Friday, December 4, 2009

Tweaking Netbooks for Audio (XP mainly, some Windows 7)

I hope this one is not too boring!

Netbooks have become one of the hottest sectors of the computer market, maybe they'll even muscle out those ubquitious lappies with little glowy apples on the lid. Mind, I don't really have a hate for Apple, I still have a G4 PowerBook which I'm fond of, it might even make an Old Tech article. But anyway a while back, I picked up a little Toshiba netbook myself, so I wouldn't lug my 100-pound Panasonic Toughbook everywhere, as badass as that may be. The advantages are obvious, the Tosh is light, cute, portable, has a lovely bright screen and cost $350. I wondered if it'd be powerful enough to handle a minimum of audio production and dj performance - and well, it is, with some work... I'd also spent some time tweaking the Toughbook prior, we're talking Windows XP, although netbooks are starting to ship with Win7 and don't mention Vista... and I know a plus for Macs is that you don't have to tweak them, but then you're missing out on all the fun...

I ended up getting a Toshiba Mini NB 205. Although the netbooks I saw all seem to have the same exact specs, or close - Atom N280 1.66GB, 1GB RAM, 160GB HD - I got this one because it had 3 USB jacks instead of just two, a replaceable 6-cell battery (you want 6 or even 9, some Asus netbooks have the latter), RAM user-upgradeable to 2GB (will do this!) and it looked a bit more pro than others. Oh, and a not-so-glossy screen. The glossy screen fad Apple started needs to end now. ASUS was my second choice btw. Toshiba also pleasantly suprised me for shipping this thing with a minimum of bloatware. It can also power USB devices in sleep mode and there is a shock-protection utility that resets the hard drive head when the lappie is jostled or dropped. I have done the latter twice. I am the enemy of all lappies. It came with WinXP SP3, they are also shipping with Win7 now.

So I set out optimizing this thing to make tunes. Last time with the Panny, I remember doing crazy stuff like editing the registry, which I consider the Windows equivalent of opening the Necronomicon. Google brought up this thread on gearslutz:

seems to have been replaced by this one:

...but this was the most useful article it linked to...

Which tells ya what's essential, what's good and what's useless. Just read it. Some stuff I did like "Change Processor Scheduling to Background Services". Some I sorta did like "Switch Off Power Schemes" - the Tosh has a better power management utility than Windows, this seems to be a strength of all netbooks and probably how manufacturers come close to their bullshit battery life estimates like 9 hours - real life use is probably always half what they claim. At best. Anyway, in Full Power mode, I set everything to Max and set it to *never* power anything down. In Normal mode, for when I'm on battery power, CPU is set to max and the monitor brightness set to half, as its a freaking bright LCD anyway! Some of the marginal tweaks I did, like removing visual effects (which I don't like anyway) and setting the screensaver to *only* launch when I click on to its desktop shortcut. Other I didn't, such as removing the desktop image. Pointless tweaks include disabling certain Windows background services, so I havent done that, besides (regretfully) uninstalling the bloatware that is iTunes on Windows. There's a lot more in that article, so while it's old, so is XP, so it's worth a read!

Also, check these:
(old but good, copypasta from TASCAM guide)
...links to...
This last one seems to be about Win 7 failing to even play mp3s w/o fucking up. I'm a PC and this was *NOT* my idea kthox. Still I found it useful.

So after all this, I find my netbook works pretty well - maybe you could almost say swimmingly - with Live. Its especially nice as an on-the-go composition tool with say, a nanoPAD hooked up. I got 4 VSTis plus Impulse for drums, no problem, like 72% CPU, ended up making twisted jungle in the park, not even worrying about battery life. Handles 8 tracks of audio just fine - plus 1 track Impulse (for one shot samples) and 1 track Korg M1 VSTi (for piano noodlings) 44% CPU. Would totally consider this little lappie as a Live tool.

BUT and all caps means it's a big BUT, my Yamaha ASIO audio interface refused to work on it w/o heavy glitching. Using ASIO4ALL instead of the factory drivers wasn't any help. But then I found DPC Latency Checker...

Just download it. Its free, cool and works with seemingly every flavor of Windows from 2000 through Win 7, 32 bit or 64 bit no problem. And it fixed my problem. Well, it helped, leading me to turning off the wi-fi adapter in Device Manager. (it has to be in Device Manager it seems, so the damn thing is actually OFF) Now my interface works as well as it did in my P4, which isn't saying much. Latency is not good - 11ms in, 11 out for 22 total - this is equal to what others seem to have gotten out of their netbooks. I think it may be because of Yamahas drivers or because it's only a USB 1.0 soundcard.

One last thing, be very careful with third party hardware drivers! I will only allow ASIO and midi (when needed) on mine. Webcams and scanners can cause massive problems. Even. On. Macs. I know this from experience. Also, my Logitech webcam wouldnt let me use my APC40 on my old lappy until I did a registry fix. (this is a known issue, Akai/Ableton have a patch for it that does the same thing if you're a pussy.) My new lappy has a built-in webcam, its kinda shitty but at least it doesnt break anything.

OK, one more, Revo Uninstaller:

If you've ever regretted installing anything (hello iTunes! goodbye) use this instead of Windows' utility - Revo will let you cleanse your registry of any leftover shit! Be careful! But works a treat.

Happy tweaking!

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