Pro Tools First Steps Part 2 - Choosing A Computer & Hard Drive

03-30-2015 10:00 AM

In part 1 of series designed to help people get started with Pro Tools we looked at choosing an interface and software. Next we will look at choosing a computer and hard drives to put your projects and media onto.
Choosing A Computer

Not just any old computer will do, and I cannot recommend too strongly that you follow the advice in the compatibility charts for Mac or Windows on the Avid web site and then choose the page for the version of Pro Tools that you are using as the compatibility inforamtion is different for different versions of Pro Tools. For Macs it is reasonably simple: as a rule, the current machines are approved, although there can be a time lag between a new Mac being released and Avid approving it. Occasionally, Apple launch machines that are more problematic, usually because of I/O issues. For instance, a while back there were some Macbooks that didn’t have a Firewire port at all, so you couldn’t connect external drives or Firewire interfaces like the M Box Pro or 003 family. The new Mac Minis, iMacs and Mac Pros all now only offer Firewire 800 ports, so Firewire 800 to 400 adaptor leads will be needed for Firewire interfaces. For a list of currently supported Macs go to the Mac Qualified page on the Avid web site.
PCs are more complicated, as there are many more possible hardware combinations out there, but whatever you do, don’t be tempted to go for a cheaper machine or use cheaper components that aren’t on the list. The Digidesign User Conference is full of folk who have tried and come unstuck, so don’t risk it! There is a list of approved machines on the Avid site but you may find these are older machines and so are had to get hold of. But do refer to the DUC (Digidesign Users Conference, now called the Avid Audio Forum) for advice on the best machine to get if you can’t get one of these approved machines.
Choosing A Drive

It is possible to record to the system drive (C: or Macintosh HD) on your computer but, like other manufacturers, Avid don’t recommend it, and there is much to be said for keeping your audio separate. This means adding a second hard drive. If you are going to be using large sample libraries, it is best to keep their data on a separate drive too.
To stay approved you need to use either another internally mounted PATA (IDE) or SATA drive, if your computer has the slots for them (most desktop tower machines do), or use external drives mounted in Thunderbolt, Firewire 400 or 800 cases or USB cases. Avid’s advice has been to use Firewire on Macs and USB on Windows machines. This advice has changed over the years so if you are going for an older system you should check the compatibility sheets for the older systems.
For maximum performance, any drive you want to use for Pro Tools should be at least a 7200rpm drive. That means the disks inside the drive are spinning at 7200rpm. Lower spin-speeds mean a lower data rate off the drive, translating into fewer tracks and edits before the drive is unable to keep up. The 7200rpm recommendation used to mean, in effect, 3.5-inch drives with mains-powered cases: 2.5-inch drives can be powered via the Firewire cable (‘bus powering’) but most 3.5-inch drives require too much power. Until recently, however, 2.5-inch drives — usually used inside laptops — only span at 4200rpm or 5400rpm. However, it is now possible to get portable 2.5-inch drives that spin at 7200rpm.
The other option for external drives is the eSATA protocol. This is now an approved way of connecting drives although it took Avid a while to approve them. See Avid’s drive recommendations on their Knowledge Base
What format to format?
Whatever drive you end up with, the first thing you must do is to format it before you try to put any content onto it. Mac users can do this by using the Erase function of Apple’s Disk Utility: all media drives attached to Mac-based Pro Tools rigs must be formatted ‘Mac OS Extended (Journaled)’. On a Windows PC, you should select My Computer from the Start menu, right-click on the drive you want to format, select Format from the drop-down menu and choose NTFS.
In the next part we will look at setting up your computer and getting going with Pro Tools.