7 Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Up Your Audio Workstation Computer

Corrupted installs, orphaned plugins, renegade drivers, resource-hogging games - there are many things that could be slowing your system down. Here's how to streamline your work DAW.  

Setting up your workstation is an exciting time for any audio/video professional. You did it! You went out and got the fastest machine your budget allows, or you’ve decided to repurpose a computer from a family machine to an editing powerhouse (you DID ‘wipe’ the machine and do a clean install, didn’t you?) and you’re ready to get to work. There are a lot of bumps in the road, however, that can slow your progress, halt your workflow and just generally get you less ‘bang for the buck’ than you could have gotten with your audio workstation. Here are 7 pitfalls to avoid when setting up your audio/video editing beast.

1 - Single Hard Drives

Working with audio can be rough on your drive. Large and constant reads and writes take their toll on physical drive platters, and (especially when working with larger video media) you can really hit a bottleneck when using your operating system, DAW, and accessing media all at the same time. Even if you don’t have an SSD, getting your audio files onto a separate working drive will make a big difference. Getting your sample libraries for instruments off of your main drive will help as well. Imagine a big traffic jam and how it would be impacted if you had three roads to get to a place instead of one. That’s what moving your project files and samples to separate drives from your OS drive will do for you.

2 - Unnecessary Graphical Drains

High-res wallpaper, ‘live’ updating backgrounds, folder animation and the like are all fun. They make your OS look futuristic and your computer more pleasant to look at for sure, but they can take a toll on a system that is otherwise already struggling to keep up. A solid color background, reduced OS animation, and fewer background tasks running will always make your system more ‘snappy’ when working in a DAW or media editor. This is one of the first things I do when I’m ‘tuning up’ someone’s workstation.

3 - Games

Who doesn’t love games? Games are fun. I have a PS4, Xbox One, AND a Switch I like ‘em so much. One thing you won’t find in my house, however, is Fortnite on my working computer. Games take up valuable space that could otherwise be used for app resources, for one. Secondly, a great many games are now distributed via digital services like Steam that run in the background 24/7, even when you aren’t playing them. Compartmentalize and keep your games off of your main work machine, you’ll thank me later.

4 - ‘Layered’ or Upgraded Operating Systems

If you want to be as cost efficient (read: cheap son of a gun) as me with your audio computer, you’ll want it to last as long as possible and get years of use out of it. There will likely be many operating system upgrades over its life span, and you should not ‘upgrade’ more than once. My general rule of thumb is that I’ll do a ‘clean install’ every other OS upgrade that is out there. You don’t want remnants of old operating systems bogging down your preferences, drivers and such. This is the number one cause of driver conflicts and problems running software that I run into. Because I follow this rule of thumb, whenever I have people ask me “do you have a problem running plugin XYZ on this OS?” I almost always answer “Nope, runs fine for me”.

5 - Lack of Redundancy

With the price of slower storage being so low these days, I’ll just come out and say it - if you’re not backing up, you’re crazy and irresponsible. Whether it’s a cloud service (although some of them can put a bit of a drain on your resources) or a physical hard drive located in a different part of your home/studio, it’s not expensive to back up, and you know you should be doing it. I don’t necessarily back up my samples drive or my system drive, as both of those are easily replaceable (and hey, you get a fresh install out of the deal, look on the bright side!) but my projects drive and documents are backed up, and I’ve got backups for the backup.

6 - Trials, Beta Software, Orphaned Plugins

This one is the toughest for me, as a big part of how I put food on the table is testing out new plugins and software. Think hard before you install something. Do you really need this thing? Do you have an older or alternate computer you can test it out on? If you decide you’re not going to use a piece of software, do yourself a favor and uninstall it. If there is no uninstall available, look up how to properly remove every trace of it from your system. It can’t conflict with other software if it isn’t there.

7 - Unnecessary Drivers, Preferences, and Control Panels

This one is ‘piggybacking’ on the previous point, but even if you use XYZ app, do you really need its control panel or dock icon running all the time? I can’t tell you the number of apps that have tried to install ‘helper’ apps that run all the time either in the dock, or every time you open up system preferences. Even some software packages instantiate hardware drivers for hardware that you might own and not hardware that you do own. Give yourself an audit on what’s running in the background, in your system tray, and on your control panel and try to decide if it’s absolutely necessary. If it isn’t, break out the digital hatchet.

What Else You Got?

These are just 7 of the ‘first steps’ I always do when someone asks me to set up a workstation for them or I’m setting up my own. There are a lot more ways to eke out performance from your machine though. What are your favorite optimizations? Let us know!

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Matt Vanacoro is one of New York's premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More


- Turn off your AV or switch it to gaming mode when working in your DAW. If you keep your production computer clean you dont need a heavy Anti Virus program always running in the background.

- Be careful on Win10 as it kicks off updates in the backround even when you are using the computer. Make sure you set the active hours and other update options correctly so it doesn't happen.

- Use a desktop instead of a laptop. In general a desktop will have a more powerful processor than the equivalent laptop processor even if the spec numbers are the same. Desktops have better cooling so there is less throttling involved. Desktop processors can run at higher speeds for longer without slowing down.

- Get a good interface. You can have a super fast computer but if your interface has bad latency with poor drivers it will be slow. If its USB plug it in the the USB3 ports. Even USB2 interfaces are quicker on USB3.

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