Ableton Live and Windows

I first started using Ableton Live on a MacBook Pro (erm, issued by my employer), and it was amazing. The amount of sound you could get with such minimal CPU usage blew my mind.

When I had to give up the MBP, I shopped around for a new personal laptop. I couldn’t justify $2500 for a comparable Mac, so I decided to go the WIndows route (Ableton, please support Linux for Live!) I thought I would write up my experience in spec-ing and using a Windows laptop with Live.

I had grown addicted to the retina display on the MBP, so I knew I needed to get a 4K Windows laptop. I also knew that a Core i7, 16MB of RAM, and a fast SSD were vital. So I went with a refurb Dell Insprion 7000 (I7586-7205BLK-PUS, if you care) that I got for $680 at Best Buy. Pretty sweet, since I think the new model retailed for over $1200.

So then my disillusionment with Windows as a DAW platform began.

First off, my fan runs CONSTANTLY when I have Live running. Whether or not I am playing back music, the machine always seems like it’s struggling. The MBP rarely fired up the fans.

I also noticed that the CPU Load Meter in Live is always higher on Windows than it was on a Mac. In fact, it never goes to zero, even when nothing is playing. A Live set that would push the Mac’s CPU meter to 10-15% will easily hit 30-35% on Windows. So far, this hasn’t burned me yet (my music is pretty simple, I suppose, and I know that meter isn’t a perfect measure of the throughput capacity of the system).

Finally, and this has been the most challenging thing of all, the built-in Realtek ASIO driver presented two problems:

  • when the laptop would wake up from sleep, it often was in a state where the audio was garbled. I would have to disable/re-enable the audio in Ableton Live (by clicking the CPU Load Meter); this was a minor annoyance.
  • it gives Ableton Live exclusive access to the audio hardware. So I can’t preview samples on while using Live. I can’t watch YouTube tutorials while using Live. This was extremely frustrating.

I tried all kinds of settings with the Realtek driver, to no avail. I tried playing around with Synchronous Audio Router – no luck. I ASIO4ALL, but not only did that not fix the exclusivity problem, it made for terrible audio output from Live.

Finally, I settled on FlexASIO. It solved both problems for me. There are some caveats documented in their FAQ about “bit-perfect” audio streaming, and I will be honest, I haven’t taken the time to chase those things down. The audio I’m hearing sounds just fine to me, and I don’t do live performances with Live. All I want to do is compose and then render down to WAV, which presumably wouldn’t involve the audio drivers anyway.

Hope this helps somebody!

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