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Best laptop for music production 2020 - Store Insider Advice

Best laptop for music production 2020 - Store Insider Advice

Written by: Dexxter Clark
What is the best laptop for music production in 2020 if you buy a new one?

A commonly asked question on my social media and especially YouTube.

In short, the best computer for music production has:
Processor  Intel core i7 latest generation
Memory 16 GB RAM
Storage 1 TB SSD
Screen 17" (15" with ext. monitor)
Mouse side scrolling
Keyboard  backlit
The reality it isn’t as black and white as shown above.
In this article I’ll take a look at every component to see if you REALLY need it, need to invest heavily in a high-end component or can upgrade later.


Besides that I have a degree in software engineering and worked in computer stores for 10 years, I have consulted computer specialist Computershop Arnhem for the latest “juicy” insider updates in laptop-land before writing this article.


In this article I’ll dive into the best new laptop for music and not the mediocre ones.
The ones that are doing just ok NOW, will lack OK-ness in the near future with more advanced software.
A laptop where you have to render out everything is annoying and cost valuable time, so that is not what I’m striving for in this article.
Yes, the best laptops for music production are generally more expensive.

This article is an extension of my blog “best computer for music production 2020”. 
Check it out if you want to know the basics about buying a computer for music production.
In this article I zoom in on laptop specific topics.

Mac or PC

Music sounds equally good on both operating systems.
All major DAWs are available for both platforms (with a few exceptions like Logic Pro), as are all major sound cards (with a few exceptions).
It comes down to your personal preference

To compare the two for music production I wrote the article “Mac vs PC”, check it out if you are interested.


Processor

The processor or CPU is the most important component for music production. 
Especially for reverbs and multiple instances of heavy synthesizer plugin take a heavy toll on the processor.

Choose an Intel i7 series of LATEST generation with at least 4 cores.

The number of gigahertz is important, but more important is the number of cores in the processor.
A core is effectively another processor in the same shell.

Don’t believe the marketing mumbo jumbo from the processor makers about turbo boost frequencies.
In theory the processor could reach the the turbo boost frequencies, but it practice it never will.

Turbo boost gives your CPU a short term boost, this is fine for opening a web page or checking your email, but has absolutely no advantage whatsoever for music production.

You ask a constant performance of your processor.

On top of that, most laptops can’t be cooled properly (because of the confined space of the laptop case) so the CPU will never the turbo boost frequencies advertised.

I dedicated an article to the question “what CPU is best for music production”, check it out if you are interested.

When it comes to AMD or Intel processors, I say: choose Intel because of compatibility.

I will elaborate on that advice in my article: “AMD vs. Intel for music production”.


Memory

A lot of memory is especially important when you use a lot of sample based instruments.

You are pretty solid with 16 GB of memory, I only recommend 32 GB or 64 GB if you want to be future proof or if you use a lot of sample based plugins.

If you can expand later and are on a budget, you can start with 8 GB.

The advantage of memory is, is that you can expand memory later.
You can’t with most processors for example.
If you are on a budget, upgrade memory later and invest heavily in a powerful CPU.

How much memory you need for different appliances, you can read in my article: “how much memory do you REALLY need for music production”.

Storage

Choose a 7200 RPM hard drive or even better a SSD.
A 5400 RPM hard drive is too slow to read multiple tracks from your hard disk at the same time.
An SSD is much quicker than a hard drive for loading your DAW, samples and presents, and on top of that: also good for the battery life of your laptop.

I would say, buy at least 1 TB storage.
You will always run out of space sooner or later.
And especially sample based plugins can eat up a lot of your storage.
There is a widely used sample based plugin (Kontakt) on the market that already takes up 600 gb when fully installed.
And you need some space for your OS, DAW, samples and your projects.

Working with external hard drives is a pain in your behind.
It defeats the whole purpose of being mobile.
They are easy to break, easy to get lost and where do you put them?
Duct tape them to the lid of your laptop?


Screen

Choose at least a 15” or but preferably a 17” screen.
You laptop becomes a heavy machine with 17”, but you need overview of your time line.
The more overview you have, the less scrolling you have to to, which results in a quicker workflow.

A lot of plugins and DAWs don’t work well on 13” monitors and their resolutions.
So you miss buttons on plugins for example, or you need a magnifying glass to see what is going on.
I’m talking from experience, my 13” MacBook pro is a nightmare to produce with.

Mouse

Choose a side scrolling mouse.

This makes scrolling in your timeline easier and you can work quicker.

Some laptops have decent trackpads, but it never beats the speed of a mouse.

Backlit keyboard
Choose a laptop with a backlit keyboard, so you can see the letters on your keyboard in a poorly lit environment.

Gamer laptops

Gamer laptops are generally the best laptops for music production, because they are build for heavy workload.
But they are "bad" for one reason: you pay for heavy graphics card, which you don`t use with music production.

Black list

The laptops you should avoid because of either build quality, customer service or longevity.
  • Some Dell Insperion / XPS models are notorious for having latency problems.
These laptops are solid machines, but I would be very cautious to buy one as a music producer.
  • If a brand heavily relies on bloatware, tells something about the quality.
Bloatware is sponsored software.
This should tell you that price is more important that quality.
  • The lower the price, the lower the quality of components and customer service.
In laptop-land, there is no such thing as a good deal anymore.
The margins are terribly thin.
  • Avoid Chinese brands.
We all know the technical reasons for that (and a little bit of the political ones (true or not).
  • Why most brands are not on the white list is for a reason.
  • I recommend you is googling the specific type number of the laptop you want to buy and see of someone experienced problems with it.



White list

For laptops on the whitelist I give you a list of laptop brands:
  • Dell Alienware gaming laptops
  • Asus 
  • HP Elite book
  • Microsoft surface
I asked on my community tab on YouTube which laptop brand would you recommend to fellow music producers.

Asus 21%
HP 15%
Dell 13%
Razer 11%
[other brands]  41%

FAQ

Why would model X be cheaper than the rest?
Let me say this: Cheapness and quality often don’t go hand in hand.
If a laptop is cheaper compared to the competition, this has to raise a red flag.

Do I need to buy a new laptop for music production? Can I use my old computer for music production? I have model X does it work?
You can use your old computer probably, but it won’t be the optimal configuration, because newer computers are quicker
almost every computer made in the last 10 years will run DAW software
I wouldn’t worry to much about it.


Just install a free DAW and see for yourself.
If you want to know which free DAW to choose, check out my article: “best free daw for music production”.


I want an Ultrabook, is it good?
Super slim notebooks are called ultrabooks, but they are not really good for music.
Super slim notebooks are great to check your emails and watch a YouTube movie.

But when producing music, your processor produces heat.

An ultrabook can’t get rid of that heat, so it slows down.

So, it will work, but it isn’t optimal.

You only recommend expensive computers, I’m not rich
I recommend fast computers, because it let you make music faster and are therefore more convenient.
If you don’t need to render out your synthesizer every time you change one note or change a setting in your reverb, that saves you time.

Brand X is cheaper that Y with same specs? is it a good deal? why choose the expensive brand?
Cheapness and reliability often don’t go hand in hand.
The processor maybe the same in both machines, but the rest of the components are not.
There are huge quality differences in support from the manufacturer, cases, motherboards, memory, screens … you name it.
You get what you pay for.

What do I think about Razer?
I don’t know the brand, it’s pretty new in the market, I can’t say anything useful about it out of experience.

On ADE 2018 I saw a masterclass of the marketing company that pointed Razor to music producers, because the gaming market was saturated.
This means that music producers is a marketing decision not a technical one.


Last time I checked I couldn’t find anything specifically about music production on their website. although the positions themselves as such.


When I asked my friend with the computer store he said “Razer? Laptops? They make gamer mice and keyboards”.

So I asked you in my community tab here on YouTube: “If you have Razer, would you recommend Razer to fellow music producers?”
YES  58%
NO 42%


If you are serious about music production and want to take it to the next level,
download my free music production e-book.
Besides information about music production basics and computers for music production, the book gives also a unique perspective on the world of DJs and music producers.

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photo author dexxter clark
Dexxter Clark
Music Producer / YouTuber

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