Windows XP Tuning Tips for Audio Processing

Disclaimer: This article mentions some third party tools which are not related to Native Instruments at all. Though we have successfully tested the mentioned tools in-house for a longer time, this and comparable tools can potentially damage your computer and harm the manufacturer's warranty for your computer and connected hardware. If you want to make sure that you do not act against the license agreements or other instructions given for the use of your computer, please contact the manufacturer of your computer or the developer of the third party tool directly.

Important: Don’t skip any of the following steps! Partially completing any of these steps also will not help!

Introduction

The list of brands for Windows computers, as well as the possible combination of hardware used in PCs is practically unlimited – this can lead to compatibility issues or undesired interaction of components. Also, many PC computers and their components are designed to deliver good performance for office applications or gaming. The demands placed on a computer used for music production are usually quite different than those for office or gaming computers. As a result, it is often necessary to tune off-the-shelf or self-built computer systems so they perform well enough for real-time audio. This article shows the most important tuning tips. Each tip mentioned here has already helped a lot of users, so in case you have to deal with audio dropouts and artifacts, take the time to print out this article, read it carefully and try one suggestion after another.

Use ASIO Drivers

First, download and install the latest driver for your soundcard. From within the audio application you use, make sure you always make use of the ASIO driver for your soundcard, and not the DirectSound or WASAPI driver.

If an ASIO driver is not available for your soundcard, then you can download and install ASIO4ALL, a generic ASIO driver that works with most soundcards. To use this, please download the latest ASIO4ALL driver from the following link:

www.ASIO4ALL.com

Please note that a professional audio device that provides its own ASIO driver usually performs better than when using ASIO4ALL with a generic soundcard. Typically, audio interfaces designed specifically for music recording and production have better audio quality, better performance and ship with ASIO drivers specific to the device. Native Instruments offers a number of professional grade interfaces with ASIO drivers, designed for different purposes, such as AUDIO KONTROL 1 or AUDIO 8 DJ.

Latency Setting

Computers need to use an audio buffer in order to temporarily store audio data, while the computer’s main processor switches between processing different tasks, such as the graphical display, hard drive access, data exchange with connected peripherals such as MIDI controllers and, of course, the processing of audio. Because it can’t do all of these things at once, it needs to buffer data from the various processes – and this is where the audio buffer (also named buffer size, latency, process buffer, sample buffer) comes in. The rule of thumb is, the faster the computer, the more calculations it can handle every second and the smaller the audio buffer can be.

A smaller audio buffer is preferable because there is a direct relation between the audio buffer size and the resulting latency. The term latency describes the delay between performing an action (e.g. singing into a microphone) and hearing a result (e.g. hearing your voice come back out of the speakers). The larger the buffer size the larger the latency, and with it, the longer is the delay between taking an action and hearing a result. This can be distracting when performing.

The downside of using a smaller buffer size is, that the smaller the buffer size/latency, the harder your computer has to work. If your computer can’t handle all the work it is tasked with at the selected buffer size, you will start hearing pops and clicks or other artifacts in your audio. This means that you will have to increase the audio buffer size, so your computer can cope with the workload.

Start out with an ASIO latency setting (buffer size) of 512 and check if this gives you artifact free results. If not, increase the buffer size by one increment at a time and try again.

However, on some modern Multicore CPUs you may get better results with lower latency settings than with higher settings (e.g. there may be crackles with 512, but not with 256 samples set as buffer).  Therefore test at least the settings 256 and 512.

TRAKTOR only: Try using multiples of 128 samples first as these settings often deliver the best results for TRAKTOR users; i.e.: 128, 256, 384 and 512.

Third Party Analyzing Tools

It can at times be difficult to identify the root cause of PC performance problems. Fortunately, some applications are available online and free of charge, that can be a great help with resolving such issues. The DPC Latency Checker (described below) visually shows if anything that is running on your computer is getting in the way of audio processing, and gives an idea how severe the problem is. Once you identify that there is a problem, the RATTV3 application makes it possible to identify the specific driver or service that is the cause of the issue. Both applications and their general usage are explained below.

DPC Latency Checker

  1. Download and run the "dpclat.exe" application from the Thesycon website.
  2. Start the application (no installation required).
  3. Let it run for approximately four minutes while your audio software is running.

Depending on the your computer's configuration you get only green bars (good) or you get yellow or even red bars (bad).

The screen shot below shows a computer system which should be well suited for real-time audio:
DPC Good Results

The following screen shot indicates that your computer most likely produces dropouts and audio artifacts:
DPC Bad Results

If you see any yellow or even red spikes, they indicate that other (usually non-audio related) processes are occupying your computer’s CPU for too long, with the likely result that this will cause the audio buffer to run empty, resulting in glitches, clicks or distortion in your audio.

While the DPC Latency Checker gives a visual impression if your computer is running efficiently, or if anything is getting in the way of good audio performance, it does not show which specific device or driver is causing the problem. If DPC Latency checker is showing that there is a problem, you can use RATTV3 (described next) to identify which device, driver or service is the cause of the issue.

RATTV3

If DPC Latency Checker (see last section) shows any yellow or red spikes, run RATTV3 to identify the exact cause of the problem. The RATTV3 installer can be downloaded from the Microsoft website under the following url:

www.microsoft.com/whdc/devtools/tools/ratt.mspx

After installation, follow these steps:

  1. Right click the RATTV3 Symbol in the Taskbar (next to the Windows clock) and turn off Loop Mode.
  2. Right click the RATTV3 Symbol in the Taskbar again and select Stop monitoring.
  3. Browse to the following folder on your computer: C: > WINDOWS > system32 > LogFiles > RATTV3
  4. Delete all files inside this folder.
  5. Now select Start monitoring (after right clicking the Ratt-Icon in the taskbar)
  6. Let the system run for four minutes while your audio software is running (Note that if you stop the test before three minutes are gone, then the test fails)
  7. From the folder  C: > WINDOWS > system32 > LogFiles > RATTV3 open the file "*Your Computer Name*.cswa-accumulator-report.txt" with the Windows application application WordPad. Other text editors might not show a formatted table as in the picture below. 
  8. Now look for the last entry within each driver section and check if you can find a value which is higher than 1 ms in the Label column as shown in the following screen shot.

 

Below you can see an export from RATTV3. In this case the driver NDIS.sys has locked the CPU for 1.97 ms:

Example from RATTV3

The individual latencies of single drivers may SUM UP to more then 1ms overall latency (e.g. if you have drivers with results of 0.9 and 0.5, then those may sum up to 1,4ms which will then can also create problems in the same way as if you would have one driver with 1.4ms latency).

If you have values above 1, check to which devices the affected driver(s) belong, then disable the affected device(s) in Windows Device Manager if possible. If you are unsure if the device can be disabled, then you should try to search the web for the driver's name in order to find out if the associated device can safely be disabled.

We have compiled a list or drivers often reported to the Native Instruments support in this context. This list and some hints about the related components are attached to this article as PDF document below.

Deactivate Devices in the Windows Device Manager

Most often, the cause of audio dropouts are drivers or background services that are not related directly to audio processing. They task the CPU regularly and take away needed resources required to process audio without interruptions. RATTV3 should have given you an idea which drivers or components on your computer may contribute to your audio performance problems – if necessary, you should have searched the internet to find out which of the file names RATTV3 listed as problematic belong to which devices or drivers on your computer. With the list of names of potential problematic devices or drivers in front of you, start the Windows Device Manager.

Important: Here is a list of devices that you should never deactivate since these are essential components required by Windows: System timer, Keyboard, System CMOS/real time clock, Microsoft ACPI-Compliant System, Numeric data processor, Primary IDE Channel, Secondary IDE Channel, Graphics Controller, Ultra ATA Storage Controllers. In general, you should not deactivate anything which is listed in the branch "System Devices".

  1. Right click the Computer icon on your desktop. Then select Properties > Device Manager
  2. In the Device Manager, locate the device(s) RATTV3 reported as problematic. If this is a device that is not essential for the basic operation of your computer (see note above), right click on the component and choose deactivate (not uninstall!). Once you disabled the problematic devices (according to RATTV3), test if this resolved the audio dropouts issue.
  3. Additional devices that can often be disabled to further preserve system resources (or to test if saving additional resources helps to resolve the problem), even if RATTV3 may not have listed them as problematic, are the following:

    • Network adapter
    • WLAN card
    • Bluetooth port
    • Infrared Port
    • ACPI compliant battery
    • Trackpad (only disable, if a mouse is also connected)
    • Video camera
    • DVD drive
    • Any third party component that is not an essential part of the system (be careful and only deactivate components you recognize and that are not required for Windows to function)
    • Built-in sound card (only if you are using an external sound card such as TRAKTOR AUDIO 6/10 or another USB sound interface from a third-party manufacturer)

Disconnect USB and Firewire Devices

For the purpose of identifying which device or driver may introduce the audio problem you are experiencing, disconnect or remove all USB or FireWire devices attached to your computer, except for your audio interface. Then test if the problems still persist. If not, connect one device at a time and test again. If the problem re-appears after re-connecting a specific device, look for an updated driver or updated firmware for that device or contact its manufacturer. Another possible reason for audio dropouts is if a bus-powered USB audio device does not get enough power from the USB port. A common cause is if other devices connected to the same internal USB root hub are consuming too much of the shared available power. After ensuring the problem goes away when disconnecting all additional devices, connect one device at a time to the various USB ports on your computer and test if any of the ports works better.

BIOS Update

BIOS stands for Basic Input Output System which is a mini-Operating System that runs on a chip on your mainboard. The BIOS controls how the mainboard’s individual components work together (on a hardware management level, before Windows gets added to the mix). BIOS updates typically improve the performance of your mainboard’s components – mostly by fixing bugs. Just like with brand new software, updates for the BIOS are often released after new computers are sold, and resolve bugs or improve performance – sometimes dramatically.

If you have an off-the-shelf brand name computer (e.g. Dell, HP/Compaq, etc.) visit the manufacturer’s homepage and download and install the latest available BIOS update for your exact computer model. Instructions for this are usually posted on the website, or come with the downloaded update. If you have a self-built computer, visit the mainboard manufacturer’s website to find the latest BIOS update. Running the latest BIOS version is very important if you need to get the best performance from your computer!

Chipset / Component Driver Update

Chipset refers to a group of important processor chips (aside from the computer’s main processor) on your computer’s mainboard, that are handling essential functions, such as harddrive and USB operation, etc. Some common chipset manufacturers are Intel, AMD, Nvidia, SiS or VIA. Windows usually has a set of generic chipset drivers built-in, however, these are often designed as a one-size-fits-all solution for the purpose of being compatible with as many different models as possible. The custom-tailored drivers provided by the chipset’s manufacturer often get much better performance than Windows’ built-in generic drivers.

If you have an off-the-shelf brand name computer (e.g. Dell, HP/Compaq, etc.) visit the manufacturer’s homepage and download and install the latest available chipset drivers for your exact computer model. Installation instructions are usually posted on the computer manufacturer’s website, or come with the downloaded updates. If you have a self-built computer, visit the mainboard manufacturer’s website to find the latest chipset drivers.

The same applies to all other hardware components installed in your computer: Download and install all available driver updates for components such as network adapters, built-in audio interfaces, FireWire controllers, graphics drivers and any other devices or peripherals installed in, or attached to your computer. For brand name computers, these drivers can usually also be found on the computer manufacturer’s website. For self-built computers, you will need to visit the websites of the manufacturer of each hardware component and download and install their latest available drivers.

Disable Power Management

Power management can be disabled by going to: Start > Settings > Control Panel > Power Management. Set the Power Scheme to Always On and set System Standby, Turn off hard disks and Turn off monitor to Never. On Notebooks, it is not recommended to run the Notebook on its battery while working with audio programs.

Graphic Card Tools

Some graphic card tools like Ati Power Play and Nvidia Powermizer interfere with real-time audio, since they prioritize the graphic card performance over other processes in the system. Try to disable or uninstall these tools.

With some Nvidia laptop graphic chips, simply deactivating the graphic drivers in the Windows device manager can occasionally help to fix audio dropout problems. When you deactivate the graphic driver in the device manager, a standard Windows video driver is used after the next system reboot. This should help to identify if the graphic driver is a possible cause of the problem.

Set Graphic Acceleration to Full

Do a right-click on your desktop, select Properties, then on Settings, Advanced and the Performance tab. Make sure the Hardware Acceleration slider is set to full to reduce the load on your CPU.

Turn off Visual Effects

This can be done by going to: Start > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance Settings > Visual Effects. Select Custom and de-select the visual effect options.

Next, set the Windows theme to Classic. It'll make your OS look a bit more boring, by right clicking on your desktop, and selecting Properties, select Windows theme and choose Classic.

Manufacturer's Energy Saving Tools

Many laptop manufacturers install a proprietary application that takes over the control of the energy settings of the CPU and other computer components. As a result the energy settings made in the Windows energy options do not become effective. Deactivate any such application and test if the settings described in the previous section (Energy options) then solve the performance issues you experience.

Disable Power Saving Option for USB Ports

It is recommended to disable power management to the USB hubs, to assure that the audio device receives enough power to work properly. XP turns this on by default. Go to the device manager (Control Panel > system > hardware) and right click a USB Root Hub to bring up properties. On the power management page, uncheck all boxes. Repeat for each hub and reboot.

Processor Scheduling

The Processor Scheduling setting lets you choose if your computer should process Programs with higher priority, or Background Services with higher priority. In this context, Programs refers to applications you can see running on your screen. Background Services refers to software that you don't directly interface with, but that is running in the background and is taking care of essential invisible tasks. The most important example of a background service in the context of this guide, is the driver for your audio interface.

Most of the time, the reason for dropouts and audio artifacts is because the audio interface driver (or the driver's buffer) can't process all data in time. Increasing the processing priority for background services (and with it, the priority of the audio driver) often contributes to better over-all audio performance.

To configure your computer to process background services with higher priority, do the following:

  1. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance Settings > Advanced Tab > Background Services.
  2. Enable Background services in the section Processor scheduling.

Please note that some applications may work better if the Processor Scheduling parameter remains set to Programs. If your audio performance worsens after following the steps above, revert the setting back to Programs. You may also refer to the documentation of the manufacturer of the software for more information on what setting should be used.

Activate DMA on Hard Discs / CD ROMS

Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Hardware > Device Manager > IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers. Right-click Primary IDE channel and Secondary IDE channel > Properties > Advanced Settings Tab > Transfer Mode to DMA if available for both devices.

Attachments:

Related Articles:

Product Group:
GENERAL
Category:
Computer Performance Product Operation
Platform:
Windows
Do you found this article helpful? Thank you for supporting us!
1059 | 321 / 39