So I recently upgraded to the Zune 3.0 firmware/software package, hoping that it would solve a problem I’ve had for a while where I would begin a sync, and it would die at about 5% complete. It would start off fast enough, but decelerate slowly until it became totally unusable at about 5%. Looking at my task list, I saw that ZuneEnc.exe was running, sometimes taking as much as 70% of my CPU, even though it is set to Low priority. My fan was running in high gear, and the computer became utterly unresponsive. My personal computer is not that strong, and it’s never really bothered me. In fact, the inability to play games on it keeps me "honest" in the evenings when I’m trying to write something.
ZuneEnc is the transcoder for the Zune. This is the part that takes media files that the Zune device can’t play and turns them into ones that it can. In theory, it’s a very good thing, but it was dragging my whole system down into the dirt. Fortunately, you can disable this from running in the background so that it only pops up when you want it to. Go to Settings -> Device -> Conversion Settings in the Zune software, and uncheck "Allow files to convert in the background". You’ll need to restart the Zune software to notice the change, but the change was dramatic for me. Now just having Zune open won’t mean that files are being converted. I’ll actually have to initiate a sync to cause that.
This unfortunately means that I’ll have to leave the computer pretty much alone when it’s syncing files, but at least it won’t hurt my performance when I’m just trying to listen to something while coding. I’d like to see some attention given to this issue by the Zune software team. If ZuneEnc is set to low priority, then it should get out of the way. I suspect that it is actually doing this, at least as far as processor time is concerned, but it’s staking a claim to too much memory to do its processing, thus degrading the performance of everything else on the system. I’ve only got 1.5 gigs of ram on this box, and no immediate plans to upgrade unless some 1gb RAM sticks fall off the back of a truck in front of my house, as the money is currently allocated to other things.
So the plan is to leave this unchecked, and then when I don’t need the computer for a while, I’ll turn it back on and just let it sit there and convert to its heart’s content. I just have to remember to turn this back off before trying to do anything with the Zune software running.