Tweaking Windows XP, Vista and 7 for Audio – from the archives

Article

Even though most of the world has moved on there’s still some faithful souls out there sticking with the old school, and so I thought it might be helpful to dig into the archives and keep the old tweak guides alive – a master file of tweaks if you like. So, in reverse order, you’ll find my audio tweak guides to Windows 7, Vista and XP – if you’re after tweaks for Windows 8 then you’ll find a video on our YouTube channel and my tweaks for Windows 10 are coming soon…..



Tweaking Windows 7

Right, the basic concept of tweaking the OS for audio is to remove anything that’s running in the background. We want to give our audio software every single ounce of processing juice we can – and we want it instantly so that means we want the CPU running at top speed, all the time – no power saving or sleep modes for us – no no, always on, all the time.

This is all mostly done through the Windows Control Panel, so open her up, set to “Small icons” and with very little explanation (just do it) let’s go:

  1. Date and Time – Click Internet Time and untick the synchronise box.
  2. Flash Player (if installed) – Advanced and tick the “Never Check for Updates” box
  3. Personalization – Select Windows Basic and click on Sounds – opt for “no sounds”. You can run the Aero Glass Windows if you like but it will take a small performance hit.
  4. Power Options – more to do if it’s a laptop but basically put everything to 100% and disable any power saving options. So, first click on “Show additional plans” and select “High Performance”. The click “Change plan settings” – turn everything to “Never”. Click “Change advanced power settings” and go through each one. Usually hard disk needs to never turn off by setting it to zero; USB suspend – disable; Processor power to 100%. Make sure you “Save changes”.
  5. System – Advanced System Settings – Click on “Settings” under “Performance” – you could just select “best performance” but i tend to just untick the top half a dozen boxes about fading and animating. Click “Apply” and then click the “Advanced” tab – set best performance to “Background services”. Click Apply.
  6. Same place as above but under Virtual Memory click on “Change…” This depends on how much RAM you have. If you have 4GB or less i’d leave Windows to manage your memory. If you 8GB or more then Windows will routinely use 1.5 times that amount for a swap file that’s hardly used. If you have 16GB of RAM then 24GB is being totally wasted by Windows. In which case untick the “Auto…” button, select “Custom size” and set to 4096 (4GB) in both initial and maximum – that’s plenty.
  7. User Accounts – “Change user account settings” – bring slider down to “Never notify”.
  8. Windows Defender – potentially controversial in that you might be using it for good reason but i would recommend turning off all virus protection and disabling your network while using music software. Tools – Options – untick automatic scan and real-time protection.
  9. Action Center – do this last – turn off all the notifications and warning messages that have been caused by your fiddling about.

There are a couple of key things to do outside of the Control Panel:

Regedit – click on the start button and type “regedit”, wait for it to appear at the top and press enter to open. Press the F3 key and type in the find box “menushowdelay” without the quotes. When it finds it press enter to edit the number (usually 400 by default) and set to “50”. People often say set it to zero but in my opinion that’s a bit silly. What this does is change the delay Windows imposes on opening menus – you hover your mouse on a menu and it slowly appears. Setting it to 50 makes it really snappy and feel faster – setting to zero means that you can’t move your mouse over any menu without it popping up whether you wanted it to or not. Once you’ve edited the first one press F3 again to find the other two instances and do the same, or until you reach the end.

Regedit 2 – Click back at the top of the registry tree on the left and search again, this time for “dec35”. This will find half a dozen entries but the one you want contains stuff about power profiles “system32\powrprof.dll”. In there you’ll find an entry called “Atrributes” which you should double click and set the value to zero. This reveals another setting in the Power Options in the control panel – open the Power Options again and next to “Processor Power” you’ll have one for “Processor Parking” – set this to 100% to stop Windows from parking (or turning off) processors when they are idle.



Msconfig – click on the start button and type “msconfig”, wait for it to appear at the top and press enter to open. Click the “Startup” tab and click “disable all”. This removes all applications that like to run on startup and sit around doing nothing but sap resources. There may be something you need like the audio interfaces control panel or virus protection panel but mostly disable the lot and your system with feel young again.

Powercfg – this is a space saving tweak. Hibernation will steal a huge amount of disk space in case you want to “hibernate” the machine. I think you’re better off turning your computer off and reclaiming the hibernation disk space, here’s how. Click on the start button and type “cmd”. When it appears right-click on it and select “Run as administer”. A command window will appear. Type the following: “powercfg.exe /hibernate off” without the quotes. Press enter and nothing should happen – if something happens then you’ve done it wrong. Restart the computer and you will find that you have a load more disk space.

That is more or less it. Any other tweaks you come across are probably old and don’t do anything. One last thing to consider if you are using a Firewire audio interface. Some interfaces work better when the firewire driver is swapped for one labelled “legacy”. So if you are having problems with your firewire interface look at the entry in the Device Manager, right-click and select “update driver”, then “Browse” and then “select from list” – chose the firewire driver with “(legacy)” in the title and try that. Particularly good with Focusrite interfaces.

Tweaking Windows Vista

In XP there were a few things you could do that had a big impact on performance, with Vista, not so much. The tweaking is much more to do with calming it all down to free up the system to concentrate on audio.

Tweak 1 – Turn Off User Account Control
This is not a performance tweak at all but it will make the rest of our tweaking a much less annoying experience. User Account Control (UAC) is actually a good idea because it acts as a safe guard to your system settings and prevents you from accidentally changing something important. But as we’re going to do a few changes it will keep asking you to confirm what you’re doing so lets turn it off for now and you can always turn it back on later.
Start – Control Panel – Users – Turn User Account Control on or off – untick the box, click “OK” and restart.

The next three tweaks are probably the most effective on general performance and are to do with stuff running in the background.

Tweak 2 – Clear the notification area and close the Windows Sidebar
You’d be amazed at what people have running on their systems and they often have no idea what they are or what they do. Have a look down at the clock in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Any icons there? Each of those is taking up resources (processing power, “head space”). Some are vital and useful like your soundcards control panel but most are not needed and I suspect some are a mystery to you. This is called the “Notification Area” and each icon tells you that something is running. The majority of cases there’s no need for these things to run constantly – why do you need to be updated on your printers ink levels, or whether bluetooth is on or off when making music? These things can be found out manually when you need to know.

The Windows Sidebar is mildly useful but ultimately stealing performance for doing very little. If you right-click the Sidebar icon by the clock and select “Properties” you can deselect “Start Sidebar when Windows Starts” or you can just close it for making music.

So, go through each icon and find out what it is. Right-clicking usually brings up some options and you can often find a way of preventing it loading when Windows starts, or simply exiting them.

Tweak 3 – Clear the Startup Folder
Under “Start – All Programs” you’ll find a folder called “Startup”. This can contain shortcuts to programs that want to run when Windows starts up. There’s never any reason for any program to do this. Office is a common culprit and all it does is allow you to load up a document a split second faster because it’s already running. But while it’s running it’s taking up a load of the CPU’s thinking time. Delete any shortcuts you find there (right-click, delete).

Tweak 4 – Clear the System Configuration Startup
This is a more hidden place for annoying startup hogs and are often behind the entries in the Startup folder and Notification Area. Click on “Start and type “msconfig” (without the quotes) to bring up the System Configuration Utility. Click on the Startup tab and you’ll be able to see what naughty things are starting up. Be a bit careful as there maybe things here that you need to be running, such as “Windows Operating System”,  the soundcards control panel, maybe your anti-virus, ADSL modem, but most things can be unticked – and they can always be re-enabled. Click OK and restart the computer. On boot up you’ll get a message saying that you have messed with the settings – tick the box that says “don’t tell me again” and click OK. Hopefully you’ll notice how much cleaner and quicker your computer appears to be.

Some people will tell you to disable various services but I feel that’s very dependant on individual systems and how you use your computer and to be honest they don’t make a load of difference.




The next bunch of tweaks are to do with system settings from the Windows Control Panel, so click on Start – Control Panel and set it to Classic View.

Tweak 5 – Date and Time
Go to Internet Time – Change Settings and untick “Synchronise with an Internet time server”

Tweak 6 – Personalisation
There’s a couple of things we can do here to maximise performance:
Windows Colour and Appearance – The Aero interface is nice to look at but for the sake of performance it has to go. Click on “Open classic appearance properties” and select “Windows Standard”. Have on last look around, sigh, and click “OK”.
Screen Saver – set to “None”.
Sounds – Select “No Sounds” and click “OK”

Tweak 7 – Power Options
This has become increasingly important because of the clever speed stepping that both AMD and Intel CPU’s do these days. CPU’s are designed to slow themselves down to save power – particularly with laptops. However, this can cause erratic behaviour in audio software where the demands on the CPU are high and instant. The CPU should always be running at its highest speed. Sometimes this must be set in the BIOS which we’ll look into at the end, but it’s vital to set the power options to “High Performance”. Then click on “Change plan settings” and set Turn off display to “Never”.
Next click on “Change advanced power settings”. There’s various settings in here but the most important to check are:
Hard Disk – set to “Never” turn off
Processor Power Management – minimum and maximum states set to 100%
One other personal tweak is under “Power buttons and lid” you can set the Start menu power button to turn the computer off rather than just send it to sleep!

Tweak 8 – Security Center
Windows Update – Change Settings – choose “Never check for updates”. This is simply to prevent Windows from going on the internet and downloading stuff right in the middle of that perfect vocal performance you were doing in the early hours of the morning. Run occasional updates manually.
Firewall – leave that on
Windows Defender – Tools – Options – turn off automatic scanning. If you have other anti-virus software then you can also disable “Real-time Protection”. And if you don’t connect your machine to the Internet then all the way at the bottom under “Administrator” you can disable it all together.
Change the way it alerts me – Select “Don’t notify and don’t display the icon”.

Tweak 9 – System
Remote Settings – Untick “Allow…”
System Protection – Untick all drives except the C: drive
Advanced system settings – there’s a couple of important tweaks here:
Performance – Settings – Visual Effects select “Adjust for best performance”.
Then click “Advanced” and select “Background Services”. This is supposed to give priority to the ASIO drivers of audio interfaces and soundcards but no one really knows if it does any more. It used to be an issue many years ago and made a difference.
Under Virtual Memory click on “Change”, much has been said about this and in the bad old days where you had bugger all memory it was a vital tweak on XP – these days I would let the system manage it’s own page file. There are complicated things you can do with placing the page file in its own partition on the fastest edge of a hard drive but i’m unconvinced it’s worth the effort.

Make sure you click “OK” to close these windows.

Tweak 10 – Indexing
This is perhaps one of the cool Vista features in that it holds an index of files on the system to help it find things quicker. The idea being that you click on “Start” and type something and Vista finds it instantly. This is good but it does take over your hard drive from time to time – you may hear it churning away when the computer is idle. If you turn it off it doesn’t disable searching, it just takes a little longer. You can turn off indexing for each drive individually.
Click on Start – Computer – Right-click each drive and select “Properties” and untick the “Index this drive” box at the bottom. Click “Apply” and it may take a few minutes to go through all the files and if it gets stuck on a file it can’t change just click “Ignore all”.

Those are your top ten standard Vista tweaks for optimising audio performance and they’ll do the job nicely.



DPC Latency
There’s one other cause of audio glitching and other drop-out problems and that’s to do with badly written drivers and DPC latency. A DPC or Deferred Procedure Call  is when something interrupts the processor to demand an important task is done and everything else is knocked to a lower priority. All sorts of system devices need to do this but badly written ones hang on to that interruption far longer than they should. The result could be that it breaks the real-time streaming of your audio and so you get glitches. There’s a wonderful tool that can analyse your system and see if this is happening. It’s one of the most useful troubleshooting tools ever and you can get it from here along with a bigger explanation:
http://www.thesycon.de/deu/latency_check.shtml

Download it and run it and it will tell you exactly how well your system is behaving. If you get any spikes then open up the Device Manager and disable devices until the spikes go away. Be careful not to disable something that your system needs to function, like the hard drives, but other devices are fair game.
I would disable things in this order:

  1. Wireless network
  2. Regular network
  3. Modem
  4. Bluetooth or IR
  5. Optical Drive
  6. Microsoft battery management (if a laptop)
  7.  Onboard audio drivers

If it has no effect then you can re-enable. Also disconnect any external devices such as drives, printers, cameras etc.

What you’re aiming for is a lovely flat readout on the latency checker for at least a few minutes. It can be a bit bumpy and still work well, it’s only when it hits the red that there’s a real problem.

BIOS
Some things can only be disabled in the systems BIOS. This is the “Basic In/Out System” of the motherboard that is the heart of your computer. You can usually access it on boot up by pressing the “Del” or “F2” key but have a look at your screen to if there’s a mention of BIOS or “Setup”. It usually has a basic old fashioned blue interface where you use the arrow keys to move around. If you’re not familiar with what you see then try not to change anything. If you are looking to disable an on-board device such as a modem, network socket or audio then you’ll usually find it under “Integrated Peripherals”.

You may also find an entry for Intel “Speed-stepping” or AMD “Cool & Quiet” which you should disable.
Don’t forget to save before you exit.

Summary
Vista, with the right approach, can work very well for audio and music making. More troublesome has been the lack of drivers and compatibility but this has improved greatly. XP still has the edge in performance but there’s no reason to be scared of Vista.

Tweaking Windows XP

The first three tweaks are probably the most effective on general performance and are to do with stuff running in the background.

Tweak 1 – Clear the notification area
You’d be amazed at what people have running on their systems and they often have no idea what they are or what they do. Have a look down at the clock in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Any icons there? Each of those is taking up resources (processing power, “headspace”). Some are vital and useful like your soundcards control panel but most are not needed and I suspect some are a mystery to you. This is called the “Notification Area” and each icon tells you that something is running. The majority of cases there’s no need for these things to run constantly – why do you need to be updated on your printers ink levels, or whether bluetooth is on or off when making music? These things can be found out manually when you need to know.

So, go through each icon and find out what it is. Right-clicking usually brings up some options and you can often find a way of preventing it loading when Windows starts, or simply exiting them.

Tweak 2 – Clear the Startup Folder
Under “Start – All Programs” you’ll find a folder called “Startup”. This can contain shortcuts to programs that want to run when Windows starts up. There’s never any reason for any program to do this. Office is a common culprit and all it does is allow you to load up a document a split second faster because it’s already running. But while it’s running it’s taking up a load of the CPU’s thinking time. Delete any shortcuts you find there (right-click, delete).

Tweak 3 – Clear the System Configuration Startup
This is a more hidden place for annoying startup hogs and are often behind the entries in the Startup folder and Notification Area. Click on “Start – Run” (or hold the windows key and press “R”) and type “msconfig” (without the quotes) to bring up the System Configuration Utility. Click on the Startup tab and you’ll be able to see what naughty things are starting up. Be a bit careful as there maybe things here that you need to be running, such as the soundcards control panel, maybe your anti-virus, ADSL modem, but most things can be unticked – and they can always be re-enabled. Click OK and restart the computer. On boot up you’ll get a message saying that you have messed with the settings – tick the box that says “don’t tell me again” and click OK. Hopefully you’ll notice how much cleaner and quicker your computer appears to be.

Some people will tell you to disable various services but I feel that’s very dependant on individual systems and how you use your computer and to be honest they don’t make a load of difference.

The next bunch of tweaks are to do with system settings from the Windows Control Panel, so click on Start – Control Panel and set it to Classic View.

Tweak 4 – Date and Time
Go to Internet Time and un-tick “Automatically Synchronise”

Tweak 5 – Display
The bubble gum XP interface is mostly fine but you will get a bit more performance if you reduce it down to the classic Windows look. First click on “Screen Saver” select “None” and click “Apply” – screen savers can take up an enormous amount of computer time. Next click on “Appearance” and  under “Windows and Buttons” choose “Windows Classic Style” and click “Apply”. Then click on “Effects” and deselect the top box for transition effects (no fading thanks) – click “OK”. Click “OK” on the display properties window to close.

Tweak 6 – Power Options
This has become increasingly important because of the clever speed stepping that both AMD and Intel CPU’s do these days. CPU’s are designed to slow themselves down to save power – particularly with laptops. However, this can cause erratic behaviour in audio software where the demands on the CPU are high and instant. The CPU should always be running at its highest speed. Sometimes this must be set in the BIOS which we’ll look into at the end, but it’s vital to set the power options to “Always On”. Then set the other options to “Never”. This will be harsh on a laptop battery but when making music you are likely to be plugged in anyway and you can always change it back for general use.

Tweak 7 – Security Center
Click on “Change the way security center informs me” and choose “Don’t tell me”.

Tweak 8 – Sounds and Audio Devices
Under “Sounds” select “No Sounds” and then click “No” when it asks you to save your current setup (unless you really want to). This is to prevent system sounds getting in the way of recordings or distracting the soundcard from what it’s supposed to be doing.



Tweak 9 – System
There’s a couple of important tweaks here:

  1. Hardware – Driver signed and windows update can both be turned off. This helps with the installation of audio hardware rather than will performance.
  2. Advanced – Performance – Visual Effects select “Adjust for better performance”. I like to tick the “Use common tasks in folders” box and it shows useful stuff on the left of any folder you have open.
  3. Advanced – Performance – Advanced – Processor Scheduling adjust for “Background Services”. This is supposed to give priority to the ASIO drivers of audio interfaces and soundcards but no one really knows if it does any more. It used to be an issue many years ago and made a difference.
  4. Advanced – Performance – Advanced – Virtual Memory, much has been said about this and in the bad old days where you had bugger all memory it was a vital tweak – these days I would let the system manage it’s own page file. There are complicated things you can do with placing the page file in its own partition on the fastest edge of a hard drive but i’m unconvinced it’s worth the effort.
  5. Advanced – Startup & Recovery – click on the edit button and replace the text “optin” with “alwaysoff” and save. This is to do with the Data Execution Prevention which is a badly written anti-virus thing that often sees plug-ins as virus’. Your regular anti-virus software will do a much better job.

Make sure you click “OK” to close these windows.

Tweak 10 – Registry
Finally let’s sneak into the registry for two tweaks that may or may not help.
Start – Run and type “regedit”. The registry is a dangerous place to mess around in so the first thing to do is click on the “Computer” and click “File – Export” to create a backup.

Press F3 (Find) and type “menushowdelay” without the quotes and no spaces. Windows will find the entry and it will normally have a value of 400. Double click to edit and change it to 50, click “OK”. People often say set it to zero but this tweak simply dictates how long it takes for a menu to appear once you’ve put your mouse on it. If you put it at zero then you can’t move your mouse over anything briefly without it popping up all the time. 50 is just enough to let you glide over something but feels really quick when you rest your mouse on it.

Click on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE – SYSTEM – CurrentControlSet – Control – PriorityControl and you are now down a long tree. With PriorityControl selected on the left right-click in the space on the right and select “New – DWORD Value”. Call it “IRQ8Priority” (no quotes or spaces) and give it a value of 1. This is supposed to prioritise a certain key part of the system that helps with audio performance – no one can remember what or if it works but it’s become a standard tweak.

Those are your top ten standard XP tweaks for optimising audio performance and they’ll do the job nicely.

DPC Latency
There’s one other cause of audio glitching and other drop-out problems and that’s to do with badly written drivers and DPC latency. A DPC or Deferred Procedure Call  is when something interupts the processor to demand an important task is done and everything else is knocked to a lower priority. All sorts of system devices need to do this but badly written ones hang on to that interuption far longer than they should. The result could be that it breaks the realtime streaming of your audio and so you get glitches. There’s a wonderful tool that can analyse your system and see if this is happening. It’s one of the most useful troubleshooting tools ever and you can get it from here along with a bigger explanation:
http://www.thesycon.de/deu/latency_check.shtml

Download it and run it and it will tell you exactly how well your system is behaving. If you get any spikes then open up the Device Manager and disable devices until the spikes go away. Be careful not to disable something that your system needs to function, like the hard drives, but other devices are fair game.
I would disable things in this order:

  1. Wireless network
  2. Regular network
  3. Modem
  4. Bluetooth or IR
  5. Optical Drive
  6. Microsoft battery management (if a laptop)
  7. Onboard audio drivers

If it has no effect then you can re-enable. Also disconnect any external devices such as drives, printers, cameras etc.

What you’re aiming for is a lovely flat readout on the latency checker for at least a few minutes. It can be a bit bumpy and still work well, it’s only when it hits the red that there’s a real problem.

BIOS
Some things can only be disabled in the systems BIOS. This is the “Basic In/Out System” of the motherboard that is the heart of your computer. You can usually access it on boot up by pressing the “Del” or “F2” key but have a look at your screen to if there’s a mention of BIOS or “Setup”. It usually has a basic old fashioned blue interface where you use the arrow keys to move around. If you’re not familiar with what you see then try not to change anything. If you are looking to disable an on-board device such as a modem, network socket or audio then you’ll usually find it under “Integrated Peripherals”.

You may also find an entry for Intel “Speed-stepping” or AMD “Cool & Quiet” which you should disable.
Don’t forget to save before you exit.

Summary
Tweaking XP was vitally important in the early days but as time’s moved on the speed and power of the computer has got around many of the problems, and drivers are generally much better than they once were. However, with the Internet we are prone to filling up our machines with all sorts of nonsense that sits around in the background getting in the way – if you can deal with that then you shouldn’t have too many problems.