What to consider when buying the best laptop for music production
I guess it really depends on your budget, and what you’re expecting from your laptop. Do you want your laptop to be your primary studio, or something you use to do editing, or mixing at home away from a primary studio computer? How many audio inputs are you going to want to use at one time. Recording a drum kit is usually 8-16 inputs for project or home studios. Are you going to use it more with Virtual Instruments, MIDI, and loops instead of recording the audio for each instrument? Then, decide the Operating System you prefer. At a certain point, it was critical to use a Mac for studio work, but not so much any more. I recently just made the switch from Mac to PC and I haven’t noticed much of a difference except that everything works on my PC and it cost me 1/3 the price.
Instead of telling you an exact laptop to buy, instead I’ll just throw down some specs that you may want your laptop to have, then from there it’s just finding a brand that fits your budget. CPU – If you want to make sure your computer can handle heavy DAW’s like Pro Tools, you’ll want to ensure that you have the best processor you can afford. Without getting too much into specifics on why, other than my personal experiences, you want to have at least 4 cores in your processor, and a clock speed of at least 2.5GHz. (not turbo speed, base speed. A processor like this will turbo up to 3.8GHz) This, by all accounts is a pretty powerful processor for a laptop, but it comes standard on most upper mid, to top level models these days. The Intel Core i7-7700HQ is the model number.
A lot of laptop sites won’t put the spec of the processor for some reason, just the model. The reason I say to not skimp on the processor is because in a vast majority of computers, you can’t upgrade the CPU. So, you might as well get the best possible one you can afford. Any of the Intel Core i7 chips with at least 4 cores will probably be fine. Probably don’t want your base clock speed to drop below 2.0GHz though. RAM – The amount of RAM you NEED may vary greatly depending on what you want to do. If you are essentially recording audio, and using your computer as a recording studio, then you can get away with less RAM. If you are going to be using virtual instruments, soft synths, samplers, and sequencers that all pull from sample libraries then you’ll need more RAM. 8 – 16 Gigs of RAM is usually more than enough, unless your diving into some pretty serious virtual instruments.
Don’t get caught up too much in the particulars of the RAM you get, it’ll almost always be DDR4, at a speed somewhere around 2200. (long story short, these numbers don’t matter, just make sure it is DDR4, and that the speed is above 2000) If you want to save some money off the bat, then make sure you find a laptop that you are able to upgrade the RAM. Sacrificing some RAM in order to be able to afford the best CPU you can afford is the best bet in my opinion. Plus, right now, thanks the cryptocurrency mining, RAM prices are through the roof. So the price difference between 8 gigs and 16 gigs can be like $200 to $400 depending on the company. Graphics – Doesn’t matter. ha.
If you want to do video editing, then you’ll need to get a laptop with a quality graphics card in it, but from a music production stand point, recording software is purposely easy on graphics, so your computer doesn’t have to sacrifice performance to make your DAW look good. If video editing is something you’re interested in, look in manufacturer’s “gaming” laptop portion. I/O – The ins and outs of your laptop is also very important. You want it to be compatible with current devices, but still be able to be relevant for as long as possible. Personally, a Thunderbolt 3 port is a must, even though not many products are using Thunderbolt 3 yet, there is a bunch using Thunderbolt 2. A little adapter go from TB2 to TB3 and you’re in business. The great thing about TB3 is that it also doubles as a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C Port.
This port is becoming, and will become the new standard. It’s good to note that a TB3 port can use USB Type C, but a USB Type C port CAN NOT support TB3. Next is USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type A. This is important, there is a HUGE difference between USB 3.1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2. Gen 2 has a transfer rate of 10 Gigabits Per Second. Gen 1, or standard USB 3.1 only has a transfer rate of 5 Gigabits per Second. Transfer rate is critical to ensure that you don’t have input and output latency. The reason TB3 is so important is that it’s transfer rate is 40 gigabits per second…so zero latency. DAW – Figuring out what software you want to use can be a challenge. Watch youtube vids about them, and find the one that seems to make the most sense to you in terms of work flow, and that seems to be a little more specialized toward what you want to do with your music. Storage – Solid State Drives are the only option. If a “spinner” hard drive, or HDD is in the laptop…just skip it. Solid State Drives or SSD’s will either be PCIe based, M.2, or NVMe. All are great. Even if you can only afford a 256 Gig option, this is the right way to go. This is because you’ll use that SSD as your “boot drive” where you install all of your programs, and boot your Operating System from. Then, you’ll want to use an external hard drive (or if you find a laptop with two internal drives, use the other one) as your “session drive.” An SSD will perform better the more free space it has on it, and using a separate drive makes it easier for your CPU to organize everything. It’s like eating M&M’s.
If you are only allowed to grab one M&M with your hand, and put it into your mouth, there will be a gap in time between eating the M&M and grabbing another one. if you have 2 hands feeding 1 M&M each alternating between bowl and mouth, you can eat them faster. Mac or PC – This is the big question isn’t it? haha. 3 years ago, I would have told you its not even an option, get a MacBook Pro. Now, though, I’m not so sure it’s that automatic. The 13″ MacBook pro is…pointless by today’s standards. It’s only CPU options are Dual core i5 Chips. Essentially the same processor that it’s in my MacBook Pro from 2010 that flounders when trying to think about running Pro Tools. So, for Mac you have to get the 15″ starting at $2400. For the same amount of money, you can get an outlandishly good PC based laptop. BUT, here is the big consideration. If you want to use Logic as your DAW, you have to get a Mac because it only runs on a Mac. This…is not all bad. Because Logic is a legit DAW, used by many pro studios, and it only costs $200!!! SO, if you buy the MacBook Pro for $2400, add $200 for the Logic, you’re at $2600. The Full version of almost any other DAW on the same level as Logic is around $500 and up. (some of them are now subscription based, so that’s cool) So, you spend $2000 on your PC laptop, plus $500 on your DAW, and the price starts to balance out a little.
Pros of a Mac – The trackpad is second to none. It’s not even close honestly, I’ve never used a PC based laptop with a trackpad that comes anywhere near as nice as the Mac. The keyboard, again is one of the nicest in my opinion. Battery life is great. Cons of a Mac – The new ones are, to my understandable, not capable of being upgraded in anyway without doing some pretty sever, warranty voiding surgery that most people (myself included) probably couldn’t do correctly anyway. So, what you get is what you’re stuck with. Apple is notorious for abandoning tech. High Sierra has an INCREDIBLY annoying protocol of blocking any piece of software not purchased through the app store. So, all the drivers you may need for your interfaces…it’ll block them. If you don’t use Logic…it’ll block it. You need to go in an manually approve every piece of software that is put on there. Cool security feature…but INCREDIBLY annoying when your computer updates over night, and try to use it and NOTHING works. haha. A lot of DAW shortcut commands require both a 10 key, and the numbers above the letters.
The MacBook Pro doesn’t have a 10 key option, so you’d have to get an external one to take advantage of all the short cut commands available. Pros of a PC – Per dollar, you get a much more powerful product when it comes to hardware. Legacy connections are still supported, like Firewire 800, even though it’s not a port on the laptop you can do use it with an adapter. Windows 10 – I have to say, the last time I owned a Windows based machine was Vista, then I switched to Mac. Since I started using Windows 10, it’s pretty great. Reminds me of how the Mac OS used to be. Typically, you can upgrade at least the RAM and/or Storage Device(s) inside a PC based laptop, great for saving some cash now, and upgrading later. Cons of a PC – Honestly, I’ve only been recording on a PC for a few months now.
I can’t say I have any cons I can think of so far. I’m sure they are out there, but right now I’m in the honey moon phase haha. PC Laptop Brands to Check Out – ASUS Zenbook Pro, LG Gram (the gram uses the 8th Generation intel chips, so even though it’ll say 1.8GHz clock speed with 4 cores, it’s still great. They turbo up to 4.0GHz and the actually sit at that speed a lot better than the 7th gen) and the Dell XPS laptops are great as well.