Optimizing a PC for use with the Helix Board or Firefly digital interface
Posted by Rick Shao on 16 November 2015 08:04 AM
While many computer manufacturers and music stores offer computers that have been optimized for multimedia and professional audio application, it is possible to create such a PC yourself without too much hassle.There are a few ways to go about it, depending on your abilities as a computer enthusiast and the amount you want to spend.
First, you’ll need to decide what kind of system you require.While 32-bit computers have been popular throughout the years, 64-bit systems are slowly becoming the norm due to their ability to handle more RAM – among a host of other reasons.They may be slightly more costly in the end, and you’ll need to purchase an x64 version of windows rather than x86 (the 32-bit version), however you may find it easier to upgrade later on down the road.
The Phonic Helix Board and Firefly units are all compatible with both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Vista, so it’s really up to you which version you’d prefer.It’s important to note, however, that while we do provide compatibility with 64-bit versions of Windows, not all companies do.If you’re thinking of purchasing other equipment or software, it’s important to check with the manufacturer for information on compatibility.
Personal computers that are sold as-is from retail outlets are perhaps the most convenient option, but they are also cluttered down with a lot of useless programs/features that you will probably never use. Not to mention the strain it can put on your CPU to runs some of these programs in the background.A fresh installation of Windows is definitely recommended whenever you purchase such a computer.
When installing a fresh copy of Windows, be sure to download all the drivers you may need for your computer first.Many of them may be included on CD with your computer, but it’s a good idea to check the make and model of your audio card, video card, network card, etc. just in case.Download the latest drivers for these devices and back them up on a USB card or CD so you can use them later.Install Windows as per the instructions provided by Microsoft.
Firewall and Virus Protection
Now that you have a fresh copy of Windows installed, you can better optimize your computer for recording.First of all, you can turn off Windows Firewall.You don’t need it, if this computer is going to be dedicated to recording audio and – quite likely – is not going to be connected to the internet.Also, there should be no need to activate or install any virus protection, provided you a) aren’t going to connect to the internet, b) won’t be bringing viruses onto the computer through other means (eg. pirated software).These changes can all be made within the Windows Security Center, which is found in the Control Panel.
Graphics Acceleration / Effects
Another thing you might want to consider is the graphics acceleration of your computer.With most computers, your video card will be built right into the motherboard itself.In this case, it is typically your CPU and RAM that take the brunt of the graphics processing.Purchasing a PCIe graphics card, with resident memory and high quality GPU (graphics processing unit), can minimize the impact video acceleration has on your system.This, however, is not a requirement – just something to consider if you’re not convinced your system can handle the graphics and audio processing without lags or disconnects.
Failing the installation of a dedicated graphics card, you can simply turn off effects and other processor-heavy display properties.Right click your desk top and select the Display Properties option.
Within this menu, go to the Appearance tab and select “Effects”.The new window that opens will allow you to change the Effects properties.It is best to disable the use of transition effects and smooth edges of screen fonts. Also shadows and appearance of window contents while dragging can also be disabled.
Also in the Display Properties window, go to the Desktop tab.It’s best to change your desktop to ‘none’, and select a plain color to minimize the amount of processing required.
Turning off all screen savers is also a good idea. This is done in the Screen Saver tab.
More Visual Tweaks
Right click the My Computer icon on your desktop (if you have one; otherwise you can do so in the Start Menu).Select System Properties and go to the Advanced Tab.
Here, under performance, you can select Advanced to adjust some advanced graphic display properties.All-in-all, any ‘fade,’ ‘animate,’ ‘slide’ or similar effects found in the Performance Option window can be disabled as they may affect performance.
Disable Windows System Sounds
Go into the Control Panel and select the Sound and Audio Devices option.Within the Sounds tab, turn the sound scheme off completely.The windows system sounds will only take up valuable processing power.
Check Disc and Disc Cleanup
While it shouldn’t be immediately necessary, running Check Disc and Disc Cleanup from time to time will greatly increase the speed of your computer.Check Disc will locate and fix/clean any problems with your system to ensure it runs smoothly.Disc Cleanup finds and removes unnecessary temporary files that may be dragging your computer down.
To run Check Disc, enter My Computer, right-click your C: drive and select Properties.In the Error Checking section of the Tools tab, you should be able to find a ‘Check Now’ button.This will run the Check Disc utility.
Make sure both boxes are ticked and select Start.You’ll be asked if you want to schedule Check Disc to run next time you start the computer.You should then select Yes.
Disc Cleanup is activated in almost the same way.Go into My Computer and, once again, enter the Properties menu of your C: drive. The Disc Cleanup button will be available just below the pie-graph showing your available disc space.
You should probably clean the following files if they exist:
Deactivate Cache Writing To Disc
Once again, enter My Computer and go to the C: drive’s properties page.In the Hardware tab, select your hard drive and select properties.
Now that you are in the properties for this disc, find the “Enable write caching on disc” option in the Policies tab.Make sure this function is not ticked.The disc caching is not necessary for recording multi-track audio and can slow performance.
Go to the START menu’s RUN option and use the command “msconfig” (without the quotations, as shown below).This will access the Microsoft Configuration Utility.
In the Startup tab, disable any start up services that you would typically deem unimportant.This more than likely includes MSN Messenger, Adobe Reader startup/updater and other similar programs that will not impact the overall function of your computer yet run in the background. Such programs can make your computer lag.
Windows 7 users can also find the services.msc file (type it in the search bar of the start menu) to deactivate services currently in process that are not required. This is perhaps a task for more experienced users, as many processes can be vital to the audio stream and the operating system, so take care deactivating and changing the properties of the services. Users may be able to find a list of services and whether they're required or not by doing a google search. Some websites have compiled such lists over time and could prove helpful.
Hopefully this gives you enough to work with to make your computer work much more smoothly with audio interfaces such as the Helix Board and Firefly.You might also want to look into downloading a latency checker (doing a google search should yield results for at least one freeware latency checker).It’s highly recommended as it will let you know if there are any lags on your computer that could result in disconnects or latency that will affect the performance when recording audio.
If your computer does still experience lagging, your PC may not be powerful enough to receive the audio in real-time.You can go into the Phonic Control Panel and increase the latency / buffer times to help correct for this. But if your computer is powerful enough, and you followed the instructions found above, you should have no troubles recording multi-track audio.