One of the main upgrades that you can do to improve the performance of a computer is to replace the collection of spinning metal plates that make up your hard disk with something that has no moving parts at all – a Solid State Drive or SSD. Although my PC is well specc’d for a laptop – 6GB of RAM, 750GB hard disk and Core i7 processor – that drive is a 5,400rpm model. Which, for most things you’d use a laptop for, is fine, but not for audio, as the normal recommended speed is 7,200 rpm, which is not that common as an OEM component. However, my laptop also comes with a spare 2.5” drive bay, so I installed a 512GB SSD drive as a second drive yesterday. Normally, people install an SSD as a replacement for their primary drive, to get fast boot and load times for programs, but I had different priorities. I don’t mind waiting a few minutes for Cubase to load, but it’s once I open a project that the hard drive really starts to get stressed.
Think about a typical track these days. Say you have a few vocals, some guitars, that’s a least a dozen audio tracks that you will want to load off disk. Then come the virtual instruments and all those samples. One of my songs, which has virtual bass guitar and drums, plus two instances of Kontakt, takes over 5 minutes to load all the samples – and that’s with one of the Kontakt tracks frozen. Admittedly, it has a lot of guitar parts and they’re currently duplicated, because I’ve got the mono DI track for reamping later, plus the scratch track with stereo amp and effects printed, but they load pretty much as soon as the project window opens. It’s then that EZDrummer and Kontakt go one-on-one for access rights to the hard disk.
It doesn’t stop there. If you’re running your OS, DAW and audio off the one disk, when you’re recording, the computer will be trying to keep all those balls in the air at the same time, whilst recording and playing back audio simultaneously. At some point, it won’t be able to keep up. Using a second drive for audio, especially one with the significantly faster read-write times of an SSD, gets round these problems and I decided to upgrade before I started to run into them.
What hard drive?
Installing the SSD was, as things turned out, the easy part. I removed the plate on the bottom of the laptop, slid the drive into position and screwed the baseplate back on. With a little trepidation, (my daughter told me it was delivered by being posted through the letterbox, with such force that it shot 10 feet across the room!), I turned the laptop back on. It booted up fine, then I heard the “de-donk” sound of a device being found. Windows installed the drivers and told me that my Crucial SSD drive was ready to use. Great! Yes? No.
I looked in Windows Explorer, but no extra drive appeared under My Computer. “Ah, needs a reboot”, I thought, so I turned the laptop off and turned it on again. Nope, no new drive. I looked in Device Management and sure enough, there it was, so the computer knew it was there, but still no new drive appeared. I opened the Disk Management window and there was the problem – Disk 1 was sat there, unformatted and partitionless. I allocated a drive letter, (L:/, as it’s my library drive, and that’s also far enough into the alphabet that any USB drives that get attached will be able to automatically take E:/, F:/, etc. without conflict), and formatted it. A little while later, up pops the Windows “what do you want to do with this drive?” box and I had a working L:/ drive with 486GB of usable space. I was ready to transfer my audio. So far, so good.
But it says on the website…
The three main things I wanted to transfer were my Cubase Projects folder from C:/Cubase Projects, (it was in the root to ensure the fastest access times), my EZDrummer libraries and my Kontakt libraries – in other words, the big hitters that need the most disk activity. First up was the EZDrummer library. There are clear instructions on the Toontrack website about how to move your EZDrummer2 library – I don’t think you can do this with the original EZDrummer, but as I upgraded to EZDrummer2, this wasn’t an issue. I videoed the process and this will be the subject of Monday’s video on YouTube – suffice to say, things did not go according to plan, but without wishing to spoil the ending, it worked.
It took over 30 minutes to move the EZDrummer files and, by this time, it was getting late, so I had no wish to start on the (larger) Kontakt libraries. Tonight, I will be moving them and videoing the process. I’ll let you know how I get on.