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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Hello. Hope to find an answer to this little problem of mine.
I sometimes run Ableton Live 8.2 on a Samsung laptop (windows 8 64bit). When playing above around 10 tracks with effects ecc (without "freezing" them) the CPU load indicator tends to go over 100% and everything is messed up. The bottleneck of this computer is clearly the CPU: it's and AMD A6 4455 "trinity"(dual core). It's clearly not a great processor but it's still brand new and I thought it could handle some more stress by Ableton.
Now, my question is:

Would an external sound card help taking off some CPU stress when processing audio? (Maybe dedicated drivers instead of Asio4all might help?)

In that case, what kind of external sound card should I buy? (I'd like to buy one anyways)

Thank you in advance.

PS: sorry about my goofy english!

  • saratoga
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #1
Would an external sound card help taking off some CPU stress when processing audio? (Maybe dedicated drivers instead of Asio4all might help?)


No, sound cards do not perform processing of audio in the sense that you're interested in.  Only a CPU can do that.

  • yourlord
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #2
You have some other issue.. That CPU should barely break a sweat with just about anything you're trying to do there..

I used to run Ardour with often 25+ simultaneous tracks, plus several effects in the loop for each track, feeding into Jamin via Jack for overall mastering.. All on a single core Pentium 4 3.2GHz with 4GB of ram playing back through onboard AC97 audio... What you have destroys that chip in raw performance.

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #3
Thank you for answering, you're really helping me here.
So what could it be? I'm pretty much enjoyng my laptop performance overall, except for this Ableton issue.
Maybe audio drivers? I'm using Asio4all...do you think buying a new card (I would need it anyway) and using specific drivers might help?
Something else?

  • dhromed
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #4
You have some other issue.. That CPU should barely break a sweat with just about anything you're trying to do there..[...] All on a single core Pentium 4 3.2GHz with 4GB of ram playing back through onboard AC97 audio... What you have destroys that chip in raw performance.


Pretty much any desktop CPU will smoke the kind of energy-efficient CPUs meant for light laptops, like the A6. The plain Hz numbers don't mean anything without knowing the class and intent of the CPU.

  • DVDdoug
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #5
Some effects can take lots of processing power.  It depends on the effect and how efficiently it's written.  For example, reverb is often very demanding.  High sample rates also affect processing...  At 96kHz, there is twice the data as 48kHz. 

A "glitch" in the audio would be normal if you overload your CUP/data bus, but a well-written application should never freeze or crash.

With high-quality effects, it's often more important to get good quality than to minimize CPU utiliziation.  And if you are rendering with an audio editor or DAW (rather than applying effects in real-time), speed & CPU use are not too important.

  • saratoga
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #6
So what could it be? I'm pretty much enjoyng my laptop performance overall, except for this Ableton issue.
Maybe audio drivers? I'm using Asio4all...do you think buying a new card (I would need it anyway) and using specific drivers might help?
Something else?


I think your options are to either use fewer effects, more computationally efficient effects, or buy a faster system.  You may want to consult the documentation for your software or any other resources provided by its maker to figure out if your processing can be further optimized or else more efficiently implemented.

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #7
A "glitch" in the audio would be normal if you overload your CUP/data bus, but a well-written application should never freeze or crash.


Well, Live is not crashing. It simply glitches continuously making it impossible to work. Freezing tracks really helps keeping everything under control but, still, the CPU usage indicator goes around 80% (no more glitches but not so "safe")
When I work on the same projects on my desktop computer the CPU usage indicator has much lower values.


  • washu
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #8
Pretty much any desktop CPU will smoke the kind of energy-efficient CPUs meant for light laptops, like the A6. The plain Hz numbers don't mean anything without knowing the class and intent of the CPU.

So you would happily take a desktop Pentium 2 over an i7-3940XM? 

What you just said makes no sense at all.  There is a huge performance difference between a P4 and an AMD Trinity chip.  A P4 is not even in the same league as Trinity, even a lower clocked mobile version.  That A6 chip will handedly "smoke" a P4 3.2 GHz and not even break a sweat doing it.

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #9
Pretty much any desktop CPU will smoke the kind of energy-efficient CPUs meant for light laptops, like the A6. The plain Hz numbers don't mean anything without knowing the class and intent of the CPU.

So you would happily take a desktop Pentium 2 over an i7-3940XM? 


Depends on the workload we are trying to run. For example laptop hard drives seem to lack "grunt" even when they have many GB and run at 7200 rpm.


Quote
What you just said makes no sense at all.  There is a huge performance difference between a P4 and an AMD Trinity chip.  A P4 is not even in the same league as Trinity, even a lower clocked mobile version.  That A6 chip will handedly "smoke" a P4 3.2 GHz and not even break a sweat doing it.


There are many variables in your situation. Abletron may be a CPU hog. Your laptop may have some other bottlenecks. Your idea of not to many EFX may be well, optimistic.

  • washu
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #10
Depends on the workload we are trying to run. For example laptop hard drives seem to lack "grunt" even when they have many GB and run at 7200 rpm.

That would be true if comparing desktop and laptop drives of similar age.  A new laptop drive, even a slow one is much faster than a desktop drive from the P2 era. 

Quote
There are many variables in your situation. Abletron may be a CPU hog. Your laptop may have some other bottlenecks. Your idea of not to many EFX may be well, optimistic.

The discussion was about CPU speeds.  A desktop P4 and a mobile A6 are not even in the same ballpark, the Trinity based A6 chip is much much faster.  It may be possible for some high end P4 with great disks to be better on some I/O bound tasks, but for 99.9% of uses the A6 will be the clear winner.

  • yourlord
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #11
A single Bulldozer core, while not the greatest thing in the current generation, is still more than a match for a single P4 core of any released clock rate.

I agree that the issue is likely somewhere other than the cpu, which was why I responded about his suspicion of the CPU. When I was running that P4 rig it was using a hardware RAID U160 SCSI adapter driving 4 10Krpm Seagate Cheetah's in a RAID 5 array. 

There's a lot more to the performance of a machine than the processor.


External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #12
The point is that I don't think the hard disk is playing a big role in this case: the projects with which I am having problems are totally MIDI based, no audio samples to be read from disk. I suppose MIDI files which are being played by ableton are loaded into RAM (am I wrong?). In addition, I usually have no other programs running in the background when working on ableton.
Soooo....what about drivers?

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #13
The point is that I don't think the hard disk is playing a big role in this case: the projects with which I am having problems are totally MIDI based, no audio samples to be read from disk. I suppose MIDI files which are being played by ableton are loaded into RAM (am I wrong?). In addition, I usually have no other programs running in the background when working on ableton.
Soooo....what about drivers?


I don't know how Abletron works, but I do know about other Midi synth programs that are massive RAM hogs.

At some level your claim that no other programs are running in the background fails the sniff test. Run the Windows Task Manager and look at the massive list of Processes that are loaded and some sense running. Those are all programs.  Sort them by CPU use and then by memory use.

  • yourlord
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #14
I'm not familiar with the program you're using, but people have been sequencing midi since the days cpu clock rates were measured in kHz..


I assume your current implementation uses something like a wave table to generate the audio, so it's still going to have to read all those samples, but even then, you're only running 10 voices which is nothing. I strongly suspect another process or drivers causing problems. 

Without having access to the machine, anything more is wild speculation.

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #15
Ableton was a fantastic piece of software when it first came out but it's old now. It doesn't make much use of multi cores for example. They are duppodrd to be doing a new version which I understand is practically a rewrite.

These are the official system requirements. So you ought not to have a problem.

Quote
Windows: 2 GHz PentiumĀ® 4 or CeleronĀ® compatible CPU or faster (multicore CPU recommended), 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended on Windows Vista and Windows 7), Windows XP (home or Pro), Windows Vista or Windows 7, sound card (ASIO driver support recommended), DVD-ROM drive, QuickTime recommended


Either way, if you have an expensive software tool such as Ableton you really owe it to yourself to get hold of a multi-channel audio interface. If you don't have one already I think it must be difficult because if you cannot hear the incoming cue track before it hits the main outs you are going to risk getting train wrecks on a regular basis.

Contrary to what someone has previously suggested many audio interface type of soundcards do have DSP processing carried out by a special chip on the device. I have a MOTU Ultralite and it has reverb, 2 compressors and 7 parametric EQs which can be applied to any of the I/O channels(10i+14o)  and mix busses (8) simultaneously. Other manufacturers offer similar suites. RME and Focusrite do for sure. Of course this will not take the load off Ableton directly but there is scope to add effects. You could also use the inserts or a spare channel pair to add external effects if you wanted.

I started out with Ableton and Traktor with an M-Audio Fast Track Pro. About $200. You can find alternatives from the likes of E-MU, Berhinger, Native Instruments and ART among others. Some are ven less expensive.

The gold standard, if you can afford it, is the RME Babyface @~$550.

MOTU, TC-Konnekt, Presonus, among others have offerings at intermediate prices. I like the look of this one atm. Focusrite Scarlet 8i6 @~$300.


  • slks
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #16
To address the original question - No, a new sound card by itself won't reduce CPU load. While you may be able to get a high-end model that can do its own reverb and EQ, this only "reduces CPU load" in the sense that you would disable those effects in Ableton and do them in the sound card instead. But I'm guessing you're working with more than reverb and EQ.

At first glance, my gut feeling is that your hardware simply isn't powerful enough. I don't keep a close eye on new CPU benchmarks, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but - isn't the A6 a netbook-class low-wattage CPU? Mobile CPUs have come a long way, and they're perfectly adequate for what 90% of people do with a computer. The problem is that you're in the 10%. Doing multitrack audio editing and effects in real time requires power to spare.

Personally I'd go for a desktop system. You can certainly get powerful laptops, but the advantages of a desktop system are multitudinous. Cooling systems are better, there's more flexibility for upgrades later on, and a better ratio of bang to buck. IMO you should only be looking at a laptop if there's a real reason you need the portability, like if you're going to be doing shows on a regular basis. (Even still, a desktop computer doesn't take any longer to set up than a couple of turntables or tube amps...)

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #17
Ok I get the point of DSP processing of just EQ and reverb, that's exactly the answer I was looking for. Thank you.

Personally I'd go for a desktop system. You can certainly get powerful laptops, but the advantages of a desktop system are multitudinous. Cooling systems are better, there's more flexibility for upgrades later on, and a better ratio of bang to buck.


I already own a desktop pc (my main music workstation). I bought a laptop for university purposes but I sometimes find myself editing my ableton projects on the go.
What I've learned so far is that the purchase of a new sound card won't need to focus on its capability of reducing CPU load 'cause it simply does not make sense.
Thank you all again for the kind replies and suggestions.

  • washu
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #18
isn't the A6 a netbook-class low-wattage CPU?


I thought this had been addressed already, but I guess I wasn't clear enough.  No, the A6 is not a "netbook-class" CPU like an Atom or Brazos.  It is a low power chip with a Trinity core.  While it has some performance reduction due to a lower clock speed and less cache, it has the same core design as AMDs current high end bulldozer chips.  It's not top of the line by any means, but it's no slouch and much faster than the "netbook-class" CPUs.

CPU power alone should not be the cause of the issue here.

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #19
Try to increase your latency/buffers in audio settings in Ableton Live. Also check so that your CPU power plan is performance. The gover(m)nor switching can cause this too. Regards.

External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #20
The gover(m)nor switching can cause this too.


I am sorry...what is it? (tried to google it but couldn't find much)

  • washu
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #21
I am sorry...what is it? (tried to google it but couldn't find much)

I believe he is referring to the power management of the CPU.  When loads are low the CPU lowers its clock speed and/or goes into various idle states.  It is possible that the CPU is not getting back to full speed in time when the load goes up.

Try setting the power profile to "Maximum Performance" in the Power Options control panel.  Also look for any BIOS settings about CPU power savings and disable them.  I'm not saying this will help, but it might.  Be aware this will make your laptop use much more power, run hot and have terrible battery life.


  • gymnos
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #22
Would an external sound card help taking off some CPU stress when processing audio? (Maybe dedicated drivers instead of Asio4all might help?)


No, sound cards do not perform processing of audio in the sense that you're interested in.  Only a CPU can do that.


UAD Apollo?  Avid HDX?

as to the original problem, well, there is some reason why macbook pros are used by professionals

  • slks
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #23
isn't the A6 a netbook-class low-wattage CPU?


I thought this had been addressed already, but I guess I wasn't clear enough.  No, the A6 is not a "netbook-class" CPU like an Atom or Brazos.  It is a low power chip with a Trinity core.  While it has some performance reduction due to a lower clock speed and less cache, it has the same core design as AMDs current high end bulldozer chips.  It's not top of the line by any means, but it's no slouch and much faster than the "netbook-class" CPUs.

CPU power alone should not be the cause of the issue here.


Haha, alright. I had my Atom N270 in mind when typing that post. That one could hardly handle YouTube.

I'm not familiar with Ableton, but is it possible it's just not very efficient with CPU usage? Or that it stresses that particular chip in a particular way? A bit of Googling has revealed that:

Quote
Although marketed as a dual-core processor, the A6-4455M includes only one module with two integer-cores and and floating-point core. As a result, the CPU is not a true dual-core processor.


IIRC effects are done with floating-point mathematics, so it could be that the chip essentially has only 1 core for processing audio.

The site also mentioned the chip has something of a "turbo" mode that bumps up the clock speed by a few hundred mHz. I'm not sure if it's triggered automatically under load, or if it has to be manually set. (My Atom required you to manually activate it with the system tray icon.) Short of getting new hardware, I'd look into that, and also the power-saving settings.

  • washu
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External sound card to help reducing CPU stress?
Reply #24
slks:

You are correct about the A6 not being a true dual core design and that it only has one FPU.  By modern standards it's a slow CPU (discounting the Atom and kin). 

However, Ableton claims as a minimum requirement to need only a 2.0 GHz, netburst Celeron, a very slow CPU by any measure.  To put that in perspective, that is slower than your Atom N270.  Despite the A6 being a slow CPU in today's world, it is still around 8-10 times faster (depending on what benchmark you trust) then the minimum claimed by Ableton.

Either Ableton made a huge mistake in their minimum requirements or something else is causing the problem.

Turbo should be automatic assuming the processor is not above it's thermal and/or power limits.  An N270 does not have turbo, so whatever you were doing in the system tray is unrelated. 

Back on topic a bit more:

Katatsumuri, try removing (un-installing, not disabling) any and all anti-virus or other "security" software and trying again.  It could be trying to scan Ableton's data files when it accesses them and causing the CPU load and disk contention.
  • Last Edit: 23 September, 2012, 05:46:25 PM by washu