Friday, July 26, 2013

How to setup your computer for audio production

We live in a time where a decent home-recording or even a semi-pro recording studio are quite affordable. In my older article i explained how to set it up for about 400$. However not every pc is being used optimally. In this article uncle Eugene will tell you how to push your Audio-PC's efficiency to the max! Read on...

Most of the modern PC's nowadays are preconfigured to deliver maximum usability and user comfort. However your audio workstation requiers some special settings in order to function without problems and let you, the musician/engineer, concentrate on the most important thing: the music. There are many ways to optimize your PC's performance. Some of them cost money, others only require few clicks. I'll tell about both, beginning with most obvious.

 PART I. Optmizing your audio workstation for free.

1. Background services.

The most Audio Inerfaces and other hardware drivers run in system's background. By default windows sets programs to be prioritized in the processor scheduling. In order to improve your interface's driver stability you should set the processor scheduling for best performance to the background services. You'll find the settings in:

  Control panel > System > Advanced > Under Performance click "Settings" > Choose Background services > Click apply.

2. Deactivate System Sounds.

 Since most audio systems run in 24 bit/48 kHz any system sound caused by windows will very likely change your audio driver settings so the windows sounds will be played correctly. This is something that can quickly spoil your inner peace during the mix. In order to deactivate system sound go to:

Control Panel > Hardware & Sounds / Sound >  Change System Sounds > Down in the menu set Sound to "No Sounds". Also uncheck the option "Play windows startup sound".

If you feel that you absolutely need windows s´system sounds, convert all system sound files so they will have same bit depth and sampling rate as your commonly used audio driver setup. You'll find the files here: C:\windows\media
However i recommend to deactivate all system sounds.

3. Power Settings.

By default windows power settings are preconfigured to save power. This is something we absolutely dont need in our audio system. We always need maximum power. Here we go:

Control Panel > System and Security > Power Options > Under "Plans Shown on Battery Meter", select "High performance".

4. Visual Settings for best performance.

Ok, this one will be probaly a bit painfull for some users who really like windows 7's cute design. Most modern computers have enough resource power to run windows aero and other visual effects without loading the system too much, but if you use resource hungry plugins any way to boost your performance is good, so:

Control panel > System > Advanced > Performance options > Visual effects> choose option "Adjust for best performance" > Click apply.

5. Deactivate your network card.

This measure is quite important for maintaining low PCI latency of your computer. Even if you do not have a devoted computer for audio production and record and mix on your home pc, with internet, antivirus, office and variety of 3d party software, i'd still recommend to deactivate your network card at least when you're up to run a serious project in your daw. go to:

Control panel > System > Device Manager > select all of your network adaptors and deactivate them.

I also advise to deactivate your Network Adapter in BIOS.
You should also deactivate any other cards like Bluetooth controller, wifi card or a tv card.

6. Deactivate your PC's default soundcard.

In some cases your onboard or "normal" PCI sound card's drivers can interfere with drivers of your audio interface. Do the same as with deactivating network card step, with the difference that in device manager you deactivate your "normal" sound card. Deactiavting the soundcard in BIOS wouldn't harm also.

7. Deactivate Antivirus, Firewall and Windows Updates.

Antivirus programms and firewalls keep your PC secure to a certain degree, but they tend to slow your system down, sometimes really hard, so using an audio production pc with firewalls and antiviruses is not an option. Of course an unprotected PC shouldn't be connected to any network or internet. But this rule applies to any Audio PC anyway. With all the security updates system tends to get slower and gathers bugs. Registry is growing bigger which also slows your system down. For a clean and failure-free audio system i strongly advise to install your Windows from scratch, so no other programms are installed, no non-audio-programm special settings are applied and registry is slim. Win7 Service Pack will work very well and without getting connected to internet or network will run stably for years.

8. Processes in the task manager.

There are many processes running in the background besides your audio interface drivers. Some of them are crucial for proper OS functionality, some are completely obsolete for an audio pc. Services like ituneshelper or soffice have nothing to do on your audio workstation. This step requires time and patience, but this will pay out in your system's efficiency. Here are some of the standard processes that you can deactivate without worry.
Firstly, click "Start" and in the search filed (or if WinXP clcik "run") enter: services.msc
The window with all services is now displayed. You can deactivate following services:
Application Management (AppMgmt)
ActiveX Installer (AxInstSV)
BitLocker drive encryption software
Background Intelligent Transfer Service
Bluetooth Support Service
Print Spooler
Remote Registry
Branch Cache

These is just an example. You can of course deactivate other services as well. But please do yourself a favour and read exactly what the process is needed for and only deactivate it if you're totally sure that it won't do any harm to your system. A good description is already provided for most services, just to the right to the service name in the services menu.

9. Non-Audio Software.

All kinds of software that you normally use on your PC like microsoft office or some system tweak suite, video codecs, p2p applications and anything else non-audio will often cause problems on an audio workstation. For example the microsoft office suite slows down your system and most importantly it causes some vst plugins to crash. This is something you definitly want to avoid. Do not install any software that has nothing to do with audio production. Take it as a law. I also do not recommend to install video editing software, since some of them also access your vst plugins and in rare cases may cause interferences with your DAW and plugins.

10. CPU Overclocking.

Modern computers are equipped with high-performance CPU's if compared to 10 years back. However sometimes even an intel i7 gets overwhelmed with multiple plugins running during a mix. Overclocking is a good way  to boost your systems performance. Still, bear in mind that overclocking will increase power consumption and most likely reduce lifetime of the cpu. Nowadays computer hardware doesn't cost that much, but it would be a great pitty if your workstation dies during a running project. If you're really convinced that your cpu need extra Hz than refer to the manufacturers service manual. Try not to clock the cpu to the max: it could cause stability problems.

11. Harddisk Defragmentation.

Yep, good old defrag always done good to your hard disk's speed. So it does with an audio workstation, where large ammounts of data are written and deleted frequently. Run it once in a while, it helps.

12. Raid Configuration.

You can double your hard disk's speed if configuring 2 hard drives in a RAID 0 mode. This can only function if you have 2 identical hard drives. This option sounds great, but for the security of your data it's not the optimal solution. in Raid 0 configuration 2 Hard drives are being used as one, therefore all data is being splitted between two drives. If one of your hard drives dies, you will lose the most of your data, which could become a real disaster for a mixing/recording engineer. Raid 0 Configuration is only good for systems where saved data is not so important. Let's say, that you have your windows and all the programs installed on your raid 0 drive, where you also do the recordings and afterwards you save all your data to another hard drive. Raid 1 is a bit more interesting in case data security. If you configure 2 hard drives in raid 1 it will wirte all data on 2 hard drives, so you'll always have a back up hard drive with all the data in case one of them doesn't work anymore. Another good thing about raid 1 is that you don't need 2 identical hard drives to run it. The only thing you'll have to keep in mind, that both of your hard drives will then use only the capacity of the smaller one. So if you've got one 500GB hard drive and one 1TB hard drive, you will only be able to use 500 GB with raid 1. A combination of 2 raid systems would come in question. Raid 0 for system, programs and recording, Raid 1 for storing data. The problem is, that you will need an additional raid controller for your pc in order to run 2 raid systems. It will cost money, increase power consumption and more important it will load your PCI controller with additional work, which should be avoided in any case, if you ever want to do multitrack recordings. The best alternative to the raid 0 configured hard drives is an SSD (Solid State Drive), but this is not a free optimizing measure. :)  For data storage i would advise an external raid 1 system, so you're double sure, that your data is not going anywhere.

13. Backup your projects.

An average song recorded in cubase with a total of 20-25 tracks will easily get as large as 1 GB or even more. If you're not deleting unused data it will be even larger. As soon as your project is conisdered to be done or must be delayed for any reason, it is strongly recommended to do a project backup. You should also back up the project on a hard drive that is not being used for recording or the system drive. Use an external hard drive or burn it on DVD (and be careful no to scratch it's surface). This will give you the advantage of a clean and good running hard drive. And what's also important: when you do a project backup in cubase or any other serious DAW you can also select the option to delete unused data, that will make your backup much smaller and therefore it will run faster when you load it.

14. I only own one PC.

Many people do not have a separate PC for audio recording for financial or aurial, or other reasons. As i told earlier a good functioning audio workstation is totally different from your normal home PC. But if you can not get another pc you still can go with your only workhorse. Just install a parallel windows 7 system on another hard drive, so you can choose on startup which one you want to use. Do not deactivate all the network, audio and other controllers in BIOS, as they won't work in your normal windows installation. Only do the system settings with your audio-windows installation. See? I just saved your money :). A fast and large hard drive costs almost nothing nowadays, but if you're still on a very tight budget, you can create another partition on your existing hard drive and install the audi-windows on the new partition. Feel free to ask me how you can do it, or use google :)

15. Back up your system.

As soon as you installed your windows, installed all the software and drivers you need, configured the system to your liking and checked that everything is running as you want, make a windows backup.

Control panel > choose "backup your computer" under "System and security" menu > setup backup (here you choose where you want to store your backup, be it a DVD or another hard drive. "Backup destination") > click "next" > save settings and run backup.

With this very first backup you'll make sure that you don't have to reconfigure everyhting if your system crasher and you also know that the system is clean without any unwanted changes, caused for example with badly written plugins or such. If you make some changes in the system a new backup is advised. However as soon as you see that your system is getting slower, stop doing backups. Note what software or system changes you've made lately, then restore windows from last "good and fast" backup and then install the wanted software and do the wanted changes.

I hope that this tips will help you to improve your audio workstation. Feel free to ask any question about it. In the Part II i will tell you how to choose and configure additional hardware and how to setup your workstation from scratch. Stay tuned!

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