Tweaking Windows XP for Audio Applications
Windows XP is the most stable operating system that Microsoft has ever offered the home studio user. But is it the best OS for audio production?
Windows XP Tweak Pages Quick Links
Can you record/edit audio on a Windows XP system?
Yes you can.
But don't you need to spend countless hours tweaking the system to do this?
First, let me say this: A default Windows XP Home (or Pro) install will run music applications just fine. The OS will do all it's asked to do without any tweaking at all. Most trouble comes from the hardware XP sits on. Remember that in the Windows world, there are no constants as far as hardware.
That's why Macintosh computers seem to "just work." The hardware and the OS for Macs come from the same company. So of course they “should” work. Plus Apple also sells some pretty fine audio applications as well. And of course, they “just work.” As long as you like the way those applications work, you'll love that platform and those applications.
Having one source for both hardware and software is both and advantage and a disadvantage. The advantages are uniformity of performance amongst similar models. I.e. Let's say you're using ProTools with a Digi001 card and interface on a Mac G4. Digidesign has been writing audio applications for the Mac platform for years, so they know what they're doing when it comes to programming for the Mac hardware. You'll open the case, plug in the card, install the software and get to work. There will be relatively few OS tweaks you even “can” do leave alone need to do. The Digidesign documentation will give you a few suggestions possibly, but by and large, you're done and it will just work. If you take the card out and place it into another G4 and you can expect exactly the same performance. As a matter of fact, if you put it into Blue and White G3, you can expect pretty much the same behavior. Of course the more horsepower you have in the Mac, the more tracks and plug-ins you'll be able to use.
The disadvantages come from the exact same source. All of the hardware and software come from the same company! So, if you want a more powerful processor, by and large plan on buying a new computer. Want to use the newest nVidia video card? Too bad. You “have” to do it the Apple way. New Sound Blaster Audigy on the market? Forget about it. Want to write a startup script to configure certain hardware in a specific way? Don't bother. As one person has so aptly put it, “you sort of ‘share' the computing experience with the Mac” as opposed to using the tool your way. For many, many, people that's just fine.
In the Windows world the hardware comes from hundreds of sources. Sometimes the hardware plays nice together sometimes it doesn't. The OS won ' t "bark" about your hardware (usually) and it doesn ' t know what you ' re intentions are. So you can install XP on a 400Mhz Celeron computer just fine. But if you try to do host based audio on that computer, you ' ll be frustrated to no end. It just won ' t work.
But you can configure a Windows box to your heart's content. With both hardware and software. You can add and remove hardware. You can try different video/audio/Ethernet/serial/etc. cards. You can purchase software from thousands of companies. You can upgrade your BIOS/proc/memory etc. Therein lies the rub. Sometimes to get the best performance out of your Windows box you'll need to “tweak” it.
Windows XP, on a solid hardware base, is the best platform for producing audio on a Windows box. Windows 98SE is being phased out. Windows 2000 has some limitations regarding audio and MIDI . Windows ME is a travesty. (If you have a box with ME on it, ERASE the system, go buy XP and have a nicer life.)DOS? Well, unless you're a real OS geek with some really old application, don't go there. Windows XP is the way to go for audio production.
Should you buy the Home version or the Pro version? If you're basically concerned with building an audio workstation, either will do. The basic difference between Home and Pro is Pro's ability to join a domain. The home version will share files on a network, access the Internet and has the same processing power as the Home version. So unless you really need to join a domain, save your money and buy Windows XP Home Edition.
So, what about tweaking Windows XP? Why bother? If it will run straight out of the box what advantage is there in tweaking the system? Windows XP has it's roots in the Windows NT kernel, which was designed to be a server OS. That kernel allows multi-tasking, multiple connections to the OS, file sharing and the like. The latest versions, in the form of Windows 2003, with .net services, offer Terminal Services that allow dumb terminals to connect to the server. The terminals “become” Windows XP boxes capable of each running it's own session of office suite applications, Internet browsers and other non-processor intensive applications.
Obviously, for the home studio user many of those services are unnecessary. But, because Microsoft wants their OSes to be useable by most persons right out of the box, the services are installed and set to run automatically at startup.
There isn't anything particularly wrong with that. For most people, having those services running in background makes the system easier to configure than if they were not installed. That's because most people would get frustrated to have to pull out the install CDs just to get some service running that wasn't there and now needs to be.
Also, people are now quite fond of the “prettiness” of these new OSes. They like the drop shadows, animated menus, 3d looking buttons and such. Windows XP is by far the “prettiest” OS Microsoft has issued to date.
There's nothing wrong with that either. But all of those things take just a little bit of processor power. When you're using a hardware based audio application like a ProTools TDM system, these little hits on the processor aren't so important. But if you're using a host based system, like ProTools LE, Sonar, Cakewalk, Logic, Sound Forge, SAW or the many others, each CPU cycle devoted to calculating an animated menu is a CPU cycle that can't be used to process another audio track. So it makes some sense to turn off as many CPU cycle “stealers” as you can.
Having said that, if you're processing 8 tracks of audio and 2Ghz Pentium 4 with 513Megs of RAM, you're doing just fine. On the other hand if you're processing 8 tracks of audio with multiple plug-ins per track on a 800Mhz Pentium 3, you'd better “slim down” the system as much as possible.
Rather than create a long list of possible tweaks for your system, I'm going to list several sites you should visit to find the information you need. There are many Windows XP tweak sites on the Internet. I'll list some of the sites that I find particularly useful. You can find even more by using the key words “windows XP, tweak, audio” in your favorite search engine.
By far, the easiest page to understand is www.musicxp.net . You don ' t need to be an OS engineer to use this page. Click on the tuning tips link. You ' ll see a check sheet of items. You can "check off" each item as you tune up your system.
IF you ' re a little more ambitious, or want more complete explanations about what you're doing, check out www.blackviper.com . This guy obviously has no life outside of computers. He ' s actually taken the time to research and test virtually all of the XP systems and services. Because XP is based in the server OS world, there are many services that it "assumes" you might need. That ' s logical, because most people don ' t know what services they ' ll need, they just expect the computer to work. So from Microsoft ' s point of view, it ' s easier to simply turn most services on and let the user decide what to turn off. That way the OS will run most applications right out of the box. But the Black Viper guy has done all of the research for you. He'll tell you what you can safely turn off, what you might be able to turn off and what you shouldn't turn off.
http://www.musicxp.net/ mentioned above. A definite fist stop.
http://www.blackviper.com/WinXP/servicecfg.htm The most complete explanations of services on the net.
Microsoft has their own tweak program. It's available here: