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How to optimize your laptop computer for the use of VST instruments

This article refers to VSTi instruments in general

While nowadays even the cheapest low-power notebooks (see above) or laptop computers have enough cpu power to run virtual instruments (VSTi) they nevertheless need some optimization for this application since they are optimized for office use and lowest power consumation out from the factory and not for the use of virtual instruments.

In unoptimized state the sound output can produce crackling even when using ASIO drivers and even if the cpu power is more than sufficient.

The optimization however is easy to do and includes these three measures:

1. Use ASIO drivers instead of windows system drivers

2. Switch the power management to high performance

3. Switch the processor scheduling to background services

Here are these three measures described in detail:

1. Use ASIO drivers instead of windows system drivers

Windows system audio drivers aren't suited for playing virtual instruments since they produce too much audible delay and aren't optimized for this job. That's why you need to install dedicated ASIO drivers which aren't included in the system.

So if you don't use an external audio interface and just use the onboard sound then download and install the free ASIO drivers from Asio4all:

http://www.asio4all.com/

Once installed choose them as your used audio drivers in the audio properties of your vst host. They should show up as "ASIO: ASIO4ALL v2". If you can choose a buffer size then choose 512 which should give you a reasonable low latency. You also could try 256 which would result in lower latency but higher cpu load.

If Asio4all should deliver no sound when it's active then do the following to prevent the windows GS wavetable synth to be always active and blocking asio4all if not wanted: Open the Control panel->Hardware and Sound->Sound->doubleclick on Speakers->Advanced->uncheck exclusive mode. If you have several playback devices do this for each of them. Now reboot your system and check if it works now.

If there's still no sound and the playback device in the Asio4all panel's expert settings is marked red saying it could be in use by another device then check if really all other applications that use audio are closed including web browser. If you have windows 8 this also could be a metro app still running in the background like e.g. "Video". You could see this too in the task manager. To launch this one press "ctrl + alt + delete" and then choose task manager. Here you can see all running apps including metro apps. You could directly close it from here by selecting the app and choose "end task". But you also can close a metro app by going to the metro area, grab the app on the top and drag it to the bottom until it disappears. In windows 8.1 there should appear a top bar when moving the mouse into the top right corner of the app which allows you to close it like a desktop app by clicking the cross icon at the top right.

If there's still no sound then open the advanced settings of the asio4all control panel and here check "always resample 44.1kHz <-> 48 KHz". This trick still should fix possible sample rate incompatibilities.

However note that even if asio4all with onboard sound works well a dedicated external usb audio interface in most cases still will allow for lower latencies when it offers its own dedicated ASIO drivers and last but not least in most cases too offers a far better and more transparent sound since it normally includes far better digital-to-analog converters than computer internal onboard souncards. So if you're serious about sound and want to get the best out of a virtual instrument then get a decent external audio interface. But for basic needs the asio4all drivers will do the job.

However even using ASIO drivers there can be crackling when your laptop hasn't been optimized for running virtual instruments. This however is extremely easy to do:

2. Switch the power management to high performance

Power management to high performance: Open the control panel (win 7: start->control panel, win 8: charmbar->settings->control panel), and here choose "system and security" -> power options, and here check the "high performance" option. Once it's chosen click on "change plan setting" and set all time fields to "never".

3. Switch the processor scheduling to background services

Processor scheduling to background services: Open the control panel (win 7: start->control panel, win 8: charmbar->settings->control panel), and here choose "system and security" -> "system" and here doubleclick "advanced system settings" on the left side. In the settings window choose the "advanced" tab, and in the "performance" section click on the "settings" button. In the performance options window choose the "advanced" tab and here in the "processor scheduling" section select "background services" instead of programs and apply.

This will do the trick and your laptop is ready for playing vst instruments.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Note that you always should connect your laptop to the power supply when playing the synth and not run it from the battery since in battery mode even when optimized there are power-saving processes active which limit the performance. Furthemore the laptop then also won't deliver enough power to the USB bus to supply the attached MIDI keyboard with the needed power. So always connect your laptop to the power supply when playing the synth.

Further related questions:

How can I play a VST instrument like a standalone instrument?

If you need a very light and easy to install VST host which allows to play a VSTi like a standalone instrument then have a look at Hermann Seib SaviHost. We have the download link and an installation guide on the demo version page of OP-X PRO-II (check the "VST Host" box):

Download Savi Host

For pure stand-alone application the best install the instrument to an easily accessible non protected place like your documents folder and not to the default path. After installation is finished you then should find a folder called "SonicProjects" in your documents folder. Place the SaviHost file into this folder then and rename it to the name of the plugin. Doublecklicking it then should launch the plugin as standalone, and you then still only need to set your audio and midi devices from Devices->Wave and Devices->MIDI.

For details check the description and the video on the page above. For easy access you can create an alias on the desktop by right-clicking the red diamond icon and choose send->desktop (shortcut). Then you easily can launch the instrument from the desktop.

What system specs (cpu/ram) are needed to run OP-X PRO-II?

As said to simply play one instance of OP-X PRO-II (which is our most demanding plugin cpu-wise) today even the cheapest and most basic laptops should suffice. Regarding operating system everything from Windows XP SP2 up (so also windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 etc.) will work fine. Regarding RAM more always is better, but for just playing one instance like a standalone instrument RAM is no topic at all (one instance maybe needs 30mb at the maximum). But for sequencing using several tracks and instruments a minumum of 2GB (better 4GB) is recommended.

The most critical point is the CPU since a virtual analog synth like OP-X PRO-II needs a lot of cpu power to calculate its sound. So the more powerful the cpu is the better. But as said, today the cpus of even the cheapest laptops in most cases are sufficient to at least run it as standalone instrument.

If you haven't bought a laptop yet and want to go sure its cpu is powerful enough then you can roughly evaluate it by looking for its cpu mark on cpubenchmark.net which is a very helpful page to compare cpus. The easiest to find out the cpu mark of your cpu by typing in this expression in google search which should lead you directly to the dedicated page. Replace YourCPUModel with the name of the cpu:

YourCPUModel site:cpubenchmark.net

So as example, if you want to find out the cpu mark for the Intel N3520 then type in:

Intel N3520 site:cpubenchmark net

which will lead you to this page. As you can see here the cpu mark for the Intel N3520 reads 1847.

The read out cpu benchmark should not be lower than 800 for a smooth operation. So in this example the N3520 with its 1847 is more than sufficient and even will allow for multiple instances.

However note that this number is just a rough indicator and can't be taken as absolute since there are many factors that determine how a cpu will handle a virtual instrument. So the best is ALWAYS to check out the demo version which uses exactly the same cpu power as the full version. If the demo version works well then also the full version will. Here's the demo version of OP-X PRO-II:

Download demo version

Application example:

Finally just as an example that OP-X PRO-II even can be run in cheap low power notebooks for pure stand-alone playing here's OP-X PRO-II running in a tiny 10" (screen to small to show the full GUI) low-power Atom netbook (we however recommend a slightly faster cpu since this one is a bit too weak to use the full polyphony) using SaviHost as host and onboard sound using asio4all and an usb MIDI keyboard attached over usb for playing:

Don't hesitate to contact us by email if your question could not be answered here.

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