Back when I started recording at home in 2001, I had a Pentium 3 550 Mhz computer with 384 MB of Ram. I recorded a number of projects on the 9GB hard drive until I eventually added a 40GB hard drive to the equation. I was quite limited in what I could do on that computer, but I was limited by a number of factors. The biggest limiting factor at that time was not the power of my PC, but my recording engineering skills.
A few years later, I was able to build myself a AMD based pc with a XP 2000 processor. This computer had 512 MB of DDR Ram. When I finally got this computer setup properly, I was amazed at what I could do. I was able to record over 50 tracks at once. The computer would get a little bogged down if I was really pushing it, but that seldom happened.
I guess before I get too deep into this article, I should discuss what I'm doing with my recording computer. While I have went through various phases throughout the years, these days I'm not using any midi or virtual instruments. Everything I do involves recording a track that started out as some sort of analog signal (either from a mic or a line in) and goes to my computer. I'm mixing in the box. I use my fair share of plugins from time to time and I've done some extremely complicated mixes. Guys using a sampler or a VSTi or any other virtual instruments may want to ignore this article. Anyone doing this sort of production will want the most powerful computer they can afford.
Just recently, I went ahead and upgraded my recording computer to an AMD Athlon 64 2800 with 1 GB of RAM. This computer is quite a bit faster than my previous computer. It certainly renders down mixes much quicker than my previous audio recording computer did. Unfortunately, my mixes do not sound any better. Upgrading to this computer was kind of like upgrading my recording chair. It's more comfortable and does allow me to get more work done, but in the end, it doesn't really improve the final product directly.
If you are looking for your first recording computer, you should put some thought into what you are going to be doing with it. If you think there is a possibility of using virtual instruments, I'd highly recommend that you go for a beast. If you don't expect to be using a sequencer, then you can save some cash by using an older machine. Any XP 2000 era computer dedicated to audio recording should do just fine while you learn how to engineer. Trust me, you have a lot to learn, and it will be a long time before you max out the audio capabilities of a computer even 3 years old.
It's extremely important that you setup a recording computer properly. One of the main reason that I have no problem using a 3 year old computer is because I keep it clean. I'm not talking about dust, dirt or grime. I'm talking about keeping Windows clean. If a computer starts to get a little sluggish, this tells me that it's time to back everything up and format the computer. I have no problem with reinstalling windows every few months on my home computer and if my audio recording computer needs it, I'll do the same. I do not install any piece of software that is not required.
In conclusion, if you are just learning audio and don't plan on using a ton of hardcore virtual instruments, save your cash and put your time into learning recording on an older computer. You'll be glad that you did.
Brandon Drury has written numerous articles for his recording