Can I Use Recording Laptop for Surfing the Net?

Can I Use Recording Laptop for Surfing the Net?
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#1

For the last 10 years I’ve been recording my music with standalone DAWs but now I want to move to computer recording because of the added flexibility it provides.

I was thinking of buying a relatively cheap laptop for internet browsing, watching youtube videos, streaming movies and music, checking email, etc and also buying a more powerful desktop to use for music recording and maybe some video editing.

BUT,…I’m starting to question if I really need two computers, a laptop and a desktop, to do everything I want. Do you think I would be better off buying just one good laptop to do everything? Or am I better off buying both ?
Would I be able to unplug my interface and recording equipment easily when I want to use my laptop for everyday casual use, or would doing that be a problem and/ or inconvenient?

I typically record between 14 and 24 tracks per song but on the rare occasion I’ll record well over 30 tracks. I usually won’t be recording any more than 2 tracks at a time, but if I need to do that I can always use my standalone machines. So I’m thinking of buying a 2 channel interface (something like the Focusrite Scarlett), …If it sounds good and functions well.

My second question is …What kind of specs should I look for in a computer that will be used for recording?

Thanks for any advice you can offer.


#2

Go for it!

Unplugging (plugging in) the interface will not cause issue.
Having the laptop connected to the internet will not cause issue.
I use a laptop and a bluetooth speaker to mix, no problems there…except finding a dedicated “good” listening area to put the speaker. Honestly , I cannot wait for bluetooth audio interfaces…mics…everything!

Good luck!


#3

Agreed, go for it. There is no real reason to keep your tasks separate anymore and you certainly don’t need two computers just for that purpose. A decently spec’d machine will have no problem doing all the things you want without having to constantly disconnect and reconnect anything.

Personally I prefer running my recording from a desktop rig because I build them myself and can spec them precisely how I like; whereas I don’t think I’ll ever try to build a laptop. The main downside with laptops is that if you do tax its resources a lot, it will have no choice but to run its cooling fan as fast as it can, and that will make significant noise. Very hard to get dead-silent laptops, whereas it’s quite straightforward to make a desktop rig silent or nearly so.

The usual advice when considering a computer purchase is: get as much computer as you can afford. It will be out of date the moment you turn it on the first time anyway, so try to get as much bang as you have the bucks for. For music recording, you want as much RAM as you can get and at least an Intel Core i5 CPU or whatever its AMD equivalent is these days. You’ll also need a good sized storage solution, which is another reason I prefer desktops for recording, they’re much more upgradeable in that respect. Finally, if you can manage it, run your rig from a solid state drive rather than a traditional hard disk-- much much faster, completely silent, draws much less power (hence less heat hence less fan cooling needed).

Hope this helps!


#4

Thanks cptfiasco!

I hope we can go wireless sometime soon also. I’d love to get rid of some of the cords in my studio setup.


#5

Thanks Chordwainer!

I agree that a desktop would be more flexible regarding upgrades. I also like the fact that I can get a nice big monitor for it. But the only problem is that I wouldn’t easily be able to bring it anywhere in my house like I would with a laptop.

I’m glad you mentioned the SSD because I think that’s a good idea. I’ll probably buy a laptop with an SSD and a standard hard drive. Do you think 1 TB is enough for the HDD ? Is there any particular size or spec/ model of solid state drive that I should aim for ?


#6

The only reason I wouldn’t do this is because I don’t like working on laptops. But if working on a laptop is fine for you, then there are really no downsides to just using the same machine for everything.


#7

Hey Boz, thanks for the reply.

What is it that you don’t like about working on a laptop?

One reason in particular that I might like a desktop better is that I can choose a much larger screen/ monitor.
I suppose I could always connect a larger monitor to a laptop but I’m not sure if that will be something that improves my work flow or ease of use, or if it will just complicate matters, Maybe a 17 inch laptop will do the trick ?


#8

Nothing crazy. I just don’t like the keyboards and the lack of expandability. Not really an issue if you aren’t hooking up a million things to it. I have about a zillion wires coming out of my computer, which would never work as a laptop. But if you don’t need/have that, then it’s not an issue.

2 interfaces and 5 midi devices are a regular part of my setup, and my setup is very small compared to a lot of home studios.


#9

Yep, 1TB should be fine for a HDD, although you can probably get 2 or larger for only a small price increase. HDD storage is very inexpensive anymore.

On the SSD, I’d suggest a minimum of 256 GB. There are differing schools of thought on whether one should have all the music stuff live on the SSD or whether to use it only for the OS and system files and use the HDD for everything else. Personally I am in the former school, because that’s how you realize the massive speed gain from using the SSD in the first place. A great example are VSTi plugs that have large libraries. If your system has to go get those files from the HDD instead of the SSD, you will get much less improvement in performance. (In my experience nothing speeds up a computer more than running off a SSD, it’s not close.)

On my rig, I have a 512GB SSD and with Windows, web browser, anti-malware, my DAW and all plugins/libraries, and MS Office installed, I still have over 200 gigs free at any given time. That’s ample for me.

So my SOP is to drive everything from the SSD and then every so often transfer the folders containing finished projects over to the HDD for archiving. My stuff is similar in scope to yours – 30 tracks is a normal max for me, often a lot fewer – and by the time a project is done its folder is many gigs in size. Doing this is good standard practice anyway for backing up one’s work.

Other folks just don’t want to be bothered having to do that, and I can understand that. But for me it’s a trivial investment in effort for a huge payoff in performance.

Good luck!


#10

A laptop with a large screen will increase the cost of your laptop significantly, but might also give you more options for extra ports and features since a larger laptop has more ‘room’ for all that stuff in the electronic sandwich that they are. It depends on your budget. For less, you can get the laptop you want in a smaller size (assuming that works out) with the ports you need for external video. Then get one or more external monitors to hook up with the laptop. While you’d have to lug the monitors around with the laptop, if it’s just in your own house it’s not a big deal, and even for local travel wouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience. You could even get a laptop “docking station” (if they offer one for the particular model) so the monitors could stay attached to it in your main recording/mixing space, which you can pull the laptop off and ‘roam’.

One cool thing about this kind of setup, besides the portability, is you are getting two screens (if you have one external monitor). I have a 15" Macbook Pro that I use for a lot of stuff (besides my Windows PC desktop) and I got a CineDisplay (25" I think) to go with it. I can use the large screen for one thing, and the smaller laptop screen for another. For example, with Reaper or any DAW that I know of, the Mix window can go on the small screen and the Edit window on the larger screen - or vice versa. Or have the DAW on the large screen and move open plugin windows to the small screen. Or work on two things at one time with the side by side screens (if desired).

Just make sure to match the laptop ports to the connection method for the monitor screens when planning the setup, including the docking station if that pertains. Laptop video ports vary a lot these days; HDMI, HDMI mini, DVI and VGA (both pretty much obsolete now unless you buy a used laptop), and some laptops don’t even offer that.


#11

Thanks Chordwainer!
I really appreciate the in depth explanation.

I’m definitely going to get a laptop with a 256 GB or greater SSD. I don’t want to be impeded by a slow hard drive.


#12

Thanks Stan !
Jeez, you guys are great at giving intelligent, detailed explanations.

I really like the idea of having 2 monitors to view different parts of the DAW. At first I’ll familiarize myself with just using the laptop alone for recording and if I think I need a bigger screen and/or another monitor, I’ll have the option to add one to my setup.


#13

I used two monitors for quite a while, because I had them left over from previous builds and upgrades. Drove those suckers into the ground, and when one of them finally croaked, I replaced them with a super wide-screen single display, which I LOVE. No break from one to the other, really improves my workflow.

Have fun!


#14

Hey guys, just wondering if a 1TB 7200 rpm SATA Drive compares favourably to an Solid State Drive in regards to speed?
Is the 7200 rpm SATA drive almost as fast as the SSD ?


#15

No way, no how. Not even close. 7200 is the standard speed for HDDs these days. If memory serves, the fastest HDD out there is 10,000. And even that is nowhere close to the speed of a SSD, which has no moving parts and is as fast as RAM.

There are also newer generation “hybrid” drives out there, which combine a portion of storage being solid-state with a traditional HD platter. Personally I think the best approach is still a SSD for the main drive and a big (2TB and up) HD for storage. The cost per unit storage is WAY less with HDD, but the performance increase is worth it IMO. Doing the combo thing allows you to not break the bank for your primary drive – 512 GB SSDs can be had for under US$200 these days, so IMO it’s a total no-brainer.

Here’s a recent summary with some helpful comparisons illustrating the huge performance increase from using SSD vs any HDD. First, one of the data plots just to quickly show the difference (cost numbers in UK pounds, it’s a British publication):


#16

Excellent info Chordwainer !
Thanks so much !

I was looking at some external SSD drives that can be connected to a laptop by USB 3.0. but it seems most of them were only compatible with Mac. Do you know if the external SSD’s are actually capable of speeding up computer processing just as an internal SSD would or are the external drives simply a way to transfer files from and to a computer ?

The reason I’m asking about the external SSD drives is because if I can’t find a reasonably priced laptop with an SSD, I might have the option of buying an external one to use with my setup.


#17

It’s the latter-- an external drive, whether a HDD or SSD, is just a storage solution, you can’t run your system from any external drive. (Well, you COULD, but it would be a major pain to implement and would make no sense at all.)

There is no real upside to an external SSD, which is why I expect they are not commonly available. The rate-limiting feature is the USB connection, and even USB 3.0 can’t keep up with an SSD, so you really wouldn’t realize any noticeable improvement in transfer speeds if you had an external SSD. The SSD benefit comes from being the system drive.

Basically that’s the judgment call you have to make: speed, low/no heat and hence fan-silence of SSD vs lower cost and potential for noisier operation at peak usage for an HDD-based system. Like everything else, it’s a cost/benefit decision.

As I’ve indicated in my earlier posts, I have grown so used to having SSD-based systems that I simply would not consider going back to a HDD-based rig. It’s like so many tech things that have come along, starting with fax and email-- at first you think they’d be “nice to haves” but after you get accustomed to using them, you wonder how you ever lived without it…

Good luck!


#18

Yeah that’s the nature of the beast! I dislike laptops for the same reasons as Boz, plus they are inherently more expensive. That being said, when portability is key… it’s the only choice!

I’d say get at least a 512 GB SSD, 8 to 16 GB RAM and a decent quad core CPU. Get a screen size you’ll be comfortable with when working on a single screen. If you want to expand later you can always add external storage via USB hard disks. When working at home you can opt to hook up to a larger screen and benefit from a multi-monitor setup (multi-screen is one of those things that makes you wonder how you survived without it!)

It’s prudent to mention that you should make sure that your operating system is 64-bit so you can actually use all that RAM. A 32-bit OS can only address about 4GB RAM. Being a Windows guy, I know that RAM usage can also vary based on which version of Windows you’re running, but you’re not likely to approach these limits when running 64-bit Windows 10:

Edition                                 Amount of RAM
Windows 10 Home 32 bit                  4 GB
Windows 10 Home 64 bit	                128 GB
Windows 10 Pro 32 bit	                4 GB
Windows 10 Pro 64 bit	                512 GB
Windows 10 Enterprise/Education 32 bit	4 GB
Windows 10 Enterprise/Education 64 bit	512 GB  

(Table info from: What are the editions of Windows 10 available?)


#19

I didn’t realize you could still even GET a 32-bit OS anymore… absolutely, 64 bit is a must.


#20

Great to know that info !
I was considering buying an external SSD before you posted that.

The internal SSD definitely increases the price of a computer.
I assume it’s probably better to skimp on the Processor a little bit rather than buying a laptop without an SSD. I’ve been shopping around for the latest Processors (2017 models) like the i7 7700u, and focusing on getting about 16 GB of Ram.

Do you think a 5th or 6th generation i7 would suffice? I’m also wondering if I could get away with 8 or 12 GB of Ram ?
I was thinking maybe I could upgrade the RAM later if I find that I need more power (as long as the laptop has the capacity to hold more Ram).