8 Tips for CPU Optimization When Using Your DAW

8 Tips for CPU Optimization When Using Your DAW 8 Tips for CPU Optimization When Using Your DAW

You finally got into a flow state and you're having a blast building beats when disaster strikes: your computer freezes up, or worse your DAW outright crashes, potentially destroying all of your recent progress. In many cases, this frustrating phenomenon occurs due to an overflowing CPU load.

Keeping your DAW CPU at a reasonable level ensures that you'll be able to produce effectively without any technical interruptions to your process. Understanding how to lower your CPU usage can help you optimize during a particularly intense session, which is vital for any budding music production engineer.

Below, we'll share several proven strategies to improve your CPU performance and lower latency in your DAW.

8 Ways to Lower Your DAW CPU Usage

From adjusting sample rate, buffer sizes, and working with SSD drives, here are several ways to maximize your CPU resources while producing music.

Make Sure All Tabs Are Closed

It sounds simple, but keep in mind that even if you're not actively using them, open tabs and programs will still take up valuable processing power that should ideally be dedicated to your DAW. If possible, restart your computer and ensure that all programs are closed before firing up your DAW.

Check Your Hardware

Be sure to troubleshoot your hardware as well- you can use a CPU meter to track performance and compare and contrast with your various devices. Your audio interface can also add to your CPU load, so feel free to unplug it when not in use. Record as many live parts as you can via your audio interface before adding CPU-heavy plugins and effects to your sessions.

Also, make sure you have all the appropriate graphics card drivers for your gear- a simple update could make all of the difference in your performance.

Adjust Your Buffer Size

The buffer size equates to how much data your DAW is processing at any given time: a lower buffer size is ideal for recording as it introduces low latency with a more immediate processing time, while a higher buffer size can cut back on CPU since you're given the computer more time to render out playback. If you've moved past the recording audio work of the process, you can temporarily increase your buffer size to help lower CPU, though note that you may notice a slight delay in playback.

In a pinch, you might opt to lower your sample rate to lower the amount of required processing power. However, keep in mind that this directly affects the audio itself: a lower sample rate leads to lower-quality audio.

Print or Freeze Your Tracks

All the tracks in your session are rendered whenever you press playback. To cut down on delays and audio dropouts, freeze your tracks when not in use. This way, your track will play as though it was bounced out with its current effect chain, while still providing you with the flexibility to go back and adjust if needed. Printing your tracks can also cut back on CPU, but note that you won't be able to back and change your tracks once they've been printed.

Provide Additional Airflow

Your computer or laptop requires airflow to function properly, especially when using CPU-heavy programs like a DAW. Ensure your computer is placed on a cool, flat surface where it can get the ventilation it needs. If you have access to basic computer tools and the know-how, you can check on your fans semi-periodically to remove any collected dust and debris that might be slowing down performance.

For instance, check out this tutorial on how to clean out MacBook fans with a couple of simple tools:

Bounce the Mix and Start a New Session

In addition to printing or freezing your tracks, sometimes it's best to bounce out an entire mix- especially if you're moving to another part of the process like switching to mastering, or perhaps you need a session where you can track vocals. Plugins and VSTs can introduce latency into your mix which can create a noticeable delay while live recording, so when in doubt work out of a new session.

Also, note that MIDI tracks will take up more processing power than audio tracks and sample libraries, so if you're sure about a sound, bounce it out to audio. If you're unsure, save a version of your session with the raw files and another with the bounced-out audio: This way, you can always go back to your source files if needed.

Deactivate Unused Tracks

Instead of bypassing tracks not in use, deactivate them completely to cut back on unnecessary resources. You can also use effect groups, sends, and returns rather than creating several individual effect chains to help cut back on CPU usage. The fewer active systems and tracks you have running at any given time, the more latency you'll have.

Uncover More Storage

Storage availability (or lack thereof) can also affect performance. Make a habit of regularly backing up your files and removing any large files that you don't need on a regular basis. If you're working off of hard drives, opt for solid state drives which tend to be more reliable and durable than your typical hard drive.

DAW CPU Optimization FAQ

Are you ready to make the most out of your digital audio workstation? Here are a couple of commonly asked questions and answers to consider:

Do DAWs use CPU?

Digital audio workstations rely heavily on CPU to process your tracks. For this reason, it's best to invest in computers or laptops with multiple cores and threads so that you can reliably make music.

What CPU do I need for music production?

The amount of CPU you need for music production will vary greatly depending on your use of plug ins, live recorded elements, among other factors. Most music professionals suggest opting for a multicore processor with at least four cores to support making music.

How do I optimize my CPU for DAW?

There are several strategies, outlined above, that can be used to improve your CPU so that you have more flexibility while live recording. Some of the most common techniques include adjusting sample rates, buffer sizes, and ensuring you have enough storage to support your DAW.

Why is my DAW so slow?

Your DAW could be slow for any number of reasons, but one of the most common ailments is having little processing power to spare or CPU. You can use the strategies outlined above to cut back on CPU and uncover more space for making music.

Knowing how to optimize your digital audio workstation is an essential skill for any musician. Use these strategies to get the most out of your music production process.

Bring your songs to life with professional quality mastering, in seconds!