Solid State Disks and your Music Software

A question was recently asked on the Ableton  Forums concerning whether or not a Solid State Disk Drive (a hard disk with no moving parts) provides some real advantages over your typical spinnng metal platter based drive, beyond just fast load times of your samples into memory.  It is not wrong to assume that there is the speed benefit to loading samples into RAM from your drive but it goes beyond that, it  goes to the heart of modern operating system performance.

(Below is highly abstracted to illustrate the issue, as not everyone is a computer anyalyst and this is a subject that is SOOO easy to geek out on )

 Given the lack of physical RAM to Disk space (relatively speaking) modern computers have used something called “virtual memory”. This is where the operating systems get to take some space on the Hard disk and “pretends” that is is RAM memory. The operating system then figures out what you are doing (memory wise) and whatever you are doing at the moment it allocates more “real” chip based RAM. Whatever you aren’t actively working on it pushes off to slower Virtual memory in a process called Paging, Then when you need that application or service, it pulls it from the disk and into RAM. Its is during this transition that program slowdowns, pauses or audio stuttering can occur. Add to this the creation of “temporary” work files and caching that Ableton (or many other music software) and you have a hard disk that is working quite hard to (even @ 7200 or 10,000 RPM) to give you a smooth experience.

Traditionally you solved this by throwing RAM at the problem. Some folks go even going further by creating  paging or “swap” file partitions, putting the paging file on a dedicated separate physical drive, or even altering cluster sizes when you partitioned /formatted the Drive so you have more effecient use of space. All this in an effort increase mechanical efficiency to prevent the paging file from being fragmented/overused thereby decreasing the amount of movement the R/W heads have to do.   Microsoft even added “Ready Boost” to Vista and Win7 so you can use SD or Compact flash cards for Caching operations since they can have good read speeds. (Ahem..I once experimented w a Disk array using USB sticks and USB hub)

Well now, you can just spend a ton of money and get a solid state drive and forget about all that nonsense. No moving parts, incredible transer rates, no worries about vibration, no partitioning hassles, disk fragmentation is a relative non issue.  Now to be sure SSD’s comes with their own pecadillos but for our purposes price is the biggest obstacle.
Should you get one? Thats up to your wallet really. Do you need one? Probably not. Will you immediately benefit/ notice a diffrence if you buy a good one? Most likely  Hell yes!  Its one of those things thats once you actually try it the difference is quite obvious (Night/Day on Windows systems I can’t speak for Macs but I’m sure the experince is comparable). The good news is that if you can wait 3-6 months, you’ll undoubtedly save money as the prices will drop on the 120’s (as the 200+GB come out). But if you have an extra 3-400, (tax refunds, bonus, robbing a 7-11 what-eva), the SSD is not a bad investment. Compared to what some artists spend on new synths, mikes, compressors, or Controllers its chump change. 

SSD’s are the future of local data storage, even now Hewlett Packard  is looking to produce drives and other technologies from “Memristors” .  So don’t worry at some point and SSD will be part of your setup and you’ll be wondering you dodn’t make the switch sooner. (Conveniently forgetting todays price tag LOL).

Ghost of Old Bands past #dejavu

An old band mate (Static Opera) contacted me after many years and we had the longest chat on the phone. After we covered over what’s been going on in our lives for the past 18 years (Married, Kids etc), we did what we always did; talk shop and Gear.  Turns out after we parted ways he became an Audio Engineer, toured with the Genitorturers for a while, got married had family,  amassed huge collection of gear, had Ebay-A-thons and then realized how much of PITA HW can be and switched to software synths. He’s big into Reason/Record. Thats Sweet since Reason was my first love of Soft-Synths. (I had played with stuff like Cakewalk but I wan’t feeling it so I stuck w/ hardware.)   In many respects is was like hearing my story in a different voice. (Except for the Audio engineer and Touring with the”The World’s Sexiest Rock Band” part).

It was really great to talk to him and find out what he had been up to but in no time we were talking shop about gear and software, comparing notes as it were.  It was as if  we had never been apart for too long. Thats cool because I don’t have too many people I can blab on about Waveforms, samples and modulation CV routing and Thor patches without eyes glazing over. It seems lately my past has been coming back to haunt me but in a good way. Perhaps 2010 is the year of re-connecting, so far so good.

Here’s Justin’s Myspace if you want to hear what he has been up to.