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So, let's take a look at a few other things that come into play when we are talking about computer performance and how it affects working with digital audio. The first few things I want to talk about are Processor Speed and RAM, or Random Access Memory. The processor speed essentially is how fast your computer works, how much math it can do in what amount of time. The faster the processor, the better, it's just more powerful. A RAM, or memory, is how much data you can have kind of floating at the ready to access at any time, it's Random Access Memory.
So, these two things have a huge impact on every kind of digital audio software you're working with. As I mentioned, they'll have a big impact on the number of tracks you can use, the rates you can record at, and the intensity of the some of the different processors. Now, most digital audio software tends to be Scalable, which means that the number of tracks or plug-ins you can have isn't necessarily limited by the software, but it's dependent upon the CPU power. So, you might have a multi-track program that let's you do up to, say, 32 tracks, but if you have a processor that can only give you 16 tracks of data at a time because it's slower, then that's the limitation.
But some software you can have an unlimited number of tracks and an unlimited number of plug-ins, and it's this scalability that kind of reveals how important performance is. The other thing to keep in mind is what you're asking your computer to do with digital audio, and that brings us to two different kinds of systems, there's kind of a native digital audio system, which is native or host, which means that the computer is doing all the work. If you have plug-ins with reverb effects and delays, your computer processor is handling all that work. The other option is to use a DSP or External system, which means that you'll probably have something along lines of the PCI card or some external piece of hardware that has a little bit of a processor or some memory on it, that'll do some of the computation for you and do some of the heavier lifting when it comes to signal processing with things like reverb and delay.
Playback is pretty much always going to be on the shoulders of your processor and how fast and agile moving around the environment and making edits and moving regions, that will be determined by your processor speed and RAM. Finally, I want to talk about Latency, which is a delay that can happen in playback due to data buffering. The way your system works basically is it's going out to find audio files on your hard drive. As it finds them, when you ask for them, it throws them into a buffer. That buffer fills up and allows the data to come out in an even stream so that playback is uninterrupted.
Sometimes, you need to use a bigger buffer because you have a slower system. But if that buffer is bigger, this can create a delay in the amount of time between when you hit the play button, and when playback actually starts, and it can cause a delay between what you're actually seeing on screen and what you're actually hearing. Now, when you are listening back and mixing latency isn't that big a deal, because you don't mind if it's a little off. But if you're trying to record another track on top of some existing tracks, this offset or this latency can be a problem, because you you're hearing yourself in real time when strum the guitar, but you're hearing the playback offset slightly by a little bit of latency.
So, having low latency is great if you're recording multiple tracks and multiple overdubs. If you're just recording in single files and then doing edits, a little bit more latency is okay, but it's something to keep in mind. So, having low latency is really helpful if you're working with multiple tracks and doing multiple overdubs. Now, if you are just working with one track at a time and recording one track at a time, a little bit more latency is okay, it's not great, but it won't kill you. But in general it's always nice to try and set up a system that has as little latency as possible.
The things that affect that are how your audio device hooks up to your computer via USB, FireWire, et cetera, and the overall performance of your computer which is a result of the combination of RAM and processing speed you have and also the speed of the hard drives. So in conclusion, when we are talking about digital audio and computers, the faster your computer works, the better. That performance is made up of a combination of hard drive, speed, RAM, and processing power. Ultimately, this greater performance will enable you to work more efficiently with digital audio, which will also make it a little bit more of an enjoyable process as well.
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