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I have a MacBook Pro running OSX 10.6 that I use as my primary computer for audio production and performance, mostly using Ableton Live. I've been trying to keep it free of other software to minimize the chances that a change to the system (or some other process competing for resources) will interrupt my workflow. Obviously, when performing live, you want nothing to get in the way of having your "instrument" function correctly.

Sometimes installing other software is unavoidable - for example, MIDI translation tools like Bome's, interface control software, or plugins, but what about non-essential but useful other software like Apple's Time Machine or even simple games?

I used to use a Windows XP machine, and in general these kinds of tools seemed to always want to run in the background, or install things that run at startup, and eventually the machine would get bogged down and I'd start to need to raise the ASIO buffer to avoid pops. I've heard that OSX is supposedly cleaner about this, and if a program isn't running actively it won't get in the way, but is this generally agreed? Does this match your experience?

Many thanks in advance.

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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

This has little to do with the OS and more to do with the software you're installing.

It is best practice to do what you are currently doing and stick to the software that you need. However you generally won't have a problem, unless you aren't familiar with the software you're installing, and are prone to downloading anything and everything.

I primarily work on two PCs, both running XP SP3. A laptop, and a desktop. On these machines you will find everything from audio software, tools for web and software development, and tons of other miscellaneous programs that I have picked up along the way.

I do occasional DJ work with Ableton Live on the laptop, and use Ableton Live and a bunch of VSTs at home. I haven't had any trouble, or any conflicts.

Don't get me wrong, I don't recommend this practice! I have less of an issue with it, as I am a tech guy, and know how to keep my computers running fast and clean. I only post this to say that there is not absolute correct policy on what you can and can't do with your general-use computer while using it for audio.

Bottom line: If you know what you're doing, don't sweat it. If not, proceed cautiously.

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I create a user account called "performer" on my Macbook Pro. I then use fast-user-switching to switch to it during any kind of on-stage use. Optionally, I actually log out the other user.

The performer user has:

  • A simple black desktop background
  • Only performance-related audio software and utilities
  • No screen saver and power saving features

I find this is the best way to avoid embarrassing things like event reminder popups or email notification sounds from piercing through the front-of-house at a gig. It isolates all of the user-based settings, but it doesn't help with driver or OS-level issues. For that, another approach is to use a second bootable drive so that your entire OS can be optimized with only the software and configuration appropriate for performance.

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Good idea. FWIW, Snow Leopard is extremely stable, and bad apps usually can't take down good ones. I'm amazed how many things I can run at once on my machine and still get good GarageBand performance and stability. –  Nathan Dec 23 '10 at 0:00
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You might also consider using a virtual machine for general-use applications. Assuming nothing is too resource-intensive, this is a comfortable way to not worry about trashing your primary environment. Plus, you can roll it back at any time.

There are many options. VMWare is the industry standard, but not free: http://www.vmware.com/products/fusion/

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