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Matt Burnside

Laptop vs Desktop

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Hi Guys,

I'm maybe looking at increasing the spec of my main audio work station or adding a laptop for on site recording as well. Is anyone running CbB on a laptop and what spec is it? Ideally would be able to handle a lot more than my current rig which is listed below. Any information is much appreciated.

Also life cycle on laptop vs desktop? I don't think I've ever owned a laptop that didn't become sluggish after a couple of years although it's a while since I last bought one.

Gigabyte F2A88XM-D3HP
AMD A10-7870K Radeon R7
16 GB DDR3 RAM 
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Kingston SV300S37A
Windows 10

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I use it on a 15 year old laptop with 4 gb of ram for capturing live recordings.

At home i use a desktop built by purrfect audio.

https://studiocat.com/

Edited by Gswitz

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In general, a desktop is always going to be faster than a laptop. Desktop top CPU speeds will always top laptop CPU speeds, as laptops can't dissipate the heat like desktops can.

In saying that, a good high end laptop will be fine.

I've got an Asus ROG-GL552VW gaming laptop with an  i7 6700HQ (2.6GHz with 3.5GHz turbo), and I've yet to create a project which causes it issues. It's performance is easily on par with my i5 3570 desktop running at 3.4GHz.

Note I chose this particular laptop for a reason: it's successor had absolutely no expansion capabilities. You couldn't even change the battery. This is a common issue with laptops, so beware. You'll want at least 16GB of RAM, so if the laptop doesn't come with it, make sure you're able to upgrade it.

Also pay attention to the number of cores. Just because it says it's an i7, on a laptop this doesn't automatically mean it's got 4 cores/8 threads.

For example, the i7 6500U has only 2 cores and 4 threads, whereas the  i7 6700HQ has 4 cores / 8 threads. The downside of course, is that the ones with more cores have a pretty poor battery life (mine lasts 60 to 90 minutes if I'm lucky). 

Finally, you're going to be limited in the number of USB ports on a laptop. A USB hub may help in some instances, but you certainly don't want your audio interface running through a hub... oh an be careful with iLok's sticking out of the side of your laptop - they're very easily knocked, and may damage your USB port.

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Laptops are easy to relocate and use on the go. But a desktop will always be easier to repair, easier to expand and easier to use.

I used a laptop for a good portion of 2010/2011.  Heat became an issue when I would run intense projects with lots of plug ins. I did have a fan/cooler to sit my laptop on but it did little. I have used a Desktop for the better part of my recordings since digital audios inception. I have built many PC's (including the one im using now) have built both AMD and Intel based Desktops. IMO, and this is only my opinion, Intel wins the race when it comes to using Sonar/Bandlab. AMD is probably better in the gaming scene and for the price, hell that's why I built one. Paid under 200 bucks for an 8 core bulldozer back in 2014 or so. But when I moved to an Intel, I saw increase loading, increased processing and increased stability.

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I don't use a lappy intensively for recording. It's more of a portable rig, yet still does nicely for project work. Heck I even loaded Komplete on it. 

Most people buy laptops for more practical reasons as opposed to sheer function .vs a desktop.  Portability being one of the top reasons.

Most laptops are a trade off in portability for performance. The closest you can come to desktop performance is using a high end or gamer model laptops. Not all of those are created equal. A misleading thing about gamer laptops is that a product line has the same name but there are models in that line with different specs. i.e.......when I bought mine there was the same one at Best Buy that only had one hard drive instead of two and less memory. 

I wanted

-two hard drives minimum, SSD both fast speeds. No 5400 rpm spinners!

-at least 16gb of memory

-fast i7 cpu. i5 will do it for most but I was adamant. 

Some added advantages were

-a DVD/CD drive (Not all lappys have them now)

-a nice high end video card

-expansion capability

-M2 slot

-HDMI video output

-multiple usb ports

I think I put my laptop on my sig.

The most important thing though is to  Look at the specs.

 

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Thanks for all your comments guys and mirroring what I already had in my head, sometimes you just need some people to agree.

Idea eventually is to take out a live rig so do really need a laptop setup as well that can handle basic mixes and such. Is anyone using CbB for live performance and what's the minimum you would want to run for this kind of application? 

Thanks
Matt

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Just my opinion of course, but the only advantage that laptops have is portability. If that's not important to you, stay with a desktop. Many advantages, as have already been reported here.

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Maybe even look on Ebay for a used Lenovo Thinkpad laptop. Most of them can be upgraded with memory and hard-drive and keep desktop too.

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I happen to have a Dell Alienware 17 R5 laptop, that I picked out of looking at several, because it had Thunderbolt 3 port, and it had support for M.2 2280 NVME drives (2), plus a 2nd hard drive.  I picked up a UAD Apollo Arrow audio interface, which uses Thunderbolt 3, which transfers at up to 40 Gbps, which is insanely fast.  (it have only 2 mic/line inputs, and 1 Hi-Z input, but that is fine for both my performing and mobile recording needs - I can always use my Presonus 1818VSL interface and the expansion unit for it, to give me 16 mic/line inputs if needed - usually that would be for drums).

The laptop is primarily used for live performance (I am a keyboard player and all my sounds live in the computer and are triggered by me playing on midi controllers).

Anyways - they also make a version of the Alienware laptop with a 15.6" screen, rather than the 17" mine has, in case you wanted to save some cash.

This laptop is way more capable than is actually needed, however it is insanely fast, and easily meets my needs.

Bob Bone

 

For live performance 

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Matt can to tell us a bit more about what you intend for the live rig? The  computer you'll need will vary based on that info.

If you're  running pre made backing tracks on one channel or only  few channels and playing to a click you don't really need a powerful computer for that. You would want a reliable one though in any case.

If you have 24 plus tracks and plan to play vsti live through CbB, then yeah, just to be safe I would get something fairly powerful. If playing samples put them on the 2nd hard drive.Any soft synth is going to load up the works, plus then you have to make sure the latency is low enough to play live meaning a fast round trip through the computer and into the interface outputs. In contrast, playing audio tracks already frozen in CbB isn't going to put as much strain on the computer. You can play LOTS of audio tracks ok on most decent computers. For any live work you need to disable any automatic maint. things that might start during a performance and cause issues. Virus software is a well known power hog doing "automatic" clean ups of similar when you least expect it.All of that should be disabled for performances.

For the live player it isn't usually inputs you need since you've already put stuff ITB. It's outputs. Most interfaces only have several. If you send multi track to FOH or your personal PA system then something like this beats most interfaces for that task because it focuses on outputs rather than inputs-  https://loopcommunity.com/en-us/track-rig

 

 

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I'm using laptops. Find it convenient to move the main part of the studio around. The portability of it. 
Been running CbB on and i5 with 8 GB Memory fairly well. Note I'm mostly using VST's with low CPU load, 
when the project load get to intense and near max CPU load. Noise from the Cooling fan really becomes an issue.

For a future high performance system I will probably go for a Desktop system, with special care taken regarding 
cooling related noise under max system load.

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Thanks again for all the comments and help guys.

In live terms I can't see it being too intensive, maybe using the sampling and a live arrangement of pre recorded sounds but most of our live sound is live analogue synths so they will just go in to my mixer.

I had wondered if my current laptop might be okay so I can free up funds to improve the desktop.

Current laptop is

Intel Core i3-5010U @ 2.10GHz

12Gb RAM

Windows 10

 

 

 

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I would say try to load your project up on it and see if the computer can handle it  first. You'll need a time keeper if using it for band sync. So a click and some audio tracks? That shouldn't be too demanding. Sampling is even easier if you have the computer tied to midi pads running one soft sampler. You're basically just reaching over and hitting pads when you want the samples. 

Another option for anyone using a lower spec lappy is to use only midi and send it to a sound module if running lots of tracks. I would just make sure the module or modules can handle the additional polyphony. Most laptops now though should be capable to run a basic setup. 

Give it a shot, see what happens.

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If you're after maximum performance, you're better off with a desktop.

With a desktop, you can run the new i9-9900k with all 8 cores locked at 5GHz... and with the right air-cooler, it runs near dead-silent.

 

If you absolutely need portability, then you have to live with the performance trade-off of a laptop.

You can get custom laptops that run a desktop CPU.  These are as close as you'll get to desktop performance.

They're large and expensive... and battery life is relatively short (when set to maximum performance).

 

Basically, everything you setup in a DAW for maximum performance works against long battery life.

Put another way, the tweaks that enable long battery life will rob the machine of DAW performance.

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On 6/1/2019 at 3:28 PM, Matt Burnside said:

 

Current laptop is

 

Intel Core i3-5010U @ 2.10GHz

12Gb RAM

Windows 10

 

 

 

With laptops, it's mainly the hard drives (or lack thereof) that cause problems for most users. Chuck at least a couple of SSD's in there and your good to go. Even 1 ssd for OS and a 7200rpm for recording will be fine. If you can only run one hardrive in your laptop, I wouldn't be bothered with it. The factory hard drive might be 5400 rpm which is the pits for music production. You might be able to get a caddy for it and swap out the DVD drive for a second hard drive.

The beauty of upgrading the hard drives is that if it doesn't work out and you think you might need a laptop with a bigger processor, you can always put the old hard drive back in your current laptop and move the hard drives with you to your new laptop.

 

 

Edited by Tezza

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Faster drives (SSD) will net you more tracks and more disk-streaming polyphony from sample-libraries... but faster drives *will not* increase processing power (meaning realtime processing/EFX).

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Battery life on a powerful laptop is critical but unless you are recording an accoustic performance in an open field,there is usually a power socket nearby?

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