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copying digital audio between hard drives creates audio artifacts

Posted on 2004-09-22
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Last Modified: 2010-04-26
I record multi track digital audio.

I've got 2 hdd's in my system.  One has 4k clusters, the other 32k clusters.
One is on the mobo controller, the other is on an add-on controller (Promise ulta133 tx2).

Whenever I copy audio from one drive to the other, the audio plays back with extremely noticeable artifacts, almost as though its been phased or something.

If anyone has any idea why this might be happening, I love to hear your thoughts.  It's affecting my business.

Thank you to anyone who trys to help.

-John
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Question by:jdharris5954
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Expert Comment

by:Grisk
ID: 12130558
Hi jdharris5954,

Hope the below given information could help

When you perform a standard FAT 32 partitioning of a drive, it will set up the directory with 4K clusters. Using a program like Partition Magic will allow you to re-build the cluster sizes
into larger 32K chunks without losing data already on the drive. What this means in basic terms is, Windows will process information from the drive in larger portions. This translates into an increased amount of data that can be written to/from the drive with less effort from your system. Compare this adjustment to filling and emptying a 3 gallon bucket 1 ounce at a time instead of 12 ounces at a time.
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Expert Comment

by:PodExpert
ID: 12131113
Hello,

if your hard-drives have reasonable performance, the problem can't be caused by the cluster sizes. Speed of reading of about 200K / sec is enough even for RAW audio playback (e.g. WAV) in CD quality. All of the modern drives (i.e. few years old) can read megabytes per second. The problem can however be caused be severe fragmentation of the hard drive.  If the reading head must "search" for the correct piece of file too often, it could really slow down the playback perfomance. Then you should hear gaps in the music. In this case, simply defragment your hard drive by using the utility that comes with your OS or any third-party solution. First, you can  test the speed of your drive by copying the music from it and measuring the time. If the overall speed is much above 200K/sec, than your drive isn't the problem.

If there are some other artifacts (modifying the sound, not just causing delays), the problem might be by the magnetic fields caused by your hard drive, the controller or any other hardware. Especially for the internal sound cards it might be the case, for they have almost no shielding. If you are dealing with music on a professional basis, you should consider buying a professional soundcard with external module, which is placed far from the electromagnetic hell of the computer case.

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Expert Comment

by:XSINUX
ID: 12131847
Here is what I would do to Find the fault.

1) Copy the same file to the same hdd and see if there is any noticebale performance degradation.

2)Try copying an MP3 from a CD and see if the PLay is Degraded.

3) If you are copying from a CD ensure that it does not have copy protection or Safe Disc2 Protection. There may be weak Sectors that maynot be copied on Normal CD Drives.

Copy Protection hates mp3 players because it makes it hard, if not impossible, to convert the audio on the CD you've bought into the mp3 format required to play it on the device.

4) Ensure that the hardware acceleration is set to the Maximum. Click the link to see how to increase it http://www.ati.com/support/faq/winxp/winxpconfigadjusthardwareaccelslider.html

5) Since you have informed that when you copy from one hdd to another hdd and the music played from the 2nd hdd is skipping, what happens when you copy the music back to first hdd and play it? Still Skipping? We are trying to narrow the problems.

6) Disable all Anti Virus and Background Programs while we copy the files. Any background process can induce Skips, Sputters etc in the Playback.

7)  Ensure that the bit rate is 128kbps if you are using some utility to copy the music.

Hope these Troubleshooting would help you.

Cheers
Sinu.



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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12134335
Thanks so much for all the feedback.  More info -

My setup is a standard daw, Anti Virus in installed, but I turn off "auto-scan" (whatever it's called) when working with digital audio.  I'm using an m-audio Delta 1010, which is out-board, sitting in a rack about 10 feet away.

I have copied the files to the same hdd.  This works fine, no artifacts.  It's just when copying to the other hdd.  

One of the posts above suggests that its not the cluster size.  That leads me to think that it might be the ide add-on card.  I'm thinking about hooking the suspect drive to the mobo ide connectors.  I hate to do that because then I have to configure either 1 hdd or my cd-rom as a slave.  This can cause probs if Win decides to access the cd-rom while the hdd is streaming audio.  Hope this additional info helps.  

Again, thanks

-John



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Expert Comment

by:Panther713
ID: 12134579
There is a possibility that this is caused by interrupts on the PCI bus. You said that one HDD is on the mobo controller and the other is on the PCI bus through a Promise card. Are these SATA/RAID controllers and is the mobo controller a direct SATA link? A mobo controller has direct access and doesn't usually share resources with other things, but any controller that is hanging off of the PCI bus has to share access with other PCI cards. If any other processes are running on the PCI bus that are interrupting the transfer, then that could cause this to happen. I run mirrored drives... two SATA mirrored on a Promise controller hanging on the PCI bus and two SATA mirrored drives on a ICH5R controller which interfaces directly with the CPU. The PCI bus has a theoretical maximum of 133 with the ICH5R having a theoretical maximum of 150... In reality, the PCI bus is around 1/3 of that and the ICH5R is significantly less as well. Regardless, if I transfer audio to the Promise array while other things are accessing the PCI bus, it can cause jumps. Another thing to check is the buffer size of your HDDs. Many of the newer ones have 8M buffers, but the older ones (and some newer ones are 2M or less. If the buffer is being overrun or underrun, it can also cause skips.

Good Luck.
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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12135244
Thanks.  These are both newer Maxtor drives, one is 60gig, the other 160gig(promise card).

These are ata133 drives.  Panther713, I think you have a great point about the pci card competing on the bus.  Is there any way around this other than hanging everything off the mobo?

If not, I will try to re-configure things tonight after business.

Thanks again.

-John
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Expert Comment

by:Panther713
ID: 12136214
One thing that hasn't been asked/answered... Which HDD are you experiencing the problem with? The one on the mobo controller or the one on the PCI bus? I've just assumed (and we all know what that means) that you've experienced the problems with the drive on the PCI bus.

Also, I'm assuming that you're just moving files from drive to drive, as in a direct file copy. I use Sonar Pro with a couple of high-end Midi synths for music as well as mixing audio directly in... Are you doing other work at the same time, such as listening to audio (the same file or another file either one), watching video, listening to music on the CD, or running other applications at the same time?

You have one of, if not THE best pro-audio cards out there (IMNSHO) and I can't imagine that the M-audio would cause you any problems. I just upgraded my main systems and haven't added the Delta 1010 to either system... it hasn't come in yet,
I'm running other benchmarks and working on some other production things, so having the card in the new systems isn't essential yet.

I don't think this is a SW problem because you already have a known good version of the file and are just trying to copy it from one drive to the other.

Now on to another comment you made... You said you didn't want to hook the second HDD to the mobo IDE controller. How many optical drives are you running? Most modern mobos have a primary and secondary IDE port. You should be able to hook the CD to one as the master and the HDD to the other as the master and not have them compete with each other. Alternately, if you have multiple optical drives, such as a CD-RW and a DVD-RW on the two IDE ports, decide which one you need to have opposite the HDD for your purpose. In other words, if your main need is to rip CDs and don't really need to worry about the DVD performance, then make the DVD the slave and the HDD the master on the same IDE port. Finally, even if you do have to put the HDD and CD on the same port (which is almost never the case anymore), realize going through the on-board IDE port may be better in some cases than using a PCI card. Just curious, what mobo are you using? General idea of system components and setup?

Good Luck.

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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12137719
Thanks again.

Mobo is an ASUS, ???, don't remember the exact model right now but it's pretty common.  Supports Athlon xp up to 3.2 and I have a 2.6 in it.

I've got the 2 hdd's, plus a cd/rw drive.  Right now the cd/rw is master to mobo ide2, hdd1(the smaller one) is on mobo ide1 as master.  The second hdd is on the promise card as master(this is the one that when copied to, creates artifacts).  
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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12137757
Oops.  Pushed submit before I was ready.  

One more interesting thing is that if I track directly to the drive on the pci bus (promise card), it plays back perfectly.  It's just the files copied b/w drives.  wierd.

Thanks
John

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Accepted Solution

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Panther713 earned 250 total points
ID: 12139938
OK, that is strange... Have you checked to see that the files are the same size? Try picking up a program called "Total Commander"... It's "shareware" and you can run it for awhile "unregistered". Using Total Commander you can do an indepth file comparison. If the files are the same, maybe the problem isn't between the two HDDs, but it's between the HDD that you seem to be having the problem with and the audio card. If the problem is only seen when playing the file on the HDD connected to the promise PCI controller, then it could be an issue between resources for reading the data from the PCI HDD and writing the info to be output by the PCI Delta 1010LT card. With data intensive music, it might just be exceeding the capabilities of the PCI bus. (Wow... some heavy duty composition going on there!)  However, since you say that things tracked directly to the promise HDD play back perfectly, do things tracked directly to the IDE HDD also track perfectly? If that's the case, then there must be some corruption in the file transfer, which means... get Total Commander to do a line-by-line file compare. OR... there are similar programs that will compare binary files. (Google search should help you find one.) See if you can see differences in the copies each way. If the problem doesn't occur when you track directly to the PCI HDD, but manifests if you copy that tracked file to the IDE HDD, then swithc the order and see if things work correctly when you track directly to the IDE HDD and does the problem manifest itself when copying to the PCI HDD from the IDE HDD? Also, can you give some info on the HDDs... They're both newer Maxtor drives, one's a 60G, the others a 160G... what are the buffer sizes? It's probably either 2 or 8 meg. Just wondering if there's a buffer problem... Just thinking out loud.

Also, does that mobo have on-board SATA? I'm running an ASUS mobo (P4 3.0E CPUs). On both systems I have two optical drives on the two IDE ports, on both systems I have mirrored SATA drives on the on-board PCI promise controller, on one system I have mirrored SATA drives on the ICH5R, but the other mobo only has an ICH5 chip and on that system I'm running another HDD as the slave on the secondary IDE port. This is a tough one...

Good luck.

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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12144210
Thanks Panther.

I'm going to try all of your suggestions, probably tomorrow as I'm working all day today.  I really appreciate the help.

I agree, this one's wierd.  I will reply wil all the hdd info.

-John
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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12170505
Panther713.  Thanks so much for the help.

I put both hard drives on the mobo controller, ultraata133. Set them both to master on primary, secondary.   I put my cd/rw on the pci ultra card as master.  My problems with the hdd went away.  I haven't had time to test the cd writing yet.  I hope I don't have the same problems there now.  If I do, I'll simply put the cd/rw as slave to the mobo primary, which has the boot hdd (not the one I record to attached.  That way, my recording drive will be alone on the secondary.  I hope this makes sense.  If you have more input, I'd love to hear it.

Thanks
John  
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Expert Comment

by:Panther713
ID: 12170609
Fantastic! Glad you got it working (at least so far)... I'm curious to find out if you have problems with the CD/RW on the PCI controller card. I completely agree on moving the CD/RW to the boot moboIDE as slave if that's the case. If that is the case, then you might just have a bad PCI controller card or some other conflict with that controller card.

The important thing is that you're up and running... Having a kick-@$$ machine that isn't working right is no fun at all!

Take care...
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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12171618
You got that right!

2 things.  

I discovered that the original problem only occurred when recording at 24/96.  Didn't happen at lower sample rates.  Interesting.

The other is that my large hdd (the one originally having problems) is sata capable as well.  Do you think it would be worth trying another (SATA rather than Ultra ATA)  controller just to get the sata150 performance?

Thanks
John
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Expert Comment

by:Panther713
ID: 12172400
Hi John,

SATA capable doesn't mean true SATA necessarily. However, if you have SATA ports on your mobo, that would solve a LOT of the issue. If you have a Southbridge chip (ICH5 or ICH5R or similar flavor), then by all means move the SATA HDD to one of the SATA ports. Be careful though, because on many ASUS mobos, they also have a Promise RAID controller that has SATA_RAID ports available and those won't work with a single drive. If you're looking to buy a PCI SATA controller card to replace the current controller card, that won't buy you anything because the limiting factor is the PCI bus which has a theoretical max of 133 anyway (more like 30-50 normal operation). Only jump to using the SATA if you have SATA ports on the mobo. IF you do, put the large HDD that's SATA capable on the SATA port, have the other HDD on one IDE port and put the optical drive on the other IDE port (both as masters). Then dump the PCI controller card all together. (Just my NSHO...) Since you've found that it only occurs when recording at 24/96, then I suspect the issue is with conflicting accesses of the PCI bus. There's a certain amount of time that each device is allowed to have the PCI bus before having to give it up...

Here's something to try...

Do a reboot and jump into the BIOS setup. (On an ASUS mobo you usually get there by hitting the "delete" key during the startup post). When you get to the setup, go over to the "Advanced" settings and then go into the "Advanced PCI/PnP Settings". Then go to the setting for the "PCI Latency Timer". That will probably be set on 32 or 64... Try giving it a little more... I'd suggest moving it to 128 for a try and see if things get better at all. You can move it up a notch at a time, but at some point you'll probably see things get worse rather than better. When that happens (obviously), reboot and back it off to the best stable point you have. If it doesn't help at all... well, you tried... Anyway, most mobos come with that set to a default of 32 or 64, but with many of these types of applications things will run better if you bump it up some.

Did you figure out what model of mobo you're running?

Good luck.
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Author Comment

by:jdharris5954
ID: 12173801
Thanks again.  That's valuable info.

ASUS a7n8x.  No SATA =(:

-John
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