No tin foil hats with wire coat hanger antennas to be found here, just pure testing and application...


Sure, most of the digital DJ's and producer elite nowadays (at least whilst in front of the lens) pretty much opt to rock an Apple Mac as their main tool of choice these days, however I reckon there are more then a fair few amateur and professional users of DAW that still opt for the Windows platform. Why?  Because nearly all high end DAW software starts out with a windows based version first not to mention that there are still a fair number of proven tried and tested high end industry standard professional DAW software packages, utilities and solutions that still haven't seen a Mac version.

 Computing technology has indeed come a long way with vastly more efficient multi-cored number crunchers throwing well over a 1000MHz on the downside of the clock cycle and right across the system bus with masses more of vastly faster memory on which to do it all on. So is there really any need to prep a machine for dedicated DAW or digital DJ use like we used to? I guess ultimately that depends how serious you are and the means that you have at your disposal. But in all honesty there's nothing like the feeling that you've done all you can in order to ensure that its going to operate as reliably as possible. I think the ideal would be to have a dedicated and separate machine for DAW and/or digital DJ purposes that isn't connected to the internet whilst in anyway whilst using it as such or at least have some way of instantly switching to dedicated DAW and/or digital DJ mode via some sort of multi-boot configuration.

Basically if you've got a spare box or you can't really stretch the budget for getting a new one this guide might be handy if you're looking to try some kind of digital DJ or DAW software.

From actual testing I can definitely say that you will notice the difference in performance from a non prepped machine and a prepped machine for dedicated DAW and/or digital DJ use even with today's computing power at our disposal. It might be also worth keeping in mind that there are far more Windows machines out there, I kind of think growing any potential market and allowing people to experiment with digital audio in some creative capacity would involve people being able to use what they have now at their disposal which would more then likely in most cases be more then capable of handling some sort of DAW application and more then competently handle Digital DJ applications for sure with a little preparation.




32-bit or 64-bit?

First of all lets get the 64-bit this tired debate out of the way. Most DAW and all current digital DJ software natively still only operate in 32-bit mode. However there will be a few bits of newer DAW hardware and software that will be better able to utilize certain facets of the 64-bit operating environment but not in any true sense. About the only thing that may boost performances is how the memory is managed in a 64-bit OS and the increased amounts of RAM that it allows you to physically install and address for application purposes. XP32 allows you to use a maximum of 3GB of ram meaning that even if you physically install 4GB of RAM to say a laptop XP32 will still only see 3GB to then only be able to use 3GB.

If you wanted to use 4GB of RAM upwards (provided your system was capable of physically accommodating it) you have to look to something like XP64 to be able to fully address/utilise all of it.

This is where it gets a little bit more confusing, despite the official blurb at Microsoft claiming that Windows Vista 32-bit and Windows 7 32-bit can only address a maximum of 3GB of RAM they can in fact address a maximum of 4GB. If you want to install and use larger amounts of RAM then that on your system you'd have to look to the 64-bit flavours of Vista and 7.

 Sure having a 64-bit OS environment would be the ideal provided you had the software and hardware to utilize it but a 32-bit OS has greater compatibility and would more then adequately handle nearly all of today's digital DJ software.


 
Firewire or USB?

With today's current technology USB 2.0 has pretty much been proven to be reliable when using it as a means of connecting external audio interfaces and digital DJ gear to your computer.  However if you're a die hard advocator of firewire on its technical merits despite all the in world practical evidence that USB 2.0 works just as well if not better since its pretty much used in the majority of top grade pro digital club/studio mixers, you'll be wanting to get hold of a firewire 34 or 54 express card to use with your firewire interface if you don't actually have a firewire port built into your laptop.  For the greatest level of compatibility across both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of XP, Vista, and 7 I suggest you look for an express card that has a Texas Instruments chipset. Again having tested it first hand it was the only express card that was instantly recognised and installed itself without issue on all versions of Windows consistently whether 32 or 64-bit.


XP or Windows 7?

 In testing a stripped down install of XP32 or XP64 for DAW purposes absolutely goes like the clappers on today's current windows boxes purely from an end user operational standpoint and if you ignore all that "stuck in the 90's" fodder that gets bandied about is if it had some overbearing effect on world events whenever people say they prefer it to windows 7 for certain dedicated tasks. With actual testing I was able to get much lower stable and reliable latency times with certain hardware configurations in Windows XP64 then I was able to with a stripped down copy of Windows 7 64-bit. But for the sake of this piece I'll keep it strictly Windows 7-64 although in practical testing XP64 performed consistently better with various hardware configurations that I had the fortune of testing it out with.

To put it in very simple terms, XP is still technically better for this kind of thing since its able to directly access hardware where Vista and windows 7 have to do it in a kind of/very round about way. But with today's processing power in combination the with the appropriate system drivers the difference is often negligible for most users and modern hardware setup scenarios.


Hardware and device driver support

This is linked to the last 2 sections which doesn't really make it any easier.  However with XP there's generally a broader range of generic and specialised DAW/digital DJ hardware along with the system device drivers to make them actually work that have compatibility with XP then with say the likes of windows Vista or Windows 7. Even if you opt to use the 64-bit flavour of XP it should still work with all of your 32-bit based applications, hardware and system drivers as if it would in XP32 which isn't the case with the 64-bit versions of Vista and 7.


The Most compatible versions of Windows

With all specialised and custom solutions aside, for the greatest levels of generic compatibility I'd recommend XP 32/64, Vista 32 and if you wanted to be bang on right up to date; windows 7 32. Windows 7 64-bit has a lot of backward compatibility issues with certain 32-bit based generic hardware and can't be made to work easily with it straight out of the box (sometimes not at all). As ever its best to make sure whatever hardware you want to use with Windows 7 64-bit actually has the device driver support to make it work with it whether generic or specialised.

If you're using a tablet for its ability to give you direct control, Vista and Windows 7 is the way to go since all versions of Windows Vista and 7 have built in onscreen tablet text input features for doing instant track searches for real time dragging and dropping onto your DAW or DJ software. It basically means you don't have to be constantly folding out the keyboard to do it. XP doesn't come with extra tablet input and control features built in to require a special tablet build of XP.



Whether Windows 7 32-bit or 64-bit

 So you've got your Windows 7 machine and you want to be able to make it run as reliably as how a Mac is always claimed to be if not more so as a digital DJ or DAW rig? Well here's a general step by step guide to some of the basics for getting Windows 7 trimmed down, leaner and faster then you ever thought possible for operating much more efficiently as part of a digital DJ or DAW setup through some basic tweaks that require very little technical knowledge.


Visuals settings

 You don't need Aero visuals in Windows 7 for working with sound so you might as well drop the visual down to Windows 7 basic and you should notice a major improvement in overall speed. Better still drop it down to classic visuals and you'll notice even more speed plus there's the added bonus of being able to make the windows GUI any colour you like in classic mode.

 You're not video editing or making Video games here so you might want to drop the colour mode down from 32-bit to 16-bit. In doing so you'll notice that audio files will load significantly faster along with vastly faster real time waveform rendering.


Internet connection

 I guess this bit is up to you. But in actual testing using a machine that isn't connected to the internet in anyway does significantly increase performances overall which is pretty much the case on all computers. Try it for yourself now.  Run a heavy application whilst leaving your internet connection open and then close the application again. Now disconnect from the internet and repeat. You should notice it run much more quickly to feel a little snappier overall with no internet connection. From experience of certain types of hardware it might also be an idea to completely remove all wireless devices from your dedicated DAW too. There was one time I was having a few issues with audio drop out and pops. At the time I had a couple of wireless devices installed to the machine with no functioning software system driver to make them work installed to the machine. Plus they were also disabled under device manager too. Despite this they were hot to the touch (short of scalding) which suggested to me some sort of wireless activity was still going on. It wasn't until I physically removed the wireless devices from my machine did the audio drop outs stop.

However you might want to retain network related services if you want to experiment with some touch interfacing solutions that utilise a network connection of some kind whether wired or wireless as in the case of the iPad.


No need for the firewall or Antivirus software

 This might sound risky but if you're not connecting this machine to the internet at all you don't need a firewall.  Turning it off = more speed for you. Pretty much everything you download to port to this machine should be coming though another OS instance that has its own virus checker. Check all the applications, tracks and files in your OS instance that has a working virus checker before porting it to your DAW or Digital DJ rig. No virus checker required and you should notice even more speed being retained.

 Don't run netbooks next to your DAW whist using it as a DAW. This might not apply to everyone and it might also seem really stupid. Possibly almost too far fetched to be true for some. However with actual testing I've found that performing processor intensive tasks on a netbook caused my main work machine (running some music management app at the time) to momentarily freeze for 1 or 2 seconds at a time whenever processor activity peaked on the netbook. This was even with all wireless devices removed from my main rig. I tested this issue for repeatability and sure enough it was replicatable.


 Remove everything you don't need

 This should definitely bump up your DAW or digital DJ rig speed even further. Simply by removing all Windows components that aren't essential to the operation of your DAW or digital DJ software you'll immediately notice an even greater boost in system performance. Believe it or not this also includes removing Internet explorer. I can't imagine that you'd get much internet browsing done over your digital DJ software whilst rocking a tight set or putting together club lands next clubfloor shaker. You might want to check the guide here on how you can do this.


Disabling Windows services that aren't relevant to DAW use

I used to do this as standard routine when prepping short of wearing a tin foil hat. However more recently I pretty much don't bother with this anymore. In a more recent round of testing I left this part of the preparation out just to see how it would go. So far it hasn't really impacted on performance at all but obviously if issues should arise it'll be one of the first things you might want to take a look at doing.


Don't install anything you don't need

If its possible to manage you peripheral devices from your core DAW or digital DJ software you don't need to install the additional applications that came with them. In which case try to install the system drivers only where possible. Try to stick to a group of core of applications that you will know you'll use. Installing and uninstalling many different things will clutter up your registry as well as create many repeat entries that don't get removed even after uninstalling them to slow down boot up times.
 


Defragment your hard drive

I guess this should go without saying despite the fact that generally Windows 7 is very well behaved and pretty good when it comes to keeping things tidy as far as disk fragmentation is concerned. It usually only hangs around 1 to 4% but I guess its worth doing anyway. It was only ever really a major issue in XP.

Now go forth having applied some of these basic thing to now possibly enjoy obscenely fast performance on your now Windows 7 DAW or digital DJ prepped box.