Audio glitching - Common under Vista, not so bad under other OSes

Audio glitching - Common under Vista, not so bad under other OSes

Summary: The Windows Vista Team blog has an interesting post by Steve Ball, Senior Program Manager for Sound in Windows Vista, on why sound in Windows sometimes glitches. I'm still left with one question though - Why is Vista so badly affected by glitching while Mac OS X and Linux distros aren't?


The Windows Vista Team blog has an interesting post by Steve Ball, Senior Program Manager for Sound in Windows Vista, on why sound in Windows sometimes glitches. I'm still left with one question though - Why is Vista so badly affected by glitching while Mac OS X and Linux distros aren't?

The article is quite interesting and looks in some depth at the problem of delivering consistent audio:

Digital media processing is time-sensitive. Playback requires specific work to be performed by a given deadline -- otherwise presentation or data loss can occur. A "glitch" occurs when a deadline for time-sensitive processing is missed or when time-sensitive data is lost.

But there's an admission in the blog post that I find surprising:

Another way of thinking about this: it seems odd that a modern >$2000 PC may sometimes have trouble seamlessly playing back music when $20 CD players can effortlessly playback music without glitches.

So why do many $2000 PCs occasionally glitch while playing back music? The quick answer is this: Windows is not a single-function device like a CD player.

OK, fine, I can accept that a PC is a convergence device and because of that you've got to accept compromises, but here's something that bothers me - why is audio glitching much worse under Windows (Windows Vista in particular) than it is for other operating systems such as Mac OS X and Linux distros?

Back when I was investigating claims that audio playback had a severe detrimental effect on network performance, I was interested in what the effect of audio playback was like under other operating systems. At the time my results were inconclusive (overall, what I found was that network performance under Linux and Mac OS X was much lower that what I could get under Windows normally, but given limited time and access to only a small number of systems I couldn't follow up on this), but what I did notice in my testing was that when it comes to audio glitches, Windows Vista is by far the worse OS, much worse that both Windows XP, Mac OS X and Linux distros such as Ubuntu. My dual-core and quad-core Vista systems all have regular bouts of audio glitching during normal operations, while my much lower spec Linux systems, and my new Mac mini, which, lets be honest, isn't a powerhouse, seem to be able to handle audio much better. In fact, to be honest, I've not heard the Mac glitch at all. I've also tested XP systems and then loaded Vista onto the identical hardware and found far fewer glitching on XP. And the difference isn't small either, it's really obvious, with the Vista-based systems capable of glitching almost on request by just carrying out simple operations.

So what is it? Is it that the drivers for Vista are immature or is it that Vista has grown to be too complicated and needs a substantial rewrite? I'm not sure, but one thing is sure, excuses aren't going to help. This glitching is obviously a big problem and as we become more and more multimedia oriented, we're going to expect Windows-based PCs to be able to handle audio playback while carrying out other tasks. A $2,000 PC has be able to deliver performance that comes a lot closer to that of a $20 CD player. I'm guessing that this is going to eventually be solved by more intelligent sound hardware.


Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Software, Windows

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  • You may be right about the Mac

    But everyone knows that Linux is useless for multimedia. We've known for at least ten years that MS has vastly better audio performance than Linux, as proven by comparisons between MSWin98 on 200 MHz systems vs. Red Hat 6 on identical hardware: the MS audio was clean, the Red Hat sometimes glitched.

    That subject is closed.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • WHo said anything about W98?

      This is regarding Vista, which is a VERY different OS than Win98. It has a LOT more overhead and DRM gets in the way of some audio playback. I have never had any audio skipping on my Kubuntu systems.
    • So Lame :D

      'MSWin98 on 200 MHz systems vs. Red Hat 6 on identical hardware: the MS audio was clean, the Red Hat sometimes glitched.'

      I can't believe you are resorting to comparing ten year old OS's to 'prove' linux has worse audio then Windows.

      I agree with Adrian, audio on Linux is now distinctly better then Windows Vista

    • Using different subsystem ...

      Since the switch to a complete ALSA driven platform instead of a Arts, Gstreamer, or a combination that's not the case anymore. On the subject of better audio Windows 98 was a worthless platform for any type of sequencing or recording.

      The sound was horrible, applications would freeze at any moments notice, and there were plenty of "glitches". Sound dropouts, echoing, phasing, you name it. It doesn't even come close to the AlSA subsystem on my Kubuntu install. :)
      • Upgrade time

        Windows 98 SE fixes all those first edition problems.
        • Nope ...

          Same problems just a less frequent, but still terrible. Believe me I still have the machine lying around in the closet to use for spare parts.

          Throw in same memory, fire it up, and watch it crash and burn with any serious audio applications. ;)
        • To use a name: YaGottaBKidding!!!...

          ... I switched from a 98SE to an old iMac w/iTunes because the audio was so horrible. I paid $20US for the iMac, too. Came with OS X.

          98SE only runs up to Windows MediaPlayer 9; which does not have cross fading, ... and it starts clicking for hours until you hard crash the machine to stop it. The iMac can use WMP9, but the newest version of iTunes gives me all that I got with WMP10 & 11. It even remade some MP3's which I could not use to create a music CD; I had to make MP4's of the songs, then convert those to MP3 and then use CreatorClassic to burn the CD, but it worked when nothing from WMP would.

          That's really saying something, since I was an avowed Apple-hater!! It took Vi$ta to get me to change. It's a shame that I had to choose between the least of two evils, but I got what I wanted.
          • Of course I am

    • Wow! YBK, you got 3 that time!

      Linux User 147560
      • Thank you, thank you

        I haven't seen Mike around so I felt the need to keep the crowd warm.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • It's amazing how many took umbrage at

          the mention of Win98! I still use it (SE) for 32 bit DOS applications that need direct access to the peripheral bus and legacy hardware such as machine vision boards or IEEE488 controllers.
    • Hmmm, a study from last decade doesn't help much

      Sorry but comparing the LINUX of then to the LINUX kernal of today is just hilarious. There have been great strides forward in both operating systems. While it's true a decade ago LINUX was far more a back room operating system more suited to running a web server than word processing or cd listening. Today it's actually a usable Operating system and it processes sound just fine. Vista is a major rewrite of the Windows OS and it's bound to have some glitches and sound is tough processor intensive, disk intensive application. That makes it a challenge for any OS that is just now beginning to take security seriously. Which includes Vista.
    • Ironically, I have audio issues on OS X but not Vista

      I recently switched to OS X [10.5] as my primary OS, and have come across a few audio glitches while watching AVI files. Previously, I had run into similar issues in OS X [10.4 and earlier] and chalked it up to codec issues.

      Interestingly, under XP and Vista [I also currently run both OSes on other various machines], the same files do not exhibit any audio or visual glitches.

      On the OS X machines, I use either VLC or QuickTime with codecs installed. On the XP and Vista machines, I installed the K-Lite Codec Pack and that's it and used WMP 11 to play back the files.

      The audio glitches aren't enough to make me switch back to XP or Vista as my primary OS, but I just thought I'd mention that OS X isn't perfect in this regard.
  • RE: Audio glitching - Common under Vista, not so bad under other OSes

    howdy, using all types of pc systems from obsolete to fairly up to date, only recently i noticed audio glitches within vista and xp. i do believe that timing scheme issues are likely the main reason for such a behavior. Thats because all my problems started essentially when i got real broadband connection. on the other side is that real multitasking thing wich, we all know starts only now on n-core machines. it is also aknown fact that the unix derivates came from multitasking systems (at least in concept) and mac gives more weight to m-media apps.
  • Vista is still the best OS to get your work done

    After using Vista for 9 monthes, I find three unacceptable glitches in Vista: 1. long time of system boot; 2. long time to copy large files; 3. audio stutter in this blog. However one can put the computer to sleep or hibernat mode to temporarily bypass the first problem. The second issue has been fixed (a previous blog of Adrian mentioned this). I hope MS can fix the audio glitch issue in Vista SP1.
    Despite the bashing from Linux/Mac fanboys, Vista is the OS for most of us to get the work done.
    • Unless...

      your ERP vendor doesn't support Vista, in which case it's the best OS to not get any work done.
      • Kneeslapper!!! :^0 (NT)

    • Hardly

      That's because none of your devices will run on it.

      That's because it's so FUGLY you want to turn it off ASAP.
    • hey dumdum, XP has those features Vistas a Sack of Shit

      Vista makes all my apps take sometimes twice as long to do things than xp ever did!

      In modelling apps vista takes me down to 10 Frames per second in realtime view!

      in XP i was doing 30+ with THIS SAME hardware
    • Re: Vista is best OS to get work done

      How?? I've used Vista a lot and reverted back to XP because XP runs almost "flawlessly" (I'm beggining to hate that word) in my box.

      What kind of work do you do that Vista actually helps IMPROVE upon performance of whatever you're doing?

      I'd like to ask anybody this... and I'll understand if I get no replies.