Figuring out what laptop to buy to run Pro Tools can be tough. You want a laptop powerful enough to run Pro Tools without stuttering but you also don't want to break the bank.
Balancing the power requirements with the cost can be tricky but there's a nice middle ground and we have a couple of picks that will let you take full advantage of Pro Tools without going over budget.
If you don't want to read the whole article you can check out our top 3 picks right below. For more information you can keep reading and see a more in depth look at each option.
Most people are simply unaware of the specifications a system needs in order to properly run Pro Tools.
Of course, there is no best laptop for Pro Tools; in fact, the best Pro Tools laptop is the one that does everything YOU need it to do.
If you own a home studio, you probably will not need the number crunching capabilities of a workstation that powers a professional studio Pro Tools setup, but nevertheless you will want a laptop that is powerful enough for your needs.
So, how do you decide? That's why we are here.
Let’s compare the specifications of the top three mobile workstations for Pro Tools:
What does AVID Recommend?
A good place to start is, unsurprisingly, the AVID website.
By taking a quick visit to their website you can take a look at the minimum requirements that your system should have as recommended by the manufacturer. Let’s take a look at these requirements:
- Intel Mac with Mac OS X 10.8.5 (only supported below Pro Tools 12.5), 10.9.0 - 10.9.5, 10.10.0 - 10.10.5 or 10.11 - 10.11.3
- Intel® Core i5 processor
- 8GB RAM (16GB or more recommended)
- Internet connection for installation
- 15GB disk space for installation
- USB-port for iLok 2 authorization
- USB-port, FireWire-port or Thunderbolt-port for CoreAudio-supported audio device
- Supports 64-bit AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools
Windows RequirementsIntel PC with Windows 7 64-bit (Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate Editions),
Windows 8/8.1 64-bit (Standard and Pro Editions) or Windows 10 64-bit (Enterprise, Pro, or Home Editions)Intel Core i5 processor8GB RAM (16GB or more recommended)Internet connection for installation15GB disk space for installationUSB-port for iLok 2 authorizationUSB-port or FireWire-port for ASIO-supported audio deviceSupports 64-bit AAX plug-ins in Pro Tools
A question I see a lot is: “Will a computer with the minimum requirements handle large sessions?”.
In a nutshell, all systems have limitations but it will definitely handle quite a lot. I will share a little experiment I did so you can better understand what I mean by “limitations”.
Let's Conduct an Experiment...
I created a 44.1 kHz, 24 bit session with 24 tracks in Pro Tools 12 on my Acer Aspire E15, 8GB RAM, Intel i5 laptop that is running Windows 10.
I decided to test how many plug-ins of the most common types I can insert before making the session choke-up. I only tested native plug-ins (the ones that come with Pro Tools) as those are the ones we all have on our system.
I managed to instantiate 240 compressors (Dyn3 Compressor / Limiter) and 240 equalizers (EQ3-7 band) without any issues. When it came to reverb, which is a lot more consuming when it comes to processing power, I managed to open up 192 instances of D-Verb before having issues with my session.
That exceeds by far what most users will ever do with Pro Tools. So, let us take these requirements as a baseline in our search for the right machine for Pro Tools.
How to Choose the Best Laptop for Pro Tools
Say we find a laptop with these specs, what else should we look for? Keep these words in mind: Memory, Connectivity and Ergonomic Design.
Choose SSD over HDD for Memory
In terms of primary memory choice, I recommend choosing a solid state drive (SSD) instead of a hard drive disk.
One reason is the higher speed that a solid state provides and the other reason is fragmentation.
When HDD's fill up information starts to become scattered around the disk and it takes the laptop a lot more time to access files. SSD’s cannot fragment as files are not stored in a physical location.
The less time you spend waiting for your computer to access your software and files the more time you spend creating amazing things inside of Pro Tools.
A lot of laptops ship with a solid state drive nowadays but even if your dream laptop doesn’t, an upgrade is very easy.
Another major advantage for the SSD is the lack of noise. Even the quietest HDD still emits noise from the spinning of the disk or the moving of the read arm.
SSD’s do not have any moving parts so they do not emit noise.
Make Sure to Have the Right Connectivity
Connectivity is one of the biggest issues you have to watch out for when buying the best laptop for Pro Tools. Ideally, your laptop should at least sport a USB and a FireWire / Thunderbolt connection for connecting audio equipment such as an audio interface.
HDMI and VGA are also something to look for in case you are thinking about using a second screen for better workflow.
A PCI express (PCIe) expansion port is something to keep in mind if you want to build a bigger digital studio with a PCIe card like the SSL MADI Xtreme 64 PCIe audio card.
Other standard connectors like eSATA, RJ45 Ethernet, or card readers are also great things to have. Avoid manufacturer specific ports as much as possible and go for international standards like the ones mentioned above.
What are the Best Laptops for Pro Tools?
While minimum requirement specs are good enough to run most basic Pro Tools session it is time to talk about professional mobile workstations. Let us take a look at some of the best laptops available on the market for Pro Tools:
Dell Precision Laptop Review
This series of Dell workstation has it all: processing power with a very powerful i5-i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, usually a 256 GB solid state flash memory drive, incredible connective flexibility with a huge number of different slots and expansion ports and last but not least, a good size (15-17 inch) screen which is always nice as there is less clutter on the screen.
Apple MacBook Pro for Pro Tools
This laptop is very similar to the Dell – i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of flash memory (via PCIe card), excellent connectivity and fantastic design.
The screen size is very decent at 15.4 inches and the comfort and sleekness of the Macbook Pro is just off the charts.
Lenovo Thinkpad P50 - Our Choice!
This one is a bit special as it built around a 2.8 GHz Intel Xeon processor.
The Xeon series of processors are high-performance versions of Intel desktop processors designed for use in servers and high-end workstations.
Other than that it is fairly similar to the above mentioned laptops. It has 16 GB of RAM, a 256 GB solid state flash memory drive, fabulous connectivity and if you are a Lenovo fan, amazing design – too bad that a lot of people consider Lenovo design very quirky.
Nevertheless, the screen is a very comfortable 15.6 inches and the spill resistant, backlit (optional) keyboard will most likely make your life a lot easier.
To conclude, when trying to choose the best laptop for Pro Tools first consider what you will use it for.
Never, ever start from a budget. Take all these things in consideration – processing power, RAM, storage type/size, connectivity and how comfortable the laptop feels – and relate them to your needs; and not your current needs - think about how you may be using the laptop a few years down the line so your investment is truly worth the test of time.
With this advice in mind and some careful pondering you are ready to go shopping for the centerpiece of your digital studio.