PC laptops, myths and facts

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
stewart.james
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Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:50 pm

PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by stewart.james » Tue Feb 08, 2011 9:04 pm

Hi all.

This is yet another 'what laptop' request, but I've been checking threads here and elsewhere for the past couple of weeks, and I'm still reasonably confused. Basically I'm after a viable PC laptop (around £600-800) to run Ableton. (This is to replace my existing old c.2005 NEC single-core Intel one, which generally copes well enough with a handful of tracks but gets easily flustered if I throw too much at it. Might still work well enough as a standalone instrument though.). I have a few questions, but I'm most confused about this DPC latency lark...

1) ...speaking of which, I thought I was going to go for a Dell Vostro 3500, which looks just right for me in almost all ways, until I stumbled across many, many tales of woe regarding mysterious (and apparently hardware/BIOS-related, and fix-resistant) latency problems with Dell machines. I'd never even heard of DPC before about a week back, and it's a bit scary to think I could buy a piece of kit that turns out to be completely unfit for purpose. I see the reviews on this site - http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Del ... 323.0.html - do include a screencap of the DPC checker. (Incidentally, the 3 yr-old Inspiron I'm typing this on has a sea of red-and-amber bars whilst the aforementioned NEC is all green... this doesn't inspire (ha) much confidence in Dell.)

Currently I'm nodding towards HP ProbBook 6540b http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-HP- ... 619.0.html or a Thinkpad L512 http://www.notebookcheck.net/Review-Len ... 144.0.html (though this has some issues with latency according to the review screencap at least). Any thoughts/recommendations appreciated on these machines, and/or DPC latency for audio/Ableton generally.

2) Processor. What's the mimimum necessary to run a few tracks of midi and audio, plus a couple of soft synths - an i3, or how about Core2 processors? I'm picking up that Intel is preferred to AMD.

3) HD speed. Seems 7200rpm seems to be thought about best for streaming, yes? But what limitations might I get with a 5400rpm HDD? The Lenovo SL510 is just under £600 with a 5400rpm drive, 4GB RAM, a Core 2 Duo processor T6670(2.2GHz) AND a 3 year warranty. (This compares to £825 for a L512 with i3,4GB, 7200rpm drive and the warranty.)

4) RAM. Again, what's the miminum necessary? I'm drawn to 4GB but would 2-3 be ok at a push?

5) OS. Win7 I guess, but 32- or 64-bit? And I understand only the Pro version runs the XP mode - how stable is Ableton under those conditions?

Other stuff I'm looking for: solid build quality (don't care at all about looks - black and chunky is fine with me, in fact chunky is GOOD), adequate graphics for Ableton, 4 usb ports ideally, prob 15" screen, decent keyboard and touchpad for sometime use (the HP Pavilions seem pretty horrible in this regard - a shame as the DM4 1150ea looked pretty solid otherwise).

I realise that these questions have been asked many, many times before. But it's so bleedin' confusing! - So any info, experiences, pointers will be gratefully received.

Ta.

Stew

rikhyray
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Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by rikhyray » Tue Feb 08, 2011 9:36 pm

notebookcheck is your, any laptop musician best friend, only source where they actually do DPC check. You have your answer, unless you want to waste your life to find where the spikes come from, go for one with "all green". Thinkpads are the most solid build laptops out there, best cooling, try to go for good specs. Yet dont bother about HDD, it is very easy to swap for whichever you like and perhaps best of Thinkpad you can swap DVD for another HDD (takes seconds) so when you need you can have 2 HDDs.

rikhyray
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Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by rikhyray » Tue Feb 08, 2011 9:37 pm

Only Thinkpad weakness are the displays, but that shouldnt bother you for music use.

lapieuvre
Posts: 720
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Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by lapieuvre » Wed Feb 09, 2011 12:50 pm

Ram 4 gigs
HD: 7200RPM or SSD
OS: Get 64 bits, Live works great in it and it's 32 bits compatible
MBP 2015, 16 GB Ram, OSX 10.14.6
Live 9.7.6 Suite
Live 10.1.14 Suite
Soundcards : FF800, Apollo Twin duo

IP
Posts: 751
Joined: Tue Mar 04, 2008 8:55 pm
Location: Greece

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by IP » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:29 pm

Guys any opinions about the HP Envy 17" ?

Quad i7
4G of ram (up to 16.G)
Bluray player
e-sata - usb3
card reader - camera - 2 mic for stereo capture
2 HD option (default: 1x500G @ 7200rpm)
Full HD & 3 monitor setup with the default VGA
illuminated keys - aluminum construction - slot loading drive
win7 64 + optimized for audio by default

wtf
this beast with 16G of ram and an SSD for OS (second drive) could be a serious desktop killer

anyone has it?

Tone Deft
Posts: 24154
Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2006 5:19 pm

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by Tone Deft » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:55 pm

fact - all the planning ahead will never guarantee a smooth Live experience.

I've had great luck with my computers but even Mac guys with identical machines can have different experiences with Live.
In my life
Why do I smile
At people who I'd much rather kick in the eye?
-Moz

sham-79
Posts: 33
Joined: Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:26 am

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by sham-79 » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:56 pm

If your thinking about buying at the upper end of your budget you should check out some of the specialist music laptops on the market like the Scan 3XS 15 inch version starting at £850'ish if your in the UK. I've recently taken this option for peace of mind over the long-term suitability of the hardware and OS for music; I think it's worth the extra pennies. I up specked a few of my components and spent around £1000 but the base model should be more than adequate for Ableton 8.

Also check out the live book from Rain UK, I think it’s a custom BIOS Lenovo which has been tweaked for music, again a little over your budget but might be of interest.

S

stewart.james
Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:50 pm

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by stewart.james » Wed Feb 09, 2011 8:22 pm

Hi, thanks for all the tips. Still wondering about the HP ProBook 6540b, have found a refurb for a decent price (this'd leave me enough to grab the new hardware compressor I've been eyeing up lately too...), otherwise the Thinkpad L512 looks good.

As regards Rain computers - any idea what Thinkpad they use as a base unit?

Stew

sham-79
Posts: 33
Joined: Fri Jan 07, 2011 10:26 am

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by sham-79 » Thu Feb 10, 2011 7:50 am

stewart.james wrote: As regards Rain computers - any idea what Thinkpad they use as a base unit?

Stew
Sorry,
I don't know, but if you give Rain UK a call they'll be happy to talk through all the options with you.

http://rainrecording.co.uk/contact

snakedogman
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Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by snakedogman » Thu Feb 10, 2011 9:53 am

I really like my Thinkpad T60 and I'd recommend a Thinkpad to anyone looking for a PC laptop, especially if you are after build quality and black, chuncky industrial (no glossy nonsense) feel. Astronauts use them. Pit crews in Formula One racing use them. Nuff said ;)
Of course there are many different models and configurations to choose from. Look for decent screen resolution (1440x900 on a 15" widescreen is good).
I don't really use mine for Live except the (very) occasional DJ gig, but anything from the past 5 years should be easily able to run Live with a bunch of tracks and plugins, processor/RAM-wise.

gosinisha
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Location: on the rolling mill

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by gosinisha » Thu Feb 10, 2011 11:37 am

hp is probbably the worst hardware, even worst than lenovo and acer. consider asus and toshiba - those should be one of the best, but a surprises are possible everywhere. my toshiba runs 0,1ms dpc check and rme fireface uc at 96samples latency without problems. this is the best that 2,2ghz coreduo2 can go. a notebook old 3 years already ready for replacement... all these have a locked bios, so if you want to overclock consider msi. dell has chinese hardware chipsets so do not consider it for audio.
thinkpadT520/win7.64/studioONE2/firefaceUC/akaiMPKmini/VSTinstruments/sampleCDs

stewart.james
Posts: 12
Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:50 pm

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by stewart.james » Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:11 pm

Update, in case anyone's vaguely interested: I bought a Lenovo L512 (i5, 4GB RAM, 7200rpm drive, Win7/64), and tonight I've just finished playing around with the DPC latency checker.

There were a few red spikes (yikes) to start with but now I have got it down to always green, <300. I found that the key was (1) disabling the network adapters (the wireless adapter was causing spikes of around 2200 every 15secs) and (2) removing the battery (this was causing a c.4000 spike every 58-60secs. Disabling the battery in device manager didn't work out, it had to be physically removed). USB controllers, DVD player, internal sound makes no difference either way on my machine.

I had a look in the BIOS and saw settings for CPU and PCI bus power management (both set to auto by default, which is where I've left 'em). Any advantage to altering these?

Now I'm installing Ableton and might actually be able to make some damn music...!

Cheers for all the tips/thoughts, much appreciated.

Stew

Khazul
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Location: Reading, UK

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by Khazul » Mon Feb 28, 2011 11:23 pm

Must admit - my recent research into what I consider a 'viable', or useful PC laptop to run live, cubase, traktor and other stuff and generally serve as an away from home/on the road workstation, performance machine led me to a high end lenovo machine which when priced out came to about the same as Ive just paid for an expanded new MBP 17 - actually a tiny bit more than the MBP will cost.

And still the PC laptop would probbaly have been a bit of lottery and much messing about to get it reliable.

Ive only even found two good PC laptops for audio, both needed alot of messing diabaling stuff about to get there - Lenovo T61P and some Acer 17" model from a few years ago (cant remmeber which, but it was relative good in its day).


[Edit: just read above post - I dont count that as 'viable' as it currently is - 8GB and DPC checker showing consitently <150us worse case would be a good start as well as quad core i7).
Nothing to see here - move along!

Khazul
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Location: Reading, UK

Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by Khazul » Tue Mar 01, 2011 12:10 am

scutheotaku wrote: I haven't done direct comparisons to MBPs in a while (maybe they're cheaper now?), but check this site out-
http://www.adkproaudio.com/laptop3.asp
I didnt look at those in detail (and so dont know if Im being fair or not), but starting prices seem about the same as the new MBPs.

I think when you are looking for a good solid laptop that is able to yield decent real performance for media production - there isntt really a difference between PCs laptop and MBP prices.

Where PC laptops win is when you just need to run some office apps and dont care about media latency and performance and whatever random shit the OEM installed - ie when any old heap of shit HP laptop from PC world will do for example - then PC laptops are cheap (IMHO actually overprices considering how bad they often are and how poor the support is past a year or so). But these cheap laptops are about as disposable as drinks cans - looked at like that, they can still seem expensive.
Nothing to see here - move along!

McQ714
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Re: PC laptops, myths and facts

Post by McQ714 » Tue Mar 01, 2011 5:34 am

i think the new MBPs are exactly what a "pro" computer should be. they're sporting the latest i7 quad cores.. 2nd generation, i believe. sucks that the express card port isn't on the 15".

it's still an expensive computer but for the first time ever i've actually considered getting the 17" as it has everything i want in a laptop and i'm super excited about the thunderbolt. i think they've finally got it right.

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