This article is a part of RS Recommends, an editorial series reviewing products in music and entertainment. Items are independently selected; Penske Media may earn a commission from purchases made from our links.
After the success of our recent article on the best tablets for music production, we thought it would be wise to do a similar roundup for laptops. The difference between the two (tablets and laptops) is that while tablets are a bit more mobile (slimmer, lighter, often longer battery life), laptops boast more power and still have a great deal of transportability. Truthfully, in 2019, unless you’re a top tier professional, you can get by with just a laptop.
And though a case could be made that most modern laptops can handle music production, including the one you’re using to read this article, that’s not why you’re here. You’re here to find out what some of the best options are, and what exactly makes them the best options. Remember, everyone has different preferences and these laptops are based on our findings. One final caveat, you’ll notice we leave out any mention of speaker quality. This is because laptop speakers are generally terrible. If you’re worth your weight in musical passion, buy a set of speakers or headphones and listen to your life’s work through something designed to play music.
Now, on to the terms. When it comes to music production, you want a device that can handle a lot at once (read: more RAM and better processor), store all of your projects (read: more storage) and display as much as possible (read: bigger screen). Because you’ll be making and storing tons of songs, you’ll want hardware that comes with a hefty amount of storage. You can always get an external hard drive, but it doesn’t make sense to buy a laptop just to buy an external hard drive. With that in mind, we’d recommend getting a laptop with at least 128 GB of storage.
As far as RAM and the processor are concerned, try to get at least 16 GB of RAM and an Intel i5 processor or higher. Intel processors these days go up to an i9, but for the general population, an i7 will do fine. If price is the biggest determining factor, an i5 will work but with all the components that go into making a song (layers and samples and programs), it would be best to have a faster processor. As for RAM, the more RAM, the more working memory. In other words, the more RAM, the more functions and programs your device can handle at once.
Finally, don’t overlook the screen size. 15” is a solid bet for the middle ground between a huge screen and an easily transportable laptop, but 17” would be preferable as you can see more of what you’re doing without scrolling. Of course, as is the case for storage, you can always outsource the screen and buy a monitor, but why spend the money on a laptop just to spend more on another screen?
Here are some of our favorite laptops for music production. Each one has its pros and cons depending on your taste, but each delivers in the memory, storage and processing categories.
1. Microsoft Surface Book 2
It’s a tablet. It’s a laptop. It’s by far the most versatile option on our list, which is why we put it first. If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, consider your search over. The Surface Book 2 is the latest in the Surface Book series and this specific device features Intel’s i7 6-core processor, 256 GB of storage and 16 GB of RAM. Note, you can easily scale up in terms of storage (all the way to 1 TB) if price is no object. The Surface Book 2 also features a 15” touchscreen display, which isn’t necessary for music production, but is a nice feature when the price tag is north of $2,000.00. Running the latest Windows software, this tablet/laptop hybrid can handle any strain you put on it. Purchase: $2,045 on Amazon.
2. Alienware M15 Gaming Laptop
A gaming laptop probably wasn’t what you were expecting, but give us a chance. What makes a great gaming laptop (aside from stunning visuals) is a machine that can handle a ton of things happening at once. The only difference between a laptop geared towards gaming, and one geared towards music production, is the type of program you’re running. For this reason, we’re fans of the Alienware M15. The M15 features a dazzling 15.6” display, an i7 6-core processor, 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. In other words, for almost 25% less than what you’d pay for the newest MacBook Pro, you can get double the storage and an equally powerful processor. Purchase: $1,698 on Amazon.
3. Apple MacBook Pro
The latest model of the MacBook Pro is always a great place to start when it comes to production. This MacBook sports the latest (9th generation) Intel i7 6-core processor, 32 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. The screen is a beautiful 15” retina display that features Apple’s True Tone technology. From a production perspective, this laptop checks all the boxes. You can upgrade the processor to an i9 and the storage to 512 GB, but for all intents and purposes, what we have listed above should do you just fine. Apple products tend to come with a bigger price tag, but if you’re already neck deep in the Apple ecosystem and plan on staying there, this is the device for you. Purchase: $2,189.82 on Amazon.
4. Asus ROG Strix SCAR II
Another gaming laptop worth your consideration is the Asus ROG Strix SCAR II. This ROG sports a 17.3” screen (the largest on our list), 16 GB of RAM, 1 TB of storage and an Intel i7 6-core processor. What’s more, as this laptop was designed for gaming, you’ll notice it doesn’t get as hot as other laptops, thanks to its Hypercool Pro thermal system which brings two 12V fans to the mix. For those of you comfortable working in the wonderful world of Windows, this 17” laptop is worth consideration. And for $400 less than the Alienware listed above, you’re getting quite the bang for your buck from Asus. Purchase: $1,298 on Amazon.