Can anyone recommend a good laptop for recording, and general use?

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by Tone, Jun 4, 2006.


  1. Tone

    Tone Member

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    Hey guys, looks like my other thread may have been lost with the downtime, so I'll post another. This is a copy of what I posted at Birds and Moons so I can get more opinions and suggestions.

    Thanks!

    What's up guys.
    I'm looking for recommendations on a good laptop. I would like to use it for some simple recording tasks, like making my backing tracks, getting down solo ideas, recording a live band etc. Also for just general computer stuff, like internet, printouts every once in a while. So it won't be a stand alone thing just for recording. Can you guys let me know if I'll need a soundcard built in, certain processor etc?

    So far I've been looking at the Dell Inspirons with the Intel Core Duo processors, and also the Apple Macbook. Both have options for up to 100gb hard drives. The Macbook already comes with Garage Band.

    Generally, I see a lot of people who record seem to use Macs. Can anyone tell me why? Are they just built better for music? Can a PC be turned into a great recording machine? If you feel like giving me the pros and cons of using both, please do. [​IMG]

    Price range I wanted to stay within is probably about $1500 or less if possible. I don't need it to be professional quality, just something to break me in to the recording thing. Plus I'll be using this for general computer stuff too.

    Thanks!
     
  2. GuitslingerTim

    GuitslingerTim Member

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    Processor speed is critical on laptops used for audio. Get the fastest one you can afford. The centrino processor is pretty good if you're on a budget. The Duo Core 2 processors (or any dual core processor) are outstanding when used with programs like Sonar, which is written to take advantage of multiple cores. The Core Duo 2 series will probably be expensive for awhile.
     
  3. Den

    Den Member

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    After hassles with a number of other brands, I've had nothing but good experiences with the three Dell laptops I purchased this last year. Make sure you check out a place like TechBargains.com for discount coupon codes you can apply at the Dell checkout ... I saved hundreds of additional $$$ that way.
     
  4. Tone

    Tone Member

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    Den,
    Can you talk about your Dell's a little more? Like models, what you like/dislike about them. What specs you got, and how it works out for music? I never heard of that website. Do you mean anyone can use the coupon codes to get discounts?

    For music recording, and general computer use like home/home office, what would you guys say is the minimum system requirements I should go with? I definately want to get one of those Intel Core Duo processors, but I'm not sure on anything else like soundcard, video card, RAM, etc. The last laptop I had, had only a 6gb HD, so I guess anything is a step up from that. :) What about Windows? XP Home, Pro, or Media Edition better for music?

    Thanks!
     
  5. pbradt

    pbradt Senior Member

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    If you want to use the computer for things besides audio, you'd be better off with a Mac. Everyone I know who tries to use a PC for Pro Tools and something else ends up very frustrated. Others may have different experience andI have limited PC experience because I'm a Mac guy (and none at all with audio) but other PC users have told me this.
     
  6. scottlr

    scottlr Member

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    If you have no experience with computer recording, I'd go with a Mac and GarageBand as a great easy entry level way to get good results. If you want to upgrade later, you can move into Logic Express or Logic Pro, and take your GarageBand songs there with you, since Logic will directly open a GarageBand song.
    One thing I hear a lot, though is that the laptop drives are too slow for any serious recording projects, and most folks end up getting an external firewire drive to keep recordings on. I know a guy that has an older iBook and with a FW drive, he has managed 30 plus tracks with it. He does mostly real audio, and very little if any midi, and he does transfer the FW drive to a G5 for mixing and mastering. But he gets that many basic tracks simply recorded that way.
    Another expense to consider is that you will need some sort of interface to get a signal in.
     
  7. Tone

    Tone Member

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    Thanks!
    I believe the new Macbooks come with a 5400 rpm HD. Would that be fast enough? I believe some of the Dell notebooks come with an option to go to 7200rpm ones. What would you recommend for size of HD, and also processor speed and type, and RAM? Video, Audio card?

    Yeah I'm totally new to recording. I'm not even sure what you guys mean when you say "30 tracks". :D I've heard the term before, but never looked into it any deeper. :) Not even sure what it means for like 4 track, or 8 track digital recorder etc etc.

    With a Mac, what type of files do you actually burn on to a CD? Is it still MP3?

    Thanks for all the help, keep it coming if you can! :)
     
  8. Den

    Den Member

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    Sorry ... just got a few minutes to get back to this thread. I personally use a Dell desktop for recording and all of my general purpose computing, which includes some graphic design as well as other typical business uses. I've been using this machine for more than a year and have never experienced a single glitch or compatability problem of any sort.

    This machine is a Dell 9100, Pentium 4 @ 3.0 GHz, 1.0 Gig of ram, 250 Gig hard drive running at 7200 rpm. The operating system is Win XP Pro and I am still amazed at how stable this system runs.

    For recording and audio editing, I'm using Sonar 4 Producer edition ... which I think is excellent software. I have both an Audigy soundcard and an M-Audio Delta 66 PCI card. For recording and playblack in Sonar I use the Delta connected to an Allen & Heath MixWiz3 16:2 with great results.

    I also own several Dell laptops that are used both as desktop replacements and on the road for presentations. These are Inspirons running XP Pro and also have been perfectly stable and reliable. I have not run my audio software on these machines, but would not expect any problems for basic computer recording and editing needs.

    There are so many options to consider today that it can be really confusing ... the good news is that most of them will likely do a great job for entry level recording. In fact, some of these "entry level" products actually do a better job than the higher end stuff of just a few years ago.

    The Dell coupon codes can be found at various sites ... I usually go to TechBargains.com. They offer discounts for specific machines with specific time frames. Once you've found a coupon codes you think might apply ... go to Dell online and configure a machine ... put in the shopping cart and try to apply the code. If it works, they can sometime save you hundreds of $$$'s.

    There are, of course many other machines, sound cards and recording/editing software options that can do the job. In the beginning, you may want to simply experiment with some of the free shareware options to get a feeling for things. Otherwise, you can find some other forums offering additional great advice on this stuff. You could also contact a retailer like Sweetwater with some of your questions to help you sort through your options.

    Hope this helps.
     
  9. hw2nw

    hw2nw Member

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    Mac Mac Mac...

    I've worked with recording software on both for years. I'd look into the Macbook...you'll definitely have enough power to run a program like Garageband or Pro Tools LE. Once you start getting pretty serious, you'll want to use an external hard drive for maximum speed.
     
  10. ultrevex

    ultrevex Member

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    I use my laptop for almost exactly the same purposes as you. I wound up buying an off lease machine from an Ebay retailer that buys them in bulk from companies. Mine is a Dell Latitude D-400 with Pentium M class 1.5 G processor, internal 40G HD, built in Intel wireless, 512 megs ram, Windows XP pro and 6 months left of the extended factory warranty. I believe Dell was selling these as recently as 2005. It has firewire built in and 2 usb 2.0 ports. It cost $399. The D-400 is an 'ultraportable' class machine with a 12.1 screen and is pretty petite, weighing something like 3.5 pounds and measuring about 12X9. Mine has run flawlessly. I use it for net surfing, photoshop usage, some digital video editing and digital audio recording. I also travel with it. It has proven itself pretty capable for all of these tasks. One caveat: these machines have no built in optical drive (cdrom), which I dont mind. The OS was already installed and I use my networked drives for any installation needs. Any generic USB cdrom/dvd drive would work fine with it....Dell also sold/sells a proprietary detachable drive for it. The lack of built in cdrom is not an issue for me and this was the most cost effective way I found to get into this class of machine.... a new, similarly configured Dell ultraportable would run around $1000. I also bought a Compaq V2000Z machine earlier this year for something like $600, direct from Compaq/HP. It was an excellent performer with a really good looking 14 inch wide screen display and an AMD processor. It just turned out to be a little bulky for travel. If you're reluctant to mess with a used machine, these Compaq's offer huge bang for the buck.

    When we discuss track count, as in 4 track, 8 track, 30+ tracks, etc, we're talking about how many layered tracks are in a production or recording. Got 1 vocal, 1 acoustic, 1 bass, 1 electric guitar and a stereo mix of a drum loop? You have a 6 track song. For 'real' recording applications, where you're multi-tracking full drum kits , layering track after track of vocals and instruments and then asking the processor to also process the mixing, automation, effects, etc. you need huge throughput for the drives and a ton of processing power. For applications like you describe, and the type of smaller projects I typically mess around with, a capable modern laptop (1.5-2 gig processor, stock hard drive) is more than sufficient. I can layer 8 -12 tracks easily and process them with eq, compressor, reverb plugins to my hearts content without putting much of a strain on my little Dell. This sounds like what you're after.

    You'll need a better way to get audio in and out of the system than the internal cheesy soundcard, this is where your firewire or USB ports come in. I just got a Behringer FCA 202 stereo firewire audio interface for my laptop. It's tiny and provides stereo in/stereo out conversion at 24 bits resolution and up to 96K bandwidth. It sounds very good to my ears: clean, quiet ,neutral and stable It costs $79(!). You'll also need a way to amplify your mics and other sources... a small mixer like this:
    http://www.musiciansfriend.com/product/Yamaha-MG102-Stereo-Mixer?sku=630048

    might work well. There are also a ton of mixers out by alesis and others that integrate the USB or firewire audio interface into one unit, I have no experience with these.

    Finally, you'll need a multitracking software. I've been using this:
    http://www.cockos.com/reaper/

    It's free. I used a higher end program called Samplitude for years. Reaper does 90% of what I used Samplitude for.... I looked into updating my older version of Samp recently, it was going to cost something like $350. I passed. Reaper is easy enough to master quickly but is quite powerful and feature laden. I especially like that I can multitrack, mix and then bounce down to a high quality MP3 file within 1 software. And it's free!

    Of course, there are as many recipes here as you can imagine and you can get as elaborate/pricey as your imagination and budget allow. My setup is only good for 2 live inputs at a time, which is more than sufficient. I would be unable to record a full drum kit, but that's how I like it. Who wants drummers coming around anyway? From your description, it sounds like a setup similar or identical to mine would work perfectly for you.

    best of luck with it!
     
  11. ronin32

    ronin32 Member

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    I'm a total Mac guy and since I'm also thinking about trying a hand at recording since I have Garage band already installed on my iBook, my vote would be for a new Macbook. As far as between the two of Macbook Pro and regular Macbook if you can aford a Pro I would personally get a Pro. :drool
     
  12. Tone

    Tone Member

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    What's the minimum system requirements I should be looking at? Does the hard drive definately need to be a 7200rpm?
     
  13. kselbee

    kselbee Member

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    Thought I'd throw in my $.02. I've been a PC guy for a loooong time, but I'm getting ready to buy a Macbook now. I honestly feel it's a more stable, safer environment. You get enough software out of the box to do all the basics and any major packages are available for both (or something similar). You can boot Windows on the Mac if you so choose, so really you can run both. You're right that the Macbook has a 5400 rpm drive which is not the fastest, but it's got a very fast processor. Sounds like you have pretty basic recording needs so unless you need many many tracks, I'd say that drive is sufficient. BTW, you can get it up to 120 gig (and I'd highly recommend at least a gig of ram). Also, the drives on the Macbooks are upgradable, so perhaps in the future you could get a faster one... or get a firewire drive if you feel the internal is insufficient for recording. Also, the Macbook looks sooooo kewl.
     
  14. therigaletto

    therigaletto Member

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    =1 for the Dells and Macbooks are great!
     
  15. g-nem

    g-nem Member

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    +1 mac- if you go PC be aware that almost all PC notebooks come with 4-pin firewire, which is less sturdy and won't bus power interfaces. A friend of mine did the research, and got advice from a buddy who works at microsoft, got a PC notebook and hasn't been able to use it because the 4pin firewire isn't stable enough. Also when I bought a dell notebook before my apple, the dell service guy told me to return it and that it would never work with a firewire audio interface because of the work it was built.

    Been with apple ever since and won't look back! As much as apple frustrates me sometimes. . . .
     
  16. ultrevex

    ultrevex Member

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    True, my Dell D400 firewire port will not bus power any devices, I use an AC adapter with my firewire audio interface. Both of my Dell laptops have worked perfectly and I bought them both used off lease. One even gets used daily by my 5 year old daughter. I'm certain my D400 has a 5400 rpm drive and it has a slightly less powerful cpu and only 512 megs of Ram.... it performs all the tasks you describe with gusto. I configured a new Dell Inspiron E1405 Dual Core a minute ago on the Dell site.... 1.66 Gig dual core processor, 80 gig 5400 rpm drive, 1 Gig ram, etc. and it comes to $849 with an instant $200 off and free shipping. If it were me, I'd try the internal drive for a while and then spend the money on an external firewire or USB hard drive down the road.

    I'm not a huge champion for Dell but their products have worked well for me.
     
  17. ronin32

    ronin32 Member

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    I think Dell is a safe bet when going PC.
     

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