After a few requests and some positive feedback Iíve decided to write a guide on optimizing a windows operating system (OS) for music production. Now this guide mostly applies to windows xp but some of these tips will also work for vista.
Before I get into this I want to say that I am not responsible for any harm that you do to your computer. Use these tips at your own risk. If you have problems feel free to ask but take your time and learn about the things you are doing and if any mistakes are made they can usually be undone. Now, with that said there are a few questions that need to be answered. Is this OS going to be solely for music production? Do you want internet access? Are you willing to format your Hard disk drive (hdd) and reinstall windows? The answers to these questions will be different for everybody and will also determine the route that is taken. Letís move on to the tips.
General OS tweaking.
This section is for those who want to tweak an already installed OS. The idea behind most of these tweaks is that on a PC ďless is betterĒ. When youíre doing music you donít want things like AIM, Anti-Virus Scanning, Torrents, etcÖ running. So the key here is to eliminate all the things running that you donít need. The best way to see how much stuff is running is by checking the Windows Task Manager. Right click on taskbar>Task Manager. If you click on the processes tab, the number of processes running is at the bottom left hand of the window. For now, write down that number. This number represents the amount of programs that are running at any given time on your OS. Try sorting the list by memory usage. Since youíre reading this guide you should see your web browser near the top of the list. All of these programs are taking up system memory. It doesnít really matter how much memory you have, the key principle in this guide is ďless is betterĒ. Now that you are more familiar with the process count and programs running in memory, letís move on to Windows services. If you are not sure what a windows service is take a look here.
Windows is such a versatile OS and it basically tries to offer functionality that caters to what everybody as a whole would want. For music production, 90% of that crap is un-needed. Now with all that background information out of the way, letís move on.
The first and one of the most helpful places to visit is
This is a great place to start. You have to register but since it's free that will only take a second. Go to the tuning tips section and do "most" of the tips. Now the questions that you answered earlier will determine what tips and how many of them you do. If you are unsure of anything it is probably best that you donít do it. This site offers a good explanation of what each tip does, but if you are still unsure try a google search before attempting anything. I have yet to find a real clean cut guide for vista so if anybody else has one please let me know and I will be glad to add it.
Another very helpful site is
Blackviper has very well written guides on XP and Vista. What you should be looking for is the service configuration ones. He basically has 3 different levels of tweaks: safe, power user, and barebones. If you are unsure where to start, go with the safe settings. Now, you have to exercise good judgment when disabling anything. If you disable something and something else you need no longer works, things can always be set back to normal, so donít worry. Like I said, use good judgment and take your time. Only you know what you want running on your computer so do not rush through this stage unless you know what you are doing. This is your opportunity to learn about the OS and the things that make it go. Blackviper makes a good point to explain what the services do. I have found that for the general user, itís best to use a combination of the safe and power user settings.
Ok, weíve done some OS tweaks. Weíve disabled services that we donít need. The only thing left is to disable programs running that we donít need. There are probably several utilities out there that do this. In fact, you can do this from windows itself. But the best program I have found is called autoruns. Itís small, you donít have to install it, and it can be run from a flash drive.
This link is to a page that hosts the most current download of the program (it's a zip file, you only need the program called autoruns, not autorunsc). Just run the program and it will tell you everything that is currently running on your system. For now we are only going to be concerned with what is listed in the Logon tab (it should be the second one). This lists all the programs that start as windows starts. I would say that the average userís process count is between 40-80 processes. Remember that number we looked at earlier? From my experience, I would say you can run a process count of low 20ís to low 30ís with no loss in windows/program functionality. Un-checking a program in the Logon menu will stop that program from starting when Windows starts. Eliminating all the unnecessary programs at boot will allow your OS to boot faster. You will still be able to run the disabled programs but they will only run when you decide they should be run (much better IMO). If you find that you cannot prevent a program from starting up, there is a good chance that a program setting is the culprit. For example, letís take AOL instant messenger. In the settings menu of AIM there is a box that says, ďStart up when Windows startsĒ. This is a case where we can take care of the problem from the program itself. If you find that you still cannot stop a program from booting at startup then it might be a much deeper issue. A basic rule of thumb is that any non-Microsoft publishers can usually be un-checked. But still, you must use good judgment when doing this.
So that sums up my general OS tweaking guide. Now we are going to move on to customizing you own OS.
Customizing a Windows OS
This is for those of you who are looking to do a clean install of your OS, have decided that it will be for music only, and are willing to be a little bit experimental. The standard install of xp is anywhere from 400mb-600mb. Most of this is stuff that we are going to end up not using or disabling anyways. Not to mention that xp doesnít even have AHCI/RAID drivers, so if you want to install xp with a Sata hdd you have to make a floppy disc with the drivers on it and hit F6 while installing to load the drives. I donít know about you but I donít even have a floppy drive on my computer. In comes a program for xp called nlite.
This is the program to customize your xp install disc. You can strip out any programs you donít want, you can integrate drivers (AHCI/RAID), programs (firefox, avg anti-virus), hotfixes, and even service packs (sp2/3) into your xp install disc. It even allows you to do a completely automated install. You literally boot the disc, choose your partition for the install, and the next time it stops youíre in windows. Itís possible to develop a completely barebones xp install that is less than 100mb. Typically you can reduce you xp install by about 200-300mb. So after you add all the stuff you do want, remove what you donít, your xp install disc can still be less than 300mb. That means if it was 600mb at the start, then your install time would be reduced by half. After an install like this there should be very little tweaking left to be done but feel free to use the tweaks mentioned above.
I could write a tutorial about using nlite, but there already is one. If you are interested check it out.
The only thing not covered in this guide is booting multiple OSís. If you only have one computer, why not make one OS for music production and another for general use? But thatís a different guide. Anyways, I welcome corrections of any kind and my aim is to make this guide as accurate as possible. If you spot any inaccurate information PM me and I can make the change. If there are any questions feel free to ask. Hope this guide helps out.