One of the many things the advent of personal computing has revolutionized is music production. No longer are artists confined to studios with large, dense, analog equipment.
Digital technology allows you to do the same work from your very own notebook, wherever you please.
Buying a laptop for music production is akin to choosing an audio interface. You will be living with what you have, with little room for improvement. For this reason, it is a good idea to go in with as high a budget as you can afford, particularly if you are a professional.
Choosing a good laptop is not too hard, but it is critical you select the right one.
The biggest choice and one that will affect all your hardware and software purchase decisions are whether to get a PC or a Mac. It is something that boils down to personal preference, as not all software and plugins run on both platforms.
Ultimately, though, both camps offer some excellent choices.
That said, we’ll be focusing on Windows 10 machines for music production. The full spectrum — those good old traditional notebooks, a few gaming laptops, some powerful ultrabooks, and a 2-in-1 hybrid system thrown in between for those that seek portability.
Top Tips for Buyers
- Decide early on what kind of portability you want to find. If you don’t see yourself moving too much and taking your laptop with you, then opt for a DTR (desktop replacement) laptop. Otherwise, a thin and light machine will do the trick.
- The screen is the biggest drain on a battery. A 4K screen, for example, drains your battery twice as fast. Stick with the Full HD resolution for the perfect balance of visuals and battery life.
- Ideally, your chosen laptop should offer enough expandability for future. Notebooks that allow for easy RAM and SSD upgrades are always preferable than the ones that don’t.
What to Look in a Music Production Laptop?
Choosing a good laptop for music production simply boils down to a few important factors. The first is the software you are using. The main DAW (digital audio workstation) will have a lot of say in your choice, as you will be building off of that.
Secondly, of course, you will need to solve the performance puzzle.
Push as far as you can for on CPU, RAM, and storage. An Intel Core i5 processor is the minimum you want to go for, but a Core i7 is much better. And the more the RAM, the merrier, to load up your VST intensive projects with lots of tracks and effects. 8GB is the bare minimum, 32GB ideal.
A large SSD is an absolute necessity if you want to work fast and store all your samples and projects. That, or a dual storage notebook, with an M.2 SSD for the operating system, and traditional hard drive for software and stuff.
Ports? You need them to be of the right type and amount; else you’ll end up juggling hubs. Make sure they are USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. The newest versions of both, for the fastest data transfer speeds. It pays to think forward here.
And finally, if you work long hours, you need to factor in comfort.
A high-resolution screen that is clear and bright that makes staring at your DAW a pleasant experience. Efficient heat management, so that the machine does not get warm to touch or hold. A backlit keyboard is compulsory for premium laptops, and a comfortable trackpad an apparent necessity.
Thin and Light, or Gaming Beasts?
For all the reason listed above, a decently priced gaming machine is well worth considering — if only for the raw power, performance, and build quality that most offer. These also come with the souped up graphics card, and some modern DAWs do make use of GPU processing.
On the other side, you have ultrabooks. Although thin and light was originally a niche market, the industry is now rapidly moving towards the slim form factor, with manufacturers shaving off millimeters to lay the claim to the thinnest in town.
But the great thing is that that these newer, thin and light machines usually provide the best blend of optimum design, power delivery, and performance. Consumers now want laptops that are more than just enough for daily computing — they want devices that last all day, and perform well in processing heavy tasks.
So, if you travel a lot, and want to produce music on the go, then you need several highly portable options pack in the desired levels of power for you to choose.
Best Laptops for Music Production - Summary
Screen Size Inches
Battery Life in Hours
Core i7 7500U
GeForce GTX 940MX
Core i7 7700HQ
GeForce GTX 1060
Core i7 7500U
Intel HD 620
Core i7 7300HQ
GeForce GTX 1050Ti
Core i7 6700 HQ
GeForce GTX 960M
Core i7 7700HQ
GeForce GTX 1060
Core i7 7500U
Intel HD 520
Core i7 7500U
GeForce GTX 940MX
Core i5 7300HQ
GeForce GTX 1050Ti
Core i5 6300U
Intel HD 520
Our own battery test involves continuous web surfing over WiFi, at 50% screen brightness with a playlist of song playing.
LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE
Windows Application Benchmarks
A series of tests including office tasks, image editing, and video encoding that give an overall score.
LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE
We finally get to the contenders! As mentioned above, we have opted cover the full spectrum here, from basic everyday budget options to gaming rigs, a few 2-in-1 hybrid machines, some thin and light models, and the sleekest of them all, ultrabooks.
We ensure that this list covers all the price ranges. All the laptops listed below make use of the latest processors and components, which makes them future proof as well. Long story short, these are some of the best laptops for music production that are available on the market right now.
With all that said, let’s get down and make some music.
1. Dell Inspiron 15
If you could do with a workhorse, then there is none better than the Inspiron line that Dell has going. Although billed as an affordable gaming laptop, the Inspiron 15 7567 packs in a lot of power for the intermediate music producer.
And it does so, looking good.
The laptop has a 15.6-inch display with latest Intel Kaby Lake Core i5 processor and NVIDIA 1050 Ti GPU. So performance is snappy at all times. You also get an extended battery life, upwards of 5 hours of relatively moderate use.
And even though the build is high and stable, the machine is heavy, not exactly the one you will want to be traveling with frequently. But the biggest downer is the display that is neither vibrant nor accurate. A factor that weighs in very negatively for this Inspiron 15 that otherwise gets most things right.
It is possible to get the TN panel replaced with an IPS screen on this one if you want.
However, if the music is your primary focus, and you want a machine that does the heavy lifting, without spending too much, then this Dell creation is worth a consider, with prices starting at the $799 mark.
2. Dell XPS 15
If money is no issue, and you want a stylish laptop capable enough for creative work or professional use, then the XPS series is just about the sleekest machine you can get your hands on right now. No slight build here, the latest XPS 15 9550 rivals Apple MacBooks when it comes to quality.
The most striking and noticeable element this side of the thin profile is the excellent borderless display that is right up there at the top when it comes to screen quality. The touch deck below is also notably improved than most budget laptops, and will grow on you the more you use it.
Now, the price is the biggest consideration here.
The entry-level model only gets you the 7th generation Intel Core i3 processors. That’s $999. But leveling up to $1,249 ups it to a Core i5 chip. The traditional 7200 RPM hard disk included in the base model is fine for music production, but higher end models bring in SSDs into play.
Luckily, RAM on every model is upgradeable to 32GB, making whatever you pick an ideal choice. Connectivity should not be an issue, either, with plenty of ports, including USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt for speedy transfers.
What you’re paying for with the XPS is the build and component quality. It is pricier than other laptops that deliver better performance. But if the style is your thing, and you want the best in build quality, then this is where things come together nicely.
3. Lenovo Legion Y520
Legion is the new gaming lineup from Lenovo, and the Y520 is an impressive little creation that would be perfect for any music production workload you throw at it. And a starting price of just $919, makes this laptop an excellent choice for budget-conscious buyers.
The RAM may only be upgradable to 16GB, but performance is overall good with the latest Core i5 processor and a NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti graphics chip. Upgrades to higher tiers are reasonably affordable, too.
Storage choices are plenty, too, ranging from a 256GB SSD to a hybrid configuration with 2TB HDD. The hard disk is a slow spinner, but it’s quite adequate for storing your instrument VSTs and samples, while the OS resides on the speedier SSD.
Dual 2W Harman speakers with Dolby Audio premium are an icing on this perfect cake!
The buttery smooth performance combined with an excellent price make the Lenovo Legion Y520 a spectacular choice for music producers. You do get limited on the memory and storage side of things and will have to settle for a plastic build, but there is little else to fault here at this price.
4. HP Spectre x360
The 2017 model of the Spectre x360 continues on the good work of previous models in this lineup of small yet very sturdily-built machines. However, this one is best suited for music producers that find themselves traveling a lot, and want work done while away from their desk.
For starters, you will have to sacrifice ports on this laptop. There is only one single USB 3.0 port that you can use for your audio interface or MIDI controller. On the right side, you get another USB Type-C port meant for charging, and a Thunderbolt 3.
Want to connect an external keyboard or mouse? You’ll need to invest in a USB hub.
Other than that, the only other downside of the HP Spectre x360 is its limitation of 16GB of installed RAM capacity. Which should be okay for most audio professionals, but if you work on film scoring or other intensive tasks, then you will miss not having the choice of 32GB.
However, this machine gets everything else right.
Starting with the 7th generation Intel Core i7, a fast 512GB SSD, and a battery configuration that will last you up to 7 hours easy. A 4K display seals the deal, on what is a thin and stylish premium laptop, which offers you all the power you need for all but the most intensive of production tasks.
5. ASUS ZenBook 3
One of the slimmest and most expensive machines on the market right now, the ZenBook 3 UX390UA has that posh, upmarket feel that few Windows 10 laptops can boast. Its thinness will noticeably stand out the moment you take it out its box.
The thin, full metal body not only looks great, but it also catches everyone’s eyes.
But underneath the sleek exterior, this laptop has enough juice to be considered a mobile powerhouse. You get the power of an Intel Core i7 7500U chip that runs in tandem with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage to deliver lightning quick performance no matter the audio production task.
You can even extend its capabilities by connecting an external graphics card board.
If there’s one flaw, it’s the fact that the screen is small at just 12.5 inches.
Since you’ll be using this to run audio editing programs, this either requires you to have perfect eyes or excellent adjustment skills — preferably both. Then again, these are the compromises you have to make if you want to create some tunes while you travel the world.
6. ASUS ROG Strix
Looking for a machine that delivers the performance of a larger, more expensive laptop? Without the bulk? Then the ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS fits the bill. It is a truly portable gaming powerhouse that is right at home with even the most raging music production tasks.
It delivers on portability — measuring only 1.18 inches (30mm) thick. Or thin, what have you.
But inside you get a Core i7 7700HQ processor that is about the best you can get in this class, to go with a neat 16GB of memory and a NVIDIA GTX 1070 graphics card. The 15.6-inch matte screen offers a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and is an IPS-like 120Hz panel with G-Sync.
While the CPU and RAM configuration is ideal for audio editing, the display is gaming perfection!
Regarding connectivity, you get three USB 3.0 ports to go with one USB Type-C. Though sadly, no Thunderbolt, which means you get transfers at 10 Gb/s, instead of the blazing fast 40 Gb/s that is a possibility with Thunderbolt 3.
And as is always the case with performance laptops, battery life is not particularly exceptional. With only a 62WHr battery, the power draw of the GTX 1070 means that you will only get a couple of hours away from the wall.
If you plan on being plugged in all the time when producing music, then this is no big issue.
All these factors, nevertheless, combine to create a beast of a gaming machine, but also one that will breeze through any audio production you put through it. If you’re a music producer and a gamer, then the ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS offers you the best of both worlds.
7. HP Envy x360
A flexible 2-in-1 laptop that is perfect for those looking at options to record audio and produce music on a budget, the HP Envy x360 provides midrange power without weighing down on your wallet. Just don’t expect it to breeze through every power-hungry task you throw at it, and you’re good.
First up, the build quality of this stylishly put together machine.
HP has gone for the sleek and straightforward look. The clean aesthetics go nicely with the slim profile of this device, while the backlit keyboard is perfect for when you are producing audio in a dimly lit environment.
The base model is available for around $649 these days, which is an absolute steal, as it gives you access to a Core i7 processor with 12GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive. All these team up to deliver solid, if unspectacular, performance, and you will have no trouble running most DAWs on this Envy.
The 15.6-inch touchscreen sports a resolution of 1920 x 1080, and the dual B&O PLAY speakers put up a hearty performance. You’ll have to get by with two USB 3.0 ports and a USB 2.0 option, but on the whole, this is one of our best bet if you want to get a capable machine on the cheap.
8. Microsoft Surface Book
If you’re in the market for a 2-in-1 device, then there are few better than the Surface Book. If you are willing to cross the four-figure threshold regarding price, then this detachable will allow you to run all your heavy software, without blinking an eyelid.
For starters, our model had no trouble going nearly 8 hours without requiring a recharge, which is amazing when you consider the powerful components it packs underneath its sleek chassis. Bear in mind that there are two batteries on the Surface Book, divided separately between the clipboard and the base, to allow use as both a tablet and a notebook.
It’s expensive — the Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage means you will have to make some compromises regarding storage and performance, or scale up your budget to get the higher-end models of the Surface Book.
But the unique form factor, excellent display, with a resolution of 3000 x 2000 still make this a great choice for professional music producers that seek a portable device that they can easily carry in, out and around their studio.
9. Acer Aspire R 15
If it’s a midrange convertible hybrid you seek, one that delivers on value, then the Acer Aspire R 15 is vying for your attention. Acer has kept the premium to a minimum on this affordable beast — one that can run with costlier rivals when it comes to performance.
Things start with a stylish construction that gives it a superior look and feel, usually missing on bargain systems. Beyond the aesthetic edge it has, this convertible also packs in some handy features like an embedded fingerprint reader for Windows Hello, and an excellent tactile keyboard that has crisp feedback and a snappy feel.
The 1920 x 1080 touchscreen may not be the brightest around and is prone to reflections in dark areas, but it offers excellent contrast and wide viewing angles. Which is important, considering you can convert this machine from the laptop mode to a tent or tablet mode in an instant.
While this Acer Aspire is well-equipped with ports, it lacks Thunderbolt 3, meaning you will find yourself limited to USB and USB-based docking and storage solutions.
Onto the important matter of performance, then.
The Kaby Lake Core i7 7500U processor with a boost clock speed of up to 3.5GHz delivered a solid all-around performance. Even edging out some of the more powerful Core i7 chips in our PCMark test. There is NVIDIA GeForce 940MX, a wholesome 12GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD.
Battery life was adequate, but nothing to write home about. A time of 6 hours in our moderately heavy usage on a single charge, looks decidedly sub par in this day and age of strange results of 12 hours and beyond.
But overall, the Aspire R 15 acquitted itself capable in our audio editing and rendering tests.
And while its specifications will not set the world on fire, its price is what helps bring this device into focus. At $799, this is a machine that excels at what it sets out to do, and it does so looking good. If you want a convertible, without breaking the bank, then this Acer has it all.
10. Gigabyte Aero 15
You might not expect a company like Gigabyte delivering what near perfection in a laptop meant for power users is, but the Aero 15 is a machine that hits a lot of high notes. From a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU to dual M.2 SSD slots, and a wholesome 32GB of maximum installed RAM capacity.
A beautiful 15.6-inch screen, along with a powerful GeForce GTX 1060 GPU seals the deal.
This last point will lead many to call this a gaming notebook, but what the Gigabyte Aero 15 is, is a powerful, portable machine that can do it all. Even the battery life on this beast is decent, considering all things.
At $1,899, it’s expensive, but factor in all that it gets right, in a reasonably thin and light package, and you are looking at a device that has many plusses, and only a few minutes.
The only real issues we found in our test unit mostly had to do with the keyboard that sometimes had trouble recognizing certain key combinations. And its layout, particularly the numeric keypad, required some getting used.
Then again, you’ll be using this beast of a machine for whipping up tunes, not counting beans!
Beyond that, it starts to make up for its few shortcomings. Starting with a massive number of ports, including a Thunderbolt 3 port that operates at full x4 PCIe speeds. You also have an SD card reader and two USB 3.1 ports.
Our test unit arrived with 16GB of RAM, and doubling it up is just as easy as slotting in an extra SSD drive for more storage space.
Add everything up, and you end up with a laptop that has it all — one that offers the perfect blend of power, portability, design, and expandability, in a moderately priced package. The Gigabyte Aero 15 is the ultimate notebook for a power user, and perhaps the best laptop on the market right now.
Certainly, the best you can get for music production!