Will a laptop cut the mustard?

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Member Since: Apr 28, 2004

I have been recording at home on and off for about 3 years now, and usually I build my own machines. I'm currently running a 2.4Ghz P4 C processor (ie. 800mhz FSB) and a gig of PC3500 RAM. Things are going well despite the virus which recently rooted my system.

HOWEVER, I am beginning a new job which will possibly necessitate the use of a laptop. I run a small music venue in my spare time and I often want to record some of the live bands, or even do some multi-tracking recording where lots of noise doesn't upset my wife or baby. As a result, I am beginning to investigate the multi-tracking recording ability of laptop computers.

Now, I've had a bad experience with this in the past. At the time of the P3, I got a 1Ghz P3 laptop which was pretty cutting edge and 512mb of RAM. I managed to lay down 2 tracks in N-Track Studio before it couldn't handle the task. I do realise that N-Track relies heavily on the system itself rather than using cache in a large degree, so that may be a factor.
I have also seen an external sound card in use (in this case the Sound Blaster Extigy) but it seemed to slow down the system rather than speed it up by doing a lot of the calculations itself. I have put this down to the fact that it was USB1.0.

My basic question is this: does anyone know if and which laptops are good for recording? Will they all require an external sound card? If so, is the interfacing fast enough to enhance the system rather than drag on it?

My current thoughts are this:
Centrino processors at 1.7Ghz go as quick as a 3.0Ghz P4, due to the extra cache. They also save battery. Probably best way to go.
RAM- a necessity in large quantities to make up for the fact that it's a laptop. 1Gb.

Potential performance issues:
Fastest desktop Hard Drive- Western Digital Raptor, 10,000rpm. Standard is 7,200.
Fastest laptop HDD- 5,400rpm
Smaller RAM chips, no heatspreaders
Hard disk space.

Possible solutions- Firewire hard drive?

Drawbacks- by the time you finish buying the respective peripherals, you're carrying around a box of bits and pieces AND you've spent as much as if you were buying a whole new computer. This is, understandably, something of a pain in the bum.

What I'm after basically is any info on a laptop which can handle this stuff with, at most, an external card. I'd prefer Intel-based over Mac purely because I'm more familiar with Windows but if the suggestion is right then Mac could conceivably be an option.


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Since: Apr 03, 2002

Apr 28, 2004 08:48 pm

Well, I will start off by saying welcome to HRC.

Seocndly, I can say Noize2u (the other admin here) and myself have worked on film scores that involved MANY tracks (30 or so at least) and it was done on a P3 667. However, there are two key differences between that system and the P3 you were discussing. First, we were using Sonar, a much higher performance application (Tho I still do like n-Track for the price) and a higher performance sound card (M-Audio Delta 44).

Any modern laptop will cut it with an ample supply of RAM and hard disk performance. The key is choosing the right audio interface. You don't need Firewire, as USB2 is currently as fast and sometimes faster the Firewire (if memory serves) The only time USB2 will give you performance issues is if you are running more USB devices of a single USB hub.

Since: Apr 28, 2004

Apr 28, 2004 09:01 pm

Hey, that was a quick response! I see why this forum is so popular... hooray for excellent administration.

You don't happen to have any recommendations for RAM, HDD, and audio interface? And were those 30 tracks on a laptop P3 or a desktop P3? My old desktop P3 we got up to 24 tracks in N-Track before performance became an issue, and that was a 766. Hence me being slightly miffed when the laptop with more RAM and a faster processor couldn't hack 2 tracks. Although I was using the laptop's soundcard too at the time.

USB2 is technically faster than firewire but the actual preformance leaves firewire in front by about 3% (for some reason I forget... I got told at my old job, but then all I got was questions on overclocking which I didn't care about). So in reality the performance difference is negligable, and I'm enormously fond of USB 2.0.

At most I think I'll be using 12, maybe 16 tracks. Most of my home recording efforts are 8 (although I never ad vocals... not having a vocalist yet).

Got any specific recommendations to look for? Brands, specs, personal preference? Work will be providing the laptop (but I get to choose) and I will be providing peripherals.

Since: Apr 28, 2004

Apr 28, 2004 09:06 pm

Oh, the old desktop P3 had an SB Live platinum because it was all I could afford, and it has served me well. I still use it.

How much is Sonar, who publishes the software and can you get it in Australia?

Any of those film scores online?

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer
Since: May 10, 2002

Apr 28, 2004 11:33 pm

If you are going to do a lot of on site recording give carefull consideration to the Alesis HD24 hard disk recorder. Twenty four channels of A/D conversion, two drive bays and you can use 5400 rpm drives even. 48Khz @ 24bit if you like. Super simple to operate for the rush in caous that on site recording demands. A simple ethernet port in the back to upload recorded tracks into the pute for mixing and mastering. About 2 grand but that's only about $83.00 per A/D converter. That really falls right in there with standard firewire or USB2 soundcards. Sweet rack mount unit makes it easy to stack with a couple of compressors, a preamp and a quad DI and walla! Porta-studio! Much more handy than a laptop, external soundcard(s), external HD.

Worth consideration anyway. I love mine.

Since: Apr 28, 2004

Apr 29, 2004 01:13 am

Walt- thanks for the info.

I had actually considered something like that as a viable option. Here is the problem:

There are two jobs on the line currently, both offering laptops. The first is as a PA for a financial bloke who travels around the world and country a lot. I'll be doing all the meeting notes and graphics, but in between it'd be nice to finish mixing some songs during the long flights.
The second job is at Wollongong City Council as the Youth Worker, running a drop-in centre. I am keener for this position but the job is over an hour's drive away each day. Hence the laptop.
Part of my plan is to implement a music program, starting on a jamming level, with the kids, getting to the stage where we can put an album together, partly for their self-esteem and, if the quality is good enough, to raise money for the program's continuance. The rest of the work will be on there and portable (with the job).
In addition, The Attic (my music venue) and home recording, I ideally wanted something I could do the majority of the work on and then take it from there if necessary onto a desktop via home network.

So the laptop part is pivotal to the plan for both scenarios.

Of course, should the consensus be that there's no way, no how to get decent recording on a laptop yet, then the ol' HD24 may be the way to go.

Sorry for basically dumping my life story on here... you guys seem "in the know", and I certainly value all your feedback so far.

Since: Apr 22, 2004

Apr 29, 2004 03:05 am

First off - welcome aboard Reuben!!
And secondly - Damn good to have another aussie on the board! heheheh....
I don't know sod about all these puter gadgets so I'll leave it to the experts but "whu-hey" for aussieness. :)

The music program for the drop-in centre sounds really excellent... I was actually involved in a thing kiiinda like this a little while ago, on a smaller and less organized level - it's really good stuff and can work well if you manage it right and get the kids all involved...

Since: Apr 03, 2002

Apr 29, 2004 05:03 am

Sonar is made by Cakewalk and the studio edition is about $300 and the Producer Edition is about $500 (I think). But, there are lots of other software packages out there. MultitrackStudio is only $120 for the 24 bit version and it's really cool, Tracktion is only $80 and it's really cool too. Really, for software you best bet is to get demos of a few and check'em out, see which one fits you best. n-Track as well is a perfectly capable program.

Regarding HDD and Ram, it always boils down to as much and as fast as you can. HDD no less than 7200 RPM. I prefer Maxtor myself, they are quite and perform well, most prefer Seagate. Regarding Ram, just use fast enough ram so it can keep your front side bus wide open.

Audio interface is tougher, generally you hear M-Audio recommended around here, but there are many good ones, we have quite a few mentioned in "The Gear Bag" section of this site. For any real recommendation you have to know (and tell us :-) how many tracks you will need to record at any one time, does your card need preamps on it or will it run thru a mixer first? stuff like that is good to know and impossible to recommend as interface without knowing.

Chief Cook and Bottle Washer
Since: May 10, 2002

Apr 29, 2004 07:26 am


No problem!(life story reference) Sometimes that's what it takes to describe our needs. Ya, definately laptop obviously. It is just a shame that mini disk is in such a propriatary format. If one could only "import" a mini disk recording instead of having to play it back to record it into software that would be "da bomb" for gigs per your description. I've got one comming up doing a guest speaker at a convention. I'm not even taking a mixer, just a two channel tube preamp, two NT1's, and a headphone amp. Of course I am religated to the HD24 as I will mix at home instead of in flight. But as far as the on site part of the gig, it will be one neat small rack. Inconspicious, simple, easly managed.

Since: Jan 08, 2004

Apr 29, 2004 10:25 am

Hitachi actually makes a laptop hard drive that spins at 7200 rpm now! That or a external drive would be the way to go for the hard drive.

Since: Apr 28, 2004

Apr 29, 2004 07:47 pm

Heya gang, and thanks for all the responses so far!

OK, I record via a mixing desk which I plug straight into my computer. I usually record drums and guitar first, then bass, lead guitar, keys (if necessary), and vocals last.

I only ever record one track at a time as I've never had the budget to do more than that. Or, frankly, the performance machine, up until my current one (but can't afford the bits and pieces for more than 1 track at once, spent it all on a good set of speakers).

It's slow, but it's a home effort and generally sounds OK.

Hope this helps with the reccomendations- and I will keep an eye out for the new Hitachi's! What I wouldn't give for a Raptor RAID, but it'd get so hot the cooling systems would drown out the music!

And Willum- hooray for Aussies!

Thanks again for all the help thus far, I will be back!
And tell the music company sponsor they should ship worldwide... I was going to buy some stuff yesterday and got barred. How sad.

Since: Apr 28, 2004

Apr 29, 2004 07:49 pm

Oh, I actually used to use MD but it got stolen from the venue. Not happy, Jan (you'd only get that if you were Australian...)
AND it doesn't multi-track, although in theory if you got like 8 MD's and a desk with 8 outputs, it could be done...
The goal is to have just one tool for all my recording needs, although it may turn out that this is an impossibility.

Since: Apr 28, 2004

Apr 29, 2004 09:38 pm

Oh, Gregor, thanks for the heads up about the Hitachi- the fastest in Australia at the moment is the Seagate 5400 laptop one but I get my RAM from the States so I will try to track one down.
Thanks for the heads up!

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