Community member Patrick Pearce who runs Lightwing Studios took a leaf out of Create Pro's book and decided to upgrade his aging Dell Precision T5500 Workstation to give it a new lease of life as his Pro Tools computer using the Windows platform. Over to you Patrick...
Balance Is Needed
As I sat one day and watched the ProTools Expert video series James Ivey and Create Pro’s Richard Rogers presented, “ Installation & Testing Of Create Pro 12 Core Mac Pro Upgrade “, I just had to smile. Whether they realized it or not, that was what they were seeking to achieve...Balance.
- Noun: A condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
- Verb: Keep or put something in a steady position so that it does not fall or fail.
Prior to moving to Florida and starting LightWing Studios with my wife Lyuba, I had been an IT Consultant for some 30 years in the New York City area. I would always advise clients to purchase the software they needed to accomplish their desired goals and then buy the expandable hardware that runs it.
I’ve been using Pro Tools Native since version 8 and 4 years ago I purchased a slightly used Dell Precision T5500 Workstation with a Six Core 2.53Ghz Xeon Processor, 16GB RAM and two 500GB SATA Drives and Windows 7 Pro. As an amateur musician and guitarist, I used an old Delta 66 interface connected to a 1980’s Tom Scholz Rockman Rack I had cobbled together off of Ebay.
Incredible and diverse tone can be had from that setup. Still, I was using Pro Tools because “it was the industry standard” ...along with all its warts...crashes, driver issues, MIDI halts... you name it... we’ve ALL experienced them. I somehow wanted to believe the Apple users were not having these issues. They were but just not as much or as often and besides, I was a Windows guy... you know... suck it up... tough it out.
64 Bit Brings A Change
Then things began to change. After Windows 7 64 Bit appeared, Avid introduced AAX64 and a 64 Bit version of Pro Tools. Finally, Windows users were no longer constrained by any OS and memory limitations and had an application that could take advantage of the combined platform. So after the usual upgrades of the OS and ProTools, things have been running better, but as I pushed my Pro Tools computer's limits it would still bog down occasionally and made for a frustrating environment to work in.
A New Computer?
I seriously considered going out and spending almost $3,000 on a new PC and be done with it and then I watched that video series on Pro Tools Expert with Rich from Create Pro, upgrading James' Mac Pro. If they could do that with an older Mac why not MY Pro Tools computer? I was on a quest!☺
A Possible Solution?
Although I didn’t know it at the time of purchase, the Dell T5500 model I had was the only one they made at the time that was “CPU Expandable” ...the Intel E5649 Processor platform. They had offered an optional configuration with Dual Six Core Processors, a total of 12, by the addition of a CPU Riser which also supported extra memory expansion. However the expense was astronomical.
One thing I knew from my IT days was that when you wanted to do something like this, the CPU Stepping Code between the two processors MUST be the same and in this and if you are not sure what this is all about then Intel has a downloadable utility that will tell you what your CPU Stepping Code is.
From my 30 years in IT, if people tell you they can deduce the CPU Stepping Code from the etching on the chip face they are wrong, but this utility WILL tell you as it queries the embedded microcode. Do that and you won’t make a potentially expensive mistake. On to the upgrades...
Upgrade - First Find The Parts
I found a reseller company in Texas that had what I needed and purchased the second Riser Card with CPU. I pulled the RAM from the system, found a seller on Ebay and purchased 7 of the same 8GB sticks to max the machine at 72 GB of RAM.
Next, I went to the NewEgg website and bought two 480 GB SSD, two 2 TB SATA III drives and a 2GB Video Card. Remembering the T5500 Specs state the SATA Controller on the system board was version II, I found a two port PCI-e SATA III controller card for the new hard drives but just as important, another SATA III PCI-e card that allowed me to attach an SSD directly to it, thereby to the system bus. It came with an additional SATA III port for the second 480 GB SSD. It also means the SSD’s and the and the other hard drives are running in their own separate PCI-e lanes.
After talking to a Tech Rep at Sweetwater I purchased a new Presonus AudioBox interface.
So after almost 2 weeks of waiting for all the parts to arrive it was now off to....
The Upgrade Build
I was able to get everything installed in about an hour, leaving in the original Windows OS/ProTools system drive to clone. I had purchased Partition Manager a few years ago so the Boot Drive Cloning to a new SSD went perfectly. I pulled the original Boot Drive, started the system, went into the BIOS and set the new SSD as a Boot drive ...restart... Windows comes up fully loaded in less than 10 seconds.
Next I started Pro Tools 12.4... I had take a moment to reconfigure it with the new Presonus interface but the Windows native drivers worked perfectly. Now when I reboot Pro Tools loads in 14 seconds....WOW!
I’ve been using two 23” monitors and spreading my desktop across both of them and no matter how you cut it, I’m STILL having issues reading them. BUT sitting in our dining room is a brand new Vizio 39” TV which has been used TWICE. I pulled both the monitors, connected the TV to the PC HDMI video port and booted Windows. I then reset the Desktop for maximum resolution of the video card. I loaded Pro Tools... it’s big... it’s bold... it’s beautiful.
I switched the TV Input over to the 2nd HDMI input for Cable TV via the remote... up comes a Who video of Baba O’Reily LIVE on the “Palladia” channel... thru the Mackie HR 824 Studio Monitors. Lyuba, my wife, is speechless... I AM IN AWE! So what’s next?
Time For A System Reorganization
I use the AIR Music Tech’ Plug-in Suite extensively and their content is HUGE...I moved all of that to the second SSD Drive. Plug-ins now load in the blink of an eye and Content loads just as fast.
Sessions? I moved them to the 1st 2TB Hard Drive. Downloaded products, saved plugins? I moved them to the 2nd 2TB Hard Drive.
I had a Rosewill external SATA enclosure new in the box. So I repurposed the original 500GB Boot Drive and now it attaches to the Dell via a rear mounted onboard eSATA port and is used to periodically clone the SSD Boot Drive as a Backup.
One thing I’d like to stress that this configuration works for me and may not for others but... The Old Dog Does New Tricks.
List Of Upgrade Components And Cost
|Upgrade Components||Cost $|
|2nd Processor Riser with CPU (Dell)||200|
|56GB RAM (Hynix - 7 Sticks)||140|
|2 x 500GB SSD’s (SanDisk)||240|
|2 x 2TB SATA III Hard Drives (Toshiba)||180|
|PCI-e SATA III Card (Syba)||20|
|PCI-e SSD Card (Apricorn)||89|
|2GB NVIDIA Video Card (GForce)||69|
|Presonus AudioBox Interface||110|
|Sub Total Cost||1,048|
|Less Sale of Delta Hardware on Ebay||60|
The final cost would probably be significantly less if I also resold both of the monitors that I previously used.
So now comes the LightWing stress test...I load up a track I call “INSANE” running at 64 Samples. Watch this video for the results...
Hint... I have achieved... "Balance”. ☺