Does your computer occasionally struggle to run you Pro Tools sessions? Do you experience frequent error messages telling you that Pro Tools has run out of CPU power? This can be very frustrating. If this is a regular occurrence in your studio then know that this challenge is something we all face from time to time. No matter how powerful your computer is there will always be a plug-in, virtual instrument or session that will tax your computer’s resources well beyond a point which will inevitably push Pro Tools over the edge. Apart from the first obvious step to get around this, that being increasing the H/W buffer size in the Playback Engine, what other steps can we take to improve the stability of Pro Tools? Luckily there are many little things we can do that combined make big improvements in the overall performance of our Pro Tools studios.
Address Your Hard Drives
This is common knowledge in pro audio. You should have at least a minimum of four independent hard drives for you studio:
Your main computer’s internal boot drive which houses your operating system, apps, docs.
A drive for audio and media. This is what you store (read and write) your Pro Tools session on.
A drive for samples. This is what you store virtual instrument library assets on.
A minimum of at least one backup drive that you routinely sync with your audio and media drive. Ideally you should have more backup drives
These can be housed inside your computer if you have a desktop machine capable of this or you can use external drives as long as these drives run at a minimum speed of 7200rpm. Drives slower than this such as 5400 rpm drives simply cannot keep up with the read and write demands in Pro Tools. If you try to run a Pro Tools session that is recording to and playing back audio along with the computer running operating system tasks and sample libraries being read from the main drive you run the risk of Pro Tools having a wobble. It’s just good housekeeping spreading the load of certain aspects whatever is in your Pro Tools session across different drives.
Check Hard Drive Health
How long have you had your hard drives for? Do you know the health of your drives? I’ve only just started checking this routinely as recently one of my audio drives died. In the week leading up to it’s demise Pro Tools was crashing more frequently. Small frugal sessions were flaking out on me for no obvious reason which stopped happening after I replaced the faulty drive with a new unit. There are plenty of third party utility apps available online that can help you monitor and asses the health of your hard drives, don’t been ignorant here as drives do die, often without any warning. CleanMyMac X is a favourite here for the Apple users in our team.
Close All Unnecessary Background Apps
Next time you Pro Tools crashes alt - tab to your operating system and take a look at what else in running in the background. Try to work out which apps are not needed and close them down. Internet browsers such as Google Chrome can be a CPU hog.
Set Your H/W Buffer Accordingly As You Progress Through Your Session
Set lower sample value for recording
Set higher sample values for mixing
The main reason why your computer maybe running out of resources in Pro Tools is because the H/W buffer size is not set appropriately. Low sample values such as 32 or 64 are perfect for recording and tracking as latency is kept to a minimum. However, if you keep a low setting you can quickly run into trouble when you move into the mix stage in which you may use a fair amount of plug-ins in. Try to preempt Pro Tools’ warning signs by increasing your buffer before moving from recording stages to the mixes.
Turn Off Pro Tools Video Engine
If the work you do in Pro Tools is mainly music based then you have little need for video right? Turn off the video engine in the playback engine and free up some valuable CPU resources in the process.
Don’t Deny Your Computer Disk Cache
This was once a Pro Tools HD only feature but has since been a standard feature from Pro Tool 12.2 onwards. Disk Cache simply loads all of the audio in your session into your computer’s RAM for playback which massively improves the read/write access time which gives Pro Tools a very snappy feel when jumping around the timeline in playback. Disk Cache also reduces the load on your hard drives. You don’t need to go overboard here by setting the highest value possible. A good rule of thumb to follow here is to set at least 25% of the computers RAM as a starting point. Check the activity of the disk cache in the Pro Tools system usage window and increase the cache size if needed.
Dynamic Plug-in Processing
This is a case of set it and forget it, but what is Dynamic Plug-in Processing in Pro Tools? It simply frees up CPU resources when a plug-in isn’t processing. Think of it as an automatic “make inactive” mode for plug-ins. When audio is being processed by plug-ins it uses CPU but when no audio is being processed the plug-ins (say in a verse with no audio in the track) the plug-ins that are not doing anything uses no CPU at all. In Pro Tools, pre version 11, plug-ins were not economic when CPU efficiency was concerned. Plug-in that sat on tracks that were not doing anything used resources. Dynamic Plug-in Processing goes a long way in helping Pro Tools behave itself, especially in track and plug-in heavy sessions. I can’t think of any benefits to this being off, make sure it’s on at all times… set it and forget it.
Know Which Of Your Plug-ins Have Big Appetites
Stock Pro Tools plug-ins such as the AIR collection don’t tax the CPU load too hard. There are though plenty of third party plug-ins that do. Get to know what the power hungry plug-ins are in your toolbox so that you know to only use a small number of these in your mix instead of overloading your session with too many inserts that the CPU just will not be able to handle. Reverbs, speaker calibration, mastering suites and noise reduction plug-ins are usually the worst offenders here. If there is a certain plug-in that you need the sound on of a track or two but your computer is struggling to cope then you will need to follow the next step…
Print Tracks To Prune Plug-ins
Even with the H/W buffer set to max, a high plug-in count in a Pro Tools can still tumble your session. If you are working on a computer with that has limited power or RAM then you may need to start printing tracks by committing the plug-ins processing to the audio. Luckily Pro tools makes this very easy to do by use of two handy features:
Commit track: Right click over the track’s name and hit commit. This will stamp all of the plug-ins in the track’s insert chain to the audio. If you feel you may need to undo this commit at a later stage then ensure you select Hide and Make Inactive from the Source Tracks box. This simply makes the original track with all the plug-ins inactive and hides it away in the tracks list on the left of Pro Tools
Commit up to this insert: There will be times when you only want to commit one plug-in instead of all of them such as a pitch correction tool such as Melodyne. To do this right click on the plug-in and select Commit up to this insert.
If you are using an older version of Pro Tools that doesn’t feature track commit or freeze features then watch our video tutorial below to learn how to achieve similar commit results.