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There was a time when making music at home, to a professional standard, would have cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Now, with the right laptop and digital audio workstation, you can get moving for less than $1,000, and sometimes much less.
And to make it easy for you, we went out to test dozens of laptops to find the best budget laptops for music production and we think you’ll like what we found.
We came up with a list of criteria for the kind of laptop we’d want to work on while using a digital audio workstation (DAW):
Under $1,000 – the cheapest laptop on our list is around $299 and none of them are over $1,000, budget has to mean budget.
Windows Machines – Apple isn’t really a budget option and there are issues with other operating systems (though we did include one Chromebook which impressed us with its value)
The Holy Trinity – processor, hard drive and memory are the holy trinity of laptop performance and they had to bring enough of all three to ensure that making music wasn’t a slog
Additional Benefits – wherever possible “nice to have” features such as touchscreens, solid state drives (SSDs), independent graphics cards, etc. bring extra value to these budget offerings
This is a superb laptop which contains a solid processor, a separate (not-integrated) graphics card, a solid 8MB of RAM, a webcam and an HDMI port.
That’s more than enough to run any of our favorite digital audio workstations and a fair few plugins to spare and it’s also touchscreen!
1. There’s a big hard drive
2. It’s very powerful for a budget PC
1. It doesn’t use an SSD and that means it will slow down over time
2. The battery life is nothing to write home about
For the money, you really can’t argue with the Acer Aspire 5 Slim, it’s going to appeal to a lot of would-be music producers.
It has a nice balance of processor, SSD storage and decent RAM (8GB) and the USB-C port means you can move files back and forward quickly when needed.
1. Incredible value for a sub-$500 laptop, a top performer
2. The USB-C port is a welcome addition at this price point
1. Won’t win any speed tests, the processor is adequate not amazing
2. If you want to add a second hard drive, it must be a 7mm thickness which is more expensive
Another touch screen from HP makes it to our list, this also has a solid processor and 8GB of RAM with a 1 TB hard drive.
It doesn’t have a separate graphics card but it makes up for that by offering extended Bluetooth functionality which can make wirelessly using instruments much easier.
1. The touch screen here is a class leading 10 finger multi-touch option
2. Has a very good battery life compared to the other HP model
1. It’s still using a hard drive rather than a solid state drive
2. No separate graphics card limits your options for photo/video processing and gaming when not making music
This 2-in-1 is a solid mid-range performer and it looks incredible, if you’re going to want to cart your DAW around places, you’ll be happy to do so on this laptop.
The touchscreen works really well and the core spec isn’t too shabby either, the 256GB SSD might feel a little constrained in the long run though.
1. Solid price point for a 2-in-1 laptop
2. Works really well with all our favorite DAWs
1. The touchscreen works well but it gets covered in fingerprint grease really easily
2. The SSD is a bit on the small side, 256GB isn’t a huge amount of space
We were quite surprised with how well this IdeaPad handled making music through our favorite DAW and the solid 8GB of RAM and AMD processor probably helped with that.
This has a separate graphics card, the option to upgrade your RAM, a decent SSD and plenty of Bluetooth ports.
1. Solidly built laptop with a decent sized keyboard
2. You can upgrade the RAM for better performance at a later date
1. Some users report issues with Lenovo support
2. There’s no turbo option to boost processor speed
If you need something ultra-portable then the Microsoft Surface Go is a great choice and the 10” screen doesn’t feel anything like as small as it sounds.
You can choose your configuration for this laptop and it will perform better the more memory and SSD you allow for.
1. Great value for money if “ultra-portable” is your intention
2. The design is amazing and the accessories are really good too
1. Those accessories are pretty pricey, particularly the keyboard and Bluetooth mouse which are essential
2. You only get a single USB port
This no frills Dell Inspiron is a great choice for making music at home without breaking the bank. It includes the MaxxAudio system to give you really good sound from speakers and headphones. We love to use this with our favorite free music apps.
The 1TB drive, 8GB of RAM and 7th Gen Intel Processors are very reasonable though the Intel HD Graphics 620 chipset is nothing to write home about and won’t handle much in the way of video production.
1. MaxxAudio is a very good audio output feature
2. You get a large hard drive for storing files on
1. Not a solid-state drive and will slow down over time
2. The onboard graphics are a bit meh
OK, we need to add a note of real caution here – most DAWs will not run on a Chromebook. If you want to use this, you need to rely on apps that you can find on the Google Play Store (such as the cut down FL studio) or that run online (like Audiotool).
But if you’re OK with that, you’re not going to beat the incredibly low price and you can easily create simple beats and patterns on the fly.
1. The price, it doesn’t get cheaper than this
2. It’s very light and easy to use on the fly
1. Runs Chrome OS – this is a severe limitation on the software you can use
2. Samsung’s customer support is not good at resolving issues according to users
This mid-tier VivoBook is really quite impressive with 8GB of RAM, a Quad Core R7 processor, an integrated AMD Radeon Graphics Card and a 512GB SSD.
We liked the fact that despite the low price, they also managed to fit a fingerprint reader on the device to give you the best level of security in case the laptop is stolen.
1. Spacious solid state drive is a very nice addition at this price
2. The fingerprint reader will keep your files safe in an emergency
1. The webcam has a very low resolution, 640×480 is really poor
2. The integrated graphics aren’t the best, no gaming here
Another touchscreen which is decent but probably not hugely important to using a DAW (though it might be very helpful with other applications).
The CPU is a little underwhelming though and we think there are better options in our list with a bit more horsepower for when you’re reaching your creative crescendo.
1. It has very good input and output options for a laptop
2. It’s a decent size
1. The CPU is distinctly low powered
2. The 128GB SSD is very underwhelming
So, there you have it, our picks of the best budget laptops for music production and all of them, apart from the Chromebook, make it very easy to use and operate a DAW at home.
Of course, if you spend a bit more money, you get a bit more performance, and the two things that are likely to bring the most value are hard drive space (particularly SSD space) and extra memory (RAM).
Then, once you’ve got your new laptop, why not check out our favorite streaming services and see how it sounds?