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Laptops and Pentium Processors for on-site recording

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Randyman..., Nov 15, 2004.

  1. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member


    I'm in the market for a new laptop (my first laptop!). I need portability from my system, and I have also considered building a rack-mount PC, but a laptop is looking more and more appealing for a number of reasons. This will be a temprary setup (about a year or so), and portability is key. This will serve as my tracking recorder to be interfaced via Firewire, then to my RME AID-8 I/O for AD and DA duties. I will use the laptop for miscelanious duties as well.

    On the topic of Laptops, what kind of performance can I expect with the different processors out there? I'm looking heavily at Dells, and they have lots of options. Here is what I'm looking at (all prices with 1Gig RAM)...

    XPS: Gaming "state of the art" notebooks with a full-blown P4 w/HT (3.4GHz w/800MHz FSB) (very simular to the processor I run in my PC tower at home). Over $2200 w/1Gig RAM. Looks like a "I can do anything a desktop can do" laptop for sure. Battery life likely sucks big time (not a huge drawback IMO). I fear that I am paying an extra couple hundred dollars for the "gaming" video card that I DON'T need (I'm NOT a gamer!).

    Inspiron 9200: Pentium "M" 745 Processor (1.80GHz/400MHz FSB) About $1900 w/1Gig RAM (superior battery life with Centrino technology, but slower clock speeds on Processor and FSB)

    Inspiron 5160: Mobile Pentium® 4 Processor 532 w/HT Technology (3.06GHz, 533MHz FSB). About $1550 w/1Gig RAM (looks like a compromise between the XPS and 9200, but the price is killer in this family)

    I'm not too worried about battery life (I'll use the A/C adaptor for long sessions), and I'm not too worried about weight/bulk (I don't mind a 10lb laptop). I just want to get a good performer that will allow effortless tracking of upto 16-24 tracks at once (usually more like 12 at once).

    I will likely interface via Firewire (MOTU 828 or simular) or an RME Multi-face w/PC-MIA laptop card - I will also use my RME AID-8 via ADAT as my primary A/D and D/A converter, so any conversion on the soundcard itself will be secondary.

    I will track on the laptop, and transfer files into my tower PC at home for mix-down. I planned on tracking to an external FireWire HD to eliminate the Laptop's HD bottleneck, and to speed up transfer times to my tower PC (just plug in the FireWire HD!).

    Any info/suggestions? Thanks! :cool:
  2. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Here's my idea: don't touch Dells.

    As far as I am concerned, and I only speak from the desktop perspective, they quote you high on the flagship components (processor, memory, hdd space)S and cut corners on the motherboard.

    Ide transfer speeds are terrible as are bus speeds and basically that translates to a bundle of good (in spec, not necessarily quality) components that cannot talk to each other at any great speed.

    Why not get a music production magazine (Sound on Sound for UK) and get something made by a small operator who specialises.

    I would recommend a Mac myself, but I think I am probably blinded by years of Mac use, but I did run a Dell desktop for 2 years (P4 2.4) and despite SCSI drive installs, memory upgrades, tuning etc, I basically stripped all the good components out and consigned it to word-processing last summer.

    Also Mac has Firewire 800 which will allow you to use one FW bus for HDD, and a different one for Audio, whereas with PC you're gonna be trying to run 16 tracks in as audio and back out to the HDD all on one FW400 bus bandwidth.
  3. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the input. Do you have any recommendatons on a laptop with better specs (besides a custom job)? I am very familiar with desktops (and I built my own screaming fast PC with insane RAM bandwidth), but when it comes to Laptops, I can not find any good info on the components used (MoBO, PCI bus limitations, etc).

    Even the Dell XPS with the 800MHz FSB would still suffer on the PCI bus? It does have 8X AGP graphics as well, so I figured the PCI bus was "up to snuff" (I culd care less about 8X AGP, but it implies the bandwidth is there, right?).

    Would an IBM be any better? I am hesitant to buy a Mac, as I don't want to learn the idiosynchrosies of a whole new platform all over again (I've heard raving reviews, and also so-so comments on Mac laptops versus PC laptops). Not to mention, I'd need to buy new software as well (not cheap). I have been to Mac message boards, and I have seen just as many problems concerning Mac as there is concerning PC (Crashes, OS update issues, etc). Just not as many viruses, yet.

    Like I mentioned, this will be seeing temporary use as a tracking device (about a year), and after I "retire" the laptop from audio service, I will continue to use it for portable computing needs (a convenience factor). I will eventually dedicate my desktop to Audio, but not just yet.

    I'm, really itching to buy this week, and I'd love some more "professional" input.

    Thanks :cool:
  4. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member


    I just found out that most Dells use VIA chipsets (not good IMO).

    One of the MIS guys at work recommended the high-end Toshibas that use Intel chipsets. I'm gonna look into these today, but I would still appreciate any input on this topic :)

    Thanks :cool:
  5. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    Relentless BUMP! I am looking heavily at the Toshiba P30. Here is a link:


    I would "Customize" mine to have the 3.2GHz Mobile P4, 1Gig of RAM, and a 60Gig internal HD. I am also looking at the ATI® MOBILITY™ RADEON™ 9700 discrete graphics w/64MB video memory to avoid "Shared system RAM". Brings it to $1863. A nice 17" Wide screen XGA display (1440 x 900) High Brightness is standard.

    Would this do what I need? :cool:
  6. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member


    Some random notes.

    I run a motu828mkII to a Compaq Presario 2500. It has 512MB memory and a 2,8MHz processor. Not very fast by the standards you have set up. I added a 60GB 7200rpm disc to not be stopped by disc io problems (although the standard 5400 disc did quite OK).

    On this system I track 2 hour sessions, 10 tracks at 44.1kHz and 24bits using Samplitude. Windows XP home. It can run up to 96kHz but I do not feel it to be totally stable with that number of channels.

    It takes a bit of tweaking on the disc, defragmenting before every session seems like a good idea.

    So all, in all, I would not expect large problems with the setups you are describing. But as always, a DAW is taxing a lot on the real-time performance of a PC, something the Windows OS is not very well-known to be good at.

    Warning though-- do listen to the fans in the system. This Presario I have is very loud. I cannot track in the same room as a classical recital, have to track in the next room.

  7. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your input, ghellquist!

    A question - you were using the internal drive (upgraded to 7200RPM), or did you add an external 7200RPM FW drive? I'm still slightly concerned about maxing out the FireWire bus with Audio I/O AND with the HD activity all happening at once. I guess I could interface the HD via USB 2.0, but both the FW and USB feed through the PCI bus - but I don't think the PCI's 133MB/s should be a bottleneck (that is just speculation on my part). This is also assuming the Laptop's components are good quality, and "on par" with a desktop equivalent (crappy chipsets may slow down the max bandwidth, or cause data instability near full bandwidth).

    Do you know the FSB and RAM speed of your laptop? Just curious for comparison sake.

    I have read lots of posts that suggest that Compaq's laptops (and HP's) are not "ideally suited" for pro-audio use. I assume it is the chipsets they use, but I'm not sure. Maybe that is why yours was "finiky" and required lots of tweaking.

    I am still strongly considering the Toshiba P30. It appears to be as cutting edge as I can get for under $2500. I'm still gonna peek at the Mac store.

    I'm gonna hold off for at least one more week to make sure I can gather all the info I need, so ANY more suggestions or "confirmation" of my suspicions would be fantastic...

  8. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    A question - you were using the internal drive (upgraded to 7200RPM), or did you add an external 7200RPM FW drive?

    Upgraded internal drive. You could probably order your laptop with that drive from the beginning.

  9. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Check out Carillon. They specialise in audio PCs.

    Sorry I haven't been back in touch.

    I am away at the moment but when I get back will give you the full results and actual sites to check out.

    Can't push you on the Mac thing at all?

  10. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Not all Dells are the same. The Latitude laptops are better in terms of the bits you don't hear too much about. The Inspirons are all about being cheap. My latitude has an intel chipset, and the is better than an Inspiron with the same specs.

    I've also been surprised by the performance of the 4,500 rpm hard drive using Sonar. Playing with the buffer sizes reduced the load on one track with 24 channels at 96 kHz from 90% to around 30%. I'm still planning on a higher speed external drive though. I wouldn't use a 7200 rpm HD inside a laptop, as heat becomes an issue.

    John Stafford
  11. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the info, John.

    A friend of mine is selling a Sony VAIO with a P4 2.0Ghz (400MHz FSB) and 512MB of RAM, and also includes FireWire onboard, Radeon 7500 32MB video card, and a 40 Gig HD. He is asking about $800, but I'm sure I can get him down to $700 (about 1/2 of new retail).

    The Sony model # is: PCG-GRZ610 or PCG-8L3L

    He let me borrow it, and I installed Nuendo 2.0 on it. I was able to run 20 tracks off the INTERNAL HD (the HD Cache meter was not even moving!!!), and 20 plugs at once. (all 44.1K/24Bit waves)

    I added an external 7200RPM FW drive, and 40 tracks were no problem (still with 20 or so plug-ins and TONS of bandwidth left on the HD). With 20 plugs, the VST monitor was reading about 50%-60% (closely matched the Window's Task Manager CPU useage), so this tells me that the processor is being taxed, but still running reliably.

    Here is where I would like some more input:

    This is without ANY audio I/O via firewire (I don't have a FW interface yet), so I am still a bit concerned that 16 channels of inputs and 8 channels of outputs may begin to tie up the FW bus (along with the FW Hard Drive). Any information on this?

    Will the FW audio I/O demand more processing power? (Will I still be able to run 20 plugs AND 16 analog ins, and 8 analog outs?)

    Keep in mind I want to be able to run plug ins on the Laptop, BUT I will be doing any complex mixing on my Desktop PC at home (quite a bit faster).

    This Sony VAIO appears to have all the power I need for tracking (and some plugs for overdubbing HP mixes), and I can still expand the RAM to a full gig, so I think this may just do it. Not to mention, I will be saving about $1000 versus a brand-new laptop, and I can apply that towards a RME FireFace 800!

    Any comments on the Sony VAIO 2.0 GHz? I know the battery life sucks, but that is not a huge concern. I have read a few unsetteling posts about VAIO's and overheating, but they were few and far between.

    You guys are so cool :cool:
  12. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    OK. MORE options!!!!

    Since I will ALWAYS be near A/C power, and there will automatically be a moderate set-up time (with the external Pre's, Comp's, Converters, etc), I may go with a Small-Form-Factor style PC.

    I can get a NEW LGA775 socket P4 3.0Ghz and a SFF case with the Intel 915 + ICH6-R and a Gig of Dual-Channel DDR400 RAM WITH XP-Home for only $750!!! This will actually be FASTER than my home PC (If I overclock it, wich I likely won't), and be 1/2 as cheap as a slower Laptop!!! This 915+ICH6 chipset combo is KILLER, and will not be matched on any Laptop I have seen.

    I already have an extra CRT, Mouse, Keyboard, OS Hard Drive, and CD-R, so I won't need to buy these items. Since the "Jam Room" is my usual tracking room, I will likely just leave the whole set-up out there, and just bring the external FireWire Drive back-and-forth so I can transfer files to my Tower PC at home. I could still do full-blown mixes on the Jam-Room's PC as well !

    The REALLY cool thing is, this would have PCI-Express 16x support, and its MODULAR!! (Unlike a Laptop). I can be assured the Intel Chipsets are identical to a Tower PC, so that is another plus.

    I may do this today, as Newegg is having a killer Turkey Day blowout! Here are links to the items I'm looking at (If anyone cares )


    And XP-Home "OEM" for $91.00!!!

    The only issue is the Power Supplies. I may just leave the Floppy and Optical drive out, and I won't be running a 8X AGP graphics card (I'll use the on-board Intel graphics), so I think it should be fine. Only one HD, the P4, the RAM, and the Chipsets are about all that will need power. Any opinions here? I guess I could always go with an external PS (I have a spare 400Watt ATX at home).

    Not bad at all. :cool:
  13. Randyman...

    Randyman... Well-Known Member

    Did it. The system mentioned above is "in the mail" (well not till Friday, I guess).

    Saved $1000 versus a laptop of lesser capability, and I have future expansion of PCI-Express 16x!!! Woo-hoo :)


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