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computer (music) question, and a rant


chris c

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Okay, first the question: Do computers' performance suffer simply from age?

 

I've got a several year old 350 mhz PII that is loaded w/ 256 megs of RAM. I've followed articles in Electronic Musician and Computer Music and set it up (theoretically) to run well as a "music computer). I've turned off all the task scheduler/virus checker/screen saver type programs that I can find (things that normally hide in the background and eat up processing power). I've defragged my hard drive, run scan disk, disk clean ... you name it. I've recently run my restore disk and done a clean install of the OS. At very least, this thing should be able to handle recording a single track of audio cleanly, without pops and glitches.

 

But it won't. ???

 

Funny thing is, it used to ... In fact, it could handle several tracks of audio. Now it has trouble playing back more than a few tracks of audio, and I've been struggling for two days to record a simple bass line - one short audio track - in Cakewalk Pro Audio 9. Oh, I've got a Delta 1010 soundcard, with latest drivers installed, which appears to be functioning properly). I've installed the latest patch for Cakewalk. The levels are set well within reasonable limits, so the source of nasty pops etc. is not distortion (I'm not even close to pushing the red on playback meters in either Cakewalk and the Delta's software mixer).

 

But every time I try to record the loop, there are major pops, glitches, etc. in the end product.

 

Is it possible that this computer, although theoretically powerful enough to do audio recording, is simply not running well due to being a few years old? Despite not having any identifiable "problem"?

 

It's driving me crazy. The little bit of music time I've got is being spent trying to get my PC to work instead of recording/playing music - total creativity squelcher, not enhancer. Anybody else have this kind of problem? Anybody think of something I haven't described doing above that might help get my recording sorted?

 

Suggestions welcomed ...

Chris

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I've been able to get clean multitracks on a P266 notebook. Sometimes I get glitches, but most times I get clean takes.

 

A couple things I'd imagine are issues:

a) virtual memory. First, get as much physical RAM as you possibly can, then set a large chunk of your hard disk as permanent virtual RAM - do not allow Windows to do this on the fly!

b)partition issues. If you have multiple partitions or physical hard drives, Windows has an annoying tendency to use C: as its home base - even if you redirect all temp files to another drive. Therefore, make sure C: has as much free space as possible. Once you start dipping below @ 150mb free on C:, Windows begins to lag in performance.

I used to think I was Libertarian. Until I saw their platform; now I know I'm no more Libertarian than I am RepubliCrat or neoCON or Liberal or Socialist.

 

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Originally posted by chris c:

Okay, first the question: Do computers' performance suffer simply from age?

No, computers don't slow down with age. You can smoke their components, sure, but that will result in a general system failure not slowed performance. Your soundcard, however, could be fried. It's easy to tell. Find a friend with a compatible soundcard and swap it out.

 

Here's a rule to live by: if a working computer stops working and you did nothing, it's something you did. Typically, the last thing you did.

 

You've done some radical things to your system since the problem occured (like reinstalling the OS), so you're going to have trouble retracing your steps.

 

What I suggest is going to the Task Manager and shutting down as much as you can. You'd be surprised how few of those system processes have to be running for Windows to operate. Either call Microsoft or go up on their website and find out what the minimum system is. It's a pain in the ass to shut them all down, but do it. If that fixes the problem, start running the program with more and more of the system processes running until you find out which one is causing the problem.

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Postman's suggestions are good ones, but there are a couple of age-related hardware problems that could be happening here.

 

A) If your CPU is overheating it could be slowing down it's clock speed to compensate. Things to check:

1) The CPU fan. Working? Dusty? Clogged up?

2) All of the vents on the case, including any and all fans, especially the power supply fan.

A can of compressed air and a vacuum cleaner with a small attachment hose will work wonders here.

 

B) Basically your memory DIMMs could be losing solid connection with their slots in the motherboard. When this happens the BIOS doesn't always detect it, because there is a partial connection, but you also don't get decent performance out of your memory. There are three reasons why this sometimes happens:

 

1) The slots and DIMMs have different materials, which I think of as "gold" and "tin" based on the colors. (I forget what the actual materials are). These don't interact well over time and the result can be intermittent connections. If you see this, there's not a lot you can do other than replace your DIMMs. :(

 

2) Dust and/or "gunk" (these are technical terms, remember) get into the slots. A can of compressed air can work wonders on this one. Pop the DIMMs out and get the slots real good.

 

3) The DIMMs have come slightly loose.

 

The same thing can happen with other components, ie, the sound card, but memory is the most likely culprit.

 

Hope this helps, and good luck.

 

--Dave

Make my funk the P-funk.

I wants to get funked up.

 

My Funk/Jam originals project: http://www.thefunkery.com/

 

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Thanks for the various suggestions ... a number of things you all have pointed out I have not checked or considered. Wish me luck.

 

Don't think its the sound card by the way, because it can play back audio from some sources without difficulty and its not making any noise itself that I can detect ... also run my synth outputs through it and they're coming through fine. Any way to test it, though, just in case, other than plugging it into another pc setup, which of course isn't an immediate option?

 

Thanks,

Chris

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Perhaps DMA on your hard drive came unchecked during your reinstall. Go to device manager and make sure DMA is enabled for the hard drive.

 

I used to get 10-12 tracks of 16/44,1 audio on a Pentium 200. The Delta may be a bit much for your rig, too. It sounds like you're just barely above the minimum system requirements.

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I used to have pop and glitch problems with my PCs but my latest one with a Pentium III 866 w/256MB RAM using Windows 98 and a 30G hard drive(at 5600 rpm yet) doesn't pop or glitch at all. This with the Virtual memory on as well as the Norton Anti-Virus running in the background! Now if they could just get it to the point where you can run software synths and record digital audio together at CD quality in stereo I'll be floored. It may be possible with the newer Pentium IVs.
You shouldn't chase after the past or pin your hopes on the future.
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If you update the OS you might run into problems. As computers get older, the OS is usually written for the faster generation and the computer will run slower doing the same thing because it's also running Quicktime Version 5, etc. Sometimes Windows and MacOS update themselves over the internet with little warning.

 

I have been playing with Studio Vision today using Mac OS 9.2 and it is not happy. It has crashed four times, once eating a decent solo. Not easy to get motivated to replace the solo that just got erased when the computer crashed. I allocated more memory to it and hopefully it will be happy with that. Or maybe it's time for a new sequencer.

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chris,

 

synthetic has a good point there. Upgrading the software could be the culprit here. Did you by any chance use an older version of cakewalk before ?

 

Newer software versions almost always run slower on the same machine. There are a few exceptions to this rule but not a lot (as a programmer i should know) :D

 

Ronald

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Not only is newer software more likely to run more slowly on older machines, it is also less likely to have been tested with older machines, in order to sort out compatibility issues. The same goes for some forms of newer hardware, such as soundcards.

 

That's why I recommend making sure that all of the products running on the same machine are fairly contemporary of each other. Once you've exceeded a computer generation of three years between CPU and other components, you're pushing things, IMHO.

Enthusiasm powers the world.

 

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In response to Magpel's 2 points, I made sure DMA was checked, so that's not it, BUT, you may have a point regarding the minimum system requirements. Don't have the Delta manual here at work, but I do seem to recall that either the Delta or CWPA9.0 required a minimum CPU speed pretty close to (if not right at) what I have. It may be simply time for a new PC, which I've been contemplating anyway to allow me to upgrade to Sonar (which absolutely requires more juice than my PC has).

 

So, I'll pose another question. I understand that, for a music-only PC, custom is best and your off-the-shelf Best Buy/Circuit City type consumer oriented PC package is not the best way to go. Finances, however (e.g. the availability of a credit / payment plan option) may dictate the latter as the available option. I already have a bias against Compaq PC's, but anyone have any opinion as to the merits of another of the major brands (HP, IBM, other ...) for music use, once the junk is cleaned off of it and its properly configured?

 

Thanks,

Chris

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Even if you have to wait a little bit save up and build custom, you'll gain as much as 20% in performance if you select the right stuff.

 

Also when was the last time the machine was wiped clean and had a fresh install of the os and ONLY the software you need? If it's been a while I would suggest doing that, often it can solve a speed problem by removing unnecessary junk that has been installed or not unistalled completely over the years.

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I know you say you used to be able to record but now can't. Was this before, before Pro Audio 9, or before the 1010?

Can you record with other programs, the delta musthave come with a lite version of something or other.

Did you leave your old soundcard in for midi? does it have a line in, can you record through it?

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