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From our call for CDM reader studios, Eric Beam’s studio. In his setup: Windows 7 64-bit, Cakewalk’s SONAR 8.5 DAW (with native 64-bit support), and the excellent modular patching environment Plogue Bidule. Click through to Flickr for a closer look. Photo (CC-BY) Eric Beam.

This week, while we poll readers to find out what platforms they really use and care about for music, we’re launching a new series to help you get the most out of whichever OS you choose.

We’ve been covering the complexities of Windows for a while, from the bumpy Vista transition to the smoother advent of Windows 7. I also wrote up a feature in Keyboard Magazine covering Windows 7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard. Here, I’ve worked with Noel Borthwick, Chief Technical Officer of Cakewalk, and Kevin Jacoby of custom computer house Rain Computers, in order to get both the software and hardware developer perspective and the OEM side. They’ve offered some frank opinions in the past; Noel had some criticisms for Vista, and Jacoby and Rain kept XP the default for a while. But that means when they say Windows 7 can work for musicians, they mean it.

If you’re still on XP or Vista, or if you’re pondering going to a 64-bit version, we have some advice there. If you’re already on Windows 7, we’ve some tips on how to make the most of optimizing the OS.

When is the OS to blame? (aka, “Glitch” music when you don’t want it)

Before we get into talking about Windows itself, I think there’s a bigger issue to address.

Now that I’ve been testing Windows alongside a variety of operating systems, I can say this. I think the press and user base have sometimes blamed the Windows operating system itself when it isn’t directly at fault. A lot of the most annoying obstacles to music making on computers – glitches, audio stability issues, and an inability to run at lower latencies – depend on a complex chain of interoperating hardware. (That’s true even on the Mac platform; in fact, even given Apple’s relatively focused computer offerings, I think Apple deserves the same credit a PC vendor does when they have all their components working in concert. When we have seen issues on the Mac, drivers and chipsets are often to blame.) Chipsets and components, particularly on laptops, can cause problems. It’s simply easy to blame (or credit) the OS because it’s so fond of flashing its logo at you, and it’s the part of the computer with which you interact.

This also means the choice of Windows itself may not be as important as the choice of computer hardware. Custom shops like Rain Computers are unique in that they test their components for audio applications – that’s not an advertisement for them; it really does make a difference. Because part of what attracts readers to the PC is vendor choice, I’m working on ways of evaluating mainstream machines, too.

The bottom line is, because musical and visual applications are more demanding, there’s a greater need to remain educated and share information. Too much of that information in the larger tech press devolves into petty platform advocacy and bickering. We really need the information just to keep our machines running smoothly.

Windows Key

Windows 7, After Some Time in the Hands of Musicians

We’ve now been living with Windows 7 for some time, which means when you do choose to upgrade, you’ve got plenty of information behind you. When I first looked at Windows 7, it was clear the OS was better than Vista, but it wasn’t yet entirely clear how it compared to XP. And while Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux comparisons tend to be apples to oranges, you ought to at least be able to be pretty objective about comparing Windows releases to other Windows releases. Now, we do have a lot of empirical evidence, and both Rain and Cakewalk – the folks on the other end of the phone when people call to complain about problems – have pretty strong endorsements.

Kevin at Rain goes as far to say that Windows 7 exceeds XP:

Windows 7 is by far the best operating system we’ve seen for pro audio and video production. It’s got all the modern bells and whistles that were missing in XP, none of the craziness from Vista, and has managed to retain the benefit of an open architecture that lends itself to great application design. It’s given us the opportunity to squeeze every ounce of power from the apps and hardware we see most often like Pro Tools, Cubase, Adobe CS5, etc.

In terms of support, our tech support staff is over here celebrating. Windows 7 has remarkable improvements that help with stability. Pro audio/video isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It starts to get a bit touchy when there are too many features, apps, drivers, etc. But W7 seems to be more forgiving; it heals better than Vista or XP – doesn’t crash like them either. And when there is an issue, its got some tools, like Complete PC Backup, that help us get the user quickly back to a point where they’re making music and video again.

Noel Borthwick, on his off hours, is actually a musician. I’ve been following his experience with his own home computer setup, and he’s a happy camper.

I recently built a new DAW for my studio which runs SONAR 8.5 on an Intel Core I7 950 with Windows 7 Professional X64. (See http://www.noelborthwick.com/minidump/2009/12/new-daw/ for specs) I can categorically say that the SONAR/Core I7/Windows 7 combination is a match made in heaven for DAW users! I easily have way more bandwidth than I would ever need for the next several years on this rig. On my largest projects which would previously max out the CPU or drop out (an older dual CPU Windows 2003 based machine), I am now able to run at 128 sample buffers with a MOTU 828 MK2, at 24bit/96KHz with under 20% CPU utilization in SONAR!

Noel has also been listening to users, he says:

The response to Windows 7 and SONAR has been overwhelmingly positive. Here are a few threads talking about the great results that our users are having with SONAR and Windows 7.

http://forum.cakewalk.com/tm.aspx?m=1769661&mpage=1&key=?

http://forum.cakewalk.com/tm.aspx?&m=1774267&high=windows+7&mpage=1

http://forum.cakewalk.com/tm.aspx?m=1734916&high=windows+7

http://forum.cakewalk.com/tm.aspx?&m=1713663&high=windows+7&mpage=1

http://forum.cakewalk.com/tm.aspx?&m=1601783&high=windows+7&mpage=1

Rain also confirms that, as always with PCs in general, it’s the combination of hardware that can be an issue and is the focus of their optimizations. “Part of the challenge is getting around the consumer-centric features,” says Kevin. “For instance, HDMI and other high def audio features often interfere with pro audio drivers and interfaces. It’s a bit of a challenge at times but Microsoft and our other tech partners have been helpful.”

Intel Core 2 Duo E6750

64-bit CPUs were once a rarity, but almost any machine you buy today supports 64-bit. Photo (CC-BY) Nao Iizuka.

Should You Run 64-bit for Music Apps?

Not to be confused with 64-bit audio – a representation of the length of digital samples and their corresponding dynamic range – 64-bit computing is what enables access to greater amounts of memory, and provides a corresponding computational boost in performance on the same hardware. On Windows, unlike the Mac, you must choose when you install the OS whether you opt for the 32-bit or 64-bit version. (You can configure a multiple-boot operation, but each boot entry must be one or the other.)

If you’re configuring a new machine, or upgrading from XP and Vista, it may be an optimal time to try 64-bit, since you’ll be evaluating compatibility and updating drivers anyway. So, which should you choose?

Kevin offers a whole-hearted endorsement of 64-bit, but with some ideas on why 32-bit still has some place.

My biggest disappointment when W7 was released is that we couldn’t put the 64-bit version on every Rain computer that left the factory. With due respect to the pro audio industry, some software engineers are chronically behind the curve when it comes to releasing new versions and drivers. However, all that is changing now. These days, I’m in a much better mood since Pro Tools released a 64-bit compatible update and our customers can choose from a wider range of plug-ins and virtual instruments. Kudos to Cubase and SONAR for doing their homework early on that one.

On the other hand, the folks over on the video side learned a long time ago that more memory would make their lives easier. The last system we sent to the US Olympic Committee had 24GB of memory installed which made Adobe Premiere sit up and bark like a dog. We’re just now updating our Element video editing workstation to 12-core and, as with before, you can match that with 48GB of memory. It’s a beautiful thing.

That said, there are still a lot of people out there attached to their legacy gear. Maybe you’re updating your computer and your budget doesn’t allow you to replace all your software and hardware at the same time. Maybe you’re in love with a certain plug-in that just refuses to play nice with 64-bit. For those people, we do everything we can to help them protect their initial investment. But if possible we do recommend getting the most up-to-date version you can, load 64-bit and take advantage of all its benefits.

As a side note, though some Rain computers ship from our dealers (Best Buy, Amazon, B&H, etc) with 32-bit, we have a program in place to help the user update to 64-bit at no additional cost once they get their computer home.

Noel notes that 64-bit support is vastly improved over the past – and this coming from one of the first software vendors to embrace 64-bit Windows in any industry, let alone in music. (SONAR first supported 64-bit way back in the XP x64 days.)

Any new CPU you can buy these days is capable of running 64-bit Windows. As a result of this proliferation driver support for X64 is a lot better now than it was a few years ago. In this environment it makes the most sense to install the 64-bit version of Windows 7. With a 64-bit OS you get the best of both worlds. You get the advantage of expanded memory as well as the ability to run 32-bit applications. 32-bit applications on a 64-bit OS run fine and in some situations might even show better performance than when running under a 32-bit OS.

In other words, if you’re using any music hosts (or video editing software) with native 64-bit support – just one – going 64-bit is a no-brainer so long as you’ve got a 64-bit computer like those based on the Core 2 Duo CPU. But what if you don’t have any 64-bit software? My standing advice had been to stick with 32-bit, but Noel actually disagrees – and I have to admit, I see his point. Noel writes:

I would argue that even if you don’t have any apps that currently take advantage of X64 [Windows 7 64-bit] it still has advantages to go with [64-bit] for the upgrade options. You can always add more memory to the system or later introduce native 64-bit apps, something you cannot do if you have a 32-bit OS without reinstalling Windows and starting from scratch.

So, is there anything that should keep you on 32-bit (aside from owning an older computer with a 32-bit-only CPU?) What about ReWire?

You don’t lose ReWire by running on a 64-bit OS. You can still run a 32-bit version of the application on a 64-bit OS and have ReWire access. The only reason I can think of that might deter someone from a 64-bit OS today is if they had some legacy hardware that didn’t have 64-bit drivers. I.e., you cannot run 32-bit drivers on a 64-bit OS, since those have to be native.

OCZ 2GB DDR2 RAM (Close)

Performance boosts are nice, but the big reason to run 64-bit? RAM. Photo (CC-BY-SA) William Hook.

At least you can make that decision based on your music host, not your music plug-ins. A key feature of a modern DAW like SONAR is, even though it runs natively in 64-bit, it doesn’t require that you give up your 32-bit plug-ins. That’s a very big deal, because a lot of plug-ins – even paid ones, let alone freeware oddities – aren’t yet 64-bit. For its part, Cakewalk has been updating 32-bit support.

In SONAR 8.5 we addressed many user-reported VST compatibility issues with Bitbridge. Additionally, Bitbridge XR now breaks the memory barrier for 32-bit VSTs allowing you to run as many 32-bit VSTs as you want in SONAR X64. You can use up to 2GB of memory PER 32-bit VST and run multiple BitBridge servers allowing up to 128 GB of memory for your 32-bit plug-in. With Windows 7 and SONAR 8.5, more and more users are making the leap to X64 systems running systems with 12 GB of memory or more to run multiple memory hungry plug-ins in their sessions.

That’s anecdotal evidence, however. Here are some hard numbers. Aside from the benefits of expanded memory access – useful if you use big sample libraries and the like – 64-bit can have some real-world, quantifiable, verifiable performance benefits. Noel writes:

Here are some external studies/benchmarks that compare X64 performance against X86 on the same hardware.

http://www.noelborthwick.com/minidump/2009/12/a-case-for-64-bit-windows/

Disabling Power Management to Improve Multi-Core Performance

Most of the usual optimizations apply to Windows 7 that applied to previous versions. You’re best off disabling resource-consuming background applications like antivirus software, keeping drivers up-to-date, working with good quality audio interfaces, and the like. We do have a couple of specific pieces of advice for Windows 7, however.

One such detail, while it’s unlikely to impact everyone, is that disabling some power management on multi-core systems can improve performance. Noel explains, complete with instructions:

There has been some controversy about the new core parking feature in Windows 7 which was introduced for more “green” power management. On quad core and higher systems, some users have reported that core parking can cause audio glitches. It could be system specific since I haven’t personally experienced this issue on my own DAW which is pretty much running a vanilla Windows 7 install with a Core I7 (8 cores). In any case even though there is no user interface in Windows 7 to enable/disable core parking, fortunately there is an documented way to disable it in the Microsoft performance tuning guidelines. Look for “Core Parking” in this document http://download.microsoft.com/download/7/E/7/7E7662CF-CBEA-470B-A97E-CE7CE0D98DC2/Perf-tun-srv-R2.docx

To summarize:

To turn off core parking, set the minimum cores parked to 100 percent by using the following commands:

Powercfg -setacvalueindex scheme_current sub_processor bc5038f7-23e0-4960-96da-33abaf5935ec 100 Powercfg -setactive scheme_current

Windows 7′s new Libraries feature makes it easier to keep your project files sorted.

Smarter File Management

With Windows generally working better out of the box, though, here’s a quick tip that can help make it more usable when you’re actually working on projects. Noel has become a big fan of Libraries (and yes, you’ll find access to them in SONAR’s file dialog):

Win 7 has support for a very useful feature called Libraries, which can be a very handy way to keep track of data scattered around your hard drives. Unfortunately Libraries do not directly support folders on networked locations. On attempting to add such a folder to a library you get an error message telling you the location is not indexed. Apparently libraries rely on folders being indexed. This shortcoming greatly reduces the usefulness of libraries for users who store folders in networked locations.

Fortunately, I came across a workaround to the libraries problem here which uses symbolic links to get around this limitation: http://hubpages.com/hub/Adding-a-Network-Directory-to-a-Library-without-Indexing-in-Windows-7

More Resources

Keyboard Magazine has my full comparison of Windows 7 and Snow Leopard online:
New Decade, New OS What Matters to Musicians in Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Windows 7, by Peter Kirn

I’ve been writing “geeky as we wanna be” looks at Windows for some time – and rightfully so, I think; musicians push operating systems hard. I only wish the larger tech community paid greater attention to what we do, because we’re often best able to torture test any OS, Mac, Windows, Linux, or mobile.

Here’s some of our past coverage of Windows on CDM:
Obsessive Windows 7 Under-the-Hood Guide for Music; Can You Finally Dump XP?

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

And if you’re looking for some tips to get the most out of Windows:
Tips: Fix Windows Explorer, Be Happy

12 Free and Cheap Must-Have Music Utilities for Windows

10 Free Non-Musical Windows Software Every Musician Should Use

For a look at a 64-bit-native DAW, check out my review of SONAR 8.5.2:
SONAR 8.5.2 Hands On: Tradition, Meet Tempting Treats

Addendum: Finding 64-bit Crashes

This is an extremely obscure issue, so if you’re not interested in gory details, stop reading now. But because we like gory, technical details, I’ve decided to add it. It’s not a reliability problem with 64-bit Windows — far from it; you won’t actually see it until you encounter a crash, and even then, it’s useful only to the people troubleshooting. But it does demonstrate the power of getting to the bottom of an issue, and there is a fix. (So, Mac users, I don’t want to hear any “see, this is why I switched to a Mac.” You can get into weird, technical things if you dig deep enough in any OS, period. Shield any innocent eyes.)

Noel adds a description of troubleshooting 64-bit Windows crashes as follows:

How to make your apps crash gracefully on 64-bit Windows
OK this is admittedly a weird topic :-) Why would anyone actually want their app to crash you may ask? To answer that question we need to have some background about why applications crash.
An application crashes when it performs an unexpected operation or encounters what is called an “exception condition”. Exceptions include unwanted operations like writing to invalid memory locations, divide by zero errors, page faults, etc. Programs can end up with exceptions like this for a variety of reasons – bugs in the host code itself or even due to bugs in loaded plugin DLL’s which share the same memory and address space as the host application. Normally when an error like this occurs, Windows will display the familiar error message “This Program Has Performed an Illegal Operation and Will Be Shut Down” and the program will close. Some applications like SONAR handle such errors more gracefully and will even try and intercept these exception and attempt to allow the user to save their work before exiting the program. Additionally on Windows you can choose to save what is called a Minidump containing “post mortem” debugging info that is very useful to developers to find out why the program crashed.

Recently we began noticing a pattern where we were receiving Minidump’s from crashes on from 64 bit Windows systems X64 where the dumps contained useless or apparently invalid information about the crash. This made it very hard for us to diagnose such issues. I was even able to reproduce this by writing a simple test application that forced a crash. In one case I found that the crash was reported in a completely different location and in another the application behaved as if the exception didn’t occur! This is actually very bad since when damage is done to the app the best scenario is to actually shut down the application or you risk data corruption or worse. So you really WANT your app to crash when something like this happens. I logged a bug with Microsoft about this with a test application. I recently heard back from their developer support about this issue. It’s an interesting problem that Microsoft is aware of and have issued a hotfix for.
Here is a link to a Microsoft blog post describing this problem in gory detail if you want to read more about it.
http://blog.paulbetts.org/index.php/2010/07/20/the-case-of-the-disappearing-onload-exception-user-mode-callback-exceptions-in-x64/
And here is the link to the hotfix if you want it now. This hotfix will also be rolled into Windows 7 SP1. I hope that this is not required in the final version but currently the fix requires you to set a value in the registry to enable it.

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/976038

  • http://www.coldplaysucks.com Alex Massaad

    I create digital music every day on the mac and my main issue is this: Why would I want to use a technology that hasnt been human/user debugged for the last 5 years.

    With Snow Leopard I've been using a family of code that has been in the real world since I was in High School . . . I'm now finishing Uni.

    With windows 7 I keep hearing "oh its no Vista, its no XP" and I'm sure its miles apart. (although I do still remember windows me *Cringe*)

    Why would something so new be more solid than an established family of code?

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

    Alex, I have no idea what you're saying. Every major desktop operating system right now has kernel work that goes back to the early 90s, with generational overhauls since.

    Windows 7's codebase originates in Windows NT. (1993) It's closest to Windows Vista (2006), which updated the driver and display model. It's in fact been debugged for five years.

    Mac OS X is a bit younger, with a substantial overhaul meaning its current generation is circa 2001, though of course originating in NextStep (1995). But despite their divergent histories, the Mac and Windows have tended to introduce similar features at a similar pace; on a fundamental level, OSes are more alike than they are different.

  • http://signaltonoize.com Eric Beam

    Nice write up/tips. Thanks for that.

    I'm a multi-platform user & I'm fully aware that I'm equal part Tech-geek/Musician. IMHO the current OS platforms are all on par in regards to audio performance. ALSA, ASIO, & CORE all do the job well. The OS differences for me fall into file management & aesthetics.

    With that said software availability is something one needs to consider. By day I work with OS X & the AVID/Protools empire. The post audio world live by tight workflow/interchange standards. As you see from the picture above I run Windows boxes at home. Why? After years of figuring out what Hardware, DAW Software, & Utilities I want to use, Windows fits my needs best. If I ended up on Logic, Ardour, ect I would be using something else. I want the best tool for job simple as that. Creative functionality is what dictates my OS choice. My 2¢

  • rob

    I think what makes Win7 X64 suitable for audio production is that this OS is good one. You shouldn't compare it to MacOs or Linux because they're completely different, although you can learn from these (jack on linux is brilliant).

    when I bought a new laptop a couple of months ago, my major concern was that it contained Win7 X64.

    well, some legacy gear is either unsupported or works only with old drivers. if old drivers are working, they're working. that's the trade-off if you have collected some gear over the time but it's worth it imho.

    frankly, in the beginning I had some major problems with audio glitches and dropouts. I've tried everything using the standard tools (latency checker and process explorer) and disabling services and processes. however, there were no achievements doing this. something came to my mind which was the quasi solution for all audio problems on windows xp: setting the system preferences to background processes. it didn't have any effect on my old win xp but worked like a miracle for win7: all glitches were gone!

    so if you're experience latency problems on a win7 system, this is first thing I can recommend to try out!

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

    @Eric: I'm slightly less optimistic in that I also think the three OSes suffer from the same problems! But it's our fault. Doing low-latency audio puts you on a collision course with most other design decisions in an OS — security, stability, usability, and ease of development. Saying "great, but we'd also like 2 ms audio latencies" means you're in conflict with what most engineers otherwise want to do. Fortunately, each have some avenues by which you can make this stuff work — and the emphasis on the OS (for aesthetic reasons or otherwise) has detracted from other important discussions, like how computers themselves get put together and how hardware firmware and drivers are developed.

  • http://signaltonoize.com Eric Beam

    @Peter

    Very true. Audio currently falls 2nd (well actually more like 32nd) to most other OS functionalities. I just mentally take it as the way it is & will be. The often dreamed of trimmed down win/OSX "multimedia OS" would be great. Not sure what the reality of something like that coming into place really is. I like the concept of distros like Ubuntu Studio. It comes down to the creatives market share is dwarfed by the average consumer. Maybe the evolution of iPad like devices will create the needed separation.

  • http://www.noahadler.com/ Noah Adler

    I think you've touched on some great issues here, Peter– particularly your comment about 'blaming the operating system.' Yet the operating system name is probably used as synecdoche for its associated ecosystem, including hardware, software, firmware, drivers, UI, etc. And let's face it, Microsoft has had the clout to steer third-party vendors, and have simply failed in their stewardship of their environment. There's no reason for such a proliferation of such shoddy implementations (like WinPrinters) except for a tacit acknowledgment by Microsoft that it's more profitable for them to simply allow it. The WHQL is sort of a joke. Apple, on the other hand, have taken great pains, often at the chagrin of digital libertarians, to make sure hardware _does_ work the way it's advertised to. They may have a walled garden, but it's sure nice in there! And Linux, pretty much by design, is simply wild. Some equipment works great, and other pieces don't, but I can't really find it in me to begrudge Linus or the wider community here (but I wish Presonus would step up to the plate and get some FFADO drivers working!).

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

    @Noah: No, that's correct, and that's fair. I do think that people ascribe this to the OS as software itself, however. In early days of Vista, they were right – and even to the extent that poor Vista support was to blame, they were generally right. Now, I think you may have to separate specific parts of the hardware ecosystem.

    And yeah, some of those ecosystem problems impact all "PCs" — including those running Linux. The quality of that hardware ecosystem even impacts Apple. So perhaps a whole larger discussion to have is the fact that the laptop ecosystem in particular can be a little variable.

    Apple's laptops aren't really such a walled garden, what they're doing is to assemble machines more carefully, and they're more directly involved with drivers. In fact, if you look at some of the custom-built Linux laptops (let alone Rain), you find similar experiences just because of people being choosy and testing. And when things go wrong, they go wrong for the same reasons.

    But the other OSes are another discussion, for another day. I would love to see the quality and reliability of laptops generally improve across the board. Of course, we love "cheap," and we love the latest and greatest stuff, and that doesn't always jive with stability.

  • shim

    damn, they're still making windows?!

    shave bill gates!!

    google chrome!!!

  • Kevin T

    Thanks, great post. We all have our own (equally valid) reasons for choosing the platforms we use (crawl back under your rocks boring trolls), but for those of us who use Windows, Win7 and 64-bit, are big decisions. This kind of audio specific information is really valuable to us musicians.

    And I'd like to publicly thank Cakewalk for its work on 64-bit audio. Sonar is a great DAW and the fact that Cakewalk really took the lead on 64-bit, long before it was commercially necessary, speaks volumes about the company's commitment to making great, continually improved software.

  • http://www.nilusrothschild.com Nilus Rothschild

    …and Windows NT code base was POSIX. So to everyone’s surprise is the code base for Darwin. Reciprocally, let us all celebrate being so well informed and reuniting under the banner of sharing a single love – the singular entity of music.

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    Just to leave my testimony. I have a 3-year old Toshiba Satellite laptop (AMD Dual Core 64 1.8 Ghz) which came with Vista (crappy OS). I switched to W7 some months ago and I can say this is the best Windows I have ever used (and I started with 3.11 so I know what I'm talking about). Audio and video performance is outstanding. I have a desktop computer which is still running XP (haven't done the switch yet just 'cos I'm lazy), and XP, despite being solid, has worse CPU management, and can't cope with as many audio tracks and virtual instruments as W7. And both PCs have more or less equal chipsets. I use Ableton Live and M4L in both, and in the W7 laptop I have been able to play live gigs with complex Live sets which included M4L patches with Jitter objects for video, and the OS stands firmly and goes for it. And with just 1 GB RAM! Really amazing job they have done finally with W7. Rock solid.

  • Spazmatron

    Can anyone direct me to an "essential list" of audio tweaks for W7? I'm not talking about every little thing to squeeze every drop of power from my pc, just the big things that could cause problems, or improve performance/latency. While I am a music software nerd, I'm not really a "computer" nerd.

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    By the way, anyone knows a good way to install MacOS on a PC? I really need to try Numerology 2.3..

  • http://rhythminmind.net RhythmInMind

    @Spazmatron

    There isn't really much to do to tweak W7 for audio out of the box. Not really that necessary.

    My short list =

    1.Turn off gadgets & windows media center features.

    2. Disable windows defender by installing microsoft security essentials & then turn off realtime scanning/checking.

    3. Set processing to background.

    4. Carefully install ccleaner (watch out for the yahoo toolbar checkbox) & use it to disable any unneeded startup items.

    AERO is still being debated. I'm pro AREO. If you have a video card with a modern GPU, AERO allows it to do the heavy lifting.

    Some firewire 1394 devices (like my SSL duende) need you to switch the firewire stack to the pre W7 "Legacy" driver. Pretty much everything else I know of has current support for W7.

    Thats about it. I've found tweaking other services isn't worth the performance/headache ratio over time.

  • http://rhythminmind.net Eric Beam

    I'll add that http://ninite.com/ is great for post clean install bread&butter utility installing.

  • http://www.myspace.com/casimirsblake Casimir's Blake

    I would also highly recommend disabling the Windows Search service, on Win7 and Vista machines. This is the ONLY service I would disable, mind you. There is much misinformation about this topic, and often you can end up leaving vital functionality disabled and possibly screw up your system. However, the Windows Search service merely provides indexed searching which can add a fairly hefty performance hit to drives that aren't SSDs. You will still be able to perform searches without it, they'll just be a touch slower, but IMHO this is worth living with instead of horrendous disk thrashing. (More of a problem with Vista, to be fair.)

  • http://wearethemusicindustry.blogspot.com Jeremy Biggs

    Great article Peter – i'm definitely going to try this out when i get home.

    I just bought a new Toshiba i3 laptop with 64 bit windows 7 and 4GB of RAM. Unfortunately i seem to have an intermittent problem with occasional system freezing which was a nightmare when i had a gig in Berlin recently.

    Ableton would just freeze and drop the audio for about 2 seconds. It happens in other apps too and sometimes browsing the web is a nightmare.

    Hopefully some of these tweaks will solve the issue.

    On the other PC (Quadcore) I use XP and haven't had any issues whatsoever (other than not enouogh RAM when using Kontakt sample libraries..)

  • http://www.myspace.com/casimirsblake Casimir's Blake

    Oh, I would NOT recommend turning off your AV's realtime checking guard. It should not interfere with your DAW if you are doing NOTHING else with your system. However if you do use your DAW system to also browse the internet, you should never disable your AV.

    I leave my AV (AntiVir) on all the time, and it has never caused glitches for me.

    (Apologies for the double-post.)

  • http://enigmafon.com enigmafon

    Do not drink the "64-bit is better" Kool Aid.

    There is no reason for the average user to switch from Windows XP to Windows 7.

    There is no reason for most audio users to switch to 64-bit. Sure, a 64 bit OS can utilize a lot more memory, but what i don't see mentioned here is the fact the a 64-app uses twice as much memory as a 32-app just to sit on memory doing nothing; so the only way to get a big difference in memory utilization on a 64-bit OS is to spend big $$ and buy *massive* amounts of memory.

    The only users who really benefit from a 64-bit OS are:

    -Composers who run massive sample libraries such as Kontakt, where memory usage is a must

    -Musicians who use computers for performance and need to load and switch between a lot of different VSTs and virtual synths.

    Of course, Microsoft and hardware vendors would like you to think that you need to upgrade to Windows 7 and buy newer hardware, but this hype is mostly unwarranted. This is why Microsoft were forced to extend support for Windows XP all the way until 2020, because most XP users didn't upgrade to Windows 7 like they expected to.

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    "The only users who really benefit from a 64-bit OS are:

    -Composers who run massive sample libraries such as Kontakt, where memory usage is a must

    -Musicians who use computers for performance and need to load and switch between a lot of different VSTs and virtual synths."

    Aren't we all???

    I insist, I have a 1 GB RAM laptop and memory hasn't been an issue with W7, just everything is better, period. And also there's absolutely no need to upgrade your HW. My laptop was bought in 2007 and has never performed better than with W7. I only had to upgrade the BIOS which is easy with the Toshiba online support. And have also made the minor tweaks that @RhythmInMind mentions, but thats all. I tell you, I use Live 8 with loads of Instrument Racks with various synths, plus Max MSP Jitter in M4L with qt.movie, multiplex, and other processor-demanding objects, and everything OK.

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

    @Casimir's Blake: I think you can safely leave the Windows Search disk indexing on. This was indeed a huge problem with the original release of Vista, but was fixed even on Vista in the Windows Search update. I think they somehow got the Service wrong; it was running when the system was active.

    That's absolutely right on Services in general, though. AV/security – maybe I should revise that to "be careful which app you use"; Antivir is great, but some of those products do take a toll on system performance.

    @Jeremy Biggs: Unfortunately, that's exactly the kind of problem I'm talking about. It's almost assuredly not Windows 7, and it's also unlikely to get fixed with a "tweak." 9 times out of 10, there's an actual hardware/driver problem going on. Try running DPC Latency Checker. This is often a misbehaving hardware device or driver.

    @RhythmInMind: That's right. I think Aero got a bad reputation early on in Vista because drivers were simply broken. I don't see any reason to turn Aero off now, and worse, in some cases disabling it can actually degrade performance.

  • Spazmatron

    @rhythminmind. Thanks for the tips. I've had an unopened copy of W7 for a few months that I haven't got around to installing. I guess it's about time.

  • http://www.myspace.com/casimirsblake Casimir's Blake

    @Peter, I'd like to think MS have made enough minor improvements like that to make Win7 the great OS that it is – and it IS the first time I feel happy to have a Windows OS on my workstation.

    In my experience, MS Security Essentials seems a touch heavier on resources than AntiVir and Avast. But all of these are eclipsed by AVG 8.5 and onwards (especially 9) which has become tremendously slow even in its free iteration. Hence, I wouldn't recommend it at all now. No-one should even consider running a full Internet Security suite on a DAW, either. That's just asking for trouble.

  • http://www.cakewalk.com Noel Borthwick

    @enigmafon

    The advantages of X64 go beyond extra memory. If you read the links in the article you will see an independent study showing X64 outperforming X86 at the computation level as well.

    And MS extending support for XP has more to do with the inertia of large enterprise companies switching to a newer OS, than the actual success of Win7.

  • mediawest

    what i am most curious about is using protools le 64 bit. how are rtas/ vst's from your older rigs working? which ones are not? also, can you really use more ram in protools le, than the 32bit 3.4gig max? anyone setup a intel i7, 64bit setup? hows that working for ya???? i really want to make my new rig, on a i7 laptop……

    bout time avid released the 64bit update….

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

    @Casimir's Blake: Agreed. I think AntiVir, Avast, and MS Security Essentials are at least *ok* running on an audio station, and yeah, I'd avoid AVG (though you can find advice on the AVG forums for getting pre-8.5 performance)

  • http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=37150 Darren

    This article appears to have only one true optimization (disabling core parking) from Noel. But should I trust a guy who thinks he has an 8-core i7 processor when such a thing doesn't exist?

    http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=37150

    Quote from above:

    One such detail, while it’s unlikely to impact everyone, is that disabling some power management on multi-core systems can improve performance. Noel explains, complete with instructions:

    There has been some controversy about the new core parking feature in Windows 7 which was introduced for more “green” power management. On quad core and higher systems, some users have reported that core parking can cause audio glitches. It could be system specific since I haven’t personally experienced this issue on my own DAW which is pretty much running a vanilla Windows 7 install with a Core I7 (8 cores).

    His i7 has 4 cores, BTW, if you look at the Intel link. Nice proc. Just not 8 cores.

  • Wilbo

    I love how the first post was a mac user doing some completely uninformed windows bashing. Awesome. I tried doing a 64 bit rig several months ago, but very quickly reverted back to 32 bits because I didn't really see the need for the extra RAM, and losing the use of SO many VSTs that are still 32 bit only made it completely pointless. Once most of my free and paid VSTs have come into the 64 bit world then I'll probably do it the next time I'm up for a system upgrade, but seeing as I've had no problem making music on a 5 year old computer with 2 gigs of ram using a 32 bit OS I'm certainly in no hurry. This ancient setup has done so well that it makes me hesitant to upgrade until I find something I simply can't do on it.

  • immon

    Native instruments offer some tips on their site too, including USB power management http://co.native-instruments.com/knowledge-dev/qu

  • Kim

    Lets not forget Reaper 64 version and that fact that it also nicely excepts the 32bit plugins.

  • http://rhythminmind.net Eric Beam

    Most DAW developers include 32bit plugin loaders for 64bit DAW's. The Sonar wrapper works very well. 3rd party utilities like jBridge are also popular. I avoided the 64bit transition for sometime. I've now realized it was an unnecessary precaution. Like many others I wasn't aware that I could run my 32bit apps within the 64bit environment without a hitch. I currently run Sonar 32bit with my 32bit plugins via windows 7 64 for most of my work. I also have Sonar 64 installed & it works great, I just choose to use the 32bit ver for full automap/duende support.

    If your hardware has 64bit drivers I see no reason not to switch/avoid.

  • holotropik

    Good read thanks :)

    Reminded me of why I don't use Windoze anymore…just the thought of having to frig around with the OS so that I can play makes me feel sick.

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

    @holotropik: Well, not exactly. The point of the article is that you *don't* have to tweak around the OS. Noel is offering a single line of command line code that can *optimize* performance in a very specific situation. You'd run it once and forget it. (The advance of doing that kind of tweaking at a command line is it's typically easier to reproduce a problem.)

  • http://www.cakewalk.com Noel Borthwick

    An important issue from this article that people seem to miss a lot is there are even performance advantages to running an X64 OS over 32 bit from a computational point of view. So its not just about access to more memory. See the linked performance study that shows similar systems running X64 and X86.

  • theauton

    Although I have both XP and Windows 7 installed I have to say that i still favour XP for its stability. I tried the "Core parking" tip in the article to no avail to try and sort out my problems with W7 as in Ableton Live 8 the program's CPU load meter fluctuates wildly, unlike in XP. Messing around in Control Panel>System and Security>Power Options did solve the problem though. In the additional options there is a high performance power scheme which you can tweek to give you 100% processor performance. Did the trick for me.

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

    @theauton: What's your hardware? Computer type, model, etc.? Symptoms?

    I have also found that disabling power settings is a good idea. And since you can set that profile to when the machine is plugged in, you can still turn on power saving when you're on the go (and probably don't care as much about audio performance).

    My strong, strong suspicion is that at this point the *OS* is more stable on W7 — that's without any tweaking at all — but that the very significant variable is hardware and its drivers and firmware. That's been where all the problems I've seen.

  • Alex

    I just bought my first Mac, and it was purely for technical reasons, I couldn't find a pc laptop anywhere, for any price, with the specs I wanted. It would have been much easier to keep working on Windows and not have to reconfigure all my software. Rain would have saved me from getting a Mac, they had mostly all the features I wanted except for one…for 15" laptops, they have the same screen size and resolution as virtually all pc laptops on the market. I can't stand producing and DJing on a widescreen with low resolution. My lifestyle doesn't always allow for an external screen.

    As far as the OS, I had no complaints working on Windows (including Vista!).

    I'm looking forward to my Mac experience, but I worry about no expresscard port on the 15" macbook pros (in conjunction with only two usb ports), I feel like it's going to bite me in the ass someday.

  • http://enigmafon.com enigmafon

    @Noel Borthwick

    The "independent" studies showing the advantages of x64 were probably financed by Microsoft and the software industry, in order to convince large server oS users to switch over. In my days as a large datacenter sys admin, stability was the #1 priority and i take the same approach to my studio.

    The inertia as you call it is well founded, as running a large enterprise data center is expensive and trendy devices are a no-no.

    People with large studios should carefully test the OS for stability and backwards compatibility.

    If you have a large amount of VSTs, switching over to another OS is an expensive proposition.

    If x64 doesn't run an older VST that is not being made anymore (like quite a few Steinberg VSTs for example), any of the x64 "advantages" aren't going to do anything for me…

    Even switching to another version of Ableton has caused me many headaches due to their recent stability problems.

    Switching for the sake of trendy switching is not something most serious musicians running large studios would consider.

  • Loren

    Thanks for this! More in-depth windows coverage like this will keep me coming back on a regular basis…keep up the good work!

  • http://www.cakewalk.com Noel Borthwick

    @enigmafon:

    Financed by MS and the software industry? Wow thats a pretty wild shot :-) . No, there are facts that support it and we've verified the benefits of X64 many years ago much before Win7. Those studies also date back to 2006 and just do user level benchmarks to demonstrate the gains.

    Nobody is suggesting "trendy switching". You switch when there are tangible gains to be had over an older OS. I would also argue that the inertia is not well founded and based more on hearsay or muddy information than reality.