Laptop or desktop for music production: which is better?
The question of using a laptop or desktop for music production is absolutely valid. A computer struggling with projects can hinder your creativity.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of laptop or desktop for music production. Some people might find that a laptop works best, while others prefer a desktop PC. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each type of computer so you can make the best decision for your music production needs.
Portability is one of the most significant advantages of using a laptop for music production and a big factor when choosing between a laptop or desktop for music production. A laptop can easily be transported from one location to another, which is ideal for producers who often travel or who want to be able to work in different places. Laptops are also generally more compact than desktop PCs, so they take up less space in your home studio.
So if you can only buy one machine and portability is an absolute must for you since you’re always on the go, get a laptop for music production. Unless you can afford to buy both a laptop for when you’re on the go and a desktop for your home studio, don’t bother reading the rest of this article and go on the hunt for a decent laptop.
✅ Pro: Laptop
❌ Con: Desktop
Price plays a big role when choosing between a laptop or desktop for music production, and laptop computers tend to be less expensive in the lower budget range. This is because laptop components are generally smaller and require less power, which results in lower production costs. Additionally, peripherals like a mouse, keyboard, and monitor are built-in, which you’d have to purchase separately for a desktop PC.
Though this doesn’t mean that laptops can’t get pricey. Especially when you need a lot of power for bigger projects, you can pay anywhere from $1000 to $4000 for a top-of-the-line laptop. At those high price ranges, laptops even tend to be more expensive than desktop PCs.
✅ Pro: Laptop (Low Budget)
❌ Con: Desktop (Low Budget)
In terms of performance, desktop PCs have the edge over laptops by a long shot. This is because desktops have more powerful processors, better cooling, and more memory than laptops. They also have more room for expansion, so you can add more RAM and storage or upgrade your CPU down the line if you need to.
Performance shouldn’t be a big issue if you just make beats with 10-20 tracks per project. However, suppose you produce music that uses a lot of different synth plugins, sample-based instruments, and a lot of processing effects. In that case, you should probably think about investing in a desktop PC. You can very quickly push even a high-end laptop to its performance limits, whereas most desktops will run even demanding projects with no issues.
❌ Con: Laptop
✅ Pro: Desktop
The value for your money is a bit more tricky when it comes to a laptop or desktop for music production since it gets better for desktops and worse for laptops when you increase the budget.
As discussed already, generally, laptops are cheaper than desktops at lower budgets. So, going with a laptop is a no-brainer if you’re on a $500 or lower budget. However, once you pass the $1000 to $1500 budget threshold, desktops seem to perform much better than what you pay.
You can easily build a full custom desktop PC with the latest top-of-the-line Intel and Ryzen processors for around $1000 to $1500. These will run any of your demanding projects with ease. No pops, no crackles, no lag, no nothing. On the other hand, a laptop in that price range can easily reach its performance limits.
❌ Con: Laptop (Mid to High Budget)
✅ Pro: Desktop (Mid to High Budget)
As mentioned, you can easily upgrade a desktop down the line if you need to. So if you start to outgrow your current machine, it’ll be much more affordable to buy a newer CPU or add some more RAM to your desktop than to sell your laptop and buy an entirely new one.
With laptops, you’re mostly stuck with what you have. Sure, you can upgrade your storage or RAM in some cases, but that’s rare and usually about it. If you want to upgrade your processor or get a better graphics card, you’ll need to replace your laptop entirely since those components are usually not meant to be upgraded.
❌ Con: Laptop
✅ Pro: Desktop
So, which is better? A laptop or desktop for music production?
The best option would, of course, be to go with both. A powerful desktop at your home studio for the ultimate performance and a decent laptop for when you’re traveling and need to capture ideas on the go.
However, most musicians don’t have the luxury to go with both. So the answer is: it depends.
It really comes down to your needs and preferences as a musician. If you need portability above all else and are on a tight budget, go with a laptop. If you have a bit more money to spend and you value performance and upgradeability, go with a desktop.
Either way, you’ll be able to produce great music. Though it can get frustrating and annoying to work on a machine that can’t keep up with your projects, remember that the most important part of music production is the music, not the equipment. So don’t get too caught up in the technical details, and don’t get discouraged if you can’t justify investing a lot of money for a new expensive computer—just create and have fun!
Bonus: Components to look for
Whether you choose a laptop or desktop for music production, here’s which components matter the most.
The CPU is probably the most vital component since almost all calculations and tasks in your DAW are handled by your processor. Even though plugin and DAW developers have come a long way regarding multi-threaded performance, more cores don’t necessarily mean more performance for music production. What you should really pay attention to is the average clock speed. Generally, anything with 4-8 cores and clock speeds above 3 GHz is ideal. Note that CPU performance can vastly differ from laptop to desktop.
RAM is another essential component for music production since the RAM handles any synth and effect plugins that are not processed in real-time. So this includes any samples and loops and sample-based instruments like Kontakt. If you rely on that, don’t cheap out on RAM. Generally, you can get away with 8GB of ram if you’re on a lower budget, though 16GB is more ideal. 32GB and above would be optimal and plenty for most use cases.
The graphics card is one aspect where you can save a lot of money if you get a laptop or desktop for music production. Unless you also plan to do some video editing or gaming on the same machine, you can easily get away with a cheaper graphics card or even no GPU at all. A lot of processors nowadays have integrated graphics, which are more than enough for just music production purposes. If you go with a custom desktop, this is something you can entirely skip at first and then add/upgrade later when needed.
Storage depends on your sample library size and how many plugins with big preset banks you own. If you’re on a lower budget, you can get away with 500GB of storage, though 1TB is definitely more ideal. But it depends—some producers need 2TB and some even 4TB of storage.
There are also different types of storage: HDD, SSD, and M.2 NVME. HDD is typically the slowest but, therefore, the cheapest. SSD sits nicely in the middle with good speeds and medium prices. On the other hand, M.2 NVME drives are definitely the best but also the most expensive option. If you have the money, go with a big M.2 drive to load up all your plugins and samples blazing fast. If you’re on a tighter budget, try to get a small M.2 drive or SSD and pair it with a big and cheap HDD if you need the extra storage.
Don’t forget the ports on your new machine. If all you hook up to your workstation is a USB audio interface, this is probably not a big factor. However, if you have a lot of equipment, like analog gear, controllers, and more, you want to ensure that your laptop or desktop for music production has enough ports to connect everything. Also, assure you have the correct ports since not every USB port is a USB3.0 port, and not every USB-C port is a Thunderbolt port.
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