The laptop is one of the most important bits of kit in the modern DJ and music producer’s arsenal. Music production is no longer confined to very powerful desktop PCs, laptops have gotten more powerful and now have greater connectivity than ever before allowing you to easily connect speakers and other USB peripherals.
Of course, the more powerful the better but if you’re looking to run modern production software with a decent amount of plugins then you can easily grab a decent laptop for music production under $500.
Many music producers are now DJs and vice-versa. A laptop also augments your ability to become a DJ-producer, a hybrid of the two who can produce their own music and perform it live. To reach the top, it’s pretty essential you produce some of your own music!
Laptops are a requirement for most digital DJ setups, you’ll need one to use practically any controller other than Pioneer’s top-of-the-range standalone controller systems but even then, you’ll need a laptop to prepare your sets with RekordBox or directly feed your library into your controller.
Laptops, the New Desktops?
If you go into a top studio then you’ll exclusively find desktop computers. It is true that desktops are more powerful and probably give the greater bang for your buck compared to laptops. However, this is changing and even top engineers are turning to their laptops to produce and mix some of the world’s most famous music.
Andrew Scheps, audio engineer for artists such as Beyonce, Lana del Rey, and Adele, now admits to doing plenty of his music production work on his laptop ‘in the box’. ‘In the box’ means using all plugins and software, no outboard gear is required – everything in your laptop is all you need. This is excellent for modern music producers as the cost of starting up is low.
You can get a DAW, laptop, and plugins for a pretty remarkable price and this is enough to start producing some awesome music. Billie Eilish recently won best-produced record Grammy for tracks that had been produced on a cheap bedroom set up – the times of super-expensive production setups have passed – bring on the generation of bedroom producers!
Specs for Music Production Software
So what sort of specs do you need to run most music production software? It obviously depends on the software we’re using.
GarageBand: A very light music production program that runs on Mac only, GarageBand runs on Mac 10.13.6 and beyond, only needs 2GB HDD space and 2GB of RAM. It’ll run on virtually any remotely modern Mac.
Logic Pro X: Logic is Mac only having been acquired by Apple some years ago. The challenge here is getting a Mac with suitable specs for below $500 – but it is possible! Logic requires 4GB of RAM, an OpenCL graphics card or Intel HD Graphics 3000 and 6GB space. It will run on all Mac processors which support Intel HD Graphics 3000.
Ableton: Ableton Live 10 runs on both Mac and Windows. You’ll need OS 10.11.6 or Windows 7 or later, an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, but 8GB is recommended. It takes up roughly 6GB of HDD space.
Pro Tools: A bit of a heavier program in many ways running on both Windows and Mac, Pro Tools requires an i5 Intel Processor or AMD equivalent. You’ll need Mac OS 10.11.6 or beyond, or Windows 7 or beyond, 4GB RAM but 8GB is recommended and 15GB space for installation.
Of course, these are minimum specs and to some degree, they have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Once you load up some tracks and plugins, you’ll need some extra juice to run your session smoothly. That said, you can run basic production tasks at the lowest spec so if you’re looking to make simple beats or loops for DJ sets, etc, you can get away with a lower-spec machine.
Windows generally gives you more power for your money but we have squeezed one Mac machine onto here. Generally, though, you’ll probably have to turn your attention more towards the $500 – $750 bracket to bag a Mac suitable for music production.
8th Generation Intel Core i5-8265U Processor (Up to 3.9GHz) | 8GB DDR4 Memory | 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD | 15.6” IPS Screen
This excellent Acer laptop is extremely popular for all sorts of users. It looks lovely and sports a slimline profile with brushed steel casing. It’s lightweight at 2.2kg and with a battery life of some 9.5 hours, it’s perfect for carrying around to gigs for DJing or for production on the go. It sports an impressive Intel i5 CPU for the price, easily powerful enough to run all the software listed here.
8GB DDR4 memory is also easily sufficient for running production software with a good quantity of plugins. It only has an SSD, though, so storage will come at a premium. Still, 256GB is easily enough for your DAW and plugins and anything too bulky can be stored on an external drive instead. This laptop has USB 3.1 ports that enable you to connect modern peripherals and storage with ultra-fast and reliable connection speeds and data transfer rates. Overall, this is an excellent laptop that is well built, well-reviewed and has enough power to crunch some fairly heavy production tasks on the go. It’s hard to beat.
- Very well built and attractive profile
- Excellent battery life
- Powerful CPU and specs to run most production tasks
AMD A9-9425 Processor (Dual-Core, 3.1 GHz up to 3.7 GHz) | 8GB DDR4 Memory | 256GB SSD |15.6” Screen | AMD Radeon R5 Graphics
Lenovo manufactures some excellent laptops and for the money, this is hard to beat with plenty of decent spec components that make it a capable machine for music production and DJing. This runs on an AMD processor that makes it cheaper than many Intel laptops, but this processor is still easily powerful enough to run the DAWs here and from a cost-effectiveness perspective, it’s more than a worthy rival to Intel processors. One added advantage is that this comes with AMD R5 graphics which gives it a good advantage over Intel processors of similar CPU power.
This laptop is light and sports a good screen, an SSD – which is relatively standard in slimline laptops – you will need an external HDD if you want to store lots of samples or music, etc. It has a battery life of up to 5 hours which is pretty good, even though it isn’t a patch on the Acer Aspire 5.
It does also have a rapid-charge function too which allows you to give it up to 2hours battery life in just 15 minutes. This laptop is very comfortable to use and it is really well ventilated, perfect for the stuffy warm DJ booth!
- Attractive and slim profile laptop
- AMD processor keeps costs down and performance up
- Battery life up to 5 hours is good
- Will need an external HDD for storage
Intel i5-8265U | 8GB DDR4 Memory | 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD |15.6” Touchscreen
This Dell Inspiron has very similar specs to the Acer Aspire 5. It has the same processor, the same size SSD, the same amount of RAM and it’s roughly the same size, just a little heavier.
The difference is this has a touchscreen which is very cool for the price. It’s a well-built laptop with plenty going for it and Dell are industry veterans with a supreme reputation. This Inspiron is firmly in the budget bracket but it offers plenty of power for audio production and DJing.
The touchscreen is useful for DJing and production as it allows users to trigger more functions without touching the keyboard or trackpad. It also has USB 3.1 ports which provide excellent connection speeds to the very latest peripherals – this is pretty vital for connecting modern outboard gear via USB to your laptop.
The touchscreen probably accounts for the relatively poor battery life of this laptop at around 4 hours but overall, it has plenty going for it for the price.
- Dell build quality
- Excellent touchscreen
- Good processor
- Slightly bulky
- Will need an external HDD for storage
- Battery life isn’t awesome
Intel Core i5-5250U Dual-Core Processor | 4GB DDR3 Memory | 128GB PCIe-based flash storage |11.6 inch screen
It’s hard to find Mac computers for under $500 but this Macbook Air ticks most the boxes for a slim price and slimmer profile.
11.6” isn’t ideal for serious production and if you’re looking for a machine powerful enough to run big sessions then you should maybe look to Windows laptops for the money but if you want to run GarageBand or small sessions on Logic, then this Macbook Air is capable and obviously, it’s a great machine for general usage and DJing.
This Macbook Air is tiny and super-light and it can run for up to 12 hours or longer on a single charge. It’s lovely to use and once you’re used to the smaller screen, there really is no downside. For making simple beats and tunes, or organizing music, working, etc, this is a great machine that will pass most tests for the amateur producer.
- Excellent build quality
- Good for running small sessions on GarageBand and Logic
- Awesome battery life
- Not powerful enough for serious production
AMD Quad Core A12-9720P Processor (2.7 GHz, up to 3.6GHz | 16GB DDR4 | 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD |15.6 inch screen
This laptop represents a pretty big step up in power from the Lenovo, Acer and Dell laptops here.
It has a better processor, more RAM and has both a 256GB SSD and a 1TB HDD. The AMD Radeon graphics are also pretty good, outperforming any other integrated graphics here. The sacrifices are reductions in build quality and battery life. For raw power and not an awful lot else, this laptop is pretty awesome.
It’s not as durable as other laptops so you’re better off using it as a more static machine but you get some stunning spec for the price.
This laptop also comes with up-to-date USB connectivity including USB 3.1 ports. The screen-to-case ratio is excellent which also indicates how much effort ASUS has put into making this budget laptop as aesthetically appealing as possible. Overall, it’s an excellent machine that punches well above its cost in terms of specs.
- Superb processor
- Excellent storage components
- Good built-in graphics
- Big and clunky
- Not the most durable
Some excellent machines here. They’re all capable of running music production and DJ software, some will be more proficient at running heavier sessions than others and the MacBook Air, whilst it’ll have a good stab at Logic and GarageBand, is probably not suitable for bigger production sessions.
Of the 3 similar laptops, the Dell Inspiron, Acer Aspire 5 and Lenovo Ideapad 330, the Dell has the touchscreen whilst the Acer has the battery life and the Lenovo is the cheapest with an AMD processor. The Asus Vivobook packs some serious power for the money but it’s not quite as professional as the other laptops and it’s certainly not as portable.
You can’t really go wrong with the Acer Aspire 5 from this lineup and with its combination of excellent build quality, an IPS screen, awesome battery life and specs that deliver, it’s a great system for music production, DJing and general use. Acer have been building top mid-price laptops for decades now and they’re amongst the most popular in the world.
This particular model has built a superb reputation for itself and although it sits very close to the $500 mark, you get the most out of every $ you spend on it. The Dell must rate as the runner-up here thanks to its touchscreen which isn’t just a gimmick, it’s actually very useful for music production and DJing and as more software gets optimized for touch, you can be sure that owning a touchscreen machine puts you in a good position for the future.