no problem. you should have seen how confused i was when i first got into audio processing (not sure if it holds true for everyone, but this is something that i didn't fully grasp until i did it. reading about how to do it only confused me more..)
BEWARE!! this is going to be a really long post, and i tend to skip over things, or poorly format everything.. i will do what i can to try to keep some sort of order to it though..
i just posted/copied this thread on getting a basic audio setup in audio mulch-- it's very basic, but gives you something to start off with..
xp/win7? win7 .period. i don't remember all the technical lingo, but basically, the OS handles audio way, way better, which means that getting a sq setup in win 7 is easier.
in xp,i have read that it is best to bypass the os in the audio path, as the OS audio routing isn't the best. i never did it, so you'll need search some to get details on this..
one thing you didn't touch on is version of OS-- i believe that 32 bit is better, as it seems that more plugins have a better chance of working with it.
if you do end up using a 64 bit os, be sure to check the "only show x64 plugins" in kvraudio.com's plugin search engine. i know that one member did have issues with non-64bit plugins not working very well and causing odd problems..
plugin quality: most plugins are free, because of this, many either have glitches, or will result in a higher cpu load for that specific plugin. as i mentioned in the above linked thread, the karmafx series has seemed to be relatively glitch-free for me, and also has lower cpu usage then most.
that is not to say that they are the best set of plugins, but seems to be consistent enough to be a great starting point..
a good baseline for plugins-- with your i3, a good plugin setup should rarely rise above 20% cpu usage, and should never stay above 50%(though small spikes around song changes are ok). my pentium dual core(e5200) stays around 10-12% with 3 instances of band-pass x-overs, and 2 eq's..
most of your questions on setup are partially answered in the other thread i linked to on the basic setup, but if you still don't get something, let me know.
the pops/artifacts could be due to a low buffer size, or a high DPC latency:
run this program, and it will tell you if there are device driver errors-- if you do have some errors, start disabling things like wifi, and wireless keyboard drivers first (my pc has a error from my addesso wireless keyboard-- the same one sold in the mp3car store)
for vac soundcard selection-- i believe your looking at the A4A control panel. the vac control panel should look like this:
the asio4all screen should look like this:
i think that's good for now. i'm snowbound, so i'll check this thread periodically..