t anywhere near the same as a NUC or laptop.

At the end of the day it’s what you want your rig to do and the compromises you are willing to make to make that happen. As for Mac vs Intel/MS, there are things that one won’t or have a hard time doing that the other just can’t or have difficulty doing. Most of my work over the years, which had nothing to do with the music industry or audio applications, could only be done on an Intel platform, period, and in many cases the application demanded things of the operating system that Mac OSs (the original ones) were incapable of supporting. That’s not to belittle Apple/Mac in any way - for many people this is by far the better choice for what they want to do - and that is the real deciding point/factor at the end of the day, e.g. your rig does everything you want it to do with the least amount of effort. Money does get in the way, but if your vision of what you want is clear and you get the closest to that as you can, it will be as good as it gets.

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I am running an Apple M1 laptop. works like a charm. My company uses NUC’s for Logitech bundles (we are a UC provider) and I can tell you the quality…eh…not so much. Cheap yes, but in this case you do get what you pay for…

My thought is this - as much work as you are going to have to put into setting it up, testing it, and then taking it live, my feeling is it needs to be as bullet proof as it can be. I just started going live with the rig after 4 months of prep and it worked great - minus the couple of tiny glitches (user error) with program changes.

That said - DJ gave me a great piece of advice - GET A BACKUP - so I am planning on a second laptop to mirror image and carry to every gig. with as much as GP and this laptop is responsible for, I cannot afford to have it take a dump at a gig…it’s my second job.

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Additional considerations are heat and fan noise.

Long ago, I used GigaStudio (PC only) and building a “silent PC” with lots of RAM was an art. I tried some sampler solutions on a (now old) MacBook Pro, but it was, um, limited. I then stopped doing computer-based music for some years.

Fast forward to today. I’m using a 2016 MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM. Works great for Gig Performer, but the fan is always blowing. I have used it for video editing and the case has literally warped from heat. Maybe I need to duct tape the leaks to make the fan more effective. It’s not super loud, but it’s annoying in the home studio. The heat makes me worry about reliability, but it’s been rock solid so far.

Now, we have M1 chip Macs. From what I’ve seen, these are cool customers. The Mac Mini seems to be especially cool and quiet. I’ve seen the tear downs, and they seem to be simple and robust. There are some practical advantages of a laptop (battery backup, screen, keyboard, and mouse), but if one can use a tablet and deal with the power risk, it seems quite elegant.

I wonder how the NUCs are in regards to heat and fan noise. They’re certainly cheaper. I use both Mac and PC. While I find Macs to be more elegant and friendly, if the computer is a dedicated live music machine, it doesn’t much matter, assuming that both are reliable.

So, the big requirement areas to consider are:

  • Cost
  • Reliability
  • Compatibility with plug ins, etc.
  • Ease of use. (Familiarity with the OS could matter, depending on the overall intent for the machine)
  • Heat (as a predictor of reliability)
  • Fan noise
  • Max memory (for samples)
  • I/O
  • Laptop features (battery, human interface)

When you look at all this and consider the variety of use cases, it’s clear that there’s no single winner. Buy what you can afford that best meets your needs. :+1:

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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:

Amen.

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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.

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

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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).

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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:

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