Topic: Real time priority and nice on Linux

tl;dr According to my experience and investigation there's no need to manually run Pianoteq with elevated priorities on Linux. As long as /etc/security/limits.conf is set correctly as advised in README_LINUX.txt, Pianoteq is going to set the needed priorities on its own.

I recently got hold of a 5-year old laptop and decided it to use as a dedicated machine for Pianoteq. The laptop came with Windows 7 and I initially tried to run Pianoteq on it. Despite my previous positive experience with Pianoteq on Windows running on my other laptop, I failed to get it to work reasonably well. Windows annoyed me with stuff running in the background that was stealing CPU cycles randomly.

So I decided to go for Linux. I downloaded AV Linux, which seems to be a nice and lightweight distribution with kernel optimized for low latency. I also did a bit of research regarding setting up Linux for Pianoteq. On the forum I found advice to give Pianoteq real time priority by running it through chrt or to give it the regular nice priority. I initially followed the advice to use chrt. However, I was still hitting some issues with clicks and pops. I am not entirely sure what resolved the issue, because I was trying different things. However, I ended up running Pianoteq without any elevated priorities and no issues at all.

I started digging a bit more and figured out that Pianoteq complains about not being able to set real-time priorities when /etc/security/limits.conf is not set up properly. I decided to check the scheduling policy and priorities of all Pianoteq threads when it is started without chrt or nice, but with proper limits.conf. It turns out that some of the threads do run with SCHED_RR, which is a real-time scheduling policy. Also, they have priorities varying  from  65 to 90. There are 3 threads under the regular SCHED_OTHER policy with the default nice of 0.

[michal 22:01 amd64]$ ps -e -T -opid,spid,policy,rtprio,nice,cmd | grep Pianoteq
 4636  4636 TS       -   0 ./Pianoteq 5
 4636  4643 RR      90   - ./Pianoteq 5
 4636  5269 RR      65   - ./Pianoteq 5
 4636  5271 RR      69   - ./Pianoteq 5
 4636  5281 TS       -   0 ./Pianoteq 5
 4636  5282 RR      65   - ./Pianoteq 5
 4636  5283 TS       -   0 ./Pianoteq 5

I went to gdb to see roughly what the threads are doing:

  7    Thread 0x7f84165bd700 (LWP 4643) "Juce MIDI Input" 0x00007f841e85dfdd in poll () at ../sysdeps/unix/syscall-template.S:81
  6    Thread 0x7f84151af700 (LWP 5269) "Pianoteq" pthread_cond_timedwait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () at ../nptl/sysdeps/unix/sysv/linux/x86_64/pthread_cond_timedwait.S:238
  5    Thread 0x7f84149ae700 (LWP 5271) "Juce Timer" pthread_cond_timedwait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () at ../nptl/sysdeps/unix/sysv/linux/x86_64/pthread_cond_timedwait.S:193
  4    Thread 0x7f84175bf700 (LWP 5281) "threaded-ml" 0x00007f841e85dfdd in poll () at ../sysdeps/unix/syscall-template.S:81
  3    Thread 0x7f8416dbe700 (LWP 5282) "Juce ALSA" 0x00007f841e85dfdd in poll () at ../sysdeps/unix/syscall-template.S:81
  2    Thread 0x7f84159b0700 (LWP 5283) "Pianoteq" pthread_cond_timedwait@@GLIBC_2.3.2 () at ../nptl/sysdeps/unix/sysv/linux/x86_64/pthread_cond_timedwait.S:238
* 1    Thread 0x7f8420645780 (LWP 4636) "Pianoteq" 0x00007f841e862c53 in select () at ../sysdeps/unix/syscall-template.S:81

If you match the output from ps and gdb you get the following:

RR 90 "Juce MIDI Input"
RR 65 "Pianoteq"
RR 69 "Juce Timer"
TS 0 "threaded-ml"
RR 65 "Juce ALSA"
TS 0 "Pianoteq" 
TS 0 main() 

In my opinion, it indicates that Pianoteq and its developers know what they are doing. The threads that do the real work get RR priority, while e.g. the main() thread does not. Even more interesting are the varying priority values. They may be tuned to make it work even better e.g. get the MIDI messages earlier to get the sound generation to work ASAP.

If I run Pianoteq with chrt -r 88 as suggested in another thread, threads get the following priorities:

[michal 00:45 amd64]$ ps -e -T -opid,spid,policy,rtprio,nice,cmd | grep Pianoteq
 8297  8297 RR      88   - ./Pianoteq 5
 8297  8300 RR      88   - ./Pianoteq 5
 8297  8301 RR      65   - ./Pianoteq 5
 8297  8302 RR      90   - ./Pianoteq 5
 8297  8926 RR      65   - ./Pianoteq 5
 8297  8927 RR      88   - ./Pianoteq 5
 8297  8928 RR      69   - ./Pianoteq 5

Consequently, the main() thread gets a higher priority than the thread responsible for ALSA. I believe this is not a optimal solution.

So to me it seems that it may even be detrimental to fiddle with Pianoteq's priority on Linux. I think setting up limits.conf is just enough. I would love to hear a bit more about it from the developers smile


Re: Real time priority and nice on Linux

The CPU in the laptop that I use is a 6-year old Intel i5-560M 2.66 Ghz. Other experiences that I can share:

  • I use ALSA with 64-sample buffer and 48 000 Hz sampling rate. Polyphony is set to 96.

  • I had no luck with the ondemand CPU governor. Setting a fixed CPU frequency seems to work better.

  • The fan kicking in every now and then is really annoying when you play the piano.

  • So I decided to forcefully shut the fan down. There are tools to control fan speed in at least some laptops. I used i8kutils for Dell.

  • That is obviously risky in terms of the CPU temperature, so I decided to use CPU frequency on the low side. I set it to 1,33 Ghz. I get performance index of 26 in Pianoteq. This is perfectly fine for what I play and I suppose it would be pretty good for advance players as well.

  • My CPU does indeed get a bit hot. It goes up to 65-70 degrees Celsius after a longer playing session and stays there. However, I think it isn't very dangerous at all. It would be unpleasant to use the laptop, but in this case I don't even need to touch it for a second.

  • Having a dedicated and silent computer running Pianoteq is a blessing.

Last edited by swistak (08-11-2016 01:31)


Re: Real time priority and nice on Linux

Pianoteq works very well in Linux.

I use the rather lightweight XFCE version of Linux Mint, and although I've played with many commands and configuration options, I now tend to do just three things: 1) I edit /etc/security/limits.conf as the root user (or using the sudo command), as the Pianoteq file README_LINUX.txt suggests (although the DAW Ardour or some other audio program I install usually offers to do this for me); 2) I download and install the "lowlatency" linux kernel from whatever software repositories my linux distribution uses (in the case of Linux Mint, those would be Ubuntu Linux repositories with .deb software packages, as well as the KXstudio repositories I installed to supplement the Ubuntu repositories); and 3) I disable frequency scaling (as mentioned in PianoTeq's and Ardour's documentation), but because my computer has a CPU that uses the newer Intel Pstate CPU-frequency governor, rather than use the cpufreq-info and cpufreq-set utilities, I disable CPU frequency scaling by adding a kernel option to the commands produced by the grub bootloader every time the computer boots, editing /etc/default/grub as root or using sudo, so that the following grub line looks as follows:


I love Pianoteq on Linux, and love Linux in general (previous experience was with MAC OSX, which I still like, but prefer Linux for almost all my computing now).


Re: Real time priority and nice on Linux

I'm using a lower-powered Haswell i3 1.9ghz running Linux Mint 17.3, MATE desktop.  (No 3D effects enabled.)

Connected direct to ALSA hardware, I didn't need to do anything at all.

Once I added JACK into the equation though, I had to switch to the realtime kernel.


Re: Real time priority and nice on Linux

Same experience here,

I run Pianoteq on a 6 years laptop, dual core i5 2,53Ghz at 64 samples and 96000Hz.
I can't feel the latency.

I use a music oriented distro, Librazik, derived from the old Tango Studio.
I just installed the Real Time kernel associated for Librazik.

The performance is outstanding.


Re: Real time priority and nice on Linux

Thank you all for sharing experiences! After more long-run testing I can confirm that AV Linux is a good platform for Pianoteq. It is also convenient, because it comes with the CPU governor set to performance and correct settings in /etc/security/limits.conf out of the box. The desktop environment is Xfce, which isn't bloated and is fast.
Just for reference. This is the rest of the gear that I use and can recommend:
- Presonus AudioBox iTwo
- HiFimeDIY USB Isolator to kill ground loop when playing through the internal speakers of Casio PX-560