How to set-up and optimize a Digital Audio Workstation on Windows

This post simply duplicates the knowledgebase page at https://helpcenter.steinberg.de/hc/en-us/articles/360008589880-Windows-How-to-set-up-and-optimize-a-Digital-Audio-Workstation

There are several important links in this article:

Update the operating system regularly.

If the Windows 10/11 Update feature yields no results on already released major updates, check this page for additional options.

What about my old Windows system and my old hardware?

Many can be upgraded to Windows 10, however, some systems are not really suited for DAW tasks. Please see this article for details.

Problems?

Try a ‘clean boot’ without all the additional services and auto-start programs to troubleshoot issues. This is described here.

Analysis Tools

to monitor the overall real-time performance of your system, the free utilities ‘DPC Latency Checker’ (only Windows 7) and ‘LatencyMon‘ facilitate the search for possible sources of error a lot. Another tool to find bottlenecks can be ‘WhySoSlow

Graphic card issues:

see below


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Windows: How to set-up and optimize a Digital Audio Workstation

The basics

A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) application has very specific requirements that cannot be compared to other applications. A system that runs perfectly fine with games or video rendering may still not be suitable for audio real-time tasks with its very different priorities. While this may [not?] be the final verdict, here are some suggestions on setting up a DAW system properly.

Operating System

Windows 10/11 64-bit is the recommended platform! Most of this article’s content also applies to Windows 7 and Windows 8, though.

Update the operating system regularly. If the Windows 10/11 Update feature yields no results on already released major updates, check this page for additional options.

What about my old Windows 7 or Windows 8 system and my old hardware?
Many of these can be upgraded to Windows 10, however, some systems that appear to be compatible are not really suited for DAW tasks. Please see this article for details.

Components

Make sure that all device drivers are up-to-date and use the latest firmware (if applicable).

  • Graphic cards/graphics processing unit (GPU)
    Use the latest official Windows drivers provided, but do not install the additional software that comes with the driver! PhysX, GeForce Experience, AMD Settings (formerly Catalyst Control Center) are mostly game-related features not needed on a DAW. They consume extra CPU resources and may mess up the processing priorities to the disadvantage of audio real-time processing.
  • Audio interfaces
    Use the latest official Windows drivers provided. If external devices are used, make sure that the drivers for the interface cards (USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt) are also up-to-date.
    More on audio interfaces further down.
  • Update the UEFI BIOS. This may not only improve the stability of the system, but also enhances security and compatibility. See the manufacturer’s documentation for details.
  • Avoid using dedicated mouse and keyboard drivers, instead use the drivers provided by Windows.

Tweaking Windows

  • Energy saving
    Any energy saving option should be deactivated in favor of continuous operation.
    Open Control Panel ▸ Power Options ▸ Create a power plan ▸ High Performance and set the computer sleep time to ‘Never’.
    Once set-up, go to Change plan settings ▸ Change advanced power settings ▸ USB settings and disable the ‘USB selective suspend settings’.
  • Uninstall unused applications and plug-ins.
  • Remove or disable unused components (WIFI, webcams, printers etc.).
  • Minimize background tasks as much as possible. This also includes online storage solutions as Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud, etc. They are often not considered, even though constant synchronization can stress the system significantly. Even if you do not experience performance difficulties, it is advisable to pause cloud services at least while recording.
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST) - long-term audio recording tests have shown audio glitches every few hours on some systems if the ‘Link Power Management’ option in the RST control panel ▸ Performance is enabled. Disable it if similar issues appear and the software is used.
  • Try a ‘clean boot’ without all the additional services and auto-start programs to troubleshoot issues. This is described here.

Tweaking Cubase/Nuendo

In the Studio ▸ Studio Setup ▸ VST Audio System ▸ Advanced Options, there are some settings you can experiment with.

  • ‘Processing precision’
    A processing precision of 64-bit float can increase CPU load and memory consumption.
  • ‘Activate Multi Processing’
    Usually, having this selected is the preferred setting. But if performance issues come up, it is worth deactivating the multiprocessing support for a test.
  • ‘Activate ASIO-Guard’
    As mentioned earlier, Cubase/Nuendo makes heavy use of real-time processing.
    The ASIO-Guard allows you to shift as much processing as possible from the ASIO real-time path to the ASIO-Guard processing path. This results in a more stable system.
    However, depending on the system, the project and the plug-ins used, it is worth a try deactivating it or selecting a different level.

Tweaking the computer

Modern systems with a fully updated Windows should not need any of the default settings to be modified. However, if certain drivers are not fully optimized and you experience audio drop-outs, it is worth having a closer look. Note that the following settings are often not accessible, especially on laptop systems.

  • Disable Hyper-Threading (Intel)/Simultaneous Multi-Threading (AMD) in the UEFI BIOS if your CPU supports it and if your BIOS allows you to modify this setting.
  • Disable advanced power-saving and dynamic performance options for your CPU if applicable. This usually needs to be done in the UEFI BIOS of your computer and includes ‘Enhanced Intel SpeedStep (EIST)’, ‘AMD Cool ‘n’ Quiet’, ‘Intel Turbo Boost’, and ‘AMD Turbo CORE’.
  • Disable C-States in the UEFI BIOS if this is accessible. C-States allow your CPU to sleep when idle, which may interfere with real-time applications such as audio. This option is often called ‘Disable CPU Idle State for Power Saving’.

Tweaking the audio interface

Onboard sound cards: If your motherboard provides an onboard sound card, it should be configured to be the standard playback device in the Windows Sound Settings. This way, the Windows system sounds will be played back by the onboard device without affecting the audio signal of your audio interface or soundcard. However, if playback issues occur, it can also be advisable to deactivate the onboard device in the UEFI BIOS of your system. Onboard soundcards cannot be recommended for the usage with our products since they do not allow working with low latencies due to missing ASIO drivers. Furthermore, some onboard sound chips are equipped with substandard AD/DA converters and only offer low signal quality (high noise level, non-linear frequency response, bad electrostatic shield).

Latency/Buffer Setting
If you experience audio drop-outs or crackles, look at the ‘Audio Performance’ (‘Studio’ menu in Cubase and Nuendo). It indicates how much resources are left to calculate the audio data and forward it to the audio driver in time. If the latency is very low (which is corresponding to a very small buffer size) time might be too short for proper signal processing. Depending on the system, the audio interface and the running project, it might make sense to increase the latency/buffer setting. Please refer to the manual of the corresponding audio interface for details. Updating the audio driver might also improve the overall system performance and allow using latencies which weren’t usable before.

Advanced troubleshooting

Still with us? Great! Here is more to consider, more tips and some real-life experience from the support department.

Analysis Tools

Use analysis software to monitor the overall real-time performance of your system.
The free utilities ‘DPC Latency Checker’ (only Windows 7) and ‘LatencyMon‘ facilitate the search for possible sources of error a lot. Another tool to find bottlenecks can be ‘WhySoSlow

USB 2.0 vs USB 3.x

While USB 3.x is backwards compatible and USB 2.0 components should work on a USB 3.x port, the stability and performance may suffer. Preferably, connect USB 2.0 devices to USB 2.0 ports. If none are available, some UEFI BIOS settings allow switching USB 3.x ports back to USB 2.0.

In contrast to that, we also had reports on various MIDI and audio issues (timing, drop-outs) on AMD systems with the audio/MIDI interface connected to a USB 2.0 port. Switching to one of the available USB 3.0 ports resolved the issue. Note however, that this is highly dependent on the interface, its drivers and the motherboard used.

USB ports vs. USB hubs

Normally, it is best to connect audio interfaces directly with the computer. However, certain difficulties can be solved by using a USB hub. Self-powered USB hubs (those with a power supply) are usually the best choice. There are even USB hubs available designed to be used with audio interfaces.

Plug-ins

Do you really need them all? Try to minimize your setup to the plug-ins you really need.
Often, plug-ins cause performance or stability issues. We strongly recommend using VST 3 and 64-bit plug-ins only! Do not use VST bridges like JBridge if you want maximum stability and performance.

Third-party applications

Try avoiding them as much as possible. Install only, what is really needed to work with a DAW.
No additional virus scanner (use the Windows Defender instead), no tweaking utilities, no printer software, streaming clients or management tools (e.g. Asus AI Suite) etc. should be installed let alone running in background constantly.
It is advisable to deactivate these programs and slim out your auto-start. Again, see ‘clean boot’ for details.

Graphic card settings

Obviously, driver settings depend on the manufacturer, the graphics card model and the driver version. But as a rule, options that boost graphics/gaming performance can be suspected to interfere with real-time audio processing.
If you have to use the additional software coming with the GPU, try whether switching off high/ultra-performance modes, overclocking, high-resolution textures/polygon/shader options etc. solves the issue. Restarts might be required and probably some trial and error efforts.

Some graphic cards like the NVIDIA Quadro series offers different profiles to work with.
In rare cases, the default profile for the card caused performance issues. NVIDIA suggests trying the ‘Workstation App – dynamic streaming’ instead. The option can be found in the Nvidia 3D configuration options under <3D settings management>
Also, if a ‘multi-threaded rendering’ option is available, turn that off as well! More on this here.

Motherboard

We have had reports on poor performance on even high-end systems like an Intel Core i9.
It turned out that the motherboard and a specific UEFI BIOS version had issues with memory performance and the manufacturer suggested rolling back to an older BIOS version, which resolved the issue. As mentioned earlier on, BIOS updates are important but in rare cases, it is worth taking a closer look at the version history or even online discussions in the communities.

Additional troubleshooting

If Windows 10/11 was installed as an upgrade, install Windows from scratch instead.

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