Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Software Crashing? Here's Why It's Probably Your Fault

It seems like only 4 minutes ago that some kid contacted me via fb complaining that Mixcraft and his other daw (Sonar) constantly crash. He wanted to know how in the hell these companies get away
with selling software that crashes; how can anyone possibly get any work done? Said kid has had it up to here (envision hand at forehead level) with Windows and the software that's made for it, he was going to buy a mac dammit!

So, anyone just above noob level want to tell us why said kid should chill out and read this article? Yes! Because the crashes are his fault, and Macs are not more stable than Windows based PC's.

Cue the Mac people - The hell you say!

Sorry Mackies, one of the main reason macs are perceived as being more stable is because they support much less in the 3rd party software realm than Windows does. What that means in a nutshell is that Macs typically don't let you install software that isn't written by apple specifically for the mac. Windows released it's code to developers so that anyone with developer knowledge can write and distribute software that will run on Windows. Leaving the decision to install, up to the user, not the OS manufacturer. While that is awesome in most ways, it also means that Bob the developer who writes shady code, can distribute his garbage too. It's Bob's software that causes the issues with Windows.

What about virus's, man? Macs don't get 'em!
Virus developers write their bugs for attention or financial gain.
So if you were about to write a virus to make some cash, would you write it to run on Windows which holds about 84% of the market share, or Mac which holds about 11%?
In short, there are virus's written to attack macs, but much less than Windows because Windows is the popular OS.

So, can your threat to switch to a mac, it isn't going to solve anything and you'll likely be frustrated with the lack of third party software you can get for it.

User related reasons your daw might have problems running on your computer.

Dear Eric, I found this site offering a billion free games in one easy to install flashy looking app. Should I seize the opportunity?
If you have to ask this, put your computer away, you shouldn't be using one.

If you are having to reinstall Windows every other week...you might be the problem.
Re-registering all your software 10 times/year is not normal, you need to find the problem and correct it.
  • Stop clicking everything you see, banner ads can lead to bad places.
  • If you are about to do something on the computer that causes the angel and devil to pop up on your shoulders and argue about whether it's a good idea, it's not.
Did you know that malware and virus's are illegal? You'd never have guessed right? Since they are illegal, they like to hang out on illegal or questionable content websites, like torrent and other file sharing sites that host content that you are not entitled to download. Porn sites love to push garbage your way as well. Deep or dark web? Don't even think it.

Computer related reasons your daw might have problems running on your computer.

Low system specs

You've read the system requirements for your daw of choice and your computer squeaks by with a hair to spare, yet you still seem to have crashing issues, latency, skipping during playback.
If you are running a single or even dual core processor and minimal amount of RAM (Random Access Memory), then that is probably contributing to, if not causing the problems. Software system requirements are often showing the minimal. If you load heavy plugins or simply build large projects, you'll likely exhaust the computers available resources and get crashes and horrible playback.


Poorly written plugins, freebies from Bob the developer

We all love plugins for our daw, they make our recording software posses a never ending expandability property that keeps it fresh. I personally love to go grab a new graphic equalizer when needed, or a cool virtual drum kit for creating awesome drum tracks. However, I try to stay away from a lot of the lone wolf kind of freebies out there in Internet land. Even if the developer has no ill intent and doesn't try to include malware. There's still no guarantee that he/she has adhered to the VST standard 100%. So if this plugin (lets call it HandyDandyVocalizer) isn't playing by the vst rules, HandyDandyVocalizer may cause your daw to crash, or a track to play incorrectly, or render the mix with a blank track, or any number of undesirables.

There are website out there dedicated to providing downloads for the higher quality freebies, such as VST4Free and VSTPlanet, but you should still exercise caution and put the plugins on probation until they've performed to your expectations a few times.

Cracked Software (Illegal licensing)

If you are in the habit of stealing other peoples hard work and not caring about the health of your PC or other devices on your network? then you might have some illegally cracked software installed. Like plugins, office, photo apps or even your operating system. If this is the case and you are getting issues, then stand up, walk to the garage, get a hammer, hit yourself in the face with it.
Cracked software is almost certain to contain malware, virus's, spyware and more.
Are you thinking any clearer now? Good, moving on.


Outdated Software

Everything that is software needs to be kept updated. From configuring Windows update, to updating
your daw, plugins and hardware drivers. Most software will have a "check for updates" link or button in it's help section. Drivers for audio interfaces can be downloaded from the manufacturer's website. Same for video cards.
Remember, updates are released to fix issues!

Low System Resources, Free Some Up

Here's a quick way to increase your computers performance. Use MSCONFIG to stop software programs from starting when the computer is booted up. You'd be surprised at how many programs put themselves in startup when they don't need to be. Check out the following video on how to quickly get better performance.

Restricted Windows User Accounts

Personally, I always run my computers as administrator. Not AN administrator, but THE administrator. I'm techie enough that I can play with virus's and malware for entertainment, so always being logged in as administrator is not a problem for me.
That being said, if your Windows user account is not AN administrator then Windows is blocking functionality from you. Here's a list of common issues I see with peoples computers who run as a "standard" or as I call it "restricted" user.
  • Cannot seem to register software products. You register, then the next time you run the software, it's back in trial mode or asking for registration code again.
  • Recording on a track results in a disappearing clip. This is because Windows isn't allowing your user account (running the daw) to write files to the hard drive.
  • Some plugins don't show up or run correctly
  • Your daw cannot access the Internet for things such as update checks, loop or sample downloads, uploading to social media sites.
Go into Windows user accounts under control panel, change your account type to administrator.

The Dreaded B.S.O.D.

The  B.S.O.D. or Blue Screen Of Death is when your computer suddenly crashes and displays a blue screen full of text data. Error codes and other info here can help techies figure out the exact cause, but generally people have no idea what it all means. Here's a bit of useful info for you, the B.S.O.D. is 99% of time caused by hardware and/or the hardware driver.

With that in mind, the next time you are using your daw and when you hit record, your computer blue screens, don't go raging off to the daw developer website to tell them how crappy their software is.
It's highly likely that when the daw tried to use the audio device for recording, the device had an issue which caused the blue screen.
The solution is to keep the device driver up to date, unplug other usb or firewire connected devices and even try different ports because it could also be the usb controller on the motherboard that has the issue. In which case a bios update and/or motherboard driver update could be your fix.

Latency settings too low for the cpu and audio device driver to handle

If you are using your interface and daw to run a virtual amp for playing guitar through, or playing your midi controller keyboard to record virtual instruments like Kotakt, Pianissimo, or other
awesome plugin. You would likely want latency as close to zero as you can get it. Unfortunately, most devices can only achieve near zero latency, not zero. I've got a pretty high end system and I run about 7ms latency regularly. If I go any lower I start to have glitchy, skipping playback.
So if you are having issues like that, raise the latency/buffers on your device asio driver interface.

Cheapo Generic ASIO Driver with Internal Sound Cards

When you buy a computer, it has what is known as a sound card, installed inside. It's where your speakers are plugged in to. It can also accept input like a microphone or tape deck. you can use those inputs to record to your daw.
Sounds good, right?
A lot of people try using this setup for multi tracking, but end up realizing they need lower latency than the sound card can provide. They eventually end up downloading something called asio4all which is a generic driver which attempts to give low latency to devices that were not built for it.
Asio4all was an ok choice when trying desperately to get water out of a rock back before Microsoft came out with their newer "WaveRT" driver. However, these days there's no reason to try asio4all. You'll get the same or better performance from WaveRT and none of the buggy issues.

Side Note: If you've got an audio interface which tells you to use asio4all, take it back to the store, throw it at the sales guy who sold it to you and buy something else.

Hard Drives and Bad Sectors

Even when brand new out of the box, all disc hard drives have bad sectors. When Windows formats
the drive in preparation for installing the operating system, it sets those bad sectors aside and doesn't use them.
With time, other previously good sectors can go bad, particularly if you lose power often and the drive is shut down abruptly.
Although it's rare, a sector can go bad which contains parts of your daw software, or files it uses, etc. If that happens, it's best to reinstall the daw.

Bad RAM

Though not likely the culprit, it is possible for portions of your computers RAM to go bad. The computer might run fine most of the time, but have issues when you load heavy projects. This could indicate bad ram at a level above the usual 2GB it might take to run the computer for every day use.

Example: If your computer has 6GB of ram in total and uses 2GB just sitting there idle. Then you load a large project which uses 3.5GB of ram on it's own, your upper 1GB of ram might be faulty if this is when you start getting crashes.

Here's a how to on testing ram over at howtogeek

CPU Throttling

Windows uses something called cpu throttling to idle down your processor cores that aren't in use. It's a part of the energy saving blah blah. I've found that this throttling can really cause problems with audio devices and even causing the B.S.O.D. for me by causing the audio device to become disconnected when I didn't touch the computer for a specified amount of time.

I wrote an extensive article for Acoustica on throttling and how to disable it. There's also a very comprehensive pdf there on tweaking your computer for performance.

In closing, just because you were playing an mp3 at the time of the crash doesn't mean windows media player sucks. If you were watching a recipe video for deep fried raccoon bites when you got a blue screen, don't call youtube/google and tell them about it. The problem is underlying and elsewhere.

Keep your computer in good health and make some music!

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