Home » Music Gear Reviews » The Best DJ Laptop to Buy in 2020

The Best DJ Laptop to Buy in 2020

Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell

What’s the best DJ laptop to buy right now? This has always been a tough question to answer – unlike music gear, laptops have countless variants and even more manufacturers. So we tried to make some sense of the market in this detailed guide to the best laptop for DJs in 2020.

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.

It doesn’t help that the selection of laptops that are fast, have good screens, and are thin and lightweight is remarkably small. The market is mostly divided into either gaming laptops, business laptops, or light (and slow) consumer laptops.

This makes buying a laptop for DJing especially complicated. So to make things easier, I put together this guide to the best laptop for DJs. You’ll learn what features to look for, what to ignore, and our list of the best laptops for DJing and music production right now.

We’ll start with 8 of our favorite laptops and then share a brief DJ laptop buying guide.

We use rigorous research, reviews, and real-world performance when recommending products. Our reviewers include producers, performers, and active musicians. You can read more about our review process here. Be advised that MIDINation might earn referral commissions on purchases made through this website. This does not affect your final purchase price.
Note: As an Amazon Associate, MIDINation earns commissions for qualifying purchases made through Amazon links on this page.

About your reviewer
Ryan Harrell is the founder of MIDINation and an experienced producer/DJ. His first experience with electronic music production dates back to Cubase 3.0 in the summer of 1997, and he’s been a fan ever since. He prefers Ableton as his primary DAW these days, though he is still partial to Cubase and Pro Tools. He lives in San Diego and freelances as a producer and part-time DJ.

The 9 Best DJ Laptops in 2020

Screen? Processor? RAM?

What should you look for in any good laptop for DJs?

We’ll share some answers – and our favorite picks – in this section:

Best DJ Laptop: 16″ Apple MacBook Pro (2020)

Apple Macbook Pro is still the best DJ laptop around

Key takeaways:

  • 9th Gen Intel i7
  • Touchbar & Touch ID
  • 16″ screen
  • Fast 1TB SSD storage

There’s no question about it – the Macbook absolutely dominates the music production and DJing landscape.

While this can be attributed to many reasons, the biggest one is software and hardware compatibility. Some of the most popular tools – including Logic Pro X – work only with Macs.

Of course, there’s also the design and build quality, the (arguably) easier OS X, and Apple’s direct access to the soundcard (you can technically produce on a Macbook without a soundcard).

All these make the Macbook the default choice for DJs.

And if we’re talking about Macbooks, we have to go with the best Macbook Apple has in its stable: the 16″ 2020 Macbook Pro.

This thing is seriously loaded in terms of specs. You get:

  • 9th Gen Intel i7 or i9 processors
  • Up to 8TB of SSD storage
  • Up to 64GB of RAM

There’s also an optional upgrade to an AMD Radeon graphics card, but as a DJ, you don’t really need one.

The build quality is as good as it’s always been. Despite competition from Windows, nothing truly comes close to the sleekness and robustness of a Mac.

Further, Macbooks also easily have the best trackpads on any laptops. I’ve tried using dozens of Windows laptops and none come anywhere close to the sensitivity and ease of use of Macbooks trackpads. I’m a mouse guy, but with Macbooks, I don’t feel the need for one.

I was a little hesitant about recommending the 2019 model because of the faulty keyboard, but I’m happy to say that Apple has fixed that in the 2020 edition.

In addition, there are some noticeable but important changes in the 2020 Macbook Pro:

  • 16″ screen – a first for Apple – can be large but gives you tons of screen real estate
  • The retina resolution is simply gorgeous, especially when you have 16″ of it
  • The keyboard has been redesigned and now uses the traditional scissors switches – better reliability!
  • There is now a physical escape key on the keyboard – yay!

You also get the touchbar. This is a “love it or hate it” feature (I hate it) but it does offer some utility in a well-integrated DAW like Logic.

Despite its size, I recommend the 16″ model over the 13″ one. The 13″ variant only has i5 which, while enough for casual DJing and production, can be a performance bottleneck when you have a lot of plugins.

What I don’t like

The price, for one.

A loaded 16″ Macbook Pro is seriously expensive hardware. A similarly specced Windows laptop will run several hundred dollars cheaper.

The 16″ is also large – maybe too large – for DJs. While it’s not heavy (a little over 4 pounds), it’s dimensions are pretty large.

Another negative point is the keyboard. Apple has replaced the much-maligned butterfly switches in the previous generation, but the reliability of these newer keyboard switches is still up in the air. There simply aren’t enough long-term usage reports to see if these will fall apart in a couple of years.

Another negative is Mac OS Catalina. The latest update to OS X has been notoriously buggy. I’ve received countless emails from exasperated users who can’t get their controllers to work with Pro Tools or Logic Pro after the update.

Recommended for: DJs who have the budget to get the best product available and use Mac-exclusive DJ software. The better integration, better onboard audio, and overall better software experience makes it worth the premium price tag.

Pros

  • Hardware guarantees you can handle any DJ software suite
  • Build quality significantly increases year-over-year return on investment
  • Several DAWs and plugins are Mac-only
  • Newer 16″ screen offers great real estate
  • 2020 model replaces faulty keyboard switches

Cons

  • The status symbol of owning a Mac drives up the cost
  • Lack of connectivity options can be a cable nightmare
  • Not necessarily suited for being jostled around while touring
  • Touchbar is expensive but has limited use

Best Value Macbook: Apple Macbook Pro 15.4″ (2015 Model)

The Apple Macbook Pro 2015 edition is a powerful cheaper alternative

Key features:

  • Up to 32GB of RAM
  • i5 or i7 processor options
  • USB and HDMI connectivity

The best alternative to the 2020 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 an unnecessary (and expensive) add-on
  • The 2015 model uses an old school keyboard. While the 2020 variant has switched back to traditional scissors switches, these have been modified. It remains to be seen how these newer switches hold up in the long run. Meanwhile the 2015 model keyboard has been battle tested.

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 2020 model, and the older model will still be compatible with all those Mac-exclusive DJ software suites. Great if you’re on a budget, want Apple’s build quality, and don’t mind the slightly compromised performance.

What I don’t like

Obviously, the specs are a big concern. The 2015 model has hardware from, well, 2015. While that’s still fast enough, it might not be so in 3 more years. If you’re looking at a laptop as a long term investment, getting a 2015 model might not be the best strategy.

The screen, while great for 2015 standards, is subpar when compared to modern retina displays on the newer Macs.

Recommended for: DJs who use Mac-exclusive DJ software, want quality, but want to be a little more frugally minded. Also the right option if you don’t like Apple’s new keyboard, USB-C only ports, and Touchbar.

Pros

  • Cheaper price tag makes the MacBook far more affordable
  • Similar quality in hardware ensures decent performance
  • The 2015 model still has USB and HDMI ports

Cons

  • Refurbished laptops have reduced longevity
  • No Apple Care unless you buy a refurbished model through Apple (which is more expensive)
  • Despite cheaper price tag, could be seen as too expensive for what you get

Best Budget Macbook for DJing: New Macbook Air (2020)

Macbook Air suffers from power and performance but is more affordable than the Pro

Key features:

  • New 10th gen Intel i3 chips
  • Up to quad-core i7 chips available
  • Retina display for greater color fidelity
  • Touch log-in functionality and pressure-sensitive touchpad

Update: The new 2020 Macbook Air retains all the features from the older generation, but adds a stable of much faster processors (crucial for music production). This includes a quad core i5 as well as an (expensive) i7 option. It also removes the older butterfly switches for Apple’s newer and more reliable scissors keyboard switches. This makes it a much better option than the outgoing model.

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 new 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.

Moreover, the 2020 model has multiple processor options – something not available in earlier versions. You get a quad core i5 processor and can even configure it with an i7 processor (though at that point you should just get a Mac). There is an upgrade option for RAM as well – you can get up to 16GB now.

Storage has also been bumped up – the base model now has 256GB of storage vs 128GB on the earlier version.

All in all, the new Macbook Air is a seriously better deal than the 2019 model with much faster performance, storage and keyboard.

What I don’t like

All Macbook Air models use the mobile variant of Intel’s chips (though Intel itself has stopped using the traditional ‘Y’, ‘U’ nomenclature for its 10th generation). These tend to consume less power than their full-fledged laptop counterparts. This lower power consumption also means lower speeds (though better battery life).

So essentially, an i5 equipped Macbook Air will be slower than a similarly specced i5 Macbook Pro.

This is my chief complaint against the Macbook Air – it’s just not fast enough. While most basic production is more than possible on it, if you plan on using 10 Serum instances, you’ll have CPU overload and overheating.

Recommended for: DJs who need an Apple laptop for their work but don’t have the budget for a top-of-the-line model. Also DJs who don’t intend to use heavy duty production software or multitask extensively.

Pros

  • Compatible with all DJ software suites
  • Incredibly lightweight and slim, making it easy to travel with
  • New MacBook Air has great audio drivers
  • Faster processors available on the 2020 Macbook Air

Cons

  • Upgrading RAM and storage size drives up price
  • Keyboard is often seen as being low quality
  • Processor can’t keep up with heavy-duty DJ software

Best Macbook Pro Alternative: Huawei MateBook X Pro

Huawei Matebook X Pro has the build quality of an Apple but more power at lower price

Key features:

  • 8th Gen Intel i7 processors
  • 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB SSD storage
  • 3K touchscreen with one-touch log-in
  • Comes with Dolby sound drivers

At first glance, you might mistake the Matebook X Pro for a Macbook.

To say that it has been “inspired” by the Macbook would be an understand – it’s a near-identical copy.

This also makes the Huawei Matebook X Pro the best alternative to Macbook for DJs. It has great specs, great 3k resolution , 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.

On the positive side, I’m currently using a Lenovo laptop with an i7-8550U processor (clocked at 2.4Ghz) and can confirm that I can easily produce complex songs with 50+ tracks and 8-10 Serum instances easily without any CPU drops.

So if you want a near Macbook alternative, the Huawei Matebook would be perfect for you.

What I don’t like

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.

Recommended for: The Huawei MateBook X Pro is ideal for DJs who don’t need an Apple and want to maximize performance while working.

Pros

  • Screen resolution allows you to multi-task more effectively
  • Slim profile and 13.9” screen makes it discreet and easy to travel with
  • Hardware specs guarantee it can handle any DJ-related software suite with ease

Cons

  • Privacy concerns and limitations of Windows operating system
  • Limited connectivity options—a dock is required
  • Low processor clock speed impedes performance

Best Windows Laptop for DJing: Lenovo X1 Carbon (7th Gen)

Lenovo X1 Carbon is one of the best Windows laptops around right now

Key features:

  • Many customization options
  • 10th gen Intel processors
  • 14″ 1440p display (can be upgraded to 4k display)
  • 16GB RAM (can be upgraded to 64GB)
  • Light weight
  • Proven industrial design and build quality

The Lenovo X1 Carbon has long been the favorite laptop for anyone who wants a premium ultrabook but doesn’t want to go the Apple route.

The 7th gen of the laptop improves on everything, adding seriously powerful 10th Gen i7 chips, tons of fast storage, and even a great UHD touchscreen.

Along with it, it also has all the trademark Thinkpad features – military-grade build quality, tons of customization options, and possibly the best keyboard on any laptop ever.

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.

While the all black military-style aesthetic might not be to everyone’s tastes, it does stand out and is instantly recognizable as a “Thinkpad”.

There’s an upcoming 8th gen variant of the X1 Carbon as well that even has a 4K display option – something even Macbooks don’t offer yet.

What I don’t like

For starters, the X1 Carbon, like every Windows laptop, suffers from the same problem: poor built-in soundcards. Windows does not allow direct access to the sound on the motherboard so any built-in soundcard is subpar for music production or performance – more on this in our buying guide below.

Second, the X1 Carbon is primarily designed to be a business laptop. So it has tons of features that business users would love but creatives don’t care about – the 8th gen has a dedicated Skype button on the function key, for instance.

Lower variants of the X1 Carbon also have bad screens (at 1080p resolution) for 2020. Plus, being a Windows laptop, you get tons of variants – it can be difficult to figure out what’s good and what’s not unless you are technically literate.

Recommended for: Get the Lenovo X1 Carbon if you’re looking for a premium laptop that can handle the heaviest software suites without paying for a gaming laptop or a brand name.

Pros

  • Fast processors and storage options
  • Sturdy build quality guarantees extended longevity
  • Full connectivity while still being smaller than 15”

Cons

  • Unappealing aesthetic
  • Standard resolution is too low for 2020
  • Too much “business-focused” bloatware

Cheapest Laptop for DJing: Acer Swift 3 SF315-55-55UT

Acer Swift 3 is a dirt cheap laptop for budget buyers

Key features:

  • Intel i5-8265U processor
  • 14″ 1080p 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 a rock solid 8th gen Intel i5 processor (with variants offering i7 as well). 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.

Keep in mind that this segment of the market is filled with hundreds, even thousands of laptops. Most of these are largely similar with slightly different specs (an i5 instead of an i7, 16GB of RAM instead of 8GB, etc.). While I’m recommending Acer Swift 3 here, you can practically choose nearly any laptop that fits your budget, has at least an i5 processor, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and is from a brand you personally trust.

It might not be the best DJ laptop, but it’s good enough to get the job done 95% of the time.

Recommended for: DJs who want an affordable option for casual DJing. It’s also suitable for anyone who is getting started with DJing and music production and wants an affordable starter laptop.

Pros

  • Decent all-around hardware that should handle most applications
  • Low price is a big plus
  • Fingerprint reader works just as well as it does in more expensive laptops

Cons

  • Build quality isn’t the best
  • Will likely need to be replaced much sooner than with other models
  • Battery life is weak and screen quality is average

Best Alternative DJ Laptop: ASUS ZenBook 13

Asus Zenbook is a great mid-range DJ laptop

Key features:

  • Innovative hinge design
  • Meets the MIL-STD 810G standard for durability
  • Intel i7-8565U CPU
  • Smart number pad on touchpad

DJs concerned with the potential security issues that exist in Huawei products need not be worried. An alternative is the ASUS ZenBook 13, comparable both in performance and substantially cheaper in price.

What you get is a powerful processor (i7 8565U) that can wrestle any application confidently, 512 GB of SSD storage, and plenty of RAM.

While there are plenty of similarly specced laptops, we recommend the ZenBook for three reasons:

  • Nano edge display gives it a tiny bezel. You get a 13″ display in a much smaller size than other laptops
  • Innovative ErgoLift hinge lifts the laptop up by about 3/4th of an inch when you open it. This improves air circulation and offers a much more natural typing position
  • The trackpad can double up as a number pad

Of course, the ZenBook, like most Windows laptops, has tons of variants – some with faster processors, larger screens, or more RAM. Choose whatever fits your budget.

What I don’t like

The screen, at 1080p, is a big let down. While it might look fine now, in two years when everyone is rocking 4k displays, a 1080p screen will look pretty disappointing.

And while it’s faster than a Macbook Air, it’s very close in price. For most DJs on a budget, the Macbook Air might be the best DJ laptop around.

Recommended for: DJs who aren’t confident in purchasing a Huawei laptop but still want maximum performance will want to take a serious look at the ASUS ZenBook 13. It has great features and a substantially lower price tag.

Pros

  • Natural typing position helps keep your wrists healthy
  • Hardware specs are powerful enough for most DJs
  • Innovative built-in number pad

Cons

  • Questionable build quality despite the durability rating
  • Integrated audio drivers aren’t the best
  • 1080p screen is not good enough

Best Budget Laptop for DJing: ASUS VivoBook S Intel Core i7-8550U

Asus Vivobook is a solid mid-range Windows laptop with decent all around performance

Key features:

  • 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.

Recommended for: DJs who need decent performance for a reasonable price tag will find that the ASUS VivoBook S fits the bill just right.

Pros

  • Excellent processor for the price
  • Fingerprint sensor for more efficient security
  • Upgrade options allow better performance if needed

Cons

  • Upgrade options can push laptop cost above competitors
  • Screen size width could be a problem
  • User reports note potential overheating issues

Best Portable Windows Laptop for DJs: Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 suffers from performance issues but is extremely portable with great build quality

Key features:

  • 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.

Recommended for: The Surface Pro 6 is ideal for the DJ who can’t carry a lot of gear with them and needs to use their laptop while on the move, and who prefers Windows over Mac.

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Can pair with other Microsoft products, like the Surface Pen
  • Quiet hardware with good screen

Cons

  • Cost is prohibitive
  • Limited storage space
  • Windows can be seen as a malus for some professionals

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.

11 Tips for 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).

By default, Macbooks give you direct access to the onboard sound. This mitigates the need for an external soundcard (though you’ll want one) – the built-in latency is low enough for production. But with Windows, the sound has to be routed through drivers so your default latency is going to always be in excess of 30ms.

Because of Apple’s dominance in the creative industry, most hardware manufacturers also release their software first on Mac than on Windows. I’ve heard countless reports of musicians struggling to get their latest keyboard working on Windows, but that rarely happens with Apple.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. 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.

Why?

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.

 

10. Beware of mobile processors

A friend recently purchased a 2019 Macbook Air with an i5 processor.

When I asked him why he choose the Air instead of the more powerful Macbook Pro, he reasoned that the Air and Pro both have i5 processors, but the Pro is more expensive.

But here’s the reality – something that Apple doesn’t tell you clearly – the Macbook Air uses the ‘Y’ series of Intel’s chips, while the Pro uses the ‘U’ series.

The ‘Y’ series is Intel’s mobile chip line. These are designed to run at a lower temperature and consume less power to enhance battery life. A mobile ‘Y’ series processor typically uses 15W of power.

In contrast, the ‘U’ series is meant for full-fledged laptops, not ultrabooks. Thus, it consumes more power, offers lower battery life, but more importantly, substantially better performance. Most Intel U series processors consume 30-45W of power – 2-3x more then Y series.

Typically, a U series i5 processor will outperform a Y series i5 processor by 1.5-2 times. So while you think you’re getting an i5 on a Macbook Air, it is the significantly downgraded version of the processor.

See the benchmarks for yourself – the Y series processors regularly benchmark at half their U series counterparts.

Unless you’re DJing very casually, I’d really avoid the Y series processors.

 

11. Avoid AMD processors – for now

love AMD and they’ve been absolutely knocking it out of the park in processor performance. In terms of benchmarks, they’re running circles on Intel on both laptops and desktops.

Moreover, AMD’s chips are regularly 30-50% cheaper than their Intel counterparts.

 

This makes getting an AMD over an Intel almost a nobrainer, right?

Maybe not right now.

You see AMD’s laptop chips are quite “raw”. AMD hasn’t been a player in the laptop space for years now and very few manufacturers offer AMD laptops. This means that not every hardware manufacturer or software developer has had the incentive to optimize their offerings for AMD’s processors.

Buying AMD laptop right now essentially means that you’re a late beta tester.

So avoid AMD until the platform has matured a bit. In a year or two, you’ll have some seriously powerful AMD laptops eating Intel’s lunch (and priced $100-$200 cheaper). But until then, let AMD – and manufacturers – iron out the kinks.

FAQs About Buying DJ Laptops

I get a ton of email about buying DJ laptops. So while I’ve covered the core issues in the guide above, I’ll answer the most frequent questions below:

Do you need a laptop to DJ?

Absolutely not!

All old school DJs relied on just turntables and mixers to DJ, and they absolutely killed it.

That said, DJing without a laptop is hard and expensive. You have to beatmatch by ear – something no beginner DJ would be good at. Also be prepared to carry a huge selection of CDs and records everywhere if you’re going truly old school. Not to mention that old school DJ gear is really expensive.

The alternative is to get a modern DJ controller like the Pioneer DDJ. But again, this is really expensive solution.

Software offers an easy and affordable solution. It can beatmatch for you, make warping easy, and offers a handy interface to select and sort tracks. And since almost everyone already has a laptop these days, it’s not an additional investment you have to make.

Can you DJ with just a laptop?

The obverse of the above question is this – can you DJ with just your laptop?

And the answer is: absolutely yes!

Hardware makes DJing much more intuitive and easy, but it isn’t necessary to be a DJ. For basic DJ sessions, a DJing software like Virtual DJ will be enough to get started. Load it up, add your tracks, and you can use the built-in beatmatcher to find tracks that fit each other. Simply move the crossfader, add effects, and you can start DJing in minutes.

What laptops do professional DJs use?

Macbook Pros.

Sure, you might have spotted some sets on Coachella featuring Microsoft Surface or Lenovo products, but in many instances, these are paid placements. Within the DJing community, the Macbook Pro is the default laptop almost everywhere – at least for anyone serious about his/her craft.

I’ve shared the reasons why above, but namely, Macbooks have better hardware and software compatibility and better onboard sound. The build quality and better design are just added bonuses.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you need a Macbook to be a DJ – any laptop will do.

Can you use any laptop for DJing?

Of course!

As long as the laptop meets the minimum requirements for your DJing software of choice, you’re good to go.

A close look at Virtual DJ’s website shows that it’s recommended requirements are as follows:

  • Intel i5 processor or higher
  • Windows 7 or Windows 10
  • Multi-channel soundcard
  • 4GB RAM
  • 200MB free space

Any laptop made in the last 5 years should fit these requirements.

How much RAM does a DJ need?

According to Virtual DJ, you need just 4GB of RAM to run the software. That’s also the bare minimum I would recommend when choosing the best DJ laptop.

But understand that audio processing is computationally hard. The more tracks and effects you have, the greater the burden on your processor and RAM. The more RAM you have, the better.

If you’re buying a laptop for DJing in 2020, I would recommend getting at least 8GB of RAM. For best results, get 16GB. If you can spring for 32GB, even better.

Why do DJs prefer Macbooks?

DJs prefer Macbooks because:

  • Some industry-leading production tools, such as Logic Pro, are Mac-only (Logic is owned by Apple)
  • Until recently, Windows was notoriously less user-friendly than macOS
  • Macbooks generally have better build quality and design than their Windows counterparts
  • Macbook allow direct access to the onboard sound which removes the need for third-party drivers. With most Windows laptops, you have to install ASIO drivers to reduce latency – no such thing needed with Mac.
  • Because of the popularity of Macbooks, most hardware and software makers prioritize support for the OS

This is just a partial list, of course. But the biggest reason for Macbooks popularity is tied to the popularity of Logic as a DAW and the better onboard sound. This led many DJs and producers to choose Macbook way before they were popular in the mainstream. This further forced hardware companies to prioritize Mac support, cementing the popularity of Macbooks.

What are the best laptop specs for DJing?

The “best specs” are always debatable, but if you’re buying the best DJ laptop in 2020, I would recommend the following as a minimum requirement:

  • At least 8GB of RAM, 16GB preferred
  • At least 8th gen (or up) i5 processor, i7 preferred
  • At least 128GB of SSD storage (not HDD). Get as much SSD storage as you can afford
  • At least 1080p (1920×1080) screen. The brighter and bigger, the better.

Graphics cards are unnecessary for DJing, as are built-in soundcards – you’ll use a mixer or console with its own soundcard anyway.

Is Macbook Air good for DJing?

Yes, but only for beginner to intermediate DJs.

The Macbook Air uses mobile ‘Y’ series of processors from Intel. These have lower power consumption and thus, lower performance than their ‘U’ series laptop counterparts (see above).

Thus, between a Macbook Air and a Macbook Pro, both with i5 chips, the latter will always outperform the former by a significant margin.

So while you can DJ with Macbook Air, if you want truly good performance, I would choose a Macbook Pro – or one of the several Windows alternatives I shared above.

Final Words

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.

Questions, suggestions, or doubts?

Send us an email here!

Also read:

References:

Changelog
  • June 25, 2019: Article first published
  • May 1, 2020: Article first published
  • September 18, 2020: Article updated

Experts referenced for this article:

The following writers, DJs, producers, and audio engineers contributed their suggestions for this post:

Ryan Harrell
Producer, Founder – MIDINation
Henry Huff
Audio engineer
Jorge Madera
Rapper and Producer
Jack Dressler
Producer, Owner – Thumbtack Studios

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *