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fallenturtle

Laptop recommendations for use with Cakewalk

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Hi looking to buy a new laptop that will be used for music production. I've been reading a lot about many if not most laptops having DPC Latency issues and considering Cakewalk is my DAW of choice I thought I'd ask if anyone here had experience good or bad with particular models/brands. FWIW, I'm using a Steinberg UR22 audio interface (USB 2).

Thanks!

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Unless the reason for the laptop is mobility, you might want to consider a desktop or a tower instead....

i7 or i9 4 core or above CPU, 16 to 32gb ram and SSDs all round.  Try for a dedicated graphics card as some plugins use the GPU for their GUIs.

Having it configured property for DAW use is actually more important that the hardware these days.

Edited by Promidi

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My current laptop is way overkill - Dell Alienware 17 R5, with a 17" screen, M.2 SATA III boot drive, and a 1 TB HDD data drive.  It has an Intel CPU, 16 GB, and Thunderbolt 3 support and port on its back panel.  It was $1,999 prior to my upgrades to it, which included swapping out the original M.2 SATA III drive, and replacing it with a 2 TB M.2 2280 NVME PCIe drive, which transmits data ridiculously fast.  I also swapped out the original 1 TB HDD, and put in a 2 TB SSD.  Altogether, it ran about $3200 - you do NOT need something that over the top, to successfully run Cakewalk on a laptop.  Just thought I would indicate something from the upper end, for reference.

I have had laptops with i5 Intel CPU's work just fine, as well as some with AMD CPU's (don't recall the CPU model, but it was on par with the i5 Intel CPU), so something with that level of CPU or better, will work.  

You also will want a minimum of 8 GB, with 16 GB being a much better option.  I could have upgraded my Dell to 32 GB, but have not found memory to be a bottleneck, nor did I on prior laptops running with 16 GB.

For hard drives - ideally, your laptop would have support for 2 disk drives - one as a boot drive, and the other for your sample libraries, though this isn't essential, it IS VERY helpful to have 2 drives.

Whether or not you have 1 or 2 disk drives, shoot for either an HDD spinning at 7,200 rpm, or go for a solid-state drive (SSD), as their seek times are much zippier, though the data throughput is still limited to the SATA III protocol.

If your laptop has the support for either 1 or 2 M.2 drives - it should support either the M.2 SATA III types or the M.2 2280 NVME PCIe drives (fastest, by a lot), and should also support a standard additional SATA III drive, which means you could have either 2 or 3 drives, which means you would have to choose which to use as a boot drive, and which to have as a data drive (or 2 data drives and a boot drive if you can have 3 drives).

Sample libraries benefit greatly, from being stored on a regular SATA III solid-state drive, and they absolutely ADORE being stored on an M.2 2280 NVME PCIe drive, which is a special kind of solid-state drive, with a data transfer protocol that is not limited to the standard 500 MB/sec of SATA III, but it limited only by the technology of the drive manufacture itself.  You can buy M.2 2280 NVME PCIe drives that have read AND write speeds of up to 3.5 GB/sec.

Some laptops have interference with streaming audio, because of their WiFi drivers, but if so, you can resolve that by temporarily disabling the WiFi drivers right before launching your Cakewalk session, and enabling it again once you finish with the Cakewalk session.

So, a decent mid-range or better CPU, 16 GB memory, and decent hard drive(s), and your laptop will handle CbB just fine.

Bob Bone 

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You can, however, get MUCH more bang for your buck with a desktop, as components are cheaper for desktops, versus laptops, other than disk drives, which for 2.5" drives, are identical. So, I agree with the above comments, by @Promidi, about the price of a desktop being cheaper than a comparable laptop, unless you need the mobility of a laptop.

Bob Bone

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If you’re going with a laptop, also consider screen size and ventilation.  Laptops notoriously run hot (restricted by design).  I’d recommend getting a cooling tray for it.  They’re not expensive, and run off USB power.  It makes a huge difference with my laptop.

In terms of screen size, I say that because you may find the need to add a second screen depending on the size laptop you buy.  Mine isn’t very large, so I have a 22” monitor hooked up to it.

SMD

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I recently purchased a Lenovo P72 which has an i7-8750H, three drive bays (two M.2 PCIe and one SATA) and only 16GB of memory.  It also has four USB type A ports with two Thunderbolt ports which is just enough for my peripherals (including my sound cards).  I bought it just a couple of months before the next version was released (the P73) so I got it for $1,630.00 (with just one drive, an M.2), but would have costs me $1330 if I didn't splurge for the 4K monitor/screen.  That 4K was not really necessary and certainly not needed for a DAW, so I made a mistake there.  It is a 17" and a perfect fit for my setup.  This laptop is not bulky like a gamer laptop too.

The current versions (P53 15" and P73 17") have 9th gen CPUs, better graphic cards, but only three USB type A ports (with two TB ports).  The base prices are $1620 and $1770 respectively. 

Kind regards,

tecknot

Edited by tecknot

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Thanks everyone for the feedback. Some background: I currently use in my home office (I work from home) a Windows desktop and a Macbook Pro provided by my employer. I had previously been using the desktop for music production, but also as my household file server, and in general what I use to play back music and podcasts while working. The Macbook was my daily driver and I used it for work, but also personal projects (photography/graphic design/web development). It was also my surfing the web machine since it was portable so I could undock it and take it with me upstairs at the end of the day. My employer has recently made us sign a contract that says anything developed on company hardware is the intellectual property of the company, so I need a new laptop for my personal projects. To avoid operating too many computers and also save electricity, my plan is to move the server stuff into a dedicated low power headless server and get a windows laptop for my daily driver, personal projects, and I had hoped, music production. Because of the photo and graphic design stuff, the computer I get needs to also have a screen that covers close to 100% the sRGB spectrum.

I guess now I'm wondering if this is just going to be a fools errand. When actually doing recording, the computer will be plugged in and connected to the external Steinberg UR22 (I am aware that I may need to upgrade to thunderbolt based external audio solution, but hopefully not). But then I was hoping to be able to open up Cakewalk (so weird calling it Cakewalk again after calling it Sonar for so long) when not in my office to be able to work on midi and other audio bits through the internal audio hardware. I'm not expecting high fidelity when in this remote mode, but it would be nice if I could playback with my VSTs and audio tracks without pops and dropouts. I don't know if its better in CbB, but I guess I'll have to deal with remapping my audio channels when switching between audio hardware but maybe this is easier these days.

This DPC latency is my biggest concern. I understand it can be helped a lot by turning off a punch of features in one's laptop, but I wish there was some sort of rule of thumb regarding chipsets, CPU, and maker to help determine which laptops to avoid. I was considering an MSI as I saw that some people had good results with them for music, but then I started finding other people who were having performance issues with them for music. The Dell XPS 15 is also an odd duck. It seems to be one of the more popular laptops for audio production but is also notorious for DPC latency issues with conflicting reports all over the place regarding if its been fixed or not.

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My advice would be to avoid Dell laptops - I recently bought a Dell Latitude 5480 with an  i7 7820HQ thinking it'd be just the job. It's a lovely laptop, but useless for music production. DPC latency is terrible, and nothing I change in the config will make it usable for music production. Researching it, it seemed pretty much all newish dell laptops have the same problem. Dell promised to fix the DPC on the the XPS 15, but as far as i know they never released any updates that truly made it better - the newest incarnation may be better, but I'd be ultra cautious buying dell unless you can get a reliable DPC result before buying.

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16 minutes ago, Matthew Carr said:

My advice would be to avoid Dell laptops - I recently bought a Dell Latitude 5480 with an  i7 7820HQ thinking it'd be just the job. It's a lovely laptop, but useless for music production. DPC latency is terrible, and nothing I change in the config will make it usable for music production. Researching it, it seemed pretty much all newish dell laptops have the same problem. Dell promised to fix the DPC on the the XPS 15, but as far as i know they never released any updates that truly made it better - the newest incarnation may be better, but I'd be ultra cautious buying dell unless you can get a reliable DPC result before buying.

+

Do NOT buy DELL XPS or other DELL "slim" toys. Not only my XPS has bad latency, after some BIOS update fan on the left side always spinning. With the latest BIOS update Linux can not run at all. Complete BIOS downgrade is not possible. Noisy like hell (fans, some electrical cracking inside notebook and power supply) peace of crap...

 

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19 minutes ago, scook said:

The safest bet for a laptop is one made for DAW use like these.

I wonder if one can just get a laptop that uses the same chipset if that would be sufficient.... or are they writing their own custom drivers?

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I am sure you could build your own if money is more of an issue than time and support.

Could call @Jim Roseberry (it is his site) and discuss your needs.

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Well, other than the cost, I added several expensive upgrades, detailed in my earlier post, my Dell Alienware 17 R5 laptop is a music production beast, and has given me zero issues.  I have, however, had PREVIOUS Dell laptops that were constantly having to have things fixed - fortunately, I always had next-day onsite service contracts with Dell, for those, and one laptop - 11 years back, had pretty much every component on it repaired under that service contract, but again, my current Alienware 17 R5 laptop runs like a champ - doing heavy-duty lifting for live performance and for remote recording sessions.

By the way, though I use a UAD Arrow Thunderbolt 3 audio interface with that laptop, I DO also own a couple of other audio interfaces, one of which is the Yamaha/Steinberg UR-22, and that thing runs solid - without ever having any problems, ever, so other than not too many inputs, it DOES work quite fine for remote projects, so not to worry about it working well with whatever desktop or laptop you end up with.

Bob Bone

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That's awesome that you've had to results with the Alienware. Unfortunately the panel in the Alienware 17 R5 only have 86% sRGB coverage so it is subpar for visual work. I think I'll probably have to buy a laptop that by specs seems like it won't have issue, and if it does have issues, get a USB 2.0 switch and share my UR22 between a music prod only desktop and the new laptop (I intentionally use the UR22 and my studio monitors for listening to music to help train my ears for mixing).

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2 hours ago, scook said:

I am sure you could build your own if money is more of an issue than time and support.

Could call @Jim Roseberry (it is his site) and discuss your needs.

+1 ^^^

My next PC is coming from him. Easy choice. Much respect.

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I would consider a custom audio laptop, but I'm not pro, its just a hobby and my music is terrible.... so I can't justify the premium. I am curious of the sRGB coverage of their screens.

Edited by fallenturtle

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Having the same CPU and Chipset (alone) does not mean equal performance.

The issue with most off-the-shelf laptops (and desktops for that matter) is that they don't expose BIOS parameters necessary to achieve low/consistent DPC Latency.

The lower the latency you want to run (smaller ASIO buffer size), the more critical it is to have low/consistent DPC Latency.

 

I'd avoid a laptop... unless you absolutely need the portability for travel.

A custom desktop has none of the limitations/issues... and is less expensive for significantly higher performance.

You can get custom laptops that run a Desktop CPU, but they're expensive ($2500+).

Edited by Jim Roseberry

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Thanks for the input. The reason I'm hoping for  a laptop over a desktop is that I just have so many computers in my home already and if I need to get a laptop for personal work so that I can stop using my employers, I want to replace the desktop I use in my office (actually turn it into a low-power server).

My music is one of those things that I work on as a hobby maybe a few times a month so I can't justify a computer that's expensive due to its ability to be a music machine. My current plan is to get a laptop that has a good screen for my graphic work, but that also has low DPC latency based on the tests found on notebookcheck.com. And then at the same time accepting that if I can't get the performance I need out of it I'll just have to settle with turning my old desktop (which is my music production computer plus household server) into a better music production machine and having an additional computer for the server bits. Ironically my current music desktop failed the LatencyMon test pretty badly, so I guess I've been producing on a pile of garbage the whole time!

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On 11/7/2019 at 2:08 PM, fallenturtle said:

That's awesome that you've had to results with the Alienware. Unfortunately the panel in the Alienware 17 R5 only have 86% sRGB coverage so it is subpar for visual work. I think I'll probably have to buy a laptop that by specs seems like it won't have issue, and if it does have issues, get a USB 2.0 switch and share my UR22 between a music prod only desktop and the new laptop (I intentionally use the UR22 and my studio monitors for listening to music to help train my ears for mixing).

I don't know what 86% of sRGB coverage does to me, adversely.  I am not running any kind of graphics intensive applications - I just wanted the performance and the storage.  And, I only provided the info on it as an example of some of the options that are out there - as well as indicating one does not need to lay out that kind of cash for a laptop that would work fine running CbB.  I think a desktop is definitely the better choice, other than for mobility.

Bob Bone

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