When it comes to music production, the importance of having a laptop that’s built for the job can’t be understated.
Often times, many of us fixate on gathering the best tools to use within our laptops when making music—choosing the right DAW, installing the best effects and instrument plugins, etc. However, in order to allow these tools to work with you and not against you (no one likes seeing the dreaded ‘system overload’ message seconds after hitting the play button), it’s important to have a laptop that’s equipped with the features and functionalities needed for handling music production in 2023.
In this article, we break down the key factors you’ll want to consider, along with a few specific laptop models that can be solid starting points for your search.
Let’s dive in!
Factors to consider
There are a number of factors you’ll want to keep in mind when evaluating laptops for music production. First and foremost, if you’re already accustomed to using a particular DAW, you’ll want to make sure that the laptop’s operating system is compatible with it. For example, Logic Pro is an Apple-exclusive DAW, so you’ll want to get a Mac if you’re committed to using it.
On the other hand, there are also a number of plugins that are Windows-exclusive as well—so it may be worthwhile to take stock of the plugins that are essential to your toolkit before picking a new laptop (if you’re just starting out on your music production journey, don’t worry too much about this, since the majority of plugins are compatible with both Mac and Windows).
With that said, let’s dive deeper into five other key factors that matter when it comes to making music on a laptop: RAM, CPU, storage, displays, and connection types.
RAM (short for Random Access Memory) is the form of computer memory that addresses a laptop’s ability to quickly handle multiple tasks and efficiently process large amounts of data. You’ll see RAM expressed in gigabytes, and it’s most commonly in one of the following quantities: 4 GB, 8 GB, 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB.
RAM plays a role in almost every aspect of music production, from playing multiple tracks at the same time to processing all of the effects and synthesizers that you’re using in any given moment. If your laptop doesn’t have sufficient RAM, your DAW will begin to slow down, freeze, or even crash.
The bare minimum for RAM for music production is 8 GB, but 16 GB and above is more optimal, especially if you’ll be working on sessions with a lot of tracks or complex sample libraries.
The CPU (short for Central Processing Unit) executes the key calculations and instructions that allow the software on your laptop to run. Working in conjunction with RAM, it allows you to process audio, effects, and more in real time.
A CPU with a higher clock speed and more cores will be able to handle the complex tasks required by music production more quickly and more efficiently. Some popular processors found in modern laptops include the Intel Core i9, Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 9, Apple M2, and Apple M1.
Regardless of your exact processor, there are also ways to use whatever you have efficiently—check out our tips for optimizing CPU resources when making music here.
Is RAM or CPU more important for music production?
If RAM represents short-term memory, you can think of the CPU as the “brain” of your laptop. Both are essential and work closely together in order to execute your music production needs.
That said, CPU perhaps receives inadequate attention from many budding producers when compared to RAM, despite (literally) being the most central piece to your laptop’s performance. You’ll find that the price of a laptop can change drastically depending on its CPU specs—we’ll explore this further when we discuss specific models.
DAWs, software instruments, and sample libraries can take up quite a lot of space—so having a healthy amount of storage available is key, especially if you’re going to be keeping these tools on your laptop as opposed to an external drive.
SSD vs. HDD
There are two main types of storage that you should be aware of: solid-state drives (SSDs) and conventional hard drives (HDDs). SSDs use flash memory to store data, while HDDs use spinning disks and read / write heads.
Generally, SSDs are preferred for music production over HDDs, because they feature higher read and write speeds that are ideal for tasks like opening up projects, accessing large audio files, etc. That said, they tend to offer less storage capacity and are generally a tad more expensive than HDDs, though they’ve become increasingly affordable over the years.
From tracks and meters to knobs and faders, there can be a lot going on in any given time when operating a DAW. While a particular screen size isn’t essential, larger displays (ex. 15″ and up) with higher resolutions (ex. 1080p and up) can help you better navigate your session.
In addition to choosing a laptop with a larger display, using a monitor in conjunction with your device can be another way to better organize and visualize your production workflow.
Last but not least, if you’re using hardware, microphones, or physical instruments in your creative process, it’s important to make sure your laptop covers the connection types you need. For example, does your audio interface require a Thunderbolt or FireWire connection? Do you use a USB microphone? If the exact connection type isn’t available, make sure you’re at least able to use a hub, adapter, or dongle to get you there.
Top laptops for music production
Now that you have a foundational understanding of the key factors and features to look out for, let’s take a look at some laptops that are widely beloved by music producers. While it’s not an exhaustive list of every solid option out there, these can serve as good starting points if you’re not sure where to begin.
We’ve organized the list by the cost for a new laptop in descending order, so that you can explore different price ranges that work best for you. That said, looking for secondhand options can be a worthwhile endeavor as well, as long as you’re purchasing from a reputable source. Exact price points may also vary depending on the specific retailer and configuration.
1. MacBook Pro 16″ (~$2,500 – $3,500)
One of the most widely-used and highly-appraised laptops, the MacBook Pro 16″ offers solid performance, a beautiful Liquid Retina XDR display (that supposedly supports one billion colors), and impressive battery life for long sessions on-the-go. If you’re getting the most modern version, the M2 Max will run you more than the M2 Pro, but both are among the most powerful chips you can find for cutting-edge CPU and GPU.
2. ASUS ProArt StudioBook 16 OLED (~$2,100 – $3,000)
The ASUS ProArt StudioBook 16 is a unique laptop in how it was specifically designed to cater to creators. It features tons of storage, a versatile range for I/O connectivity, and a color-accurate, 16″ display. You can customize your processor (see the Intel Core i9-12900H processor and AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor), and the price will vary depending on your choice.
3. Apple M1 MacBook Pro 14″ (~$2,000)
A “budget” alternative to the MacBook Pro 16″, the MacBook Pro 14″ with the Apple M1 chip is a laptop that still offers industry-leading performance, which has garnered it the number-one slot for Creative Bloq‘s list of top laptops for music production. You’re essentially exchanging two inches on the display and the latest chip for an alternative that’s still incredibly powerful and capable of supporting complex project files and plugins with ease.
4. Asus ROG Strix Scar 15 (~$2,000)
While it might not be the first option that most people consider, the right gaming laptops can actually be strong fits for music production. Boasting an Intel i9 processor and 16 GB of RAM, the Strix Scar 15 meets the needs for processing power required by a music producer. You also get a range of relevant connectivity options, including two USB-C ports (including one Thunderbolt 4), two USB-A ports, HDMI, and an 1/8″ headphone jack.
5. Alienware X14 (~$1,600 – $2,300)
Another high-quality gaming laptop, the Alienware X14 features 16 GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7-12700H processor, and 512 GB of SSD storage. It has a bold, all-white look with striking blue accents, which can be appealing if you’re looking for something that makes a statement. The laptop costs around $2,300 when fully spec’d out, but you can get something solid for as low as $1,600.
6. Dell XPS 17″ (~$1,600)
Featuring one of the largest (yet thinnest) displays on this list, Dell’s XPS 17″ balances both premium design and functionality with its Intel Core i9 processor, up to 64 GB of RAM, and Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU. The only thing to be weary of is that it has a relatively low number of ports compared to some of the other options on this list, so you’ll want to double check that it has everything you need for your personal workflow.
7. MSI Katana GF66 (~$1,300)
Featuring an Intel Core i7-11800H processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of SSD storage, the MS1 Katana GF66 delivers reliable performance for its price point. Its all-plastic design might be a detractor for those who prefer a build with less give, but that doesn’t interfere with its ability to execute the many tasks required of music production.
8. Apple M1 MacBook Air (~$1,000)
While the MacBook Pro is generally preferred by music producers for its durability, the 2020 MacBook Air offers undeniable value for its cost, particularly when considering that it’s an Apple product. Thanks to the recent release of the 2022 M2 MacBook Air, you can find this version for right around $1,000—and the M1 chip still offers the fantastic functionality that Apple is known for. What’s more, the MacBook Air doesn’t use a fan, which means it’ll stay silent for those who want to capture detailed recordings in their home studio with their microphone.
9. Lenovo Legion 5 (~$1,000)
Featuring an AMD Ryzen 7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of SSD storage, the Lenovo Legion 5 is yet another powerful gaming laptop that also works well for music production. While this one does use a fan, it uses AI-tuned performance to keep its noise to a minimum at all times, which is a feature that’s hard to come by.
10. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (~$700)
Last but not least, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 is worth checking out for meeting music-making needs on a budget. Both the 13″ and 15″ versions have solid specs to support music production, and they feature Microsoft’s signature touch display. Its main drawback is its low count of ports, but a hub can help mitigate this for those who have their eyes fixed on the laptop.
The best laptops for music production: Conclusion
Buying a laptop is no small investment, so it’s important to go beyond this article to do further research on additional specs, options, vendors, etc. before you arrive to a final decision. That said, hopefully we equipped you with some solid starting points, as well as some foundational knowledge that can help you narrow your search.
Before we conclude, one topic that’s important to acknowledge is the tradeoffs that come with specifically using a laptop (as opposed to desktop alternatives) for music production.
The single biggest advantage of using a laptop is its portability—if you’re making music in multiple locations or on-the-go, a laptop is nothing short of essential. You may also opt for a laptop because you intend to use the device for other contexts as well, whether that be work, school, etc.
However, when it comes to sheer performance, note that desktop is almost always superior—desktop computers tend to be more powerful, more easily upgradable, quieter, and cheaper than laptops that achieve what they’re capable of at their respective price point. So, if portability or additional use cases aren’t important to you, you may also want to look at desktop alternatives as well.
All that said, you can still achieve so much with laptops today, and the pros mentioned above can definitely be worth prioritizing.
Have you used any of these laptops before, and if so, what were your thoughts on them? Do you have any favorites that weren’t on this list? Start a conversation and exchange knowledge with other music creators on the Splice Discord.
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March 15, 2023