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Aside from making sure that you have enough memory to store and run these packages, processor and sound-card choices will also keep latency in check. Latency is how long it takes the computer to produce a sound from the time you press a key. When latency becomes noticeable, your brain doesn't know whether to slow your playing so that the sound can catch up, or to speed up to make the sound happen faster. Neither of these works. (Anyone who plays the pipe organ knows what latency is, and will adapt to it without a second thought.)

Software

This is where the real fun starts. There are currently over two dozen software-piano packages available, at prices ranging from $79 to $895. These include both sample-based packages and packages based on physical modeling. Several host acoustic pianos (i.e., the sources of the samples) are available via software, including instruments made by Bechstein, Bösendorfer, Blüthner, Fazioli, Kawai, Steingraeber, Steinway, and Yamaha. If you'd like to add some period instruments to your palette, there are also packages with samples from historical fortepianos.

If you're not particularly into computers, software pianos may not be for you. But if you enjoy even a mild bit of tinkering, and have dreamed of owning a collection of the world's finest pianos or even of "designing" your own piano, you may find software pianos an irresistible temptation. If you're interested in following the world of piano software, it's discussed in Piano World's "Digital Pianos — Synths & Keyboards" forum.