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Microphone Month

PC Optimization Guide for Windows XP Desktops & Laptops

If you are doing recording, or planning to do recording, on your PC this should be very helpful. These tips and tricks have been tested out and have proved successful on many occasions. If you follow this document to a “T”, you will have your system in true optimum performance. They are listed in descending importance.

1. It is recommended for all Windows XP machines to change your pro audio card’s buffer size to approximately 128 in its control panel. Typical defaults are 512 and 1024. Check your audio equipment’s manual for where this setting is. There is a very desirable side effect of this as well – it drastically lowers latency in the audio system. If you are using Cakewalk Sonar without ASIO drivers (version 2.1 and below), you’ll want to re-run the Wave Profiler after this step. – Always use ASIO drivers if your application and sound card support it. In most instances, it will improve latency and stability. – Pro Tools may require a buffer size of 256 or 512.

2. Make sure you don’t have ANY IRQ conflicts of any sort with your audio/MIDI card (Windows will not always tell you if you do). Do the following: – Right-Click MY COMPUTER, select PROPERTIES. – Select the HARDWARE tab, and DEVICE MANAGER. – Go to VIEW, select RESOURCES BY CONNECTION, expand INTERRUPT REQUEST. – This will show you a complete list of all the IRQs in use. If you see more than 2 devices on the same number as your audio card, you might have an IRQ conflict. – Any device can, without problem, share with IRQ holder for PCI steering, or ACPI IRQ holder for PCI IRQ steering. Some other devices that will not usually cause problems are System Management Bus or SMBus, and SCI IRQ used by ACPI Bus.

Devices to watch out for (especially when they’re sharing the sound card’s IRQ) are: – Other sound cards – SCSI controllers – USB controllers – Network cards – Video cards

If you have a conflict and you want to fix it, the best way to move the IRQs around is to move the card in question to another PCI slot. This may mean trying 2,3, or even 4 different slots. You may need to move another card to a different slot to allow the audio card to use that PCI slot. All unused PCI cards should be PHYSICALLY REMOVED (or built-in devices should be disabled from BIOS), not just disabled in Windows, as this does not always truly free up the resource. Remember to power down your system before changing hardware; you should NEVER install or remove hardware while the computer is powered ON, except for USB and Firewire devices (or PCMCIA Cardbus devices on laptops).

Some BIOS manufacturers may allow you to assign a specific IRQ to a PCI slot (from within the BIOS under PCI configuration – see below), but you should try to avoid IRQ 9 because it is cascaded to IRQ 2. It will allow you to assign PCI slot 2, for example, to IRQ 5. Usually, Windows XP will override any of these BIOS assignments.

Some more tricks for freeing up IRQs are to disable one or more COM (serial) ports, printer ports and USB (if you’re not using them), or on-board audio (Sometimes called AC97 or Legacy Audio) from within the BIOS (see below). You must check with your motherboard/computer manufacturer to find the correct way to do this. Disabling devices within the BIOS will remove them from the system, and possibly allow a device or two to jump to a free IRQ, reducing the amount of troubleshooting you must do.

To get into your computer’s BIOS, you’ll need to reboot (or turn on) the machine. Immediately when you see the boot up logo or memory/hard drive check, press the appropriate key (which varies from computer to computer – check your computer’s documentation if you’re unsure) until it enters the setup. This will be before Windows boots, and typically it only waits for 1-2 seconds for you to press the key. The most likely keys are DEL, F1, and F2, but could also be any of the F-keys (you can usually press multiple keys at the same time if you’re unsure.) Within the BIOS, you should select Integrated Perhiperals. If you don’t see this option, try Advanced, and within this menu, look for I/O Configuration, Perhiperal Configuration, or something of the like- it varies from system to system. This is where you’ll see the options to enable/disable hardware. This is also where you’ll change the parallel port mode if you are using a parallel port midi interface. Then follow on-screen instructions on how to exit and save changes.

Another option within the BIOS, which may be under almost any menu, again depending on the computer, is PLUG AND PLAY BIOS or INSTALLED OS. This will have two choices, one being Windows, and one being non-Windows (the wording may be different.) This setting determines whether the BIOS or Windows will control resources. You may want to try switching the option to the other choice. If it doesn’t work as well, it can always be changed back. Many computers do not have this option.

If you’re using a USB device (either audio or midi interface), you’ll want to have the USB on its own IRQ. Most new computers actually have 2 to 5 USB devices: One pair (or more) on the back and one which is either connected to the front or not connected at all. Resolving IRQ sharing with USB is more difficult because there is no way to control which IRQ it uses, so usually you must move devices off of the USB IRQ by moving or removing the PCI card in conflict. Also, if you can avoid it, don’t use any other USB device on that pair of USB ports. This will decrease the bandwidth for your audio/midi device and possibly create conflicts. Especially avoid hubs and high-bandwidth items like modems, ethernet controllers, hard drives or cd-rom drives, printers, and scanners.

If you’re using a Firewire audio device, you’ll want to have the Firewire IEEE 1394 controller on its own IRQ just like it is your sound card. All firewire ports on a card share the same resources, so it shouldn’t make a difference where they are plugged in unless there is a physical problem with the card.

3. Also, while in Device Manager, you may want to check for multiple driver installations. Go to Start – Run, and type CMD and click OK. Type exactly: – set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 – start devmgmt.msc

(The latter command actually launches your device manager- you can use this elsewhere or make a shortcut to this file if you desire.) Go to View – Show Hidden Devices. Don’t worry- you’ll see alot of other devices which you didn’t see before- this is normal. For instance, if you have a network card, it may now show as 5-10 devices, these are background pieces of it required for normal operation. The same goes for Sound, Video, and Game Controllers- there will be 6-12 new devices, mostly Microsoft devices. Do not remove these, they are required for Windows use. You can now see if you have 2 or 3 (or more) of the exact same device driver installed of your audio/midi interface (unused devices show as a light-grey color). If you do, right-click on the extra devices, and click Uninstall. Reboot after removing the extra devices, and go back and check again. You may need to remove all of a particular device to get the driver installed just once. This step is typically not needed, but in some cases where you have gone through driver installation several times, it is worth checking.

4. LAPTOPS: Laptops often are a special case for troubleshooting hardware conflicts because of the inability to move hardware to different slots. If your laptop does not exhibit IRQ sharing, start with disabling hardware you don’t use (like a modem if you use ethernet, firewire if you’re not using it, etc.) If your laptop has all devices sharing IRQ11, you’ll likely need to disable all non-critical devices and add them back one at a time. The best way to disable devices is to disconnect them from your computer, and for built-in devices to disable them in the BIOS (see above for how to get into the BIOS). However, most laptops do not have the option to disable all devices in the BIOS, so you may need to disable the devices in Windows Device Manager (see above again). If this is the only way to disable the devices on your laptop, it will usually work fine.

You will always see a Cardbus or PCMCIA controller in your device manager. This is the PC card slot(s) on the side of your computer and is not necessary unless you are using it. Although it does not take much in the way of resources, it’s best to disable it if you’re not using them. With most laptops today, everything is built-in and these slots are not in high demand.

4-pin vs. 6-pin Firewire – what’s the difference? The 4-pin Firewire connector on your laptop is compatable with standard 6-pin devices as long as 1) you have a cable to convert between 4-pin and 6-pin 2) your Firewire device does not draw its power from the Firewire bus. The 4-pin Firewire connector does not provide power to the Firewire bus like the 6-pin does. Most Firewire devices have external power supplies and this will not cause any problems.

5. Some other BIOS settings to try: With many new features appearing on current motherboards, you should disable these and then re-enable them one-at-a-time to find out if they are causing a problem. You may not have all or any of these options. – Hyperthreading – Pentium 4s of 2.4gHz and higher only – SATA (serial ATA) – on many motherboards – Intel built-in ethernet – Only on Intel boards, known to sometimes cause problems – IDE or SATA RAID – on many motherboards

6. Multimedia Settings. ** Very important for SONAR & PRO TOOLS ** (This step should not be done if you use CoolSchool and have no other audio card in your system.) – Go to START MENU, SETTINGS, CONTROL PANEL, SOUNDS & AUDIO DEVICES. – Select the SOUNDS tab, select No Sounds and answer NO to “Save current scheme?” – Select HARDWARE tab, select your pro audio card wave driver & hit PROPERTIES. – Go to the PROPERTIES tab, expand the device, double-click the newly listed device and checkmark the box “DO NOT MAP THROUGH THIS DEVICE” and hit OK. – This will disallow Windows from using your audio card while you’re in a recording program. If you have a Soundblaster-compatable card still installed, Windows will now use it for Windows sounds.

7. Check for Windows XP Service Pack 1. – Right-click on MY COMPUTER, select PROPERTIES. – This will display Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition and on the 2nd line, Service Pack 1 if you have it. – If you do not have it, we recommend you download it at http://www.microsoft.com. This download is 133mb, so we recommend finding a high-speed internet connection and a cd burner for this task, or you can order a CD from Microsoft. Download the 32-bit version, not the 64-bit version. It’s best to get the Network install, which contains all of the updates in a single file for burning to CD. The Express install performs the same task, but downloads the data as needed throughout the update and therefore cannot be saved for future use.

8. Disable Virtual Memory, Visual Effects, System Restore, Auto Updates, Remote Control, and Error Reporting. – Right-click MY COMPUTER, select PROPERTIES. – Click the ADVANCED tab, click ERROR REPORTING (at the bottom). – Checkmark DISABLE ERROR REPORTING and hit OK. – Under Performance, click SETTINGS. – Select ADJUST FOR BEST PERFORMANCE. – Click the ADVANCED tab, under Processor Scheduling, select Background Services. – Under Virtual Memory, click CHANGE. – Select each drive letter shown, and select NO PAGING FILE and press SET. – Hit OK twice. – Click the SYSTEM RESTORE tab, and checkmark the DISABLE SYSTEM RESTORE. – Click the AUTOMATIC UPDATES tab, and uncheck Keep My Computer Up to date. – Click the REMOTE tab, and uncheck both boxes that say Allow (this may already be done). – Hit OK and reboot.

9. Make sure no extra programs are started up when you launch Windows. – Go to your START MENU, RUN, type MSCONFIG and hit OK. – Select STARTUP tab, and deselect everything. – If there is a question about an item, disable it. You can always re-enable it simply by checking the box in the future and rebooting. – Some programs NOT to disable: MMERefresh if you have Pro Tools or MSG32 if you have Gigastudio.

10. Check your sound hardware/software manufacturers’ websites for updates. Many times an updated driver is the simple solution for an error. Be aware of beta (not fully tested) drivers and updates.

11. Motherboard chipsets – VIA and INTEL The chipset on your motherboard can be as important as the actual processor because all the data to and from the processor goes through this chipset. Intel chips are recommended because of their dependability.

If you’re unsure which chipset your motherboard has, you can go into Device Manager and open System Devices, and look for your CPU-to-AGP or CPU-to-PCI bridge. The brand name of this device (Intel, AMD, VIA, SIS, ALI, or nVIDEA) will tell you what type of motherboard you have.

If you have a VIA chipset on your motherboard (VIA makes chipsets for both Athalon and Intel PIII/P4/Celeron systems), you should download the 4-in-1 drivers which include updates for Windows at http://www.viatech.com/.

If you have an INTEL chipset (we recommended that you use Intel for best performance and compatability), you may want to update the chipset drivers for Windows. Go to Intel.com, Support & Downloads, Chipsets, Chipset software, and download and install the Intel Application Accelerator and Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility. Select your version of Windows and download these to a new folder (recommended). The updates will only install if needed and if they are compatible with your motherboard. This will update the Windows access to the features of the motherboard.

12. Parallel port midi interfaces If you have a MOTU parallel port MIDI interface, you should consult Tech Support Knowledge Database article #25693

13. Hard drive DMA. Direct Memory Addressing, or DMA, allows a device to access your RAM directly without taking CPU recources. For hard drives, this will greatly increase disk throughput and reduce CPU load, and usually causes a very noticable increase in overall system speed.

Most Windows XP systems will have this enabled and working by default, but it is worth checking to achieve maximum performance. – Right-Click MY COMPUTER, select PROPERTIES. – Select the HARDWARE tab, and DEVICE MANAGER and look for IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers and double-click on Primary IDE channel, select Advanced Settings. – Check your Transfer Mode, it should say DMA if available. – Current Transfer Mode Setting should say DMA and then some mode number, higher numbers indicate faster transfer speed. – If you see PIO mode in the Current Transfer Mode but you have DMA if available selected, you likely have a cabling problem with your hard drives. Some possible cures are (and you may have to consult your local computer guru): changing from Cable Select to Master/Slave designation, moving your hard drives to different cables, or even cable replacement. In a newer system (PIII or greater), you should have the ATA-66 cable, which has twice as many conductors as a standard ATA or IDE cable. – This will ensure the fastest possible DMA speed your hard drive and hard drive controller support. Generally, the newer your system and hard drive are, the faster DMA mode it will support.

14. If you use Internet Explorer, limit the cache size In Internet Explorer, go to Tools – Internet Options – General – Temporary Internet Files Settings, and reduce the Amount of Disk Space to Use to 1MB. This will reduce Internet Explorer’s saving of past web pages from 10% of your drive (this default option can be huge if you have a large hard drive!). It will save disk space and drastically reduce the number of files on your hard drive.

15. Antivirus software Make sure NEVER to run antivirus software while using pro-audio applications as it can drastically reduce performance. Also, disable Antivirus software during installation of software, it can keep the program from installing properly. You can and probably should typically launch the AV software if you go on the internet.

16. Services * For Advanced Users ONLY * Typically, a Windows XP machine will have anywhere from 10-25 services (background programs) running. While some of these are needed for Windows, some are not. This step is for advanced users but typically no harm will come to the computer from disabling services, but functionality may be compromised. It’s best to know a little about what each service does before disabling it.

To get to the services, go to Start – Run and type Services.msc and click OK. Expand the window to full-screen to make it more readable. You may want to click on the column header Status once or twice to list services first that are ‘Started’ (running). These are usually the services to consider for disabling. Double-click any in question and choose Disable. You can usually start or stop a service on-the-fly without restarting. A few services cannot be disabled and will tell you so. You may wish to keep a record of which services you disable just in case you find later that you have disabled something you need. For example, to do any Windows updates, there are several services which need to be running, and doing updates will simply fail without giving a reason why. So if any programs simply don’t seem to work correctly after disabling services, you should look at what has been disabled.

These settings have been tried and tested, and are known to solve most problems. Some more tips are to: – Limit the number of programs installed on your computer. If at all possible, limit use of this computer to audio. Themes, screen savers, internet games can take valuable resources away from your computer and also can contain viruses. Go to the Control Panel – Add/Remove Programs and remove any programs not necessary. This will keep things running more smoothly. – Windows XP recommends 256mb of RAM or higher to run properly, most audio applications prefer 512mb or more if you’re using softsynths. – Defrag your hard drives regularly (depending on use) – We recommend purchasing a system utility to do this such as Norton Utilities because it is faster and does a better job. – Use a separate hard drive for audio (7200 rpm minimum) – Make sure if you’re recording FROM a digital source to your computer, you have word clock on the audio card set to external, sp/dif, ADAT, TDIF, Word clock, or whatever source from where you are recording. – Always remember to BACKUP, even if it is only onto another hard drive in the system.

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