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Diagnose audio glitches in minutes with LatencyMon

08 April 2011, Mike Williams

There are many possible reasons why a PC might suffer from audio glitches, like pops, crackles or dropouts.  And so troubleshooting the problem often becomes a matter of trial and error, where you’ll maybe close down every possible background process that you can in an effort to find anything that might help.

LatencyMon offers a much simpler solution. The program uses Microsoft’s Event Tracing for Windows technology to monitor what’s happening on your PC, and in just a few minutes can produce a detailed report which will highlight some of the processes and drivers that are the most likely cause of your audio issues.

And while the LatencyMon author has focused on sound problems, the program has more general uses, too.  Essentially it’s just telling you which processes are making particularly urgent demands on your CPU, and so if you can remove a few of these then you may see performance benefits in other areas, too.

LatencyMon is straightforward to use. Just launch the program, click the Start button, then play some audio and confirm that you’re getting dropouts.  (Or, if you’re just looking for more general performance-related information, simply leave LatencyMon running for maybe five minutes.)  Click Stop when you’re done.

Next, click the Processes tab, then click the “Hard page faults” column header so that the largest numbers appear at the top.  Hard page faults occur when a program needs data that isn’t resident in physical RAM, and so Windows has to read it in from the paging file, instead. This is a time-consuming business, and so if a process is generating a lot of hard page faults during audio playback then it might result in dropouts.

Exactly how many faults qualify as “too many” is hard to say, but the report will at least show you which processes are generating them on your system. On our PC the main culprit turned out to be MSMPENG.EXE, the Windows Defender and Security Essentials engine; turning off Defender (if we had another antivirus solution installed) or trying another security package altogether may be enough to solve the problem. More generally, installing more memory if you’re short, or closing down RAM-hungry applications should also help.

Next, click the Drivers tab, and try clicking the “DPC count” or “ISR count” column headers so the largest figures are at the top.  Interrupt Service Routines (ISRs) and Deferred Procedure Calls (DPCs) are mechanisms used by Windows to urgently run some important driver code, and in some situations this may prevent an audio (or other) application from running, resulting in more sound dropouts.

Again, don’t worry too much about the number of DPCs or ISRs, just look at the files that are mostly responsible.  If you recognise some drivers that you’ve installed (that is, they’re not core Windows components), then maybe removing, upgrading or reconfiguring them will help to reduce your problems.

And even if LatencyMon has only specified standard Windows drivers, like usbport.sys or tcpip.sys, then this will at least give you some clues about what’s going on.  If you’re currently using a USB or wireless connection to get online, then try switching to an Ethernet cable, if possible – it could make all the difference.

There are many other causes of audio glitches, of course, and so it’s possible that the program won’t be able to come up with any useful information for your particular system. It only takes a few minutes to find out, though, so if you’re currently suffering from sound dropouts or similar performance issues then we’d definitely recommend that you give LatencyMon a try.

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