Windows 7 running on a laptop, as photographed by / (CC) Luke Roberts. Windows 7 makes far subtler changes than Vista did, which gives it an opportunity to refine features by the ship date. And it’s been tested unusually widely, by testers like Luke.

Windows matters. It’s what roughly half of CDM readers use, and – for all the attention Apple gets – it’s a big part of the computer music world. Windows today also faces many of the same under-the-hood challenges that other operating systems do, so even if you’re a die-hard Linux or Mac user, you may want to pay attention.  You don’t need to love Windows, and you certainly won’t be hosting a Windows 7 launch party. You want to know if the OS will get out of your way and let you get to work.

Windows Vista proved what happens when an operating system’s many interconnected pieces are out of alignment. Even a graphics driver out of sync with underlying changes in the OS could render audio unusable, because just one missed sample can produce an audible glitch or dropout. Part of why I’m optimistic about Windows 7 is that Vista today is a radically different picture, thanks to many, many fixes delivered by Microsoft in updates and more mature audio and video drivers. But that means not just whether 7 is better than XP, but whether 7 is also better than Vista.

Vista wasn’t entirely alone: Mac and Linux have all had their share of growing pains in recent years. The devil is usually in the details. So, I again turn to one of the best guys in the business for sorting out all those technical details. Noel Borthwick, the CTO for Cakewalk, probably has a better big-picture view of how music and audio work in Windows than anyone on the planet. He’s a person hardware and software vendors outside Cakewalk often rely upon as a resource. Noel kept us technically honest on Vista, and he’s doing it again on Windows 7, with some exclusive information for CDM.

Those details get mighty technical, so here’s the punchline: Windows 7 is an OS Noel would use himself. It was hard to get anyone to recommend Vista over XP; loyal Windows-using developers I know still largely stick to XP. But would Noel switch from XP to 7?

Yes, absolutely. Windows 7 finally delivers on the stability and performance that users hoped for from Vista. The kernel changes and optimizations for large scale multi-core processors make it very attractive to DAW users who are interested in better low latency performance. I will be building a new DAW soon and Windows 7 X64 will be my OS of choice.

What’s new in Windows 7?

  • Better multithreading: Improved performance of highly-multithreaded software and hardware by removing a significant bottleneck, especially relevant to a tool like SONAR
  • Better memory management: Improved memory management when working with multiple threads
  • Less nagging: More customization over UAC prompts (meaning they don’t have to nag you more than you want)
  • More lightweight: Fewer system services run by default on a stock system, plus a leaner footprint of the OS
  • Media support: More native media format support, including QuickTime MOV and H.264, plus drag-and-drop media transcoding
  • Composite devices: More logical display of hardware with multiple functions (like audio and MIDI).
  • FireWire: Enhanced FireWire support, with IEEE 1394b
  • Multi-touch: Multi-touch display support
  • Usability improvements: An improved user interface, task bar, and Libraries for managing files

If you’re ready for all the gory details, read on – including a frank appraisal of how all of this compares to XP in real-world performance, and what compatibility issues to look out for if upgrading from either Vista or XP.

Noel Borthwick of Cakewalk effectively wrote this story in response to my questions, so these answers all come from him. Microsoft has not responded to my requests for a review copy, so I’ll be able to evaluate this on my own system – albeit far less scientifically than Noel can – closer to launch.

WARNING: Extremely geeky details of the inner workings of Windows 7 follow, in keeping with our “never dumbed down” policy. If you’re a developer, you can likely get some leads on how to better support Windows 7 in a single point, something even Microsoft doesn’t provide as completely. But if you’re willing to dig, you get a rare view of the OS from a developer view – no marketing speak, no cheerleading, no fanboyism, no platform wars, no writing for the lowest common denominator.

nehalem_die

Chips like Intel’s Core i7 give us fabulous new capabilities, but it’s up to software developers to figure out how to harness that power. Windows 7 removes some of the obstacles that might prevent developers from squeezing audio performance out of highly-multithreaded applications. And yes, that Nehalem chip die is really beautiful; a shame you can’t see it. Photo courtesy Intel Corporation.

What Actually Improves Audio Performance

Peter: In terms of performance for audio production, what are the significant differences in Windows 7?

Noel: Windows 7 on the surface is very similar to Windows Vista. It has the same audio driver support and same audio system infrastructure as Vista. However, it’s some of the under-the-hood improvements that are more significant for audio production. There are some interesting innovations and optimizations in the Windows kernel, making the OS more scalable for concurrent processing. This makes it attractive for highly multithreaded applications like SONAR. Additionally there are various new API’s/SDK’s that may be of significance to developers. Some highlights are below:

Multi-threading: Removal of the kernel “global dispatcher lock”

In Vista and earlier, on a highly multi-threaded system (e.g. SONAR running on an 8 core hyper-threaded Intel Core I7 PC), you have many threads all processing tiny audio buffers at low latency. All these threads are ultimately waiting on the dispatcher lock when it comes time for them to be managed by the Windows scheduler. This global lock becomes a bottleneck in the system and prevents efficient multi-core workload distribution and scalability. This problem gets magnified as you increase the number of cores since they are all gated by a common lock. In Win 7 the kernel team changed the logic in the Windows scheduler to abolish this global dispatcher lock and use per object locks. This effectively removes this age old bottleneck and allows Win 7 to scale better even under workloads of 256 processors.

This change means a lot to applications like SONAR that rely on multithreaded processing of very small workloads. Initial benchmark results have been promising in this regard. SONAR performs more efficiently at low latency on multi core machines.

Improved Memory Management – PFN database lock

The PFN (page frame number) database lock was used by the memory manager to lock pages of memory in the working set. Like the dispatcher lock above, this would gate memory access from different threads causing resource contention. Work in this was first done in Windows server 2003 SP1 and Windows 7 has now has this optimization as well, improving asynchronous access to memory.

Power Optimization: Core Parking

Windows 7 has a new feature called Core Parking. Core Parking is a power saving optimization that shifts processing load to one or more cores and puts other less busy cores to “sleep”. The objective is to let other cores idle if workload levels allow for it. This optimization had us scratching our heads when we ran a benchmark test on a Quad Core I7 machine. At any point in time, we would notice that some cores were idle in task manager. The reason for this turned out to be Core Parking. Core parking can be useful to save battery life while running projects on laptops.

Better WaveRT Performance

Unlike Windows Vista, Win7 now uses event mode internally. This is good news, since it will help guarantee that HDAudio drivers in Win7 support WaveRT event mode properly. Additionally event mode is now part of WHQL logo certification for driver vendors, so any WAVERT device must support this to get a Win7 compatibility logo.

Ed. note: The plain-English translation here is that WaveRT, Microsoft’s own real-time audio driver facility, now is more likely to work the way you expect. Cockos, makers of REAPER, actually provided the ability to turn off WaveRT Event Mode at the end of last year because of unpredictable results. Windows 7 should resolve these issues.

Build 7060

New media codec support in Windows 7 means less mucking around installing other software just to play back files – and, in turn, less to troubleshoot.

Other Improvements

Peter: Noel also assembled some other improvements worth noting in Windows 7. They’re subtle, but useful: you may finally be able to avoid installing QuickTime/iTunes just to play some video files, interfaces with audio and MIDI jacks don’t have to show up separately any more, there’s improved FireWire support, usability improvements, and multi-touch on mainstream computers is now nearly here.

Noel:

Additional File Format support

Windows 7 adds native playback support for media in MP4, MOV, 3GP, AVCHD, ADTS, M4A, and WTV multimedia containers. It has native codec’s for H.264, MPEG4-SP, ASP/DivX/Xvid, MJPEG, DV, AAC-LC, LPCM and AAC-HE

Yes you read that right – QuickTime MOV file support is now natively available in Windows 7 so you don’t need to install QuickTime. Another big plus is that this is supported under the X64 version of Windows 7 as well, something you cannot do with Apple’s native QuickTime itself!

All media files using these codec’s should play in Media Player. It appears that these new codec’s are exclusively available to Media Foundation applications and not via other legacy API’s such as DirectShow etc.

File format transcoding

File format transcoding of many popular formats is now built into the Windows 7 shell. I.e. dragging and dropping files onto a device automatically performs the necessary format transcoding if the format is supported. This was primarily done to copy formats to portable devices like cameras but should be useful in other scenarios as well.

Multi-function devices and Device Containers:

Prior to Windows 7, every device attached to the system was treated as a single functional “end-point”. While appropriate for single-function devices (such as an audio interface), this does elegantly represent multi-function devices such as a combination audio/MIDI interface. In Windows 7, the drivers and status information for multi-function device can be grouped together as a single "Device Container", which is then presented to the user in the new "Devices and Printers" Control Panel as a single unit.

http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/Device/DeviceExperience/ContainerIDs.mspx

Note: this should not be confused with device aggregation as is available with Core Audio on Mac OS. On the Mac, you can treat multiple audio interfaces as though they’re one interface, so, for instance, you could get extra outputs by combining a couple of audio interfaces, and your software will see them as if they’re just one box. But SONAR provides this capability on its own, so if you’re a SONAR user, you can get the same functionality.

FireWire/USB

Windows 7 contains a new FireWire (IEEE 1394) stack that fully supports IEEE 1394b with S800, S1600 and S3200 data rates. According to reports, USB 3.0 may be supported in a future Windows Update. It was initially planned for Win7 but is not supported in the shipping version of Win7 due to delays in the USB 3 specification.

Multi-touch

Windows 7 includes integrated support for multi-touch displays.

Libraries

Libraries are user-defined collections of content including folders. It’s a handy way to categorize and create shortcuts to samples, music, etc. Special shell folders (Documents, Pictures, Music, and so on) are now Libraries.

Accelerators for Windows

Windows 7 Accelerators provide a way for learning more about selected text, optionally using voice control.

Virtual hard disks

The Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 incorporate support for the Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) file format. VHD files can be mounted as drives, created, and booted from.
An installation of Windows 7 can be booted and run from a VHD drive, even on non-virtual hardware, thereby providing a new way to multi boot Windows.

Leaner Footprint

Win7 has a leaner footprint and has been tweaked to work well on less powerful PC’s, laptops and Netbooks. I have heard reports of Win7 working more smoothly on machines that would be slow under Vista.

Listen Mode

Another nice touch in Win 7 is that they now have a listen tab in the audio properties. Turning on "listen mode" basically routes input to the default output device allowing you to monitor an input device in Windows itself. Sadly this runs via the Windows audio engine which is always running in WASAPI shared mode, so it’s subject to a 30 msec delay. Of course you can always load an application like SONAR and route the audio inputs to an output for low latency monitoring.

win7desktop

Compatibility: What to Watch

Upgrading from Vista

Peter: Relative to Vista, are there any changes that are likely to introduce new compatibility issues with hardware or software?

Noel: With any new OS there is always the potential for compatibility issues. Win7 is built on the Vista foundation and one of its goals was better compatibility. As such most applications that are Vista compliant should work as well or better in Windows 7. UAC in Windows 7 has been improved so this might also help with general compatibility problems with some applications.

We have run into only a couple of compatibility issues in Win7 during the course of our development/testing of SONAR 8.5.

The MMIO API in Win7 (typically used for writing RIFF wave files) has a compatibility issue with the mmioDescend API with LIST ‘WAVE’ chunks. This caused our code that reads audio bundle files to fail and read scrambled audio data. We worked around this problem in 8.5

In WASAPI exclusive mode under Win7, the minimum latency you can achieve is now unfortunately 3ms and the code reports an error if lower. The fact that Vista has no such limitation has been reported to Microsoft. Hopefully its a mistaken fence in their code and this issue is fixed via an update, since it’s a step backwards for low latency in WASAPI mode.

Ed.: That last issue is an interesting one for anyone really pushing the envelope with low latency, so I’ll keep in touch with Noel if there’s any update.

Upgrading from XP

Peter: What hardware and software compatibility issues should users be aware of if they’re thinking of migrating not from Vista but from XP to Windows 7?

Noel: The compatibility issues that typically affect users migrating from XP to Vista/Win7 are:

UAC problems: Many applications and plug-ins are not built to handle the newer security settings in these OS’s. For example, if an application relies on something that requires administrative access it will fail when running as a limited user in Win7. This is a serious issue since in Vista/Win7 even if you are running from an administrator account; programs are launched by default with limited user privileges. Unlike XP, you have to explicitly run as an administrator to use such programs. To be Win7 logo-compatible, all applications need to should support running as a limited user.

Drivers: Although for most practical purposes audio drivers in XP and Windows 7/Vista are similar (you still need to write WDM drivers) there are sometimes quirks in specific drivers may cause problems. Most typical driver issues here are caused by installers that make assumptions about the OS version. In many cases this issue can be solved by the end user by setting the “compatibility mode” to Vista in the file properties for the appropriate driver installer file. (Right click the setup exe file to set its properties)

Ed.: I don’t feel either of these is a deal-killer, as I’ve been living with Vista for some time, but they’re still worth watching out for if upgrading from XP. And it means if you have an older machine that’s still working properly, you’re just likely to leave it on XP and worry about sorting the upgrade on a new box.

Less Nagging?

Peter: We talked when Vista came out about User Account Control and particularly audio-specific tasks that required elevation or different handling of permissions in Vista. I know UAC has been streamlined in W7. Do these changes impact audio apps at all? Are there corresponding under-the-hood changes?

Noel: The UAC changes in Win7 are primarily to allow more customization over the UAC elevation prompting process. There are no changes to the fundamentals of how UAC itself works that I am aware of. The classic problem with audio applications with UAC is when programs or plug-ins write to areas of the registry or file system prohibited from standard user access. Even when you are running as an administrator, by default when you launch a program (or the program itself launches a secondary process) Windows 7 will run that process with standard user privileges. If a program or plug-in attempts to write to an area which it doesn’t have write privileges for, virtualization will kick in. While this may allow the program to work, in general it is bad practice to rely on virtualization, since it can cause many unwanted side effects and behaviors in applications.

There are now four customization settings for UAC:

1. Never notify (least secure). The user is not notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is not notified when they make changes to Windows settings or when programs try to do so.

2. Only notify me when programs try to make changes to my computer. The user is not notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is not notified when they make changes to Windows settings. However, the user is notified when programs try to make changes to the computer, including Windows settings.

3. Always notify me. The user is notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is also notified when they make changes to Windows settings or when programs try to do so.

4. Always notify me and wait for my response (most secure). The user is notified when a program tries to install software or make changes to the computer. The user is also notified when they make changes to Windows settings or when programs try to do so.

SONAR 8.5; the new release includes specific optimizations for Windows 7, meaning as far as your DAW is concerned, SONAR can be ready to go on 7’s launch day.

Customization and Tuning Advice

Peter: How much customization would you advise people do to their OS? That is, you’ve just installed a build of Windows 7 for working with SONAR on a test machine. Do you run the stock configuration, or start turning off services, disabling disk indexing, etc.?

Noel: Optimization and customization is a topic that can’t be fully discussed in the scope of a brief article. In general you need to optimize a system when you have known bottlenecks. Otherwise you can spend a lot of time tweaking things that have little effect on the end goal. In fact, you may even end up destabilizing a perfectly working system. A stock Win7 machine is not optimized for audio necessarily but it appears MS put some thought into trimming out unwanted startup tasks to cut down on startup time. For example there are now “Triggered start services” in Windows 7, so out of the box you can have fewer services running after a fresh boot. There are probably many background services in a modern DAW that could be suspended if you don’t need them but they should be evaluated on a case by case basis depending on what you use the machine for.

Peter: A lot of users were advising running Vista with Aero off, certainly in the early days. Do you think it’s now advisable to leave Desktop Window Compositing switched on for audio work? (Note: I am aware that there’s actually no way to *completely* disable the Aero windowing environment in a way that it reverts to XP, as even in Class mode with no compositing settings the engine has been altered.)

Generally speaking, turning off Aero will free up some resources on your system, since it uses more costly 3D graphics rendering and transparency a lot. However on any modern graphics card, Aero offloads a lot to the GPU so unless your DAW is also competing for the same GPU resources, turning it off may or may not make an appreciable difference to performance. Most applications that are not graphics intensive use GDI for rendering to the screen and since GDI doesn’t take advantage of DirectX hardware acceleration it’s normally not contesting with the GPU. If you are using plug-ins that use Direct 2D or Direct3D, you are probably better off disabling Aero.

Windows 7’s shining logo. Okay, yeah, probably not going to leave that as my wallpaper. But if Windows 7 works well, that really is cause for celebration. Photo (CC) Dan_H.

Launch Party, After All?

Thanks, Noel. So, the big news behind all of this is that a move from XP to Windows 7 is finally advisable.

I would still caution, as I did recently with Mac OS Snow Leopard, that you typically don’t want to upgrade to a new OS the day it launches. You’ll want to verify compatibility with your software and hardware before making the jump.

That said, this is an unusual upgrade in that it appears to resolve more issues than it introduces. I actually haven’t been able to find a single user out there testing Windows 7 who has found any issues with audio or music production. Of course, when it launches, we’ll have a much larger test base, so I expect we’ll find something – even Windows Service Packs and point releases of Mac OS have been known to create some issues. As we get closer to launch, I’ll review how you would backup your existing XP or Vista system to ensure that if you do choose to upgrade, you can revert to a previous version.

I am, however, cautiously optimistic. And now is an especially good time to make the jump to 64-bit. It’s easier on Windows than any other OS at the moment, and easiest in SONAR, because SONAR allows you to easily migrate 32-bit plug-ins into the 64-bit environment. You’ll need a 64-bit machine and enough memory to make 64-bit worthwhile, but if you’re building a new workstation, as Noel is, the timing could be perfect.

I also think there’s plenty of room left to talk about issues that go between operating systems, particularly how audio software can better support multi-threading and processing on the GPU, multi-touch, as well as emerging I/O standards like USB3. (OpenCL, much-touted in Snow Leopard, is also supported on Linux and Windows, and Linux actually beat both Mac OS and Windows to the punch in providing a first implementation of USB3.) Correction: I should also add that the excellent Reaper has also added this feature. With full 64-bit support in Cakewalk’s own Dimension and other instruments, NI’s Kontakt sampler, and the bundled 64-bit-native plug-ins in Reaper and SONAR, that means you can build a really capable 64-bit rig on Windows.

With fixes getting the OS out of your way, we can return to issues that really matter, many of which apply to every OS.

Music is, as always, the perfect place to talk about these issues. We push our machines harder than just about anyone, and in ways that are the least tolerant of timing discrepencies and glitches. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you want to look into the future of computing, ask a musician.

And that calls for a party.

Previous coverage:

SONAR 8.5 and how it can smooth the transition to 64-bit (8.5 is the build that includes Windows 7-specific improvements)

Vista Tweak: Use the Audio Profile Cakewalk’s CTO Uses

Optimizing for Vista: Inside the Mechanics of SONAR 8 with Cakewalk Engineering

Adieu, XP; How Vista SP1 is Doing, and Why This OS Generation Has Been So Tough

Vista for Audio, 1 Year Later: Talking OS Plumbing with Cakewalk’s CTO

Vista for Music + Pro Audio: Exclusive Under the Hood with Cakewalk’s CTO

And yes, I think Noel deserves an Honorary Contributing Editor position for all he’s done giving us absurdly-precise inside details for how Windows works.

Microsoft product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Note to would-be commenters: this site covers Windows, Mac, and Linux, and I hope each fairly. Any non-thoughtful comments on this thread will be deleted.

    If, for instance, you're a Linux advocate, it's worth really examining what Windows does well and how Linux can compete. To do otherwise does your OS of choice a disservice.

  • http://AaronUrbanski.com urbster1

    For the record, it's not only SONAR that has plugin bridging now– Cockos has integrated it into REAPER in the latest update! I have tried it– loaded up an old project in REAPER x64 (and actually didn't realize it when I did it)– and all the plugins worked just as expected. It was a nice surprise!

    There is also jBridge for implementing it in other hosts, although it does cost a small fee (14.99€): http://jstuff.wordpress.com/jbridge/

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @urbster: Yep, sorry, fixed that. So, really, you have a robust set of native 64-bit plugs and you don't have to sacrifice your 32-bit setup, either. You just need a machine with the memory and CPU to make the jump worthwhile, and of course support from hardware you want to use, but all of that is very possible to do.

  • http://rhythminmind.net Eric Beam

    I've been using W7 from beta. Currently running the official RTM release. I've had improved performance over Vista with both Live 8.x & Sonar 8.x.

    The only "Audio System Hack" needed was to switch the new 1394 firewire driver to the "legacy driver". Both my TC Konnekt interfaces & SSL Duende needed this to function. Everything else is a smooth transition. Unlike Vista you can uninstall unneeded appz like windows media center, ect. w7 gives you the customization of XP & the desirable features of a modern OS. It's all about the many little things. Finally a built in system backup utility that works! Think time machine.

  • http://www.PatternMusic.com RichardL

    I've got to say I'm very skeptical about Windows 7.

    I wasted way too much time and money on Vista. I ran the Vista beta for several months. I ran the Vista RC for several months. I eventually gave up and ran back to XP. I ran Vista SP1 again on a new laptop. After a few months I gave up and went back to XP. That laptop was later serviced and came back imaged with Vista SP 2. Rather than immediately uninstalling that and re-installing XP, I tried Vista yet again. A couple months later abandon it, and through much pain went back to XP. Each time XP proved to be more stable, had better connectivity and better performance. In short XP felt like a major upgrade.

    So I don't see any reason why I should trust Microsoft yet again and spend a single minute or dollar on Windows 7. (Oops! I just spent more than a minute typing this.)

    But that Windows 7 Launch Party looks fun. Crank up the SongSmith!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Richard: I'm not quite sure why you mean by "better connectivity." You mean, to devices or networking? Networking has been vastly improved in Windows 7 from the sometimes-discombobulated Vista interface. (Now, I was never fond of XP's UI for networking, so I find I tend to be less nostalgic about it, particularly in comparison to Mac OS X and UNIX.)

    As for performance and stability, I'd be suspicious of a specific source of your problem – particularly if it remained an issue under SP2. Any other details of your setup (audio interface and graphics drivers, specifically)? How did the symptoms manifest themselves, exactly?

    I think it's not wasted time if we learn something.

  • http://www.PatternMusic.com RichardL

    Peter, I'm not trying to be a troll. But after extending MS the benefit of doubt many times, I just kept getting burned by Vista.

    When I bailed on Vista most recently (last month) I still found Vista to be a terrible network client. I'm not referring to UI but rather the connectivity settings and network driver stack. Sure, I realize that Vista was designed to be more secure than XP and NT so they changed a lot of stuff in there. But Vista is practically incapable of connecting to my ReadyNAS server, and Netgear has no specific recipe or solution. They just throw out a handful of suggestions like "try turning off jumbo frames." Judging by their forums I am not alone. The NAS server works fine under XP SP2 or SP3 and Mac OS X 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6. (Albeit Mac OS X is not a great network client, but I'd give it a "B-" vs Vista's "D") Under Vista network connectivity either doesn't work or it times out for minutes after accessing the server. Judging by my experience it's no wonder the IT community completely rejected Vista.

    Stability hasn't been terrible under SP2. Although I was still occasionally getting mysterious crashes in sleep mode. That points to a driver power management problem, but this is on a Thinkpad T61 considered to have very high quality driver QA. In general the driver situation under Vista SP2 seems vastly better than it was originally. And they've gotten the UAC nightmare under control.

    Stability of subsystems like Media Centre is still poor. But I've learned to just avoid all the Windows Ultimate type features as not reliable. (Seriously, does anyone trust the backup programs that ship with Vista?)

    Performance under Vista SP2 was still a major problem where applications would just go into wait mode intermittently. e.g. Firefox would just stop responding for 30 seconds.

    Yea. I could throw more time into trying to resolve these various issues. And I did spend considerable time on the ReadyNAS issue, but I was never able to find a satisfactory solution.

    At a certain point I decided to take the hit and just move everything back to XP. I did and I've got no regrets. Zero problems under XP.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, that gets more into specifics. I do believe connectivity fixes have been bundled into W7, but of course, that's tougher to cover from the audio side, so I don't want to speak out of turn there.

    Unfortunately, it sounds to me like your Firefox issue is an issue with Firefox, not Vista, and ditto the power management problem. Now, if that was with multiple applications, it could be some misbehaved background task.

    I guess my major, major disclaimer is, if you've got a system working with XP, stick with XP. You know, to me it's an advantage that Windows (and Linux) each allow you to run a known-stable operating system for many years rather than rock the boat needlessly. Mac OS could theoretically do this, but it seems that Mac developers have decided to take Apple's cue and drop support, sometimes unbelievably fast. I can't think of a single Windows application or driver I run that doesn't run on Windows XP, and most run on Windows 2000, so at least back to 2001. Meanwhile, most developers have now dropped official support for Tiger, an OS released just four years ago that has received updates until very recently.

    So, while I'm saying "dump XP," note that even the endorsement from Noel comes on a *new* system he's building.

    Of course, none of that is to excuse ongoing quality control issues with Vista, and whether they're from these (notable) third parties or Microsoft doesn't change that they're a problem. I do get the sense that with Windows 7 a lot of improvements have come from both sides. At the very least, it's not possible for third parties to continue to duck digging to the root of issues. Many users who passed on Vista entirely, or tried it and got frustrated *are* going with Windows 7.

  • Adrian Anders

    The best feature for Win7 Pro/Ultimate:
    http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/

    XP Mode :-D

    Assuming that one can use XP drivers with the virtualized XP… all of those older XP hardware devices can all of a sudden work again in a limited capacity on your machine. At the very least software that doesn't work under Vista or 7 (mostly OoooooLD standalone progs circa 98 or so) will work with under Virtual PC.

    Sweet.

  • sickman

    Funny article… Normally I'm Ubuntu user, but if i must do something with music… simply login to test version Win2k8Server… it works perfectly with Samplitude 10se and 2 cpu cores. No memory problems, file management problems… but price of full version of 2k8srv is nice… to expensive. But i think in this point we know why price of this system is high. If somebody is software fetishist is no problem to install W7 and fight with incompatibility of some appz. Is no revolutionary OS… meybe modified kernel, probably the same like in server systems and some stolen elements of GUI (KDE?). Show is going on… dollars swim to m$ pocket.

  • http://myspace.com/tekcormusic tekcor

    im looking forward to geting into the multi touch feature and the time when the first open source multi touch midi controllers appear :D

    the possiblity to create your own controller surface is a big step in electronical music development i think.

  • urbster1

    However, ReWire is not yet implemented in 64-bit which is surely going to leave some Reason users (and others) out… any news from Propellerhead if/when they're going to provide us with Rewire x64? Considering that Renoise just implemented that feature, I would love to be using it with REAPER x64 :)

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Obsessive Windows 7 Under-the-Hood Guide … | All about windows 7

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @urbster1: Yeah, well, for a number of reasons (oops, unintentional pun), I'd like to see alternatives to ReWire. I need to run JACK for Windows through its paces. I wish it were something to which I could contribute as a developer, but… well, my kung fu isn't up to that yet.

    I believe there's also ReRoute, bundled with Reaper?

  • http://wonderewereldvanbenny.blogspot.com/ Benny

    Does someone knows if Midi Yoke and Deamon Tools still work in Windows 7 (64 bit)?

    And what is the upgrade price (upgrade from Vista premium 64 bit)?

  • rhowaldt

    @Benny: I use Win7 32 bit RTM, and Daemon Tools does not work. Says on the forums they are working on it, but I just switched to different mounting software.

    Midi Yoke I haven't tested yet, but installed fine (Daemon Tools wouldn't even install).

    Furthermore, had absolutely no issues running Reason 4.0. Had 1 Audacity-crash, but have no idea if that was due to Win7 or Audacity.

    I like Win7. It's hard to say what has improved.. it's just, you know, an emotional thing… it feels right.

  • http://www.document02.com Document 02

    Been using it for a month.. and I must say it really rocks.

    Only time I used a system and found this performance/stability/ease of use was in the 90's using Solaris & Irix. All other OSs I tried (from DOS to MacOS X) had issues, either in performance (Vista), stability (MacOS X, Win 9x-XP), ease of use (DOS, the few linux distros I tried).

    Now Win7x64 is really nice, and probably what I will later on consider as the first windows that runs fine.

  • http://www.samuelvanrnsbeeck.be Samuel Van Ransbeeck

    A little bit off-topic: Where can I get the wallpaper in the fourth picture?

  • http://rekkerd.org Ronnie

    Thanks for the info, Peter & Noel.

    Vista wasn't for me but 7 might make me switch from XP.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Benny / @rhowaldt:

    You know, after years of really loving MIDI-Yoke, I've stopped using it; Jamie seems not to be updating it any more and there's not a 64-bit version. I've switched to LoopBe, which does have a 64-bit version and does exactly the same thing:
    http://nerds.de/en/download.html

    – there's a paid and a free version; the free version works just fine, but the paid version adds more ports. There's actually not reason for most people to buy the paid version, but maybe it'll encourage long-term development!

    @Samuel: Believe it or not, that's one of the bundled wallpapers, so it ships with Windows 7. (Nice of Microsoft to actually pick some stuff that's not entirely generic as OS wallpapers usually are!)

  • http://www.DharmaLab.com Christian K.

    IMHO, one of the best things the MS platform has seen/developed over the last few years is Virtualization/VMware. The reason I say this is that it finally offer MS an out for supporting so much legacy software/hardware.

    Mac OS X was a real milestone. I feel one big reason is because it was build from the ground up (well, not entirely, but a big part), & threw out a lot of the old, in favor of progress. I've firmly believed for a number of years that MS needs to do the same. Instead of reusing the same code classes, models, & algorithms, I think they could do themselves & everyone else a service by starting fresh again. Virtualization gives them that opportunity.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Actually, Christian, I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. It seems to me that Mac OS X really was *not* an all-in-one, ground-up rebuild. Major portions of it were indeed recycled from NeXTStep / OpenStep, and a lot of those bits (including the kernel) are older than Windows' current Windows NT foundations and APIs. Developers at the time continued to use recycled Carbon APIs, which have turned out to be a big problem. And a lot of the newly-built stuff in Mac OS X shipped not immediately in 10.0 but over the early sequence of 10.x updates – which, in turn, continues to change. So it was only a "ground-up" change from the truly antiquated Mac OS 9.x and earlier.

    If you look at the evolution of Mac OS from the perspective of a NeXT developer instead of a Mac Classic developer, the evolution of Windows and Mac OS hasn't been so radically different after all.

    I agree that Microsoft could use some refreshed APIs. But a lot of the new stuff simply hasn't been complete enough to use. The problem it seems to me isn't so much backwards compatibility and virtualization as it is that the new frameworks (like the Media Foundation which replaces DirectShow, for instance) doesn't fully supplant the old.

    And, indeed, across all platforms, when it comes to media-rich development, a whole lot winds up falling on the developers and cross-platform libraries that don't come from the OS vendor – which could be a good thing.

  • http://fallsastar.com Foosnark

    My only issue with upgrading to Windows 7 is the usual hassle of changing OS's: backing up/restoring/reinstalling, dealing with registration and so on.

    I have told myself I will *not* upgrade until my next album is done, if then. I haven't really had any performance problems with my current machine so I may just hold off a while.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Foosnark: Yeah, I never RUSH to upgrade if I can help it. In-place upgrades are definitely possible, but I saw this one as an opportunity to do a mirror + full backup + clean install on a system that could use some pruning.

  • nnooonnn

    @sickman if your still in some university then u might be able to use the dreamspark.com program.

    they have win server 2k8 R2 x64 only (aka win7) up for downloading (for free, the standard version)

    regards n.

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  • XPect more

    So Ableton Live 7 runs properly with Win7? Drivers for M-Audio usb interfaces work?

    That's half of the Amateurs and Hobbyists covered right there.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @XPect more – that's correct, theoretically, based on the changes I've seen, because all of that runs in Vista.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @nnooonnn: There's actually a vastly expanded educational program that will offer Win7 upgrades for only $30. I think the requirements are pretty lax, too.

  • mediawest

    any idea if avidigidesign will have the drivers for win7? from my beta tests on win7, i must say its been the easiest and best working m$ platform i have ever seen….

    really small footprint and is snappy…. waiting to see how it works after we pile on the vst/rtas multiple audio driver world….

  • http://antisound.net stk

    Interesting stuff.

    I appreciate the un-watered-down info, even if I started glazing over with the plug teh S*NAR game ;)

    Baked-in mov support is great news for those of us locked to that format by Ableton Live's insistence to only play movs.

    I too am cautiously optimistic, though I'll wait til at least SP1 til I jump, as would anyone else with a healthy sense of self preservation.

  • http://www.multitrackstudio.com Giel Bremmers

    I don't want to spoil your launch party ;-) , but I'd like to add some of my Windows 7 experiences:

    - I'm using a class compliant USB audio device (ie. you don't need to install a driver for it) with a fairly new laptop. It glitches like crazy in Windows 7 no matter what I do. Interestingly, it works like a charm if I reboot in Vista (!). The USB device works fine with another Windows 7 computer by the way.

    - Not all of my onboard sound devices can run in WASAPI event mode using the driver that comes with Windows 7.

    - One of my soundcard's Vista driver somehow fails to install its mixer control panel in Windows 7.

    - Of course many audio devices work just fine.

    I think the bottom line is that you need a bit of luck with computer audio, and Windows 7 is no exception to that rule. Windows 7 is widely considered the OS that Vista should have been (and it is), but installing Windows 7 on a smoothly running Vista DAW should not be considered a no-brainer.

    Giel Bremmers

    Bremmers Audio Design

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  • mackie

    @Benny: Deamon Tools does not work but you can use (as I am) PowerISO instead. It works flawlessly.

  • http://www.3rev.net 3REV

    @XPect more.. yes Ableton 7 and M-Audio gear work fine better, actually as I have fewer latency issues. (though I still have to disable power saving on the USB to keep the Axiom from disconnecting)

    Even my ProMix I/O with Vista Drivers works great. I run Ableton Live 7 Rewired with Reason 4 and have no issues (Either with the 64bit and 32 bit versions). Oh Propellerhead's Record also runs swimmingly well.

  • cubaser

    What about proggies like cubase and the intakt plugins ? Will they run properly, without hanging, since the ram barrier of xp got opened ?

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  • http://www.sliptide.com/ Sliptide

    Wonderful post! I wanted to add my own notes about Windows 7 here.

    I have had a positive experience writing and recording music with Reason 4 and Ableton Live 8.0.3 on Windows 7. I have a 3-4 year old PC, yet using the legacy 1394 firewire driver allowed me to use my Alesis iO26 (which runs flawlessly under 7).

    The only drawbacks so far: No support from M-Audio on my Midisport 2×2 (check their site, they are a bit behind on driver development and not all Vista drivers will work in 7), but I'm using equipment MIDI-IN and THRU to hook up my other gear so I've been able to work around it.

    Korg hasn't fixed the librarian for the padKontrol yet, so I must do all of the programming for the device in XP right now.

    Daemon Tools DOES work for me, but i'm sitting on Win7 64bit RC.

    I even have Win7 on an older (5 year old) HP Pavilion laptop (1024×768, 2ghz, 1.5gb RAM) running Reason 4 so far– it hums along nicely for live performances!

  • http://aaronurbanski.com urbster1

    Wow, I was really not expecting to be taken seriously with my previous comment, but I am shockingly surprised: ReWire was recently implemented in REAPER 3.13 x64! http://forum.cockos.com/showthread.php?t=44725

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  • http://www.seanriegerdesign.com Sean

    @ Sliptide Just wanted to let you know, I had the same issue with Midi Sport 2×2 ( drivers won't install ) but turns out I had native support in Windows 7 x64 Professional without knowing it. Figured it wouldn't show up, but when I launched Cubase 5.0.1 there was my midi sport's in's and out's. Very pleasant surprise… Windows 7 actually had already installed it's own drivers for it. Maybe they weren't included in the RC?

  • Seko

    In my opinion Windows7= Vista+VirtualPC..

    I dont use anyone,because Windows XP more stable and minimum Hardware requested everytime.

    Don't waste your $ and time..

  • John Lemon

    Hi,

    I'm going to build a new computer and run Win 7 (64bit) on it. I have some concerns that you might be able to answer. Any info which motherboards, graphic cards that is recommended? My mane concern is my two MIDI interfaces. I use a Steinberg Midex-8 and an Emagic amt-8 USB interface. They do not have 64bit drivers. Can I still use them in Win 7 (64bit) or will there be trouble?

    If I can’t use them can you recommend some other 8In/8Out 19” rack MIDI interfaces with 64bit support?

    Kind regards

  • http://www.chotrul.com/design/music-production.html Chotrul Music

    I certainly skipped moving to Vista on my music production pc, staying with XP for all sorts of reasons. I'm looking forward to trying 7 to see how it stacks up ….

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  • http://www.promlancomp.com MoodyBluesKeys

    I have been using Windows 7 Business final release since late August, 2009 (before public release, my company is on a Microsoft Dealer program with early access). Current machine is a 4-core Opteron with 4G of RAM, dual-boot to either 64 or 32 (default) byte OS. Most reliable OS I've seen yet since I started in 1981. Had the beta running for over a year before. This machine is not my DAW, but does have a lot of music software running on it. The eMu 1212M installd with no problems using their Vista drivers. Almost all software, including some very old stuff, installed with no problem on the 32bit side. Even some very old hardware – Win 7 goes out to the MS site and gets drivers which work.

    My older DAW is beginning to have system drive problems (Pentium 4 3G, 2G RAM). Also, I have just purchased EWQL's Gold Pianos. The new machine will be a 2-core Athelon with 8G of RAM, running 64-bit all the time, with Sonar 8.5 and eMu 1820M interface. The 1820M should work OK on 7, since the same driver software is used (unfortunately, it is discontinued, it is a nice 8-in, 8-out MIDI/Audio processor).

    I do have system backups of the old DAW, and could just change the drives; but I need more power anyhow.

    Since my firm does computer networking and repair, I have 2 Solaris Unix boxes, some SUSE and other Linux, Windows ranging from 98SE on up, servers and workstations. No problems on the Vista machine, but it is not a DAW – just was a way of forcing myself to get used to the interface. The 7 interface is more refined and smoother.

  • Joe Valenzuela

    I created small partition just to satisfy my curiosity of how it would react with my midi station. The first thing it did was disabled all of the existing recording driver. For years I stayed away from Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth and yet Windows 7 deliberately pushed the application to put it there as the only choice. After Windows 7 murdered most of my sound drivers, it gave a little mercy and it put a USB driver to my Yamaha external device. Over the years I've done fine work using a Yamaha S-XYG50 along side with a TB Santa Cruz Sound Card. Windows 7 has a mission and it wants to make a lot of money, and it will.

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  • Sandy Erickson

    I have been using the Vista 64 bit on my Core i7 Machine with Sonar 8 and 8.5 for about 6 months now.

    I has never even burped for me. However, there are always problems when you want to use products that haven't kept up to the crowd. I am referencing the Presonus FaderPort as an example. It won't load into Vista or Sonar even though i know some sirte posters say theyu have it running in Sonar and Vista 64 bit.

    I want to move to Win 7 and I already see that the Sonar V-100 has 64 bit drivers available.

    Nice to know that the trends is now towards 64 bit in Audio applications. More vendors will be getting on board as the year rolls on.

  • Justin

    I notice no mention of 2 key issues with Win7:

    1) Firewire is BROKEN i.e. You have to use legacy driver to get audio to work. Surely that means the OS is not fit for purpose.

    2) Media Player is also BROKEN. Glitches all the time..it's unusable. EVERY other media player I've tried works without a hitch.

    I have the full retail version of Ultimate. Running 32bit. I agree that over all it's the best OS they've produced, but it is still outrageous that they can sell "faulty" goods in this way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alejandro.suazo.janomix Alejandro

    Hello:

    I bought a Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 DSP, a nice interface, but only at 512 buffer can run a heavy VST/VSTi project without glitches or criks and craks… and with much investigate, a day I eliminate the VGA driver and boila! at 64 buffer run solid like a rock! but at screen res 640×480 with 0 acceleration…! The VGA driver/device knock out the ASIO drivers?

    WIn7x64

    Gigabyte 770TUSB3

    VIA FW

    AMD PhenomX4 Black Ed at 3.4

    8 Mb Ram.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.ezyczeniawielkanocne.pl zyczenia wielkanocne

    I’ve read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you put to create such a wonderful informative website.

  • http://Mozilla Barry Walters

    I am just starting to use windows7 .Hope I will make it through the jungle. Pray with me that the Heavenly Father will guide me to success.

  • Bobpeterson

    this sux