Thursday, November 09, 2006

Choosing a Laptop for LivePA

Laptops these days have emerged to become the predominant weapon of choice for most livePA artists because of the relative flexibility over hardware and the general ease of setup for performing. It is hard to argue against a single piece of gear that is smaller and can do more sounds then the traditional hardware setup. With that in mind I think it is important to outline some considerations that new LivePA artists should consider when purchasing a laptop for LivePA.

1. Cheap meat is not good and good meat is not cheap
Choosing the right laptop for your setup can be a fairly complex process depending on the type of person you are and the work that you plan on doing with your laptop. As a general rule of thumb I have two broad concepts that I think should be applied to the purchase of a laptop.

The first concept is that you get what you pay for. The butcher down the street from me has a great sign in her butcher shop that states; “Cheap meat is not good and good meat is not cheap.” I think this message really applies to this particular case.

There are generally a few computer companies that are regarded as producing high quality laptops. Sony, Toshiba, Apple and Acer consistently get very high reviews on their laptop build qualities and often times feature better design, components and case structure then cheaper counterparts.

These higher end laptops oftentimes have better hardware features that are important for a live performance laptop. Most important of these features are probably more input/output options, firewire 800, dedicated video memory and pcmcia slots.

It is my opinion to generally stay away from most budget laptops from companies like Dell or HP. Now that does not mean that these companies do not make good laptops, but I am suggesting that the $400 budget laptop is not going to get you as far as a better laptop might. That $400 cost is often times subsided by the pre-installation of all sorts of demo software and poor customer support from the manufacturer.

On the flip side I am not saying that you need to spend $3,000 on a laptop. Computer technology improves at an amazing rate. Today's consumer line Apple Macbooks are actually more powerful then the Pro line Apple Powerbooks of just over a year ago. From this you can get an extremely powerful laptop for approximately $1,500.

2. Memory: As much as you can afford
When you are shopping for your laptop you need to keep in mind that you will be doing some pretty intensive computing tasks on your computer. Memory, Harddrive space and video are going to be issues that you need to think about. I would suggest trying to get the maximum amount of memory and hard drive space that your person budget can afford. Most laptops these days can support up to 2GB of RAM memory. If you spend anything at all on your laptop, try to max out your RAM because it is RAM that is generally in use during a performance with your samples and software plugins.

I personally suggest never purchasing memory from the hardware manufacturer because they mark up the price considerably. Instead look at a site like where you can purchase laptop memory for nearly half the price of what most manufacturers charge.

The hard drive is issue that many laptop musicians disagree on. Some prefer to use an external hard drive for the storage of their information while others simply use the internal hard drive. When you are getting a hard drive try to make sure that the hard drive is 7200 rpm. This higher speed hard drive will ensure that your computer can stream that audio information fast enough for your live performance set.

Those artists who purchase an external generally do so with two justifications. First, you often have more flexibility in purchasing the hard drive size that you want and can also take the hard drive to work on different computer workstations. Second the external harddrives are presumed to be much more durable then the internal laptop computers.

3. You will need to purchase a soundcard
I include sound card in this analysis generally have very poor built in soundcards and also feature only 1/8” outputs. So the purchase of a laptop for performance almost inevitably will feature the purchase of a sound card. The purchase of the sound card is largely up to you as the user, but keep this in mind. As I mentioned in the first point of this article, spending a little but more on a laptop will often get you some more important features. These features can include something important such as Firewire 800 or a PCIMA slot. Having features such as these will allow you with greater flexibility in the long run when choosing a sound card for your performance.

4. Operating System
Now this is not meant to be a debate on which OS is better. Whatever operating system you choose is ultimately your choice, but there are some issues to consider regarding the operating system.

Most of the popular software platforms that are used in live performance such as Ableton Live, Reason and MAX/MSP run on both Windows and OSX, and for the most part they run exactly the same in each environment. That being said however, there are other tools out there that are perfectly capable for live use that exist for only one operating system. .:Impromptu:., .:Devine Machine:. , and .:Brainspwn Forte:. are prime examples.

The one big issue that you as a performer should be aware of at this point in time regarding operating systems is that the new version of Windows, Windows Vista is going to be released within the next six months. This new operating system is a major change in the Windows operating world and the release of this new operating system could present major issues or problems to the computer in regards to stability, longevity and features. Be aware that many of the computers

5. Keep it to LivePA
This last point is just summation point that I think people need to consider. The laptop for your LivePA should should be reserved for just LivePA. You should not be writing your papers on it, doing your taxes or storing your photo library. It is this author's opinion that there should be your operating system, your tools and that is about it on this system. When you are performing there is nothing more important then the stability of the computer that is on stage with you. Purchase your software and don't use warez. Don't surf the Internet and open yourself up to risks with this laptop. The worst possible thing that could possibly happen is your laptop crashing on stage leaving you in silence.


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