Choosing A Music Laptop

Choosing the right laptop is critical if you plan to use it as the driver of your live music sets. Unfortunately, musicians are not the primary market laptop manufacturers have in mind when designing a new unit, so it’s vital to know what components have the most impact on audio performance…

Everyone has their own particular requirements from their hardware, depending on how they use it, but as a musician you need a good balance of portability, reliability and processing power. Intel’s Core 2 Duo processors are probably still the number one choice, whether you go for a PC or MacBook. Personally, in the PC arena, I would say that the Dell XPS M1330, Toshiba Satellite Pro A200HD-1U4 or the ASUS F8SA would probably be my top choices at the moment.

I previously wrote a post outlining some key points to look for when choosing a music laptop, so I’ll just reiterate them here.

Eight Things to Look For In A Music Laptop

  • Battery life: make sure it’s long enough – laptops can generate a ground loop buzz when powered from the mains.
  • Chipset: research the chipset/motherboard for features and reliability – try to get one with a Texas Instruments Firewire controller if you plan on using Firewire equipment.
  • Memory: at least 1GB, preferably 2GB – and FSB speed is important too, the higher the better.
  • Cache: bigger cache is better, especially if you use a lot of memory-intensive material (large audio samples or streaming).
  • Hard disk: 7200rpm SATA will do nicely, the larger the better – if you can get a second hard drive in there, then do (very good if you use a lot of audio, not important if you only use MIDI).
  • Processor: at the moment, Intel Core 2 Duo is the way to go. AMD still offer excellent price/performance, but the performance crown has now been wrested away from them by Intel’s latest dual-core offering. Get the 4MB cache version if you can.
  • Graphics: avoid shared/integrated graphics solutions if possible – get a dedicated video card that has its own memory, so that it doesn’t take some of your RAM.
  • Sound: laptops have poor sound, so you’ll be using an external sound card anyway, either USB or Firewire.

It’s All About How You Use It

If you’re not doing much on the video front, then a dedicated graphics card may not be necessary, as they do reduce battery life. However, Asus have finally made a breakthrough I have been wondering about for a long time: an external graphics card. I have no idea why the XG Station is the first external graphics card for laptops, as external sound cards have been around for ages and most laptops have really poor video solutions, but here it is at last. This may provide a bit more flexibility in choosing a music laptop setup that can also punch with the best when it comes to video performance.

PS: If you want some tips on configuring and maintaining your laptop as a music system, download the free PC optimisation guide.


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