I need a new Linux machine. Advice/thoughts/suggestions ? [Bought an M1 Mac]

Update Feb 1: I got a Mac Mini M1. Works great. :slight_smile:

My old desktop box needs replaced. It’s a home-built machine with an Antec Sonata case, fanless nVidia-based video card, and a super quiet CPU fan. CPU is an AMD FX6300, RAM is 16G, on a Gigabyte mobo.

I’m quite willing to build another box but I don’t keep up on current hardware. What’s a good way to spend about $500 to $1000 on a desktop machine for Linux audio work ? I’m looking especially for mobo and CPU suggestions. AMD preferred but I’ll flex for better. I figure I can re-use my power supply, monitor, and other peripherals.

So, what’s my best plan ? All advice and suggestions appreciated. TIA!


For CPU you should look for high single-core performance. Here’s a chart where you can see the prices too:

When you find the CPU that guides the choice of motherboard. Of course whether you can reuse the other parts with a new motherboard is the question. In your pricebracket there you can also buy a perfectly nice new “gaming” system where all the parts integrate nicely. But then there’s all the headaches of researching driver-state for that hardware on Linux, which is why I went for a Mac the last time I was in your situation :slight_smile: As far as I hear the thing to go for these days is AMD graphics for Linux, but I’m sure some of the more current Linux folks in here can help. But the main points for Rack itself is high single-core CPU performance and a decent graphics card (or better). And don’t go for less than 16GB of RAM and SSD/M2 is a given.


How old is your machine? I upgrade every 5 - 8 years, I’ve never been able to reuse a PSU.

Consider an Apple M1 box? Haven’t checked the status of M1 linux ports recently though.

I would say before anyone can give specific recommendations, we would need to know more info on what you want to use the system for beyond VCV Rack, assuming you want to use if for more. Generally though, getting the best CPU you can afford is always good advice.

Yup. I always go for best single threaded performance from a year or so previous, can’t justify leading edge costs.

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The machine has seen some years, definitely more than 12. But the PSU was replaced not long ago, and I paid for a good one. I try to build a quiet machine. :slight_smile: I’ll flip for a new one if needed, not a problem.

A motherboard supporting a recent CPU will need a completely different PSU.

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It’s not going to be used for much more than VCV Rack, Bitwig, and maybe a few other audio applications. Doesn’t need to be cutting edge but I do like a powerful machine.

I’ve a liquid cooled i7-4790k, it idles at ambient temp +2C and never exceeds 55C on full tilt, fans are silent the majority of the time. Corsair Hydro water block & radiator from ~7 years ago so must be even better now, recommended.

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Looking at AMD CPUs, I would guess a Ryzen 9 would be over your budget since they are $700+. I would look at the Ryzen 7 line and try to figure out parts to support in your budget. A good motherboard and memory and SSD would be the priorities. I have a Ryzen 7 that is a couple years old running Ubuntu Studio and it does pretty well. (and runs pretty quiet, also a priority for me)

Thanks for that, I wondered about the Ryzen performance for Rack. It’s the likely candidate for the CPU at this point.

I think Dave is a pretty hardcore Linux user, but if he’s open to be swayed, and has the wallet, YES, definately look at those M1 Macs. Amazing CPU’s and graphics and fantastic hardware and great with Rack and MIDI and audio in general, a real longterm investment, they last for years and years. Tons of great FOSS software on it as well via e.g. ‘brew’. I use my Mac/macOS as a “Linux box without the headaches” :slight_smile: But yeah, it has a price. Dave, if you really are open and can reuse your monitor, look at that M1 Mac Mini from last year. Insane value for money and many people in here very happy with it. It’s also the most quiet machine you’ve ever used :slight_smile: Also it’s basically Unix so you’ll feel at home, kind of like a FreeBSD with a very polished Gnome on top of it with superb resource management. Ask Antonio Tuzzi how he likes his for compiling, development and music.

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Think twice before commiting yourself into AMD CPUs for Rack use. As was suggested earlier in this thread, Rack performs better on high single-core CPUs. AMD’s architecture is more cores for parallel processing vs Intel with less cores that are more high performance. AMD CPUs shine with applications that can truly balance their stress across many threads.

Don’t get me wrong, I love AMD CPUs and I own a Ryzen 9 generation CPU which performs very well with Rack, but it’s not as optimal as a more power-per-core that Intel offers for current generation CPUs.

Regarding GPUs, both AMD and NVidia work fine in Linux these days. Today it all comes to whether you’re ok using the proprietary NVidia drivers vs using the open-source AMD ones and whether you use NVENC for hardware encoding. I recently upgraded my GPUs (I have two GPUs in my rig) from a NVidia GTX970 + AMD RX580 to RTX3060Ti + RTX3080Ti and can tell you that NVidia performs well in Linux. Another point is that NVidia has full CUDA support in linux that allows you to encode and decode audio/video in hardware and AMD is terrible at that.

Also, please note that I’m using Xorg. If you plan to use Wayland, then all bets are off with NVidia as their support of Wayland is at very early stages.


Wasn’t that an issue with <zen3 processors?

Personally I’d never go back to nvidia cards, they are such a pain. Maybe things have improved in the last year or so, or perhaps the higher end models work better, but I just found them a hassle which completely disappears with AMD.

I’ve got a AMD Ryzen 7 3800XT and AMD Radeon RX 550 which are both probably not that great these days but they’ve done me well and I’ve not maxed out either Rack 2 or Bitwig so far (sometimes change block size if it gets close).

I’ve got a msi b450 max tomohawk motherboard and it’s more than enough for me. Never really had a decent mb but I can’t imagine what else anyone could need. Pretty cheap as well.

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I’d say yes, I’m a fairly hardcore Linux user, but I am open to considering an M1 box. My brother is a Mac user, he loves it, doesn’t use it for music production though. I have looked at the specs for the M1, and those Mac Minis are a great deal. Awfully tempting.

I’ll always keep a Linux machine but I want a no-hassle box for making music. Btw, are there recommended audio interfaces for the Mac Mini ? I’ve used a nice M-Audio Delta 66 for ages, I’d like to continue with something comparable (or better if affordable).

Just do it Dave. With these things you sometimes need to kick yourself a little in the backside to enter the new territory. I was in exactly the same situation as you back in 2014 when my Linux box was overdue for replacement. Started researching a new machine for Linux and got a giant headache. Being a Unix addict and wanting a “just works” machine I thought Ok, I’m going to shell out for a Mac now, and it’s either going to be my biggest mistake ever or great. I’ve never regretted it for a second and particularly for audio and music work it’s a no-brainer. Turns out there are actually good reasons that Mac’s are the overwhelming choice of audio and music people.

They really are. Feel free to fire off any question you have in my direction. I have equal experience with Linux, Windows and Mac, so I can relate.

The M1 machines fit that description exactly! More than anything else by a wide margin.

Same as for Linux I’d say although there are more proprietary drivers available. Just go for class compliant with no drivers needed and you’ll be fine for years. I’m using my little Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and it’s good but there’s plenty of options at all ranges. Native Instruments make some nice and affordable ones like this one. If you buy class compliant you don’t need to think about the OS you’ll be using it with.

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I hear got things about Scarlett for Mac. I also hear they are not so good for windows, because on windows you need a driver, and theirs aren’t good.

At this time the clear favorite is an M1-based machine. I broke out a list of my typical activities with the computer and figure the Mac Mini is the best choice for what I want to do with certain kinds of music production. Occasional work in certain other kinds of music production is likely to remain better suited for my Linux machine (Csound, SuperCollider, Pd, OpenMusic) . I think everything else I do can stay on a Linux box.


I own a decent system with a Ryzen 5600X and the last time we compared Rack Performance with CPU-Usage on the Default-Patch that one was among the best. The Single-Core Performance is on par with the new Intel 12th Gen 6-Cores (12400, 12500, 12600), which are more affordable right now. I would always (that was the way I built my current system) go for an entry-level CPU on a good Motherboard with fast RAM and see if that is enough for your needs. It is much easier to burn 200$/€ for 10% of more CPU-Power, while not investing in 50€ for the same power-upgrade by using better RAM on a good Motherboard.

I am not up to date at the moment, so I can’t recommend a specific setup, but if you want to go for a silent system this would be my decision tree:

Ok, that was easy :stuck_out_tongue: