Laptop Computer Specs for Recording Music

OK, so I’m shopping for a new laptop. Will be the family computer for basics Web / Internet use, a few MS Office apps, etc. But mainly I’m asking the question about specs because I will be using it for use with my Focusrite Scarlett Solo to record my covers and broadcast in these open mic’s, of course. I have a decent set of multimedia bluetooth speakers that I’ll be connecting, and of course my microphone, Focusrite, guitars, and Reaper as the DAW. Most of my recordings are pretty simple. Playing guitar through the instrument input of the audio interface and recording my vocals through the microphone output.

Wondering what I need to look for in a computer in terms of memory, hard drive, etc. Some bargain computers have been 8 GB of Ram, and I’m thinking that’s not enough. But wanted to see what you all think

Personally I wouldn’t spec less than 16Gb… you might get away with it with 8Gb but once you’ve got a few apps open you don’t want to risk buffering issues. Would be interesting to hear what others think

With regards to storage maybe consider what you think you’ll need day to day and then maybe buy something like a NAS (network attached storage such as a Synology device) to keep an archive of old recordings. It might work out cheaper than trying to spec a massive internal drive, particularly if you want a laptop

With regards to audio, make sure you consider latency when you’re talking about Bluetooth… wired is better

I’m with @mattswain regarding RAM. Windows really sucks for memory management and programmers paying attention to being frugal with using RAM. I have over-spec’d RAM for maybe 20 years and have always been happy I did. Consider 32GB for a Windows system (you can get away with half or quarter that on MacOS and linux)

Processor speed is not that impacted with audio. Modern i5 to i7 or AMD comparable will be plenty of processor. Go for a bit higher side of that if you like to use DAW software to emulate a guitar signal chain over just recording and WAV file editing.

Be watchful of machines that include gaming video. If you don’t need that, they will cost you more than you need to spend - money better spent on guitars! If you plan to take my advice, getting more RAM without being forced into gaming video will take some shopping.

For storage, I like a remote device as was mentioned. If you are not familiar with setting up and using network storage, then a NAS would not be a user-friendly choice. Consider an external drive with USB 3 (3.2 is fastest today) and make sure the new machine has that interface as well. Look at how much space you use now for your music and give yourself plenty of room to grow it over the next few years with lots of headroom. Storage is fairly inexpensive today, so don’t be too frugal there. USB3.1 is 10Gb which is 10x faster than typical home wired network performance. It is also really easy to take with you while traveling or throw into the safe if you leave home for a few days since it is typically just a small SSD in a package about the size of half a deck of cards.

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I noticed that Reaper is really optimized and it worked really well with 8GB of Ram on my old laptop from 2013 with Windows 10 or 11. To be fair, I upgraded the ram to 16 gb and I did not notice a difference for Reaper.

Off course, the more the better if you like doing other things with the computer.

But if you find a really good bargain on the 8GB computer, it will work since Reaper does not seem resource-hungry. Google Chrome uses more resource on my computer than Reaper haha !

Windows now works OK for memory tbh but I wouldn’t go for 8

Also look at macs, not a fan of osx but garageband etc plus their m1/2 cpus etc are very good

Good suggestions already given Tosh.

I’d make sure the latop internal disk is solid state. These days that may be a default, I don’t know.

Another option for long term storage is cloud, especially if your bandwidth is good. For music production you should probably use local disc for all the recording, irrespective of the solution for mass storage, to have the fastest possible performance. Then you could move finished projects up to cloud or to an external solution.

I can vouch for the fact that Reaper works well with limited resources. As always your use cases are important. If the intention is just to make simple recordings of you playing and singing, perhaps adding either amp/pedal plugins and maybe a vocal processing plug-in, then Reaper would probably be fine with the 8GB.

I won’t say I hit Reaper the hardest here (I reckon @LBro probably does more in terms of plugins and tracks than I do. But I am still running projects with multiple tracks, digital instruments, plenty fx plugins and on 16GB I had started to glitch every now and then. If your case is as I describe it then 16GB would be more than sufficient.

Agree with comments about CPUs. I ran on an older gen I5 for most of my years and did fine.

Depending on what you want to do, you may also find Linux is a good option. You’ll be able to do all the basic browsing, media, word processing, spreadsheet work. Not sure if there is a MS Office port but Libre Office is good and for basic home use not too hard to master. There are good DAW options and @Majik here can offer good pointers based on his experience.

Hi Tosh,
Sounds like the man in black is about to up his game!

I run a lot of RAM on a high end system and have not specked low end/entry level type systems for a while. I personally know of a couple of folks getting away with 8GB of Ram, that are using Reaper. But I would not go there and to me the minimum RAM amount would be 16GB. Reaper has such an efficient audio engine that low RAM machines do fairly well with it. But 16GB RAM will suit you fine most likely and give you a bit of headroom down the road. Future proofing oneself by buying a little more now and getting away with computer performance down the road is a big plus in my book.

I again am not up on the low end CPU’s of late. Though I think an above post seems reasonable CPU wise.

For in computer storage size, check to see what you are using now and how much of that drive you are consuming. I would double it at a bare minimum. Though with storage being as cheap as it is, I would opt for even more. Keep in mind your needs may change. In most cases, that means more disk space, not less.

Long term data storage - Be careful of slapping a bunch of data on a storage device and leaving it unpowered for a long period of time. I am talking about years. Flash, SSD drives and the like need to be refreshed now and then to retain their data integrity. Old spin hard drives will hold data longer, but are a pain. You need to apply power to them and spin them up once in a while to keep them working well. I have had many a HDD drive fail due to it locking up and no longer spinning after being stored for a few years.

Make sure what you get has the ports you need. Get as many USB ports as possible and think out if that is enough for your devices. Yes, you could use a USB Hub, but they can be cranky in some situations and will add to your desktop clutter.

Display - Thinking laptop here. Be sure of this one. Not sure if you are buying local and can look at the display in action or not. But the last thing you want is something with a shoddy display that might give you eye fatigue. Today, most displays should be ok, but your buying on the low end, where such an issue might arise. So just be aware of this one and keep it in mind to check it.

All the best in your hunt!

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My only recent experience has been with Ardour (open Source) and Mixbus (Commercial). I tried Reaper and didn’t enjoy it, but I’m used to the Ardour workflow.

I have never found Ardour to be a resource hog and started out running it on a machine with only 2G RAM, although that was a few major versions ago. On my Linux system, Ardour takes less than 300M as a baseline. I also have the latest Harrison/SSL Mixbus 10 Pro which is a bit more heavyweight, but that still takes less than 550M.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my memory use with Ardour or Mixbus go over about 3G, but I don’t tend to do high track-count projects with lots of plugins.

I have an 18-track recording of a live band in Mixbus which is nearly 3hrs long and the memory use is less than 850M. I don’t have many plugins on this but, frankly, I don’t need them.

Mixbus 10 Pro has a bunch of additional stuff over Ardour, including their “True Analog” mixing engine, and the Harrison 32C and SSL 9000J EQ channel strips, built-in tape saturation emulation, and Dolby Atmos Surround support, which explains the bigger footprint.

(I wouldn’t recommend Mixbus 10 Pro for most home users and would say it’s overkill. I have it because I got it on a special offer price several years ago and have taken advantage of cheap upgrades ever since; Mixbus 10 Pro cost me £59 compared to the full price of £479). Mixbus 10 (non-pro) is £99.99

Ardour is available as a ready-to-run program for a small payment which you can choose yourself. They suggest $30 but if you pay $45 or more you get access to upgrades. Or there’s a subscription program where you can pay as little as $1 per month to get continuous access to upgrades whilst you are subscribed. If you stop the subscription, the current version continues to work.

Details here.

Both Ardour and Mixbus 10 have a free demo version to download and try.

The RAM requirements for Ardour across all platforms are stated as: “2GB is recommended, more is always better”.

The main thing to be careful of with RAM is that, as you add tracks and plugins, that’s where you start to eat into the memory. That applies to all DAWs. You also start to stress the CPU, especially if you use lots of individual plugins like reverbs on each track. There’s techniques to minimise this sort of thing.

My machine here has 32G, but I would have said 8G is probably enough for most home recording purposes.

I would also explore getting something with NVMe SSD drive support, as this will give you very fast data read/write, which is useful for higher track counts. But, in general, it will make your computer feel fast.




Good advice.

The thing to remember with all storage (whether SSD or spinning disk) is that they have a finite lifespan and are GUARANTEED to fail. Spinning disks, for instance, have a typical life expectancy of 4-7 years, but can die sooner than that (I have had drives fail after less than 2 years).

Always have a backup and recovery plan.



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Excellent advice already given in the thread above.

I’m a bit unsure if I really should recommend my own approach, but here it comes anyways (disclaimer at the end).

What I myself usually do, is to look out for a second-hand business laptop. Companies often exchange their hardware when the guarantee period is over, and then I look out online for resellers who offer such laptops (I wouldn’t recommend buying from a private person).

Business laptops are usually durable, they come with a good keyboard and long battery life, and are still not too heavy. They are quite expensive if you buy them new, but second-hand they offer excellent specs and quality for the money.

Just before Christmas, I bought my partner a two year old “T490s”. Such a device comes with a 14.0" Full HD display, 32 GB RAM, a high end processor, usual connectivity, with Thunderbolt in addition, a fingerprint reader, webcam, etc., a pre-installed Windows 11 Pro license, and still costs only 400 EUR in my region today. This is one-third to one-fifth of the price for a new one.

SSDs can be replaced for little money, you just need a screwdriver. But having a backup/recovery strategy for your data and possibly the operating system and your settings is especially important when using second-hand hardware, as @Majik and @LBro already pointed out. Especially you should be a bit knowledgeable and not afraid to diagnose failures, to replace faulty components (often more tricky on a laptop than on a desktop) and to reinstall the OS, the programs etc. For me personally this is fun, but I understand it’s not for everyone.

Hope you’ll have a happy NG(G=gear)D soon! :smiley:

I’m using a much lighter weight laptop than most folks, and it works really well without any noticeable latency:

Comes with a powerful and free DAW (Garageband) and a decent video editor (iMovie).

I agree with @Majik… Storage is made to die. One option is to buy an M-Disc burner. Get a decent one as the cheapies either don’t work or fail soon. This is the one I got and it has worked well. The deal is, it makes a special M-Disc that has a theoretical life expectancy of 1000 years. Hey, if it lasts anywhere near 100 years, it will outlive me! The discs are not cheap! But the true M-Disc will last a long time and can also be had in high capacity. Much higher than a DVD, with made to fail dye technology…

Take care,

For backup there are enough cloud providers to off site personal data easily if you have OK Internet

I also have a nas at home which is running a raid array and security amongst other things.

So I generally have 3 copies of anything important at least which is plenty

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I do the same. My NAS allows me to use generic cloud object storage for backups, allowing me to specify the storage class (nearline, coldline, etc.).

I prefer this because a backup “service” might shut up shop and go away, whilst a generic object store from AWS or GCP is unlikely to without notice.

I also pay for my backup storage (a few dollar per month) which means it’s less likely to be withdrawn without notice.




I use a Dell Laptop that’s got a 7th gen i5 processor with 32Gb ram (I also do graphics and video editing) with a 1Tb SSD. Despite the age of the processor it works fine, I backup to iCloud which I pay for, it’s a backup that only backs up changes or new work so doesn’t take too long to process. I review my backed up files and remove what I no longer need, it’s all too easy to run out of disk space if you don’t do your housework!
You could possibly find a decent refurbished one that would easily do the job, the most up to date stuff in most cases isn’t really necessary. Besides if you’re clever about what you get you might have a bit of cash in hand to feed any GAS tendencies that you might have :rofl:
Something like this would eat it!

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Absolutely! Maybe I was a bit too careful in my wording in my earlier response. That’s exactly what I had in mind as well :+1:

Be aware that many recent laptops by default cannot have their RAM upgraded.
It’s all soldered in, and there aren’t the SODIMM slots (or any equivalent) for you to add in later.

Check to see if the laptop has upgradeable RAM; if so, you are ok.
If not, go for at least 16GB, it may not be required today, but it certainly will in a couple of years.

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Thank you all for the above. Very helpful and definitely helped me make a decision. I didn’t have much luck finding anything I liked (price and spec wise) in my city, so I just ended up ordering online. But the above along with my only online research definitely helped. Ended up getting the HP 17 inch laptop with 32 GB of RAM and 1 TB SSD hard drive. It was on several lists as best budget computer. I was just hoping to spend less than $600 and this comes in at $483 on Amazon. I don’t really have the space currently for an external monitor so the large screen I think will make things better. Can’t wait to get it and start making some more music!