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With faster connections being the norm, it's quite possible to listen to streaming audio over the internet for long periods of time. But should you?

I have DSL and a pretty old system, running WinXp and I'd like to run continuous radio music on my computer. I'm very confused as to the best way to do that. I read that some programs take too much memory. Others too much bandwidth. I also don't know if I'm supposed to have an RSS feed or what. I simply want to hear some continuous Oldie's music through my computer (that is always left on), without stressing out my old shaky system too much. I already seem to have a lot of problems with its lackluster speed and freezing up on me.

I have listened to some with the Windows Media Player and somehow itunes (didn't even realize I had that installed) but am afraid to continue doing so until I get your recommendation.

I'll put it this way:

As I write this, I'm listening to streaming music over the internet. In fact, it's been running continuously for days.

Let's look at the requirements, issues and ramifications of doing so.

There are at least a couple of issues, and I think one you already have covered: if you can listen to streaming music at all, then your PC is likely to be quite capable of it. The fact that it's "old" doesn't appear to matter. The only time that might be an issue is if you were doing something else at the same time that required a lot of computation from your CPU - the music might stutter or pause or stop while that happened.

"... most computers manufactured within, say, the past 10 or 15 years or so are quite capable of streaming and playing audio for extended periods of time."

The fact is that most computers manufactured within, say, the past 10 or 15 years or so are quite capable of streaming and playing audio for extended periods of time. The only limitation is how much else you might be able to do at the same time. My newer machine has a fairly powerful processor and fast disk, so I don't even think about it; an older machine might require a little more caution.

Or not - as I said, the only real ramification is that when over-taxed the music might stutter or stop.

You mentioned some programs taking too much memory. While that's not strictly true in this case, there are issues related to it. Most of the popular media players like Windows Media Player, iTunes, WinAmp, VLC Media Player and others are all solid, robust programs that for the most part work well. They use memory, of course, and some use more than others but it's usually not excessive. Once again, the greatest impact you might see is how many other things you might be able to do at the same time as playing music before your system begins to bog down due to there being insufficient memory to do them all.

Unfortunately, occasionally one or the other media player will have a bug of a type that's referred to as a "memory leak". A memory leak causes the program to use more and more memory the longer it runs. Playing a single song might not expose it, but leaving your streaming audio running for hours or days certainly could.

Now you and I are not the only ones running streaming audio for long periods of time, so when one of these players has a leak, it's typically resolved fairly quickly. The take-away here is to make sure you're running the latest version of whatever player you choose to run.

The final issue is bandwidth. You have DSL, which is good, but realize that when you're streaming music you're continually using some portion of that bandwidth that might be used for other things like downloading email or surfing the internet. So, either of two things *may* happen: either other things you do on the internet might get a little slower, like browsing web pages or downloading email, or your music might once again stutter, pause or stop if something else is trying to use all your internet bandwidth. The most common cause might be a lengthy download of some sort.

And to be clear, the impact of the bandwidth of your internet connection is unrelated to the power or age of your machine. The newest, fastest machine can still have issues playing streaming audio if it's on a slow or saturated internet connection.

In fact, particularly when it comes to streaming video, it's the internet connection bandwidth that is the most common choke point.

Article C3558 - November 7, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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7 Comments
Mike McMahon
November 8, 2008 4:50 AM

Hi ~ Another option for some is downloading the stream to put on a MP3 player for those that like to workout, walk or job.. whatever really. I am sure there is more then one program that does this but the one I am aware of is replay radio.

Coincidentally I also use Reply Radio, now called Replay AV.
- Leo
08-Nov-2008

frank rimshaw
November 11, 2008 5:57 AM

This discussion was very helpful & informative. Thanks for both the question and the thorough answers!(no response is needed)

Michael
November 11, 2008 7:03 AM

It should also be mentioned that audio and video take up a lot of bandwidth, and most ISPs have a bandwidth cap. While you;re not likely to hit it if you're using an ISP like Comcast in the US where the limit is 250GB, others like Rogers in Canada have much lower limits like 60GB. When you exceed these limits, your ISP may charge you extra money for the service, or may even cut you off if it happens too often.

Mark
November 11, 2008 5:02 PM

Shoutcast?

http://www.shoutcast.com/

Margherita
November 14, 2008 12:45 AM

You guys are truly lucky, here in South Africa the average Joe's bandwidth is capped at 1GB (some of us only have 500 Megs per month), so it would probably be some time before we can start listening to streaming audio without paying an arm and a leg for it...

Nader
September 30, 2009 8:21 AM

I have a windows media player (recent version with Vista OS). When I want to leason streaming radio I have to right click and select option save as and then open the file. But if my file is in my harddrive I can play just by clicking on it. Can u tell me how I can use window media player for streaming without going to "save as" steps. remember I use to streaming withpout going to "save as" procedure, but it is about 2 weeks that I have to go to this step

Marcelo
October 28, 2010 5:42 AM

I love listening to music over the Internet, but hinders my ability to do other things on the PC... For that reason, I bought an internet radio that connects over the wireless chanels. No more getting the old PC bogged down.

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