Disk speed and multi-tracking

A friend recently asked me about disk speed as it pertains to multi-tracking:

“I’m getting in a new laptop next week, and have a bit of extra cash to
spend as well. It comes with a 1TB 5400 RPM drive. Would it be worth
it, performance wise, to splash out on a 7200 or 10000 RPM drive and use
the 1TB as extra storage? In terms of multi tracking and sequencing,
would there be a noticeable difference between using the 5400 as a main
drive and using a faster one?”

I figured I would share my response here, as it may help others facing the same decision:

“It really depends how many tracks you’re tracking at once. If
you’re doing a couple at a time then it probably won’t make much of a
difference for recording, but if you’re doing like 8 or something then
you definitely want the fastest drive possible.

The other thing to
consider is how many tracks you’ll be playing back. The default
behaviour of most DAWs is to stream from disk, and of course the more
tracks you stream the more likely you are to hit the limitations of disk
I/O. If your DAW supports loading audio to RAM (Ableton Live does, for
example), then you can ignore this bit.

One trick to get better
(not necessarily faster, but more consistent) disk performance would be
to partition the disk and dedicate one partition solely for recording
and/or as a scratch disk (if your DAW supports it). This way you don’t
need to worry as much about fragmentation, since they will “fragment”

Finally, if you’re running Windows 7 you could get a large USB thumb drive and use it for ReadyBoost, which basically gives you solid-state caching of frequently
accessed files (system files and the like). This way the DAW can get more
“exclusivity” of the mechanical drive.”

Hope this helps somebody out there! If you’re wondering about my setup: I have a mechanical drive and a solid-state drive. I use the SSD for ReadyBoost and as a scratch drive (for Ableton and Photoshop). Plus I have a 16GB thumb drive that I use for ReadyBoost as well, when USB bandwidth permits.

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