XP passed into the shadows yesterday, officially — so how’s Vista for music? Some of the answers may surprise you. Photo: coda.

Yesterday marked the official phase-out of Windows XP. That in itself isn’t terribly big news; it’s easy enough to get XP systems for the foreseeable future, and custom builders can even put together an XP machine for you. Heck, you can even boot XP on an Intel Mac. But it seems like the perfect time to talk again about Vista. As with any OS, the branding (“we’ve got a new thing called Vista”) masks the more complex reality evolution of software and drivers. In other words, Vista today isn’t what it was the day it shipped. (That’s a relief.) And personally, I’d like to start talking about real-world performance and dispense with the kind of schoolyard rivalry the platforms have had over the years. I think it’s a safe bet to say none of us is excited about operating systems. We’re excited about actually making music. The good news is, Vista is finally looking like an OS on which you can do that.

The OS Generation Gap

>Quad-boot MacBook, by foskarulla.

It’s a funny time for operating systems and music applications, in that the most recent generational changes in Windows and Mac were unusually significant. On Windows, XP and Windows 2000 improved both audio and hardware support, and finally saw Windows NT really mature for music. On the Mac side, albeit slightly later, the bumpy transition to Mac OS X finally paid off as Tiger and Panther brought major audio improvements and reliability and performance enhancements. And Tiger got musicians onto Intel x86 CPUs, which helped unleash the live use of laptops we see today. Each of these updates came with compatibility hurdles, but there was a clear payoff. They’re must-have upgrades for music. Many music and audio apps won’t even work with earlier versions.

By contrast, while Mac OS X Leopard and Windows Vista each introduce important features, they’ve proven less essential to the music and audio segment of the market. By extension, I’d say they haven’t yet made major enhancements to real-time performance or hardware support – at least not in a way you can currently experience as an end user – in the way their predecessors did. That’s not to say you won’t find reasons to upgrade; you just may not see a big difference in Ableton Live. That has made the compatibility issues each OS has introduced for music more painful, because the reason you’re upgrading may not always be as clear.

But don’t listen to anyone who says OSes are so mature that there’s “nothing left to do” to them. I don’t think that’s the problem. Leopard and Vista aren’t entirely comparable, but they do have a lot in common – and the common theme, beneath eye candy in the UI, is that both OSes are trying to tackle some very difficult problems.

Both make changes to the driver model, thread scheduling, multiple core support, and (including XP x64) 64-bit support. These are tough challenges for OSes that have years of development behind them and broad compatibility requirements. But these are changes on which computer musicians, even indirectly, are absolutely dependent. Support for better performance, more reliable drivers, and more memory is vital to a lot of the stuff we do.

The issue is, you may not see some of the payoff in these changes right away – or even in this OS build. Even with Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard, which has been relatively positively received, I think some of the real benefits of multiple core support and 64-bit compatibility won’t become evident until the upcoming Snow Leopard at the earliest. Microsoft’s under-the-hood driver model changes may have a positive impact on driver reliability and performance in the long run, but those benefits have been masked by just getting things working.

Microsoft had still-bigger challenges, too: while they jettisoned some much-publicized functionality promised for Vista, they still made massive changes to driver support, the graphics driver model, and the way things on the screen were displayed.

So moving onto Vista: did something go wrong? Yes – at the beginning, that is.

Vista, Take One: Yipes!

Yes, in the "no longer news to anyone" category, Vista’s launch was a disaster.  Photo: Simonds.

For all the over-analysis of what bombed in the Vista launch, I’ve been surprised by how little attention has been paid to what seems to have been the single biggest issue. Vista’s new graphics model just didn’t work for a lot of people out of the box, and that caused other issues to snowball. This is especially true in audio. If the graphics drivers weren’t working properly, just touching a UI element could make the sound glitch. Some people I think misunderstood the source of the problem and blamed DRM or other more dramatic causes. But if anything manages to starve the CPU for cycles, performance suffers fast.

I saw how nasty this could be in my early Vista tests – and was equally struck how dramatically the fix could be when installing new drivers, particularly on my NVIDIA test systems.

Would it have helped if Microsoft had kept its vendors more in sync? Absolutely. Should Vista have held off a little longer to resolve lingering quality issues? I think so. Should Microsoft have hired acrobats to climb buildings and staged other surreal Cirque-du-Soleil style antics to launch an OS before it was ready? Sigh.

Those things aside, though, some of the problems remain fundamental OS issues — and many of you, as a result, were smart enough to steer clear of the OS upgrade until it was fully baked.

Here are some obvious but oft-missed statements in regards to Vista or any other major OS change:

1. Small incompatibilities can cause total havoc. One bad driver can starve the CPU, crash the machine, and generally make performance and stability go awry. Sometimes these bugs come from the OS vendor, sometimes a third-party developer, sometimes a combination of the two that can’t even be fully explained until it’s fixed. And that makes other, arguably more minor incompatibilities, all the more annoying. Problems with video on Vista pushed it out of the “I can live with this” territory and into the panic you saw from a lot of tech users and even press.

2. Music and audio suffer first: Running many apps, you won’t notice sluggish performance. Run video, and you’ll notice a missed frame (about 30 of those per second). Run audio, and you’ll notice tiny timing problems and dropouts and glitches with even a single sample (about 44,100 of those per second). Audio real-time performance is less forgiving than applications like nuclear submarine guidance – literally.

3. If you’re having a problem, who the (*&$# cares how many other people are, too? If you’re having an issue, you’re sad. If  If you have a problem, you have the right to complain about it until it’s fixed. And you get permission to curse at the machine involved and the company who made it – until they fix it, at which point there will be great rejoicing. I’ve seen bloggers complain when people complain about significant problems with both Mac OS and Windows. I gain great comfort in knowing next week, they’ll be the ones cursing because they’ll have the problem. Let my people vent. And fix the problem. Then everyone’s happy.

SP1: What Changed

[Insert Strauss music here.] Photo: Thomas Hawk.

So, is Microsoft fixing things? The short answer is yes. It may not be a reason to switch from XP to Vista, but I do think Vista is a feasible choice for music production, depending on your environment.

I wouldn’t have said that a few months ago. Vista has changed since where it was even at the end of last year. SP1 is part of that, but changes generally fit into three categories:

1. Internal (Hotfixes): A big portion of SP1 is a big bundle of all the hotfixes that Microsoft released over the first year or so of Vista. It’s just a convenience – you could install all of those hotfixes without SP1 – but it’s a major one. And many of those hotfixes made specific improvements to audio performance, video performance (which also impacts audio performance), and USB and other hardware compatibility.

2. Internal (SP1): SP1 includes some changes that were not released as hotfixes, meaning that in addition to #1 being a big reason to upgrade, this is the only way to get a fully-patched, fully-fixed Vista.

3. External (Third-party): It goes without saying that, aside from what Microsoft has done, third-party vendors have fixed a lot of stuff since Vista’s release. Aside from software patches to music software and plug-ins, that includes changes to mainboard drivers, video drivers, and the like that can in turn impact audio performance and reliability.

We covered some specific Vista audio concerns in the past:

So let’s see how SP1 is addressing those concerns.

Vista SP1 + Music: Report Card

Laptop orchestra. Photo: nouQraz.

Complaint: Vista’s MIDI Timing is unstable.

Validity: True.

Current status: Fixed in SP1.

Vista introduced some MIDI timing instabilities. It was bad enough that at least some users were able to notice the difference in terms of hands-on experience. Cakewalk, who reported this issue to Microsoft, tells CDM that the problem was fixed as of SP1. (Microsoft previously indicated to CDM that this would be addressed.)

Complaint: Vista audio performance is unreliable: dropouts, glitches, and pain.

Validity: True; not an issue in all cases but reasonably widespread.

Current status: Fixed (at least in many cases). Vista performs like XP — once your video drivers are up to snuff.

Assuming we’re talking primarily about ASIO performance, which requires stability at low latencies, the biggest obstacle early on appears to have been buggy video drivers causing catastrophic audio performance. (If you doubt that incompatibilities not directly related to audio can cause problems with audio, look no further than the bugs gradually being resolved on Mac OS’ WiFi support and Leopard USB/FireWire support.)

Turning off Aero, Vista’s shiny, new UI, doesn’t necessarily fix things in all cases, either. Even with "Windows Standard" selected, Vista uses a new driver model for graphics. (It can be helpful to turn off Aero or other desktop visual effects on an older machine, however.)

Mainly, the fix seems to be installing SP1 and getting video drivers up to date. For that reason, I can’t entirely guarantee this — there are lots of other variables and different possible graphics drivers. But if you’re having symptoms that seem to relate to UI interaction like moving windows or turning soft synth knobs, starting with the graphics drivers couldn’t hurt.

Complaint: Vista can’t achieve the low latencies XP could.

Validity: Difficult to verify.

Current status: Jury’s out, but unless you’re counting milliseconds you’ll be fine — and very reliable, low latencies are possible with Vista as with XP.

Latency is introduced in various parts of a computer music setup, but generally if you’re in the 10-12 ms range and no higher, most users will be happy. I’ve been able to easily push below that even using a USB interface like my Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1. (Apparently, they hired a very talented driver programmer, so Native, I’m not giving you that one back! Send a bill over.)

Some users do push Windows latencies well below that, and have reported that Vista isn’t performing quite as well as XP. Now, whether driver updates could resolve this, I don’t know.

I can say this: you can get very usable low-latency performance with Vista, just as with XP. As always, the main variable is getting an interface with solid drivers you can trust, and (unfortunately) controlling for other variables like buggy video drivers. On any system, I suggest testing adding new hardware very carefully. But this issue in and of itself seems to me not to be a reason to avoid Vista. (Now, other compatibility problems that can botch audio? That’s a good reason — meaning you will want to test your system before doing something critical with it!)

Complaint: Vista’s WaveRT can yield better audio performance on built-in cards.

Validity: True.

Current status: Your mileage may vary, but if you can get WaveRT support you’ll be much better off than you were on XP.

Vendors Realtek and Analog Devices, who ship the internal audio cards including on many motherboards and laptops, have each supported Microsoft’s new WaveRT driver model, which is intended to provide lower latency for “consumer” audio functions. We knew this would help theoretically, but from reports we’ve seen, users have been pretty happy with this feature in the real world, too. I’ve even heard reports of extremely low-latency playback (as low as 2ms), which had previously been possible only using ASIO. While we’d need more extensive benchmarks to go into greater detail, there’s no question this is a big leap forward from previous drivers for internal audio cards, so this is very good news for those times when you don’t have a dedicated “pro” audio interface handy.

In fact, I could even see someone making use of one of these cards in live performance or installation. If you have, let us know.

Complaint: My (hardware/software) isn’t compatible.

Validity: Check with your vendor.

Current status: Largely fixed by third parties, and certainly most music and audio developers, but always check first.

I’ve been fairly impressed by compatibility between Vista and current music hardware and software. The first half year was, as always, rough, but things smoothed out after that. If you’re concerned about compatibility with older plug-ins, for the most part, don’t be. Once you have a compatible host, plug-ins generally work on Vista as they did on XP — meaning Windows still has Mac and Linux beat when it comes to giving you ridiculously absurd plug-in variety, enough to distract you from ever getting any actual work done. (Not sure if that’s a plus…)

With hosts and hardware, well, there’s not much I can say other than check with your vendor. But on my machine, with hardware from Focusrite, Roland/Edirol, Native Instruments, Novation, M-Audio, and Korg, and software from Native Instruments, Ableton, Image-Line, Cakewalk, Cycling ’74, and various other obscure things, compatibility hasn’t been a problem. In fact, I think music and audio vendors were more on the ball than the rest of the industry.

If you do have the rare older software that doesn’t work, you can often get it to install and function by turning off User Account Control temporarily or selecting a compatibility mode before launching.

That said, if you do have a lot of older software, I wouldn’t recommend upgrading. If you’re not upgrading your apps, upgrading your OS is unlikely to be a good idea. (The phrase “if it ain’t broke…” comes to mind.) But if you’re running current hosts and audio interfaces and just want to protect your VST plug-in stash, I don’t think this aspect will be a deal-breaker.

Complaint: Vista requires more memory than XP.

Validity: True.

Current status: Unchanged, but it may not be a deal killer.

There’s not much escaping this, but rather than dwell on this, I’ll say this: on a 2GB system, I haven’t found this to be a problem. On a system with 1GB or less, I run XP anyway. End of story. I don’t see a reason to run Vista on an older system or one with less memory, and likewise on a 2-4GB system I don’t think Vista’s memory consumption is significant enough to impact audio work. On a 64-bit system with 64-bit software, which can easily access well more than 4GB, it’s a non-issue.

Nitpicking on memory availability is probably overkill, but of course musicians — unlike mainstream users — do often push the envelope. But on my custom Vista desktop install, which only has a 2GB system, I’ve been happy.

There are things you can do to "slim down" your Vista install, as with XP (actually, literally as with XP in some cases as some of the services are the same). The new Windows Sidebar, for instance, consumes some memory and can be switched off. (I don’t miss it it, personally.) But that’s a topic for another article.

Complaint: Vista requires more power than XP.

Validity: Vista’s (usually) not the problem.

Here’s the thing: you can see massive CPU consumption when software crashes or drivers aren’t working properly. Many of these are reported under the process explorer.exe, because processes run as part of that larger process. On the hardware side, even a slightly-unseated PCI card can cause major CPU spikes. And if you are getting those kinds of spikes, the power of your hardware won’t make any difference. This isn’t really a Vista issue – if stuff is compatible and working, you won’t see the problem.

So, was this true? Yes, probably — but my suspicion is that a lot of these complaints actually originated from buggy drivers and unstable processes, not an inherently hungrier OS.

That said, I do wish Microsoft had made it easier to slim down their OS, in general. And I have found a couple of things especially annoying with Vista:

Media Center: I’d like to be able to switch off Media Center altogether, especially because a process called mcupdate.exe seems to randomly call the mothership and consume CPU cycles. Updated: Richard Burte wisely points out that you can disable this using Task Scheduler. Type “computer management” into the Start menu and select the first result to bring up the Microsoft Management Console. From there, select Computer Management (Local) > System Tools > Task Scheduler > Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > Media Center. In the top right pane, you’ll see the task mcupdate. It’s set to run at 4:51 pm daily. You can reschedule it, or simply right click it and choose disable. Thanks, Richard!

My recommended Vista version remains Vista Business. If you’re using a machine for music, odds are you don’t need Media Center’s features anyway – especially not with plenty of media playback options elsewhere.

Desktop Search: For reasons unknown, this service can index and churn away at the hard drive even when it’s not supposed to. I prefer to turn it off, but I’d like to see it get a little smarter about indexing more efficiently and switching on more conservatively.

Bottom line, though, is that Vista, like XP, can be tamed and turned into a well-behaved OS. That wasn’t true in the initial Vista driver train wreck, but I’m finding it’s true now – and that’s a good thing.

Complaint: Vista is full of audio DRM that will ruin your life.

Validity: Not true.

This complaint seems to have come from two sources. First, it seems to be partly a misinterpretation of audio protections Microsoft had to put in to support new US digital cable tuners and formats like HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Those are in fact in Vista, though they’re also in XP, and they don’t really impact music production. (They’re annoying, but that’s a separate discussion.) Second, Microsoft did apparently plan to do more with DRM in Vista than they did, but backed away from the cliff. Some people were still looking at planning documents and seeing things that weren’t there.

Where I think this rumor continued was when people had glitchy, unreliable audio and blamed DRM, but as I said above, I think they didn’t suspect culprits like video driver problems.

Unfortunately, Microsoft did add some additional validation requirements in Vista as an anti-piracy measure. These are softened in SP1, and I think you can live with them. It does reduce your options for virtualizing the operating system using tools like Parallels, VMware, and virtualbox, but if you’re virtualizing an OS, why not Linux?

Why Run Vista?

I don’t want to get into a Mac versus Windows argument here. That’s an easy one. Want to run Mac OS? Do it. Want to run Windows? Go for it. There are enough choices and enough mature software that you’re unlikely to really regret either one. And it doesn’t really matter which is "better" so much as which is better for you.

Instead, I’ll take on something slightly simpler: XP versus Vista. It’s clear why you should run Windows XP:

1. It’s working, and you’re happy: Insert any software here (Windows, Mac OS, your word processor, your MIDI sequencer), and this statement is true, but it’s worth saying.

2. You’ve got an older machine, or are low on RAM, or both: This is doubly true – older hardware is likely to have the most compatibility problems now that newer drivers have caught up with Vista. And XP is a better choice with less than 1 GB of RAM.

3. You need it for specific compatibility reasons. ‘Nuff said.

But why should you run Vista? Believe it or not, I have a few reasons.

1. It can be more stable than XP. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Microsoft has improved the in-box drivers in Vista, and the driver overhaul has forced vendors to adhere more closely to Microsoft’s specs. Now, I have no particular need to believe what Microsoft tells me — but I have seen this make a difference in the real world. Also, because on many modern machines Vista supports more hardware out of the box than XP, you can go with Microsoft’s in-box and device class drivers, which can be more reliable than drivers that come from vendors.

2. The UI is more usable. I don’t mean in a skin-deep way: generally speaking, the UI in Vista is more usable and functional than XP’s in some subtle but important ways. For instance:

3. The audio mixer is great. Click the sound icon on the taskbar, and there’s a mixer that lets you disable applications. It’s a little thing, but worth mentioning.

4. GPU-native UIs are a good thing. If you have a fairly recent graphics card – even a basic one – I think you’ll probably appreciate glitch-free graphics display on the UI.

5. It is prettier. Aero tends to elicit love/hate responses. If you don’t like it, you can reskin it by using a hacked uxtheme.dll, as with XP. (Search for uxtheme.dll and you’ll get some solutions; various minimalist skins are available online, too.) But Vista is generally easier on the eyes, and improves font rendering and such in a way I find easier to stare at all day. I was surprised that even Create Digital Motion’s Jaymis actually warmed to the new Vista UI on a new PC — and he just bought himself a MacBook Pro for Mac OS X.

6. WaveRT. Internal audio systems work better on Vista, so long as they have WaveRT drivers and apps to support WaveRT. That’s a big enough feature that, assuming you can balance other factors, Vista could be worth an upgrade.

7. Explorer is multi-threaded and more better. While early versions of Vista prompted complaints about file copy speeds, those issues appear to be fixed now, and I find Vista’s Explorer to be much snappier. Multi-threading means Explorer doesn’t grind to a halt any more. I also find Explorer far more usable than it was in XP. Some XP loyalists disagree, but I think they’re crazy.

8. You’ve got a new system. Before you try to put XP on a new machine, it’s worth giving a test run on the stuff that matters and seeing if Vista works.

I’ll admit, I wish this list were longer, and I hope that with Windows 7, it is. But is it worth waiting for Windows 7? I don’t think so – not given that past experience, even on the Mac with its more controlled environment and musical focus, suggests that any OS transition takes time. The day Windows 7 ships will likely be a lot like the first day any OS ships – fraught with compatibility problems. Vista is, at least, finally reaching maturity, and I hope that Microsoft continues to ship patches where they’re needed.


I brought up the Mac just to reiterate something that’s obvious but important: musicians rarely upgrade to a new OS on day one, period, regardless of platform. (Even on desktop Linux, in fact, most stable music and audio systems are using distribution releases behind the latest, fanciest, "experimental" release.) The good news is, we’re not alone — Ed Bott observes today that businesses like Intel holding off on Vista are repeating cautious behavior from the past. Frankly, I’m with them. (I’ve had to make a conscious effort to adopt things too early so I can write about them!)

In short, if you held off on upgrading to Vista, it’s paid off.

If you’re happy on XP, there’s really no pressure to leave.

But I can happily say that, at this point, you can at least consider Vista. I don’t think it’s the doomsday release some made it out to be — though, in fairness, the way it shipped in the beginning I was inclined to agree with them.

And, ironically, at the end of the day I don’t really notice that much which OS I’m using. I’ve got some XP, some Vista, some Mac OS. CDM contributors Liz Knight, Mike Una, and Motion editor Jaymis all use multiple operating systems, too. The fact that we don’t notice? A very good thing, and a testament to the work developers have done to make sure that’s the case. And a far cry from the OS-centric turf wars regularly going on on the blogosphere. But then, we have more interesting things to discuss.

A big thanks to Noel Borthwick at Cakewalk and Robin Vincent at Rain Recording for providing some feedback as I wrote this. The opinions expressed are my own, but I encourage you to disagree — in fact, we’re looking for as much data on musicians and operating systems on all platforms as we can possibly muster, so don’t be shy.

Now, back to music.

Previous Resources on CDM

Summing up some of the growing pains OSes have been having lately:

Digidesign Talks Latest Windows, Mac Releases, Compatibility, Drivers

Fix for Mac Audio Dropouts: Roll Back Tiger AirPort Support

Blame Apple, Not Your Driver Maker, But Leopard Fix May Be Close

And specifically Vista-related:

Vista for Audio, 1 Year Later: Talking OS Plumbing with Cakewalk’s CTO

Vista Bug Squash: Fix Driver Installation Problems with Class-Compliant Devices

Windows Sound Glitches Explained, Plus Glitches and the Fight-or-Flight Response

Microsoft Rolls Out USB Fixes for Vista Now; Not Everything Waiting for SP1

Cakewalk Vista Musicians’ Resource Page, Lots of Vista Drivers

How to Kill Windows Vista Bottlenecks: Pt. II, Stop the Disk Churning

How to Kill Windows Vista Bottlenecks: Pt. I, Aero and Display Issues

Vista “Content Protection” DRM Won’t Impact Music Production, Says Microsoft and You

Vista for Music + Pro Audio: Exclusive Under the Hood with Cakewalk’s CTO

  • Sebastien Orban

    I'm on Vista 64 most of the time for the last year, and yeah, most problem seem to be resolved. Except one : why, when I use some media player (video/music, like itunes, kmplayer, windows media player…) some times the sound become glitchy? The only solution I know is to stop the application then launch it back. I've check my system with DPClatency meter, some monitoring of performance, but hell, no solution found.

    I've three sound card on this computer (not activated at the same time of course :)), and the same problem pop up…

    Otherwise : I'm not going back to XP. No way. It's stable, I've the same latencies (4ms with my inspire 1394) as with XP, Live and Sonar run fine, and the games runs at nearly the same framerate (maybe 1 or 2 frame less. Don't care).

    My only problem is to move the test system partition to a new hd, the test partition is on my old HD… No good 😉

  • J. Phoenix

    I am very pleased with how Vista has turned out; if it wasn't for the threat of running an obsolete OS, or upgrading to Vista and its associated problems, I never would have checked into Ubuntu Linux, and Ubuntu Studio.

    They are working quite well for me, and I daresay the transition was about as rough as the transition between learning to use a Mac or Windows OS.

    Remarkably, I now spend more time these days on my Ubuntu Linux machine than on my more powerful computer running XP–which I'm looking forward to putting Ubuntu onto.

    Now, how to convince the software companies to get their software completely compatible with Linux OS? Maybe I should spend the money I'm saving not running Windows into writing them letters 😉

  • For what it's worth, I'd also like to see support for Linux. Ironically, I think the Windows-Linux migration path is much better than Mac-Linux — especially with WINE-ASIO and Windows VST support to help pave the way. To me, part of the appeal ought to be that developers could have more impact on the operating system and get closer to the way in which real-time audio is supported, rather than being entirely dependent on Apple and Microsoft. But in the meantime, many music apps will run in WINE with ASIO support, many VSTs will work (and can even be shared with a Windows partition), and some audio interfaces (RME, MOTU, Native Instruments, Focusrite, etc., etc., via their own drivers or Linux driver projectss for FireWire and USB) will work.

    That said, I don't know what you mean by "running an obsolete OS." Obsolete — how?

    And while Linux can be a powerful alternative, I'm not sure it's a path of least resistance compared to Vista. There's a significant amount of tweaking in every Linux install I've done. It may be satisfying or educational tweaking, but while there are many reasons to choose that path, I'm not sure it's *easier* than Vista.

    The biggest lesson to me in all of this is that once you lift the sweeping statements about OSes (Linux is better than Windows! Windows is better than Mac! Mac is better than cheese!), you can get at the real technical challenges in real-time audio in general — a lot of which are shared by these different systems. Given that there were audio features in BeOS that still aren't fully finished if available at all on Windows, Mac, or Linux, I think there's always room for improvement and something to be learned.

  • AnthLant

    im gonna downgrade to XP and wait til windows 7 show up. dont wanna fuck with hotfixes and half resolved problems.

    luckily i still have a new guenine version of XP he he he

  • Kyran

    @AnthLant: you should see the list of hotfixes on this XP machine. Luckily Vista still has ages to catch up to that number.

    Good read Peter. I personally think you can summarize as follows:

    1. If you're running XP there are no real pressing reasons to upgrade to Vista for music

    2. If you buy a new machine that comes with Vista, there's no real reason to downgrade to XP.

  • @Kyran: Ha, yes. That would have saved me some wordcount.

    I will say, while there may not be "pressing" reasons, at least one of the machines I upgraded to Vista I wouldn't want to take back. (and I did leave it dual-boot for quite a while before coming to that conclusion)

  • In answer to your question "Complaint: Vista requires more power than XP." about mcupdate.exe being fired randomly, you should look at the Computer Managament Console (right-click Computer in the Start menu, choose Manage…, this is an Adminstrator rights required option so you will get a UAC prompt).

    Navigate to Computer ManagementSystem ToolsTask SchedulerTask Scheduler LibraryMicrosoftWindowsMedia Center.

    You'll see Mcupdate as a task in the pane on the top right. Here you can schedule it for a specific time, recurring schedule, disable it etc. I'd recommend that you don't delete it, but disable the task, or schedule it for 6 a.m. if that doesn't clash with your schedule.

    Cheers – good article.

  • chris

    I came to similar conclusions recently, just installed vista 64 over my xp partition after it decided not to boot up again for like the 6th time.(literally tried everything, my computer science major of a brother just shrugged and said "your boned") I'm glad to be rid of xp, now that Vista is "stable". Now if the third party vendors could only get their crap together—>I'm looking at you Creative.

  • abron

    The existence of a WaveRT driver does not suddenly magically improve performance of ALL hardware. It depends on how the hardware was designed. In some instances, the hardware would have to use a double buffering scheme, thereby negating any benefit of WaveRT.

  • really nice article, thank you for sharing this.

  • Pingback: Finally, a smart review of Windows Vista | Ed Bott’s Windows Expertise |()

  • AnthLant


    «If you buy a new machine that comes with Vista, there’s no real reason to downgrade to XP.»

    Pro tools

  • @abron: That's correct. I believe the vendors I mentioned do have proper WaveRT drivers. The existence of *any* kind of driver tends not to guarantee anything (there are some shoddy ASIO things out there, as well).

    @AnthLant: Correct, as far as Pro Tools HD. Pro Tools LE and M-Powered work, but HD is not yet certified.

  • What everyone said — no need to downgrade to xp, no reason to upgrade to vista — seems true to me.

    The one really compelling reason to upgrade would be 64-bit apps and instruments, and those (mostly) have not happened.

    XP is remarkably stable at this point, and while I flirt with the idea of upgrading to Vista or buying a Mac, I have little enough time to work on music to devote time to the inevitable problems with any system change.

    At some point I'll likely upgrade my hardware platform to something faster, at which point I'll have an opportunity to incrementally build up a new machine and add in all my software.

    But I recently had about a long down time on my main studio computer brought about by a RAID0 array with important stuff on it going pear shaped. Now that I've fixed it — by buying an identical drive to the damaged one and swapping the drive's controller board — all my computer admin time will be devoted to backing up stuff I'd thought was gone forever.

  • Ed

    MS have released a new version of their desktop search engine which is faster and uses considerably less resources (at least in my experience).

    Windows Search 4.0

    Brandon Paddock (one of the MS search engineers) has also written a very useful vista gadget for controlling the search engine.

    Indexer status gadget

  • You mention that explorer has been sped up since the launch of vista. Does that include zip files – that is unbearably slow on initial launch – it is faster to copy them to a Linux machine, uncompress them, and copy them back.

    I haven't upgraded my systems to SP1 yet – though two thirds of our developers who received machines with pre-installed Vista have formatted their computers, (to run Linux with vmware/XP when they need windows)

  • phortran

    I just wanted to point out ReactOS, I've been following this project for awhile and it's made some very impressive progress–check out the screenshots. It's basically a free/open-source version of a Windows-compatible operating system, written from the ground up with no dependence on any actual Windows components. The goal is to run Windows applications and drivers natively. Once it matures (unfortunately a few years down the road) I could see custom kernels and environments developed around it for low-latency/stable music production workstations, similar to the low-latency kernel tweaks made for Linux distros such as Ubuntu Studio. The best part is I don't have to re-purchase all of my applications and wait around for stable drivers for all of my devices–in theory, every piece of software I'm currently using would work. Pretty exciting stuff.

  • Pingback: SuNSyNtH, scratchcontroller, SimplyNoise, How Vista SP1 is Doing, FLAME "ECHOMETER" and FLAME "SIX-IN-A-ROW", Heartcode, genoQs Machines - Nemo, Robert Moog interview (May 1985)()

  • I built a whole machine from scratch with 8gbs of Ram, a quad core-processor, 2TB of storage with a super fast drive as my C, running Vista Ultimate 64. I use ableton heavily so i wanted to make sure i could plugin everything i had and still run smoothly and this did payoff, but finding 64bit soundcards was tough until i stumbled upon Presonus's Firebox which runs flawlessly on Vista 64, with 2ms latency at all times.

    I wouldn't trade my machine for anything in the world. Vista does have a few issues, especially with Ableton but overall, it's the package of choice in my book.

  • Thomas

    >If you don’t like it, you can reskin it by using a hacked uxtheme.dll, as with XP.

    While we are at it, lets use a hacked OS and software.

  • @Thomas:

    Relax. We're talking the dll that provides theme support. This modification has been widely supported by various utilities and files for some time. I'm hardly alone in pointing to it. Because it simply enables a skinning facility already in the OS, in my experience any reasonably polished theme will have ZERO impact on system reliability and performance, in contrast to running a full-blown skinning utility on Mac or Windows. (Gnome/KDE on Linux both have their own skinning.)

    I'm guessing that you just don't like the *word* "hacked"?

  • Pingback: midi editor()

  • You can say what you like about the good aspects of vista. I've been using it for a bit now after xp started crashing all over the place.

    What is completely laughable is that as a supposedly "next gen" operating system, it still can't support more than 3GB of ram. I know there's a 64bit version that can, but driver support is rubbish for it.

    What were MS thinking? Why did they even make a 32 bit version? Who was that for? What, all the Pentium II users out there who want it? When I found that out, I was in disbelief. Give the team who made Aero a medal, because that's the only real benefit this OS has.

    …maybe WaveRT as well, but that was completely ballsed up until SP1 so I'll give it 5/10

    …oh, and give the XP windows update team a medal as well, for making it crash so much shortly after vista came along.

    Some people might call me paranoid for that last comment….

  • I wouldn't call you paranoid, but it does put you into the category of folks that there weren't any airplanes on 9/11 and all of the pictures were faked by a mass government cover-up.

    I suspect one of two things: 1. it is a hardware failure, and you will eventually run into it with vista as well, you are just currently using the resources differently than under XP, or 2. it was software, and reformatting and installing XP would have given you a working OS.

    I am running XP, and haven't seen any more crashes recently. (note that I haven't ever had a crash on XP except when writing drivers, and so it was my own fault, or when trying to run Google Earth – video card error in 3d mode, not sure why it caused a blue screen, but I didn't care enough to look into it further).

    I don't have a single reason to downgrade to vista – xp sp2 was the best thing Microsoft has done since win95.

  • Great article. I run Vista and it has been more stable than XP in my case. Also, the OS mixer and audio device management is better than XP.

  • So Jon, have you been keeping automatic updates switched on and it's still been stable? I just reinstalled XP SP2 myself, without autoupdates and it seems to be ok so far.

    The reinstall came after Vista BSODd from tring to choose an audio driver in Reason btw. Probably a driver bug, but…uh….fault tolerance anyone? Audio drivers failing in Linux ,for instance, stop audio from working and don't bring down the whole kernel.

    It's not the lack of airplanes you need to worry about anyway: It's those damn shape-shifting lizards.

  • Correct. (download automatically, and don't install automatically, except for those ones that install automatically without telling you and you don't know unless it crashes something or you read Ed's blog).

    I do know that drivers can cause major issues (ie. unpreventable crashes) if they crash in certain places on most (all?) OSes.

  • Shane Yates

    I used Vista from day one on a few machines, never had any issues. I did however see lots of other people with many, which is a shame and sadly that caused a lot of people that didn't even use Vista to say how poorly it performed, it didn't seem to work that way with Leopard, all issues seemed to be regarded as genius in some manner 😉

  • Julio

    Hi all, I have been using Vista for over a year now on my laptop (FL Studio 7, Reason 4, Sonar 6, to name a few), and for about 5 months on my custom built protools 7.4 desktop rig (Only Protools on that baby NOTHING ELSE!). I have only had ONE blue screen and that is when my echo indigo laptop card failed and I had to get a new one. I have not had any issues with vista. Just my opinion. Thanks for a very non biased and informative article.

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Optimizing for Vista: Inside the Mechanics of SONAR 8 with Cakewalk Engineering()

  • justanottan1ga

    cool that took the time to explain all that.

    i still wonder if the search function actually works now when sp1 is out for a while.

    and the usb latency..urgh, soundglicthes whutdaf..

    if all works but i cant play 1 specific game cuz of soundglitches or lagg on the keyboard, vista can srsly lick my A..sorry, that specific game is important to me, yes im counting ms, even 2ms difference could/will kill me, thus making me mad, and annoying the ppl around me.

  • iBot

    I tried vista around its release and none of my music software worked (maudio drivers probably, lots of BSODs) and getting an OEM XP disk from Dell was a real palava as, obviously, was the reinstallation.

    When tweaked to my liking, everything worked great in XP SP2 and after installing SP3 I can't remember the last time it crashed.

    I recently bought a laptop with vista sp1 installed and thought I'd dual boot with XP. I didn't bother in the end because everything works fine, I'm mainly using Cubase SX3 and NI Komplete and latency on my maudio cards is negliegeable.

    I tried ubuntu at work but setting it all up took a lot of forum reading and downloading. I switched back to cubase on windows in the end as it was taking far too long to get any work done and would take ages to become as intuitive as something I have been using for nearly 20 years.

    I have been a microsoft systems engineer for over 10 years (I hate when people do that in posts: Give me a chance…its not just arrogance…I'm obviously not making enough out of music!) so I'm perfectly capable of speeding up OS installations and setting up for lean use of resources. However, I really share your sentiment about using a computer for making music instead of comparing OSes (unless you write about it for a living of course). Set it up so it works and then forget about which version of OS or software could be better for you until something breaks or you need more than you have. Many computer musicians spend far too much time bogged down by specifications instead of making music…take it easy, you could still be bouncing down tracks using a 4 track and step programming drum machines. It seems wiser to me to get the features you use regularly up and running as quickly as possible (i.e. on the OS your new machine has shipped with). This could mean a couple of hours instead of at least a full day of backing up, formatting massive disks, reinstalling, cursing yourself for forgetting your favorites folder etc.

    I know someone who changed back to XP, with considerable effort, just because the optical output wasn't showing up on the mixer panel for his soundcard…he doesn't even have a cable to plug into it let alone use it and everything else was working!

    For those of us of a certain age with other commitments, finding the time to make music is hard enough as it is…I know I'd rather be doing that than spending the weekend pulling my computer apart.

  • Joseph

    I use XP Pro, on a Quad core system with 4 Gig of Ram (32 bit) but XP dose not utilise all of the ram, I am useing 'Reason 4' Music proggrame would Vista Home be better than XP or would you suggest I stay with XP?



  • Joseph, you need 64-bit Windows, that's the problem. Vista vs. XP isn't the issue. And since Reason isn't 64-bit, it won't help you anyway. If XP is working, I'd stick with it.