"Studio Essentials – DAW Crashes And Bottlenecking"

Ever had a sweet little mix going in your project studio and your DAW throws you an error message, or maybe crashes completely? Maybe you spent a bunch of money on a dedicated Mac or PC and you’re still getting nowhere further than your last setup! It is the most frustrating thing and it’s often hard to find info on the net because from you computer-specs down to your interface there are so many contributing factors. Here are a few basics that I wish I knew before I started buying up gear.  

I remember the days when I first got hold of an eMac and a Powerbook G4. “How can this thing be better than a PC when the processor speed is so much lower?” The answer? Ram. From that point I always made sure that my computer was stocked up and boy did it help with general processing tasks. Anything that was system related worked better, but I still had crashes. What the hell? Then I found out that a computer that was running a 32bit processor could only access 4GB of RAM. So why did I have up to 20GB if my computer wasn’t using it, and why wasn’t I running on 64bit?  

Find out if your current computer is 64bit, and then make sure your operating system, DAW, and any plugins or software instruments are using the 64bit version. It can take a while to muck around with the conversion over, but 64bit will allow your system to access virtually unlimited RAM, and the improvement is certainly noticeable. The majority of computers are coming stock with 64 bit processors, Mac systems have been for a while, but check your PC and if you want to upgrade you may be able to do so with some help from a tech.  

Hard drives create a huge bottleneck. If you run your DAW off your system drive (as you should) but also access your audio files and your instrument sample libraries you will run into trouble eventually. Your internal drive should only be used for you operating system and your actual applications.  

My setup is as follows:  
Internal Drive: OSX, Pro Tools and any applications  
External Hard Drive 1 (Firewire 800): Audio/Session Files  
Ex HD 2 (USB 2.0): Instrument Sample Libraries  

Your internal and external HDs should be 7200rpm or solid state, and your externals should be USB 2.0 or higher, FW400/800, or Thunderbolt. If you are savvy and have an eSATA PCI card then you could also connect to that.  

The reason for this is that each drive can only transmit so much information in one hit back and forth simultaneously and an overload will crash your session. Each style of connection has improvements in speed (USB 2.0->FW400->FW800->USB 3.0->eSATA->Thunderbolt) but your computer will only be able to accept certain types. The best thing to do is first split the workload between 2 or 3 drives and see how you go.  

My system drive is only 5400rpm because I can’t upgrade it, but off-loading my sessions and libraries to good reliable externals and having a 64bit environment and 20GB of RAM has had me running without a crash in ages. I can load up and mix 30+ tracks and be ok to start mixing with sends, aux tracks and a solid amount of plugins.  

Do what you can to optimize your setup and workflow, and if your still crashing then COMMIT! Got a great guitar/drum/vocal etc sound? Save the plugin settings, export the raw track to a safe place and print the sound to a new track. Then you can free up that track of plugins and move on. Will you really be making minor tweaks on every track? Probably not – and if you do you can always recall the settings with the raw track later, or add an EQ plugin and do a little sculpting.