Laptop/computer help thread

D

dupuis

Guest
need help finding the right computer? these tips should help


Posted ADK audio

HI,
you do not want the XPC laptop or a dell.

do a search on this forum for laptop. there are several good threads.

but here is the basics

Issues with the majority of new laptops.

Not all laptops are created equal. While they may appear to have the same specs, (processor, memory, harddrive) the performance for Pro audio is drastically different.
Most name brand laptops will NOT work for Pro audio as they are plagued with resource allocation issues, IRQ conflicts and poor bios'.

Contrary to popular belief no one makes their own laptops. In Other words Dell is made by someone as is Apple, Gateway etc.
There are 9 or so ODM's (manufacturer's of laptops) in the world.
Clevo, Compal, Mitac, Asus, MSI, Twinhead, Uniwill/ECS, Arima, Movita.


While this has to do with both Intel and AMD I will confine this to Intel as AMD Laptops are underpowered.

Intel Core 2 Duo, and upcoming Santa Rosa (core 2 duo with 800 fsb)

1) Chipsets: the main chipset is the Intel 945 PM/GM (gm means onboard video) And this is not the issue. The Chipset issue is what is being used for the Cardbus(if it actually still has one), Memory card reader, modem, network, Firewire. or what's called combo chipsets. (all in 1)

Ricoh: (asus and others) a lot of incompatibility with audio interfaces and general poor performance.
ENE: (compal and others) same as above, the Cardbus is horrid. Usually with Via firewire. The via firewire does better than ricoh.
Realtek: now found on several laptops, not just as audio, but audio, card reader, Cardbus, modem, Firewire.
Texas Instruments: firewire and Cardbus (again cardbus is gone from most new laptops). The chipset to have!

2) Bios: most laptops are 512k some are 1 meg, where a desktop will have 4meg- 8meg.
This is probably the biggest issue. The Bios for the most part is responsible for IRQ and resource allocation. A small and poorly written bios is what causes so many things To be lumped on to 1 IRQ.
ACPI handles this.
Microsoft developer site

with laptops you have “hot swap” devices (cardbus, Express slot and more) this adds to the issue. Understanding that resource allocation is memory based (name space and virtual memory), A small bios has a hard time allocating space for all potential product IDs.

Add to that we now have PCIe even more bios issues arise.
More from MS.

“Insufficient bridge resources appear when the platform BIOS cannot assign appropriate PCI-bridge resource windows during POST. Systems supporting hot-plug PCI devices are particularly problematic. When a PCI device can be hot-plugged behind a PCI bridge at run time, it is impossible for the BIOS to ascertain during POST how large a bridge resource window must be to accommodate a device. Additionally, a PCI bridge device might be hot plugged in certain situations—for example, in generic docking solutions that connect through CardBus adapters”

“””The previous scenarios are exacerbated with the emergence of PCI Express. PCI Express defines many bridge devices that are used to represent ports, thereby making complex bridge hierarchies more prevalent. Additionally, PCI Express hot-plug will be widely used in desktop and workstation client systems, so hot-plug scenarios will not be limited to large servers.

“” So small bios means less ability to handle ACPI steering and resources in “virtual space”

3) Expectation of ODM: most laptops are NOT designed to be used as workstations. The vendors never expected this. Laptops are designed to be light weight, long battery life used mostly by biz people on the go, or typical home user surfing the net, playing music. Therefore they program the bios in a careless manor.

Here is more about how its left to the individual ODM to program the bios.

“””The rules for the above programmable ranges are:
1. ALL of these ranges MUST be unique and NON-OVERLAPPING. It is the BIOS or system designers responsibility to limit memory population so that adequate PCI, PCI Express, High BIOS, PCI Express Memory Mapped space, and APIC memory space can be allocated.
2. In the case of overlapping ranges with memory, the memory decode will be given priority.
3. There are no Hardware Interlocks to prevent problems in the case of overlapping ranges.
4. Accesses to overlapped ranges may produce indeterminate results.
5. The only peer-to-peer cycles allowed below the top of memory (register TOLUD) are DMI to PCI Express VGA range writes. Note that peer to peer cycles to the Internal Graphics VGA range are not supported.”””

Taken from Intels white papers Here

A few manufacturers put more thought into it. Again the more expensive TI chipset is a good indication that there was consideration for use as a workstation. The bios will be a bit more open and better programming as well as usually larger. The more different chipsets there are internally the more likely they will have their own resources, as opposed to everything in 1 chipset. So that about covers the less obvious (HDD, ram etc)



SCott
ADK


JoeH

In spite of all the scary (and very useful) caveats from ADK, I've used a laptop for many years for remote recording in the field with much success. (the Sony Vaio series being my choice of poison....) When set up and used properly, they can and do work very well for field recording, as long as you do your homework ahead of time. I don't know who makes these for Sony, but they more than do the job for me.

I don't know any of the "under the hood" chip-level stuff as well as ADK does (and I don't dispute his informative list of cautions), but I have learned a few tips and tricks that would apply to any use of a laptop in the field. I normally do 6-8 tracks on live remotes, but have pushed it successfull to 16 and even 24 on occasion.

What I know so far....

First of all, don't expect true hi-end workstation performance out of it, and have backup in place no matter what. As soon as you think you've "Got it", something will bite you and cause problems. Read Murphy's law a few times, and believe in it.

You can track live easily enough, but rec/playback may be tricky if you load it down with a lot of processing. If you're planning doing more than direct tracking, then plan on using as few extras a possible.

Have a back up like a CDr, tape, or chip recorder running as well. NEVER trust an important recording to a laptop alone. You're just asking for trouble no matter how good things are working.

Record to an external drive; NEVER to the onboard/internal drive; internals are usually 54000 rpm - too slow for most work you'll do. Test it all out ahead of time for write speed, file allocation, etc. Torture it with a lot of tracks and make sure it can do what you need it to do, BEFORE you book that big important session. Listen to the tracks and make sure there's not ticks, pops or data loss.

Use a separate port for data coming IN (Firewire or USB2), and a completely different port for data going OUT (again - FW or USB). I've found that it's easy to bottle-neck data flow when trying to run more than one device on any port. (Don't use the same FW cable&port to record as well as store data, for example.) I have two FW ports for my system; one is for recording IN, the other for going out to the HD. I also use the USB2 port from time to time with HDs that don't have the FW.

Know your gear. Set up real-world scenarios BEFORE you get yourself out on a gig, in a potential jam. Have a second/backup power supply in your rig. It'll cost you a few bucks, but the first time your originl one fails (or worse: when you leave it at home instead of packing it), you'll be glad you did.

Ditto for batteries. Find out if your laptop runs better with or without batteries in place. With my current Sony Vaio, the battery charging software/hardware created an audible "Click" in the sound files whenever it polled the battery - every three minutes, like clockwork. So, I NEVER record with the battery in the socket.

As for apps: REMOVE and/or TURN OFF EVERYTHING ELSE, as much as you possibly can. Go to xpmusic. net and get all the info you can about XP and turning off all the bells and whistles. It's even MORE important to do this with laptops than it is with workstations.

Make a backup of all the software your new laptop arrived with in case you need it someday, then DELETE just about everything except Windows and your audio software. GET RID OF all anti-virus protection (it will always try to come on when you least want it!), ditto for screen savers, periodic updates, etc. etc. (Do windows updates manually on your own time, and of course check to make sure the updates haven't messed with your carefully tweaked up system. See "System Restore" below...)

Check into MSCONFIG (carefully!) and turn off all services and startup items that aren't mission-critical.

Look at the lower RH toolbar and turn off (permanently) any and all background applications that you don't need. These are all resource-suckers, for lame excuses. Turn 'em off.

Pack it in a good, sturdy case when you travel; one that will protect the screen and not torque the body itself.

If you're going to use it for home email, word processing other applications, then consider a dual boot (with separate versions of your OS and pps), or separate "acounts", making one specific user account for audio.

Once you've gotten it all set up and working the way you like, create a "System Restore Point" with MSCONFIG so you can always "get back to where you once belong" and working properly. Someday, you'll be glad you did.

Stay off the web unless you absolutely have to, and avoid any and all sites that can pollute or infect your machine. If you're on a LAN, make sure your C drive is NOT data-shared, so no critters can get into your OS or Registry.

My Sony Vaio (Pent. 4) is long past its expiration date, but I'm planning to replace it sooner or later with another Sony. After I remove all the BS and junk-software, of course. Thumbs Up
 

anonymous

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2001
HI Joel,

your right the older P4 laptops were fine. the issues i spost about have to do with newer Core 2 and the introduction of PCIe and Express slots.

i seriously doubt if you buy a new Sony you will find it will work like your older one did.

SCott
ADK
 

moisiss

Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2006
Location
New York, NY
I was at Circuit City the other day and looked at a C2D Sony... can't remember what model....

But anyway, it had TI Firewire and TI cardbus.... but I noticed that that the firewire was sharing an IRQ with the PCIe. I'm assuming that is a problem?
 

anonymous

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2001
HI,
most likely but not a definate.

hmm may have to take a trip to CC and see what model that is. how much was it and do you know the specs?

Scott
 

moisiss

Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2006
Location
New York, NY
Honestly, it was about a week ago and I really wasn't paying that much attention once I found out that it was sharing IRQ's....

So this could be wrong, but I think it was like a C2D 1.6-1.8 ghz, 1 gig of RAM, 60-80 GB HD.... no dedicated video (Intel 950 graphics). I think for around $1300-$1500? I can't remember exactly, but I think that's close.

If I have a chance I'll go back by there and check it out again.
 

moisiss

Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2006
Location
New York, NY
Just thought I'd update...

I went by Best Buy today to look at some laptops... and to my surprise I found few Sony's and Toshiba's with TI firewire and cardbus. Thankfully, I wrote down the models this time.

Sony:

$1199.99
VGN-CR120E/R
-14.1"
-Intel C2D T7100
-2 GB RAM
-160gb HD

$1549.99
VGN-AR520E
-17"
-Intel C2D T7100
-2 GB RAM
-200gb HD

Toshiba:

$1749.99
-17"
-Intel C2D T7200
-2 GB RAM
-200gb HD
-NVIDEA 7900 GS

The only thing I don't like about the Sony Laptops is that they both have intergrated graphics.... does this matter with audio? I was under the impression that it was a good idea to have dedicated video... using as much system ram for audio apps... but how important is it?
 

anonymous

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2001
HI,
with the last fwe gens of laptops i have not seen an issue with onboard graphics for audio.

Scott
 

moisiss

Member
Joined
Sep 19, 2006
Location
New York, NY
So no real noticeable performance difference? I have been looking only for laptops that have dedicated video.... is this a waste of time? I mean, I've seen a few that were perfect except for the fact that they didn't have dedicated video.. and they were cheaper... but I thought I needed the video card to get the best performance.
 

anonymous

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2001
HI,
nope we have a laptop here that comes in 2 flavors
with and without onboard video they benchmarks on them are indentical for Audio.

thanks
scott
 
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