10 tips on optimising computers for music-making
Having trouble getting your computer to run your DAW efficiently? Think you need a new one? Before you splash out, try our tips for optimising your setup and save money and time.
Got a sluggish old computer? Or a brand-new machine that isn’t giving you the clout you expected? Macs and PCs are obviously great for running DAWs and other music applications, but you may have to do some fine-tuning to make them run like a dream. Here are 10 tweaks for smoother music production with your computer…
Only run what’s needed
Some of these tips may not be obvious, but some are glaringly so, and we’ll start with a biggie from the latter camp. It’s no good running your power-hungry DAW project, loaded with every instrument and effect plug-in going, if you have a load of other apps running in the background – games to switch to on your downtime, or work to complete when your tunes are finished and so on. On a Mac, your Dock will tell you what’s running, or open Dashboard to disable those Mac widgets that eat up your RAM; on a PC select Start Menu > Settings > Privacy > Select Background Apps to check what might be slowing you down.
You might well be happy with your current system and terrified to update anything in case your music production boat is rocked – and we feel your pain. However, broadly speaking, updating apps and PC drivers is a good thing to regularly check and do. If you’re worried about updating specific applications, then check forums for other users’ experiences – it might be that a particular update doesn’t suit your OS (which is also worth keeping up-to-date, of course). But developers do update for good reason – often to keep their apps optimised for your system – so try and keep abreast of the latest tweaks.
It’s the great ‘declutter’ tip
In just about every set of tips you’ll read about music production – in fact, life in general – there will be one about decluttering. With music production, this is possibly the most vital and rewarding piece of advice going. Clearing hard-drive space makes your system work more efficiently (and gives you more room to expand your options later, although this goes against the decluttering ethos in the first place!). Also, simply cutting down your unused plug-ins will often make your DAW load quicker (not to mention cutting down the time it takes for you to peruse your options when composing a song). Reduce to increase, it really does work!
USB, or not to B
So many devices in your signal chain and controller worlds can be USB compatible that it’s easy to have your Mac or PC sitting at the centre of a world of USB connectivity. But do consider what you have connected in this way as computers – particularly PCs – can be a little too ‘interested’ in constantly checking what’s there all the time. Laptop producers
will probably already be optimising what is connected for mobile reasons, but everyone should disconnect what is not being used – back-up drives, that USB mic you once used and especially USB hubs, if you can avoid them.
To network, or not to network?
Does your music-production system ‘need’ the internet? Some music applications really
do need a good working online relationship. Reason users usually need to be internet enabled to get started, for example, or Cloud-based services such as Loopcloud and Roland’s Cloud will need almost constant connectivity. So if your setup requires a good connection, then make sure it is just that. PC users should Select Network Adapters from their Device Manager and Mac users can Check Network Diagnostics via the network Preferences option, but make sure you are as efficiently connected as possible… if you need to be. Otherwise, jump to Tip 7!
Enable high performance
Another obvious one, perhaps, but one that can be easy to forget. PC users can click to the maximum highest performance by going to Power Options in the Control Panel; similarly, Mac users have Energy Saver, where you can switch for a better performance over battery life (if you are a laptop user). While you’re at it, you might want to disable any sleep options, as you don’t want your Mac or PC going to sleep while downloading updates or while performing live (and you might want to disable screensavers for the same reasons, too).
Disable other stuff
Computers have a habit of doing things for you because they think they’re doing what you want, like booting up applications from various start-up folders, or constantly trying to get web access. So clear out that Startup folder, and disable your System Sounds, your Bluetooths and your Airports (unless, of course, you need web access, then step back to Tip 5!). You want your music-based computer fully focused on the job at hand – and that means it should be powering the DAW and not lots of fun stuff your computer thinks the user wants. And taking that one step further…
Consider the dedicated system
There’s switching off all those background apps and there’s taking this idea of dedication to a further extreme: buying a computer just for music-making. Imagine that! No other stuff running on it; just your DAW, your plug-ins and your sample collection. It’s a dedicated processor, RAM and hard drive just for music production and it is easily the most efficient way to go. But also the most expensive. So there are other, slightly cheaper ways to increase the hardware power and efficiency.
So far – bar Tip 8 – we’ve looked more at easy system and software tweaks that will help you optimise your computer for music production. Having that dedicated machine in Tip 8 is an expensive option, but other hardware boosts can be made for less cash. Boosting RAM is the best – and usually most cost-effective – way of optimisation. RAM is both cheaper and easier to fit than you might think, so consider this an essential hardware investment.
Now you’ve tweaked, supercharged, boosted and optimised, it’s time to check the results. Windows users have Task Manager and Resource Monitor for the job, while Mac users can boot up Activity Monitor, which lets you get to the heart of which app is putting the most strain on your CPU. Other third-party apps include Speccy and HWMonitor (for the PC) and Monity for the Mac, which all let you see what’s working and, more importantly, what isn’t. So, observe to optimise!
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