In this article, I’d like to talk about the configuration of your laptop/PC in order to use it for audio production. First of all, I must tell you that I’m not an expert on this topic. But I have some experience on recording in the digital domain.
I started recording around 2002 with a shitty PC and a very low budget guitar and an amp. As you can probably guess, those records were one of the worst examples for the time being. I used to record guitars with a guitar jack into my PC’s microphone input and was using GuitarFXBox software to obtain good guitar sounds. Awful times!
During my university studies, I upgraded my PC to a much better one, then a couple of years later I bought an M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 PCI sound card. The recordings I made with this system were much better compared to what I could manage eleven years ago. But I wasn’t using software amps or maybe I didn’t have a powerful enough PC at that time, instead, I was using guitar preamps.
After I came back to my city, I collected some equipment for audio production. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, I’m focused on software guitar amps so it can be said that the core of my system consists of my laptop and my USB audio interface.
I was one of the fools who always thought that the more money you spend on your audio system, the better it sounds. It is actually a fact but for different specific needs of end-users, one must note that it’s all up to how you set it up. So do not always expect a perfectly working system without right tweaks.
My Poor Laptop
I have an Asus F3JC which was bought in late 2006. It came with a 100 GB hard drive and 1 GB RAM, it also has Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 @ 1.83 GHz processor. As I mentioned in my first post, I was going to buy a new and a much modern laptop but after I did a quick research, I completely changed my mind and aimed to get the most out of this machine.
Eventually, I bought an OCZ Vector 128 GB SSD along with 3 (1+2) GBs of RAM. I use Windows 7 32 bit, so I was a bit concerned about doing these upgrades as my laptop was quite outdated. It’s actually recommended to connect your SSDs via SATA3, however, my laptop had just SATA! Even though these upgrades are not able to perform their capabilities at maximum, it still made a huge difference. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I just double clicked and launched a software. It was so snappy! In addition, booting and shutting down times were lowered down to seconds rather than minutes!
After that, I got myself an RME Babyface USB 2.0 audio interface, I was going to go for a cheaper interface but I eventually wanted to invest the maximum amount of money for the core of my system. The installation was so clean and quick!
As it is shown on this screenshot, I am able to get around a total of 8.4 ms @ 128 samples. It’s the same amount of latency I used to get with my M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 but as far as I can remember, sample sizes were much lower which caused a lot of trouble for direct monitoring.
I immediately started using my audio interface but there was something wrong! In Cubase, CPU meter was indicating (pointed with a huge yellow arrow!) peaks occurring as a red colour on its top part. It was rather random and annoying. In addition, I wasn’t able to record a guitar channel without a glitch or a crackling noise.
So I decided to look for a solution. What I found out it that I needed to use some software to test my system to see if it’s capable of audio production. I came across Native Instruments’ website while I was looking for information on how to optimize Windows 7 for audio production. This page has quite valuable information on this particular subject.
I downloaded that software mentioned on that page. You can also download these here via these links. DPC Latency Checker & LatencyMon.
First, I used DPC Latency Checker and surprisingly it just produced a couple of red spikes because I was expecting a graph with full of red spikes at that rate of audio drop-outs occurring.
This screenshot shows the final result actually and I think it’s supposed to be that way. Imagine the red spikes yourself now! 🙂
If you encounter any red spikes, you should go and download LatencyMon as I did. LatencyMon gives you a detailed analysis on the drivers/factors negatively affecting your system’s audio performance.
Here is a screenshot from the software itself running. It tells you which drivers have the highest execution time. According to NI’s website, if any of these drivers’ “highest execution time” is greater than 1, then you have a problem with them. This screenshot again shows the end result.
I also had another annoying problem. I was getting annoying crackling noises while I was using a web browser (believe me, I have tried everything), it was actually occurring when I was hovering over links with my mouse pointer. Also when I was watching a video and scrolling the page, the same thing would happen.
What I have done so far!
First, I tried to figure out which drivers are related to which part of my system. Then I followed another guide by Tim Carter here and did tweak everything according to his recommendations. I strongly suggest you go and have a look at that web page if you’re looking for a solution.
Although I did everything he said, I’d still have the same problem. So it kinda made me feel a bit hopeless on this issue. I even thought that I should have spent that money for a new laptop rather than an SSD and RAM upgrade. But then while I was looking for a solution, I discovered Black Viper’s website which is full of Windows tweaks. I decided to lower the overall load on my system, therefore I followed his guide and disabled most of the services he mentioned. Again, it’s highly recommended!
Try to read the instructions carefully and never modify anything if you don’t know what you’re doing!
I know what you’re expecting but no! I was still having the same problem! So I started looking for another solution. As many out there who has ever tried to optimize their system for audio production have possibly read a couple of different guides for the process. I even remember disabling your graphics card’s driver! I know it sounds too much for people who would like/have to use a single PC/laptop for both audio production and daily use. I am no different, I can only afford one at this time. So I tried the final solution, I disabled my NVidia GeForce Go 7300 graphics card. I wasn’t expecting this solution would work but hey! Voila! I finally had a system which never produces red spikes and any red signal in Cubase indicating the drop-outs. It was a bit difficult to accept the shitty view of my LCD screen but I think I’m getting used to it.
Here is the final result! With graphics card driver, a lot of services and Wi-Fi disabled, I am able to have a total of 5.5 ms latency @ 64 samples. I even tried going down to 48 samples but it didn’t make a huge difference like it did by going from 128 to 64. And the best part is I have no crackles or audio drop-outs!
What I Have Learnt So Far!
I think one should definitely note that even if you own a modern laptop unlike what I have, there’s always a risk of having an improper set-up system without noticing it. I was actually going to give up and accept my system’s limitations, but while I was researching the topic, I came across many people with similar problems who have much more powerful and more modern computers. It clearly shows that it’s not just your computer but it’s also how you set it up.
I strongly recommend you follow those guides mentioned above as I have gained so much information from them. If you’re like me and want to use your computer as a guitar amp, you have to make sure everything except your audio stuff has to be set to minimum or disabled. Then while you’re testing the results, try disabling your Wi-Fi drivers, your anti-virus software and even your graphics card drivers!
I hope you’ll get the most out of your current system, enjoy!