This article discusses whether you should invest in a desktop or a laptop for music production, mixing-mastering, sound design, and other audio-related work. We will weigh the pros and cons and discuss the important parameters to consider before choosing between both.
If you are confused between a laptop and a desktop for music production, we will help you make the correct pick. You could save hundreds of dollars for years if you make the right choice for your purpose.
We will consider pointers like cost, customization, reliability, durability, and performance to make it easier for you.
Desktop or Laptop For Music Production: Which Is Best & Why?
A desktop is better for music production than a laptop, as you can derive more value from a desktop on the same budget. In addition, a desktop can pack a stronger CPU performance, higher customization, and ease of up-gradation for the same amount of money spent.
However, laptops are more portable, hassle-free, and better alternatives for traveling musicians, producers, live sound engineers, and DJs. Let’s discuss all the factors you need to consider before you make the final decision.
A laptop with the same specifications as a desktop costs more. That is because, for a laptop, the entire machinery and circuitry of the PC have to be packed inside a single compact box. Whereas for a PC, each component, like the screen, mouse, CPU, etc., can be separately bought and then assembled into a PC.
Hence, it makes more sense to build a desktop for a home studio or a professional studio. That may take more effort and research but can prove to be a more cost-effective and efficient solution in the long term. Investing your time and money in a good machine is never bad if you want to become a music producer.
2) Customization & upgradability
When you buy a laptop, you buy it as per how the manufacturer arranged it. But when you build your desktop from scratch, you can personalize your machine as per your need and save more money. You could optimize your PC as per your preferences and needs.
You can choose the screen, the processor, the RAM, etc., of your choice and replace any of these components in the future. As DAWs and audio work gets more demanding and production projects get heavier, combined with the ever-evolving technology, you need an easily upgraded PC. Laptop upgrades are harder and more expensive than a desktop with a greater physical area and breathing room.
Laptops have a lesser lifespan than a desktop because of the physical ooveruse& damage done to the machine because of moving it around more physically. However, desktops are more rugged and do not depreciate as much as laptops, as they remain stationary.
Desktops aren’t exposed to as much dust and physical wear & tear. However, the laptop does not have enough room for all components to survive together for longer. Hence, the longevity and reliability of a laptop are questionable.
Running DAWs with heavy plugins and VSTs requires good CPU performance. We need a CPU with at least six cores and a 2.4 GHz clock speed for music production. The higher the core performance and clock speed, the better. We can squeeze higher performance in a desktop for the same price point.
For example, for a budget of $625, the best you can find is a laptop with a four-core Intel i5 processor with a clock speed of not more than 3.6 GHz. On the other hand, we can build a desktop with 6-8 cores of Intel i5, with a clock speed expandable up to 4.2 GHz at the same price.
It’s easier to keep a desktop cool by utilizing silent case fans, a quieter CPU-cooling arrangement, sound insulation, and liquid cooling. However, since laptops are noisier, recording in the same room, you’re monitoring becomes difficult.
The only disadvantage of a desktop is portability. But on the other hand, a laptop is an easy, hassle-free solution for traveling/touring music producers and DJs. Hence, in the remote work culture in today’s times, this is a huge advantage of a laptop.
7) Other purposes
Apart from music production, you may need your computer for gaming, email, video editing, coding, etc. So do consider those other factors into account. Optimizing your machine for music production is different from buying an optimal machine.
Hence, ensure that whatever you invest in meets your long-term requirements. For example, if you’re looking for a computer for video editing, a laptop may not be the best option for you due to its limiting monitoring and graphical capabilities. Similarly, if you plan to use the same computer for official purposes or your job, you should consider buying a laptop, which you could easily carry around.
Is a Laptop enough for Music Production?
There are lots of laptops in the market sufficient for music production. All you need in a good laptop for music production is a 6+ multi-core processor with good enough single-core processing capabilities, at least eight GB of RAM, an SSD drive, and a clock speed greater than 2.4 GHz.
As the world is moving towards micro, with growing technology, laptops are in high demand. Despite its drawbacks, more and more people are moving towards laptops for their convenience, portability, and ease of use. Laptops are great for LIVE shows, sound mixing, and DJ Sets.
Some powerful, high-performance laptops are available that are more than enough for music production. Some of the best laptops available for music production are Mac Book Pro, Asus Rog Strix Scar III, Dell XPS 13 OLED, Samsung Notebook 9, Apple Mac Book Air M1, Razer Blade 15, MSI GF63, Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, etc. Note that it’s also very important to look for long-lasting battery life in a laptop.
What specifications (like RAM, processor, etc.) do you need for Music Production?
The processor is the first and most important component when choosing a computer for music production. The single and multi-core processing score of a CPU must be at least 10,000. However, the single-core processing score is more important for music production than the multi-core score.
Most Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) can effectively use up to eight cores, although some can use more. For example, FL Studio can use up to sixteen cores, while Ableton Live can use up to thirty-two. However, having more cores does not always result in better performance, as clock speed and cache size also play a significant role.
Generally, a CPU with at least four cores and a high clock speed is recommended for music production. Currently, CPUs with six to twelve cores are considered the sweet spot for most music production needs.
For example, the AMD Ryzen 9 3950 is a great CPU for music production, with sixteen cores, thirty-two processing threads, and a 4.7 GB clock speed. The Intel Core i5 2.6 GHz (6 cores) is a good budget CPU.
On the other hand, the Intel i7 2.5 GHz (8 cores) is a comfortable CPU for music production, and the AMD Ryzen 9 3950 (16 cores) is considered a high-end CPU. Some of the best CPUs you could go for are AMD Ryzen 9 3950 x, AMD Ryzen 7 3700x, AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Intel Core i9-11900K, Intel Core i5-10600K, Intel Core i9-10900K, etc.
Regarding RAM, eight GB is good enough for you to produce music, and sixteen GB is more than sufficient. For an entry-level musician, RAM of eight GB works great, but experienced producers most likely require a higher RAM. So for experienced music producers, 16 GB of RAM is recommended.
8 GB of RAM could roughly take up to 25 audio files + some midi tracks with 3-7 plugin processing chains on each track. 16 GB of RAM can take up to 60 audio tracks with many MIDI tracks, with up to 10 plugin processing chains per track.
Regarding storage, 500 GB SSD or 1 TB HDD is budget-friendly storage, 500 GB SSD and 1 TB HDD is the ideal storage specification, and anything above that is considered high-end. As you grow as a music producer, you’ll accumulate more and more data of samples sample libraries.
Secondly, I recommend using SSDs over HDDs, as they are faster, more durable, cooler, and more reliable. Further, it’s great if you can buy an NVMe-based SSD, as they have great data reading-writing speeds. Today, you can find drives that read data as fast as 8000 MB/s. For example, XPG GAMMIX S70 Blade, WD BLACK SN850, and Samsung 980 PRO are great internal SSDs with 7000+ MB/s of data reading speeds.
Lastly, you need a good amount of storage to save sample libraries. For example, Kontakt libraries like Sessions Horns Pro, Session Strings Pro, et,c range between 3 GB and 20 GB. Although samples can also be saved on external drives, the convenience of large SSD and HDD storage on the system is unmatchable.
The clock speed can be anywhere between 2.6 GHz and 4.4 GHz for a music production-based PC. The PC should also include at least two USB ports to connect the sound card and the MIDI device simultaneously. Battery life and the weight of the laptop are important factors to consider for traveling musicians.
Lastly, a PC’s screen size and graphical capabilities can also be considered. Music production is an ear- and eye-intensive process, so having a good monitor screen always helps. Today, touch screens are trending for their capabilities of improving workflow.
Top 3 Desktops for Music Production
Having a high-functioning computer is a must for music producers today. For people with limited time who do not want to spend time on building a desktop from scratch, we have compiled a list of three desktops that are absolute value for money, which will make it easier for you to make your decision.
You can expect to get the maximum return with these machines. Investing in a good computer is essential and proves to be profitable in your music career in the long term. So let’s look at the three best desktops we handpicked for you.
1. Apple iMac with Retina 5K Display
The best thing about buying an Apple machine is the durability and reliability that comes along with this brand. This machine comes with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, base RAM of 16 GB, and a storage of 256 GB. iMac is considered the industry standard in Music Production desktops.
2. Microsoft Surface Studio 2
The Microsoft Surface series offers some of the strongest-performing PCs. This machine comes with the Intel Core i7-7820HQ 2.9 GHz processor, 28″ touchscreen display, 16-32 GB RAM, one or two TB SSD storage, 4 USB-, and a thunderbolt port.
This desktop is considered the industry standard for music production, video editing, gaming, graphic designing, etc. It also has a great cooling system, making it ideal for working longer hours. It’s the best Windows alternative for the iMac. So if you’re looking for a Windows machine with exceptional performance, go for this system.
3. HP 27 Pavillion All-in-One PC
Touchscreen displays are the new trend for machines made for creative purposes. Its touchscreen display makes it easy for producers to move around the faders, and knobs, do automation, etc. Apart from that, this desktop comes with some phenomenal specifications.
This machine packs sixteen GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7-10700T processor, 512 GB SSD, and one TB HDD, and for greater connectivity, five USB ports. The only drawback of this beautiful machine is its bulky design, so you’ll need to have good space to give to this PC.
Top 3 Laptops for Music Production
There’s a huge range available in the market regarding laptops. So it could get a bit overwhelming to choose from so many options. That is why we have figured out a small list of laptops you could use if you’re a music producer. These three laptops will give you the best value for your buck.
1. Apple MacBook Pro with Apple M1 chip
With storage of 256 GB SSD, expandable up to two TB, 8-16 GB of RAM, twenty hours of battery life, and just three pounds of weight, this laptop is considered the industry standard for music production. The CPU in this is the Apple M1, an eight-core CPU with groundbreaking capabilities.
Apple also tops the list in laptops with its outstanding quality, seamless performance, power, and battery life.
2. Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition
That is the best Windows laptop for music production, with its ultra-fast eight-Core 10th Gen i7-10875H processor, 16-32 GB of RAM, and 512 GB – 1 TB of SSD storage. The only downsides of this laptop are its short battery life, heavy five pounds weight, and heating issues even after its efficient cooling system.
3. Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Microsoft Surface series also makes it to this list because of its Intel Evo Platform Core i7 processor, 8-32 GB of RAM, 126 – 1 TB of SSD storage, and up to sixteen hours of battery life. The best part about this laptop series is its two pounds of lightweight and versatility.
We have seen that a desktop is a better-performing machine with a higher value for a buck if performance is all you’re looking for. However, you should buy a laptop if you want the convenience and ease of making music anytime and anywhere. You can find plenty of options for both.
So you could be a studio rat or someone who mixes music on high-end headphones in hotel rooms. Whoever you are or whoever you wish to be, your choice of computer will only be as good a driving factor as you make it to be. You can run your DAW on any computer available in a consumer electronics store, but you should get the best value for your money. So I hope you make a smart choice.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.