Solving Hard Drive Hassles When Playing Live (with Live)

I'm at a gig, djing with Ableton Live. Half way through my set, I suddenly can't cue tracks. I push the button on my Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1, nothing. Oh boy. Good thing I know my clips wel  

I'm at a gig, djing with Ableton Live. Half way through my set, I suddenly can't cue tracks. I push the button on my Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1, nothing. Oh boy. Good thing I know my clips well.

I finish the gig, and I start the long process of uncovering all the things I've done wrong to have this situation occur. My first call of course is to my friend Jon, Author of "Ableton Live 8 Power!". First thing he asks is if I'm using an internal drive, or an external drive. I am in fact using the internal laptop drive for all my music files. I was smart enough to have installed a 7200 rpm drive- many drives are 5400, and considered too slow for music work.

However, what I did was use up 495 gigs out of the available 500 gigs. This resulted in Ableton simply not having enough disc cache available to run properly. With 95% of my drive full, the Drive head has to travel all over the place as well, which slows it down.

So the first tip, leave tons, and I mean tons of hard drive space free. 10% at a minimum.  But if you're gigging with the laptop, I'd advise at least 25% if not more. When I installed a 750 gig internal drive, and only used up about 200 gigs, with 550 gigs free, Ableton worked like a charm, the sounds were clean, no glitches, it was a noticeable improvement.

Jon says that many people go even further, and use a firewire 800 drive for music samples, and leave the internal drive for system work. The theory here is that the music drive has one read head dedicated to reading music samples, and nothing else. Again, make sure the external drive is 7200 rpm.

The system and program then have the internal hard drive's read head dedicated to just performing system operation and program operation functions.

Two playheads are better than one play head.

Why Firewire 800?  Well. usb 2.0 and firewire 400 are close to each other in speed. Firewire 800 beats them both by a long shot for data rate transfers.  Also, most midi controllers, and many audio interfaces out there use usb 2.0 - so save those slots on the laptop for other devices.

Got any Ableton, Logic, hardware or any software issues? Don't hang around visit the macProVideo forums for help and advice!

Dj Wolfie headlines parties from coast to coast, both in main stream venues and the underground circuit. In 2008 he's played at Coachella Music Festival on the bill with Prince and Roger Waters, The Optimus Alive festival in Portugal with Rage against the machine, Bob Dlan, and Neil Young, The All Points West Festival in New York with ... Read More


Thanks, Dj Wolfie for this info. Your noting the advantages of firewire 800 vs. 400 reminded me of something I was wondering about. Can I have my external hard drive before my audio interface? As of now, I've been connecting my interface (MOTU 8pre) to my Mac first, and then connecting my hard drive to the interface. This forces me to use firewire 400 for the hard drive, because my interface is firewire 400 only. It works ok like that, but I've not really put it to the test - which is that I plan on recording sixteen audio channels simultaneously onto the external drive. Will it make a difference if I connect the hard drive to my Mac's firewire 800 port, and then connect the 8pre to the hard drive (that last connection being firewire 400)?
Rounik Sethi
Hey Adam,

Some interfaces behave differently in this regard. I've tried both connection methods in the past - though never relying on recording more than 3 audio tracks simultaneously. Both worked well.

I'd actually add that USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 are vastly different. The transfer rate numbers may look similar, but in real-world tests Firewire 400 streaming data at about 50MB per second will perform absolutely fine for all but the most demanding of rigs.

Also take into account that USB 2.0 can provide fast data transfer in bursts - great for copying data, etc. But for audio and video applications Firewire 400/800 is better because it has a higher 'constant streaming transfer rate' which provides better peformance when streaming (e.g.recording) audio in real-time.

So, Firewire 800 is preferable of course(!) - but Firewire 400 will suit the needs of most people and then on top of that the new Thunderbolt technology looks set to blow all the above and USB 3.0 out of the water! In the theory, say good bye to multiple ports on your Mac - instead have a "Thunderbolt hub" with different connections for Firewire, USB2, PCI, Display port, etc devices.

Thanks as always, Rounik, for your thoughtful, thorough, and very helpful response. I'll try testing my rig as it is set up now ( with the external in back of the 8pre, running on firewire 400) and see how it performs. Can't wait for various Thunderbolt devices to come out!
Rounik Sethi
Thanks Adam! I know... Thunderbolt is set to be a massive game changer. I know that Apogee are working on this (audio interfaces) and Lacie and others are cooking up thunderbolt drives. Can you imagine who quick it'll be to backup your Mac over Thunderbolt!! Frightening thought!

Anyway, as DJ Wolfie mentions, I'd also recommend using 7200 rpm or faster drives. Then again in a year or two perhaps all drives will be SSD... again - much, much faster and they're quieter as they have no moving parts.
dj Wolfie
Good question, and thank you Rounik for fielding that one. Excellent points. I have to go look up the thunderbolt tech that you mention. One last point too- firewire 800 tends to have better power supply to bus powered devices. USB runs out of juice much quicker. For instance, I tried using my Vestax vcm 600 and a akai mini keyboard- both usb powered- and I got a error message telling me there wasn't enough juice on the usb port.

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