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Easy Recording Laptop on the cheap

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Brewdork, Nov 2, 2010.

  1. Brewdork

    Brewdork Active Member

    Hi Dudes -
    I do a fair amount of home studio recording, currently using a PV14-USB mixer run to a Boss BR1180 digie studio (live mixing to a stereo pair on the digital studio). I'd like to get an affordable laptop for home use, and may as well be sure it can do a good job recording too.

    Can anyone suggest some basic "must have" components to look for in a laptop? Meaning, the mixer I have has USB I/O for a stereo pair, so I can use that as a last resort...but should I look for a laptop with:__________ to be sure I can handle better mixers (or multi-channel input box, etc) and plug-ins as the studio evolves to pc-based mixing/mastering? Oh yeah, and i'd like to spend less than 1000$ :)

    What should my new laptop have onboard?
  2. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Cheap and recording computer are sort of at odds with each other. If you are IT saavy you can make many things work for limited track counts and if it has mobo resources to not chug. I don't really have any specific recommendations though. Make sure your Express Card slot is not a Ricoh as they seem to cause some issues.
  3. Brewdork

    Brewdork Active Member

    Well, think of it this way...are there any things I should look for in a standard/stock laptop for home use that may also allow it to work for home recording (small groups live, or multi-track solo projects). Do I need a certain amount of ram, a certain type of soundcard, etc? I know it won't be a "pro recording computuer", but...Will I be able to record 20-25 tracks/song using a program like Reaper on a windows-based pc, or should I look into converting to a mac and using something larger like Protools (or that other one that starts with an L, ;))?

    I know there's a reasonable laptop out there for less than a g, and see a lot of average joes recording live and working well with macbooks and hp laptops that their daddies bought them for xmas. I am not convinced that any windows-based pc off the shelf won't work. I know you pros want us all to go broke to justify your awesome gear :)...but I like my mid-grade analog stuff and am just a guy looking to open the DAW door, and give the wife something to surf the web on the patio with too.

    Thanks for the reply.
  4. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Are you capable of setting up two user profiles and configuring one of those to be recording only? Very few of your "average joes" are using those low end laptops for dual use-browsing/recording if they are doing any multi-tracking. You'd be better off buying your wife a netbook from Costco for $350 and purchase some" $600" laptop for yourself to dedicate to recording. Strip the operating system of all non recording programs and services. Disable ALL networking and power options ACPI. Get a firewire hard drive etc. You think those guys that rely on a laptop for a paying gig haven't done all this?

    This isn't about me justifying anything. My remote laptop is a dedicated and stripped Dell D820. It's not actually good enough for what I do, but I am also an IT guy so I make it work Gyrene style.

    I'm on my Droid right now so don't read any tone into this post.
  5. Brewdork

    Brewdork Active Member

    I may find that you're right...but I'll need this laptop to be versatile enough to log onto my day job too, and can't dedicate it. If I recorded every day, I would...but I don't...'cause, as you surely know, it doesn't pay.

    I can obviously set-up 2 user profiles, and can try and keep this thing lean and mean by using external drives that I already have and a new one for recording...but she'll need to be as versatile as I am (though she'll also probably not be great at any one thing, beat you to it). I'm finding other leads that suggest this is more than possible, with processor and hd speeds where they are today. For example, I'm not even convinced that firewire beats USB interfacing these days.

    Don't bother replying, I've got it from here.

  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    You're correct. It can be done. CPU speeds have been adequate for a long time. What hasn't is mobo design and memory controller support. The memory controller specifically with this latest gen of cpus has improved tremendously. I would still avoid Ricoh. 4gig min ram. As to usb v 1394 interface? That just depends on who writes the driver protocols. You still can't get as high track count on usb but still very adequate. Soon in a year or so maybe usb3 will change it all.

    Good luck and we'll ne here for the next question.
  7. Brewdork

    Brewdork Active Member

    In case anyone's looking too, here's where my research landed me:
    I'm going with an HP Pavilion dm4-1165dx (specific to Best Buy, it appears, their model numbering is dangerous..so look at components carefully)
    Selling Points:
    - Compact (14" LED)
    - 4 GB DDR3 RAM (room for 8)
    - 500 GB Hdrive (7200 rpm, this is rare at this size and essential for tracking)
    - Intel i5 (2.4-2.6 GHz, but a quad-core..fast)
    - 3 USB ins, w/ 1 eSATA combo in
    - wireless HDMI (why not)
    It's Missing:
    - firewire ins (for me, not so bad, unless I stumble on a mixer deal and need it..but you can convert in a pinch. USB's fine these days)
    - nothing fancy for soundcard (intel-made, I think, not the better "beats" one in other HPs), which I'm hoping doesn't bite me.

    Its reviews are great, and it is the best combination of components for the price in a stock package...$780 at Best Buy.

    Now I need to find a good tracking program for cheap/free. I have a couple others that I like to mix/master with, but tracking's been tough on the cheap programs thus far (I like an analog-looking platform, for example...gotta react fast live).

    Oh, and if there is latency fear, the fast (7200rpm or Solid-State) external drives are getting very cheap...this (for other noobs like me) will allow you to setup and run your audio programs and store their files on it and not on your internal (potentially slower) hdrive. With the i5 and an internal 7200 rpm hdrive, I don't expect problems.

    Good luck (to me, as well)
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Since you have an eSATA port, that is your best bet for external drive. You will not want to "track" to your internal main drive. This will cause dropouts etc. Get a good 7200rpm external drive with eSATA connection. For tracking, go with Reaper. (REAPER | Audio Production Without Limits) This will be the best most cost effective DAW program that is also the least CPU intensive I know.
  9. Brewdork

    Brewdork Active Member

    I hear ya, maybe I should be concerned enough to use the ext drive. Of course leads to more questions....Reaper, for example, looks great for me. Recording in the studio attached to the ext drive sounds easy, but would only be 10-20% of the time I'd spend on a typical project...most of the time is editing. The joy of the laptop is freedom, so I'd want to edit projects using Reaper on my internal drive that were recorded using Reaper on my external drive. Is it possible to run the same program from either drive? I envision my file management and whatever filepathing that Reaper does could get confusing. You know what I'm wondering? Am I an idiot?
  10. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    External drives aren't big enough to be an impediment to mobile recording. I used 2.5" external drives for a long time before I finally gave up and put a Glyph 051Q in the house rack and the mobile rack. They just slide in the laptop bag. You just need to use an eSATA drive for best performance and no interference with your USB interface.

    You will install your DAW program on each computer you use. In the case of Reaper it is even legal to do so with a single $50 license as long as only one computer is active at a time. In the case of the audio files, you will save these and work with these from your external drive no matter what computer you use. I create a folder for each project/concert. The last two were for instance: 2010-1031_YCP and 2010-1102_SeniorHigh. Before you work with any files however you should make a pristine backup. Label it as such. As cheap as drives are these days I would also say get two. Archive all your files on one and use the other as a working drive.
  11. Brewdork

    Brewdork Active Member

    Ah, so you mean install and run the program on my laptop (or other computures) and just store/run the audio files on the external drive. I thought running the program on the external drive would help too, but if not, I'd rather not. That way I can fiddle with less demanding projects around the house without the ext. drive tagging along.

    I've got a couple back-up drives on right now, I just the need the faster new one for running audio files when recording. Got it. I think I'm there.
  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Running the DAW program on an external would be madness for anyone that wants to seriously record. That would introduce significant latency.

    When you are recording, you always have the program itself installed on the main operating system hard drive. You can store samples on additional drives if you want but that isn't as crucial as the recording files going to a separate hard drive. Here's the deal. When you are recording, the audio is streaming non stop (hopefully) to it's destination drive. If that drive is also running the operating system and recording program you have a problem. Data can not travel back and forth on the same hard drive simultaneously. It is either reading or writing. THAT is why the audio goes to the external drive-so your system runs smooth and there are no dropped spots in the tracks.
  13. Brewdork

    Brewdork Active Member

    Makes sense. That's a good basic description (the reading/writing bit) of the problem, thanks.

    In fact, I bet a lot of dabblers like me would also learn from the same type of description of a basic, yet functional setup with key things to look for and avoid. Just by reading some other posts, we all seem to ask the same questions in different ways...and everyone is afraid to speak in simple terms, here and everywhere. Do they need that sicker program, drivers, etc. or are they just skipping over the basics like me? Gotta crawl before we can walk and there a lot of chumps skipping right to the no-look passes before they learn to dribble in this realm.

    Glad I stuck it out with you here, thanks for dumbing it down.
  14. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I didn't dumb it down. I just kept changing the metaphor until I found the one that clicked. I'm not a big believer in "dumb."
  15. Fozz

    Fozz Active Member

    Hi Brewdork.

    It's postmortem time.

    Question: did you have any configuration and/or performance problems connecting the PV14-USB to HP Pavilion dm4-1165dx?
  16. 3daudio

    3daudio Active Member

    Any modern laptop with dual core or quad core CPU has enough juice to serve as a portable recording studio. Here are my observation:

    1) Keep the laptop dedicated for the recording studio and do not load any junks, disk optimization software which runs automatically or virus scanner on it. As multitrack recording at 96KHz and 24bit takes lot of CPU power and disk bandwidth. Many junk programs and virus scanners periodically kicks in and hogs the CPU and disk I/O. That may cause stuttering and clicks in your recorded audio.

    2) Use a Firewire based audio interface over USB based audio interface. This is because Firewire interface does not consume CPU power for data transfer from audio interface to Computer as much as an USB interface. So you will have extra juice to drive your VST plugins at near real time speed.

    3) If you use Firewire, make sure your Laptop has Texas Instrument based firewire chips. Most Firewire audio interface will not properly with other chipsets and will drive you crazy with sudden DAW crashes, lockups or other issues. I was plagued by driver issues with my Presonous Firestudio, but since I have added a Belkin Firewire PCMCIA card with Texas Chip, everything runs rock steady on my 3 year old Core 2 Duo laptop.
  17. 3daudio

    3daudio Active Member

    You will get best performance if you can replace your Laptop HDD with a SSD and add USB3 or Sata external HDD for storing the recording. There are many PCMCIA express Sata vard available which will allow you to hook up external Sata drive to your laptop.
  18. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Pcmcia to SATA is useless. The Card Bus format is limited in it's bandwidth and not up to SATA speed requirements. Express Card adapters are another story.

    With regards to Core 2 Duo and similar generation CPU's, the problem is not with the CPU itself but the memory controller which limits the bus speeds and routing options. On a limited basis and a very tweaked pc, this can be overcome if the motherboard is efficient in it's busing. I have recorded 16 channels of 88.2k on a Core 2 Duo machine but again it was severely tweaked and customized.
  19. Fozz

    Fozz Active Member

    What characteristics of a laptop/motherboard does one look at to determine if the memory controller is efficient with busing/routing? Is there some particular Intel mobile chipset we should look for?

    What is involved in the tweaking and customization?
  20. 3daudio

    3daudio Active Member

    Get a intel i5 processor

    My main work station is a custom built overclocked water cooled X6 Phenom with 16GB RAM, but that kind of processing power is not necessary for audio recording and mastering unless you are doing multi-channel real time audio processing. I do most of my audio recording with a 3-4 year old Fujitsu Lifebook Laptop tablet with 2 GB ram. The only customization I had done was to install a IBM 7200 RPM laptop hard disk in it. My old Fujitsu does not have an express slot and all it has a PCMCIA slot, so I wrote PCMCIA. That is an old and obsolete laptop expansion slot and almost all new laptop has only express slot. However, this old setup works perfectly for me without any drop out and glitches with Cubase 5 and Presonous Firestudio project through a Belkin PCMCIA Firewire adapter. I run Windows 7 professional on the laptop and I am so happy with stability and reliability that I do not feel any need to upgrade it. Most laptop you can buy today even at Walmart, may have probably more processing power than mine. So, if my setup work perfectly for 8 channel 96 KHz recording (no real time VST effx through), then it should work for most new laptops also. Oh, by the way, as I have mentioned before, I have cleaned all the bloatware, free evaluation software, instant messaging, advertisement crapware and virus scanners from my laptop and that is vital to get reliable performance from your machine.

    If you have budget to spend, then by all means get a killer gaming machine. Check laptops from Dell Alienware. They are specially designed for processing, disk IO and graphics speed. All of them will help your audio editing application. However, if you wish to get a reliable rock steady mobile studio with not so flashy specifications, then from my own experience with Dell, Sony, Compaq and Fujitsu, I will recommend you to check Fujitsu laptops. Get a laptop with Intel i5 processor, it will have enough juice to get your most complex going. Here is the specification of a nice powerful laptop. If I have to buy something today, I will get something like this.

    LIFEBOOK® T730 Tablet PC

    • Intel Core i5-480M (2.66Ghz, 3MB) with Turbo Boost up to 3.2 Ghz
    • Genuine Windows® 7 Professional (MUI) 64-bit (ENERGY STAR® qualified).
    • Dual Digitizer (pen input plus capacitive multi-touch screen supporting touch gesture )
    • 12.1" WXGA LED backlight bright display with wide-viewing angles for better outdoor viewing with webcam [FREE WEBCAM]
    • 4 GB DDR3 1066 SDRAM memory (Dual Channel; 2 GB + 2 GB)
    • 160 GB (7200 rpm) hard drive
    • Modular Dual-Layer Multi-Format DVD Writer
    • XBUY: XBUY-T730-W7-012

    Wish you best of luck and many many hours of happy recording.


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