So your computer occasionally sounds like a skipping CD during audio playback, maybe you have enough time to make lunch while waiting for everything to load up, or maybe you are about 2 seconds away from throwing it across the room because it froze up again.
While not all of us can afford to buy the latest system you don’t have to toss your current one. Good audio quality and machine reliability will require an investment at some point, but for those of us that are trying to make the best with what we have, this list will ensure you are actually getting the most out of your computer.
The tasks on this list are minuscule and often overlooked. While they are small and simple, remember it’s the little things that can add up.
- Delete unnecessary files. The more space you have, the better the performance.
- Keep your desktop icons to a minimum, this eats up minimal CPU but every little bit counts.
- Uninstall any old programs you do not use.
- Schedule all programs that preform automatic updates for a specific time.
- Disable any apps from running in the background.
Once you have completed this list run a disk cleanup and defragment your drive.
Files stored on a hard drive become fragmented over time, meaning that parts of the files are stored in separate areas of the drive instead of right next to each other.
Your computer may do this automatically. This is one of a few tasks that you can schedule to do during times that you are not making music. Similar to the desktop icons, its one of the small things to do to maximize your machines performance.
External Solid Hard Drive
Hard drives are also common performance bottlenecks. A standard 5400RPM drive will feel horribly slow. Much like studios used to have tape machines and consoles each doing their own thing, you should have a separate hard drive feeding your DAW audio and not combine the two. Do not record to or mix from your internal system drive, the same hard drive that has your operating system and DAW installed on it. This will free up your system to just run the O/S, DAW, and plugins.
The benefit of an external solid state drive is it uses less power, it can access data faster, and has no moving parts (no noise).
External and internal solid state hard drives vary in price from $10 to $600. If you would like to check a few out you can do so HERE.
Data stored in RAM is accessed very quickly. DAWs and virtual instruments love it. 8GB should be considered a decent amount, however, 16GB or more is ideal for a larger scale setup.
How Much RAM?
If you’re using a Mac, search for your system model on the Apple website to find out the maximum amount of RAM it can handle.
If you’re using a 32-bit version of Windows, your system can support up to 4 GB.
If you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows, it can handle up to 128 GB.
Identify your motherboard. Even if your operating system supports a ton of RAM, you are still limited by what your motherboard can support. If you don't have access to your motherboard documentation, you will need to identify the motherboard and look up the specifications online. You will most likely need to open your computer case and note the motherboard's model number.
If you are uncomfortable opening your computer or reading through your motherboard documentation, there are several tools available online that can scan your system and report how much memory you can have, as well as the type and speeds supported.
Remember, RAM needs to be installed in pairs. If your motherboard supports 16 GB of RAM and has four slots, you can install four 4 GB sticks or two 8 GB sticks to reach your maximum.
RAM can range from $5 up to several hundreds of dollars. You can shop RAM HERE.
While Making Music
While making music there are also some things you can do to make sure your machine is running at its best. Again, these are simple little things that can add up.
Kill The Internet
When you sit down to create music if you aren’t using a DAW that requires an internet connection, turn it off. Simple as that. Not to mention checking your social media and downloading files will only slow down your processing and disrupt your work flow. By turning off your internet connection your machine now has one less task to focus on. All connected computers are more vulnerable to attacks and are able to perform updates in the background.
Keep It Clean
While making music remember to delete all of the unused samples. This is a quick way to make sure no unused audio files are taking up your RAM. This usually becomes a problem near the end of the project if you have been auditioning lots of different samples.
If you are using VST instruments you can consolidate your tracks to .wav. This will free up a lot of CPU.
When producing, your sound card needs time to process the audio information from your DAW. The amount of time allotted for processing is called the buffer size. When you are recording any audio, the buffer size needs to be small enough that you don’t experience any latency between your input and the recording while also being large enough to be CPU friendly.
However, if you are just producing and mixing in your DAW your buffer size should be as large as possible in order to ensure the best performance. This is especially true if you have lots of tracks running different effects.
You can switch the buffer size for each scenario until you find the right balance.
When you start up, open your task manager and make sure there are no other programs running aside from your DAW.
If you use a MIDI controller to enter information into your sequencer, you need to make sure your computer's latency is set at a reasonable level or you'll suffer a delay between hitting the note and hearing it play. On the PC, use your sound card's ASIO driver buffer setting to lower the latency value to an acceptable level.
Fire It Up
We have covered 16 ways to optimize your machines performance to produce music. Just remember what you put in to it, will determine what you get out of it. If your system, drivers, and software are up to date, kept clean, and its functions are at your control you can easily be certain you are getting the most out of your machine.
Once you’ve completed the list, fire it up and make some music. A little faster and lot less frustrating.