While mobility is key for most music producers and mixers out there today, desktop computers are probably still the way to go when building your first studio. If you will be doing a lot of work in the same place and do not plan on moving too soon, having the best computer for Pro Tools as your main powerhouse is a very good idea. There are a lot of reasons for this.
One of them is that while technology advances and software becomes more and more resource consuming, laptops are expandable while desktop computers give you the possibility to upgrade their modules – processor, hard drive, i/o ports, etc. Another reason is that you can place it in a different room than the one that you are working in and the noise produced by the machine will not affect your recordings. Sure, you can do that with your laptop as well but it is not as convenient given the travelling nature of the laptop computer.
|Apple iMac||Typical Specifications:|
- 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5
- 8GB Memory
- 1TB Fusion Hard Drive
|Check prices and ratings on Amazon.com
|Acer Aspire AT3-710-UR52||Typical Specifications:|
This is an excellent budget option for those of you looking to build a Pro Tools system without spending all of their savings. It comes outfitted with 8 GB of RAM, an Intel Core i5 processor and a 2 TB hard disk.
- Intel Core i5-6400 processor 2.7GHz
- 8GB DDR3 1600MHZ
- 2TB 5400RPM SATA
|Check prices and ratings on Amazon.com
|Dell Inspiron 3847||Typical Specifications:|
With a powerful processor and so much RAM you will be breezing through session with ease, never having to worry about plugins taxing your machine too much, resource wise.
- Intel HD Graphics
- Intel Core i7-4790 Processor 3.6GHz
- 16GB DDR3 (8GBx2 1600MHz)
|Check prices and ratings on Amazon.com
What To Look for in the Best Pro Tools Computer
As with all things hardware, it is best to start from what the manufacturer, AVID, recommends. For both PC and Mac, our favorite software company recommends having a Intel i5 processor (see our guide to choosing the best CPU) or better, at least 8 GB of RAM, USB ports for iLok authorization and some more USB/ FireWire/ Thunderbolt or Coreaudio ports for connecting an audio interface. That is the minimum requirements specification list.
For those of you who do not quite get why adding endless numbers of reverb plug-ins freeze up your session, you should get your head around this: all those plug-ins, all the real time automation, everything that happens inside of Pro Tools taxes the processor.
Some plug-ins consume little resources while other consume a lot – reverb plug-ins are a good example of ones which consume a lot. Thing is that if you ever start to work with mid-sized to large sessions you will definitely need at least an i5, which can get you through a lot but more preferably an i7 for much larger sessions. Also look for all those smart technologies in the processor like Hyper Threading, Smart Cache Memory, Turbo Boost and others.
Take a look at this article to get a glimpse of some of the best CPU’s on the market for Pro Tools.
The more the better. RAM (Random Access Memory) is a type of data storage that does not store data in a physical location like a hard disk does, thus being able to read it really fast. Programs store information which they use a lot during functioning in RAM so they can access it super fast and make the program as seamless as possible.
You can only imagine how useful it is to have a lot of RAM when you have 10 plug-ins on each track and all of them have to store information about how they process the signal and then read it back all while giving you the sensation that this is all happening in real time.
It is important to have all sorts of input/output ports on your desktop computer but in real life you will struggle to find a machine with a decent price that has a plethora of connection possibilities.
This is not true for laptops but for desktop computers it is. Most builds have 4-6 USB ports, 1-4 HDMI ports, 1 RJ45 (ethernet) port,1 VGA port and mic and line out ports. Which is pretty bad compared to a laptop like the Dell Precision M6700 which has an incredible amount of i/o ports.
Why is that? It is because you can add and change any module of a desktop computers. You want to add FireWire? You can. You want eSATA? Go ahead and install it. It is much harder to do that with a laptop for obvious reasons: space limitations. Sure, you can customize laptops a little bit but not with the flexibility of a desktop computer.
I need to stress this issue: Do not buy a computer with a huge hard disk – be smart – buy a computer with a smaller SSD instead and only install Pro Tools and plug-ins on that SSD. Everything else, sessions and whatnot should be on a separate drive. This is how you get the most out of your Pro Tools system. Plus, you can easily transport your sessions between places and you can easily back them up by making copies of your whole session drive.
Check out this article on best tips for storage management, and also what are the Best SSDs in the market today.
The Best Computer for Pro Tools
So we know what to look for in computer but there are so many options, so many manufacturers, how do we know which one is right? To help you decide, let’s take a look at some reviews of the best computer to run Pro Tools:
Apple iMac Review
Click here to see reviews and prices for the Apple iMac on Amazon.com
Apple is a brand that is well known for reliable, powerful and stylish computers and the iMac does not fall short in any of those categories. Outfitted with a 3.2 GHz Intel Core i5, the computer will definitely handle most things you throw at it, multi-tasking being one of the things it does best. The interesting about the iMac is that you can order it with a fusion drive – “what is a fusion drive?” some may ask: It is a combination of flash based storage (like a solid state drive) and a normal hard disk. The computer stores the most used files and information in the non-volatile, flash memory for faster access and uses the rest of the normal hard disk to store everything else. In a way you get best of both worlds – storage space and fantastic speed. You get three USB ports, one ethernet port, one SD card reader and two more speedy thunderbolt ports which is better than most desktop computers.
Acer Aspire AT3-710-UR52 Review
Click here to see reviews and prices for the Acer Aspire computer on Amazon.com
This is an excellent budget option for those of you looking to build a Pro Tools system without spending all of their savings. It comes outfitted with 8 GB of RAM (though you can order the 16 GB version), an Intel Core i5 processor and a 2 TB hard disk.
The RAM memory and processing you get for your buck is excellent but if I was buying this computer I would also buy a solid state drive and replace the original hard disk and maybe keep the original as an external hard drive. A big drawback is the limited connectivity – only two USB ports, a card reader, a VGA port and mic and line out jack inputs/ outputs. This is a thing that is easily upgradable so for how little you spend on the desktop computer, I think it is a simple decision.
Dell Inspiron 3847 Review
Click here to see reviews and prices for the Dell Inspiron 3847 computer on Amazon.com
Dell makes some excellent machines but this one is definitely above average. For the money you pay, you get a little monster. The standard version is equipped with a 4 GHz Intel Core i7 and 16 GB of RAM – that is a power house!
Storage wise it is not very interesting with a 2 TB hard disk but as I mentioned before it is an easy upgrade to a solid state drive. With such a powerful processor and so much RAM you will be breezing through session with ease, never having to worry about plugins taxing your machine too much, resource wise. Connectivity is above average as well with HDMI, VGA and six USB ports.
Buying the best computer for Pro Tools is a very big deal as your decision will influence how much work you can actually do and your workflow. So I recommend really getting your priorities on paper – what are you going to use it for, film scoring or making pop songs with five instrument tracks? How many hours a day? Do you work with Pro Tool as a hobby or do you wish to turn pro? Nevertheless, whichever category you fall in, remember that technology quickly becomes outdated so buy something that you can use for at least a few years before it loses its value.