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Budget Laptop For Live Performance Rompler?


Suntower

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Hi,

 

I've decided to get a new Win7 laptop for use in live performance... as a replacement for a workstation (sort of a Rompler, I guess). And also to do stereo field recording or perhaps take FOH feed and record shows.

 

I currently use an old Korg. It's getting to the end and I was about to look at a newer version, but then I realised that this is 2011, plus I already have all the extra licenses/software I need from my studio to do this if I simply connect a MIDI controller and an external USB/Firewire audio interface.

 

I have no need for anything beyond stereo recording or output. Just need it to be reliable. The other 5 days a week it will be used to browse the web and do e-mail and that's about it.

 

Maybe -any- of the current ones will do what I need (my current laptop is 7 years old and runs a P4 so I'm totally out of touch with what's au courante.)

 

I had to be in Office Depot today and found this:

 

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2369674,00.asp?tab=Specs

 

For prox. $500 out the door (well... $550... and then a $50 mail rebate). And I keep lookin' for a timebomb, but so far I don't see one.

 

7200rpm drive? Check

Core i5 processor? Check.

Super lightweight? Check.

5hr battery life? Check.

4GB DDR3 RAM (upgradable to 8) Check.

 

No firewire or USB3, but I really only need USB 2 for MIDI in and audio, right?

 

For use strictly to web surf... and as a glorified Rompler, what can go wrong?

 

I ask because I haven't actually -opened- it yet. Just waiting to see if there's anything obvious I've missed that's a dealbreaker.

 

What's puzzling to me is the lack of posts I've found in various forums I normally surf. All sorts of talk about plugs and A/D and MIDI keyboards but not about the -laptop- itself. It's double-puzzling because every club show I've been to in the past few years is being DJ'd off a laptop so it's gotta be common now, right?

 

Maybe that means any machine will do?

 

Thoughts? THANKS IN ADVANCE!

 

---JC

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DJ is a lot less demanding, because latency isn't a problem there.

 

I can't help you on whether the Pavilion will work for you. You may just have to open it and find out.

 

For starters, try the built-in audio line outs, and ASIO4ALL driver (free; google it). Set it to 48kHz, too (most built-ins are designed for that rate and have poor converters).

 

I've used a number of laptops for this and multi-track audio; most were Thinkpads, and only one of them sucked at audio (the T61p, my most recent not current. I haven't tried audio on the new W510 yet.) The rest worked fine.

 

It's better if you can have separate computers for use on the web versus audio. It's amazing how crap accumulates on a computer you have connected (esp if you download & install stuff, but even MS security updates can wreak temporary havoc.)

 

I used to periodically have to reinstall my MOTU drivers to overcome issues due to using the same computer for everything. So, if you do share, be prepared for this. That said, only once did I have to shut down the laptop and not use it for a gig.

 

Also, I had one laptop that worked great, but not off battery. When on battery, it would spit out a nasty cracking sound at regular intervals (which blew the tweeter coil on one of my floor monitors! Easily fixed, fortunately.) I tried turning off all the power-saving features, but never found the magic one.

 

Good luck!

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Hi,

 

7200rpm drive? Check

Core i5 processor? Check.

Super lightweight? Check.

5hr battery life? Check.

4GB DDR3 RAM (upgradable to 8) Check.

 

For use strictly to web surf... and as a glorified Rompler, what can go wrong?

At least one 'tear-your-hair-out' level potential hazard - DPC spikes. I speak from recent painful experience - I have similar requirements as yours, and nobody told me about DPC spikes (... why didn't I ask the questions that you've asked on the net? :facepalm:).

Maybe that means any machine will do?

Certainly not...!

In the thread that I've linked to above, B3-er mentions Motherboard Cache as another determinant of performance (though I doubt whether low cache could be as disastrous as DPC issues...).

 

Solutions?

1. If you can test out laptops with a return policy, I recommend this free DPC Latency Checker as a first test. If it does not report huge spikes, then you're (relatively) safe. Repeat with other laptops until satisfied.

2. There are companies that make customized, pro-audio laptops ( ADK comes to mind, there could be other options). These are the only Windows-based laptops which will guarantee pro-audio level performance - but you'll find them a tad more expensive than the Office Depot ones ;).

3. Macbook Pro. 'nuff said....

 

Hope this helps!

Cheers,

 

Guru

 

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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No firewire or USB3, but I really only need USB 2 for MIDI in and audio, right?

Umm think again. PCs, USB, and audio don't always work harmoniously. Depending on the PC and interface it can work perfectly out of the box, or take a lot of tweaking (generally turning off a lot of background processes, the card reader, antivirus software, and wi-fi) to get glitch free audio that doesn't snap or pop - and this is on new Win7 machines.

 

DJ's generally use Macbooks btw which don't exhibit these problems nearly as often as PCs. I DJ on a PC however - a Toshiba Qosmio i7 because of it's 18.5" display - but it's taken a lot of work to get the NI interface to perform properly.

 

Edit: this PC has Firewire and I'm probably just going to bite the bullet and go that route which I'm told will solve all my problems.

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I did do just over 100 gigs on a (PC) laptop plus Midi controller. Lot of tweaking required - switching stuff on/off, installing, reinstalling, got a lot of help from (non musician) techie friends - eventually went back to hardware.

 

Best it ran was when they reinstalled XP for me.

 

If I had my cash over again I'd be going down the Mac route (or a Muse Receptor). More expensive but less tweaking.

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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Hi,

 

7200rpm drive? Check

Core i5 processor? Check.

Super lightweight? Check.

5hr battery life? Check.

4GB DDR3 RAM (upgradable to 8) Check.

 

For use strictly to web surf... and as a glorified Rompler, what can go wrong?

At least one 'tear-your-hair-out' level potential hazard - DPC spikes. I speak from recent painful experience - I have similar requirements as yours, and nobody told me about DPC spikes (... why didn't I ask the questions that you've asked on the net? :facepalm:).

Maybe that means any machine will do?

Certainly not...!

In the thread that I've linked to above, B3-er mentions Motherboard Cache as another determinant of performance (though I doubt whether low cache could be as disastrous as DPC issues...).

 

Solutions?

1. If you can test out laptops with a return policy, I recommend this free DPC Latency Checker as a first test. If it does not report huge spikes, then you're (relatively) safe. Repeat with other laptops until satisfied.

2. There are companies that make customized, pro-audio laptops ( ADK comes to mind, there could be other options). These are the only Windows-based laptops which will guarantee pro-audio level performance - but you'll find them a tad more expensive than the Office Depot ones ;).

3. Macbook Pro. 'nuff said....

 

Hope this helps!

Cheers,

 

Guru

 

Second that. Macbook pro :).

Nord Electro 3 -73 || Korg CX-3

 

 

 

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What are you planning on running for a live host?

 

What VSTis are you running? Lightweight stuff should be just fine.

 

Agree that you should try ASIO4ALL driver and your built-in soundcard (if supported) and use that to baseline your OS tweaking, disabling unnecessary hardware like wireless and bluetooth, as well as services like print spooling. You can DPC latency checker to see the effect of changes as you go.

 

BTW, (responding to Bill H above) Firewire is not necessarily a cure-all, depending on the chip used and its implementation in the motherboard.

 

Anyway, once you've got a good baseline system, I'd definitely consider a USB2 interface... something in the $200-$400 range (Roland's quad-capture and Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 look promising)... buying from a retailer with a decent return policy.

 

I wouldn't mix music use with general purpose use. You can set up two profiles (as recommended elsewhere on this forum): one for "general purpose" and one "music only".

 

Short answer: if you are prepared to tweak and optimize a bit up front, this is not necessarily a bad plan... but I'd have a "back up plan" should the laptop go south on the gig (applied to ANY hardware, really).

 

Myself, I'm liking the Muse Receptor concept more and more... just don't have the beans right now.

 

-John

I make software noises.
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The quality of sound output and instrument latency will depend on the quality of your sound card.

 

Therealvicz, given the OP's 'live-gigging only' requirements, I have my doubts regarding this... but this is a potentially contentious issue, and would derail the thread away from laptops to interfaces, so I'd like to start a new thread on interfaces - hope thats ok. Looking forward to your responses there...

Cheers,

 

Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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Thanks for all the input. The truth is, I needed a laptop -primarily- for personal use (and this thing fits the bill admirably if it doesn't fall apart like their POS printers.) So the worst case scenario is that I'd try it for audio and it would never work right and I'd be no worse off than I started. And if this -works-? It's a double-plus good bonus.

 

I want to reiterate that what I want this for is basically a Rompler. I don't run a lot of live sequences or other pre-programmed nonsense. I basically use it as a glorified electric piano/organ... and any other stuff is a bonus. So as long as:

a) the MIDI is reliable and

b) the load time for patches is not dreadful

...I think I'm good.

 

And if I can occasionally use it for field recording? BONUS

 

And then if it can faithfully record a stereo FOH during performances? I have an orgasm.

 

I have Kontakt and enough libs to cover last until doomsday... but I'm thinking of getting the NI interface just because I like the idea of 'Kore' (again, assuming it can load patches without taking 5 minutes.)

 

(Actually, I played in a band with a guy who did this with an older laptop and -seemed- to work with K3---except that he was a tech moron and I could never tell if the various glitches were because he was always hitting the wrong button... or that K3 would hiccough. I guess I'll find out!)

 

In short... I think I've talked myself into it. I'll definitely check that DPC Latency thing.

 

Now... 2IN Audio/MIDI USB interface? Fairly rugged MIDI controller? (Don't need any knobs/switches/pads, etc.)?

 

THANKS!

 

---JC

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As I said, the MIDI is the important thing, but 35db? Doesn't sound like enough to drive any decent condensers. Or am I wrong?

 

Ummm... could you try to pick a target and stick with it?

 

You were talking about using the internal soundcard, which has no ability to provide phantom power for a condensor mic... and now you're nitpicking about this? :confused:

 

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Sorry, I never meant to imply I would use the internal soundcard... in fact I didn't know that was an option. I always figured I'd get an external Audio/Midi interface (like that Presonus). No, audio is definitely not the top priority, but I -was- surprised by the gain thing... I see all sorts of adverts from various companies about the quality of the mic pres in these little boxes. So I -assumed- they were at least somewhat in the ballpark of a 'regular' mic pre.

 

Anyhoo... thanks for the recommendation. It is appreciated. :)

 

---JC

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Ummm... could you try to pick a target and stick with it?

 

You were talking about using the internal soundcard, which has no ability to provide phantom power for a condensor mic... and now you're nitpicking about this? :confused:

 

Umm.. Sven, I think you might have confused my thread 'Do we really need audio interfaces for gigging live' with this one... :). The OP of this thread has never mentioned internal soundcards in any of his posts. In all fairness, it's understandable, since my thread was an offshoot of this one... If I may also point out - it's not very often that I see you making this kind of error :poke::wave:!

Cheers,

 

Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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but I'm thinking of getting the NI interface just because I like the idea of 'Kore' K3 would hiccough.

 

Kore user here.

 

Native Instruments just dumped it. They're still selling it via 3rd parties. When asked via their forum they said that their resellers were told it's being dumped and to let people know that. Future versions of Komplete won't work with it. It's getting one more upgrade to support 64 bit and then it's bye bye Kore and say hello to ...

 

Maschine ... their "future of music" product.

 

Apparently the future of music in Berlin looks a lot like pattern based sequencing of audio loops.

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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Ummm... could you try to pick a target and stick with it?

 

You were talking about using the internal soundcard, which has no ability to provide phantom power for a condensor mic... and now you're nitpicking about this? :confused:

 

Umm.. Sven, I think you might have confused my thread 'Do we really need audio interfaces for gigging live' with this one... :). The OP of this thread has never mentioned internal soundcards in any of his posts. In all fairness, it's understandable, since my thread was an offshoot of this one... If I may also point out - it's not very often that I see you making this kind of error :poke::wave:!

Cheers,

 

Guru

 

Yep, Guru, that's exactly what happened... I made a similar assumption in the other thread, too. That's what I get for posting late at night after a couple of glasses of single malt. ;)

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by Johnchop:

 

I wouldn't mix music use with general purpose use. You can set up two profiles (as recommended elsewhere on this forum): one for "general purpose" and one "music only".

 

Personally, I wouldn't take the time to setup a laptop to do the musical work and then risk it getting corrupted by using the laptop for regular use on the Internet. As others have mentioned, it can take a lot of time consuming tweaking to get the system working properly. Even if you cruise "safe" sites on the Internet, you can pick up some nasty Malware that can make your laptop crash and burn. You'd have to start all over again if you pick up something that corrupts the Windows registry. Frankly, its not worth it. Get a cheap computer for web use and invest more in the music laptop so you have plenty of extra power under the hood. One computer for everything would be a mistake.

 

 

Cheers,

 

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Ummm... could you try to pick a target and stick with it?

 

You were talking about using the internal soundcard, which has no ability to provide phantom power for a condensor mic... and now you're nitpicking about this? :confused:

 

Umm.. Sven, I think you might have confused my thread 'Do we really need audio interfaces for gigging live' with this one... :). The OP of this thread has never mentioned internal soundcards in any of his posts. In all fairness, it's understandable, since my thread was an offshoot of this one... If I may also point out - it's not very often that I see you making this kind of error :poke::wave:!

Cheers,

 

Guru

 

Yep, Guru, that's exactly what happened... I made a similar assumption in the other thread, too. That's what I get for posting late at night after a couple of glasses of single malt. ;)

 

Yes, please leave the single malt sipping to the pros--like me. So send me your complete supply and everything will be fine. :wave:

 

;)

Steve Force,

Durham, North Carolina

--------

My Professional Websites

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Looked really good and then I noticed that the mic pres offer only 35db of gain. That's -gotta- be a typo, right?

 

As I said, the MIDI is the important thing, but 35db? Doesn't sound like enough to drive any decent condensers. Or am I wrong?

Condensers usually have high output levels. It's dynamics that need more gain. 35dB gain seems low to me, though. The maximum gain from my mixer is 60dB, if I'm reading the level diagram correctly.
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Well... this is an experiment. As I said, I did this as a doddle.

 

I can always fall back and get a 'real' WS. I have always been skeptical of 'Kore'... since it loads so slowly even on a fast desktop machine. But I've got plug-ins like 'Pianissimo' or B4 or any of the Arturia plugs that would be -fine- for my live needs.

 

 

AFA 'get a Mac', my reply is: 'get a life'. I have nothing against Macs, but there seems to be some fetishism about them that I don't understand... as though 'get a Mac' is the cure for everything except cancer. I've happily used desktop PCs for audio for 10 years with few complaints. And I see just as many puzzled Mac users as PC users---it's just that they seem to shrug and accept -their- problems as the price of 'coolness'. Us PC types tend to bitch more, I guess. ;)

 

Anyhoo, I'm gonna be pretty easy to please. I just started using this new laptop and it's so much faster than my old one for e-mail/web that I'm blown away. If it works for live rompler=ing? Great. If not? I'm still happy.

 

My guess is that the self-powered interfaces (like the Presonus?) won't have the juice for a decent mic pre. But I'm sure there are many choices as my needs are modest. All (?) it basically needs to do is load a patch and track MIDI without too much latency. Is that too much to ask? :D

 

(Famous last words!)

 

THANKS!

 

---JC

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Suntower - I'm not a computer techie. Until this last teaching year my experience has been with Microsoft OSs on PCs. Moving from Win 98 to XP solved my audio problems a few years back - and my techie mates organised it for me.

 

I too thought the whole Mac thing a fallacy - plus in the UK Mac Vs PC price disparity has always seemed greater than in the US.

 

I've been working with Macs at college. Don't know (or care) about how they run other applications - but I've noticed that there's less messing about for the music related stuff I use them to do.

 

Money over again - for personal use I'm getting a Macbook.

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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AFA 'get a Mac', my reply is: 'get a life'. I have nothing against Macs, but there seems to be some fetishism about them that I don't understand... as though 'get a Mac' is the cure for everything except cancer. I've happily used desktop PCs for audio for 10 years with few complaints. And I see just as many puzzled Mac users as PC users---it's just that they seem to shrug and accept -their- problems as the price of 'coolness'. Us PC types tend to bitch more, I guess. ;)

Having first raised the 'get a Mac' banner in this thread (although I did provide 2 alternatives first ;) ), I'll bite.

The net is full of Mac Vs PC flamewars, which I don't want to add to. However, this is a forum primarily for gigging musicians, so I'll summarize the rationale in as specific and objective terms as possible:

  1. With (almost) any brand of Windows-based laptops (irrespective of make, model and specifications), you cannot rule out the possibility of DPC spikes ( :deadhorse: ), without actually trying it out first. DPC spikes => pops and glitches so bad as to render it useless for professional audio use. Those of us who are using a Windows laptop for pro audio and have NOT faced this error are either lucky, or have followed someone's recommendation.
  2. Mac OSX, unlike Windows, is a real-time based system, which does not have any equivalent of Deferred Procedure Calls (DPCs), so this particular issue, at least, cannot arise on a Mac laptop. I don't know if Mac's are the "cure for everything except cancer", but they certainly can avoid this specific, deal-breaking issue. I haven't come across other issues of this gravity on Macs, and if someone could point them out, I'd be grateful.

Yes, there are trends involving a lot of passion ('fetishism' as you call it) around the Mac, but we need to be careful, not to tar all Mac-related advice with the same brush :rolleyes: . The suggestions here are from one musician to another, to avoid specific headaches in the way of making good music... hope that's the spirit in which it would be taken!

All (?) it basically needs to do is load a patch and track MIDI without too much latency. Is that too much to ask?

Sadly, yes, for most generic laptop manufacturers. DPC spikes are almost never noticeable to the non-'pro audio' user, so they're not quite serious about it (examples here and here)

 

Well... this is an experiment. As I said, I did this as a doddle.

...

If it works for live rompler=ing? Great. If not? I'm still happy.

 

Understandable and appreciated, Suntower - and if not for the "get a life", would have been left at that!

Cheers,

 

Guru

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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Re Macs vs. Windows.

 

DPC is evidently an issue; fortunately not on my current maching (Thinkpad W510). My last one (Thinkpad T60p) completely sucked for so many reasons it's hardly worth mentioning. Prior to that I had a number of successful working systems.

 

Hardware: With Windows, there is a lot of variation. With Mac PowerBook, not so much. Thus, things should be simpler.

 

However, I remember when I was using GB and using their forum a lot. I saw all the same kinds of issues (latency, pops and clicks, etc) on that forum that I saw on Windows based ones. There didn't seem to be a significant difference, which surprised me. Of course, there's no way to assess the relative fraction of users with problems on a forum. But, the problems were essentially the same.

 

Maybe Macs are better than they were in 2005. Windows PCs are, that's for sure (more USB chipsets handle audio just fine these days).

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Thanks for all the replies. Macs are great, but the very first line of my op was that I need a Win 7 machine... so replies about Macs and Receptors seemed off the point. Anyhoo...

 

I tried DPCLatency Checker and it seems fine. And I tried Adobe Premiere CS5 video editor... which is a real test for any machine I think... and it works quite nicely... which is also a good sign.

 

So the next step in my clever little plan is the Interface. I went to a GC and, predictably, the salesperson was 22, poorly informed and thus lying left/right/up/down in order to act like he was giving me 'advice'. But I did learn that there are 5-6 gizmos that might work (stereo balanced ins/outs MIDI, SPDIF, phantom power)... and they will let me return no questions within 30 days. So...

 

So this brings up the next phase: HOST and PATCH SELECTION. What I want/need is a way to load the sounds and switch patches quickly for a set list. I was thinking that I could just use an old license I have for Cubase, create a 'template' song with a couple of common VSTis as separate tracks (Piano, Organ, etc.) and in some way 'click' to switch between tracks after each song.

 

Or...?

 

Once I have that methodology down, I can then go pick out an interface and test how well this all works.

 

One thing the kid @ GC said (which may or may not be true) is that Ableton Live and Reason both have facilities to do pretty much exactly this---since they are more oriented towards live performance.

 

Thoughts?

 

THANKS!

 

---JC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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+1 on Ableton Live - I used to use it on PC for this exact purpose. It's very stable and runs well even on lesser machines.
Instrumentation is meaningless - a song either stands on its own merit, or it requires bells and whistles to cover its lack of adequacy, much less quality. - kanker
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