Poor audio playback during high hard drive activity

I’m experiencing poor audio playback quality like “stuttering” due to high levels of disk activity. Does anyone know of anything I can do to improve quality?

As you say, excessive disk activity can cause problems for playing (and recording).
Avoid running other programs (particularly those that require high CPU, RAM or disk use) at the same time as Audacity.
Other common causes for excessive disk use include:
Insufficient free RAM.
Windows Update activity.
Scheduled virus scanning.
Virus activity.
Scheduled disk defragmentation.
Other programs running in the background.

There is an article here about managing computer resources that may help: http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Managing_Computer_Resources_and_Drivers

If you are using Windows XP, there has been a recent issue with Windows Update that can cause severe performance problems. If you are using XP and need further information about this issue please ask.

Steve has provided good advice. Defragment the hard drive immediately if you have not already done so! And check those other points mentioned.

If the problem persists your hard drive may be wearing out or it may just be too slow to cope with everything, or both. Looking at the second possibility first, let’s consider an example. At home we have several PCs of various ages. Our eight year-old PC’s hard drive is a 60GB model. According to a simple benchmark test called HDTune this old drive has an average data speed of about 36MB/sec. Our five year-old 250GB hard drive registers about 76MB/sec. A 2TB model purchased this year averages 122MB/sec. Now, the oldest slowest drive for sure cannot handle a big work load without slowdowns and stuttering, and i can tax the next faster drive enough to also cause problems.

The drive MAY have slowed down because it’s wearing out. You can check the drive for errors. Open Windows Explorer, right click the drive that you wish to examine and choose Properties. Switch to the Tools tab and click the “Check Now” button under Error checking. Select “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors” to perform a thorough disk check. You’ll probably need to restart the computer so the disk check can run before Windows, and it may take a while to complete. Go for lunch and check back later !

Also, many manufacturers have free tests you can download to check the health of your drive. For example, Seagate offers free software called SeaTools. Go here to check it out: http://www.seagate.com/support/downloads/seatools/ If your drive is a different brand go to the manufacturer’s website and click on Support, or search their website for “diagnostic” or “diagnostic tools” or “check drive health”, etc. Also, check here for sounds that may indicate a bad drive: http://datacent.com/hard_drive_sounds.php

Right now hard drives are cheaper than ever, especially larger capacity models. Some have software designed especially for recording and playing back video and audio. These cost a little more. We bought a Western Digital WD AV-GP model which can “serve” up to 12 video or audio streams at once while still recording HD video. Seagate also makes A/V drives called “Pipeline” series. If you really want to go crazy, you could buy a 1TB Crucial M500 SSD which can reach data speeds of around 500MB/sec.
Please post back and let us know what you discover. Good luck!

If the drive were “wearing out” then I’d expect other, more serious problems to be occurring, such as file corruption in both data and program files. In the absence of other symptoms that is probably not the cause.
Slow hard drives can certainly limit performance, but even an old 4200 rpm laptop hdd should be able to cope with recording a single audio track without breaking into a sweat. Assuming the default settings of 44100 Hz sample rate, 32 bit float, recording a stereo track produces less than 350 kB of data per second (a long way under the capability of your old 36 MB/s example).

Mmm, before a hard drive begins knocking or clanking or failing to launch and run programs properly it may simply struggle along, pausing or “hanging” for a few extra seconds when you ask it to do something. Add to that the fact it has inherently low transfer speed and high-ish latency. Next, add the fact that the cpu and hard drive are already busy doing other things (the thread title is “Poor audio playback during high hard drive activity” and throw in the possibility of some or many fragmented files and you have a situation where smooth audio playback may be difficult to achieve.

There may be an entirely different cause, but without more details of the computer hardware and media player in use how can we tell?

i’d defrag the hard drive and try playing audio tracks without a lot of other activity going on. Who knows, maybe it’s time for a new hard drive (they are really cheap these days) or even a new computer … It’s fair to say that a new hard drive can muster it’s full performance (almost) even with a lower speed cpu. So, an old single-core Pentium 4 2.4GHz or an AMD 64 3000+ @ 2.00GHz won’t slow down a good hard drive. This leads one to the possibility of adding an extra hard drive specially for faster access to media files and documents, etc.

The original posting is very shy on details. It wouldn’t be the first user shocked to find how much stress live audio (and video) puts on a system. Koz