8 Little-Considered Factors When Choosing A DJ Laptop

Laptop headphones

It's not all about specs: Choosing the right laptop for DJing goes beyond memory, hard drive size and processor speed.

Laptops are such an important part of most digital DJs' set-ups, so it's maybe not surprising that the confusion about which is the best one to buy is second only to the eternal "what controller is best?" debate.

But the truth is that nowadays - unless you want to hack and tune your laptop to overclocked heaven, turning it into a custom production / sampling / broadcasting powerhorse - most modern laptops will do the job. DJing software is not, in reality, particularly demanding against today's specs.

However, that doesn't mean all laptops are equally suitable for DJing. Because DJing is a specific function, done in a pretty extreme environment and with particular types of equipment plugged in to the laptop, there are still considerations that have nothing at all to do with hard drive size, memory or processor speed - and DJs routinely buy laptops without thinking about them. So today we're going to look at some of these other considerations.

(Oh, and by the way, if you want to know our recommended minimum tech spec for a DJ laptop, it's 2GB RAM; Intel processor, Core 2 or better; and a hard drive with a few GB free space on it. Seriously, for 90% of DJing purposes, that'll have you covered. Stop worrying about it.)

Our little-considered factors when choosing a DJ laptop

    1. Screen size - The laptop relays important information to you. If you can't see it because the screen is too small, you'll never be comfortable DJing with it. I stuggle a little with my 13" MacBook Pro screen, and would ideally prefer a 15", for example, because for my less-than-perfect eyes, everything's just a little too small on a 13" screen. Remember, laptops are really designed to be sat right in front of, not stood back from and glanced at like us DJs do. Bear this in mind, especially if you're a glasses wearer like me
    2. Number of USBs - If you have an external sound card, a pad controller, and a DJ controller (not a particularly rare set-up), you're going to need three USBs. Some PCs only have two, so it's USB hub time for you. Things start to get complicated here, but you can prevent the issue by predicting how much DJ equipment you are likely to want to plug into your laptop, and buying one with sufficient USB sockets in the first place
    3. Screen resolution - Screen size is one thing, but actually screen resolution is vital, and often overlooked. Most 13" laptops are 1280 x 800. That is OK for Serato, not too bad for Virtual DJ, but actually quite poor for Traktor, which does not make particularly good use of screen real estate. Move up to 15" and while some remain at 1280 x 800 (so good for glasses wearers like me - see point 1!), other resolutions come into play like 1440 x 900, for instance, that give you more space to play with - but of course everything gets "smaller" again. Bear in mind that you can always set a bigger screen to display at a lower resolution if you want to
    4. Solid state or normal hard drive? - People go on about making sure your laptop has good quality components so it stays reliable, but the truth is that the only thing ever likely to fail on a laptop is the hard drive. In fact, it is definitely going to fail - it's always just a case of when. Unless, that is, you have a modern solid state hard drive (or "SSD"). These have no moving parts, so are extremely reliable against traditional hard drives. They cost more and are available only in lower capacities, but for reliability, they're unbeatable. Worth considering if you can afford one big enough for your needs
    5. Screen brightness - This specifically applies to those DJs who play daytime gigs. If you do, you'll know that laptops and sunshine really don't mix. It can become fiendishly difficult to see the screen at all in bright daylight or sun. In my experience, MacBooks have nice bright screens compared to most PCs, but it's definitely worth lining the laptops up in the shop and turning the brightness on full to check which performs best. Also bear in mind that some DJ software now offers "daytime" settings (Serato ITCH and djay both have this option) which will aid the pool party / sunset / barbecue DJ
    6. Battery life - Two reasons. Firstly, it's truly liberating to whip your laptop out miles from any outlet electricity, plug in some battery speakers, and DJ. After all, what's the point of having all your gear in a backpack if you can't DJ anytime, any place, anywhere every now and then? Plus, the ability to sort, cue point and analyse your music on a plane, for instance, can mean the difference between being prepared for a gig and messing it up. But secondly, sometimes you forget your power lead (it's happened to me), or you can't plug in or other such emergency - with decent battery life, it needn't be the end of the world
    7. Size and weight - A laptop may not seem like it weighs too much, but add it to a DJ controller, its own power pack, your headphones, a few cables, and now add on the weight of the bag you put it all in, and it starts to become an issue. If you travel with hand luggage on planes, the limit can be as low as 10kg. Just bear in mind what it weighs and the dimensions if you are a regular economy traveller, or you carry your gear by hand to gigs, because you'll thank yourself for the consideration later
    8. Build quality - We've already identified that apart from the hard drive, it tends to be that "components are components are components", but that doesn't mean you should dismiss build quality entirely. A cheap plastic case with poor hinges and catches won't last as long as a well designed and put-together laptop. You may drop the thing, it may take knocks as you're setting it up and tidying away, and so there's definitely a link between build quality and reliability. Use your instinct here - if something looks so flimsy that you're scared to open and close it, it probably isn't a good choice for DJing

The good news in all of this is that because you probably started laptop DJing using the laptop you already had, you already know your preferences with regards to some of these things, which means you're not starting from scratch when it comes to time to upgrade.

The other thing, of course, is compromise - you won't ever find a laptop that does everything 100%, because some of the qualities listed above go against each other. You can't have a big screen in an ultra-lightweight laptop, you can't have a cheap 1TB solid-state drive, and so on. What is right for you will depend how much importance you attach to each option, which is why it's impossible to recommend a one-size-fits-all laptop. Nonetheless, I hope you're now better prepared to make a smart decision.

What do you consider to be the most important thing when choosing a DJ laptop? Have we missed something out? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. I have a Dell Studio, and it is realy good.

  2. and I’d like to use another little-considered feature:

    back-lit keyboard.

    no more bending your screen to show light on keyboard to find the right keys etc. a lifesaver for me.

    • Lenovo have a built in led lamp that is very useful.

    • Haha! My first DJ laptop didn’t have a back-lit keyboard. The keys were black with fading text, and starting out my MIDI controller only had rotaries, so all my controls were on the keyboard!

      Luckily I knew it well and could find most things in the dark, especially by the time I was doing paid gigs, but I never realised how much it bugged me until I saved up for a second hand Macbook Pro. What a difference!

  3. DJ Peixinho says:

    Quite helpful this article and through my experience with my current laptop (HP Pavillion dv5 1030ep) in the last three years I have built my own list of specs that my next laptop should have which actually match but the essential to me for it is:
    – It must match or be better then the recommended specs for running Traktor;
    – SSD Drive;
    – Lightweight (less than 2 Kg, with being lighter than 1,5 Kg making it even better)
    – Be 13″
    – Metal or Aluminium body

  4. First off I would like to say that there is not any laptop that is build for DJs and the enviroment that is in a club.
    Heavy bass, bad air with smokemachine oil in it, drinks and beer that can be spilt and so on. There is pro laptops that the police uses but they are very expencive and does not have a good enough spec! I know very many if not all dissagree but I stated the fact and my oppinion is not to be changed until proven otherwise.
    Laptops are IMO OK on parties, weddings and so on, but not in clubs, there is other gear more sueted and designed for that.

    Then if you want a laptop there is the big Q PC or Mac.
    IMO Mac is more stabile, cheaper (in long term), plug and play for Digital DJ and can be used for other purposes as well as DDJ.

    Mac is more stabile because it has a better OS that is more stabile and that the components is tested together wich is not always the case with PCs.

    Mac is cheaper because it lasts more than 2 times longer than PCs
    b4 it is worn out 2,5x PC with equal spec is not cheaper!
    That is my experience….

    Mac is plug and play because you need to do absolutely nothing to prepare it for DDJing. With PCs you need to be a PC technichan and get into the OS and turn off a lot of things amongst other the virus prog wich makes it a nono to go online…..

    Mac can be used as your day to day computer as well as DDJ computer. If you chose PC you need a dedicated laptop to be used exclusivly for DDJ if you want it to be as stabile as a Mac.

    This statements is based on my experience with PC and Mac over a long period but still that is my personal veiew!

    • http://www.panasonic.com/business/toughbook/fully-rugged-laptop-toughbook-31.asp

      Panasonic Toughbook (The one you mentioned that law enforcement uses). Not too expensive (still cheaper than a mac), Will stand up to that environment, and supports i5. I think that’d do the job.

    • David Daniels III says:

      I think the Mac Book Pro is the best Laptop best suited for DJing simply because it works !!!!!!

      • Macolyte gibberish.
        I have 4 Apple devices to hand. Only one has not been back to store because of problems, some OS bugs, some hardware crappiness. Out of my top of the range kit consisting of a Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, iPhone 4s and iPod Nano only the Nano has been problem free.

        You tend to hear less about Apple problems, not because they are inherently better than similar priced PCs, but because of a quirk of human nature – people are increasingly less likely to admit there’s a problem with something they’ve bought, the more expensive it is. And with Apple kit being much pricier than most PCs….
        Usually there’s about 4 days waiting list to get an appointment at my local Apple store if there is a problem, so if they just worked…..
        Having said that Apple after sales is generally exceptionally good with the exception of the ‘genius’ who moved my memory to the incorrect slots and caused memory problems.
        As for being cheaper long term, not necessarily as accessories and upgrades also tend to be very expensive [and quite limited] compared to the PC market and my 2008 MacPro is so expensive to upgrade memory wise, It’d be more cost effective to buy a new Mac Pro with cheaper memory – except as it hasn’t been updated in such a long time, the current model’s not a particularly good buy either at moment.

        I also have a PC laptop which I bought in 2004, which still works.

  5. DJ Doughboy says:

    Everytime this topic is brought up, I become frustrated…. I have a dell studio with 4gb of ram, an i5 processor, and a 500gb hard drive (only about 100 or less are actually used up) and I use a mixtrack pro with VDJ pro. Very frequently, almost always in fact, it will start acting funny during a set. Audio will have short skips and jumps, and waveforms start “jumping” instead of scrolling smoothly from right to left. I do not have any other programs running in the background, I’m pretty sure all of my latency and performance settings in VDJ are correct, I make sure all of my music has been previously scanned for BPM and beat grid, and I even turn on the script that dj tech tools has available for download (stops unnessecary windows background services to improve performance). Does anyone have any ideas as to why this is happening??? Any help would be greatly appreciated…..

    • I had slight momentarily jump and skip issues with Traktor until I bought an external soundcard [Numark DJ iO] and so far I’ve had none of this. My netbook is very low spec

      but it is able to cope. I use partitioned drive space – not sure if this would make a difference, but I have XP on it’s own partition with my software whilst all my tracks are stored on a larger 100GB partition. I do not use Windows for anything else! If I want to take this netbook online or run other programs I have dual booted it with Ubuntu and therefore am able to load a different operating system for those tasks. My netbook is not my main computer – 97% used for DJing only

    • Doughboy, under performances untick “safe mode” if you have it selected. I don’t use VDJ anymore, but I remember that it was a big issue for many users.

    • DJ Doughboy says:

      Thanxs guys!

    • I’ve hear taht Studio means nothing to dell, just some different components and a higher pricetag but no inherent quality/stability bump (hardware-wise).

    • DiscoBeuys says:

      Try disabling your anti-virus software during sets.

  6. I’ve been using a Samsung laptop for this for a while now. Back-lit Keyboard, Excellent screen, but it’s a bit on the heavy side, and the battery life is a bit weak.

    Overall I love this article, but one point I have to dissagree with is the reliability of SSD Hard drives. Three points to consider here:
    1. It can in fact be a more attractive option due to the speed increase (and random access 0ms latency)…
    2. But they do fail, And Often! In our shop (my day job) we rolled out SSD hard drives for a number of our offices, and we’ve been seeing more of them coming back than the cheap Maxtor drives we had in the year before. There are many claims that these do not fail, but when you look at what makes them tick, they are essentially just Flash drives, with a much larger capacity, and SATA instead of USB. We’ve all learned by now that flash drives can fail for any number of reasons.
    3. SSD Drives have an additional limitation, Like other forms of flash memory, they do have a limited number of writes that can commit to any given byte. While 10,000 writes can sound like a lot, consider what would happen if your computer’s (assuming windows) swap file was on this drive, that can be committing a LOT of writes in a short time to the same space).

    If you know what your doing, you could set up an SSD drive to be vastly superior to a classic drive in your laptop, but don’t assume that just because it’s an SSD drive, that switching to the new tech without understanding it will yield a superior system.

    • What would be the method to set up an SSD drive to be vastly superior to a classic drive in my laptop because I was set in my mind to upgrade my drive in the new year ..

      • Basically have a SSD and a normal SATA/IDE HDD. You use the SSD to boot the OS and Apps. You then use the HDD to be storage and have a partition setup specifically for file swapping. This means you can get the most life out of your SSD. Google SSD Read/Write Minimization for more ways to extend the life cycle of the drive. You can just use a single SSD and then partition that with a Swap partition but if your putting in a SSD I wouldn’t see why you wouldn’t also have a standard drive.

        Honestly everyone likes to make a big deal about this but for the most part it’s a non-issue. If you had a 32GB SSD with a 10,000 R/W rating and 10GB written per day which is plenty enough for most daily use, this would give the drive a 8 YEAR life cycle. I’ve had SATA drives fail on me in half that time.

        Newer SSD have better than a 10,000 R/W rating. If your really afraid of it failing on you but you still want a SSD get a Flash based one. They are much more expensive but don’t suffer the same issue.

      • if you look at some of the Lenovo laptops they have “Hybrid Drives” which will use SSD to boot and then regular SATA for operations.

  7. 1-the screen size for me is very important, and I’m sorry but on a Macbook 13 or Macbook air 11, I found them pretty annoying in term of visual comfort even with my good eyes.
    2-Computers are not equal on the usb side. You can have dropouts if you have too many things connected or even some freeze.
    3-See point 1, but high resolution with tiny screen is not the best choice imo. I still have an old 15 inches in 1280*980 and it is very confortable in any software.
    4-There are too many horror stories with SSD even in business/desktop environnement, so I wouldn’t consider these as reliable but a hard drive with a gmeter management seems to be a good choice (unless you have your laptop on the subwoofer system. ;-) )
    6-Most of the laptop will decrease cpu speed when on battery, and if you force the speed to performance scheme, you will loose battery life.
    The only way I found to never forget the adaptor myself is to put it IN and OUT of the bag, always BEFORE the laptop itself.
    Why ? One is very little and discrete, the other is big, expensive and catch everyone eyes, so you’ll never forget the laptop.
    Or you can have 2 of them : one in the bag and one at home (add one in the car ?)
    8-Try to warp the screen of the laptop by bending both bottom angle in opposite direction. (pull right while pushing left for instance).
    Put your finger behind the screen (switched on), push hard and move it : you shouldn’t see any path on the other side (the screen).
    Lift the laptop with one hand by a side of the armrest : it shouldn’t crack, bent or make ugly plastic noises.

  8. Another informative article, and quite an important one I reckon.

    I use an Advent 4214 {J10IL3), Atom N270, 1.6Ghz, 1GB, 10″ Screen with USB mouse, BCD2000 & Numark DJ iO

    The netbook only has 3 USBs so when ever I need to plug a Flash drive in I have to plug my mouse out. I think my next cheap investment will be a USB hub.

    I can only use Traktor Studio on this netbook because the screen is so small. Traktor Pro simply doesn’t fit and I don’t wish to use VDJ or anything else – call it personal preference. The software does what I need it to for now with this entry level controller.

    A ram upgrade and SSD drive are two things I’ve recently been looking at to give me more peace of mind. I will probably make my next purchase a 128GB (or there about) SSD. I will then retire the existing HDD to a caddy and possibly stick some movies on it and plug it into my TV. This way it can die peacefully :)

    Performance wise, my XP install is minimal with everything disabled from startup except that what is required. I don’t think I could get away with a lower spec then this, but it works fine

  9. sameoldsong says:

    This is good stuff. I would argue, though, that screen brightness isn’t really something to worry about. Most laptops other than netbooks will be bright enough.

    For DJing outside during daytime, it’s way more important that the screen is matte (as opposed to glossy).

    • anti glare or coated screens are quite good .. My matt screen works great outdoors as it doesn’t catch/reflect as much sunlight as my glossy glass screen .. Keeping my screen as clean as is reasonable possible is also a crucial aid — I don’t like dirty laptops and I’m often afraid to touch the keyboard on laptops belonging to pals

  10. HP HDX9000, aka the HDX Dragon, for me. TWENTY ONE INCH screen estate. No squinting for me…! (Admittedly, after years for running off a power cable, the ion-lithium battery has taken one hell of a hit and can’t be unplugged for more than 45 mins…!)

  11. in OSX there’s the handy keyboard-shortcut ctrl+alt+cmd+8 that inverts the colours of the screen.

    very useful with apps that are made for nightime-use at daytime and vice versa.

  12. it makes me a bit sad to say this but it’s a matter of fact.
    if you own a native instruments controller like S4 or S2… buy a macbook.

    it’s the only option if you want to avoid problems of any kind.

    also of course macbook pros have top quality features in almost all of the aforementioned fields.

  13. Great article on a highly debated topic amongst DJs for sure!

  14. dennis parrott says:

    A note for Traktor users:

    Buy a 15″ screen or bigger if you want to use all four decks in TPro2. There are controls on the sample decks that will not show up on a 13″ screen.

    I was trying to run the sample decks on my newer 13″ macbook pro and they were very tough to use with no controls to click on…

    YMMV with other software…

  15. if you plan on running video or karaoke a separate video card is very important.

  16. I have a Dell Inspirion 6400 with Dual Core, 4G memory 320G hard drive and a 17″ screen running XP that I bought refurbished in 2006 for $900 that just won’t die. This thing is a beast that still can run VDJ Pro, iTunes and my blue tooth mouse and Video that just won’t quit. I can only think of 1 time it crashed during a gig (Thank god for iPod) and I think it was related to the newly installed VDJ 7.

    I have replaced the HD once (7200RPM 320 G), bought 2 batteries, bumped the memory from 2G to 4G and put a Skin-It with my logo. All the upgrades were by choice and not necessity

    I would like to get a Macbook Pro, but cannot justify the cost right now (I love my 17″ screen). We have 3 other Macs in the house (27″ iMac, 13″ Macbook, and 13″ Macbook Pro). But to replace this PC with a Refurbised Mac would set me back about $1700 US and I am just not willing yet. Eventually, I would like to get the 17″ Pro and mess around with Ableton Live. Oh what it is to dream!

  17. Great post.

    Also, if you’re DJ-ing outside a lot or at pools, go for a laptop that is not black. Truuuuuust me. It’ll warp faster than records.

  18. DJ Dre Motion says:

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    Laptops are something I’ve always been paranoid with, I feel as though I have to go hard or go home. Sony Vaio F Series, 8gb Ram, Intel Quad Core Processor. Yes this setup can be expensive, but as a full time DJ, I need to know going in that everything will respond without fail. Its a rock solid build and gives me piece of mind.

    • Exactly what I use and it’s a rock solid machine and has all of the features I need. Backlit keyboard, 17″ display, i7 chip, 640GB drive (which I don’t use. I use external). Seems like Sony really paid attention to details with this machine.

  19. Just to underline the fact I just wrote a post above that Macs do not just work as the mendacious ads/macolytes claim or are uber reliable, my Mac Pro just locked up completely [yet again] after writing post above, necessitating a forced reboot.
    Not to mention white screens of death, regular sightings of the beachball of doom, inability to handle Flash on websites…..

    • For some reason we can’t even respond to your previous post. The only comment in this entire thread that can’t be replied to. Makes no sense but I share your frustration/reality with Apple products.

  20. I was using Macs before they became a pop phenomenom and I do agree, in most cases the OS is more stable than the Windows environment.

    That being said, its hard to ignore that you can buy a Win7 laptop with same specs as a Mac Pro, for almost 1/3 of price. For that reason alone I’ve switched to Windows, in my opinion the trade off is worth it.

    Just take care of your machine and optimize it properly. Bugs and glitches happen to all computers regardless of OS.

  21. Although I use a late 2008 unibody 13” macbook myself, I see no reason why not to buy some other machine, as long as it’s a well-built one. Of course the 300 buck plastic laptop from the discount bin will be crap, because it’s built to a low budget. Look for something well-made, check the forums and reviews, and you’re probably good.

    Anyway, some tips:
    Don’t underestimate how limited space in some DJ booths can be. It might just be too crammed for bigger laptops. Sometimes my 13” macbook was a tight fit already. I also think that it’s resolution is fine for DJing with traktor, as long as you don’t want four full-size decks and a huge playlist at the same time. BTW, there’s always the playlist toggle button.

    If you plan to DJ anywhere other than your bedroom, GET A SSD DRIVE! Most important thing you can do. DJ booths vibrate, especially if there’s a sub near to the booth. It will kill your standard HD someday, and it will do so when you’re in the middle of a set. If you’re lucky, it will only trigger the sudden motion sensor, your set is still f***ed. Happened to me once years ago, I’ll never let that happen ever again.

    Also, get one of those thin silicone keyboard covers. If someone spills beer on your laptop and you’re lucky, you might get away with it. Also it helps to put it out of range of any drinks, of course.

    Oh, and depending on how close your gear will be to the audience, one of those kensington lock/metal cable things might be a good idea.

  22. Another solid and very useful article Phil.

    About the war between Mac vs PC I choose PC. Always!!! :)

  23. I use an old 2007 macbook, and while it has some problems (with flash, for example), it didn’t ever cause me any trouble with Tracktor and Ableton. Great machine, and I don’t plan to change it for anything in quite a time.

  24. Will Marshall says:

    Currently I think the best model laptops for DJing purposes are the Macbook Airs. They’re small, light, robust, have SSDs, have all the niceties like backlight keyboards and auto-adjusting brightness. They also run OSX (which has CoreAudio), and they’re affordable.

  25. Current gen MacBook airs don’t have backlit keys. I’m looking at a Vaio SE, anyone any experience of this with traktor. It’s a 15″, full HD, i5, thin, lightweight, wide viewing angle on the screen, backlit keys, anti-drop hdd, uses power management to maintain the battery, and has an alloy chassis. Best part of a grand though, so interested in any hands on experience

  26. I remember doing early ‘live’ PA gigs in the days before affordable laptops where we used to turn up at gigs with two full desktop PC/monitors and a DJ mixer to mix tunes between them. Ha!

    Man, what were we thinking…

    • I actually just played a gig where I brought my desktop and a moniter! We had a ton of room to set up, and I threw my moniter on top of my deskto, so besides transportation and cables everywhere, it actually work awesome! I am out of a laptop at the moment (hopefully not for long), and it suited me well for that gig.

    • I actually just played a gig where I brought my desktop and a moniter! We had a ton of room to set up, and I threw my moniter on top of my deskto, so besides transportation and cables everywhere, it actually work awesome! I am out of a laptop at the moment (hopefully not for long), and it suited me well for that gig.

  27. I’m a Win7 user. I DJ on an asus G2S in a dedicated partition.
    The real issue with windows is that you really can’t use wi-fi or bluetooth controllers, cause keeping the BT and wi-fi services running you can occour in lag spikes. Lag spikes=audio gliches=baaaaaad!

    So my next DJing laptop will be a MBP.
    I do not agree about the “being cheaper on a long time” for apple devices, cause even an old laptop with a dual core and 2gb ram can run smoothly traktor2 without any lag spike. So is not required to change your DJing pc every 3 years or so!

  28. Yes, current Airs have a backlit keyboard. The previous generation didn’t. They’re even much more powerful than you might expect. BUT the models with bigger SSDs come at quite a high price.

  29. laptop i prefer are old ibm thinkpads x40 or t40 series.you can pick them up well under £150. 160gb hard drive upgrade is only £40 from ebuyer. or you can get a adapter to change the dvd drive to a extra hard drive. led light over keyboard is usefull and i find the nipple mouse easier to use than a mouse pad. i carry 2 thinkpads as they are so small and light (1 as a spare) and both with New 160gb fitted cost me less than £300 the pair. much cheaper than a mac book. build quality is very good too and processors seem fast enough (1.7ghz ) i run virtual DJ with a Hercules controller

  30. the only considerations i make are: is it apple and can it run traktor!

    ive got a 4 year old black macbook that has stood the test of time (considering i dj especially!!!) and has been dropped and abused a plenty.

    take a look at any pc laptop thats got 13 different parts clipped together then look at the grace of a laptop that was literally designed to work ASIS until you physically break it from dropping or spilling liquor on it or something

    • Conor Rynne says:

      That’s pretty narrow minded of yo; granted, Apple do some fantastic hardware, if pricey. OSX might stand up next to Windows OK in terms of performance, stability and looks, but is pure fail next to modern Linux distributions, without mentioning security isssues and Apples lax stance towards them.

      And guess what? ALL computers have “13 different parts clipped together”, ALL computers are designed to work as-is; even a decent Linnux distribution can pull this off and look slicker than Windows (oh how i hope they port Traktor to Linux)

  31. I would love a laptop post to not degenerate into Mac vs PC just for once. I think we can be clear that all OSes can potentially work completely fine for DJing. Plus this post isn’t about Mac vs PC, it’s about laptop characteristics that help or hinder DJing. Just sayin’.

  32. TIP!: Some laptops have grounding issues that transfers sonicaly due to poor isolation around the power supply (or something) , test it out in a quiet enviroment w and without being plugged into a grounded outlet, u never know what kind of electrical setup your next venue has.

    • That’d be poor switching PSU which every laptop use. Wanna get rid of that? Get yourself a nice hefy transformer psu. (or a ground loop isolator or DI box).
      Could also work if you cut GND and +5V lines in the soundcard USB cable and power it with separate psu (transfromer based, offc.). But in that case, you could use opto-isolated data lines too.

  33. Possibly important: Integrated Firewire based on TI chip.
    Although we are enjoying a romantic sunset of firewire right now, almost all of high-quality audio hardware is firewire.

  34. Regardless of model maker what does the dpc latency reads on yours?? this is important (latency) especially when you actually generate sound. Any case have a read http://www.thesycon.de/deu/latency_check.shtml In my humble experience it’s all about how your machine manages its resources. I mean simple test: disable in BIOS all the pheripherals like bluetooth wifi cameras fingerprint reader ambient light even dvd rom and onboard sound ! Most likely your machine will give better performance. Laptops are built for the everyday user hence all the cameras etc. Also if you re using PC laptop go to power options and set it to “Always on” apparently otherwise the CPU will be underpowered as battery life will be a priority instead of processing power. There are couple more tweaks, have a read online. It’s all DYI/custom made Im affraid don’t take machines for granted. Good luck !

  35. Rich in Illinois says:

    I’m with the very first poster… back-lit keyboard. Preferably black in color with white letters. Why there is any other color of keyboard even produced is beyond my comprehension. A nice clear rubber keyboard condom like the one on my imac’s keyboard would be great too.

    About the laptop.. Power brick size, could I please have the option of having that built into where the battery goes? With rack loads of amps, driverack and power conditioner at the least, the couple amp hours the laptop batteries put out only really add weight and dare me to trust depending on it… when NOTHING else is battery powered.

    All dj laptops should have multiple video outs, both the old style and new hdmi connections, powered not off the main board but a dedicated video card with it’s own horse power. I mean really… we are stuck with shitty laptops because the computer companies are stuck in the paradigm of completely mobile or completely not. Just because we are forced to use the “completely mobile” option still doesn’t make it ideal on any account.

    Why can’t we get a mobile full blown computer based on like the mini mac thing? The whole idea of basing the laptop’s systems on what the battery can handle is archaic to say the least, I mean who in the hell doesn’t have access to power? Ok, SOME homeless people and college grads taking the year off from bathing to hike across Europe. Not quite the target market I’d pick to saddle my R&D department with, but ok, they went with it and now we’re stuck with it. And better yet they keep making them, now even more useless, without even a keyboard…

    • Sorry, but for DJing, you simply don’t need the kind of power that a full-blown desktop computer has. Anyway, you just can’t get a full blown computer in a laptop case (yet). It’s not a battery thing, It’s basically about heat as a consequence of power consumption. Heavy bad-ass graphics for example use extreme amounts of power compared to what a laptop uses in that department. As far as the mac mini and other computers of that size are concerned, they’re basically full of laptop technology. That’s why you can build them so small without massive noisy fans.

      What you really want is a fully equipped desktop machine shoehorned into a laptop case. They kind of tried that back in the days with “desktop replacements”. Horrible “laptops” with 60 minutes operation on battery, extreme heat problems, extremely noisy fans and a very short lifespan. Didn’t really work. Try building the power supply into those as well and you probably could fry eggs on them.

      Oh, and BTW, I’ve been on quite a few gigs without a sufficient number of power outlets or reeeaaaally bad wiring and power fluctuations you don’t want to expose your laptop to, so the potential to do a DJ set without having to plug in is quite comforting.

      Why would you really want multiple video outs for DJing? I mean, c’mon…

      +1 on the backlit keyboard though. You only really know how useful it is in a dark club environment when you have it.

      • Rich in Illinois says:

        Multiple video outs allows me to use either a monitor or a hdmi new television connector. Or both should some crazed hillbilly wedding want to sing karaoke as part of the celebration… No, really I only mention the multiple video connections because I’m looking at the text to video programs. You know the ones like Iwall or firetext, where people’s text messages get displayed on the wall or whatever during a reception or school dance. Just a possible up sell thing that’s basically the cost of the service and then a decent projector… OOh maybe that’s a job for a dedicated Ipad.

  36. Serato 2, and a Xone DX working together, require at least 2.4 ghz processor speed which is essential according to the minimum specs for both these, this tends to increase price on a relevant laptop , i would suggest also good ram between 4 to 6 gb of RAM ? any comments?

  37. Apple kind of makes you swallow the kool-aid…You assume that the parts inside of it is exceptional, but they aren’t any better than any other mid-range computer part. The thing that makes them of such high value is how smooth they run what you need them to run. If Windows (Microsoft) were a bit more streamlined and didn’t run on an IRQ system it would be better, however Windows 7 and the new processors have made things 100 better… I use a 13 inch MacPro for DJing and a Windows 7 machine for production. I would like a 15 inch version to make things easier on the eyes.

  38. I would suggest that if you are choosing a new DJ laptop to consider what YOU will be comfortable with. Its all well and good to have the most well spec’d laptop in the world that probably has more power in it than NASA do in their computers, but honestly if your trying to type a song in the heat of a set and your finger keeps slipping because the keyboard is terribly designed its not going to do you much good is it?

    I just chose my new laptop, the new Macbook Pro 15″. I have been a windows user (and advocate) for many years and all throughout my studies (programming), but once I played with the new macbook pro’s and saw what they could do for me it was really a no-brainer. Tried it out at a friends house for well over 2 hours, installed serato on it, put it through its paces and basically felt that it served my DJ’ing needs very well.

    Now, I have used many, many laptops in my life thus far (even though I’m still on the early end of my 20’s) and I can safely say that my comfort level using this particular laptop has never been higher. I have done 5 gigs thus far with it and I have never had such a smooth experience laying down a set. My old laptop (dell Inspiron 1420), whilst having served me quite well, just could not keep up anymore. Responsiveness wasnt there, speed wasnt, and I overall just could not be bothered hauling around the heaviest 14″ laptop ever! lol.

    Now, I know that Mac’s spec wise are nothing to even get excited about. Its normal hardware that you can get at any good computer parts store with a different OS on it with an inflated price. That said, I believe that Apple has nailed the design of the laptop in general with this machine. It could use a few improvements (I would love more USB ports), but ergonomically speaking, this thing is a breeze. Its no slouch in the specs as well (Core I7 2.4, 750gb HD, Radeon 6770m HD), and OSX’s ease of use and stabilty is apparent with me. Try doing a backspin in Virtual DJ with an effect on with my old Dell. I guarantee if you were at a club you would get pelted with drinks.

    Mac vs PC is a moot point. Who really cares? Were not computer fanboys afterall, we are DJ’s. If your getting a PC, get a PC, if your getting a Mac, get a Mac. Its what YOU are comfortable with.

  39. I have an Acer Aspire 8951G.
    It has both SSD and regular.
    You also get 5 USB ports (with one being 3.0).
    There also a Mic, Line In and Speakers jack.
    The battery life is also superb, definately for the 18,5″ LED screen.
    The keys on the keyboard also have a toggleable backlight.
    With a i7 (2,9 Ghz) and 12 GB RAM, it boots and starts anything up blazingly fast.
    I once forgot to charge it and it died while I was practicing at home. I plugged it in, Windows started resuming by itself and I was up and running in 30 seconds, it just continued playing the song where it was before it died, as if nothing happened.
    I have yet to find one negative aspect about this laptop, I can only recommend it!

  40. DJ AMMORPHIA says:

    APPLE laptops are the best for music ! :) this is my opinion i personally have and i love it :)

  41. James Pieaterson says:

    This is very interesting. I’m looking to spend around £500 on a laptop and can’t decide on the specs. I’m going to be using Traktor Pro 2 and a basic USB controller. Do I go for one with an Intel i5 or spend a bit more for an i7 quad. Is separate graphics a good thing as I’m sure that integrated Intel graphics slows the processor down. I think having a faster 7200rpm drive is a good idea and also at least 4Gb of RAM. 15″ screen is a good size, I think 17 is far too big.

  42. Perhaps this may help for those making laptop decisions towards a portable DJ rig. I have an Acer Aspire One Netbook with the AMD C-50 which is a Fusion APU chip which has both the CPU and the GPU on one die form. The CPU is a 1GHZ dual processor with a 256 mb dedicated GPU. The screen is a 10.1 inch screen with a 1280×720 resolution. This netbook rig also has a 64gb SSD and 4 gig of DDR3 ram operating Windows Seven Ultimate. I utilize brazos tweaker, a program to undervolt the C-50 to conserve battery life and reduce overheating. Oh and the battery life comes out to 5 hours, more than enough time to complete a set. Pricing on these new netbooks are comparable to the Atom based netbooks.

    I operate Traktor Pro with no issues or glitches. The screen resolution is large enough for Traktor Pro though you cannot use the 4 internal mixing decks. The screen size is small but the payoff in reduced size and function is worth it.

    The new netbooks that are coming out definitely have the processing power to manage dj software comfortably. I would suggest to use Traktor Pro versus Traktor Pro 2 as the latter uses a lot of CPU processes while Traktor Pro barely registers in the CPU bar.

  43. TechnoRage says:

    About two years ago I started out producing using Ableton Live 8 on a Lenovo T61 dedicated for producing (nothing but trouble), then a year later I bought a Lenovo T520 i5 Sandy Bridge 2.5Ghz also for producing (and also nothing but trouble) then I also started out using Traktor for DJing. I tried everything: all latercy/buffer settings possible, re-installing Windows 7…I am no novice to computers/laptops/servers/networks, but I didn’t know what do do anymore and gave up on Wintel platform that was suited for everything else but music production and DJing.
    Then I invested in a MacBook Pro 17″ with i7 2,2Ghz…not only isn’t the Mac stressing…I ain’t either. I can produce AND DJ, without disabling OS features or whatsoever like I used to in Windows.
    Also I found out the OS itself is so much more mature…it feels like it’s designed for you…you do not have to have followed courses to be able to work with it.
    When I start being creative I smile, feel happy and there’s nothing restricting my creativity :-D

  44. Bought a Dell XPS with i7 2.2, 8GB memory, 750GB hard drive @7200 rpm with 15.6 inch 1920*1080 LED screen, back light keyboard and it all cost me $1094 CAD its a beast to dj with.

  45. You also need to be keenly aware that some midi controllers devices and software may have unadvertised compatibility issues with certain processor types as I experienced with my first and previous DJ Midi controller.

    My current controller had clearly advertised statements of the compatibility that I needed. I had also spoken with one manufacturer whose support line admitted that there could be issues with my dual-core high-performance AMD processor and a specific model I was considering at the time.

    Just as an FYI, my current controller is a USB2 device and I was not aware that my current PC had both older USB1 and USB2 ports and it will not work on the USB1 ports even though it technically should but slower. So go for the newer USB3 ports and devices as they are faster when matched with USB3-compatible external drives or other devices and are backwards compatible.

  46. Reticuli says:

    If you’re using a USB 1.1 soundcard or PCI soundcard, Windows 7 seems fine. The issues arise when you use a USB 2.0 sound device in ASIO, since the ACPI, network, and Wifi drivers in Windows now will destroy DPC latency. The only way around it is to get a very fast computer, use a built in hard drive, and put nothing else on the computer. This is one of the reasons Mac laptops have become so popular with pro audio applications: Windows hasn’t work well for that purpose since Vista. Sad, but true. And I hate Apple.

  47. alfredo Martinez says:

    something to be very careful about is the shock resistance, i bought a satellite toshiba, if the music was too loud, it would crash because of vibrations, be very careful about it

  48. Make sure the power adapter is double-insulated unless you’re producing gabba and the clicks and whirs add to your tunes ;)

  49. Vincent Koelo says:

    Must say it was quite interesting to read all the posts in one, since Im in a process of buying a second laptop for dj-ing…
    About all this MAC or PC debate and how you should get/buy what you’re comfortable with, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to think first about the amount of investment that a person can put in theese things, ’cause we all would like to have the bigest and best things in the world…so, I think some people should just be a bit more polite, not that I’m saying people writing here are not ;)
    So, here is my 2 cents:
    Dell Inspiron N5030 2.3GHz 2GB RAM, WIN7, Traktor Kontrol X1 + usb keyboard + usb esi gigaportHD, wi-fi turned on for android phone using TouchOSC for effects 3/4 in Traktor, almost allways using key lock on, ofcourse mixing externally…and I got no glitches and dropouts! with a laptop for (some would say “just”) 450 euros which I bought 2 years ago. Ohyes, almost forgot to mention, no internet for this laptop, no games just dj-ing :)

    Phil, you are doin’ a really great job here, not that I always agree with everything but…all-in-all, a lot of articles from here helped me or got me motivated to start thinking about new stuff and improving myself for which I am really grateful.

    Have a nice day! :)

  50. Vincent Koelo says:

    Must say it was quite interesting to read all the posts in one, since Im in a process of buying a second laptop for dj-ing…
    About all this MAC or PC debate and how you should get/buy what you’re comfortable with, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to think first about the amount of investment that a person can put in theese things, ’cause we all would like to have the bigest and best things in the world…so, I think some people should just be a bit more polite, not that I’m saying people writing here are not ;)
    So, here are my 2 cents:
    Dell Inspiron N5030 2.3GHz 2GB RAM, WIN7, Traktor Kontrol X1 + usb keyboard + usb esi gigaportHD, wi-fi turned on for android phone using TouchOSC for effects 3/4 in Traktor, almost allways using key lock on, ofcourse mixing externally…and I got no glitches and dropouts! with a laptop for (some would say “just”) 450 euros which I bought 2 years ago. Ohyes, almost forgot to mention, no internet for this laptop, no games just dj-ing :)

    Phil, you are doin’ a really great job here, not that I always agree with everything but…all-in-all, a lot of articles from here helped me or got me motivated to start thinking about new stuff and improving myself for which I am really grateful.

    Have a nice day! :)

  51. Has anyone ever tried the Rain Livebook A2? I was going for it but never found any reviews so ended up getting a nonretina MBP 15″ with 2.6ghz and etc. I read their website and it seems they tweak the Windows OS and optimize the computer.

  52. Do not overlook the obvious. Which ever laptop you prefer never, repeat never let it out of your sight. Always make it the first bit of kit you put in your car/van after the gig. They have been known to walk !

  53. Luke Liberatore says:

    Actually, SSDs are more likely to fail than conventional hard drives. Certain ones can fail within a couple weeks, while a conventional hard drive would last for months or years. That being said, backing everything up is always a good idea.

  54. Jason Ross says:

    Yeaaah, love the site and the subject of which your knowledge is bullet-proof, but the subject of SSDs is a whole other matter. SSDs are great and fast and will have a reasonable long life for ‘reads’, but there is much debate and concern over disk life in terms of ‘writes to disk’. Thats why most people who have an SSD (inc me), hasve an SSD as a purely system (OS & Programs) drive, and replace the optical drive with a traditional HDD in a caddy. That way is best of both worlds, BLISTERINGLY fast bootup and program launch/access times, and up to 750 gb of storage (where all your music files will sit)

    KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!! :)

  55. Really good discussion although I am divided on the hard drive issue(might go for an external ssd and a couple of emergency flash drives!) been djing for 15yrs and always worked on technics, then pioneer cdj’s and now’s the time to move to a pioneer controller! I’ve had needles go on me(always had spares!) I’ve had scratched CDs (not a problem burn another!) but I had a cdj brake down on me (luckily enough I had a recent mixed cd with me so that gave me time to source a spare denon player, I was gonna plug in my iPhone and use djay!) my point is whatever laptop I go for it can’t go down! It has to be solid so if its windows no extra program’s, but more likely it’ll be a mac.

    One question I have, is about vibration from monitor speakers/subs has anyone used a foam base or stand?

    Also has anyone had “you have mail” or “virus database has been updated” peak time?

  56. Exactly. Same thing I’m saying. You don’t want to take that power away from the consumer. People like to buy Laptops & cell phones and one day sell them once they upgrade.

  57. great advice here for djs and digital djs.

  58. I have a Toshiba and a Dell… the Toshiba was the best I could buy in Mar 2007 the Dell is the best I could buy Jan 2013… the Toshiba has Win XP… the Dell has Win 7… Toshiba will SMOKE the Dell… and seems to be build WAY BETTER. I will never have another Dell…dell has 16 gigs mem and A7 quad core processor i used to use a computer light controller with the dell and had to go back to the Toshiba which has 8 gigs and duel core processor..

  59. When it comes to reliability, durability, and response, a MacBook Pro will do the trick. I used to use only Windows-based PCs, but over time, I had to pay for virus removals, hardware repairs, and I would replace them every year or two because they took so much damage, not physical damage, but they couldn’t handle all my programs at once. They’d struggle to keep cool and I even built racks with cooling fans in them. I had two 15″ HP laptops with maxed RAM and hard drive space. The parts would fail after a while because of the heat. I even had a hard drive meltdown during a wedding. It started smoking actually. That’s why I had two instead of one. They both had DMX software and DJ software so one was primary and one was a backup. After they both failed completely I decided to check out the MacBooks since I heard they don’t get viruses as easily and the multitasking was better and I have an uncle who bought a used Pro 8 years ago and it still runs like a champ. I was also getting into photo editing as a hobby and I hear the Macs were great for that. So I walked into a local Apple Store and picked up not one but two 13″ Late-2013 MacBook Pros retina display with 512GB flash storage, 16GB RAM, 2.5GHz Intel i5 processor, Intel Iris graphics card, and AppleCare+. And for safety since I’ve had countless hard drive failures in the past, I bought the Apple Airport Time Capsule with 3TB storage since I heard it was a router that also functions as an automatic backup system for Mac. I bought these two MacBooks right when Apple released these models and I haven’t picked up a single virus, call Apple support, or take them in for repair, but I still keep them both with me in case something goes wrong. And I must say I am blown away at their performance, durability, reliability, and quality. They’ve got fast bootup times, an incredibly high picture quality, light weight, great cooling fans that I can barely hear while I’m home alone, and they’re very easy to use. Goodbye, Microsoft!

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