There isn’t a subset of laptops designed purely for music production. If you’re looking to produce music while on the move, your needs depend largely on the software you’re going to use.
Since music production software tends to be fairly resource-intensive, you’re effectively looking for performance laptops: ones that offer serious power in a small package. So all that’s left to do is consider which operating system you’re using and how much money you’ve got to throw at it.
Since there are so many on the market, we’ll start by examining what you should look for when shopping around, then move onto the best laptops for music production.
What Makes a Good Music Production Laptop?
While your exact requirements rest mostly on the type of music you’re creating and the software you’re using, there are a few good rules of thumb to follow.
The first is to prioritize the hardware that matters to you, and in the case of music production, that’s a high-end CPU and plenty of RAM.
Many performance laptops are essentially gaming laptops, and they include powerful graphics capabilities. But for music production, a high-end GPU isn’t going to help (unless you’re thinking of VJing too).
Look for the higher-end eighth generation Intel Core mobile processors (i5 and i7), or AMD’s Ryzen mobile chips. The AMD chips will outperform the Intel chips in terms of integrated graphics performance, but they’re closely matched in most other areas. See our comparison of Intel vs. AMD chips!
In terms of RAM, more is always better. If you’re running a thirsty digital audio workstation (DAW) with plugins and virtual instruments, you’re going to need the memory to keep everything ticking over. While 8GB is a good start, 16GB is a safer option.
Since music production can end up being quite a storage-intensive hobby, you’ll want plenty of space to store your samples and demos. A solid state drive (SSD) will keep things fast, but these are much more expensive than traditional hard drives (HDD). 256GB will get swallowed up in no time, so we’d recommend at least 512GB if you can afford it.
Since you’re picking a laptop for production, form factor may also influence your decision. If you’ll be using the laptop for gigs, making music on the go, or maybe for DJ purposes with the right tools; slim and small might be a priority too. Just remember that smaller laptops tend to sacrifice power since battery size, airflow, and cooling ability are reduced.
The Best Budget Laptops for Music Production
For our budget selection, we’ve tried to keep the price below $1500. This might seem steep for an entry-level machine, but some of these are relatively cheap compared to the higher-end of the market.
Starting at $999.
If you’re picking a Mac, you may be opting for an Apple software suite too. The MacBook Air is a good starter since Apple allows you to customize the machine to suit your budget. The higher-end model starts at $1,199, and allows you to up the CPU to a 2.2GHz i7 for $150 or add a 512GB SSD for $200.
Since it’s a Mac you’ll get access to GarageBand (free) and Logic Pro X (pricey), not to mention a wide variety of third-party suites like Ableton Live, Reason, and Renoise. It’s also small and lightweight, with impressive battery life, and a backlit keyboard for those dark late night sessions.
Unfortunately, the Air isn’t without its drawbacks. The two biggest gripes include a mere 8GB of RAM and a rather ugly non-Retina screen. You also only get two USB 3.0 ports, and a single Thunderbolt 2 port.
Starting at $799.
The Surface Pro is a surprisingly versatile option. While the cheapest model only includes the lightweight Intel m3 chip, there are Core i5 and i7 models available with more grunt. These get pricey fast, with the top-end model offering an i7, 1TB SSD, and 16GB of RAM for nearly $2,700.
Unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t let you configure individual components, so the budget option looks more like a 256GB SSD with 8GB of RAM for $1,299. Being a Surface Pro, it’s a hybrid which means it functions as both a laptop and a tablet.
That means you can run your traditional Windows DAWs like FLStudio and Reason, but also take advantage of the touch screen for a more tactile experience. There’s a healthy number of synthesizers and musical playthings on the Windows store. Check out SurfaceProAudio.com to learn a few tips and tricks for music on Microsoft’s tablet.
Starting at $1,249.
Dell’s XPS line emphasizes performance, and the 13-inch models are especially suited to music production. They forego graphics performance in favor of strong CPUs and a slim lightweight chassis, with excellent customization options that won’t break the bank.
The base $1,249 XPS 13 comes with an eighth generation quad core Intel i7 CPU and a neat 1080p InfinityEdge display. You can upgrade the SSD to 512GB and double the RAM to 16GB, and the total price still comes in under $1,500.
There’s not a lot to complain about here for the money, though being a Dell you’ll likely have to uninstall all the crapware that comes bundled with their machines (or better still, install a fresh copy of Windows).
Starting at $1,060.
ThinkPad laptops are workhorses, and the X280’s customization options make it perfect for budget-conscious musicians. By upgrading the base CPU for around $95, you’ll be able to choose the 16GB RAM upgrade for just over another $100.
You can then increase your internal storage to 512GB for another $300 and you’ve got yourself a powerful no-frills laptop for $1,278. You’ll be stuck with Intel’s UHD integrated graphics, but if your primary use for the laptop is to make music, your money is much better spent on processing power, memory, and storage instead.
If you think you want something a little more versatile and you’ve got the cash to spare, the Lenovo X380 Yoga can accommodate the same specs in a touch-friendly hybrid package instead.
The Best High-End Laptops for Music Production
If you’ve got the money to spend, why not go all-out on a powerful mobile workstation?
Starting at $1,299.
Despite the deceptively low starting point, you’ll probably want to opt for the higher-end MacBook Pro if you’re going to go this route. You’ve got two size options to choose from: the slightly cheaper 13-inch model or the faster and pricier 15-inch flagship.
The higher-end $1,999 13-inch base model comes with a 512GB SSD, and for an extra $200 you can up the RAM to 16GB. Intel Iris graphics mean you aren’t spending money on GPU options you won’t use, and you’ll get access to the same high-end Apple-only suites and third party DAWs.
The 15-inch options really push the budget, but for $2,799 you’ll get 512GB of storage and 16GB of RAM in the box. You can take storage to 4TB and RAM to 32GB if you’ve got the money, and the Radeon Pro GPU opens the doors to graphics-intensive tasks like video editing and 3D gaming too.
Depending on what you go for you’ll get two or four Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports, a beautiful wide color 500 nit brightness Retina display, and Touch Bar support with fingerprint scanner. If you’re working with Logic Pro X, this is the best laptop for the job.
Starting at $1,899.
Razer have now brought the eighth generation Intel processors into their Blade line-up, and they’re all highly capable machines. Each has a six-core 2.2GHz i7 processor with 16GB of DDR4 RAM as standard. If you’ve got the money you can take that up to 32GB.
You also get to choose between a mobile GeForce GTX 1060 and 1070, which you might not even need. For $300 more than the base model you can get the 512GB SSD model with the 1080p 144Hz display, or spend an extra $700 to opt for the 4K touch-enabled display. That’s probably unnecessary for music production, but it’s nice to have the choice.
Unlike many gaming laptops, the Blade series is focused on svelte aesthetics in a slim design. You’ll get a single USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port and three more USB 3.1 type-A ports, and some of the connectors Apple ditched on the MacBook Pro including HDMI out and DisplayPort out.
Starting at $1,199.
The new Alienware 15 range includes the eighth generation Intel processors you’d expect from a laptop in this price range, with plenty of customization options to boot. The base laptop comes with 16GB of RAM, a six-core i7 and a GTX 1060. Keep in mind that unlike the Razer Blade (above), Alienware machines tend to be pretty chunky.
Buy direct from Dell to get a 32GB RAM upgrade for $400, or opt for the slightly faster 2666MHz sticks for an extra $10. For the money, the 512GB SSD upgrade makes a lot of sense since it includes an additional 1TB hard disk drive for just short of $200.
That means you can install your software on the SSD partition while using the HDD to store your media files, samples, and documents. It’s the perfect trade off between speed, space, and affordability, and the Alienware is the only laptop on the list with this option.
Other Things You’ll Need
None of these laptops come bundled with a proper audio interface. So if you want to record high-quality audio from external sources like a guitar or XLR microphone, you’ll need to invest. The sky is the limit here, so you’ll need to match your sound card with your own needs.
If you need simple XLR input to power a microphone, you can find something cheap like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo. If you’re looking for a multiple input interface for recording a whole band at once, you’ll need to spend considerably more.
Since USB MIDI is now well-established, keyboards like the KORG Microkey and other drum-machine type inputs are generally easy to attach. Just make sure you’ve got enough USB ports available, or purchase a quality USB hub to keep the music going.
The Perfect Music Production Laptop Is Out There
This is just a small cross-section of the current market. These aren’t aimed at producing music, and they won’t be suitable for all users. Some will buy Apple laptops no matter what, while others are happier with slimmer, cheaper machines that still get the job done.
Don’t forget to budget for the price of the software you’ll be using too. Some suites like Renoise and Reaper are fairly cheap, while Ableton Live can cost nearly as much as a laptop.