But first, a bit of history…
Steinberg’s Cubase is one of the leading software applications for music production. It’s been around in various forms since 1984. In fact, I bought a copy of Pro-24 (the forerunner of Cubase) for my old Atari-ST computer back in 1987. The Atari was the first ever home computer that had built-in MIDI ports, and the Pro-24 was one of the first software MIDI sequencer applications for creating music.
Over the course of the years, I have gradually acquired more MIDI equipment, and sold a few bits as well. Now I’ve ended up with three E-mu Proteus sound modules, and an ancient Yamaha TX81Z. I still use a Yamaha PF80 electronic piano as my MIDI keyboard, with a Yamaha MCS52 as a MIDI controller, both dating from around 1985. By the early 1990s I had also switched from my trusty old Atari ST over to what has become, over the years, a series of Windows PCs running various generations of Cubase software.
In 1996, Steinberg introduced VST (Virtual Studio Technology), a software recreation of a variety of external synthesisers and effects modules. It also introduced ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) to handle the recording and playback of audio, in addition to MIDI.
Up until now, I’ve not made much use of either VST or ASIO, using Cubase primarily as a MIDI sequencer and editor to drive my external MIDI equipment. However, I recently treated myself to an upgrade of my Cubase software from version 4 to version 6, and for the first time thought that perhaps I should look into using VST to supplement my external MIDI sound modules. For example, Cubase 6 came with a trial of HALion Symphonic Orchestra, a set of samples of the instruments of a symphony orchestra made for VST.
But when I came to try out the HSO VST in Cubase, I found that the performance was pretty poor. After adding only a few instruments into the mix, I could see that the ASIO performance meter was overloading, and could hear clicks and pops on the audio channels.
This struck me as odd, since the PC that I’m using has an AMD Phenom II X4 955 processor, i.e. it has four CPU cores, which Cubase should be making full use of. I looked through the Cubase manual and scoured the Cubase user forums to see if I could get a clue as to why the performance on my system was so poor. Nothing obvious came up.
After scratching my head for a while, I remembered that I had enabled AMD’s “Cool’n’Quiet” feature in my PC’s BIOS. This technology feature reduces the processor’s clock rate and voltage when the processor is idle, to reduce overall power consumption and lower heat generation. Here, for example, using CPUID’s HW Monitor, you can see that the power consumption of the processor is only 20.5 watts, in place of the usual 117.6 watts:
As an experiment, I disabled Cool’n’Quiet in the BIOS, and ran Cubase again. This time, I did not experience performance problems. So it would seem that AMD’s power monitoring technology was interfering with the demands of Steinberg’s ASIO, causing performance glitches in the latter.
I didn’t really want to run my computer with Cool’n’Quiet disabled for most of the time, and having to switch it on and off in the BIOS is somewhat of a nuisance. I wondered whether the power plans in Windows 7 were capable of doing the switching for me. Here’s what the Windows 7 Help and Support says about the Power Plans:
Windows provides the following plans to help you manage your computer’s power:
- Balanced. Offers full performance when you need it and saves power during periods of inactivity. This is the best power plan for most people.
- Power saver. Saves power by reducing system performance and screen brightness. This plan can help laptop users get the most from a single battery charge.
- High performance. Maximizes screen brightness and might increase the computer’s performance in some circumstances. This plan uses a lot more energy and will reduce the amount of time that a laptop battery lasts between charges.
I always run my PC with the Balanced power plan active. I decided to try enabling Cool’n’Quiet in the BIOS, but also to create a new power plan for when I am using Cubase. The new plan, based on the High performance plan, I named Cubase DAW (for Digital Audio Workstation).
When I selected this plan, I discovered that Windows 7 itself disables Cool’n’Quiet, so I was able to run the processor at full power, and maximise ASIO performance.
So now I have the best of both worlds; I can run my PC economically for most of the time using the Balanced power plan, but when I want to work with Cubase and HSO VST, I can readily switch over to the Cubase DAW power plan directly within Windows.
Another problem solved – on to the next…