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This question is actually answered, I'm putting it up here since other people might be running into this and it's ultra annoying. Hardware/software involved:

  • RME Fireface 400 firewire audio interface
  • Dell Vostro 3500 laptop I5 processor 4G ram nvidia geforce 310m graphics
  • Firewire 400 Expresscard adapter with VIA chipset
  • Cakewalk Sonar 8.5
  • Windows 7 pro 64 bit

I used my RME fireface 400 on an older slower XP desktop machine and it worked great at 24bit 96KHz. I bought a new computer recently, and now I'm getting audio dropouts and clicks while playing back sessions that hadn't been a problem on the older machine. Specifically, the audio will play great for a while, then drop out while Sonar's time cursor keeps going. Usually it will start playing again, but not always. Sometimes there are clicks/audio artifacts instead of dropouts.

I can, however, play back 44.1KHz 16 bit files over the laptop's onboard NVidia audio hardware using ASIO-4-ALL without problems.

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At first I suspected my audio settings both in the Fireface settings and in Sonar. I tried various combinations of buffer sizes and driver options, to largely no effect.

I then looked into the firewire adapter. I found a lot of troubleshooting ideas online regarding RME devices and/or firewire adapters, such as:

  • making sure your firewire adapter has a TI or VIA chipset (mine was VIA)
  • trying a different firewire cable
  • disabling visual enhancements in windows
  • disabling the DVD drive

..none of which helped. On one site or another it was suggested to download a DPC latency checker (, which showed a regular "red" latency spike every 15 seconds.

Searching for "dpc latency" and "dell" I found that there was an issue with Dell Alienware laptops and audio dropouts, possibly related to the NVidia graphics driver:

Assuming it was similar to my problems with the Vostro, I installed the latest video driver from the nvidia site. That didn't help. Another link suggested to turn off "Power management mode" in the Nvidia 3d control panel. This seemed to reduce the DPC spike and audio dropout frequency but it was still there. Finally I found there was an BIOS update for my Vostro. The new version was A5 and I was at A3. And... the new BIOS fixed both audio dropouts and DPC latency spikes.

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