How can I tune a Windows PC for best audio performance?

Your average Windows PC has a wide variety of hardware devices and software drivers from many sources – some of which may behave in undesirable ways if your goal is low-latency audio streaming. 

This guide describes some tools and techniques you can use to improve the performance of your PC for audio applications. Although every system is different, the techniques described below will help you to diagnose problems and suggest various changes to improve performance. 

Note: Some recommendations in this guide can have potentially hazardous results. We recommend you back up all of your data before embarking. You must understand the implications of each change before making it. Windows may warn or request your permission for some tasks. 

Select the High-Performance Power Plan 

If your computer is set to conserve energy, the CPU may not be running at full speed all of the time. This can have a detrimental effect on your computer's audio performance.  

As well as setting your PC to high performance, in this process you can disable automatic sleep and hibernation. 

  1. Go to Control Panel > Power Options. 
  2. Click ‘Show additional plans’. 
  3. Select ‘High Performance’. 
  4. Click ‘Change plan settings’. 
  5. Make sure both power options are set to ‘Never’. 

Disable System Sounds 

System sounds can interrupt audio applications. To disable them: 

  1. Go to Control Panel > Sound. 
  2. Select the Sounds tab. 
  3. Under Sound Scheme, select ‘No sounds’. 
  4. Click ‘Apply’ then ‘OK’. 

Disable Visual Effects 

The visual features in Windows 10 can use resources that could otherwise be used for audio processing. As a start, it is good idea to disable some of the visual features by doing the following: 

  1. Click the Windows button and type ‘performance' to open the ‘Performance Options’ dialog.  
  2. In the ‘Visual Effects’ tab, select ‘custom’. 
  3. Deselect ‘Animate windows when minimising and maximising’. You can also experiment with disabling other visual effects to see if they affect audio performance.  
  4. Click ‘OK’. 

If you wish to generally optimise your Windows 10 graphics for the best performance, use the ‘Adjust for best performance’ option. 

Set Processor Scheduling to ‘Background services’ 

This will improve the performance of your audio drivers on your computer. To do this: 

  1. Go to Control Panel > System. 
  2. Click ‘Advanced system settings’ and select the ‘Advanced’ tab. 
  3. Click on ‘Settings...’ to open the ‘Performance Options’ dialog. 
  4. Select the ‘Advanced’ tab. 
  5. Set Processor scheduling to ‘Background Services’. 
  6. Click ‘Apply’ then ‘OK’. 

Note: If application delays become apparent in after changing this setting, revert to back to best performance for ‘Programs’ option. 

Disable Windows Background Apps 

Windows 10, by default, runs a number of Apps in the background (regardless of whether you are using them) which can consume system resources. 

  1. Select 'Settings' from the Windows Start menu. 
  2. Select 'Privacy', and then 'Background Apps' from the left-hand menu. 
  3. Switch off the apps that you do not believe you are using, or that you do not wish to run in the background when you are not using the program. 

Disable 'Windows updates from more than one place' 

This Windows feature enables your PC to share Windows updates with other PCs on the local network and the Internet, and can impact your network bandwidth. 

  1. Select 'Settings' from the Windows Start menu. 
  2. Select ‘Update & Security’ > ‘Advanced Options’ > ‘Delivery Optimization’. 
  3. Move the slider to 'Off'. 

Disable Automatic Windows Updates 

It’s advisable to ensure your PC is running the latest Windows and BIOS versions (unless a specific update is known to interfere with your audio software or hardware). 

Windows 10 will automatically keep your PC up to date. However, due to Murphy's law (‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong’), automatic updates often occur at the worst possible times, hogging vital resources and bandwidth, and unexpected system reboots following an automatic update are usually catastrophic for audio sessions. 

There are many resources on the Internet describing how to disable automatic Windows downloads, installations and updates (for example: https://www.windowscentral.com/how-stop-updates-installing-automatically...).  

If you choose to disable automatic updates, you should instead perform manual updates at least every month. 

Disable Windows Firewall, Anti-virus and Spyware Software 

If you're able to run your system without connecting to the internet, then these should all be disabled to ensure that no interferences occur during audio recording or playback, and to ensure that maximum resources are available.  

To remain secure while your firewall and antivirus disabled, it is advisable to disconnect from any Internet connections when working with audio.  

Disable Windows File Indexing 

File indexing can use valuable processor resources. If you don’t need your PC to be fully indexed, you can disable it for all or selected drives. 

To disable file indexing: 

  1. Use the Windows key + R to open the ‘Run’ dialog. 
  2. Enter: control.exe srchadmin.dll 
  3. Click ‘OK’. 
  4. In the Indexing Options dialog, click ‘Modify’. 
  5. Deselect the locations that you don’t want to be indexed. 
  6. Click ‘OK’ and then ‘Close’. 

Manage Startup Applications 

There may be software applications on your PC that start up automatically when Windows is started, but are not actually required for everyday or audio-related usage of the PC. 

You can prevent applications from starting automatically via the Startup tab of the Task Manager. 

To open Task Manager, hit Ctrl + Shift + Esc, then select the Startup tab.  

Right-click an application and select ‘Disable’ to prevent it from starting automatically. 

Turn off Fast Startup 

With fast startup enabled, choosing to shut down your PC might look like you're completely shutting things down, but in reality, your PC is entering a mix between a shutdown and hibernation. 

This can interfere with Dante’s PTP clocking. To turn it off: 

  1. Go to Control Panel > All Control Panel Items > Power Options. 
  2. Click ‘Choose what the power buttons do’. 
  3. Click ‘Change settings that are currently unavailable’. 
  4. Deselect ‘Turn on fast startup’. 
  5. Click ‘Save Changes’. 

Configure Flow Control and Input Moderation 

'Flow Control' and 'Interrupt Moderation' can reduce the performance of your Ethernet interface and cause packets to be delayed. This is often the cause of late audio measurements on the Latency graph in Dante Controller for connections in and out of DVS, for example. To configure Flow Control and Interrupt Moderation: 

  1. Go to Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network Connections. 
  2. Right-click the network adaptor you use for Dante traffic, and select ‘Properties’. 
  3. Click ‘Configure’. 
  4. Select the ‘Advanced’ tab. 
  5. Click ‘Flow Control’ and set the value to ‘Disabled’. 
  6. Click ‘Interrupt Moderation’ and adjust for best performance (reduced latency vs. CPU usage). 
  7. Click OK. 

Configure your Paging File 

If you need a paging file, increase the virtual memory (swap space). A rule of thumb is to set your virtual memory to twice the size of your RAM, but there are other considerations.  

If you're sure you do not need a paging file, switch it off entirely for all drives. Search for a good resource on swap space / virtual memory / paging file optimization for more information. 

Disk Cleanup 

Disk Cleanup provides a simple interface to clear out old files from your computer. 

  1. Click the Windows button and type ‘disk cleanup'. 
  2. Select the drive you want to clean and click ‘OK’. 

If you are recording, consider defragmenting your drives regularly. Another approach is to use a separate drive for recording, which is regularly reformatted (and thus also defragmented). 

Advanced Configuration 

We recommend creating a Windows restore point before making any changes to Windows services or drivers. 

Disable Windows Services 

To free up resources for audio processing, you can disable unnecessary Windows 10 services. We recommend that you visit this site for more information: 

Note: Disabling Windows services can impact your PC’s core functionality, and should only be done by advanced users. 

Check Device Driver Latency 

Misbehaving drivers for non-audio hardware are often the cause of audio glitches. Any device driver on the system is a privileged piece of software, and if it is delayed while completing a task, it may delay or prevent other tasks on the system from running. This is bad news for audio software and drivers that need to run at regular intervals to ensure low latency glitch-free operation. 

To check if your system is suffering from DPC (Deferred Procedure Call) latency issues, we recommend the use of LatencyMon (http://www.resplendence.com/latencymon). 

Note: Be very careful if you decide to disable any of your PC’s hardware devices (especially USB host controllers). 

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