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Keeping a PC simple

By C. Steve | April 16, 2007

I found a screamin’ deal on a little IBM desktop with a Pentium 4 at 2.56 GHz — too cheap to pass up. I’ve installed Win XP Service Pack 2 on it, and I’m gonna use it as a standalone effects processor. It needs to be as fast as it can given the pokey processor, so here’s a quick look at how to squeeze the most out of a Windows machine.

1. Don’t install Vista, not yet anyway. It’s still a bit early to know how Vista will perform in an audio environment, but one thing we do know — it expends a lot of CPU cycles looking for DRM content (meaning copy-protected audio, video, etc.). We also know that the extreme eye-candy in Vista takes a serious toll. If you’re trying to squeeze performance out of a non-dual-core system, it’s better to stick with XPSP2.

2. Turn off all the eye candy. It’s pretty to look at, but all those fades, slides, and shadows on menus and buttons take extra CPU cycles and create more traffic on the bus going to and from your video card. Hit the System control panel, choose the Advanced tab, and set Performance to “Adjust for Best Performance.” While you’re at it, kill the Desktop pattern or backdrop as well as the screen saver. You’ll notice a significant increase in performance, even if it ain’t as much fun to look at.

3. Kill Fast User Switching. If this is your audio machine, you’re not gonna be inclined to share it with your kids anyway, so there’s no point in being able to switch users quickly. Buy a cheap or used PC for the kids and let them go to town.

4. Turn off Hibernation and Power Option Schemes on desktops. These things make sense on a laptop where you’re trying to stretch the battery life, but they’re just a CPU drag on a desktop. Go into the Power Options control panel and set the screen to go dark after 10 minutes — that’ll save some power and your monitor. Set the hard drives so they turn off Never.

5. Disable Automatic Updates. This is just good housekeeping on a machine that makes you money; you don’t want your computer to make unnecessary changes to the operating system without your express permission. Check for updates manually, once a week, or as part of your backup procedures. Trust me… I’ve learned this the hard way.

6. Turn off System Restore. This one always gets my IT buddies going — they like to have regular restore points that occur automatically. I don’t care about that, except when I’m installing new software (which I do seldom). When it’s time to install something new or updated, I manually create a restore point first, then install. No big deal.

7. Don’t map your system sounds through your fancy audio interface. The sounds ain’t that kewl anyway, and mapping them is a drag on your computer.

There are several other little tweaks you can apply, but they border on diminishing returns. Most of the benefit of these tweaks are found in the first few anyway. But if you perform those you will notice a difference in track count and in the number of plugs you can run. Promise.

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