4. Which Operating system
Which Version of Windows?
For several years Windows XP provided a good, stable platform for running music software and hardware. Microsoft replaced Windows XP at the beginning of 2007 with its brand new Vista platform. Vista brought in many enhancements, not just in terms of the interface, but also in functionality, stability and reliability all good news for the computer musician. However, Windows Vista required that manufacturers produce completely new drivers for all their hardware, and most software required updating to take advantage of the enhancements. This process has been slow, and many manufacturers are having a hard time converting their interfaces over to the new operating system. The best advice at time of writing is to check to choose the software and hardware you want first, and then choose a compatible operating system.
32 bit or 64 bit
There are 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Windows, but this has nothing to do with the quality of audio, or the bit rate at which your music is being recorded; rather it is to do with the computing technology itself. The standard version of Windows XP is 32 bit, and all the normal software and hardware you are likely to use is written in 32 bit code with 32 bit drivers. Microsoft latterly introduced Windows x64, a 64 bit version of XP Professional which allowed manufacturers to take advantage of the increased processing power available in 64 bit systems. However, 64 bit is still considered specialist, and only a handful of applications really benefit from it. The biggest advantage is that it can cope with loads more RAM than a 32 bit system - up to 128GB - which could revolutionise the way we use software samplers. However, the rest of the industry is not quite there yet. Windows Vista 64 is also an option, but very few hardware interfaces have drivers for it, so its less attractive than regular Vista at the time of writing. Do ensure that the computer you buy is 64 bit compatible though, so that in future you can upgrade to Vista 64 and make use of the advantages which are certain to come in time, and may have already done so by the time you read this!
The beauty of Macs is that theres only one specification of machine made by a single manufacturer, warranty sealed and delivered to you. This means that youre very unlikely to run into any compatibility issues with software or peripherals (providing of course that they are designed to be Mac compatible in the first place). Macs are typically more expensive than their PC equivalents when compared on a spec for spec basis, a comparison which is much easier to make now that they use essentially the same processors. There are also some applications that only run on the Apple operating system, which can make your choice of computer an easy one, although conversely there are some applications that are Windows only.
Buying an Apple Mac computer is very similar in some ways to buying a PC system from a specialist supplier, in that you get similar design ideals. However, youll still generally get the best support, PC or Mac, from a specialist music supplier, and its often worth paying the extra for it.