wikiHow to Buy a Laptop Computer for Audio Recording

Most laptops that are on the market today are not capable of performing the task required by a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The weak spots of most of the notebook computers out there are the following:

1. Firewire Chipset (1394 Chipset)

2. Hard Drives

3. Processors

4. Power Saving utilities


  1. Image titled Buy a Laptop Computer for Audio Recording Step 1
    Choose a TI Firewire (1394) Chipset. You need a machine that uses the Texas Instruments (TI) 1394 Chipset. Nearly all of the manufacturers of Firewire Audio Interfaces clearly state that their hardware ONLY works well with this chipset. All of the other chipsets out there (VIA, NEC, Ricoh, JMicron) seem to have problems ranging from audio dropouts, digital errors, software crashes to full blown system crashes and the infamous "Blue Screen of Death." Macs ships with the TI 1394 chipset as do some of the "workstation" classes of laptops by HP. Dell uses the Ricoh chipset which is seriously problematic if you actually want to use the firewire port to transfer audio data. If you already bought a notebook computer that has a problematic 1394 chipset, you may be able to Disable it in the Device Settings area of your control panel and purchase an ExpressCard 1394 with the TI chipset. I have been told that this only works is you have an Intel ExpressCard bus. (Thanks to ADK Pro Audio)
  2. Image titled Buy a Laptop Computer for Audio Recording Step 2
    Select Fast Hard Drives. Make sure that the hard drive that comes with the machine is at least 7200 RPM. Laptops are designed to minimize power consumption, which means that the preference will be for slow 4200 or 5200 RPM hard drives. This helps the battery last longer, but means that the drive probably can't keep up with your audio streams. No matter how fast your internal hard drive is, you should have your programs and operating system on one disk and your audio files on a different disk. Some laptops will allow for a second internal drive, which is great. Most people however opt to use an external hard drive either through USB 2.0 or through a firewire bus that is different from the one you are running on your audio interface.
  3. Image titled Buy a Laptop Computer for Audio Recording Step 3
    Select an adequate CPU. Current laptop processors range from the low-end AMD Sempron to the high-end Intel Core2 Extreme. The laptop market does not have the same diverse selection of processors as desktops, but purchasing a laptop with a low-end processor will slow down your encoding times. Look for a multi-core processor such as the AMD Athlon X2 models, or the Intel Core Duo and Core2 Duo/Extreme models, as most professional audio recording packages should support multi-threading. The speed of a processor is much less relevant than its architecture. For example, an Intel Pentium M 2.26GHz CPU will actually be slower than an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8GHz, due to the architecture difference.
  4. Image titled Buy a Laptop Computer for Audio Recording Step 4
    Configure Power Saving Utilities. You should be able to set up the laptop to run off of wall power and not battery power, if possible. Audio streaming requires lots of hard drive spinning and tons of processing power. These all take lots of power. When you run off of the battery, you are simply not getting enough power to do get your machine to perform. Set your Power Options to Maximum Performance. Make sure that you never let the machine turn off your hard disks, too. Most laptops have a "4-Pin" 1394 or Firewire jack. These do not send power out to the external devices. So you will need to power your firewire devices with an external power supply. Only a "6 Pin" 1394 jack will send power to the device, but laptops aren't designed to power additional devices. They simply don't have the power to spare. So even if you have a 6-Pin jack, be sure to power your external firewire devices with their own power supplies.


  • An alternative to a 7200 RPM drive is a solid state drive (SSD) for additional performance and reliability. Unfortunately, these are currently much more expensive and store less data than traditional hard disk drives. If you opt for an SSD, plan on purchasing an external hard disk drive for storage of your audio projects.
  • Most sales-people from large computer manufacturers don't know what kind of chipset is being used for their firewire bus.
  • Talk to a laptop manufacturer that specializes in computers for audio or video. They will know what kind of hardware components are going into the machines.
  • If you're having problems with your laptop and getting pops, glitches, drop-outs or other digital errors, make sure that you have the latest revisions of all of the drivers for all the hardware, the latest BIOS, the latest version of your OS and that you have installed all the non-standard Microsoft Hotfixes for the 1394 bus. If you're still having problems try disabling all of the hardware that you are not using. Concentrate of getting rid of CD/DVD drives, Modems, Wireless Cards, Card Readers and anything else that you're not currently using.
  • When you do get your new machine, test it hard in the first few days. Try to record as many channels of audio as you can to test the limits of your equipment. This way you can send it back if it doesn't work well in the first week or so and get your money back.


  • If you have already bought a laptop that doesn't work, try not to yell at the tech support people from the computer manufacturer. It's not their fault that the computer wasn't designed for audio streaming. For 99% of the people out there, a standard 1394 chipset works just fine. You can usually get them to be more helpful if they don't hate you already.

Article Info

Categories: Selecting and Buying a Computer | Laptops