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I am a hobbyist who has run into some speedbumps transitioning from an outdated home-assembled desktop DAW to a laptop. I'm hoping some experts can point me in the right direction.

I originally had planned to modernize and rebuild my home-assembled desktop DAW, but I decided to give it a go on a T440S thinkpad (Win 8.1). The latency is acceptable for my ears and for my hobbyist needs, so I'm excited to just get up and running with the laptop instead of going through the desktop rebuild. Anyway, here are a few questions for any kind enough to help:

1. My main controller for actual keyboard playing is a M-Audio Keystation Pro 88. I read that it was class-compliant (no drivers needed), so I figured I was in good shape. To my surprise, my computer recognized an attached USB device but couldn't identify the hardware. Surfing the M-Audio forums, there seems to be a lot of grief for not having drivers or updates that fixes this problem with a lot of different devices.

Is there a known solution for non-functional allegedly class-compliant M-Audio controllers? If not, my audio device (Komplete Audio 6) and the Keystation have the actual MIDI cable ports, so I think I can order MIDI cables and a power supply for the Keystation to avoid the USB problem.

2. My soft-synth controller for playing while tweaking the laptop is definitely obsolete - an old M-Audio Oxygen controller that is not class-compliant and with no Win 8 drivers. I'm going to buy a cheap 49 key replacement, but the Windows 8.1 class-compliant issue with my Keystation has me trigger shy. Are there any brands besides M-Audio to avoid for this controller purchase?

3. I don't have enough USB ports. I have three USB3 ports that need to be connected to a mouse, the Komplete Audio 6 interface, and an external HD for sample storage. I don't have another port for the small keyboard MIDI controller that I want to add. Is it OK to use any combination of these four devices with a USB hub? I don't want to mess with the Komplete Audio 6, but will everything be OK with the MIDI controller and the mouse sharing a USB hub?

4. My external HD for samples is a USB 2 drive. Does it matter that it's not USB 3 if I'm only using it for samples and not for recording? Is it correct that sampler sounds will just get loaded into memory, so it won't affect performance if I use this older external HD?

Thanks, DAW experts.


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paulears Tue, 10/07/2014 - 00:18

There's nothing wrong with a laptop if it offered the same facilities, and most just don't. You are stuck with using USB for everything, and all the usual tips on maximising drive speed fall down when you try to use external drives. On a mac, people use external gizmos to provide high speed ins and outs but they are expensive. You also have the manufacturers method of dividing time between the various USB connections, and with usb2 bottlenecks can easily occur, and many laptops also have a limit to the power supply on the usbs. Using powered hubs helps, but most laptops are simply not designed to do the job you want them to do. External drives, external audio interfaces, MIDI, samples etc etc. there are real power laptops available but they are very expensive. I struggle on my mac to do power stuff audio or video, it works, but only just. Unless you need to work on the move I suspect you've maybe done the wrong thing. I would never dream of replacing my studio computer with any form of laptop.

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pcrecord Tue, 10/07/2014 - 12:48

paulears, post: 420006, member: 47782 wrote: You are stuck with using USB for everything, and all the usual tips on maximising drive speed fall down when you try to use external drives.

There is one exception for the external drives Paulears, some are very Lucky to have a laptop with an ESata port. If you get an ESata drive or a regular sata with an esata enclosure, the speed is equal to an internal drive. ;)

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Josh Conley Thu, 10/09/2014 - 18:59

im experiencing the issue of no midi over usb on my laptop now. half a dozen "fixes" later im simply using my old midisport to get the midi signal in/out since my audio interface doesnt have midi ports.
theyre cheap and good to have if youve got more than one synth or fx box you want to control from your laptop.

in regards to your limited usb ports, have you considered a laptop docking station? that wont address any irq sharing issues you may be experiencing, but will give you more "holes" to plug into ;)

curiously, how many midi devices and how many usb devices are you using now?

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paulears Fri, 10/10/2014 - 00:36

After this topic started, I thought I'd download the latest drivers for my midi sport 8x8 and I can't tell any difference in my MIDI performance, but now the thing loses it's USB connectivity after a period of inactivity, and needs to be power cycled and cubase restarted! I wish I'd made a note of the driver version so I could go back! Damn!

garob21 Sat, 10/11/2014 - 10:02

Thanks for the advice.

The docking station is a great idea to free up a USB port wasted on a mouse. Josh, my planned setup will use four USB ports: mouse, sample library on an external HD, audio interface, and a small MIDI keyboard controller. I'll connect one MIDI controller, the Keystation Pro, to the audio interface by MIDI cable.

Paulears, my desktop system was obsolete. My old audio interface had died, and my new interface and the new version of Sonar won't run on XP. So, I've chosen the bird in the hand to test things out on a laptop rather than do a desktop overhaul. I really dislike the computer hardware aspect of building a good DAW, looking into motherboards, chipsets, hard drives, video cards, power supplies, etc. When I was more serious about the recording work years ago, I would go through system rebuilds every few years. Now, with less time on my hands and doing this exclusively as a hobbyist, I'm going to see how far I can get with my laptop. Being portable is nice (and Sonar only allows installation on one system, which seems a bit limiting as some people may want a mobile machine and a serious desktop machine at home), but mainly avoiding the cost, research, and day spent rebuilding a desktop is my big motivation. If it's untenable, I'll eventually overhaul the desktop, but so far things seem OK. Latency seems all right, and I haven't had any noise or clicking in recording yet. I'm perfectly content to bounce to audio as I work instead of running tens of tracks with effects or VSTs running, so we'll see.

I was curious if MIDI cable transmission of MIDI data is inferior to USB transmission of MIDI data, but it sounds like I don't need to worry about that. I will get a long MIDI cable to connect the Keystation Pro to the audio interface and see how that goes.

I'm still in need of a keyboard controller to have directly in front of me at the computer (the Keystation pro is on a different wall than the computer table). Have all class compliant MIDI controllers been messed up with the Windows 8.1 update, or should I just stay away from M-Audio devices? I'm really annoyed that M-Audio won't release Win8 drivers for hardware that costs a few hundred dollars like the Keystation Pro, and their forum is filled with people with different M-Audio products that are nonfunctional with Windows 8. I'm leaning toward a Nektar Implant 49 key controller but am also looking at the Novation Launchkey.

Thanks again