Is a Second-Hand​ PC Good for Music Production?

One of the most common complaints I hear when talking to music production with fellow musicians is that their workstation is too slow. It drastically damages their workflow. And man, buying a new computer is out of the question. It is too expensive! Well, I did some research and I stumbled across this $160second hand Dell Optiplex 7010.

But is a second-hand PC good for music production? Yes, it is absolutely possible to make a second-hand PC awesome for music production. You should look for an upgradeable computer in which you can insert an SSD, 16 GB of RAM, and an i7 CPU. Let us make a couple of affordable upgrades to make this awesome for music production.

This post will hopefully help you identify key factors to consider when buying an affordable, yet powerful PC for music production.


Today, most computers can handle music production to a certain extent. Even older computers. I have been working on a late 2009 iMac since, well – 2009. Even though it has been acting like a whale on a treadmill on its older years, it has managed to keep up, even with my ever-growing VST collection.

That is, if you are content with CPU system overloads, midi fails and long exporting times.

I knew it was time to finally accept that I really needed a new computer for my music studio.

But as this article will explain, acquiring a new, solid PC for creating music does not need to be insanely expensive. Follow these 4 tips and you are sure to find a great bang for your buck!


1. Finding a Second Hand PC

The other day, Anders from Andyax and I went to a place that sold used office equipment. While we were there to look at some office chairs, we also spotted the Dell Optiplex 7010 SFF. 

This Dell was released as an office computer back in 2012. It came in 4 different models;

  1. USFF (ultra small form factor)
  2. SFF (small form factor)
  3. Mini Tower
  4. Desktop

Many second-hand computers have already been upgraded by their previous owners. The Dell had been upgraded from the old hard drive to a 250 GB SSD, 8 gigs of ram and an upgraded i7- 3770 CPU.

And they even had an additional 8 GB of RAM lying around, which they could install for an extra $45. So, I went for it!

There are lots of places you can find good deals on second-hand PC and components. Good old places like eBay is one of them.

But did you know that you can get great deals at schools and other places that have a lot of turnovers of such equipment as well?

Even though the equipment might still work just fine, they regardless replace them with newer technology. The old equipment is either thrown away or sold.

So, be on the lookout for exciting prospects at such places as well!


2. Identify the CPU & RAM

Two important components to look closely on when buying a pc for music production are the processor and the RAM. However, prioritize getting a powerful CPU before going nuts with 32 GB of RAM!

Let me give you a brief explanation:

RAM

How much RAM you need depends on what music you intend to create. 8 gigs of ram are decent if you are making electronic music. Since I am working with multiple sample libraries of real instruments  I needed 16 GB. In fact, based on my own experience, most people rarely need more than 16 GB of RAM for music production.

CPU

Do NOT underestimate the CPU. It is your computer´s brain. It handles a lot of information and makes all the system calculations. The RAM stores machine code and data being used. But it is the CPU that decides how fast everything is calculated.

It is like this: you have a place to store all your old stuff (The RAM), yet it still lays around in your living room because your mind (The CPU) has too much other stuff to deal with.

So, again, prioritize a quick processor. The i7-3770 is not getting any younger, but it is still considered a good CPU.

Quick tip: Have all of your sound libraries located on a second hard drive/solidstate drive to ease the workload on your main drive.


3. Expect to Encounter Problems

The DELL had great amounts of RAM and a good CPU for music production. And that is the most important aspect in regards to music production.

But I had to solve some problem areas.

1. No bluetooth

This Dell had no Bluetooth. Luckily, the cost of fixing such things is pretty low. A very affordable Bluetooth dongle from PlexGear made it possible to connect my wireless keyboard and mouse.


2. No Wi-Fi

Another simple fix! A Wi-Fi adapter gave the PC a wifi possibility. On Windows systems, you can just plug it into one of the many USB ports on this Dell – and voilá! No need for heavy installations.


3. Sound drivers might not work

When I proudly sat down and opened Cubase for the first time, it seemed to work perfectly. However, I quickly found out that there was no sound.

Cubase could not find the sound driver.

The solution was to install the free driver Asio4all. After having rebooted my computer, I went back into Cubase and checked the “asio4all” as my sound driver in the audio settings. And it worked!


4. Older GPUs VS. high-res displays

YAY! A CHANGE OF GPU DID THE TRICK.

The one, and perhaps only thing that really frustrated me, was that the integrated GPU couldn’t handle the high resolution demanded of my ultrawide monitor without stretching out the whole screen.

The solution?

If your PC has Intel HD Graphics 4000, and you want/need to use a 3440×1440 display, you can visit Amazon to get your hands on the Nvidia GT 710.

It is really affordable and boosts your graphics enough to handle higher resolutions. This is not the best graphics card for gaming though. I would take a closer look a the Nvidia GTX 1050 if you want to do a little gaming as well.


Important! This Dell is a small form factor (SFF), which means that not every graphics card will fit. You need to look for a low profile graphics card if you too have an SFF PC!


4. Know how Upgradeable the PC is

Older PC’s like the Dell Optiplex is a great machine to upgrade. Especially if you are on a tight budget and looking to acquire an affordable way to upgrade your workstation.

You can also easily switch out the optical drive with an internal hard drive/SSD. There are some good tutorials on Youtube on how to do basically everything on this model. I later did this myself, and I store all my VST libraries on the second drive.

That being said: there are tons of second-hand PCs out there that are even more upgradable than the Dell Optiplex 7010. The Dell is relatively small in size (hence the SFF).

That is why I have very little options if I were to change the PSU (power supply). There i almost no excess space to utilize within its small case.

But beware! In contrast to a computer fresh out of the box, buying a pc like this is not necessarily just “plug and play”. Some of the easier upgrades are Bluetooth and wifi adapters. However, the sound drivers and GPU could make this a tedious affair. But with a little bit of patience and perseverance, you get a lot of power for a fraction of the price of an iMac for instance.



So how Does my PC Perform?

Amazingly well! The loading times of the libraries are quick. The i7 CPU handles a lot of samples, so no overloads of any kind. And it exports in no time!

It even handles Adobe after effects, premiere pro and Photoshop to a certain degree. I actually tried editing 4K shots on this, and the Dell is quite capable o this as well!


Is it Awesome for Music Production?

– Oooh yeeah!

It is shocking to see my beloved iMac, which I paid around 1500 bucks for back in 2009 is not only beaten – but destroyed by a way more affordable second-hand PC.

“Of course, the iMac is 10 years old. What do you expect?”

Well, this Dell is 7 years old, so they are not that far apart. However, it performs WAY better.

The Dell is so much more responsive and loads everything really fast, which in turn gives me more time to actually compose music instead of waiting for an orchestra sample to load.


Total Cost = $299

In total, I ended up spending $299 on this pc. Not too shabby when comparing its specs and abilities to way more expensive computers. I could even have cut the costs significantly by dropping the GPU and buy the adapters from Amazon, which sells Bluetooth dongles for almost half the price of what I paid for it.


Save Money on Your Passion

The Main message I really would like to emphasize is: If you are into music production or video editing you know investing in your equipment can be pricey.

But it does not mean that you have to break the bank completely. Try to look for used equipment such as a second-hand computer in storage, schools (they tend to throw away some perfectly capable computers after a few years) or even in the family. You can potentially save a lot of money.

Because one thing is certain: If you don’t look, you won’t find a good deal.

Do you have a tip on an affordable PC for music production you would like to share? Tell us in the comments below!

Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

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