Definitive Guide to Windows Tweaking for Audio

Posted by on Aug 21, 2008 in Tips/Tutorials, Top Articles | 25 Comments

Microsoft Windows XP is still the number one choice of operating system for DAWs on PC. Yes, it’s worse than Linux (if only we had Pro Tools for Linux), but better than Vista in the part of not being a total memory and CPU hog (you know, kinda like OS X Leopard is now). But unlike Mac OS X, Windows is not about having big Fisher-Price icons and the hopes that things will “just work”, or not work at all.
Windows XP is less black & white, and needs work before audio projects can call it a home. But here are some performance tips for all the Windows XP DAW users. Use this article as a reference.


1. Set Processor scheduling to Background Services.

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance Settings > Advanced Tab > select “Background Services”

This can make a significant difference on how low your samples per buffer (latency) go.
It basically switches from faster and shorter CPU time slices (Applications), to less frequent and longer slices (Background services). This allows the audio drivers to hold the CPU for longer without interruption.

PS: This setting also reduces the amount of priority boost that foreground window threads receive (when you click a window, that application is usually supposed to have more priority than all other programs running).

Recently, I have read discussions about this.Β  There are reports of people who noticed a huge performance boost when the Pro Tools process (foreground) has more priority in the system.Β  So switch between Programs and Background Services to decide which one is best for you.Β  Latency is more of an issue when tracking – when you’re mixing, you want Pro Tools to be prioritized by the CPU.
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2. Set Memory usage to System cache.

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance Settings > Advanced Tab > select “System cache”

This is important for regular data streaming, such as audio data.

UPDATE: Setting Memory usage to System cache has caused unexpected problems in some systems. Although this is very rare, Digidesign coincidentally stopped recommending it, as it doesn’t seem to render a big performance boost for DAWs – if any. Therefore, try it at your own risk, but it’s very likely you won’t notice any difference, so you can just leave it set to Programs.
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3. Turn off some visual effects.

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance, Settings > Visual Effects Tab

I like to use the custom settings to deactivate everything except:

[v] Smooth edges of screen fonts
[v] Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop
[v] Use visual styles on windows and buttons

Everything else, I leave unchecked. Of course – if you don’t mind setting “adjust for best performance” that’s even better, performance wise!

The reason why I don’t do it is, I believe that as artists, we all need to have some kind of visual stimulus while working. I don’t believe in a fugly Pro Tools/Cubase/Sonar/Audition window with pixelated screen fonts while working with music on Windows XP. Mac users can’t even deactivate the eye candy, and they look pretty inspired to me. So let’s not lose all the dignity, PC people.

For a professional audio system, this eye candy does use additional CPU cycles – and if you have a very weak PC (not very common nowadays) they might make a difference between constant audio glitches and a barely passing audio stream.

In the same way, you can choose to disable the Background image altogether (and the Screen Saver if you’re getting extremely paranoid) – but then again, not having an ugly workspace is sometimes more important than you might think.
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4. Disable Fast User Switching

Start > Settings > Control Panel > User Accounts > Change the way users log on or off > Uncheck Use Fast User Switching, click Apply Options

For a corporate or home PC, this can be a nice feature. For a DAW, not at all.
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5. Turn Off Power Schemes

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Power Options > Always On > “Turn off monitor” and “turn off hard discs” to Never

Avoids several problems with power management and devices turning on and off – something that doesn’t go well with audio.

UPDATE: In some laptop brands, like Toshiba, persistent audio dropouts have been fixed by setting power schemes to a lower setting, as the dropouts were being caused by excessive power fed to the CPU. It would “shake off” that extra power by boosting processing randomly, causing audible glitches.
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6. Turn Off Hibernation

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Power Options > Hibernate > Uncheck Hibernation

Hibernation is the Windows XP process of storing the contents of RAM in a file before going into standby. Besides the fact that usually DAWs don’t go well with Hibernation, disabling it will immediately free up space on your disc.
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7. Disable System Sounds

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Sounds and Audio Devices > Sounds Tab > Sound Scheme to None.

When asked to save current theme, just say no…

System sounds could interfere with your sound card and sample frequency settings. Some XP sounds are sampled at 20khz, and if they are triggered during track playback or recording, Houston we have a problem. And they’re annoying anyway…
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8. Enable Do Not Map Through Soundcard

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Sounds and Audio Devices > Hardware Tab > (select your soundcard in the list) > Properties > Audio Devices > (select your soundcard in the list) > Properties, and check the “Do not map through this device” check box.

Applications may still attempt to play audio through your non-consumer soundcard, so you should enable this.
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9. Disable System Restore – Use regular backups instead

Start > Settings > Control Panel> System > System Restore Tab. Tick the “Turn off System Restore on all Drives”

System Restore requires monitoring of hard disc activity, which runs in the background once in a while, creating (barely) some hard drive reading and writing activity and minimal CPU usage, when it does.

If you believe your Windows life depends on this feature, and it’s not creating problems for you, it’s OK to leave it enabled. This tip is here is assuming that System Restore doesn’t work perfectly sometimes, and that you have other ways to backup things.

If you decide to leave it on, enable it only on the system drive (where Windows is installed) and set the frequency for daily checkpoints only. To do this, go to Start > Run > type “regedit” (no quotes) and hit OK.

Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionSystemRestore

Find the DWORD called RPGlobalInterval, double click it and make sure the Decimal value is 86400 (number of seconds in a day). Close Regedit and reboot to make changes.

But remember, any experienced user will tell you the best way to avoid stress in times of crisis (computer and data crisis) is to backup often.
– Windows XP has a good backup utility ( Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Backup ).
– In addition to that, you might want to keep backups of image files of the boot drive (XP partition). Commercial tools like Acronis True Image are available for this, as well as a free option for home users, DriveImage XML.

If you’re using Windows XP on Boot Camp (with an Apple/Intel computer), you can do it from OS X with a free (donation-ware) application called Winclone.
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10. Disable Automatic Updates

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Automatic Updates
and checking the box labeled “Turn off automatic updating. I want to update my computer manually.”

Why? because it saves CPU. You should be doing updates manually. Don’t trust Microsoft on this.
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11. Startup and Recovery Options

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Start Up & Recovery > Settings and uncheck “Automatically Restart”.

Everytime the computer crashes you will now see the old style “blue screen of death” instead of rebooting without warning. This way, you can take a look at what file is causing the problem, and note down the error codes.
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12. Disable Error Reporting

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Error Reporting > Check Disable Error Reporting (but leave “But Notify Me When Critical Errors Occur” on).

Makes things more convenient and slightly less annoying when errors occur. And they might occur – you have a DAW. Anything is possible.
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13. Disable Remote Assistance

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Remote > Uncheck “Allow Remote Assistance Invitations to be sent from this computer”

Disabling this is more important for network security than anything else.
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14. Configure the Swap File (Virtual Memory)

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance > Settings > Advanced > Virtual memory > Change

Nowadays, the average DAW computer has at least 2 GB of RAM, so this is not as crucial for performance as it used to. But it’s still something to look into.
Assuming you have at least 1 GB of RAM, select Custom size, and make the Initial size no less than the amount of RAM you have installed. For the Maximum size, make it about twice, just to be safe, or as much as your hard drive can take (if it’s less than twice). Then, hit Set, and OK, and follow the instructions.

Example:
For 1480 MB of RAM:
Initial size (MB): 1500
Maximum size (MB): 3000

Windows is also prepared to do RAID striping of 2 paging files. That is, if you have an extra hard drive besides the system drive (in a separate IDE channel), preferably with a partition that you can dedicate to the swap file, you can go ahead and set a second page file in that hard drive’s partition, with the same exact initial and maximum sizes. Windows will read and write the data twice as fast, because it will do it in parallel, with 2 hard drive heads in 2 platters. Specially if you have less than 2 GB of RAM and frequent access to the virtual memory, that should speed up your system considerably.

Theoretically, it is better to set this up just after installation since the file will be near the start of the disc, non-fragmented in one contiguous block.
You should never disable the paging file completely – this causes incompatibility problems with sensitive applications and Windows itself.
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15. Disable Offline Files

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Folder Options > Offline Files > Uncheck “Enable Offline Files”

You probably won’t need this functionality, and it may slow down file browsing.
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16. Disable Remote Desktop

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Remote > Uncheck “Allow users to connect remotely to this computer”

Disabling this is more important for network security than anything else.
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17. Disable Internet Synchronize Time

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Date and Time > Internet Time > Uncheck “Automatically synchronize with an internet time server”

Disable this so the service won’t be running. Once in a while, to set the clock, activate it and click Update Now. Once the time is synchronized with the server again, go back to disabling it.
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18. Disable Hide Inactive Icons

Start > Settings > Taskbar and Start Menu > Taskbar TAB > Uncheck “Hide Inactive Icons”

This allows you to see exactly what’s running on the taskbar at all times. If you see any unnecessary program, close it to save system resources.
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19. Disable Automatic Desktop Cleanup Wizard

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Display > Desktop > Customise Desktop > Uncheck “Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days”

Again, scheduled tasks are always a no-no, and this was probably never really useful to anyone.
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20. Disable NTFS Last Access Time Logging

Start > Run > regedit

Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlFileSystem
Add a new DWORD value – “NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate” (without quotes) and set the value to 1. Then reboot to make changes effective.

If you’re running all your drives with NTFS file system instead of FAT32, as you should (even if you have Apple Boot Camp on a Mac), this is a somewhat important performance fix. It will supposedly make Windows disk transfers free of the responsibilities of updating last access time in the file system.
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21. Disable CD-ROM Autoplay

Method 1
– Start > Run > regedit
– navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESystemCurrentControlSetServicesCdrom
– Set Autorun to 0.

Method 2
– Open My Computer / Windows Explorer
– Right Click on each CD-ROM and choose Properties
– Click on the Auto Play tab
– In the drop down box you can choose the Action for each choice shown

Method 3
– Start > Run > gpedit.msc
– Computer Config > Administrative Templates > System
– Double click Turn off Autoplay
– Enable it.

In Windows 98(SE), disabling CD-ROM autoplay had a constant impact on performance. This no longer happens in XP, but the system will still freeze for a second while a CD is inserted. This will at least make it less annoying, without possible popups/installations started because of the CD.
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22. Disable Disk Indexing

Right click on each drive in My Computer > Properties > Uncheck “Allow Indexing Service to index this disk…” > “Apply changes to X:, subfolders and files” > OK

Click Ignore All if you get an error message saying it can’t change certain files.

Also, go to Start > Run > type services.msc , hit OK > Navigate to Indexing Service in the list > Right click on it, Properties > Startup type: Disabled > OK

To make these changes you need Administrator privileges.
The Indexing Service uses a document filter to read through a document and extract text and properties to pass to the indexer (used in Search and others). When you have several hard drives and/or partitions, this can take a constant hit on system performance.
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23. Defragment your hard drives at least weekly

Except for the audio drive (the one with the audio multitrack sessions – for which you should instead copy the files to another drive, erase it and copy the files back again), you should keep your drives defragmented.Β  We strongly recommend the free Piriform Defraggler, but you can also use:

– The Windows XP defragmenter (Right click on drive > Properties > Tools > Defragment Now…)
– A commercial defragmenter (Raxco PerfectDisk, Diskeeper)
– Another free defragmenter (JKDefrag)
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24. Disable useless devices in Device Manager

Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Hardware > Device Manager > Right click on useless devices > Disable > Yes

Some devices use up resources constantly, or even worse, interfere with data streaming when you most need it. Laptops are specially problematic, because Windows ACPI (Advanced Power Configuration Interface) still can’t manage most laptop batteries properly. So to run Pro Tools I always have to disable all the batteries and adapters listed in Batteries.

Besides that, I have disabled IR receivers, wireless cards and the trackpad (since I always use mouse). Proceed with caution – only disable batteries and what you know you will not use (or that will cause problems).
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25. Uninstall useless Programs

Start > Settings > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs

Despite all the cleanups, standard maintenance can make a noticeable difference. Remove all the programs you haven’t used for several months.
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26. Perform Disk Cleanup at least weekly

Right click on the drive where you installed Windows > Properties > Disk Cleanup

Check everything in the list except “Compress old files” and “Catalog files for the Content Indexer” (Assuming you also want to delete what’s in the Recycle Bin) and hit OK > Yes.
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27. Disable useless Startup items in System Configuration Utility

Start > Run > type “msconfig” (no quotes) > OK > Startup tab

Here you will see all (or most of) the items starting up with windows. This is where a lot of the little programs and extra services and malware come to feed. Disable whatever is not needed by unchecking the items. You do need some knowledge about what you have installed, but nothing is system critical here – when Windows is installed and still clean, it has Zero items on Startup.

After unchecking all you want, hit OK, restart, and when Windows boots up, click “Don’t show me changes in startup” or whatever’s similar. Done!

For example: Since I have Pro Tools, iTunes, Adobe Photoshop and I do use Boot Camp’s Bluetooth drivers for my cell phone (while using Input Remapper instead of Apple’s keyboard drivers), it is acceptable for me to have 3 Startup items:

[v] Bluetooth Authentication Agent (rundll32)
[v] MMERefresh (Digidesign)
[v] iTunesHelper (Probably I should disable it, but I had weird problems before after disabling it)

Everything else is disabled! And I have no problems.
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28. Disable useless services

This is a more advanced tip, so do it with caution. If you’re not a pretty knowledgeable user, don’t even try.

This site has further information on disabling services that your particular system is probably not using.
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If you can think of any additional tips, post a suggestion and it will be considered for this list.

These tips are frequently gathered and corrected by further investigation, suggestions, new information sources and articles by respectable and knowledgeable people on this matter. If you decide to trust anyone online, you should probably trust us first. They should pose no threat to your system (but in the unlikely case you made a mistake while editing registry entries and you didn’t do a backup, we obviously can’t be held responsible for any failures resulting from that.)

25 Comments

  1. ProToolerBlog → Post » Definite guide to Windows XP tweaking for audio
    August 22, 2008

    […] Are you still on Windows XP? Moozek has “the definite guide to Windows XP tweaking for audio”. […]

    Reply
  2. paul churchill
    August 23, 2008

    cheers

    Reply
  3. steve
    August 30, 2008

    Great site!
    One thing I would suggest is turn off “Show Window Contents While Draging” because it’s really useless (I think?) and it does suck cycles on systems with slower CPU and video card.

    Great job!

    Reply
  4. Jonathan Grand
    August 31, 2008

    Thanks! cool πŸ™‚
    Yeah it’s kind of useless, it might only be important to people who got used to it from Mac OS. Nowadays most people have a powerful enough computer to do that without performance loss, but you never know!

    Reply
  5. Jon Thornton
    October 31, 2008

    I ran Sonar for years under XP at default settings, with 512 RAM and a 1 gig AMD Duron CPU. It always worked fine for my limited projects (4 tracks or less with few effects. and so I never really put it to the test.

    However, as soon as I started using Alien Connections Revalver guitar amp simulator I could only run two tracks, and would get ocasional “Drop Outs” Which I never got before. So I followed most of the tweaks on this page – It allowed me to run 5 tracks in addition to the Revalver track! I couldn’t believe the difference, at least a 30% boost in performance.

    Reply
  6. Jonathan Grand
    November 7, 2008

    Hey Jon! Glad this was a helpful guide to you πŸ™‚

    Reply
  7. Eugene
    November 30, 2008

    Hi Jonathan,

    just wanted to thank you for these instructions! I have to say you saved my life with this (literally). I thought myself reasonably savvy when it comes to DAW tweaking, but in so far I have constantly had the famed “Steinberg spike” when using Cubase (the CPU jumps to 100% every now and then for no apparent reason) which I never had with Pro Tools (so I was even considering joining the dark side permenantly). I have just upgraded to Cubase 4 2 days ago and was hoping the issue would be resolved, but no joy there. Then I stumbled upon this link at SOS and went through it step by step. Don’t know what’s done it, but now I can run my fairly heavy projects at 2ms latency (never possible before) at steady 30% CPU. Can’t express the feeling in words after month of mind numbing unexplained glitches, it’s like… like… like loosing virginity (pardon my french). haha.

    Thank you so much.

    Reply
  8. Tone
    February 7, 2009

    Hi there nice work, shame doesnt work for me tho πŸ™ Built new quad system, cubase le 4 glitching & audio dropouts, especially when I minimise it and move windows around. It doesnt happen in Vista though, but vista uses too much memory. Q9300 2.5GHz, 2 GIG Kinston dual channel 800MHz, Intel DP35DP Mobo 1333 MHz FSB, Geforce 8500GT 256 MB Running dual monitors, 2 Seagate Sata II’s with NCQ AHCI mode, and a EMU 1820M. I thought this new setup would sort me out, I’m not impressed so far πŸ™

    Reply
  9. Jonathan Grand
    February 7, 2009

    Hey Tone:

    I’m surprised. Cubase never gives a lot of problems, specially not with EMU cards and a system with those specs and an Intel motherboard. There must be something very wrong… or you missed something basic and important.

    Glitching and audio dropouts? That is really not normal at all. Have you contacted Steinberg customer support? Maybe they have some other ideas. You didn’t give me a lot of information so for now that’s all the advice I can give πŸ™‚

    Wait… have you tried the Microsoft Windows Dual Core hotfix?… Just throwing it out there … It’s a very important patch.

    Reply
  10. Tone
    February 18, 2009

    Hi there, I’ve tried lots of things, if i’ve missed something basic that would be great if I could find it hehe. I dont know what other information to give really. All I know is I dont get these problems with Vista. I installed Xp64 Bit too and didnt get no problems, but I dont know if its would work properley with my 32 bit plugins. I’ve noticed if I raise the latency above 20 ms on my Emu it doesnt happen, but thats far too high to work with. Steinberg wont give me support with it because I had it with a USB interface for my laptop, and said to contact the supplier of the interface. But I know they will say they can only give me support if I’m using their product. I really think its something to do with my graphics card, I uninstalled the drivers and reinstalled ones from Asus(I think they exactly the same) and its made it worse. This also happened though when I updated the storage drivers from intel, Even going back to the old ones wouldnt fix after. Right now Cubase is playing but has locked. It took me to click on task manager to make it come back to life :S I just feel like smashing it to bits LOL. I’d say i’m not a novice when it comes to PC’s but this has got me stumbled. Been searching for answers every day, even steinberg hasnt got them in their knowledge base. This is happneing with no plugins installed so I know its nothing to with those, I’ve just done a reboot and turned off S.M.A.R.T. in the BIOS to see if that would help, I dont know if it has but cubase is better after the reeboot bu tthe problem still slightly there. I’m just wondering if it will get worse when I reinstall my plugins and theres some pressure on my CPU. I’m wondering if theres anywhere I could take it to get the problem sorted but have a feeling it would be costly. If anyone could think of something I would be gratefull to try everything out.

    Thanks, Tone.

    Reply
  11. Jonathan Grand
    February 18, 2009

    Did you read this part? I posted it later:

    “Wait… have you tried the Microsoft Windows Dual Core hotfix?… Just throwing it out there … It’s a very important patch.”

    If you don’t have the problem in Vista, then it really could be this problem! Look it up

    If you try that and it doesn’t work, then follow your intuition. Try to do something about the graphics card… πŸ™‚

    But seriously – I had those symptoms before, and the hotfix was the problem. YOu can’t have audio in XP on a dual core PC without that patch!

    Reply
  12. Tone
    February 18, 2009

    Hi, yes I tried that, and it did’nt make a difference for me. The Xp I have installed now has SP3 so it didnt need the hotfix. What I’m gonna try is taking out my graphics card and trying the on board one. Its just frustrating as Vista 32 is runing it all fine. I put on the XP 64 Bit version but was having problems installing plugins, I’m sure I will get there in the end, Its just stopping me form doin any music πŸ™

    I will let you know if I fix the problem πŸ™‚

    Thanks, Tone.

    Reply
  13. sandrar
    September 10, 2009

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. πŸ™‚ Cheers! Sandra. R.

    Reply
  14. DjDennis
    October 23, 2009

    Tone thats because your not a Computer Tech

    if you not 100% sure take the instructions to a computer store close to you and get them to do the modifications

    I have been doing this since xp came out
    but have been doing computer since 1984..

    anyway great set of tips for all to read
    keep it up theres more that can be tweaked to make audio systems better for use

    Dennis

    Reply
  15. Lacklogic
    January 9, 2010

    Jonathan, Great tips. Thank you for the wonderful post for everyone to benefit… Are you using Win 7 yet? Do you have any tips for DAW users who want to tweak windows 7 for performance?

    I use Cubase 5 and I am considering going to SSD drives, but I have been reading alot of different ideas on how to use the SSD optimally on the system. As primary drives, or as a secondary drive? Move certain system folders over to the SSD (if it is used as a secondary system drive) such as Program Files and your VST folder… and keep a primary on a traditional HD? Alot of idea floating around and I wondered if you had any input on the subject.

    Thanks!

    SRW

    Reply
  16. Mark
    March 27, 2010

    Thanks for this really helpful guide, Jonathan. You question the received wisdom that Processor Scheduling should be set to ‘Background Services’. On my current setup I have found that the ‘Background Services’ setting causes pops and clicks, and I never select it. (I’m using the M-Audio Audiophile sound card, lots of memory, and a quad core processor.) I also use Cubase SX3 with which it is possible to set process priority in the program itself (although the dialog is confusingly labeled). And in fact I always leave that priority setting at ‘Normal’, which equates to ‘Normal’ priority in the Windows Task Manager.

    Mark

    Reply
  17. Pretty Girls :
    October 27, 2010

    i only buy my pc parts on very reputable computer stores both online and offline”:;

    Reply
  18. Spoon Rest Β·
    November 13, 2010

    online computers stores that offers good technical support are the best “`;

    Reply
  19. Kaycee Chronis
    June 17, 2011

    Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it’s really informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I’ll be grateful if you continue this in the future. Lots of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

    Reply
  20. Probably a newb question but here it is, Stripping down pc for DAW - Home Recording forums
    July 20, 2011

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    August 7, 2011

    I am really enjoying reading your well written articles. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles.

    Reply
  22. Candice Cantor
    September 5, 2011

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  23. Joan Donoho
    September 23, 2011

    Hey, Excellent web site you have here! Also your web site loads up very fast! Which helps very much. Please carry on the rewarding work. Thanks.

    Reply
  24. Rich H
    October 6, 2011

    I found your site and tweaks very useful in optimizing my DAW. However, since implementing the tweaks, I tried to download Adobe Reader but couldn’t. Would any of these tweaks have prevented downloading from internet sites?

    Thanks much.

    Reply
  25. not sure if this is a problem with a DAW setting or my computer... - Home Recording forums
    November 14, 2011

    […] your computer for audio: SweetCare Service & Support | Sweetwater.com Here’s another: Definitive Guide to Windows XP Tweaking for Audio | Moozek They might be dated, but still good info. Buy My CD Here Find some more tunes here Some […]

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