The Absolute Best DJ Laptop in 2019
To be a DJ in 2019 means to have a laptop – there’s no two ways about it. But what is the best DJ laptop right now? And what should you look for in a good laptop for DJs? Read this guide to find all the answers.
I remember a time when DJs would depend entirely on their beat-matching skills and a beat up turntable to mix tracks.
Today, however, any – and every – DJ relies on a laptop. It doesn’t matter whether you’re performing at an Ibiza nightclub for 1,000 people, or your niece’s birthday party, you’ll need a laptop to do much of the heavy lifting of DJing. Sure, you might have a DJ mixer and a turntable, but the laptop is increasingly the home base for any DJ.
Laptops – and the software you use on them – make DJing drastically easier. Moreover, DJing software makes new capabilities available to you for substantially lower cost than similarly capable hardware. A powerful turntable and effects processors can cost you thousands of dollars. A DJing tool with similar features? Hundreds or even less.
Given the primacy of software in modern DJing, it is crucial that you get the right laptop.
But you can’t just get any powerful laptop. From the processors to the RAM and audio ports, DJs have special needs. What qualifies as a powerful laptop for a gamer might be completely unfit for a DJ.
Hence, in this guide, I’ll cover the best laptops for DJs in 2019. You’ll learn what to features to look for in the right laptop, what to ignore, and our list of the best performing DJ laptops on the market right now.
Our 5 Best DJ Laptops
In a hurry and need some quick suggestions? Here are the five DJ laptops we recommend the most:
The powerful Macbook Pro works seamlessly with nearly all hardware and software and is the default choice of most DJs.
The top of the line Lenovo is slim, powerful, and proven – the perfect Windows alternative to the Macbook
Powerful and highly capable but at a cheaper price than the current gen Macbook.
This top-of-the-line ASUS boasts a stunning screen and a powerful i7 processor
One of the cheapest i7 laptops you can buy with an all SSD configuration.
The 9 Best DJ Laptops: In-Depth Analysis
You saw our picks for the best laptops for DJs at a glance above.
In this section, we'll do a deep dive into our top picks, why we chose them, and what's the right option for you.
1. Best DJ Laptop: Apple MacBook Pro (2019)
- Several customization options to help you build the perfect laptop
- Retina display—gold standard in laptop screens
- Lightweight and slim
- Touch Bar provides enhanced control of applications
- New and more reliable Butterfly keyboard switches
The MacBook series is Apple’s flagship in the laptop industry. Touted as the best of the best, a MacBook is both a professional tool and a status symbol. While the latter does drive up the price, keeping in mind the former is important. Several applications in the DJ industry work best on an Apple laptop—while others only work on an Apple laptop.
Further, some crucial industry production tools and plugins - such as Logic Pro X - only work on Mac.
So let’s take a look at the 2019 model of the Apple MacBook Pro. What are its strengths and weaknesses?
Customization has always been a big plus with MacBooks. You can have up to 32 GB in RAM, up to 1 TB in SSD storage, a choice between an i7 or i9 CPU, and a choice between 13” or 15” in screen size. All the available choices should have you covered for your work, so you can go above or below your budget as you desire.
The Apple MacBook Pro is also known for being sturdy. While it doesn’t necessarily stand up to the rigors of touring if you’re tough with your gear, the laptop should handle normal use for over half a decade without losing a step.
Unfortunately, the MacBook Pro lacks in connectivity options. It has Thunderbolt support—and that’s it. If you use any equipment that doesn’t have Thunderbolt compatibility, you’ll have to invest in a dock.
What's changed from the 2018 model is the new and improved Butterfly keyboard switch. The older 3rd gen switches had some reliability issues. Apple has fixed that - or so the reports say so far (it hasn't been released long enough to get accurate reliability reports).
One downside is that you still have to buy one with a Touchbar. I can't think of a lot of DJing/production tools that make good use of the Touchbar, and it adds a substantial amount to your purchase price. Moreover, Apple hasn't updated the non Touchbar Macbook Pro in quite a while (though rumors say a refresh is coming in Fall, so you might want to wait for that).
2. Best Alternative: Apple Macbook Pro 15.4" (2015 Model)
- Up to 32GB of RAM
- i5 or i7 processor options
- USB and HDMI connectivity
The best alternative to the 2019 Apple MacBook Pro is… the 2015 MacBook Pro!
You can expect much the same approach to hardware as you see in the more recent model. Except with a few positive twists:
- The 2015 model has USB and HDMI connectivity instead of the Thunderbolt-only 2019 model. You won't have to invest in that many adapters
- The 2015 model doesn't have a Touchbar, which most DJs find superfluous
- The 2015 model uses an old school keyboard instead of the newer Butterfly switches. While the Butterfly switch has improved, a lot of users prefer the longer key travel on the older keyboards
The key difference between the two, of course, is in the speed of that hardware. The 2015 MacBook Pro has a weaker graphics card, weaker processor, and a lower quality screen. Amount of RAM and storage size, however, is mostly identical.
You should be able to run most, if not all, applications with an older MacBook model. Things won’t be as smooth and you may not be able to multi-task with the more intensive programs, but it’ll get the job done.
Keep in mind here that the older MacBook model is no longer being manufactured. Finding a new laptop will be difficult, and you’ll likely need to get a refurbished device. This means you won’t have access to Apple Care, and the laptop you’re using has already been used for a decent chunk of time by someone else.
That sounds unappealing, but remember that a refurbished 2015 MacBook Pro will be over a thousand dollars cheaper than a new 2018 model, and the older model will still be compatible with all those Mac-exclusive DJ software suites.
3. Best Budget Apple Laptop: MacBook Air (2018 Model)
- Intel i5-8210Y CPU
- Retina display for greater color fidelity
- Touch log-in functionality and pressure-sensitive touchpad
One of the greatest advantages of the Apple line of laptops is that you receive an identical experience across the spectrum. While the MacBook Pro is better than the MacBook Air, they’re both quintessentially Apple.
So if you want a laptop running Mac but don’t want to purchase a refurbished Pro, you can instead look at the 2018 MacBook Air. You still get the guaranteed compatibility with all the DJ software packages, you still get the Apple brand and quality, and you still have the same comfortable experience with any customer service needs.
The MacBook Air is significantly cheaper than the MacBook Pro. With that comes less of a punch in weight class. The Air’s i5-8210Y CPU is weaker than the Pro’s i7, and the Air doesn’t come with a dedicated graphics card either. Additionally, the base model only has 8 GB of RAM and a tiny amount of storage space—128 GB or 256 GB.
While the 2018 version of the MacBook Air is a big improvement over older models of the same series, it will have difficulty running the most intense software packages smoothly. Multi-tasking between several intensive programs will reduce performance considerably. If your preferred applications aren’t too greedy with system resources, the MacBook Air will do a good job.
4. Best Performance Windows Laptop: Huawei MateBook X Pro
- Dedicated NVIDIA MX150 GPU
- 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB SSD storage
- 3K touchscreen with one-touch log-in
- Comes with Dolby sound drivers
Let’s get the hard details out of the way for Windows laptops first with the Huawei MateBook X Pro. You probably know that there are tools for DJs that aren’t compatible with Windows, or suffer from poor performance in their Windows iterations. This will ring true for every Windows laptop in this guide, and after this entry it won’t be mentioned again.
Keep the limitations of the Windows operating system in mind. If you know that you use software/hardware that doesn’t play very nice with Windows, consider getting an Apple laptop instead or going with a powerful enough Windows laptop that lets you dual-boot efficiently.
Onto the laptop: The Huawei MateBook X Pro is a Windows equivalent to the MacBook. It has great specs, an enormous resolution size (3000x2000), no bezels, durable build quality, and the screen comes with touchscreen capability.
For the price, you likely can’t find much better.
So what are its weaknesses? From a hardware perspective, the i7-8550U processor has a low clock speed of 1.8 GHz. Without going into the science, a higher GHz figure is better, and 1.8 isn’t very impressive on the spectrum of CPU clock speeds.
The biggest weakness is likely the political strife surrounding the Huawei brand. The landscape changes from one day to the next, but it has happened in the past that Huawei products were banned from being sold in the United States. There are concerns that Huawei provides user information to the Chinese government.
In other words: there are privacy concerns, and there is some potential risk if you decide to purchase a Huawei. I won’t tell you what’s true and what isn’t—we simply don’t know—but it’s something to keep in mind if that’s important to you.
5. Best Budget Windows Laptop: Acer Swift 3 SF315-52-81HD
- Intel i7-8550U CPU
- 15.6” screen
- Many connectivity options (with USB 3.x support)
- Backlit keyboard
Sometimes, you just don’t want to spend very much on a laptop. That’s totally fair, but you still want to get the best value.
That’s where the Acer Swift 3 steps in. This laptop won’t turn heads, but it’ll get the job done.
Hardware-wise, it is not significantly different from more premium models. It has the same processor as the Huawei MateBook X Pro, for example. Where it differs most is in screen quality, storage space, RAM, graphics, and durability. There is no dedicated graphics card, it only has 8 GB of RAM, and there’s only a 256 GB SSD inside it.
Build quality is also suspect. Acer has an unfortunate reputation of not making products that last very long. There is some risk here that you’ll save a few hundred dollars on a laptop but end up needing to buy a new one years earlier than if you had invested in a more expensive model. I won’t do the cost-benefit analysis for you on that - it depends on what you can afford right now.
6. Best Alternative Performance Windows Laptop: ASUS ZenBook UX533
- GeForce GTX 1050 Max-Q GPU
- Meets the MIL-STD 810G standard for durability
- Intel i7-8565U CPU
- Optimized ergonomic typing position and improved cooling fans
DJs concerned with the potential security issues that exist in Huawei products need not be worried. An alternative is the ASUS ZenBook UX533, comparable both in cost and performance.
It comes with a powerful processor that can wrestle any application confidently, 512 GB of SSD storage, plenty of RAM, and a dedicated graphics card.
The issue, of course, comes with the price. The graphics card drives up the cost significantly and this can feel as though it’s not worth the investment if that isn’t something you need. That’s fair, but keep its other hardware features in mind. The expanded storage space, 16 GB of RAM, and the processor make it an excellent tool for the DJ trade.
7. Best Mid-Range Windows Laptop: ASUS VivoBook S Intel Core i7-8550U
- Ultra-narrow screen bezel gives wider range of view
- 128 GB SSD with 1 TB HDD storage
- Backlit keyboard for low-light settings
- Less than an inch (0.7”) in width
The VivoBook laptop series is a little less known to the layman, but are still an excellent choice if you’re looking for a mid-range model that can handle most DJ applications. With a powerful i7-8550U processor, you get significant bang for your buck.
Don’t be discouraged by the 15.6” screen size. Despite its width, the laptop is extremely slim, and you’ll have no issues fitting it in with the rest of your gear while on the move. There’s a fingerprint sensor for an easier time logging in, and the laptop comes with connectivity for the full USB suite.
The downside here is that the base model will hobble you with only 8 GB of RAM and is limited to integrated graphics. This will hinder your performance, especially if you work with visual products.
Thankfully, you can upgrade the RAM to 16 GB and also get the laptop with a dedicated graphics card; just pay attention to the price tag when you’re making these changes.
8. Best Premium Windows Laptop: Lenovo X1 Carbon 6th Generation
- Many customization options for better storage and performance
- Awarded “Best Business Laptop” at CES 2018
- Fingerprinting reader for more efficient log-in
- Compatibility with ThinkPad docking hardware
- Comes pre-loaded with Dolby Audio sound software
Lenovo is a brand with a broad selection of laptops, ranging from the bargain bin to the gold standard. The X1 Carbon ranks as the gold standard, and could be compared to the Macbook despite being a Windows laptop.
This model is known to last for a long time, can stand a beating, and has powerful technical specifications that let it handle any application you throw its way with ease. Since the laptop is a little larger at 14 inches, it has plenty of ports and connectivity options.
Where it lags behind the competition is in screen resolution. It’s acceptable at 1920x1080 which is the standard these days, but many other laptops ideal for creative work can support higher resolutions.
If you’re a DJ who cares about the aesthetics of your hardware, the design of the X1 will also leave you feeling unimpressed. It has a clean exterior, but it’s very business-like.
9. Best Portable Windows Laptop: Microsoft Surface Pro 6
- Detachable keyboard and built-in kickstand
- 128 GB SSD
- Intel Core i5-8250U processor
The Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is one of the most powerful small-form laptops you can buy on the market. It’s tough to put power in a small package but the Surface Pro 6 does a fine job. Clocking in at only 12.3 inches, the keyboard can detach from the screen and the back comes with a useful kickstand that lets you go almost entirely hands-free.
Its limited size does come with some drawbacks. The hard drive is only a 128 GB SSD, and a decent percentage of that will be taken up by the bundled Windows 10 operating system and your can’t-live-without applications. The small screen can also make it difficult to use those applications, especially if you need to switch between windows quickly and efficiently. Lastly, there’s only one USB port; If you need more, you’ll need to get a USB hub—and that will really cramp any small-form approach you’re gunning for.
That all being said, it’s still the best for what it’s trying to be. The Surface Pro 6 is incredibly lightweight, has great battery life, and its keyboard/screen/kickstand/cover combination lets you come up with pretty creative ways to improve workflow while dealing with limited space or constant movement.
So that covers the best laptops for DJs on the market right now.
While most of you reading this are already familiar with the technical specs to consider when buying a DJ laptop, there are a few things you should keep in mind before a purchase decision.
We'll look at some of these issues in the section below.
9 Things to Keep in Mind When Buying the Best DJ Laptop
Mac or Windows? Graphics card or no graphics card? i5 or i7?
There are a lot of things that go into buying the best DJ laptop.
While there are no right answers - everything depends on your needs and budget - there are a few things you should keep in mind when buying a DJ laptop:
1. Choose Mac over Windows
I'll be the first one to tell you that I'm no Apple fanboy. I've used Windows laptops all my life. In fact, this article was also written on a Lenovo Windows laptop.
That said, when it comes to music production or DJing, I prefer Mac over Windows any day.
A few reasons why:
- Some software - such as Logic Pro - works only on Mac
- Mac laptops have better battery life across the board
- The onboard sound in Macbooks is uniformly better than most Windows laptops
- The closed, integrated software environment of Mac makes for a smoother experience
- Macbooks integrate better with iPads and iPhones for mobile DJing
- Macbooks have better build quality and longevity that most Windows laptops
- You don't have to worry about drivers with Macbooks
- You don't have to deal with as many updates on a Mac as with Windows (especially Windows 10).
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. A top of the line Thinkpad can match any Apple Macbook for build quality. And there are certainly several ultrabooks - such as the Huawei Matebook - that can hold their own against Apple in terms of battery life and thinness.
Moreover, Windows has a wider ecosystem of software tools (including games). If you DJ as a hobby, a Windows laptop might serve your needs better.
But if you are serious about DJing or music production, you have to switch to a Mac. The superior performance, better integration, and better build quality will make DJing easier and a lot more fun.
Not dealing with Windows' incredibly annoying almost weekly updates is a huge plus as well.
2. Avoid gaming laptops
If there is one thing you should avoid like the plague, it's gaming laptops.
Because gaming laptops are designed primarily around graphics cards. This creates two huge issues:
- Graphics card produce a lot of heat and thus, have to be cooled constantly. This heat not only creates a lot of wear and tear, but also produces a lot of noise courtesy of multiple fans.
- Graphics card drivers almost uniformly cause issues on Windows, especially Windows 10.
Moreover, as a DJ/producer, you don't really use any graphically intensive applications. Your standard DAW depends entirely on your RAM and processor for performance, not your graphics card.
Even if you are a gamer, I would recommend avoiding gaming laptop. They suffer from upgradability issues and most tend to go kaput in a couple of years because of all the heat. If you want to play games, invest in a gaming PC instead.
3. Prioritize RAM and processor speed
Performance, in the context of audio production/manipulation, depends largely on the speed of your processor and how much RAM you have. The latter is particularly important, especially if you deal with a lot of tracks and samples.
How much RAM should you get? 8 GB should be the minimum. 16 GB is ideal. 32 GB is overkill but makes your DJ laptop future proof for at 5-8 years.
Processor speed is a little more complicated. The general progression is that an i7 is better than an i5, which is better than an i3.
However, within these processors, there are a lot of differences in performance. A top of the line i5 performs better than a low-end i7. You will have to read benchmark reports (such as this one) to know what performs better. Or just pick one of our best DJ laptops above.
Do avoid i3 processors - even the top of the line ones don't perform nearly well enough for DJ applications.
4. Multitasking and multiple cores
If we're talking about processors, the inevitable question usually pops up: how many cores should you get?
Understand that more cores doesn't always mean better performance. Rather, more cores mean that work can get spread across different processor cores.
This is very useful when you're multitasking. Say, you have Chrome open in one Window, Ableton in another, and Serato in a third window. In these cases, the entire work can be spread across different cores, giving you better performance.
But what if you're focused only on a single task - say, a DJ tool?
In such cases, multiple cores don't have as much of an impact on performance.
Given that production and DJing are both intensive, single-purpose tasks (you're unlikely to be browsing Reddit in the middle of a club), investing in multiple cores can be a waste.
If two laptops are similarly priced and one has more cores than the other, buy that. But if there is a big difference in price between multi-core and single/dual core processors, stick to the single/dual core option.
5. Get SSD + external storage
As a DJ/producer, you will inevitably deal with a lot of large audio files. You will need enough space to store them all. At the same time, you also want a SSD (Solid State Drive) for those performance gains.
This creates a problem:
- Large SSD storage drives are expensive
- Large HDD drives are cheap, but slow
Making SSD your primary storage device will be prohibitively expensive. The solution is to keep all your installation files and most frequently accessed files on SSD, then connect an external HDD to access all audio files and data.
Look for a minimum of 256GB SSD storage + 2TB of external HDD storage. Also look for laptops that will allow you to swap SSD drives so you can upgrade space later (sadly, not possible with Apple laptops).
6. Better screens are good, but only if they are affordable
A high resolution display always looks and feels nice.
But if the display comes at a huge markup, it's better to get a cheaper lower resolution screen instead.
Understand that besides looking good, high resolution displays don't really offer any substantial performance benefits. Sure, you can crowd more apps on the screen, but as a DJ, you're likely going to be uni-tasking anyway.
Moreover, high resolution UHD/4k displays tend to be substantially more expensive than their HD counterparts. The price premium isn't worth it given the meager performance benefits.
In other words, get a higher resolution screen only if it is affordable.
7. Good onboard sound is nice, but overrated
A solid onboard sound card is always a welcome addition. In fact, plenty of laptops will charge a hefty premium for the quality of their onboard sound drivers.
But as a DJ, you have to ask, is it really worth the inflated price tag?
Honestly, the answer is 'no'. As a DJ, you'll inevitably connect your laptop to an external audio interface (such as one of these). Whatever benefits the onboard sound drivers might offer are essentially nullified when you connect an external audio interface.
Choose onboard sound drivers only if you're 100% sure you won't hook up an external audio interface (which is a bad idea, especially if you care about latency). Otherwise, ignore this feature.
8. Keep an eye on connectivity options
One of the most unfortunate developments in recent years has been the deprecation of the USB standard in favor of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. All new Apple laptops have only Thunderbolt 3 ports.
While I understand Apple's argument that Thunderbolt/USB-C are faster, smaller and more versatile, the fact is that most DJs, including yours truly, have a ton of equipment that is USB only. To plug these into your laptop, you will have to invest in a range of adapters and connectors.
This will add to your costs, so be prepared to shell out a little extra.
If you're on a budget, I would suggest buying laptops that still have standard USB 2.0/3.0 ports.
9. Mind the battery life
Battery life doesn't seem that important as a DJ until you get the dreaded "battery low" sign in the middle of a gig. Try keeping the crowd amped up while you're running around to find your charging cable - it's not nearly as fun as it sounds.
The solution, of course, is to get a laptop with strong battery life.
The problem is that most laptops will claim absurd battery life figures - 8 hours, 10 hours, even 16 hours - but that's rarely borne out in real life situations.
This is why we recommend Apple laptops. Apple's laptops almost almost meet their stated battery life targets - 8 to 10 hours. That's more than enough for any DJ gig.
With Windows laptops, you always have to take battery life claims with a grain of salt. The stated 8 hours might turn out to be with a ton of caveats (lower processor speed, no GPU, etc.). Thus, to be safe, stick to Apple.
With that, we come to a close in this extended guide to buying the best DJ laptop We’ve covered everything from the factors that should impact your purchase decision to a comprehensive list of the best laptops for DJs on the market right now.
Just to recap, here is our list of the 9 best DJ laptops, sorted by category:
- Apple Macbook Pro - 2019 (Best overall)
- Apple Macbook Pro - 2015 (Best alternative)
- Apple Macbook Air (Best affordable Mac)
- Huawei MateBook X Pro (Best Performance Windows Laptop)
- Acer Laptop Swift 3 SF315 (Best Budget Windows Laptop)
- ASUS ZenBook UX533 (Best Performance Windows Laptop - alternative)
- ASUS VivoBook Intel Core i7-8550U (Best Mid-Range Windows Laptop)
- Lenovo X1 Carbon 6th Gen (Best Premium Windows Laptop)
- Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (Best Portable Windows Laptop)
Questions, suggestions, or doubts?
Experts referenced for this article:
The following writers, DJs, producers, and audio engineers contributed their suggestions for this post: