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View Full Version : Laptop vs. Desktop for personal home recording


Gasp100
09-04-2010, 06:35 PM
My "everyday" home computer just died. I have a dedicated workstation in the basement (not really dedicated, I do web surfing and such as well, but all my audio gear is hooked up to it) and I'm considering going big with my next computer purchase and bring the dedicated machine upstairs. The machine downstairs is actually fine for a home recording enthusiast, Here's the specs:
Intel PIV 2.8Ghz (2 physical procs - used to be a server)
2 EIDE hard drives, probably only 5400 rpm (each one is 40GB)
3GB Ram (can't remember what type, fairly new)
Line 6 UX8 USB 8 mic pre interface <this is new, I'd like to stick with it for now>
Currently W7 Pro, Reaper 32bit, a bunch of plugins, etc...
So, old but still powerful. I am a Windows System Engineer so I really do like to have a lab of sorts available (Windows domain, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL, Vmware or HyperV) but that all went out the window when my everyday upstairs machine died :(
To be honest, if I'm home I like to have a machine just to check the weather really quick, TGP of course, etc... and I'm really missing that right now lol!
So, the machine downstairs is a perfect candidate for a rebuild with W2K8R2 and vmware server. It's probably time I actually BOUGHT a computer (been about 12 years :)
Anyway, a new machine is going to cost me a guitar; a lesser desktop like a Dell or something will cost me my Tokai Strat. A Mac or higher powered laptop/desktop might cost me my Fender Hot Rod Tele...
So for guys recording with laptops, do you feel like you are giving up extra processing power just to be mobile? Do you end up using this laptop for everyday stuff? Do you use USB? Is the reason you have a laptop ONLY because you take it on the road for recording purposes?
I'm kind of torn right now because of the loss of gear I will have to endure to recoup funds. But if I'm honest, I only play two of my three guitars at any one time anyway.

iaresee
09-04-2010, 06:57 PM
Unless you absolutely need the portability of a laptop a desktop will always be my recommendation. Faster and more poweful hardware, cheaper to buy parts for, easier to service, easier to cool, the list goes on and on...

So: desktop is my rec.

Gasp100
09-04-2010, 07:13 PM
Unless you absolutely need the portability of a laptop a desktop will always be my recommendation. Faster and more poweful hardware, cheaper to buy parts for, easier to service, easier to cool, the list goes on and on...

So: desktop is my rec.

I guess you're right. I have a work laptop, I'm so lazy I don't like taking it out of the bag unless I need to do work overnight. Of course right now my 5 year old is watching Scooby-Doo reruns on it lol! It's fast as hell too.

Nelson89
09-04-2010, 09:04 PM
I use my MBP 13" 2010 2.4Ghz Core2 Duo for recordings, there's not a noticable difference between that and my desktop in terms of power (i use both from time to time). However it all depends on how long you plan to have it for, the things with laptops as you're main DAW, you can't really customise them and upgrade them as much. Other than RAM or maybe a hard drive, once you've got the laptop, thats it, when it slows down you have to buy an entirely new one. With a desktop however (not as much with iMacs) you can customise it to how you want with PCI cards and what not. A desktop will probably last you a little bit longer than a laptop because of this reason, and if you build it with quality parts (i.e. replace the stock PSU) it should last you quite a number of years if you're using it as a DAW.

So just like iaresee said earlier, unless you really need to portability of a laptop, a desktop is always the way to go because their power/price ratio is always a bit better and you don't have to be a computer expert to replace parts in it...

Gasp100
09-04-2010, 09:35 PM
I use my MBP 13" 2010 2.4Ghz Core2 Duo for recordings, there's not a noticable difference between that and my desktop in terms of power (i use both from time to time). However it all depends on how long you plan to have it for, the things with laptops as you're main DAW, you can't really customise them and upgrade them as much. Other than RAM or maybe a hard drive, once you've got the laptop, thats it, when it slows down you have to buy an entirely new one. With a desktop however (not as much with iMacs) you can customise it to how you want with PCI cards and what not. A desktop will probably last you a little bit longer than a laptop because of this reason, and if you build it with quality parts (i.e. replace the stock PSU) it should last you quite a number of years if you're using it as a DAW.

So just like iaresee said earlier, unless you really need to portability of a laptop, a desktop is always the way to go because their power/price ratio is always a bit better and you don't have to be a computer expert to replace parts in it...

True on hardware upgrades/replacement too... I've already replaced the PSU on my dedicated recording desktop and I just lost one of the hard drives in it (probably not original, can't remember) so I was able to swap that out no problems this afternoon. I guess I'm going on 3 years with this particular machine and I bought it from a friend who worked for a company that was closing for like $250 bucks... not a bad deal :)
Maybe I'll just keep working with it until it dies completely and I've saved up for a good replacement. I can use my work laptop for TGP ;)

Nelson89
09-04-2010, 10:17 PM
True on hardware upgrades/replacement too... I've already replaced the PSU on my dedicated recording desktop and I just lost one of the hard drives in it (probably not original, can't remember) so I was able to swap that out no problems this afternoon. I guess I'm going on 3 years with this particular machine and I bought it from a friend who worked for a company that was closing for like $250 bucks... not a bad deal :)
Maybe I'll just keep working with it until it dies completely and I've saved up for a good replacement. I can use my work laptop for TGP ;)

If you stick with it, it sounds like it'll last you some time to come. Remember some computer companies also offer "CPU upgrades" in which its a bundle with RAM, a motherboard and a new CPU...not too expensive from what i remember. And hey, the second you render it unusable for musical stuff/not worth upgrading it anymore, buy a new computer, wipe the drives on the old one and do a clean install of the OS and put some old games on it for your kid...my first PC with games on it was my dads old windows 3.1 computer when he upgraded to a new windows 95/98 machine....oh man i feel so old now...pixelated duke nukem and wolvenstein...

Pietro
09-05-2010, 06:20 AM
I'll never own a personal computer that's not a laptop again, myself. But neither will it be a PC. I've had a few Mac laptops, and my current MacBook (the old cheap 2ghz one) can handle anything I and Logic throw at it.

Nelson89
09-05-2010, 07:06 AM
I'll never own a personal computer that's not a laptop again, myself. But neither will it be a PC. I've had a few Mac laptops, and my current MacBook (the old cheap 2ghz one) can handle anything I and Logic throw at it.

True that...my MBP i've got is the base line 13" 2.4Ghz one. First mac computer i've owned (since an old OS5 one...)...i do some pretty big mixes in Logic from time to time...still does the job well. The reason i use my desktop PC as well is cause i've got a UAD card in it and i guess because i learnt how to mix on Cubase, so i use Cubase Studio 5.5 as well. If i could afford a Mac Pro, i'd buy one haha...maybe one day...

fr8_trane
09-09-2010, 02:19 PM
How much are you looking to spend G?

I just built myself a new killer DAW and I'm up on what's available at various price points.

In the meantime check this thread:
http://www.thegearpage.net/board/showthread.php?t=767174

You can get an amd quadcore system for around $500. That's about as low as I would go as far as price/performance (vs minimal future-proofing)

duanemassey
09-09-2010, 07:56 PM
+1 on the desktop; I just can't get comfortable the the smaller laptops(keyboard and screen issues, I'm an old guy), and I can't even think about a larger one. I use Sonar with enough MOTU units to record 24 tracks live, and it works quite well for a small investment.

Tom CT
09-09-2010, 08:45 PM
Unless you absolutely need the portability of a laptop a desktop will always be my recommendation. Faster and more poweful hardware, cheaper to buy parts for, easier to service, easier to cool, the list goes on and on...

So: desktop is my rec.

Agreed. The biggest laptop screen is the same size as that of the smallest desktop, and screen real estate is invaluable with recording apps. Desktops offer hardware expandability if needed, too. Laptops are fine for business and the "cool factor", but they suffer from form-over-function limitations to an extent (try editing waveforms or making precise parameter adjustments with a trackpad - yuck).

fr8_trane
09-10-2010, 08:13 AM
Agreed. The biggest laptop screen is the same size as that of the smallest desktop, and screen real estate is invaluable with recording apps. Desktops offer hardware expandability if needed, too. Laptops are fine for business and the "cool factor", but they suffer from form-over-function limitations to an extent (try editing waveforms or making precise parameter adjustments with a trackpad - yuck).

Not really a concern since you can just get an external monitor or even 2 with a dock. The bigger concern is processor power and expanadability.

Tom CT
09-10-2010, 08:56 AM
Not really a concern since you can just get an external monitor or even 2 with a dock.

Then what's the point of getting a laptop?

Gasp100
09-10-2010, 09:07 AM
Then what's the point of getting a laptop?

I guess I was thinking that a laptop would not have to be dedicated to music production. I mean, it could be the heard of the operation (especially with a dock) in the basement studio, then if I just wanted to surf TGP, even listen to mixes on headphones etc... upstairs I undock and go. There are so many options nowadays I will have to figure out which direction is the best for my use.

pbradt
09-10-2010, 09:09 AM
I'm kind of torn right now because of the loss of gear I will have to endure to recoup funds. But if I'm honest, I only play two of my three guitars at any one time anyway.

I can't speak to the PC side because I don't use them, but my computer-based recording is on a MacBook Pro. I use external drives for storage and I rarely get "low cpu" messages on sessions with as many as 36 tracks., though for me, 36 tracks usually means I've gotten too anal and need to take a step back.

If I was doing serious, pro-level recording, I'd get a Mac Pro, but I don't need that kind of horsepower, and to tell the truth, the horsepower isn't needed for recording, it's for mixing and using software plugins.

pbradt
09-10-2010, 09:10 AM
Then what's the point of getting a laptop?

Portability. When I got to Nashville next month, a friend is going to add a vocal track to one of the Ray and the Detonators songs so I can have a bonus track. I'll take my Mbox to hook up to my MBP.

Tom CT
09-10-2010, 10:08 AM
Portability. When I got to Nashville next month, a friend is going to add a vocal track to one of the Ray and the Detonators songs so I can have a bonus track. I'll take my Mbox to hook up to my MBP.

My remark was directed at the "attach external monitor(s)" comment. The portability factor goes right out the window in that scenario.

sixesandsevens
09-10-2010, 01:47 PM
Unless you absolutely need the portability of a laptop a desktop will always be my recommendation. Faster and more poweful hardware, cheaper to buy parts for, easier to service, easier to cool, the list goes on and on...

So: desktop is my rec.

While I agree with many of your points, one downside is that desktops are often noisier than laptops.

Silent PC Review (http://www.silentpcreview.com/) gives some examples of both parts and systems to help reduce noise.

Jim Roseberry
09-10-2010, 02:01 PM
While I agree with many of your points, one downside is that desktops are often noisier than laptops.

Silent PC Review (http://www.silentpcreview.com/) gives some examples of both parts and systems to help reduce noise.

If you choose the right components, a desktop can run both very cool... and extremely quiet (on air cooling).
Use quiet components throughout the entire system... and voila... you'll have a quiet DAW.
Avoid small fans like the plague. No matter how quiet they are today, 6-months from now... the fans will start to wear out and sound like a coffee-grinder.

iaresee
09-10-2010, 02:37 PM
While I agree with many of your points, one downside is that desktops are often noisier than laptops.

Silent PC Review (http://www.silentpcreview.com/) gives some examples of both parts and systems to help reduce noise.
As Jim Roseberry has already pointed out: making a desktop near silent isn't hard. And if you can't do it with the case and fan selection alone, you can always build an iso box for it. My MBP I'm on right now is far, far, far from quiet. When that CPU fan spins up it's too loud for recording over. And the hard drive clicking is very audible.