Laptop Recommendations

Hey everyone,
So I’m very curious what your preferences for laptops are as I’m currently in the market for a new one. I have an ASUS laptop with 4GB of RAM and it’s simply not keeping up with what I’m doing with my various software, and is particularly prone to poor audio latency (I can’t do lower than 65ms without getting a lot of artifacts, which for my purposes is too long). The problems are particularly persistent with Ableton Live, with it quickly using all the available CPU. I wanted to ask you guys what laptops you guys use, why they work for you, and what you would recommend for music making and performance. My main criteria for recommendations is:

  • At least 8GB of RAM, 16 is good too
  • Trustworthy for live audio/visual performance
  • At least 256GB of storage
  • Preferably no higher than $1200

I’ve used primarily Windows and Mac computers, but I wouldn’t be opposed to using a Linux based operating system if someone makes a strong case for it. Let me know what you guys use and what you’d recommend! :slight_smile:

Very interested in this topic too.

I’m currently heading towards the Dell 5378 based on bang:$ per specs, but have no idea if this translates to real-world performance.

Can’t really tell you much about what computer to buy, bu since you brought up the Linux topic:
If you’re willing to move to Bitwig, then Linux might be an option. It’s a bit more work to get things running properly, but then so is Windows. While the best approach would of course be to set everything up from scratch with Arch (as many people here on the forum have suggested), you can get away with a copy of Ubuntu Studio or KXstudio and some minor tweaks.
Keep in mind that if you rely heavily on certain commercial plugins you might be out of luck with linux. There’s VSTDSSI to make windoes VSTs run in Linux, but in my experience it sometimes works and sometimes not… and has usually issues with the more complex commercial plugins. But I haven’t used it recently, so maybe that has changed. Anyway… it’s something to consider and research before switching. The other problem might be audio/midi hardware that is not class-compliant. For some there is drivers, for some they work well, for others it they are crap. Class-compliant hardware works really well out-of-the-box though!

1 Like


Wow, the 5378 seems right up my alley. I was shocked to look up the stats and see just how much it packs in such a small package. I’m gonna have to look more into it, like you said I’m not sure how well it will work with live performance/processing. But 8GB RAM seems like a pretty good indicator.

Dang, I didn’t realize that Linux didn’t run Ableton. That’s pretty disappointing, but I suppose it’s not shocking. Class-compliant hardware working well right out of the box seems really nice though, I might have to look into it. I haven’t done very much research on Linux to be honest, it seems like a very interesting OS alternative. I might try it out someday on the side.

Yes, take some time and experiment with it before committing. It has lots of advantages, but also many dealbreakers. Depends a lot on what you want to do with it. As of now, there’s few commercial DAW packages that run on linux (from the top of my head I can only think about Bitwig, Tracktion and Renoise). There’s of course Ardour and Harrison Mixbus (which is kind of a commercial variant of Ardour)… but all the other open source DAWs are pretty… well not what you are used to working with if you come from Ableton.
It should be noted that since Bitwig appeared things are starting to move… so who knows.

Anyway to get back to topic. My last non-Apple computer I bought was a Dell 1330m XPS one… and I still have it and it still runs great despite of its age. If Dell still makes them like they used to, then I’d say go get one of these!
Also I remember customer service being absolutely top notch!

@papernoise Are you using Apple now? I’ve considered getting a Macbook Air but I’m having trouble justifying the school based on my struggles with Apple. I think they’re very good products for the general public, but the second you want to change something on them it becomes a struggle. But I may consider biting the bullet.

define “change something”. (I say this as a software developer and weird-user who’s been very happily OSX for fifteen years. It’s a *nix that can run Ableton and Adobe nonsense.)

I have trouble justifying Apple right now based on price and especially the products - I really, really, really don’t want to have to buy a Thunderbolt 3 Macbook Pro, and all the ensuing dongles. But annoyingly, it’s the right OS for me and the work I do.

Partner has a Dell XPS13 and honestly, it’s an excellent machine - good build quality, powerful, superb screen, smaller than a Macbook Air for same screen dimensions (and double the res - it’s a “retina” resolution touchscreen). I’d be sorely tempted aside from my issues with Windows, which I now find bewildering and odd.

At the upper end of the price-range - although you can get good refurb deals. Also, if you want to run Linux, it has good driver support, I believe - Dell will actually ship you a ‘developer edition’ one running Linux.

1 Like

By change something, I mainly mean customization and ability to fix it. Apple products, in my experience, seem to become obsolete and almost impossible to fix without with Apple’s direct help (which is often expensive in my experience). Windows computers seem to be be able to run for years and be able to still do fine despite not being the newest model.

I run happily computers using macOS, Windows, Debian, and Ubuntu. Modern computers are amazing for their reliability, flexibility, power, and usability. Yes, there are platform differences. That’s why I run them all!

1 Like

@jasonw22 Makes sense! What do you think the advantages of the different OS’s are?

macOS has the best low-level APIs for audio and 2D graphics. This makes it ideal for music production and for graphic design/UI design. Hardware is very reliable (if overpriced) and I can make a mac continue to be useful for nearly a decade without failure. In fact, failure is rarely the reason for putting a Mac out to pasture, it’s generally because technology really has moved on and more juice is needed. Apple is the usability king, generally macs require less customization to make them usable.

PCs for Windows and Linux have better price/performance ratio. With class-compliant hardware, drivers are less likely to be an issue as they once were. Windows computers have the most flexibility with regard to hardware choice, especially with regard to GPUs (very important if you’re doing anything graphically intensive, or if you’re using machine learning libraries).

Linux has the most flexible OS and package system. Best choice for servers, or for development of server-side software. Typically requires extensive customization in order to be usable, but YMMV. Can be the cheapest option, although all platforms play host to open source/free software if you want to go that route.

I typically use Macs for most things (ordinary internet use, my day job of UI design, music production). I use Windows for gaming, 3D graphics/VR, and specialized GPU programming (machine learning). I use Linux for web server stuff.

For music there are also an ever-multiplying array of microcontrollers/embedded systems that are increasingly powerful and useful, and can be much cheaper than general purpose computers. Sometimes these systems run Linux.

7 Likes

hardware-wise, yep, that’s true. although: now a lot of the PC manufacturers are heading that way, as more and more stuff gets soldered to the board in pursuit of thinness.

that said: my corollary to “run for years” is “with repeated regular OS reinstalls” which is not frankly something a computer user should have to do.

2 Likes

Are you using Apple now?

Yes and no. I have both a Macbook pro (13" model, one of the first where you could not remove the battery, but where you still could swap out the HD and memory yourself without using a soldering iron).
I also have an old Eeepc running Ubuntu Studio which I mostly use as a sequencer (seq24 ftw!) and sometimes to record stuff since my Macbook pro is now being used mostly for work and I don’t use Ableton as much anymore (actually right now I hardly find time for music at all).

I must say that the switch from Windows to the Mac has been at the time a very good move. I used to have to fight with all sorts of issues on Windows and I would constantly get buffer underruns, pops and crackles. Then I moved to the Macbook pro for making music and everything worked like a charm ever since. Even if would work fine at first, for some reason Windows kept messing things up after some time.

You sure picked a bad moment to get a new computer. Right now I wouldn’t know what to buy either. Or better, if I had to get a machine to make music, I’d get a second-hand Macbook pro, avoiding the more recent ones. That’s because I don’t have to lug it around too much. Otherwise it would probably be an Air one.
The really new ones really seem like a bad bargain right now. Missing connectivity, pointles consumer-oriented features, etc.) Haven’t really used Windows since 7… but Apple sure made that appealing again.
Personally I am very annoyed by many small things with Apple… but these might be just as annoying with Windows. I generally have a feeling that the whole computing industry is just getting worse and worse for people who want to actually get work done with computers and for people who use them as tools to create.
But I’m getting into a pointless rant here…

2 Likes

Just as annoying, but in a different way. :wink:

2 Likes

I like ThinkPads personally, I use a W520 for music work and an X220 for mobile. They’re cheap second-hand, easily upgradeable, rock solid build quality. Stick to the T, X and W series for best results. The main advances in the past 5 years of mobile computing have been geared towards increasing battery life and making things thinner, so a cheap older machine can easily serve you well with minimal tradeoffs, especially if you get something with an easily replaceable battery.

6 Likes

This is a very interesting article from somebody looking for a MacBook Pro alternative. He is/was looking for Linux compatibility.

I was actually surprised that ThinkPad Carbon X1 gen4 was on top of his list, since I thought its Linux compatibility was pretty bad. But I guess that was for some of the previous generations. Take a look here:

Btw, in the meantime there’s a very beautiful 5th gen of X1 out. That on my wishlist, sometime, hopefully soon.

2 Likes

reviving this old topic as my MacBook is nearing 10 years old and I am considering a couple different routes to replace it (or not, might just wipe it clean and start over and see how performance fares for awhile).

One thing I’ve been considering that relates to hardware, as well, is switching to a “2-in-1” style laptop/tablet, so I’d be expecting to run Windows since I use Live and am considering Reaktor, which rules out Linux. The main reason for something with a touchscreen is that I’d like a touch-compatible device to run Reaktor to combine with an ES-8/my small Euro system, and there is a big appeal to me in having things set up without space taken up by a keyboard that I would not be using while in “instrument” mode. My partner and I also both do some graphics work, and I think she would find a drawing-capable tablet mode useful, though this would be a bonus.

basic criteria:

  • <15" screen
  • max ~$750 (used is fine)
  • Video out and 2+ USB ports ideal
  • 8GB+ RAM
  • Actual keyboard (as opposed to something like the Surface-style keyboard cover thing)

Based on research so far, I think something like the Lenovo Yoga 260 (or maybe a 720/910) or Acer R 14 might be a good fit, but shopping for non-Apple laptops is such a mess given the extreme number of options, including from single manufacturers.

Does anyone have any experience with modern convertible devices? Especially running Live and/or Reaktor?

1 Like

I don’t have one, but have you considered the microsoft surface? Seems to be what you’re looking for.

1 Like

I had only seen the older Surfaces and I don’t like the tablet-cover style keyboard, since this would also be my main laptop, but it looks like the Surface Laptop or Book versions are worth considering if I could find a used one to fit my budget.