Go with a DAW. I use a free version of Cubase that came with my Zoom HD16CD. A "dedicated" laptop would be ideal, but not required. I'm typing this post on the laptop I use. Once you get it up and running, five minutes on Youtube will get you in the game recording, and soon enough, you'll have some nice shortcuts to improve workflow, and networking with other users will give you a lot of information as well. I've used hardware, and for simplcity, it is very hard to beat, but as soon as it's time to start editing, having a visual representation that can be moved around and auditioned is really hard to beat. I have created a template in Cubase so that whenever I want to lay down a new song sketch, all of the features common to all my music are already present: percussion, instrument and vocal tracks, with the levels set so I won't clip when I start recording. From there I can record the instrument (or MIDI--let's not go down that rabbit hole) part as many or as few times as I want to get it right, and then, if all it was was a riff or melody piece, save it for later, or keep working. I like it so much, I'm actually going to pay MONEY for the full Artist version soon.