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How to Choose a Music Production Computer

How to Choose a Music Production Computer

A music production computer is your first step toward building your own home studio.

Good computers for audio production have never been more accessible.

In fact, if you’re reading this article on your laptop or desktop, your machine probably has plenty of power to get started with music.

But if you don’t even know where to begin, choosing the right computer is difficult.

If you’re buying or building a rig specifically for music there are some important factors to consider to get the best laptop or desktop computer for audio production.

In this article I’ll lay out everything you need to know to choose the right computer for your home studio.

Computer components

To understand this article you’ll need a little background in computer components. Your music computer is only as good as the sum of its parts.

Your music computer is only as good as the sum of its parts.

Those parts have different specifications that result in different performance in your system.

The most important computer specifications for music production are:

  • CPU speed and number of cores
  • Memory (RAM)
  • Storage (SSD or HDD)

I’ll walk you through each one in detail.

CPU

CPU stands for central processing unit.

CPU

It’s the component where the fundamental operations of your computer take place.

CPU performance is measured by clock speed and number of cores.

Higher clock speed means faster overall pace of the calculations performed by the CPU.

But additional cores are also important. More CPU cores allow for better performance in applications that support multi-threading.

All major DAWs take advantage of multi-threading, but single-threaded performance is still important for audio.

All major DAWs take advantage of multi-threading, but single-threaded performance is still important for audio.

The bottom line is that when it comes to your CPU, the best advice is the get the processor with the most cores and the highest clock speed you can afford.

At minimum you should be looking for a processor with at least two cores and clock speed no lower than 2.2 GHz.

Memory

Memory refers to your computer’s RAM specification.

RAM means random access memory. It’s the extremely fast working memory your computer uses to store information it needs right away.

In the early days of computing, RAM was extremely expensive.

But today’s computer parts are much more economical. It’s common to see RAM configurations of up to 64 GB and beyond in high-end builds.

Increasing the amount of RAM available in your system will increase its performance—up to a point.

Despite how important RAM may seem, audio tasks are surprisingly forgiving on your system’s memory.

Despite how important RAM may seem, audio tasks are surprisingly forgiving on your system’s memory.

8 GB is plenty for the majority of music production processing.

RAM

16 or 32 GB can help if you plan to work with the large sample libraries that are needed to emulate acoustic instruments realistically.

But think twice before you pay steep prices to max out your computer’s RAM.

Storage

Storage refers to your computer’s internal space for saving files and applications.

More is better, but the speed matters as well.

Today’s solid-state drives (SSDs) are considerably faster than conventional hard disks (HDDs).



Using an SSD as the main OS and applications drive makes a big difference to the speed of startup and other read/write intensive tasks.

But if you use one, you’ll likely have to settle for less storage on your system volume—SSDs cost more per GB than HDDs.

SSD vs HDD

Hot tip: In the past it was considered best practice to track your audio files and sessions onto a separate drive.

This has become less of a concern with modern hardware, but it’s still a valid way to take some stress off your main system drive.

Consider using a fast external drive for your sessions and audio files.

Mac vs. PC

Before you start looking at specific builds or models you should decide which computing platform is right for you.

Mac and PC are the two main types. There is a dedicated community of Linux audio producers out there, but Linux-based OS is much less common among beginners and professionals when it comes to audio.

Mac vs. PC used to be a big debate in the pro audio community.

Mac vs. PC

Many insist that the stability and smooth workflow of Mac OS is better for production, while others point to the affordability and easy upgrades of PC as a major benefit.

Many insist that the stability and smooth workflow of Mac OS is better for production, while others point to the affordability and easy upgrades of PC as a major benefit.

Today, the two platforms have similar architecture thanks to Intel processors. That means that there’s not much that’s fundamentally different between them.

It also means you can compare the two types directly by looking at the specs of their components side by side.

Mac computers are almost always more expensive for the performance of their parts than their PC competitors.

But if the design, stability and ease of use of the Mac platform are worth it to you, you might be willing to pay a little more.

On the other hand, if you’re on a super tight budget, or you simply want the best value for money, a Windows-based PC could be your best choice.

64-bit operating system

No matter what platform you choose, it’s critical to make sure you use a 64-bit version of the OS for music production.

64-bit architecture has been around for a while, so there’s no excuse at this point. All the major DAWs support it and the performance benefits are considerable.

64 bit

64-bit applications in a 64-bit environment can address much more of the available memory in your system.

That sounds complicated, but all it means is that the 64-bit OS lets you take advantage of more of your computer’s resources—it’s a no brainer!

Laptop vs. Desktop

The overall strength of the components in your computer is limited by factors like size, power consumption and heat generation.

Desktop computers can accommodate larger components and house power supplies with enough juice to power them—all while dissipating heat more easily with fans and heatsinks.

In comparison, laptop designs have to compromise on these factors to achieve their portability and small size.

laptop vs. desktop

That makes the desktop format the clear choice when speed and power are critical.

But that’s not to say that a well-spec’d laptop isn’t a good choice for music production.

There are plenty of laptops with perfectly good performance for running your DAW and plugins. That’s good news if you need the portability to produce music on the go.

Use whichever type suits your workflow, just make sure the base specs are within the acceptable range for music production.

Gaming PC for music production

Many PC brands offer high-end builds specifically optimized to run games at high settings.

Almost all gaming PCs are up to the task for music production, but for most situations they’re a bit over the top.

Almost all gaming PCs are up to the task for music production, but for most situations they’re a bit over the top.

The high-end graphics cards and powerful RAM configurations of most gaming PCs add extra cost that might not translate into better performance for music production.

https://blog.landr.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/How-To-choose-a-music-Production-computer_Gaming-Computer-1.png

If you already own a gaming PC you’re all set with a great computer for music. But if not, don’t feel like you need to buy one of these specialized rigs just run your DAW and some plugins.

AMD vs. Intel

AMD and Intel are the main CPU manufacturers. The two brands have been competing against each other for decades.

In the past, AMD was associated with budget builds and offered slightly less performance at a more affordable price.

Today the two companies are mostly neck-and-neck when it comes to performance for music production.

AMD has made a big splash with its Ryzen series of CPUs that perform exceptionally well in multi-threading applications at an impressively low cost.

However, there’s been some debate in the pro audio community concerning their latency behaviour at low buffer sizes in comparison to Intel chips.

There also may be some compatibility issues with AMD CPUs for some specific DAWs, including Pro Tools.

Many users report that Ryzen processors work fine in their system, but Avid’s conservative hardware guides do not officially support them.

Consider an Intel-based machine if you want to maximize compatibility.

Integrated graphics vs. GPU

Many inexpensive laptop and desktop computers bring costs down by using integrated graphics in place of discrete GPUs.

Integrated graphics means that the graphics processor is located on the same chip as the CPU.

Integrated graphics means that the graphics processor is located on the same chip as the CPU.

This can save on space, heat output and overall cost, but the trade-off in performance is considerable.

However, a dedicated GPU isn’t always necessary for recording. The main graphical task your computer has to perform for audio production is rendering the UI of your DAW and plugins.

That’s not a big enough challenge to require a high-performance discrete GPU. That said, any amount of strain you can take off your CPU will increase the amount of tracks, plugins and processes you can run once.

Opt for a discrete GPU if you need to push the limits of your computer, but don’t worry too much if your system doesn’t include one.

Music production center

Buying a computer for music production seems complicated. There’s a lot of different factors to consider.

But the cost of a fast computer has never been lower. You can make great music with almost any decent machine, and that’s encouraging.

Use this explainer to help you choose the perfect music production computer for your setup.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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