Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need A Notebook For Music Production and Web Development

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With summer finally winding down, many students are getting ready to head to school for the fall. Reader David L won't be going to college until net year, but he's already on the hunt for a good notebook.

David writes:

I'm going to be going to college in Fall 2011, pursuing a career in music. I need a laptop with sufficient storage to hold my music collection (200GB and growing), but also with the platform support for higher-end music production/creation apps, whether the better be Windows 7 or OS X.

Also, I need to do some part-time web-development (using Visual Studio) on the side, so I need the power for that. In addition, I also travel a great deal, so I need something relatively compact (less that 14.1" screen) lightweight (lightweight and compact A/C adapter is a factor to consider as well), and a very good WiFi card for the many less than stellar connections throughout the world. Ideally, my dream laptop would be sub-$1500, with $2000 being the absolute max, but future-proof enough to last through 4-5 years of college. Is this possible?

We'll start by pointing you towards the HP Envy 14 ($999). In terms of specs, it'll definitely have enough storage and horsepower for everything that you'll be doing. Our Envy 14 review unit sported, among other things, a Core i5-450M 2.4-GHz CPU, 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive. It also has a really good audio fidelity, making it good for music production.

These specs aren't concrete, since HP--like most manufacturers--offers customized notebook builds. However, while the Envy 14 starts at $999, getting a model like ours would only cost you $1,289 (HP also offers a Core i7-based iteration of the Envy 14, if you want the extra processing power). At 14.5-inches, the Envy 14 is also slightly bigger than your size ceiling, but it only clocks in at 5.4 pounds.

The 13.3-inch MacBook Pro (starts at $1,199) falls into a similar category--like the Envy 14, you'll have similar flexibility on storage and processing power. Storage options max out at a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive (for an extra $150) and even though the MacBook Pro is Core 2 Duo-based, you'll still have decent performance for your specific applications.

Depending on the specific programs you're using for music creation, Snow Leopard is also a definite advantage for the MacBook Pro, since many programs like Garage Band only work on Mac. However, you would definitely need to dual boot with Windows 7, because Visual Studio only runs under Microsoft's OS.

When it comes to portability, the MacBook Pro is clearly the better choice. That system gets 7 hours and 48 minutes of life and only weighs 4.4 pounds.

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8 comments
  • Ty Says:

    Go to the website of the school you're going to and see what they recommend for music production. If a mac, then go for the mac. If a pc, then go for a different school!

  • Dave Says:

    I noticed you put down Visual Studio for web dev. I understand you probably have a good reason for going with VS and having used it myself, I know it's a great product. I'm guessing your server side might be MSSQL + ASP or some such.

    If you are doing AJAX however, might I suggest you check out NetBeans. I am currently running 6.9.1 (I just downloaded the PHP only version). It is a very nice piece of free software and runs on both Win and OS X. If you find it does what you need, then you may not need to dual boot into Windows if you go with a Mac.

    One other suggestion would be to check out Parallels instead of Boot Camp. If you don't intend on playing games, then Parallels would probably be perfect for what you are doing (it can actually play games at a good rate, but I probably wouldn't rely on it for that :-).

    Oh, I just noticed someone else suggested Parallels as well...

  • Toy Needle Says:

    Garage Band is perfectly adequate and has many of the features available in Logic. Unless you're producing sound tracks, GB is fine. I use both. Besides, what student wants to pay for Logic?

  • Peter Says:

    David,
    I'd suggest looking at the total cost of your project instead of just the computer, then decide what to do. As others have said, professional-grade software will be required to study and perform professional-level work and this software isn't cheap. Add in all the midi hardware and additional gear and the computer will be the least expensive part of your system.

    I understand you're a starving student (daughter #1, law school grad, daughter #2, in grad school (DPT)) but remember, you get what you pay for and shorting yourself during your intense time of study is not necessarily the best thing you could do. As far as Visual Studio, check out Parallels or Fusion and run it there.

  • hanksd Says:

    If you are serious, then why not invest in tools that you may use as a pro. My daughter, a high school sophomore, writes and records her own songs and lyrics. She uses a two year old 13" MacBook Pro, which I upgraded to 4GB memory and a 500GB internal disk. This month I gifted her another 500GB in an OWC external case. She edits music with Logic, and video with Final Cut Pro. She records guitar and voice via Firewire with an M-Audio ProFire 610. She plays keyboard with an M-Audio that attaches with USB. The results are excellent. It pays to invest ~$30 a month for a couple of months to learn how use the software with videos from www.lynda.com.

  • David L Says:

    Cool! Thanks for the advice everyone! Been leaning towards the 13" MacBook Pro, and this confirms most of my reasoning.

  • KeithT Says:

    Garage Band is a starter (ie BASIC) program for music. If he is going to pursue a career in music, you are doing him a dis-service by listing Garage Band as an advantage. If he was a music hobbyest and wanted to get his feet we, Garage Band is fine. Abelton Live 8 (for example) is Windows and OSX compatible and is more suitable for the career he is pursuing.

    I own both a late 08' Aluminum Macbook and Envy 14. Both are great systems and no matter which direction you go, you can't go wrong.

  • James Says:

    @ David

    The best thing is to find out what they are using in your university's program. Being in the arts myself (Masters in Multimedia and a BFA in Film), I can tell you Macs dominant Art and just about every Art related field, such as Music. Having a Mac will also give you the best of both worlds, if you need Windows at all.

    Processor specs and the like are pretty much irrelevant these days. Just about any laptop above $1000 will do. From reading your letter its clear you have been using PCs or you wouldn't be asking about WiFi cards. The MacBooks all have the latest standard, such as Wireless N and beyond that, again, the specs are pretty much irrelevant.

    BTW any serious digital music production will involve using ProTools or Apple's Logic Pro for post/production. Again, most studios are dominated by Macs.

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