Laptops for Location Work

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by DavidSpearritt, Sep 12, 2005.

  1. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Sadie obviously think its OK.

    I wonder. Certainly, laptop HDD's are very reliable and robust, but its that old OS and some really crappy hardware around the HDD that worries me.

    Your thoughts? I hope Sadie have thought this through.
  2. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    I doubt that the price makes this very attractive compared to the turnkey Sequoia from SequoiaDIGITAL. The new location box is pretty sleek.

    Re Crappy hardware--, I have yet to see a PCM/CIA interface that deserves the title "professional" in terms of robust connectors.

    I must ask what on earth you mean by "old OS"? It is likely XP Pro! I over 2 years of daily use XP Pro has crashed on me exactly TWICE.

  3. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    A term of familiarity, of endearment, meaning you know its vices. I was referring to the OS du jour, which in yours and my cases is XP. I agree its pretty stable, but two crashes is two too many, and it and its consumer interfaces like firewire and USB2 I do not trust.

    Will check out the new Sequoia box some more.
  4. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Only in never-never land does an OS NEVER crash-- even my Mac OS 10.4 has crashed-- once.

    No argument here! I recently dumped a FW recording device because of minor but unresolvable problems. A fresh lesson trying to avoid companies who do not have adequate support and development.

    Of course, often the only way to discover this is the hard way.

  5. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    True, but if this happens during a live gig then its all over and I have to have a zero tolerance policy here.

    Absolutely true and agree its very unfortunate. One wonders where things will end up with so much junk coming onto the market in the name of flash recorders and other multitrack "solutions".
  6. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    I have been using laptops since the "wallstreet" powerbook came out. I can report ZERO failures/crashes. Since that time I have been on OS9, OSX, and finally XP. The key to reliablity, I believe, is totally dedicating the laptop to recording. No other software should be installed. Also I have never, ever connected a recording laptop to the internet.
  7. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    ...another key factor is protecting the computer when traveling. I have my laptops out in the field everyday. This exposes the computers to a lot of bumps and jolts. Proper, road-worthy cases/gig bags are essential to reliability.
  8. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    How do you accomplish software updates? My main concern with laptops remains the interconnects between PCM/CIA and the rest of the rig. What are you using?

  9. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    I download updates with my MAC. Run virus/spyware diagnostics on the downloaded installer, then put it on a CD-r.
    I have not yet had to deal with any PCM/CIA issues. I have been using USB and Firewire based interfaces. The majority of these types of interfaces are, unfortunately, of mediocre sonic quality. I am able to modify these devices to acceptable levels for myself, however.
  10. TomGrubb

    TomGrubb Guest

    Hi Guys,

    I've been recording to a laptop for about a year now (and for a number of years to a ProTools rig in a studio) and must say I haven't had any problems (yet) - this is including week-long sessions in a cold church in Norway and a warm chapel in outback Western Australia.

    I had the system set up by a professional guy who knows the ins and outs of XP and chipsets for audio work - I'm using a IBM T41 with stripped-down XP and Firewire interface.

    My main worries are 1) the USB Dongle for Sequoia (though I have Wavelab 5 for backup), 2) a power cut and what happens to the recorded file.

    I suppose compared to the number of DAT and other digital tapes I've received that contain errors (usually from professional studios), recording to hard-disc feels safe (though one hears the stories!) - it takes a pretty big magnet to get the data off one!

    I like the idea of running a backup at the same time as with Sadie - I'm not sure how to do this with my system at the moment, though during any breaks the files go onto a second hard-disc and DVD-R.

    I'm off to WA soon again for another week, so I hope I'll still be positive afterwards!


    Thomas Grubb
  11. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    In my case, I have had zero problems with the 6 pin FW connector; it's as solid and as reliable as anything else out there. The four pin version leaves a lot to be desired however, and if for some reason I have to use one, the whole mess gets gaffed down to make sure nothing moves during a session.

    I run a CDr backup as well as (for now) a Tascam DA-x8 tape backup too. The real key is knowing your gear, doing simulations ahead of time, and making sure it all works in harmony long before it goes out on a remote.

    For well over three years now, a Sony Vaio running WINXP, external HD and various FW interfaces all have done exactly what they say they do, as long as the testing is done ahead of time, bugs tracked down, and the work gets done. Bad things can still happen of course, but it's usually pilot error, power failure, or something unforseen outside of the setup itself.

    FW 400 seems totally transparent and no longer an issue with the latest storage and I/O devices, now that they're all caught up with the latest WINXP drivers over the last few years. That said, I shudder to think about the next step up, (FW 800?) and what the next OS will bring with it.
  12. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    I would suggest using a short USB extension cable for the dongle. Keeps the strain of the device off the port. As for a power cut, it will be catastrophic. Because of that, I bring a small UPS with me that will power the computer for about 5 minutes or so. A major outage will kill the session/concert, but this will protect against the short (under 1 min) outages that occur relatively frequently in some venues.

  13. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    I carry a UPS for just such occasions and for the accidental "oops" I tripped on your cord routine. We have been using a Sony Vaio laptop for the past two years and no problems. It is running Windows XP home with all the latest updates. The 4 wire firewire has been very reliable (loud sound of knocking on wood) and we are using it with Trackation from Mackie and a Mackie Onxy mixer model 1640. So far so good.

    We purchased a hard aluminum case for the laptop and it has been the best investment we could have made. I still see people carrying their laptops with out any protection and it makes me shiver.

    Best of luck!
  14. gucci

    gucci Guest

    hi tom,
    im planning on getting myself a mackie onyx 1620 mixer w firewire connectivity to mylaptop. my question is laptop drive speed is not more than 4200 rpm..i could consider goingfor an external fw drive, but do i still get 16 channles od audio recorded at 16 bit 44.1 khz for an hour or more at a live band gig without any glitches otr dropouts or screwups.
    how could i modify my laptop withouit runing its warranty to accomodate the same...otherwise the reviews are that the system runs great on the desktop, but i can move it to the pub...right..?:D

  15. gucci

    gucci Guest

    hi there..

    im planning on getting myself a mackie onyx 1620 mixer w firewire connectivity to mylaptop. my question is laptop drive speed is not more than 4200 rpm..i could consider goingfor an external fw drive, but do i still get 16 channles od audio recorded at 16 bit 44.1 khz for an hour or more at a live band gig without any glitches otr dropouts or screwups.
    how could i modify my laptop withouit runing its warranty to accomodate the same...otherwise the reviews are that the system runs great on the desktop, but i can move it to the pub...right..?

  16. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    my experience is that 16 channels, 24 bits, 44.1kHz is just about doable on a 4.200 rpm laptop disc (using a modern laptop that is). To get it reliable you will have to tweak Windows XP a bit and remove things such as anti-virus and screen-savers and tweak some other settings including turning off all power saving options. I think a good choice might be a modern Pentium M at or above 1.5 Gigahertz. Currently I run a Vaio which is rather good, but I hate all the various programs that are automatically installed as they have to be carefully removed. For tracking 512MByte memory is adequate, more is not really used. You also have to keep the disc very clean of odd programs and data and run a defragmentation before every session.

    I never run 16 bit so I cannot really say how much that adds in reliability.

    One alternative is to use an external firewire or USB 2 harddisk. I have not very much experience there so I cannot really say.

    What I did though on my older laptop was finding one of the Hitachi 7.200 rpm discs. Planning on moving that disc over to this laptop (or maybe buy a new). It will fit inside the laptop directly and adds that little extra of speed that might be needed.

    You will need an external USB or Firewire caddy as well in order to be able to format the disc and install the OS, costs maybe 50 dollars or so. Formatting the new disc before swapping can be done without any more software than your running XP (I think, will test). You probably void the guarantee, but who can tell as you would swap to the original disc if you end up having hardware problems with the laptop.

    On a pub it will probably work but not forever, that is a tough environment for computers, come to think of it for humans as well. Keep the beer out of sight, or even worse the dreaded electronics killer Coca-Cola.

  17. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I would treat these with caution. I use a few of them for video and backup storage off my main PC and every now and then they just hang/stop. This is probably something to do with what Oxford chipset they are using. Its very "consumer" and there's no way I would trust recording to one.
  18. TomGrubb

    TomGrubb Guest

    Have you had problems running your drives on Firewire or USB2 David? I've heard of the problem only occuring with Firewire.

    I use LaCie drives, but running off the USB2 port.

    Thank you Ben for the suggestions. I will certainly look into the USB extension and UPS.

    Gucci, I find the IBM laptops probably the "toughest" of the laptops (not beer-proof though). They have a tip sensor that retracts the HD heads if it senses a fall and metal hinges for the screen. They can also take a 2nd hard-disc (which I think is 7200rpm) which would be fast enough for any 16/44.1 recording.

  19. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    I use a Dell Latitude Centrino laptop. With a bit of tweaking the software, and making sure that it starts up with no drivers other than those that are absolutely vital (and with all of the extra Centrino bits turned off), I can manage 24 tracks at 96/24. However, one major concern is that the hard disk temperature reaches 50 degrees (centigrade) which is only about 5 degrees less than the recommended maximum. I have a second HD that I can put in the CD bay to share the workload, but have not tested this enough to use this arrangement in a critical situation. Still, I would feel safer with this arrangement than using an external drive.

    I find XP to be very stable, and I have never had a crash unless I had just installed something that caused some sort of device conflict.

  20. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Tom, I have had curious stops during transfers with both Firewire and USB2. I am not sure which external HDD cases to buy, there seems a myriad of cheap crap brands everywhere with weird brand names resembling comic book heroes, so I am mystified as to which to go for.

    I like this configuration of storage because it is intermittant, the drives are not running all the time when most of the time they are not required. My 2 SCSI drives are my workhorses, but I need big storage every now and then and these external boxes are ideal.

    But, as I said, I would never trust data streaming during recording to one of these, a native interface is the only way to go.

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