Tweaking Windows For A DAW

Image of the default Windows 7 wallpaper

Even before you open up Cubase, there are a few settings you can tweak in the Windows operating system itself. Firstly, you need to navigate to the ‘Advanced’ tab of the ‘System Properties’ dialog box. To do this:

In Windows XP

  • Right-click the ‘My Computer’ icon on the desktop
  • Select ‘Properties’
  • Select the ‘Advanced’ tab

In Windows Vista / Windows 7

  • Right-click the ‘Computer’ icon on the desktop
  • Select ‘Properties’
  • Select ‘Advanced System Settings’ from the left-hand pane

From here you need to click the ‘Settings…’ button in the ’Performance’ section.

Now if you really want to squeeze every last bit of juice from your CPU and GPU you can turn all the visual effects off (the eye candy that has been added to Windows over the years), by selecting the ‘Adjust for best performance’ radio button. However, unless you’re running an antiquated system, you’re really unlikely to notice any real performance benefits from doing this (I used to notice a small performance increase with Nuendo 1 by switching off all the visual enhancements on a 1GHz Pentium III but that was many years ago). My personal preference here is to select the ‘Custom:’ radio button and do the following:

  1. Untick any item that includes the words ‘animate’, ‘fade’ or ‘slide’. As much as these look nice they’re really not going to help you much with music production
  2. Untick ‘Use visual styles on windows and buttons’. This sets the look of Windows to ‘Windows Classic’, which is far less visually intrusive (and takes up fewer pixels to do the same job as Luna or Aero (Window XP’s and Vista/7’s default visual styles).

Next you need to click on the ‘Advanced’ tab. Under the ‘Processor scheduling’ section select the ‘Background services’ radio button. This will ensure that your ASIO stream takes precedence over the running of programs, in theory ensuring a more stable (and glitch free) audio path through your system. Please note that if your Cubase installation shares the same Windows installation as your general day-to-day programs (word processors, media players, web browsers etc) you may notice a slight performance decrease in those programs by doing this.

My final port of call here is usually the ‘Virtual memory’ section. Virtual memory is used when your computer need to access more RAM than is physically available in your system. Windows uses a ‘page file’ system which automatically copies data from RAM to your hard disk to free up memory. By default, Windows controls the size of the page file and dynamically adjusts this depending on your needs. This can lead to your page file becoming fragmented (scattered over various parts of your hard drive). The general recommendation for music making (and any other system-intensive work such as video editing) is to set your system drive’s minimum and maximum page file size to 1 ½ times that of the amount of RAM you have installed. My PC has 4 Gigabytes (GB) RAM installed, so as the dialog box works in Megabytes (MB) we need to a quick calculation. As there are 1024MB in 1GB, I multiply 1024 by 4 (4096) then multiply that by 1.5, which gives me a grand total of 6144MB. To apply this figure to the page file I do the following in Windows 7 (differences may apply in previous versions of Windows):

  • Click the ‘Change…’ button under the ‘Virtual memory’ section of the ‘Advanced’ tab
  • Untick ‘Automatically manage paging file sizes for all drives
  • Select the system drive (Always C: in Windows Vista / Windows 7 but can be labelled differently in Windows XP)
  • Select the ‘Custom size:’ radio button
  • Enter the same number (6144 in my case) into both the ‘Initial size (MB):’ and ‘Maximum size (MB):’ boxes
  • Click the button labelled ‘Set’

From here you need to restart your computer for the settings to take effect. Once restarted, defragment your system drive. This will ensure that your new, permanently-sized page file is in one physical location on your hard drive.

If you want to go further then you can always get down and dirty with the registry. There are many resources out there that will aid you in tightening up the responsiveness of your operating system. If however, you feel a little daunted by that, you may want to try a program such as TweakXP, TweakVista or Tweak7 to do the work for you.

Please note that while every effort has been made to provide clear and accurate information, I cannot be held responsible for any data loss incurred through the misuse of this tutorial. Always ensure that you back up your work before attempting any system-wide changes.

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