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Find the best laptop for Pro Tools – portability that doesn't compromise on performance.
Our Top Picks
Best for everyone: Apple MacBook Pro 16″
“With all flaws from the 2019 version fixed, the 2020 version is the best Macbook ever”
Best for Windows users: Dell Precision 5520
“Not the lightest but great specs make it a beast”
Best Windows ultrabook: Lenovo ThinkPad X1
“The X1 remains the best all-around computer for anyone who doesn't want Apple”
Most portable: LG Gram 17
“One of the lightest laptops around – that doesn't skimp on the hardware”
Best budget laptop: ASUS VivoBook 15
“Not the best build quality but fantastic specs for the price”
Until a few years ago, it used to be that if you were a musician (or heck, any “creative”), you would just stick to Apple.
But that's changed in the last few years. I see more and more Windows laptops in production studios. While one of the best DAWs around – Logic Pro – remains Mac only, Windows has staked an increasingly larger share of the creative pie.
You can partly blame this on Apple dropping the ball over the last few iterations of the Macbook. The disastrous decision to change the keyboard (the notoriously awful butterfly switches), poor thermals, rising costs and general bugginess of OSX has made a lot of users swear off Apple.
At the same time, Windows seems to have found new mojo. The crashes are all but absent these days, and the UI is far cleaner than the mess of icons and colors and gradients. Windows laptop makers, too, are getting up there, or at times, even exceeding, Apple in build quality and design. The X1 Carbon, for instance, is arguably better built than any Macbook. And the Dell XPS line has better screens. And LG Gram is lighter than the thinnest Macbook Airs.
Personally, I use both Mac and Windows (switching between them isn't as hard as you think). Mac still does the heavy creative lifting but I use Windows primarily as my work OS. I run Ableton on both systems and performance-wise, I can't find much of a difference anymore.
For you, this makes the laptop buying decision much harder. You can't just buy the latest Macbook and call it a day. You might be able to get the same or even better performance from a Windows laptop.
And to make things even more complicated, you now have to choose between Intel and AMD on Windows laptops. While AMD laptops are still limited, AMD's new processors (at least on desktop) absolutely blow Intel out of the water.
So what laptop do you choose to make music? What factors should guide your decision? Let's look for answers in this guide to the best laptop for Pro Tools in 2020.
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.
Before You Buy: What to Consider
People used to buy Macbooks for their ease of use, good build quality, and general stability.
Read online and you'll find that people also say that Macbooks have better latency because you can plug directly into the soundboard instead of obfuscating it the way Windows does. I always found that to be an exaggerated point – any semi-serious musician is going to use an audio interface anyway.
That's how things used to be.
Apple has slipped of late. Macbooks are increasingly overpriced. Until 2020, the 2016-19 lineup had massive keyboard issues. The OS is not as stable anymore.
At the same time, things have changed a lot for Windows under Satya Nadella. The OS is more stable than ever. The UI is cleaner (though still a mess compared to Apple). And best of all, there is real competition among hardware manufacturers. Intel vs AMD is giving us consumers access to top quality processors for cheap. Dell finding its groove again is giving Lenovo stiff competition. And the renaissance of PC gaming means that you a huge reason to pick Windows over Apple.
So keeping all these things in mind, here are some of the top things you need to consider when buying the best laptop for Pro Tools in 2020.
1. Mac vs Windows
As I said, this used to be no competition. But now it feels nearly neck and neck.
Personally, I see Mac as an OS that's going down in quality and performance. Windows is on the up, but Microsoft keeps pulling off tricks like forcibly installing Edge which makes me not want to recommend Windows.
Here's how I see the Windows vs Mac debate:
Choose Mac if you
- Don't game
- Use Mac-exclusive software like Logic Pro (likely not applicable for this article)
- Prioritize privacy
- Are okay paying higher prices for everything – hardware, software, services
Keep in mind that Macs are increasingly expensive. Apple makes it very hard to upgrade or repair their machines. Which means you have to rely on their expensive Apple Care plans. Given the high failure rate of newer Macbooks, you might have to buy a new laptop every few years instead of the 7-8 years earlier.
Choose Windows if you
- Intend to play games seriously
- Are okay compromising privacy
- Want cheaper services, hardware, and software
Windows will be cheaper. For the same price, you'll get a lot more computer than a Mac. You'll also get cheaper services, repairs, and upgrade options. On my Lenovo, upgrading from HDD to SSD was as simple as opening a screw and plugging in my new drive. On Macbook, that would be much harder.
Bottomline: Choose Windows for cheaper everything. Choose Macbook for better quality hardware and more privacy.
2. Focus on the CPU and RAM
DAW performance is mostly a function of three things:
- The speed and size of your RAM
- How fast the DAW can access storage (i.e. the hard drive)
- The speed of the processor
Everything else is a moot point. You don't need a graphics card to run Pro Tools (or any other DAW for that matter).
What you do need is fast CPU performance – preferably across multiple cores. You also need RAM, but not a massive amount. For most producers, 16-32 GB would be enough. Don't fret too much about exact RAM speed – that's a factor in gaming, not music production.
I won't mention hard drives because in 2020, I assume that most of you have already made the switch to SSD.
3. Consider AMD
Late last year, I built myself a new production desktop computer. Like a lot of gamers and creatives, I chose to go with AMD instead of Intel.
AMD, at least in the desktop market, has been eating Intel's lunch over the last year or so. While Intel still has the fastest single core performance, AMD absolutely crushes it in multicore performance. Just take a look at the CPU benchmarks charts – it's AMD all the way through.
For music production, you need both fast single core and multi-core performance. Which is why I recommend anyone building a desktop computer for production to go with AMD.
However, AMD is still largely absent on the laptop side. The new AMD laptop CPUs are as good as Intel's – and cheaper – but most manufacturers still don't have a lot of AMD options. If you don't plan to buy immediately, I would highly suggest waiting a 6-8 months when manufacturers start bringing in more AMD options.
As someone who always roots for the underdog, I can't say I'm unbiased – I have a soft corner for AMD's resurgence!
4. Factor in the Screen
Lastly, be very careful about the screen your laptop has.
Sure, you're not working with design tools and don't need exceptional color accuracy. But as a Pro Tools user, you will end up with a ton of on-screen detail during your sessions – multiple windows, plugins, views all open at the same time.
A low resolution screen will make it really hard to get all these details on screen. At the very least, your screen should have:
- Minimum 1080p resolution (1920×1080 resolution). The higher the better
- Minimum 400 nits brightness. Again, the higher the better
- Minimum 13″ screen, though I recommend 15″
This isn't something people usually think about when buying the best laptops for Pro Tools, but it's a massive factor in how much performance you get out of your machine. Some rock solid business-focused laptops, like Thinkpads, are notorious for packing in dull, low-res screens. So before you decide what to buy, make sure that the screen fits the above requirements.
With all this out of the way, let's take a closer look at the best laptop for Pro Tools you can buy in 2020.
The Best Laptops for Pro Tools
Based on their price and real-world performance, these are the best laptops for Pro Tools you can buy right now:
Apple MacBook Pro 16″
Until the 2020 edition of the Macbook was announced, I wasn't keen on recommending it. But the 2020 edition fixed so many of my biggest issues with MBPs of late – the wonky keyboard, the bad thermals, and the smaller screen. The 16″ MBP Pro is a return to form for Apple and, once again, is the best laptop for Pro Tools you can buy right now.
- 9th Generation Intel Core I7 Processor
- 16″ Retina Display
- Touch Bar and ID
- AMD Radeon Pro 5300M
- Intel UHD Graphics 630
Running Pro Tools requires a powerful laptop, and it doesn't get more powerful than the Apple MacBook Pro 16″. This is a high-end laptop that comes with plenty of features that will make running this software, with all its plugins and virtual instruments, a breeze.
Apple is the world's biggest company and has always churned out impressive and reliable gadgets. The Pro Tools software is compatible with Mac OS, which is why we couldn't but include the Apple MacBook Pro 16″ in this list.
This laptop is a force to be reckoned with, and while it doesn't reinvent the wheel, as it were, it comes with enhanced features that make it a good pick for anyone that can afford it.
While there are several versions of the Macbook Pro, this version is the Apple MacBook Pro 16″. It comes with just about the most powerful innards you'll find on a laptop. It has a 9th Generation Intel Core I7 processor that gives it incredible computing power. It also has up to 16GB of RAM and storage of 12B SSD.
The design is a selling point, as the Apple MacBook Pro 16″ comes with a unibody aluminum chassis that makes it look absolutely premium.
The display is stunning, even though it isn't a 4K display. It comes with a 16″ Retina Touch Bar display that gives stunning color at all times. The resolution looks perfect for the screen. By using an SSD storage, this is one of the fastest laptops in terms of performance and boot time. It also helps you to save battery.
The 16GB RAM runs on six cores to process data.
As it has an Intel processor, you enjoy a combination of power and speed while using as little power as possible. To help with graphics, it runs the Intel UHD Graphics 630 and AMD Radeon Pro 5300M.
With over 10 hours of run time and a lightweight build, this is a powerful option that can come with you almost wherever you go.
What I don’t like:
It is incredibly expensive, which is the biggest gripe I have with this unit. I'm also not sold on the touchbar and think it just bloats the cost without doing much in terms of utility.
Recommended for: IIf money is no problem and you want the best laptop to run Pro Tools, and are comfortable with OSX's increasing wonkiness, then this is the laptop for you.
- Old school scissors switches on the keyboard
- Impressive CPU performance
- Gorgeous screen and build quality
- Fully loaded version is very expensive
- Touchbar feels like bloatware
Best Windows Ultrabook: Lenovo ThinkPad X1
- Core i7-8565U
- 16GB RAM
- 512GB SSD
- 14″ SCREEN
- Intel Integrated 620 Graphics
Although Lenovo lists the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon as a business laptop, it is one of the best laptops for running software like Pro Tools. It comes with a slim profile and powerful hardware that will easily run most of the music production software that you might be thinking of using.
Nobody likes carrying a laptop around, and that is why most manufacturers are focused on creating small, compact laptops that are easy to transport. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an ultrabook that fits that mold and is the best in its category.
The main benefit of this laptop as far as this review is concerned is the size. It weighs just 2.4 pounds of weight and is just 14.9mm thick. Therefore, it is easy to slip in and out of your backpack without being a burden. Interestingly, despite the relatively small dimensions, it has one of the best screens to body ratios of ultrabooks on the market today.
While it is not as flashy as some other models on the market, it is a durable option that will survive bumps and impacts.
Lenovo, especially the Thinkpad series, is known for the impressive keyboard. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon continues this tradition and comes with a super-comfortable keyboard.
Since it has an Intel i7 processor, it easily handles intensive tasks and software.
Overall, this is a classy Ultrabook that has a premium design and offers top-level security and performance. The extra durability is another plus for the laptop. With a powerful processor and SSD storage, this is an excellent model that you will enjoy using to run your music production software.
What I don't like
As with the Dell Precision below, battery life is a tad disappointing on this laptop. It lasts for just about six hours, which will certainly not appeal to many people like me.
Recommended for: Since this is a portable, lightweight Ultrabook, it will appeal to producers often on the move. It weighs little and is one of the hardiest laptops on this roundup. If you're sure you don't want a Mac, this is the best near-Macbook experience you can have on Windows.
- Durable build
- Lightweight and portable
- Runs Pro Tools easily
- Disappointing battery life
- Screen brightness not as perky as Macbook
Best Performing Windows Laptop: Dell Precision 5520
- 15.6″ screen
- 32 GB RAM
- NVIDIA Quadro M1200 DDR5
- 1TB SSD
- Intel Xeon processors
While the MacBook Pro we reviewed above is an excellent product, you might not be used to the MAC Os ecosystem. The Dell Precision 5520 is the Windows alternative. It is the best Windows laptop to run your Pro Tools software.
In this laptop, you get all the features that you require to run Pro Tools easily. It is one of the best laptops on the market and offers maximum features in terms of performance, memory, storage, battery life, and almost every single parameter.
It has a 15″ screen with an impressive UHD display. Therefore, colors are accurately depicted and bright. One of the most impressive design features of Dell Precision is the InfintyEdge display. With this beautiful display, you enjoy an immersive experience regardless of what you are doing on the laptop.
It is also a touchscreen laptop, which improves your user experience and ability to smoothly use Pro Tools.
While the design features are all great, what really matters is what is inside the laptop. Well, this is one of the most powerful laptops for Pro Tools.
In terms of performance, this laptop comes with 32GB of RAM that allows you to multitask seamlessly. With up to 1TB of SSD storage, you have a laptop that responds immediately to your direction.
Overall, this is one of the most powerful Windows laptops for Pro Tools.
What I don't like
Although this laptop excels across categories, it runs uncomfortably warm when put through heavy applications. Intel Xeon processors are beast but they're also power hungry. Also, since this one is a mobile workstation, battery life is abysmal – you'll be lucky to get 3 hours out of it.
Recommended for: If you want pure performance and are willing to sacrifice portability, then this is the best laptop for Pro Tools on Windows right now.
- Powerful Xeon processors
- Maxed-out specs – RAM, SSD, GPUs
- Relatively lightweight for its specs
- Runs a little too hot
- Disappointing battery life
Best AMD Laptop for Pro Tools: Lenovo ThinkPad T495
- 14″ screen
- 512 SSD Storage
- Ryzen 7 3700U Processor
- AMD Radeon Vega 10 Graphics
The Lenovo ThinkPad T495 is an excellent laptop with an AMD processor. It offers more than decent performance and is the laptop of choice for many business owners. However, despite being a predominantly business laptop, it is still excellent for use as a companion to music producers.
It comes with a 14″ screen. From our testing, the image quality is superb and will be pleasing to most people. While Lenovo used to falter screen-wise, the Lenovo ThinkPad T495 comes with a surprisingly excellent screen. My only pet peeve is with the brightness – 400 nits is barely meeting the minimum standards.
Performance is where the Lenovo ThinkPad T495 really shines. It comes with AMD's Ryzen Pro processor. This processor offers an extra layer of security and management features. Running on eight cores, this model offers more than enough power to run your basic audio production software like Pro Tools.
It is equipped with a 512GB SSD storage device that performed exceptionally during testing. GPU performance is also inspiring. It is handled by the AMD Radeon Vega 8 GPU, which gives lots of graphics power.
Battery life has been disappointing with many of the models we have reviewed so far. But the Lenovo ThinkPad T495 is a breath of fresh air. It runs for up to 12 hours on a single charge! And even at full brightness, it lasts for over seven hours.
What I don't like
The lack of the Thunderbolt 3 port is a bummer. Considering the price, I expected to find it on this laptop. Like most Lenovo Thinkpads, screen brightness on the T495 is poor as well with only 400 nits brightness.
Recommended for: The GPU and AMD processor make for a zippy laptop. If you want an AMD laptop to run Pro Tools, this is the best option you can buy. Being a Thinkpad, it's also incredibly reliable. And as an AMD, it's at least a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than Lenovo's Intel Thinkpads. For AMD fans, this is one of the best laptops for Pro Tools right now.
- Powerful AMD performance
- Excellent battery life
- Durable build
- No Thunderbolt 3 port
- Low screen brightness
Most Affordable: ASUS VivoBook 15
- 10th gen Intel i5 CPU
- 8GB RAM
- 512 GB NVMe SSD
- 15.6″ NanoEdge UHD display
Most of the units we have reviewed so far on this list are relatively expensive, with all of them passing the $1000 mark. The ASUS VivoBook 15 is a departure from that trend as it comes at a very affordable sub $1000 price.
Despite the reduced price, though, this unit still remains one of the favorite laptops for running Pro Tools. It comes as a colorful option that looks better than most of the other laptops in the same price category.
Made for medium-level use, it still gives some powerful performance from the sleek chassis. The speakers are loud and relatively crisp.
An Intel Core i5 processor is not the most powerful on this list, but it is aided by the 8GB RAM and NVMe SSD to boost performance. That is why, despite the relatively low specifications, it can run some software, including Pro Tools, without much stress.
I am pleased with the range of ports available on this laptop. While it doesn't have A Thunderbolt 3 port, I am not too disappointed considering the cost of the laptop.
The size is portable, although the weight is more than expected.
The keyboard here isn't anything special, but that isn't to say that it is horrible. It is simply basic and should work well for whatever you want.
A standout feature is the NanoBezel screen. The minimal bezels are very nice to look at. The brightness, however, leaves a little to be desired.
What I don't like
While the VivoBook 15 punches above its weight in some categories, it falls short due to the screen. It comes with a dull screen despite the nice bezels.
Recommended for: This is a budget level laptop that I recommend for anyone looking to run Pro Tools without spending a lot of money.
- Fast performance
- Sleek design
- Decent keyboard
- Screen brightness is an issue
- Average battery life
- Only 8GB RAM is too limited
Lightest Laptop for Pro Tools: LG Gram 17
- Intel 10th Gen Core i7 1065G7 CPU
- 1TB SSD Storage
- 16GB RAM
- 17″ Screen
The penultimate entry on this list is this lightweight yet productive machine with a large 17″ screen. At first glance, it is easy to assume that the LG Gram 17 is a heavy laptop. However, it weighs just under 3 pounds, which is lighter than even smaller-sized laptops on this list.
Making music from home with a small 13″ or 14″ screen might make your productivity lag. If you want a larger screen, then you should consider moving to the LG Gram 17.
It is constructed from magnesium alloy, which is durable and lightweight. There are simply no laptops with this size that are as lightweight and portable as this unit.
Despite the big screen, battery life is impressive on the LG Gram 17. It can last for up to 13 hours on one charge.
The 10th gen i7 processor is powerful enough and can easily handle your music production needs.
What I don't like
While this is indeed an i7, it is in the ‘G' series which is meant for low power consumption mobile applications. As such, you'll never get the same performance as a similar i7 laptop with the ‘U' or ‘H' series. So performance is a bit muted despite the i7 tag. I'm also not a huge fan of the keyboard on the LG gram – it has too much ‘give' and isn't stable enough for fast typing.
Recommended for: If you want to increase productivity on a big screen while retaining portability, then I recommend the LG Gram 17. It might not be the best laptop for Pro Tools, but it is certainly the lightest.
- Extremely low weight and slim profile
- Massive 17″ screen
- Long battery life
- Intel G series processors have poor thermal performance
- Touchpad and keyboard are below average
Best Gaming Laptop: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14
- 14″ screen
- 16GB RAM
- 1TB SSD storage
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX2060 Max-Q
Who says you can't have fun on your production machine?
If you like to game alongside producing music (hopefully, not at the same time!), this is the machine for you.
Gaming laptops used to be designed to replace desktops. However, the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 rewrites all the rules. It is a powerful gaming laptop that can hold its own against ultraportable laptops. This is even more remarkable when you consider that it uses an AMD CPU.
Somehow, ASUS has managed to cramp an uber-powerful processor and GPU into a 14″ ultrabook that weighs 3.5 pounds. It has also managed to fit it with16GB of RAM, 1TB of SSD storage, and a gorgeous display.
If you are a music producer looking for a laptop that can still handle the most intensive gaming titles, then look no further than this impressive laptop.
It's not all specs, too, because, from our testing and review, it fully delivers on performance. It is incredibly productive and fun.
Graphically intensive titles average impressive frames per second in different settings. In addition, the screen is excellent for gaming and watching videos.
Ultimately, your goal is to run Pro Tools, and this laptop completely delivers in this case.
What I don't like
While the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 remains cool even when hard-pressed, the cooling fans are rather loud.
Recommended for: This is recommended for any music producer looking for a gaming laptop that can also run Pro Tools comfortably.
- Great battery life
- Beautifully designed with good build quality
- Comfortable keyboard
- Loud fan
Over to You
It's not always easy to zero-in on the best laptop for Pro Tools. Hopefully, this guide will help you zero-in on the right option.
For more recommendations and advice, don't hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Our favorite DJ laptops, hands down
- Our list of the best keyboards for Pro Tools
- Apple.com (Official website)
- Lenovo.com (Official website)
- ASUS ROG (Official website)
- LG Gram (Official website)
- Sep 15, 2020: Article first published