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Optimizing Your Computer for Audio - Windows 10

Why would I need to optimize Windows 10?

 

If your computer's audio has:

  • Pops
  • Clicks
  • Audio Dropouts
  • Distorted Audio
  • Noise
  • High CPU usage

PC Optimization Guide for Windows 10

Welcome to the Windows PC Optimization Guide. Here you will find a comprehensive guide to optimization of any computer for use as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

It is important that you read through this documentation, as it covers several crucial optimization steps recommended when setting up your DAW. Because Windows is meant for an entire spectrum of users, by default, the user interface is designed to have a very nice GUI (Graphical User Interface), plenty of security, a pleasing set of sounds, and several other features. Some of these are not the ideal settings for dedicated DAW users though. This guide is intended to step you through optimizing your machine in preparation for your new hardware and software to gain the most out of your system without experiencing the unnecessary heavy processor loads of poorly optimized machines.

A few conventions are used in the following sections:
    1. This guide assumes that you are working off a fresh install of Windows . Therefore, if you have modified the way your windows are displayed, or otherwise customized the OS, some of the instructions may be slightly different.
    2. The Control Panel is set to "Large Icons."  This options is available from the "View By" drop-down at the top right-hand corner of the page.  This view will show you all options rather than grouping them together under categories.
    3. When navigating Windows, the ">" symbol is used to show the next step. For example, instead of seeing "double-click on Computer, then double-click on C:, then double-click on Program Files," you will see this: "Go to Computer > C: > Program Files."
    4. It is assumed you can access the Device Manager. Here are a number of ways:
        - Right-click on the Start button and go to "Device Manager."
        - Click Cortana > type in "Device Manager" and press "Enter."
        - Control Panel > Device Manager.

 

Performance

These adjustments are some of the more sweeping optimizations in this guide. They address the visual aspects, processor handling, and DEP for the Windows OS.


Processor scheduling determines which types of processing are given a higher priority by Windows. The default setting is to devote more to your programs. This seems good on the surface; however, audio drivers run in the background, and NOT as separate programs. In order to get the most performance from audio gear, it is best to set your processor to handle background services first.  

Data Execution Prevention (DEP) is a set of hardware and software technologies that perform additional checks on memory to help prevent malicious code from running on a system. This is a technology originally developed in Windows XP that is now a part of Windows. While great in theory, DEP can sometimes see audio applications as "malicious code." Leaving it on to prevent attacks on essential Windows files is preferable.

To make these adjustments, right-click on Computer > Properties > Advanced System Settings > Performance > Settings, and select:
* Visual Effects > Adjust for best Performance.
* Advanced > Processor Scheduling > Background Services.
* Advanced > Data Execution Prevention > Turn on DEP for essential Windows programs and services only.

Press OK when done. 

 

Power Options

Windows allows for custom configuration of its power settings. This is useful for conserving energy when the computer is not in use. It works by automatically powering down or “hibernating” one or more components of the computer system when the computer has been idle for a predetermined amount of time. This can pose a major problem for users who record long sessions, as the computer may power itself down in the middle of recording!

To optimize your power settings for audio performance, go to Control Panel > Power Options > Create a Power Plan.  Choose "High Performance." Click the "Next" button, and make sure both options are set to "Never."

Also, many systems come preset to conserve USB power by temporarily cutting or disabling power to USB ports that are not actively in use. This can often be problematic for USB drivers that run in the background, since background tasks are not given power priority by the OS. If you use USB interfaces or controllers, than you should disable this power-management scheme. Go to the Device Manager > Universal Serial Bus Controllers > right-click on a "USB Root Hub" > Properties > Power Management > deselect "Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power" > press "OK." Repeat this process for all USB Root Hubs in the Device Manager.

 User Account Control

The User Account Control in Windows is among the more controversial features. It is beneficial for preventing unwanted changes to the system, and especially for protecting against unauthorized installations and file executions. However, the constant prompts asking to allow or deny access can interfere with overall workflow; all activity is suspended while the prompt waits for a reply. Furthermore, the user account monitoring uses extra CPU cycles (in fact, almost a negligible amount), so disabling the feature improves performance ever so slightly. All in all, the impediments in a DAW seem to outweigh the added security, especially if the system is kept off the Internet. To disable UAC, go to Control Panel > User Accounts (your account) > "Change User Account Control settings.  Slide the bar to the bottom, press ok, and reboot if prompted.  

* Keep in mind that some programs may require UAC to be enabled to complete the installation. If this is the case, then follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

 ***Windows Security and 3rd-party Security Programs

Windows 10 has a built in section of the operating system called "Windows Security."  The easiest way to access "Windows Security" is by opening Cortana and typing in "Windows Security."  You can also access WS by going to Control Panel>Security and Maintenance, click the drop-down for "Security" and choosing "View in Windows Security" from the firewall or antivirus options.  Here is a screenshot of the Windows Security window.

***If you are offline, it is recommended that you disable all security features in this section of Windows.  It is also recommended that you silence any automatic updating mechanisms that exist in your 3rd-party software.  Below you will find the most important options to disable in the Windows Security.

Windows_Security.png

 

Once you are in the Windows Security window, the first and possibly most important thing to do is to turn off "Controlled Folder Access" under the "Ransomware protection" category.  To do this, just choose "Virus and threat protection" over in the left-hand column in the Windows Security window.  You can then scroll down to "Ransomware Protection" at the bottom of the next screen and choose the option to "Manage Ransomware Protection."  You should then see an option to turn "Controlled Folder Access" off.  Here is a screenshot...

 folder_protection.png

 

"Controlled Folder Access" limits access to the folders that are selected under this option.  If you must have this option enabled, make sure that you have excluded any folders that you might be writing audio to or storing song data in.  It is highly recommended that you turn it off though.  This can prevent you from being able to arm a track in a DAW if the software is unable to write to the location that is set in your preferences. 

If you are not online with your  DAW, then disabling the Security Center features will free up some extra resources for you. 

There are several adjustments to be made from the Security Center window:

* Click on Firewall and Network Protection in the left-hand column in the Windows Security window.  Disable the firewall for the Domain, Private, and Public networks.

*Click on Virus and Threat Protection in the left-hand column and go to "Manage Settings" in the next window.  This is under "Virus and Threat Protection."  Turn off "Realtime Protection," "Cloud-delivered Protection," and "Automatic Sample Submission."

*Set your automatic updates for Windows 10 to a time that you will not be working on your system if possible.  Of course, if you are offline, Windows will not check for updates.  You can set this option by left-clicking the Start button and clicking on the settings cog wheel.  This will open the Settings window.  You can then go into "Update & Security."  Under "Windows Updates," and click on "Change Active Hours."  

* Note that if you make these adjustments, Windows will continually remind you that your computer is at risk. To stop these reminders, go to Control Panel>Security and Maintenance>Change Security and Maintenance settings.  Here you can change the Security and Maintenance notification settings.

***Bear in mind that in this state, you are at risk if you should choose to go online. Before doing so, it is highly recommended that you re-enable everything in the Security center, with the exception of "Controlled Folder Access."  Also connect immediately to Windows Update for the latest security updates from Microsoft.

Antivirus software is another subcategory of Windows security.  Antivirus software is another near-necessity for everyday computing. For the online DAW user, it is best to disable antivirus software before using any audio applications.  For the offline DAW user, it's best to not install it in the first place.  It is sometimes necessary to completely uninstall antivirus software to resolve issues.  If you are online, you might want to consider just using the built-in antivirus support for Windows.

In Windows 10, another relevant security feature is BitLocker drive encryption. While it is a fantastic tool to prevent theft and piracy, the added encryption is not suitable for a high-performance DAW. It is best to leave BitLocker off on any drive that will actively be running DAW applications or streaming audio. However, for backup and non-DAW-related drives, it is fine to leave it enabled. To adjust BitLocker on your drives, go to Control Panel > BitLocker Drive Encryption.

OneDrive and cloud technology

Cloud technology can be a great thing for backing up files and being able to access them from multiple locations.  Unfortunately, when recording audio, these same applications can interfere with recording and being able to access certain files.  They can also use up valuable resources while they are uploading data to the cloud.  If you are using iCloud Drive, DropBox, Splice, etc. you will want to disable these services while you are recording or running audio software.  If you are using OneDrive, it is recommended that you turn it off, disable it, or in some situations uninstall it.  Here is an article from Microsoft explaining how to manage One Drive.

https://support.office.com/en-gb/article/turn-off-disable-or-uninstall-onedrive-f32a17ce-3336-40fe-9c38-6efb09f944b0

***If you have OneDrive set to back up your Documents>Studio One folder, it is possible that it will prevent you from being able to arm a track to record.  If you go into Studio One>Options>Locations>User Data and you see the word "OneDrive" in the path to your documents folder, you are more than likely actively using OneDrive.  After de-activating OneDrive, reboot your system, and try re-mapping to Documents>Studio One in the User Data window.

Virtual Memory and ReadyBoost

Virtual memory (or paging files) is a technique that involves using a dedicated section of the hard drive as though it were additional RAM. The downside is that hard drives invariably process data slower than RAM does, so using paging files does decrease performance. This can be beneficial for low-performance, high-data applications where lots of material is loaded into RAM but does not process extremely quickly. With audio applications, this is not a good idea. As they are very demanding on system resources, using a lower-speed hard drive is not a viable solution. However, some applications may require the use of a paging file, for one reason or another. If this is the case, then make sure to set all of your buffer sizes in your audio application as high as possible to compensate for the hard drive's latency.

Go into Control Panel > System > Advanced System Settings. This will bring you to the Advanced tab in the System Properties window. Under the Performance section, go to Settings tab and select Advanced, the press the "Change" button under Virtual memory. Uncheck "Automatically manage paging file size for all drives." For each drive listed, click on "No paging file" and "Set." You will be warned that a crash file may not be recorded if you have no paging file. Choose "Yes" to this message. Once all drives have been modified, choose "OK." Restart your computer for the changes to take effect.

If you do need to enable a paging file, for whatever reason, it is usually best to use a multiple of 2 for the size. Examples would be 256 MB, 512 MB, 1024 MB, etc. There is no need to exceed the amount of physical RAM installed for a paging file. If you find yourself continually needing to increase the paging file size, it is probably time to upgrade your system RAM.

One alternative to paging files is technology called ReadyBoost. It essentially uses a USB flash drive as a high-speed paging file. Not all flash drives will work, though. A device must have the following minimum specifications:
* The device must be at least 64 MB
* The device must be USB 2.0 or higher
* It has to be able to read at 3.5 MB/s
* It has to be able to write at 2.5 MB/s

To activate ReadyBoost on a USB flash drive, right-click the Start button, go to Device Manager, right-click the USB drive, and go to Properties > ReadyBoost > select "Use this Device" and choose the amount of space you wish to dedicate to ReadyBoost > "OK" when finished. As with paging files, it is best to stay with multiples of 2. 

***While we are on the topic of virtualization, one feature to stay away from is "Fast Startup."  Fast Startup can prevent Windows updates from being fully installed, which can greatly impede system performance.  Here is an article from Microsoft on this issue.

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4011287/windows-updates-not-install-with-fast-startup

To turn off "Fast Startup," go into Control Panel > Power Options > Choose What the Power Button Does.  You can then un-check the box for "Turn on Fast Startup."  Click on "Save Changes" and reboot your machine.  Fast Startup is turned on by default if your system supports it.

Hard Drive Performance

Windows has an option to boost the normal performance of ATA and SATA drives by enhancing write caching. One problem with this is that if power is interrupted to the hard drive, then the risk of data loss or corruption is greatly increased. However, if you use a battery backup or some other type of uninterruptible power supply, then you should not have anything to worry about. To speed up your drives, navigate to the Device Manager. Click on the "+" next to Disk Drives, then right-click on the drive you wish to change and choose Properties > Policies > check the box next to "Enable advanced performance."

There are also two other drive properties to consider. These can be accessed by going to File Explorer and right-clicking on the drive in question.

* Under the General tab, make sure "Compress this drive..." is unchecked.
* Under the Quota tab, you have "Do not limit disk usage" selected, but nothing else.

Disk Defrag is another option to explore with your hard drive.  Defragmenting your (mechanical) hard drives is recommended in all Windows OS’s, and particularly in systems running and editing large audio and multimedia files. As data begins to be physically written to the disk, it is placed by the drive on the first available empty location. Eventually, the file will run out of space by approaching the next file on the disk. At this point, the file is split, and the remainder of it is written elsewhere on the disk. Large files on often-used drives can end up with hundreds of these fragments. Defragmenting your disks places the data for files next to each other (rather than fragmented throughout the disk), which speeds up reading from and writing to the disk, and increases system stability.  Please refer to the following article from Microsoft for information on using this tool.

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4026701/windows-defragment-your-windows-10-pc

Indexing Options

Another feature in Windows is its ability to automatically index all the files in the Start Menu, user profile folders, and files setup for offline access. Too many files in these locations, especially when the files change often, causes the indexing service to add to the overall CPU load. While this change speeds up your overall performance, it will also adversely affect your searching speed in those locations. However, with a good file-management strategy, this will be irrelevant for the DAW user. To adjust your indexing options,open the search bar from the Windows toolbar, type in "Indexing Options > press Enter > Modify. In the "Change selected locations" window, uncheck everything except for the Start menu, located in C: > ProgramData > Microsoft > Windows.

Onboard Devices

An onboard device is any device built in to the computer. Examples include built-in wireless adapters, audio cards, and Web cams. Most of these are fairly benign but some have the potential to interfere with digital audio software and hardware. Historically speaking, the most problematic devices are wireless Internet cards and audio cards; we typically recommend disabling these, at least while using your software. Onboard wireless Internet cards periodically send and receive information when activated (even without an Internet browser open), and these bursts of data transfer take CPU cycles, to the point of causing audible pops and clicks in DAW applications. Onboard audio cards can cause driver conflict problems, and are not as high in quality as professional interfaces. Additionally, they are often selected as the default driver in most DAW applications, forcing you to manually select your primary interface instead.

In the Device Manager, you can right-click on any device and choose "Disable." This will essentially turn that device off, releasing its drivers and stopping any resources from being used to run it. Internet and other wireless cards are typically found under the "Network Adapters" category. Onboard audio cards and Web cams will be found under "Sound, video and game controllers."

***If you activated your copy of Studio One with an online activation, while connected to the internet with your wireless card, do not disable the wireless card, as it will interfere with your Studio One activation.  

Personalization

Like all previous version of Windows, Windows 10 allows for a high level of customization, allowing users to configure the OS to look and sound almost any way they want. Unfortunately, some of the popular settings can interfere with DAW workflow. Under the Personalize window (which can be accessed by right-clicking on the desktop), here are some settings to look out for:
* Screen Saver. When screen savers become active, DAW users lose all sense of what is happening in their system (for example, visually monitoring recording levels). For this reason, it is better to set your screen saver to "none."
* Sounds. As certain events happen, Windows notifies you by playing a sound. This can be problematic while recording, since the sound may cause a driver problem by trying to access the driver currently in use. For this reason, it is usually best to set your sound scheme to "No sounds."


Startup Service and Applications

By default, Windows pre-loads applications and services from installed programs and deposits icons in the system tray. The goal is to both decrease load times and provide easy access to a variety of programs. While very helpful in theory, these partially launched applications are a CPU drain. Disabling them helps Windows allocate more resources to running applications. Windows will also load faster, since it is not pre-loading every application during startup. To disable these applications from loading on startup, do the following. 

CAUTION: Make absolutely sure you follow the directions EXACTLY as printed below. Startup configuration is powerful stuff, and if used carelessly, can cause problems. Follow the directions, DO NOT treat this section lightly, and you will be fine:

Go to Start > Run, type in "msconfig" (without the " " marks) and press OK. When the System Configuration Utility comes up, click on the Startup tab. Press the button to "Disable All." Click on the Services tab. Check the box at the bottom of the window to "Hide All Microsoft Services." Press the "Disable All" button, but only AFTER hiding the microsoft services. Press "OK," then "Restart." When Windows boots back up, check the box next to "Don't show this message..." and then press "OK."

NOTE: After pressing "Disable All," Pro Tools users must recheck "MMERefresh" in the Startup tab and "Digidesign MME Refresh Service" in the Services tab. GigaStudio users must check "msg32" in the Startup tab, even if GigaStudio was installed and then uninstalled later. All users will notice that the system tray is now empty (or very close to being empty). If there are certain applications that you would like pre-loaded on startup (and thus back in your system tray), simply go back to the utility and recheck them. Be advised, though, that each application that is checked (and loaded) will draw CPU resources away from your audio applications.

Also, please remember that this process will cause all non-system programs from booting along with Windows, including antivirus software and, occasionally, utilities used for your computer's hardware to function properly. General-use computers may need other services and applications in order to function, such as proprietary drivers for mouse touchpads, wireless Internet cards, etc. If a particular program that you need stops working after running the msconfig utility, then DO NOT go back and attempt to reinstall the program. Simply choose "Enable All" instead of Disable All" to restore full functionality. Then, you can go through your processes, one by one, to see what needs to remain enabled. You may need to contact your PC manufacturer to be double-check whether or not an application need to be enabled or not.

***Make absolutely sure you hide the Microsoft services in the Services tab. This is very critical, and not doing so will cause various Windows features to (temporarily) stop working. Also, be aware that antivirus utilities will also be turned off by using msconfig in this way.

Keep in mind that the msconfig utility is always reversible, but uninstalling and reinstalling software may not be. If your PC malfunctions immediately after using msconfig, then before doing anything else, enable everything to reverse the effects.

Audio Streamlining and File Management: Things to Do to Keep Your Computer Running Smoothly

Now your computer is ready for the intense demands of audio processing. There are still a few things to remember so your system stays in optimal condition. These steps will allow you to work efficiently without having to reconfigure your computer.

Check Your RAM

Windows has a built-in utility that can check your RAM for you. It will let you know if there are any errors in your RAM that need to be addressed. RAM errors can lead to such things as lockups, freezes, restarts with no warning, blue screens, and failures to boot the PC. To access Window's RAM diagnostic tool, go to Control Panel  > Administrative Tools > Memory Diagnostics Tool. Alternatively, you can type in "memory Diagnostic" in the Cortana search box. You will have the option to restart immediately and check, or check the next time you restart. Once you do restart, the memory diagnostic tool will begin.

The memory test is subdivided into Basic, Standard, and Extended tests. The tests are progressively longer and more thorough. When the test finishes, Windows will boot automatically and display a notification balloon with the results of the test.

Driver Modes

Windows essentially utilizes three driver modes: WDM, ASIO, and WaveRT. WDM is the oldest of the three, provides the widest range of compatibility (especially with consumer-level, built-in audio cards), and operates with the slowest response. ASIO is a third-party standard developed by Steinberg and is more than adequate for a DAW user. WaveRT is a new driver mode developed specifically for Windows that provides a kernel-level data transfer, allowing for the most stability and least latency (delay) of the three. Some interfaces may not have WaveRT support, so in this case, ASIO is a necessity. This is fine, as ASIO has been the preferred standard for years for DAW use and is still very widely used. However, if WaveRT is available, it is the preferred driver mode due to its speed and OS integration.

Plug-in Resources

Plug-ins can take the form of inserts (reverb, compression, etc.) and virtual instruments (synths, rewire applications, etc.). Both types can consume large amounts of CPU resources when instantiated. It is a good idea to use as few instances of each plug-in as possible. Reverbs and hardware emulators—typically the most hungry plug-ins—can be inserted to auxiliary tracks, and audio can be bused to these tracks from multiple sources. Similarly, multiple MIDI tracks can send to a single virtual instrument. Both methods conserve resources by loading the plug-in, and thus the CPU load, only once. Additionally, analog emulation plug-ins can take up a large amount of CPU resources. Rather then inserting a modeled compressor on, say, seven drum tracks, create a group channel for your drums and only insert it once. With this method, you still get the sound you want on the drums, but you save your CPU six instantiations of a plug-in. Limiting the amount of active plug-ins has the added benefit of keeping your session smaller and more streamlined.

To monitor how your computer is utilizing its resources, right-click in an empty space on the task bar (somewhere between the Start button and the clock). Select Task Manager. The Performance tab will give you a fairly accurate idea of the average load put on your CPU. This meter takes into account everything that is running. Keep in mind that it can be a little jerky; what you are looking for is an average measurement over several seconds. Try to keep the processor (there will be more than one processor window on an Intel or AMD multicore CPU) at an upper limit of 70-75%. Higher loads than this are known to cause stuttering, dropouts, freezes, and crashes. If the load is too high, you can remove plug-ins or applications. If this still doesn't help, then the solution very well could be to increase the amount of RAM installed in your computer.

Saving and File Management

The preferred setup for all audio computers makes use of at least two hard drives. One drive, the system or C: drive, will only have the OS and all applications installed on it. All data will be saved to other drives. This prevents the C: drive from becoming too full and/or fragmented, and allows for faster transfer rates for your audio files, thus increasing track counts. Full system drives run much slower than their clean counterparts because there is more data to search through when trying to find system or application files, and there are fewer open spaces to write files. It is strongly advised to save everything (sessions, downloads, documents, EVERYTHING) to a second (or third, fourth, etc.) hard drive. The general principle is that things you INSTALL go to the C: drive, while things you SAVE go to a different drive. External hard drives are becoming very popular because the data can be easily transported to a different computer. Whichever type of hard drive you opt for, make sure that it has a minimum speed of 7,200 RPM (revolutions per minute). Drives running at 10,000 RPM are ideal, especially when running large sessions (over 24 tracks). Slower drives may not be able to keep up with the demands of recording and streaming audio.

A word on saving: Often, when creating a new session, it is easy to choose the default name and location provided. Be careful NOT to do this! The default settings are usually to name the session "Untitled" and save it somewhere in the C: drive. You will soon get a full C: drive and too many "Untitled" sessions to tell which is which! Use the same amount of care with file management that you do when recording.

Archiving

Even when taking care to save to multiple hard drives, you can still run short on space. This is especially true if there are many sessions (complete with audio files) and sample libraries on the same drive. A good idea is to archive these sessions. Archiving in this sense means either burning to a removable disk (CD or DVD), or transferring to a backup drive. DVD's are the preferred method of removable storage because they can hold over 5 times more data: 4.7 gigabytes on a DVD versus 800 megabytes on a CD. If you archive to a backup hard drive, make sure to access the drive frequently (every six months to ensure smooth operation).

Another reason to archive is to prevent data loss. An entire drive full of sessions can be lost at any time due to a hard drive crash. Having all of your sessions backed up on removable media will allow you to maintain a copy that can then be copied back onto a new drive, if necessary. Removable media has the added bonus of being relatively impervious to data loss; unless you physically lose or damage the disk, your data will not be lost (translated: CD's and DVD's don't crash).

The Manual is Your Friend

All audio applications are complicated; it's the nature of the beast. However, they all include extensive help files, and in many cases, thorough tutorials. The vast majority of operational questions can be answered from the manual. We strongly advise that you read at least the introductory sections, if not the entire manual, before you attempt to use your software. This will allow you to understand where key tools and menus are, give you insights into what you can and can't do, walk you through how to do various tasks, and increase efficiency and reduce stress when making music. If there's a section you don't understand, read it several times. Walk through the procedure step by step as you read it. Repeat this as many times as you need. Use the index and table of contents to find areas in which you need to brush. Never assume that will know every feature in any piece of hardware/software. Always read your manual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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