Best DAW Laptop in 2020

Finding the perfect centerpiece for your DAW setup is hard. There are so many variables that come into play when choosing the best DAW laptop for your studio – and there are so many choices nowadays, from so many different manufacturers that the task of picking something out can seem a little daunting.

However, it is not. You just need a very clear and complete list of desired parameters to help you sift through the pile. In this article we will be going through everything you should look for in a laptop for your DAW and then look at a few suitable candidates. Also keep in mind that there are no perfect choices – for every budget there are better choices than others but it all comes down to what you will be doing with your DAW – if you just want to record some audio and edit it for a podcast, for example, you aren’t going to need the fastest most powerful laptop on the market for obvious reasons.

However if you plan on having 80 tracks in a project, with video and a lot of processing, effects and virtual instruments, I suggest you look towards the (very) high-end part of what the market has to offer.


What To Look For in the Best DAW Laptop?

All major DAW have minimum system requirements specification sheets that can show you the minimal specs that your laptop should have in order to run the program properly. Anything better than the exact minimal specifications will, of course run better. Let’s take a look at a bunch of minimum system requirements for several major DAW programs:

Ableton Live is the best daw for electronic music production
Ableton Live

Ableton Live

Windows:

  • PC with Windows 7 (with SP 1), Windows 8 or Windows 10
  • Multicore processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 1024×768 display
  • DVD drive or broadband internet connection for installation

Mac:

  • Intel® Mac with Mac OS X 10.7 or later
  • Multicore processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 1024×768 display
  • DVD drive or broadband internet connection for installation

Disk Space:

Required disk space for basic installation:

  • 3GB free disk space

Required disk space if all included sounds are installed:

  • Live 9 Suite: 55 GB free disk space
  • Live 9 Standard: 12 GB free disk space
  • Live 9 Intro: 6 GB free disk space

Legacy OS compatibility:

Live 9 is compatible with the legacy operating systems Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6, Windows XP and Vista only up to version Live 9.1.10. Live 9.2 and later is not compatible with Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6, Windows XP and Vista.

Pro Tools

Pro Tools.

Windows:

  • Intel® PC with Windows 7 64-bit (Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate Editions),
    Windows 8/8.1 64-bit (Standard and Pro Editions) or Windows 10 64-bit (Enterprise, Pro, or Home Editions)
  • Intel® Core i5 processor
  • 8GB RAM (16GB or more recommended)
  • Internet connection for installation
  • 15GB disk space for installation
  • USB-port for iLok authorization (iLok 2 or iLok 3 required)
  • USB-port or FireWire-port for ASIO-supported audio device
  • Supports 64-bit AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools

Mac:

  • Intel® Mac with Mac OS X 10.8.5 (only supported below Pro Tools 12.5), 10.9.5, 10.10.5, 10.11.6 or 10.12.2 (only supported with Pro Tools 12.7 and above)
  • Intel® Core i5 processor
  • 8GB RAM (16GB or more recommended)
  • Internet connection for installation
  • 15GB disk space for installation
  • USB-port for iLok authorization (iLok 2 or iLok 3 required)
  • USB-port, FireWire-port or Thunderbolt-port for CoreAudio-supported audio device
  • Supports 64-bit AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools

Cubase

Cubase

Mac / Windows:

  • OS X 10.11 / macOS Sierra64-Bit  / Windows 7 / 8.x / 10
  • 64-bit Intel or AMD multi-core processor (Intel i5 or faster recommended)
  • 4 GB RAM (8 GB or more recommended)
  • 18 GB free HD space
  • 1366 x 768 display resolution (1920 x 1080 recommended)
  • Graphics card with DirectX 10 and WDDM 1.1 support (Windows only)
  • USB port for USB-eLicenser (license management)

What is the Best Setup?

By looking at these specs it is safe to say that a DAW laptop needs three things: storage space, decent RAM memory and a bit of number crunching power in the shape of a powerful CPU. I think a good baseline for these three important components is: at least 250 GB of storage, 4 GB of RAM (or more) and a multi-core processor like an Intel i5 or better.

Also, a very important thing for DAW laptops is to have great connectivity in the form of ports: USB, FireWire, Thunderbolt, eSATA, etc.. Depending on what audio interface you plan using you should check what kind of connectivity it needs. Also, think toward the future – maybe you will want to buy something better, or just different some day, so having more options in connectivity is relevant for a DAW laptop.

My DAW laptop, for example, is an Acer running Windows 10, with and i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 250 GB SSD. You might be thinking: “wow, so pretty much minimal specs” – yeah, pretty much, with the exception of the SSD which really helps – I really recommend either buying a laptop with an SSD or buying an installing an SSD instead of the internal HDD.

Optimization of your DAW laptop is really important too. What I mean by this is how you use you DAW laptop really affects performance – in an ideal situation you won’t keep anything but your DAW and plug-ins on your DAW laptop; all your sessions, libraries and everything else should be stored on an external hard drive. Also, reducing all graphical effects of the OS UI will have a good impact on performance. A full optimization guideline can be found here.


The Best Laptop for your DAW

If you are a Windows user then one of the best laptops your money could buy for your DAW is this:

Dell XPS 15 7590 Review

It sports an i7 6 core processor which will take anything you throw at it, 16 GB of DDR4 RAM, GeForce FTX 1650 4GB GDDR5, and a 1TB SSD – which will be enough for all you music production activities for sure. Also, buying a system like this guarantees that your investment will pass the test of time. What I mean is that new software and advances won’t make your system obsolete in a few years. So, it is very likely that a workhorse like the Dell XPS will be by your side for years to come. It is one of the few laptops out there that have both Thunderbolt ports and USB 3.0 so connectivity is fantastic too on this machine.

Dell XPS 15 7590

If you are a Mac user, you will probably want to buy this machine:

New 16″ Apple Macbook Pro Review

It is basically the Mac counterpart of the Dell XPS. It has a very powerful Intel i9 processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. It also features both Thunderbolt ports and USB 3.0 ports so you will be able to connect most audio interfaces available on the market – with the exception of FireWire audio interface of course. But that still leaves you with a plethora of option from all major audio interface manufacturers.

Macbook Pro 16in


Final Thoughts

The products we presented above are obviously some of the best products on the market, and the price tag reflects that. If you are on a budget, just use the minimal specifications we mentioned as a baseline and your budget as filters and try to find the best DAW laptop that’s closest to your available budget.

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