Today, we’re going to dig in a little bit deeper and talk about PC specs you should be looking at for music production, as well as what models of PC might be the best choice.
The most straightforward answer for how much RAM you need for music production in 2020 is 8 GB of ram. Of course, the answer to that question may depend on the style of music production you are into, what kinds of VSTs you use, etc.
1. How Do I Build A PC For Music Production?
The computer you choose has the ability to make or break your overall productivity. There are a few specifications that are essential when maintaining a steady flow in production, and if overlooked could seriously hinder your workflow and efficiency.
Your central processing unit is arguably the most important part to consider when searching for the perfect music production workstation. This is the foundation of your productions, as it will ultimately determine the speed at which you can perform various tasks – editing, playback of complex projects, and even some MIDI oriented programming.
You will want to prioritize your expenditure here to get the best CPU your budget can afford. Ideally, you will want an 8-core CPU, however, if you are confident in the modesty of your projects then a 6-core CPU should suit you perfectly.
If you are looking to build the best computer possible then I would absolutely recommend you go up to the 18-core options that exist in today’s market, though as you can imagine – this is where it starts to get highly expensive.
RAM, otherwise known as Random-access Memory, is another highly important component to consider when building the ultimate music production workstation.
Here you will need to consider not only the size of your RAM but also the speed at which it operates.
You can afford to strike a nice balance here between affordability and efficiency, and I would recommend for first-time purchasers a 16GB, DDR3 1600MHz. However, if you know that you like to use a plethora of programs in concurrence, it might be in your best interest to opt for a faster RAM – if you are comfortable with overclocking your CPU that is.
Large SSD or HDD
It may appear obvious that internal storage is essential when building a PC, but it is often overlooked by newcomers. If you choose to skimp on onboard storage, you will lose out on the freedom to create as many projects in your DAW as your heart desires.
Your quest to acquiring hundreds of snare samples in an attempt to find the perfect hit will be limited, and your lifelong goal of producing a film score with a huge orchestral ensemble, utilizing Native Instruments’ sampling libraries, will be put to an end.
While external storage is a good solution and is starting to become increasingly affordable, the convenience of a large internal SSD or HDD is unparalleled. We recommend opting for a 2TB HDD, which will serve you well for the first few years of music production, dependent on your taste in sample libraries.
How Important Is RAM For Music Production, And How Much Do I need?
RAM (Random Access Memory) is incredibly important for storing information that your computer needs to use right away. For the most part, 8GB of RAM is more than enough for most modern music production in 2020.
On the other hand, if you use more extensive sample libraries, you might want to opt for 16-32 GB of RAM instead. Large sample libraries that emulate acoustic instruments, such as orchestral libraries or piano libraries, tend to need a more significant amount of RAM to run smoothly.
Which Processor (CPU) Is Best For Music Production In 2020?
AMD and Intel offering the best CPU for music production. There are lots of great processors for music production like AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Intel Core i7 8700K, Intel Core i3 10100, AMD Ryzen 7 2700X.
When it comes to music production performance, both companies come in pretty close. If you want to maximize compatibility, an Intel-based processor might be your best choice. This sentiment rings especially true if you use Pro Tools, as Avid’s fairly conservative hardware guides do not officially support the new AMD Ryzen processors.
With that said, let’s take a look at the top 7 processors for music production in 2020.
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600
If you are on a budget, one of the best processors for everyday music production is the AMD Ryzen 5 3600. AMD is our preferred processor compared to Intel, and it just so happens that the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is an absolute steal for those looking for new processors.
At a low price, you receive a six-core, 12-thread processor with an included cooler. Unless you need a robust, single-core performance or you have a lot of tracks to deal with, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 processor is great for use with a DAW.
Overall, the CPU is quite impressive with its quad-core, 4.2GHz max boost. In terms of a budget CPU, the specs are relatively high, with a 2,581 single thread performance score and a CPU Mark of 17,827.
- Intel Core i3-10100
If you are more on the side of Intel when it comes to CPU, we recommend going with the Intel Core i3-10100. If you’re 0n a budget, it is an excellent choice. The Intel Core i3 10100 should be plenty enough to work with the requirements of your DAW thanks to its base speed of 3.6GHz.
With that said, you can use turbo to 4.3GHz when necessary as well.
The 2,646 single-threaded performance is quite respectable for this CPU, as well as the CPU mark of 9,021. Compared to the similar AMD offerings out there, you’ll get 20% less performance for a higher price. If you’re a fan of Intel, this might not be enough to sway you, though if you’re on the fence, we like the budget AMD option.
- AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
The AMD Ryzen 7 2700X is a great middle-of-the-road processor for music production. If you aren’t quite ready to spend a ton of money on a music processor, but you still want top-notch performance, the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X is a beautiful choice.
This particular processor comes with eight cores and 16 threads, which is more than enough to work in a professional setting. The base frequency for this processor sits at 3.8GHz, and the cache memory is at 20 MB.
With that said, you can boost the GHz up to 4.3, similar to higher-end Ryzen models.
- AMD Ryzen 7 3700x
If you’re looking to move a step up from the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 and Ryzen 7 2700X, we recommend checking out the AMD Ryzen 7 3700x. With eight cores and a 4.9GHz boost clock, it is the perfect solution for a semi-professional music studio that needs an affordable CPU.
The AMD Ryzen 7 3700x is quite impressive as well, with a 2,686 single-threaded performance and a CPU Mark of 22,709.
- Intel Core i5-10600K
For mid-range music production and semi-professional music studios, the Intel Core i5-10600K is an attractive choice. This Comet Lake CPU is one of the latest options from Intel and is a popular favorite in the Intel community.
The CPU features a base frequency of 4.1GHz with a turbo of 4.8GHz, as well as six cores. When it comes to extensive sessions, it is able to handle reasonably surprising single-threaded and multi-threaded workloads when in the DAW.
Of course, it is very important to note that if you want to take full advantage of this mid-range processor, you will need a reliable motherboard as well, such as the Z490 motherboard.
In terms of specs, the single-threaded performance score is 2,977, and the CPU mark is 14,951. For a mid-range processor, it still falls a bit behind the mid-range choice from AMD. However, Intel truly makes up for the shortcomings when it comes to their high-end processors.
- AMD Ryzen 9 3950x
For those who sport a much larger budget or for those who run a professional studio, the AMD Ryzen 9 3950x is an excellent choice. For general music production, it soars above the other two AMD choices. The top-notch production is thanks to the 16 cores and 4.7GHz boost clock.
Almost any DAW software that you choose to use will run like an absolute breeze.
In terms of the CPU mark, the AMD Ryzen 9 3950x scores a wildly impressive 39,255. It is one of the fastest processors in the world today. With that said, it doesn’t quite match up to its Intel competitor with a 2,746 score in the single-threaded category.
- Intel Core i9-10900K
When it comes to high-end music production, the Intel Core i9-10900K is one of the best choices on the market. For professional music producers and high-end music production studios, its single-threaded performance is basically unmatched.
You can easily connect your external devices without any issues, as the Intel Core i9 10900K offers Thunderbolt 3 compatibility in full. There are ten processing cores, allowing the Intel Core i9 10900K to reach a wildly impressive 5.3GHz with the Turbo Clock engaged. You can even overclock it if the 5.3GHz isn’t entirely cutting it.
Compared to the AMD 9 3950x counterpart, which is our favorite AMD processor for music production, the Intel Core i9 10900K goes above and beyond. In all, you get a whopping single-thread score of 3,225 and a CPU Mark of 24,051.
Is RAM Or CPU More Important For Music Production?
CPU is far more important in music production than RAM. Not many people realize that you can upgrade RAM later down the line. However, when it comes to CPU, you can’t upgrade or add a new processor down the line.
From a technical standpoint, you could, though CPU evolves fast, and it could be the case that your motherboard is not available anymore by the time you want to upgrade it.
When you have a high clock speed, the calculations performed by your CPU move at a much faster pace; having additional cores is essential as well, as you’ll achieve much better application performance in applications that utilize multi-threading (aka all major DAWs).
If technological history is an indication of anything, it is that RAM is becoming cheaper and cheaper. You can expand RAM later on, which is why we recommend starting small and growing as you go rather than spending tons of money on RAM initially.
It is worth noting that some newer laptops and computers, such as those from Apple, do not allow you to expand or exchange memory once you have made your purchase. In that unique case, you should max out your memory when you purchase your system.
8GB Ram VS 16GB RAM For Music Production – How Much Do I Need?
If you are running on 8GB of RAM, you should have more than enough power to run up to 25 tracks of audio, including multiple instruments, plugins, MIDI, VSTs, and effects (reverb, delay, compression, EQ, saturation, etc.) For small projects, 8GB should provide you with all you need without any performance issues.
For larger projects, 16GB is optimal, especially if you plan on using multiple applications at one time.
Here is a small chart breaking down what you can expect while using specific RAM specs.
|8GB of RAM||16GB of RAM|
|Best For||Entry-level studios or producers, podcasters, audio editors, and small bands||Experienced producers, musicians, bands, sound engineers, and composers|
|Workload||Up to 25 audio tracks with a few MIDI tracks||Up to 60 audio track with many MIDI tracks|
|Session Examples||Instrument recording, non-intensive mixing, mastering, and lightweight plugins / VSTs||Instrument recording (including multiple instruments and overdub recording), mixing, mastering, sample library use, moderate plugin use, and orchestral comps.|
Is SSD Or HDD Better For Music Production?
SSDs perform about 4-5x faster than your average HDD thanks to the fact that they do not utilize mechanical parts. SSDs are much faster and more reliable. Plus, you’ll never really have to worry about dropping your SSD, as they are far less prone to breakage.
Due to their lack of mechanical components, SSDs last much longer than HDDs too.
Around ten years ago, we would have said the opposite. SSDs didn’t have the storage capacity of HDDs prior to 2010, which is why music producers with large sample libraries couldn’t use them.
Looking at some of the best SSDs on the market today, such as the 860 EVO SSD from Samsung, and you have 4TB of storage, which is far more than enough for even the most demanding sample libraries out there.
Sample libraries are getting larger and larger every year. Future sample libraries will contain higher sample rates, more velocity layers, and a more comprehensive range of round-robin variations, as these characteristics will create a far more realistic sound for virtual instruments.
The thing with SSDs is that they do cost more than your average HDD. On average, SSDs go for around $0.16/GB, while HDDs go for about $0.045/GB. However, paying a bit extra in this case means greater reliability, fewer clicks and pops during mixing, and faster loading times.
Do I Need a Good GPU For Music Production?
Music Production is a CPU intensive process rather than GPU. You don’t need any special graphic card to make music in your DAW software. Also, RAM is much more important than GPU when it comes to producing music.
What Laptops are suitable for music production?
- Apple MacBook Pro 13″
The Apple MacBook Pro 13″ hits the sweet spot in terms of price and specs for the majority of music producers. You’ll enjoy Quad-core Intel Core i5-i7, 8GB-32GB of RAM, 256GB-4TB of SSD storage, and a 13.3″ Retina display with True Tone.
The 16″ MacBook Pro may look pretty, though the price is a bit hefty for most producers. Plus, the portability of the 13″ can’t be beat, especially for producers who often find themselves on the go.
The recently refreshed Apple MacBook Pro 13″ comes with the latest Magic Keyboard from Apple, which is one of the most comfortable computer and laptop keyboards on the market today. Plus, you’ll get more storage and much faster options for processing than ever available.
If you’re planning on buying the Apple MacBook Pro 13″, we would highly recommend going with one of the higher-spec models, which include four Thunderbolt 3 ports rather than the standard two on the base model. When you begin plugging in additional MIDI keyboards, external hard drives, and audio interfaces, having those extra ports comes in handy.
Of course, you also have the Touch Bar. While many producers aren’t quite sold on its usefulness, we absolutely love it. For musicians, in particular, the TouchBar is incredibly helpful.
On the downside, you don’t get to upgrade once you have the MacBook in your possession, meaning you need to pay more off the bat for optimal specs. Also, you must pay extra for additional ports as well. Of course, you can offset the cost of additional ports by using a USB port hub, but it’s just something extra to have to carry around.
For a balance between price, power, and portability, the Apple MacBook Pro 13″ is one of the best laptops that you can buy.
- Dell XPS 13″
To this day, the Dell XPS 13″ is one of the best laptops ever made. It comes with an eighth-generation Intel Core i5-i7, an Intel UHD Graphics 620 card, 8-16GB of RAM, 256GB-1TB of SSD storage, and a 13.3″ FHD.
Even after a few years of this laptop being on the market, it is still one of our favorite laptops for music production. The 2020 iteration is slim and portable, yet comes with a powerful display, handy touchscreen capabilities, and a variety of color options so that you can customize your computer o your liking.
The bezel-less Infinity Edge display looks great too, which is a huge plus.
The beauty of the Dell XPS compared to the MacBook Pro is that you have a wide variety of customization options available. You have the ability to craft the perfect laptop to fit your needs for music production at the right price.
It doesn’t hurt that it is a PC either, meaning you have the ability to upgrade the RAM once your purchase it. On the downside, the Dell XPS has a much steeper starting price than the MacBook Pro, which may deter some budget users.
- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is one of the best Microsoft laptops on the market for music production. It comes with Intel Core i5-i7 CPU, an Intel UHD Graphics 620 card, 8GB-16GB of RAM, and a variety of storage options ranging from 128GB-1TB.
This is Microsoft’s third attempt at a pure laptop, and we absolutely love it. Yes, it is not a major overhaul of the first iteration of the original Microsoft Surface Laptop, though there are a few noteworthy improvements, including the hardware.
The power level is quite competitive, making it perfect for producers on the go, and the keyboard is much quieter, which makes for a smoother workflow. In terms of aesthetics, the new black color scheme is lovely.
What we don’t like is that there is no option for Thunderbolt 3, and there aren’t many ports considering the large size of the laptop.
Are Gaming Computers Good For Music Production?
Due to their powerful hardware specs, gaming computers are excellent for music production as they come with tons of RAM, and often great CPU. It is worth noting that gaming computer may generate quite a bit of noise due to the fans.
If you plan on doing any live recording in the same room as your computer, this can be a serious problem. In some cases, it can even present issues during the production and mixing phases as well. Most of the time, electronic music producers don’t need microphones to produce music, meaning external factors like fan noise might not be a serious problem.
However, many gaming computer users find methods to manage fan speeds and sound levels, creating the same speed and reliability without the nuisance of noise.
It is worth noting that gaming computers are GPU-oriented. You don’t really need an insane graphics card for music production, as we said above, which is one reason many find it difficult to justify the price.
Getting The Right Computer For Music Production
Buying the right computer for music production can seem quite complicated, especially when you consider how many things you need to think about when buying one.
The beauty of modern technology is that buying a fast computer is cheaper than it ever has been. With just about any decent machine on the market, making great music is quite easy. That sentiment can be quite encouraging, especially if you are new to music production, and you are in the process of purchasing a music production computer.
We hope that this little guide helped you to narrow down your decisions and gain a better understanding of what to look for in a computer when music production is your main focus!
Original Featured Image by Jake Kaminski.
Tyler Connaghan is a producer, composer, and engineer based in Los Angeles, CA. He studied music for two years at the University of Southern California before landing a job at Killingsworth Recording Company, where he currently produces music for television and film.