We address a few common PC music questions and introduce the best software solutions for drive backup.
Three of the most common questions I hear PC-based musicians asking are whether they should put a 10,000rpm hard drive in their audio PCs, whether they need a 8MB, 16MB or 32MB cache, and whether they should set up a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) system. Here's the lowdown.
Way back in June 2003, I carried out some practical tests on hard drive audio performance and, as a result, offered the advice that musicians "stick with a single 7200rpm EIDE hard drive for audio purposes. It should be perfectly capable of running around 48 tracks of up to 24-bit/96kHz audio.” In July 2005, I updated my research with a more modern 7200rpm SATA drive and managed 76 tracks of 24-bit/96kHz audio before the drive ran out of steam. Today's drives are even faster, so unless you need more than, say, 90 simultaneous 24-bit/96kHz tracks (or more, at lower sample rates) there's no practical reason to fit 10,000rpm drives. Faster spin speeds generally mean more acoustic noise, too, which is bad news for most musicians. So next time you need to buy a new hard drive, my advice is to choose a reasonably priced and suitably sized 7200rpm model and stop worrying!
You certainly don't need RAID to supplement audio recording and playback performance unless you require even more simultaneous audio tracks, or need to stream video alongside them. For sample streaming, RAID may even be counter-productive: it's more likely that several separate drives operating independently will improve performance when accessing a random set of sounds, but again, only if you need more simultaneous voices or more capacity than you can get with a single 7200rpm drive (typically over 200 voices).
As for hard drive cache sizes, yes, larger sizes may improve things slightly, but again you'll only notice this if you're already pushing the performance boundaries.
Last month, I tracked down a freeware replacement for Partition Magic, in the form of Partition Master Home Edition from EASEUS (www.partition-tool.com). This month I started looking for a replacement for Partition Magic's stablemate, Powerquest Drive Image 2002, which I've been using successfully for the last seven years to create backup image files of my various Windows and data partitions. It still works perfectly, but neither Partition Magic nor Drive Image 2002 can cope with Vista partitions; nor will they cope with those of Windows 7, when that becomes available.
Plenty of people recommend Acronis True Image (www.acronis.com), and the Home edition is good value at around £30$40. Owners of Maxtor and Seagate hard drives have it even easier, as they can download the free Acronis-powered DiscWizard utility (www.seagate.com/www/en-us/support/downloads/discwizard). However, when I discovered DriveImage XML (www.runtime.org) I realised once again that no-one really needs to spend money to get a quality product that's reliable and easy to use for backing up partitions and logical drives. DriveImage XML is available in a free Private Edition for home users, and a Commercial Edition for multiple users, with licenses starting at $100. Both run on Windows XP, Server 2003 and Vista, offer compression to minimise the size of backup files, and can even back up the partition on which they are running. Unfortunately, multi-boot users can't back up other hidden Windows partitions, as they can with Drive Image 2002, but since DriveImage XML's install size is under 3MB you can simply install it on each Windows partition and run it from there.
You can browse through your backup files to restore individual ones, and if you need to restore an entire Windows file you can do so by running DriveImage XML either from another Windows installation or from a CD (a step-by-step video tutorial on how to do the latter can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=0reKK2ASEaU). As always with a utility that you'll ultimately be relying on in a crisis, you should try a test run, saving an image file and then restoring it, to make sure it's running properly. I had no problems and consider this to be another winner!
Intel World Domination? Sean Maloney, Intel's Executive VP and Chief Sales Marketing Officer, has congratulated the Taiwan tech industry on a "historic milestone”: their collective sales of Intel-based desktop motherboards has recently exceeded one billion around the world. However, since this total includes models dating right back to the original 808x microprocessors, it's perhaps fortunate that no mention was made of the proportion of this one billion languishing in landfill sites after its owners upgraded to newer and faster models! www.intel.com
AMD's Turkish Delight: AMD have just announced the Istanbul, a new six-core processor based on the Opteron range and intended for server use. Although pricing has yet to be announced, it will, no doubt, win many admirers for being a drop-in replacement for current quad-core Opteron processors, and I suspect will prove more popular than AMD's unusual three-core Phenom X3 range, introduced a year ago for the budget conscious. www.amd.com
Shrinking Vista: Microsoft have released Service Pack 2 for Windows Vista. It's a 350MB download that adds support for Blu-Ray and Bluetooth, fixes Wi-Fi issues, boosts power management efficiency by 10 percent and resolves around 700 bugs and performance issues. However, many users have discovered an unexpected benefit after installing it; suddenly their hard drives gain many gigabytes of extra free space!