High-priority media apps

For most people, most of the time, a faster computer won’t make much of a difference. There’s nothing CPU-intensive about reading and writing email, surfing the web, or using most other applications. The notable exception to the rule, of course, is audio and video processing. Nowadays I often find myself staring impatiently at progress meters in Audacity, Audition, Camtasia Studio, and iMovie while I filter and compress large media files. No matter how fast your computer, in these situations you need it faster.

To hurry things up, I boost the priorities of these apps. If a process is already running you can do that with Task Manager on Windows, or the renice command on OS X. But since I nearly always want to give these media apps as many cycles as I can, I’d rather just bump their priorities at launch. You can do that with scripts containing […]

Given that on an otherwise-idle machine very little CPU is going to anything else, boosting the process priority is very unlikely to make a human-perceptible difference. In other words, unless you want video games running in background (bad idea), boosting the process priority is pretty much a waste of time.

In fact, if writing a similar application, I would likely drop priority of the thread doing the heavy processing. Why? Because if the machine is otherwise idle, altering priority makes little or no difference in processing time. On the other hand, if the user wants to do something else (in foreground), my application should not interfere. Put differently - the customer is always right. Anything the user wants to do in foreground (at normal priority) should take precedence over another application performing heavy processing in background.

I am somewhat concerned that Jon’s example will prompt less thoughtful application designers to make exactly the wrong design decision, and run compute-heavy threads at elevated priority.

The best advice Jon could offer to his friends to minimize processing time is to shut down any unneeded applications, and simply leave the machine alone.