6 Best Laptop Computers for Musicians 2021

A few years ago it was virtually impossible to use a laptop for music production with the superior ergonomic design of desktops. Today’s notebooks, sub-notebooks, and ultrabooks are different. They’re designed to offer serious power and run the most resource-demanding production software. Whether you’re a producer, DJ or performer, having one of these laptops in your entertainment gear can take your game several notches higher.

There is, however, no particular type or category of laptops designed specifically for music production. If you want to get yourself a solid rig you will need to browse the many makes and models to find one that matches your specific needs.

Since you’re here, how about we help you pick the best laptop for music recording and production. First, we will look at the specifications to keep in mind before delving into particular laptop models to consider.

What Specs Should You Be Looking At?

Music production software is resource-intensive, so your best bet is to pick a high-performance laptop. While there’s no umbrella set of specifications, there are a few rules of thumb you should follow. For example, most digital audio workstations (DAWs) require a minimum of 8GB of RAM, several gigabytes of storage and a multicore CPU that has an i5 processor (or one with matching capabilities). Even so, it’s not unusual to come across a DAW that can run on a less powerful laptop.

The problem is, just meeting the minimum software requirements will limit the range of DAWs that you can use. In other words, the best DAW will require you to improve the above specs. Keep in mind that most music producers run video and photo editing software as well. That is what makes it necessary to have a powerful laptop that can handle any software you throw at it.

So, what makes a good laptop for music production and recording? First it should have the appropriate operating system, and secondly, it should have the hardware that matters. Here’s a breakdown:

Operating System

Should you choose a Mac or a Windows PC? That’s really a matter of personal preference. Pick an operating system that you are most comfortable with, especially since modern DAWs are compatible with both Mac and Windows. A good number of them work well on Linux too.
Having said that, MacOS is the only platform for Logic Pro X. If Logic Pro X is your DAW of choice it means you can only use a Mac laptop.

Processor

Look for a multi-core processor with high-end capabilities. It will be able to handle multiple music tracks stacked with effects plug-ins simultaneously. Intel’s 8th Gen mobile processors, particularly i5 and i7, offer superb performance with DAW software. If you prefer AMD, the Ryzen series of processors will deliver the same processing power as an Intel Core i9, which is a processing beast.

Graphics

Generally speaking, integrated AMD chips outperform integrated Intel processors in terms of processing graphics. That’s a point to consider if you are also thinking of video production. Otherwise, you won’t need powerful graphics capabilities for music recording and production or DJing. You can save some money by avoiding a laptop with a high-end dedicated GPU (graphics processing unit).

RAM

More RAM is always a plus. It will help you run the most resource-intensive DAW, regardless of how many virtual instruments and plugins the DAW requires. Shop in the 16GB (of RAM) region, and if you have to go lower than that don’t drop below 8GB. Ideally, you want 32GB to run some professional DAWs like Pro Tools 12 smoothly.

Storage

You will need plenty of storage space for your samples, recordings, demos, and mixdowns. 512GB is a good start, but if you can go higher you won’t have any regrets. A fast, solid-state drive (SSD) is recommended over the traditional hard disk drive. While the latter is more affordable, an SSD is more reliable, more durable and has a faster data reading rate. In short, you will get better performance with an SSD.

Size and Construction

If you will be traveling frequently from one gig to another, then you need a laptop that can withstand a beating or two. Depending on how often you will be on the road, you can consider browsing online and tech shops for rugged laptops. Of course, you also don’t want it to be extremely bulky. If you will be moving around with it then form factor becomes an equally important consideration.

DAW

You can let your preferred DAW dictate the laptop to buy. In that case, you will want to buy a laptop whose specs match or exceed the system requirements of the DAW.

Most of the popular DAWs like FL Studio, Ableton Live and Cycling 74 Max 8 require at least 4GB RAM and a Core i5 processor. There are some like Studio One, Cubase and Mixcraft which can run pretty nicely on a Core 2 Duo processor as long as you have at least 4GB of RAM. Sonic Pi requires even less. It was designed for the Raspberry Pi, which means it can run on pretty much any PC or Mac, including the old models.

But don’t be tempted to pick a laptop that offers the bare minimum. Ideally, you want one that can support the most resource-demanding DAW, like Pro Tools 12. You can’t use it unless you have at least 16GB of RAM and a Core i5 processor (or equivalent AMD processor).

That should be the minimum to work with if you want to use a wide variety of DAWs; i.e. 16GB RAM and Intel Core i5 processor or an AMD equivalent. Of course, there’s the issue of budget. The exact specs that you will get depend on how much money you have to throw at a laptop.

Best Budget Laptops for Musicians (Under $1000)

In our budget selection, we are going to feature the best laptops costing under $1000. While they offer the bare minimum, they are still great laptops, especially if you are a beginner musician or producer.

MacBook Air

Link: https://amzn.to/2M5GIuh

Summary of Specifications

  • Processor: 1.8GHz Intel Core i5
  • Memory: (RAM) 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000
  • Screen Size: 13 Inches
  • Display Resolution: 1440 x 900
  • Battery Life: 12 Hours

Built with a 5th Gen, 1.8GHz, dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, the MacBook Air is a decent starter for any musician who has a liking for Macs. It comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage.

The RAM is more than enough to run virtually all DAWs. And since it’s a Mac, you will get GarageBand for free. You will also be able to install and use Logic Pro X in addition to several other third-party DAWs like FL Studio, Cubase, Ableton Live, etc.

The downside of this Mac is its 128GB of storage. That capacity will be swallowed within no time. You may want to budget for an external hard drive.

It’s worth noting that the MacBook Air comes in three different models. While this is the most affordable, its higher-end cousins cost $949 and $1149, respectively. Both have 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processors, Intel UHD Graphics 617, Touch ID and a Retina display. The $1149 model has 256GB of SSD storage. Both are worth your consideration if you don’t want to shop in the entry-level category.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Link: https://amzn.to/2WqMVoO

Summary of Specifications

  • Processor: 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 or i7
  • Memory: (RAM) 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Screen Size: 12.3 Inches
  • Display Resolution: 2736 x 1824
  • Battery Life: 10 Hours

Being a Surface Pro means that this machine is a hybrid. It can function as a laptop as well as a tablet. Either way, it packs some impressive oomph, starting from the 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor (you can order with i7) to the 8GB of RAM and the super crispy display.

You can install and use pretty much any DAW that’s compatible with Windows, including Pro Tools 12. Besides, there are several musical playthings on http://surfaceproaudio.com/, some of which are exclusive to Surface Pro owners. If you have this laptop you can take maximum advantage of them.

Great as it is, this version of Surface Pro 6 gives you only 128GB of storage. In case you feel that’s too modest you can consider the Surface Pro 6 version with 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD (for $1098) or 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD (for $1645).

Best Mid-Range Laptops for Musicians ($1000 to $1500)

Entry-level laptops may be friendly to the pocket but they can be underwhelming when called upon to run a resource-intensive DAW or software. If you add a few hundred bucks to your budget you can grab a mid-range laptop and solve that problem.

MacBook Pro

Link: https://amzn.to/3rvo5kp

Summary of Specifications

  • Processor: 6-core Intel Core i7
  • Memory: (RAM) 16GB
  • Storage: 512GB SSD
  • Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
  • Screen Size: 16-inch Retina
  • Display Resolution: 2560 x 1600
  • Battery Life: 11 Hours

There are many buying options for the MacBook Pro. In this case, we have a model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. Its 7th Gen Intel Core i5 processor makes for a great chip for running DAW software. It’s a dual-core processor with a base power of 2.3GHz and a turbo boost of up to 3.6GHz.

For an extra $300 you can get the same MacBook Pro model but with a better processor. You will get a beast of a machine with a quad-core, 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor that has a base speed of 2.4GHz and a turbo boost of 4.1GHz. That will set you back $1799, so by our categorization, it falls under high-end laptops for musicians. Regardless of your pick, the 13-inch screen is a handy addition, especially if you engage in occasional VJing or video editing.

It’s worth noting that there are two size options for MacBook Pros; the 13-inch and the 15-inch. The latter is costlier (up to $2799) and goes way beyond our mid-range bracket. But it also brings plenty to the table, including 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD.

Dell XPS 13

Link: https://amzn.to/2WsGnpu

Summary of Specifications

  • Processor: 4GHz Intel Core i7
  • Memory: (RAM) 16GB
  • Storage: 1TB SSD
  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Screen Size: 13.3 Inches
  • Display Resolution: 3840 x 2160
  • Battery Life: 10 Hours

Dell’s XPS 13 is arguably the best laptop for musicians in terms of bang for the buck. It combines a powerful processor with plenty of RAM and storage. The tradeoff is an underwhelming graphics performance; but as long as you are not planning to do pro gaming that shouldn’t be a big concern.

The 8th Gen Intel Core i7 processor delivers a whopping 4GHz of processing speed. Combined with the 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage, the XPS 13 leaves very little room for complaints.

Best High-End Laptops for Musicians ($1500 and above)

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go all out and invest in a powerful laptop as long as your budget allows it. Thinking of making the leap? Here are two models to ponder.

Lenovo ThinkPad X280

Link: https://amzn.to/2wh4n0i

Summary of Specifications

  • Processor: 1.80GHz Intel Core i7
  • Memory: (RAM) 16GB
  • Storage: 512GB SSD
  • Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Screen Size: 12.5 Inches
  • Display Resolution: 1366 x 768
  • Battery Life: 15 Hours

Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops have a reputation for performance, and the X280 is no different. It doesn’t have the largest screen or crispiest resolution but it delivers on what matters most: performance.

Built with an Intel Core i7 processor, this laptop features 16GB of memory. That is the system requirement for Pro Tools 12, which is by far the most resource-demanding DAW. In other words, the X280 will run any music-making software without a glitch.

Its 512GB of storage gives the X280 an edge over most other models in this review. Keep in mind that raw music files take up a lot of space, so the more storage you get from a laptop the better.

Razer Blade 15

Link: https://amzn.to/2HE5FJj

Summary of Specifications

  • Processor: 4.1GHz Intel Core i7
  • Memory: (RAM) 16GB
  • Storage: 512 SSD
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070
  • Screen Size: 15.6 Inches
  • Display Resolution: 1920 x 1080
  • Battery Life: 7 Hours

The biggest selling point of Razer laptops is that they are designed for gaming. They, therefore, come equipped with high-end hardware which, as a musician, you can take advantage of.

Take the Razer Blade 15 for example. Its 8th Gen Intel Core i7 chip has 6 processing cores and clocks at 4.1GHz. By default, the laptop comes with a 16GB memory that you can upgrade to 32GB. With these specs, it doesn’t matter how heavy a DAW software is, this bad boy will run it smoothly.

As expected of any gaming laptop, the Blade 15 comes with a dedicated graphics card – the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070. It won’t add much in music production but the GPU will improve the quality of images dramatically.

The Final Word

This is a mere guide to what you should be looking at when buying a laptop for music production and recording. The models reviewed are only six out of the thousands that are on the market.

The main point here is that you need to pick a machine that can get the job done effectively and without choking on demanding software. Compare its hardware with the minimum system requirements of the best DAWs. And remember, stick with an operating system that you are comfortable with.

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