Cleaning Up A New Install
If you bought your computer from a retailer, there is a high chance (if not a certainty) that it will come pre-installed with what we call in the biz – “Crapware”. Whether it’s from HP, Lenovo, Dell, or others, each manufacturer has their own little suite of apps that can bloat your system and are in almost all cases, unnecessary. It’s not always obvious which apps constitute as crapware, and which ones might be helpful towards the healthy operation of your system, but know that they are typically harmless either way, so don’t feel guilty if you’d rather just leave them be. Where they might become a problem, is if they are constantly running in the background and chewing up your resources when they don’t need to be.
Likewise, Windows itself will install software that not everybody needs or wants. They often include games, virtual assistants, or antivirus software trials.
Because of all this, the first thing I like to do on a clean install of Windows, is open the Start Menu, and start deleting and or uninstalling the apps I don’t want. Common offenders might be:
- Xbox Game Bar
- Xbox Console Companion
- 3rd party antivirus software
- “Get Help”
- Microsoft People/Teams
- Microsoft Office
- Your Phone
- Solitaire Collection
You can also do this from the “Uninstall Apps” page via Windows Settings, but that list will not show the app “previews” that are included with the Home edition of Windows, such as a Disney Game icon or Candy Crush that is not yet installed, but will install itself once you click on it. I recommend NOT uninstalling the Edge browser, even if you don’t want to use it, as that can cause complications with other file compatibilities.
If your system came with antivirus software installed (such as Norton, Avast, AVG or Macafee), you should double check your “Installed Apps” list, as they often have secondary installations separate to the apps you can find in the start menu. My advice would be to avoid 3rd-party anti-virus altogether – nasty little buggers they are. Windows Defender is every bit as capable at real-time protection, though make sure to add your sample drives to the exclusions list! (More info here…)
If you feel that you need a little extra protection against malware or viruses, I can recommend Malwarebytes Antimalware, which is free for running the occasional scan, with a premium edition for real-time protection.
If you’re absolutely certain that you want to rid your system of ALL pre-installed Microsoft apps (including Notepad and Calculator), you can run the following command in Windows PowerShell:
Disabling Background Processes and Startup Apps
While the apps themselves can contribute to clutter in your start menu and consume hard disk space, the real issue is when they consume your computer’s resources as background tasks.
Background tasks can use CPU, networks, and in some cases cause spikes in disk usage, so it’s important to disable any unnecessary tasks and processes if maximum system performance is your goal.
The first place to start is your list of StartUp apps. Open Taskmanager by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc. On Windows 11, your Startup Apps tab will be on the left, on Windows 10, it will be along the top.
Click the “Status” column header to sort the list, this makes it easier to see what’s enabled and what’s disabled. Now, simply go through and disable all of the processes you don’t really care for. This could include a variety of crapware or built-in features like Cortana, Xbox game service, spotify, etc, depending on what you already uninstalled.
Each USB device requires power, and some require more than others. USB hubs are great for connecting multiple low-power devices such as your mouse & keyboard, basic USB midi input device, or even a license dongle, but high priority devices such as an audio interface or external hard drive should be given a dedicated USB port if possible.
Where data transfer speed is priority (such as with an external drive), a USB hub – even a powered one – can bottleneck your maximum transfer speeds as it distributes the bandwidth across the other devices connected to it. This is less of a concern with modern USB-C or Thunderbolt hubs, but if you still rely on the humble “oldschool” USB for storage devices, hubs should be avoided to prevent slow transfers and load times.
If you are using external disk drives for your sample libraries, use a device with USB 3 or higher (with a matching port on your computer), and avoid using a hub to minimise the risk of pops, clicks, and dropouts.
Powered USB Hubs
Powered USB hubs will always be better than non-powered hubs, as they reduce the risk of power being diverted away from devices and given to others. Powered hubs will also typically provide better range and signal strength when using receivers for wireless mouse and keyboards, as non-powered hubs can fail to provide adequate power.
Likewise, powered devices will be more stable and reliable than USB-powered devices. If your audio interface or MIDI controller has an optional AC power source, use that instead of relying on your USB bus for power. Especially if you need to use Phantom Power for a microphone.
Not all data cables are equal. In fact, some cables aren’t built for data transfer at all, and only provide a small amount of power for charging or powering devices. If a device comes with a cable, use it. Otherwise, make sure you choose trusted or high quality cables instead, as there are many cheaper options that are simply not up to the task. This has become particularly common with USB-C cables that while technically have USB-C plugs, still only transfer at regular USB 3 or even USB 2 speeds. It’s easy to fall for this when we are looking for longer cables than what are included with our devices, but look for cables that are rated for “USB3.1/3.2” speeds if they are for data transfer.
BIOS & Internal Components
Things get a little less clear when it comes to BIOS tweaks and choosing the right internal components for your system. Arguably, this is the strongest justification for buying into the Apple Mac ecosystem (though still a little exaggerated 😉), as you can be confident that the decision-making has already been taken care of.
However, if you are a Windows/PC user, and you don’t experience any issues, then you also don’t need to give this topic a second thought! BIOS tweaks should only be considered if you are experiencing crippling issues like constant latency spikes, or you already have experience tweaking specific builds and would thus not need this article.
A way to see if your system is experiencing latency spikes or problems, download and run LatencyMon – a free utility that monitors your computer’s ability to sustain uninterrupted audio processing, and identifies the drivers or processes that cause spikes (if there are any).
Graphics Cards and Driver Issues
Using the LatencyMon utility mentioned above, you might identify your GPU as the culprit for upticks in periodic latency. If you use an NVDIA GPU, you will most likely be affected by the “nvlddmkm.sys” driver. There are a couple of ways you can alleviate the issues caused by this:
- Installing the “Studio Driver” version of your graphics card’s driver from NVIDIA’s website. This is a driver that prioritizes stability over gaming features.
- Setting your NVIDIA control panel’s power performance mode to “Prefer Maximum Performance”. You can find this in the “Manage 3D settings” options.
The two methods listed above are official and supported options, and will in most cases improve your GPU’s performance for music production significantly.
However, there are further tweaks you can make if you don’t mind diving into some 3rd-party utilities, such as:
- Perform a clean install using “NVCleanstall” – https://www.techpowerup.com/nvcleanstall/, making sure to uncheck all of the optional components boxes, and disabling telemetry during the Installation Tweaks step.
- Force the dodgy driver to execute on a separate CPU core via the Interrupt-Affinity Tool (as outlined here: https://www.bluecataudio.com/Blog/tip-of-the-day/solving-audio-dropouts-dpc-latency-issues-with-nvidia-drivers-on-windows/)
If you use an AMD graphics card, then the best thing you can do is to simply install the “Driver Only” version during the AMD Software’s installation.
The most stable form of computer is one that is disconnected from all networks. However, with online authorizations, cloud licenses, and software being delivered exclusively as digital downloads, an offline machine is an unrealistic expectation these days. Here are some tips to reduce the probability of your network causing problems:
- Use a wired network, not wireless/WiFi
- Disable your WiFi driver in the network Adapter properties
- Disable your bluetooth driver in Device Manager
- Disable “Energy-efficient Ethernet”, “Green Ethernet”, and “Power-saving Mode” in your Ethernet Network’s adapter properties (“Advanced” tab)
When to Tweak The BIOS
As processor architectures change and the way hardware communicates with software evolves, it is less and less necessary to manually tweak settings for performance’s sake. Based on my own experience, if you are experiencing issues with your DAW showing a spike in latency or ASIO performance, and you have determined it is NOT caused by either your WiFi or GPU, you will want to disable “Virtualization Technology” in the BIOS. Save and restart your machine, then check to see if the problem still exists. If it does, boot back into BIOS and disable Hyperthreading. Hyperthreading is a way for Windows to utilize “virtual cores” in your CPU, but some DAWs (like Cubase v11 or earlier) do not distribute their load across virtual cores efficiently.
If you are using Intel’s 12th or 13th gen processors (12700k, 13900k, etc) “undervolting” can improve your thermal performance (run cooler) which can improve stability and lower overall CPU latency. The process of undervolting consists of lowering the voltage below the default values, and is either accomplished in BIOS, or using a system utility that came with your motherboard such as Auros EasyTune (the name will vary depending on your brand of motherboard). It is generally recommended to lower voltages by 0.1 Volts (100mV) to start with, and then decrease that number to 0.075 if you experience instability. I would recommend trying to find guides or forum threads that discuss your specific CPU model and/or motherboard model.
Other Tips for System Stability
- Enable High Performance power plan (Or customize your power mode to prioritize performance over power efficiency)
- Disable on-board audio drivers from Device Manager (such as HD Audio, Realtek, etc.) Keep your soundcard’s driver installed (Focusrite, RME, Presonus, etc)
- Disable any other drivers within Device Manager that you can identify as being unnecessary (Webcams, bluetooth, Firewire, Network adapters)
- Disable “CPU Parking” with the free utility ParkControl by BitSum
- Disable Windows Hibernate (tutorial)
- Disable Widgets (tutorial)
Founder of synthestration.com, Jayden has spent the last ten years working as a film & TV composer, mockup producer, composer’s assistant, template builder, sample library developer, and is soon to commence studies in biography writing.