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Ask Engadget: What's the best laptop for music production?

Terrence O'Brien

Terrence O’Brien
Managing Editor

Oddly, I’ve been in the market for a similar device — a new laptop dedicated to music production. While I don’t have specific experience with Cubase, I can offer the following advice, which should be fairly applicable across the board for music production needs: Avoid “u” CPUs, as they’re typically designed for mobile or low power usage (and can be more aggressive in their throttling, thereby causing dropouts).

Ideally, you want an i5 or i7 chip with an “H” at the end. While more RAM is always better, you should generally be okay with 16GB. You definitely, without a doubt, want an SSD with at least 512GB of storage; having samples and DAW on a local SSD is really valuable.

Though you express concern about drivers, they mostly become a concern when dealing with external audio interfaces, as many PCs use the same integrated audio chip. But if you’re serious about using your computer for music production (and if you’re dropping $3,000 on a laptop, you should be) you shouldn’t be relying on the internal audio.

So this shouldn’t be a major concern anyway, since you should be buying and using a separate external audio interface. In that case, the question is less about the laptop and more about how your OS, your DAW and how that particular interface interacts.

Focusrite, for example, doesn’t officially support anything older than OS X 10.10 on the Scarlett 2i2 and doesn’t support Windows 8 at all. Their drivers also tend to deliver significantly better latency on OS X than it does on Windows 10. Their drivers also perform better in Cubase than they do in Ableton or ProTools. But the difference in latency between an HP and a Dell machine with similar specs will be negligible at best.

However, some of the specs you’ll want will depend on the kind of music you’ll be producing. For example, if you’re mostly into electronic music, using VSTs and plugins on the computer, your CPU is more important. If you’re recording a band or live instruments — situations where you’re processing actual audio — RAM and SSD capacity are going to be bigger priorities.

Personally, I’ve been eyeballing Dell’s XPS 15 (and thinking of upgrading the SSD to 512GB). Good luck! (And let us know what you end up getting.)

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