Ghost in the CPU

My computer is spitting up. It’s a 2GHz Core 2 Duo laptop with 2GB of RAM, manufactured by MusicXPC. I know they optimized it for music production before it left the factory, but that was a year ago. Stuff happens.

I’ve been hearing occasional clicks and pops in the audio output. After trying various things (including uninstalling the Hewlett-Packard printer driver, which for some reason was eating up a ton of CPU even though it wasn’t doing anything), I’ve managed to isolate the problem. It’s caused by CPU overloads.

The trouble is, all of the CPU usage meters show the usage in the 20% range. And yet — clicks and pops.

I’m pretty sure it’s the CPU, because if I load a software synthesizer (Image-Line Toxic III, a very rich-sounding FM synth) and doodle on the keyboard, I can radically increase the amount of popping and clicking by increasing the release time on the main envelope generator. When you increase the release time, you increase the number of notes being played, because notes have to be generated until they die away completely. So even though my hand may be playing only two or three notes at a time, Toxic has to spin out ten or fifteen notes’ worth of audio data at once.

If I pull the release time back to zero and play the same type of keyboard doodling, the number of clicks and pops per minute drops drastically.

Nothing else to speak of is running in the system, only Ableton Live and Toxic. Live isn’t doing anything, it’s just sitting there hosting the synth plug-in. If I look at the activity in Windows Task Manager, there seems to be no background process causing the overload. And the system idle process is hovering around 75% at any given time, which means there ought to be plenty of CPU left over. Right?

A friend wants me to improvise some peaceful trance music for a labyrinth walk next month. I’d love to do it in Live with Omnisphere and maybe Toxic and Zebra. but I’m sure you can imagine how peaceful and meditative it will sound if my computer is clicking and popping.

This entry was posted in music, technology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s