Not that long ago, the idea of a laptop capable of music production was a pipe dream. After all, music production can require some serious hardware. It takes some hefty processing power, huge amounts of memory (RAM), and spacious hard drives to properly tackle modern music production on your computer.
Now, just a few years down the line, computer technology has been scaled down and made affordable enough that a music production laptop is something within reach of the average musician. With a powerful laptop and a modern Digital Audio Workstation (DAW,) you have a completely portable music studio. You can literally take it with you anywhere you go to work on composing, editing, mixing and mastering, or even recording on the fly. Although laptops do still have some limitations compared to desktop computers, for many producers the extra power offered by desktops is something they will make little or no use of in their music production efforts. Plus, this extra power does little to outweigh the incredible versatility of a laptop.
Picking out the right laptop can be pretty tricky. Even if you’re fluent in computer technology, you might be left wondering exactly what a musician’s needs are for a laptop. Or you might be a brilliant musician but inexperienced with computers and the huge glossary of terms that surround their hardware specifications. No need to worry. We’re here to help. Let’s see what makes a laptop a great music production device.
Table of Contents:
- I. What To Look For In A Music Production Laptop
- II. Choosing Your Operating System
- III. Connectivity Concerns
- IV. Best Music Production Laptops – Our Hot Picks
- V. Don’t Skimp On Your Music Production Laptop!
What To Look For In A Music Production Laptop
First and foremost, before we get into the weeds with operating systems or ease of use, we need to make sure we actually have enough hardware to run our music production software effectively. Modern DAWs and large project files can put some serious stress on even the beefiest of computers. If your computer’s hardware isn’t up to snuff, your experience with music production will be painfully slow, plagued with crashes and the possibility of lost data, and overall an extremely frustrating adventure.
There are three main pieces of hardware that will impact how well your laptop can handle music production:
- Processor (CPU): Your processor is the “brain” of your computer, the part which does all the heavy lifting. To handle the many demands of modern music production, you need a fast processor. The speed of a processor (known as clock speed) is typically measured in gigahertz with a number such as 3.5GHz. Modern processors also have multiple “cores” which work in sync, affecting their final performance. Processors advance rapidly and there is an always changing lineup of options available. Take a look at the leading Intel or AMD processors on the market to get a decent benchmark for current processing power.
- Memory (RAM): The amount of RAM will impact how large and complex your projects can be. Increasing the RAM can improve performance in general, but higher amounts of RAM allow you to load more plugins, work with more tracks, and manipulate more virtual instruments. RAM is typically measured in gigabytes (GB.) You should look for a laptop with at least 16GB of RAM.
- Storage (Hard Drive): To handle the extensive libraries of plugins, sounds, virtual instruments, audio files, project files, and everything else that comes with a modern DAW, you’ll want a fair amount of storage space on your hard drive. Not only that, if you opt for a Solid State Drive (SSD,) you can seriously speed up your load time whenever you open, save, or render files to your disk.
A fast processor, a generous allotment of RAM, and a big hard drive go a long way towards creating a serious music production laptop. Other hardware such as the graphics card (GPU) is less important. However, a graphics card can help improve performance, especially with graphically intensive plugins such as certain virtual instruments which have a complex graphical user interface. Generally speaking, a mid-range graphics card is more than enough for a music production laptop.
Choosing Your Operating System
There are two options for operating systems when it comes to serious music production: Apple’s OS X and Windows. While many DAWs used to be operating system specific, these days most of the major options offer compatibility with both OS X and Windows. However, a few hold outs still remain, such as Logic X which is exclusive to OS X.
If you have a strong preference for a DAW that is only available on one operating system, your choice has basically been made for you. Otherwise, it is largely a matter of preference. If you favor one operating system over the other — and your favorite DAW works just fine on both of them — then you might as well stick with the environment you prefer.
The next thing to keep in mind is that you’re probably going to want to plug quite a few things into your laptop. There are always plenty of peripherals that come along with music production. You’ll definitely want an audio interface, which you can count on using at least one USB port on your computer.
You might find yourself needing additional ports to plug in things like MIDI controllers, synthesizers, or other devices. Don’t forget a mouse and keyboard, either. Even with a built in trackpad and laptop keyboard, you might find yourself yearning for the convenience of an actual mouse. Screen real estate is always a major concern when working in a DAW. Ideally, you’ll want a laptop with HDMI or DVI outputs that allow you to connect it to multiple monitors when it’s time to dive deep into production.
Best Music Production Laptops – Our Hot Picks
Now that we know a little bit about what we’re looking for, let’s examine a couple of leading examples of good music production laptops.
Apple has enjoyed something of a venerated position among musicians and artists. Their products have always incorporated premium hardware and often shipped with suites of high quality creative tools. These days the Macbook Pro line is continuing this reputation. Exceptionally well built laptops outfitted with quality hardware, there is quite a lot to like from the modern Macbook Pro. If you’re an OS X fan or a Logic Pro devotee, there is really no other option for a music production laptop other than a decent Macbook Pro.
While undeniably a quality machine, there are a few drawbacks to the Macbook. Apple products are notoriously difficult to repair, often necessitating them being repaired by Apple approved locations at exorbitant prices. You’ll also have to bite the bullet on some exorbitant prices in your initial investment. Macbooks are quite expensive, especially if you compare their hardware specs side-by-side with a comparable PC.
Another concern for music producers is the Macbooks ever diminishing number of ports. These days you’re lucky to get a USB port at all on your Macbook. Anyone with a lot of peripherals will need to purchase adapters just to connect them to the laptop. But, despite all that, there is a certain inimitable charm to Apple laptops that keeps many producers coming back again and again.
The Dell XPS 15 is quite an impressive machine. As of this writing, it’s the thinnest laptop with a 15” screen that money can buy. That is quite a screen for a laptop, especially in 4K resolution. Touch screen models are available as well. But despite having this full sized screen, the super slim profile of the XPS 15 allows it to remain exceptionally lightweight. Under the hood you have some serious specs, with an Intel Core i7 processor and options for 16GB or 32GB of RAM. Rounding off the package is a massive solid state hard drive that can be upgraded as far as 1 terabyte (TB.)
As part of Dell’s premium line, the XPS is put together much better than some of their cheaper budget laptops. It’s eminently portable and built to handle a bit of abuse. Ticking pretty much all the boxes for a quality music production laptop, the XPS 15 is a very well rounded beast. It also incorporates a nVidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card, enabling you to easily switch gears into video editing, graphic arts, or even video gaming when you need a bit of a break from producing.
Although marketed as a “gaming” laptop, the Razer Blade is no one trick pony. Given that the primary requirement of modern video games is serious hardware horsepower, it’s not surprising that the Razer Blade doubles equally well as a music production laptop. Like the Dell XPS, the Razer Blade is an ultra-slim laptop with a 15” screen. The screen is quite something to behold, with its edge-to-edge design that minimizes wasted space around the monitor where many laptops incorporate a large bezel.
Under the hood, the Razer Blade relies on an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid state hard drive for rapid access storage complimented by a slower 1TB traditional hard drive for storing media and large files. Ready to follow you wherever life might take you, the Razer Blade is a great way to know you have all the power of modern computing at your disposal at home, on the road, or abroad.
This full sized 15” screen laptop from HP is designed to give you just about everything a desktop can do in a completely portable package. Equipped with an Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM (upgradable to 32GB,) plus a spacious 512GB solid state hard drive, the Spectre x360 is more than ready to fire up your favorite DAW and get to work.
It also includes a nVidia GeForce MX150 graphics card, enabling you to do much more than just music production and also taking some stress off your processor as you run those plugins that can get bogged down by their heavy user interface.
Marketed by Dell as an affordable gaming laptop, the Inspiron 15 7000 is an excellent way to save a couple hundred bucks while still getting hardware comparable to some of the best laptops on the market. Making the magic happen inside this Inspiron is a Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid state drive and a 1TB traditional hard drive. Plus, you get a nVidia GeForce GTX 1050 with graphics card with 4GB of memory.
All in all, quite a package. Especially since deal seekers can often nap an Inspiron 15 7000 for less than a grand. The hardware is definitely great. Plus, the Inspiron’s 15 inch 4K screen (with an optional touch screen) is quite nice to look at and offers plenty of real estate for production. However, the case is made from plastic and leaves a litle something to be desired. The keyboard is also a little less than optimal. For the most part, Dell is selling some excellent hardware bundled into an okay package.
Don’t Skimp On Your Music Production Laptop!
Getting the right laptop can be the difference between producing something amazing or producing nothing but frustration. Don’t underestimate how important that extra bit of RAM or a faster processor can be for your overall workflow. Because you’ll need to use this hardware literally every time you sit down to do some work, saving even just a few seconds waiting for something to load can add up to hours or days of your life!
Take your time to find something within your budget that has enough specs to tackle whatever you want to throw at it. Also consider things like portability, ease of use, ergonomics, and overall comfort of the laptop you choose. It can make a big difference in your productivity! And, of course, have your DAW of choice in mind as you seek out a laptop. Since it is the primary piece of software your music production laptop will be using, make sure you get a combination of laptop and DAW that work together seamlessly.
Now that you know what to look for, you’re one step closer to making music!