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.

Windows 7, episode 5

And now, the exciting conclusion of my Windows 7 upgrade adventure…

I found the Windows 7 beta drivers for the M-Audio Audiophile 2496 here:

I uninstalled the old Vista drivers and gave these a try. So far so good – I’m able to go into standby and I’m not hearing any pops or clicks in the audio.

Update: spoke too soon, still getting pops and clicks, but at least I can go into standby. Really looking forward to non-beta Windows 7 drivers!

I also picked up a video card with DirectX 10 support and all the Aero stuff is working now. The moral of the story here is to run the upgrade advisor if you can! Unfortunately in my case I couldn’t, since I couldn’t boot my previous Windows installation.

In the end, the only real issue that I have yet to explain is the blank screen that I encountered at the start of the installation process. I may try booting from the Windows 7 disc with my new video card and see if the results are any different. If so I will post my findings.

Overall I would say my Windows 7 upgrade experience went relatively smoothly, all things considered. If you’re running XP and things are stable for you then I’d suggest waiting until you want/need to do a fresh install, as it’s the only way to upgrade from XP. If on the other hand you are running Vista, I’d say go for it!

Windows 7, episode 4

Hit another snag in my Windows 7 adventure:

None of the drivers I’ve been able to find for my video card seem to be “fully” compatible with Windows 7. Either that, or my card (NVIDIA GeForce 6200 TurboCache) is not supported by Windows 7. Either way, the end result is that I’m not able to use any of the Aero effects, nor can I play back any video in Windows Media player.

Windows Media player error:

Aero troubleshooting results:

(the service is in fact running)

So another recap of issues I’ve hit so far:

  • Vista audio driver compatibility (power management issues, occasional pops & clicks)
  • black screen at start of install process
  • video card or drivers not supported or compatible (update: my card was not DirectX 10 compatible. I picked up one that is and things are working well now. Check episode 5 for more info)

On another note, I’ve started familiarizing myself with the new features in Windows 7. Some of them are pretty obvious – like task bar pinning and jump lists – others less so. For example, snap (some of you may know it as “docking”) is a quick way to view two windows side by side.

I’m still getting used the “combined” task bar. Basically, if you’ve got something pinned, any instances of that app will show up under its task bar icon. It means more real-estate on the task bar, but it’s less obvious what windows you have open since you need to hover or click on the pinned icon to see.

Windows 7, episode 3

As I mentioned in episode 2, the Vista drivers for my M-Audio Audiophile 2496 are not 100% compatible with Windows 7 – they prevent me from shutting down or going into standby (without first disabling the device).

Little did I realize that the default power management settings in Windows 7 are to put the computer into standby after 30 minutes. So of course, I was arriving at my computer every so often only to find it completely off, and upon restarting I was greeted with the “Windows has recovered from an unexpected error” message.

Only after looking at the mini dump did I start to clue in:

A driver is causing an inconsistent power state.
Arg1: 00000003, A device object has been blocking an Irp for too long a time
Arg2: 85a57640, Physical Device Object of the stack
Arg3: 82942ae0, Functional Device Object of the stack
Arg4: 85718518, The blocked IRP


So I’ve adjusted the power settings so that it will never go into standby. Hopefully that will take care of this until M-Audio releases Windows 7 drivers, or I breakdown and buy a new audio card (update: I found the Windows 7 beta drivers, check episode 5 for more info)

Meanwhile, I’ve been slowly reinstalling everything. I reinstalled most of my VSTs today and also copied over my contacts and Outlook data. I haven’t hit any software compatibility issues at all.

So to recap, the only two issues I’ve encountered so far with Windows 7:

  • Vista audio driver compatibility (power management issues, occasional pops & clicks)
  • black screen at start of install process

Windows 7, episode 2

So I started installing Windows 7 last night. Here’s what I was greeted with upon booting from the disc:

Yup. Absolutely nothing. I could hear the drive doing something, but that’s it. Thinking maybe it was an issue with my DVD drive, I tried a different one. No difference. I then put the disc in my laptop to see if maybe there was an issue with the disc itself. I received a “Loading files” progress bar almost immediately. Hmm.

Browsed the net a bit and found a few different suggestions – use a different output on the video card, don’t connect any USB devices, try flashing the BIOS. I tried the first couple options to no avail. Didn’t really see a point in flashing the BIOS since it’s a fairly new board.

Frustrated, I just left it setting at the blank screen and walked away. When I came back about 20 minutes later, low and behold:

Go figure!

So now the fun task of reinstalling everything. I started off with:

  • AVG
  • Windows updates
  • FireFox
  • Windows Live
  • FL Studio 9

No issues so far. Now, time to install an audio driver.

I downloaded the Vista SP3 drivers for my audio card (M-Audio Audiophile 2496). Upon running the first time I received a “Your OS is not compatible” message. Here’s where Windows 7 driver compatibility kicks in – I get a little pop-up asking me if I want to run it again with compatibility. Second time, works like a charm… until I go to shutdown, and it just hangs at the shutdown screen!

More Googling and I find threads about others experiencing the same problem. Here’s a fix but it’s not elegant – a logoff (or shutdown) script to stop the audio service. Note that this issue also affects the ability to go into standby, and the script does not correct this. As for the actual performance of the drivers in compatibility mode, I did notice some audible clicks but they were subtle (update: I found the Windows 7 beta drivers, check episode 5 for more info)

Next, I install my motherboard drivers. I grabbed the Windows 2003 drivers and they seemed to work just fine – I wasn’t even prompted to run in compatibility mode. I also installed my on-board audio driver and set it as the primary audio device. I was hoping that doing so would stop the shutdown and standby issues imposed by the M-Audio drivers, but no, they’re still present.

Windows 7, episode 1

So I lost my computer to a virus. Don’t ask how. I have no idea. It’s the first time something like this has ever happened in my 20 or so years of computing! I spent a couple evenings trying to save it before finally pulling the plug.

I didn’t cry, but I did swear a lot, especially since I was in the middle of working on a CD. This will set me back at least a week! Anyways, I’ve decided I’m going to try the whole Windows 7 thing. A bit risky, of course, since I use a lot of very specific software for music production. Nevertheless, since I’m starting fresh, I figure I might as well give Microsoft’s current offering a try.

Here’s my plan:

  • install Windows 7 on a fresh drive
  • install all my audio drivers and primary audio software first
  • run some sanity tests
  • if everything checks out I’ll install all the other stuff I use day to day and start migrating my settings and data from the old drive
  • if things go horribly wrong I’ll either wipe and go back to XP, or install XP on a third drive and keep the Windows 7 one for a rainy day

No matter how things go down, I’m going to document my findings here (esp. with regards to software and driver compatibility) in the hopes that they may help somebody else (or keep them from making a huge mistake!)

God speed, little doodle.