A frequently overlooked element of using Pro Tools, or any other digital audio workstation for that matter, is the processing limit of your system. We hear never ending stories of people asking us why their system is sluggish while recording even within small sessions, when most of the time they can find out themselves from the in-built system usage meters.
This tutorial will guide you through making the most of those meters within your Pro Tools system, and will also cover what Pro Tools HD systems offer in terms of monitoring as well.
So let’s start off by opening our System Usage window, this can found from within the Window menu as shown in the image below.
You will first notice a small section labelled ‘Activity‘ this has three common meters across all versions of Pro Tools, although a few additional meters are offered within HD systems, or systems which have the complete production toolkit installed, a little more on those particular meters in a little while…
The first meter you will find available on all Pro Tools systems is called ‘CPU (Native)‘, this displays a percentage value of how much CPU processing is being allocated to host-based plug-in processes.
The second meter is ‘CPU (Clip)‘, which displays the current percentage of CPU processing which is being used for real-time elastic audio calculations and clip gain.
The third and final meter which is found across all Pro Tools systems is simply labelled ‘Disk‘ which, as you have probably already guessed, displays the current processing activity of your hard disk.
So what should you expect to happen when your meters are up at their limits? You will most likely start to feel that playback and recording is a little sluggish and in some cases unstable.
If your CPU processing is at its limits you may recieve a system error message pop up on your screen asking you to offer my processing if possible.
If the Disk processing is stretched, you should expect to find that automation data is missed during power hungry processes such as when bouncing your session down.
Excuse the pun…In this section we will look at the Cache Meters which are available within both HD systems and systems which have the complete production toolkit installed.
The two additional meters offered are ‘Disk Cache‘ and ‘Timeline Cached‘ and are both displayed within the ‘Activity‘ section under the three meters we just went over.
Note: The cache meters will be displayed providing you have set a ‘Fixed Cache Size‘ from within the ‘Playback Engine‘ dialog window.
Disk Cache: So you have set your cache size within the playback engine dialog, this meter will show you what percentage of that cache limit is currently being used. For example, if you have set your cache size at 2GB and your session is using 1GB of audio material, this Disk Cache meter will show at 50%. The meter will be green in colour should all of the audio material within your session, including material in the clip list be cached.
Timeline Cached: This meter will display how much of the audio within the session timeline has been cached within your system’s RAM. If the cache size set within your playback engine matches, or is greater than, the amount of audio within your timeline, then your meter will show green at 100% meaning that all of the audio on the timeline has been cached within your RAM. Basically this will let you know how much audio can still be added to your timeline and cached into RAM, another example of how a quick peek at a small meters will benefit you.
If the amount of audio within your timeline is more than the amount you set within the playback engine, the timeline cached meter will show the percentage of audio on the timeline that has been cached in RAM, so if you have set a cache value of 500MB in the playback engine and the amount of audio on your timeline is 2GB, your timeline cached meter will show that 25% of your timeline has been cached, leaving 75% which has not.
Making The Most
So you’ve tweaked your newly found settings, added a little more RAM to your system, but are still experiencing some issues? Here are a few more options available to speed up your sessions.
The first thing you may want to try is deleting some unwanted tracks, all tracks no matter how much content they have on them will make use of your system resources even if they are hidden, so go ahead and delete all of the tracks that are sitting there with nothing to do except make your sessions sluggish.
Another process you may want to try is to make as many tracks and plug-ins inactive as you can, note that there is a difference between making something inactive and bypassing something, bypassing still makes use of system resources. Plug-ins can be made inactive by using the shortcut Control_Start_Click (Windows) or Command_Control_Click (Mac). You can make session tracks inactive by simply right clicking the track title and selecting the option ‘Make Inactive’.
If you want to look at options which don’t involve you removing tracks, why not start by turning off send view meters, this can quickly and easily be performed by opening up your preferences window, navigating to the ‘Display’ tab, and unchecking ‘Show meters in Sends View’.
Another often overlooked area of system usage is automation, while you may see recording in some volume automation using an external controller as a simple procedure, the reality is that Pro Tools is reading and storing a lot of fine information to play back your movements as precisely as possible, while this is great for precision, unfortunately Pro Tools can have a tough time trying to process these tiny values amongst the audio processing. Pro Tools can automatically ‘thin out’ your automation values to help with this issue, why not head over to the ‘Mix’ tab of your preferences window and try working with different automation thinning controls, it can range from ‘none’ to ‘most’ so see what works best for you and your sessions.
Try consolidating regions together, for those that are unaware this simply means that you highlight a number of split clips on a track and bind them together to make a new single clip, much easier for Pro Tools to find and process. As a safety I would always recommend that you duplicate the original track and then make it inactive before consolidating anything, that way should you want to resort back to your original edits, they are backed up and easily accesible.
Finally be careful with big virtual instruments, while it is nice to be able to tweak sounds as and when you like within your sessions, the reality is that virtual instruments are my most common reason of sluggish sessions, instead try to bounce down their output onto a new track and make the instrument track inactive, just like we mentioned above with consolidated regions, the original track will still be there should you need it but using the newly bounced audio will help your sessions run much more smoothly.
So next time you’re experiencing performance issues within Pro Tools, jump over to your usage windows and pinpoint exactly where it is struggling.
If you have had a sluggish system and found the issue from these meters, or have simply learnt something new from this tutorial, please do drop us a message below or say hi on Twitter!