When I first started sequencing Christmas lights, one of the first questions I had was “What type of computer do I need for xLights or Vixen?”
At the end of the day, most modern computers will work great for either xLights or Vixen. A good starting point would be a dual-core processor with a speed of 2.0 ghz or greater, and 8GB RAM.
However, as your display grows, it can really start to weigh down on your computer.
Let’s dive into the system requirements to run these programs, and then I’ll also cover the “nice-to-haves” in an xLights or Vixen sequencing computer.
System Requirements and Recommended Specs
When it comes to system requirements, both xLights and Vixen are quite vague about what type of computer it takes to run their software smoothly.
Why is that? Unlike a game, music player, or web browser, it is very difficult to define system requirements for a program like xLights. This is because the amount of “power” required greatly depends on the number of pixels you are working with the amount/complexity of your effects.
Every effect and element that you add to your display adds a little need for power to the computer. Add up a bunch – and suddenly you need a more powerful PC!
Not only that, but both of these programs (xLights especially) are always being improved and taken to the next level – so it’s very difficult to keep an up-to-date “spec” of system requirements.
xLights System Requirements
While xLights does not maintain any system requirements, it does run on Windows, Mac, or Linux. So you can run it on any computer that you have around.
As I mentioned above, any computer that you have at home will likely be good enough to get started. The general consensus is that while the processor is important, having a good amount of RAM to speed up performance is the most helpful.
Vixen System Requirements
Vixen does list system requirements, and you can find them here. It’s important to know that Vixen is a PC-only Windows program, so if you’re a die-hard Mac user, you’ll want to use xLights or find a inexpensive PC for Vixen.
Take special note on the page linked that Vixen does have 2 sets of system requirements – 1 for smaller displays, and one for larger displays.
If You’re Buying a New Computer:
Regardless of system requirements, both programs are pretty similar in the overall way that they process things. I might get in trouble for saying this, as the developers on both sides pride themselves in making their software as efficient as possible!
For both programs, running the latest version of Windows or Mac can also help to ensure things are as efficient as possible. Newer versions of the operating systems optimize graphics and make generally things more efficient “under the hood”.
For any “Show computer” I recommend keeping your software as light as possible. Even if the computer you use isn’t 100% dedicated to your Christmas lights, you can still take the time to uninstall unneeded applications and turn off features that you don’t need – this can give you a pretty big speed boost if you’ve gotten a lot of clutter on the PC!
When you’re looking to buy a new computer, I would first go ahead and test your sequencing program on your current computer, if you have one. See how it performs with a lot of pixels, and then that will inform whether or not it makes sense to make a big upgrade.
Many people recommend “buying the most computer that you can afford”, and I can’t disagree with that statement. But, to be the most effective, it’s important to buy the most powerful computer in the right areas, as some improvements (like a high-end graphics card), will have little to no impact on your sequencing ability.
When buying a new computer for xLights or Vixen, I would recommend:
I would go with an Intel “i” series processor (i3, i5, i7, i9), or an AMD Ryzen series processor with a speed of at least 2ghz.
This is the brain of your computer, and so it’s worth buying well. i3 or Ryzen 3 computers can be found quite cheaply, and they still generally are much better built than computers with cheaper processors (A-series, Pentium, Celeron).
Watch out for processors with slower than 2ghz speeds – sometimes these find their way into laptops to save battery power, but there is a hit to performance.
At the end of the day, I’d rather have a PC with a good processor, than one with a cheap processor, even if the cheap processor PC is more loaded with other features. The processor is the most difficult part of your PC to upgrade later, meanwhile the other parts below can be easily upgraded. (You can find out how with YouTube videos if you haven’t done it before)
You’ll want a very minimum of 8gb of RAM, but 16gb or 24gb of the fastest RAM your computer can take will be excellent.
Just like the processor, the amount of RAM that you need varies greatly with the number of pixels you are controlling. A good rule of thumb is that if you are filling your RAM to 50% or more during average usage (which you can check with the Windows “Task Manager”, or the Mac “Activity Monitor”), then you will see at least some speed improvement by adding more RAM.
While neither program requires a graphics card, it can help as you begin visualizing into the many thousands of pixels. And less than that and the difference is negligible.
If you do add a graphics card, there’s really no need to go expensive. Unlike the 3d games and visualizations that high-end graphics cards excel at, the simple 2d pixel views in xLights and Vixen are not demanding!
When buying a new computer today, it’s really worth going with an SSD drive.
While conventional “spinning” hard drives used to be significantly less expensive, they’re not anymore and SSD’s make your computer faster when saving changes to your layout and sequences.
What Will Make My Sequencing Life Easier?
While the specs above are a great starting point, your monitor can make or break your time sequencing.
As a general rule, “bigger is better”, and with multiple monitors, you can separate your sequencing screen from your display so that you can see both very clearly as you work.
Some folks even use a 32″ or similar TV as a sequencing monitor to see their display clearly!
There are a lot of great options out there, and will not necessary, you’ll find it is very helpful to have large screen(s). What you don’t need, however, is a touch screen.
Neither xLights or Vixen are really designed for use with touch screens, so having that functionality doesn’t really give you much of an advantage.
Find the Right Computer for You
If you leave this article with any thoughts in your head, I want it to be this – you don’t have to break the bank to have a great sequencing computer for xLights or Vixen.
At the end of the day, these programs are not super resource-intensive, and until you get into a massive display you won’t need a high-end PC.
And when you do get to that level, a expensive PC is only a small portion of your display’s budget anyways 🙂
Whatever you do, have fun, and keep creating great lighting!