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Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

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Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby GilesAnt » Mon Jun 24, 2019 8:38 pm

After nearly 10 years my old Scan 3xs tower PC seems to have expired. My initial thought was simply to replace like with like, but I was wondering if modern laptops exceed the power of my old tower.

Until last week the old PC was coping with all my needs. On top of domestic PC usage I have Cubase 10 pro and rely heavily on Native Instruments - mainly Kontakt and Reaktor.

I am simply a home user, composing, recording etc for my own amusement, so whilst I demand good quality instruments and effects I don't have highly complex needs.

When I bought the tower nearly 10 years ago it seemed laptops didn't really have the power to cope with advanced music making (oversimplifying here), - but would I be safe to assume that (for example) a Scan music laptop would meet my needs.

Am I missing anything crucial. It has been a long time since I looked at the market place.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby envamt » Mon Jun 24, 2019 9:52 pm

Theoretically yes and these days its becoming more of a personal choice rather than a needs one. On just one level I like tinkering and upgrading so its tower every time here.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby James Perrett » Mon Jun 24, 2019 10:49 pm

If you need the ultimate in computing power then you may find the laptop processors to be slightly lacking but for most purposes they're fine. You don't mention which audio interface you are using - if you are planning on using an older interface you will need to check on compatibility.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby GilesAnt » Tue Jun 25, 2019 12:47 am

I have an old StudioLogic (Fatar) midi weighted keyboard and a midi/audio M-Audio FW 410.

I'm guessing Firewire isn't really an option, so will probably have to replace this.

I'm not a power user but do want to future proof myself to some degree. I may only be an amateur, but I am a serious musician, and want to be able to take advantage of likely developments in the next few years.

I know it sounds a simple question really, but why does anyone in my situation choose a tower PC over a laptop these days?
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby desmond » Tue Jun 25, 2019 12:51 am

GilesAnt wrote:I know it sounds a simple question really, but why does anyone in my situation choose a tower PC over a laptop these days?

Some people like the form factor - you can put in multiple hard drives, they may have PCI cards they wish to use and so on, and there is better cooling than the average laptop.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby GilesAnt » Tue Jun 25, 2019 8:04 am

Thanks for replies.

Am I right in thinking that with a laptop I generally need to get external hard drives for all the music software, samples etc, plus my personal usage (pics, documents etc). I have NI Komplete for example amongst other things.

Any recommendations? I have a budget with a max of £2k to include laptop along with audio/midi interface, externals etc.

Cheers
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby Folderol » Tue Jun 25, 2019 8:17 am

Space permitting, I'd always got for a desktop unless you really need the portability. Laptops often have significant limitations, mostly in the form of fixed memory size, and restricted expansion capability. One I have includes the brain-dead idea of putting all the USB ports on a single internal hub, while to chipset supports 6!
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby Agharta » Tue Jun 25, 2019 9:18 am

If you load the CPU heavily laptops can be fairly noisy whereas with a desktop you can much more easily keep them quiet.
Desktops tend to be better value and with much more choice and especially if you build yourself.
If you need the portability then you will have to get a laptop otherwise the only other advantage is the size.
I have a desktop and a 32 inch monitor and am very happy with it compared to my laptop.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby CS70 » Tue Jun 25, 2019 9:32 am

If you’re thinking recording, you gotta look at the real time performance. Gaming laptops, properly configured, are usually ok when connected to the mains. Regular ones, it’s a bit hit and miss, there’s many cheap models which work fine but some which don’t
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby Pete Kaine » Tue Jun 25, 2019 9:34 am

GilesAnt wrote:I know it sounds a simple question really, but why does anyone in my situation choose a tower PC over a laptop these days?

The 9750H found in the current range in benchmarking sits around the same level as the i5-9600K, which I tend to position as the entry-level chip on desktop setups.

Laptops unless they are desktop replacements (i.e. they shove a desktop chip, in a laptop form factor) always tend to top out somewhere in the desktop mid-range in regards to available performance, and there is never a mobile option that can match the "enthusiast" range (x299) favoured by more demanding users. If you need (and some do) 64GB or above then you're still going to be running a tower setup.

I dare say in comparison to a 10-year-old machine, whatever option you go for is going to offer you a sizable step up regardless. What's the CPU in your current machine?

I'm guessing 10 years puts you around the Gen 1 i7 / X58 chip launch with some kind of 9** chip?
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby GilesAnt » Tue Jun 25, 2019 11:26 am

Thanks Peter
Sadly as it no longer works I can't see the details of my old PC and the paperwork has long gone. But whatever it was it worked fine with all my music and domestic software, latest versions of Cubase, Komplete, MS Office etc.

So I suspect mid-range would be fine, and as you say surely most modern laptops are at least as good as my old PC. What about storage, laptops don't seem to come with much from what I can see.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby N i g e l » Tue Jun 25, 2019 11:46 am

I made the switch to a laptop when I bought an i5 based Toshiba Satellite in 2013/14 and it has always proved capable for my needs and required minimal setting up.

I mainly use it for home studio/cakewalk/vsts & Midi but I have recorded a couple of sweaty, all day, 7 track band sessions with it. Recording songs straight through in a complete pass.
I don’t need huge memory for sample libraries.

I think with laptops you have to buy what you need at the time and then thats it. Tinkering with cooling is impossible (those little fans can be heard when they ramp up) whilst upgrading hard disk and memory can vary from straight forward to very fiddly. Check uTube for videos of upgrading your planned laptop.

My work laptop is more powerful, a fairly recent HP 360, 8th gen i5 – I can still hear the fan when it cuts in and judging by uTube, it would be a nightmare to open & upgrade. It does have a touch screen – I could see that being handy for poking at faders and VSTs.

Make sure you have enough connectivity. There is a trend for more emphasis on wireless, no ethernet and fewer USB ports.

Last time I looked [a good while ago] Firewire ports on laptops were all the small 4pin type- signal only, no power. Firewire devices would require their own PSU.

The future is possibly touch screens and USB3 with type C connectors (judging by my lack of success on lotto, my status as a futurist may be questionable).

Dont forget to think about drivers, software, windows 10 and 64bit compatibility issues.

You will need external disk access to back up your SSD. SSDs are NAND flash which is delicate, in the electronic sense.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby GilesAnt » Tue Jun 25, 2019 3:06 pm

Really useful advice. Seems I really need to think more about usability and how I work than the actual capabilities of a laptop, e.g. noise, additional storage, DVD drive, probably using a larger monitor when actually at a desk, and then all the connectivity that involves.

My old PC had the flexibility for tinkering and expansion, but the fact was that in 10 years I never actually needed to change anything - even though I kept all my application software totally up to date.

Peter - I thought I would open up the case to see if I could find out what the chip was. On hoovering out the dust, amazingly the PC sprang back to life and booted properly. The chip is indeed an i7 920 and I have 6Gb of RAM

I won't risk another 10 years however so am going to take this as fair warning to save everything I need and proceed with buying a laptop. I think it only fair to take my custom initially to Scan given how well my last purchase has turned out!
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby Pete Kaine » Wed Jun 26, 2019 9:53 am

GilesAnt wrote:Peter - I thought I would open up the case to see if I could find out what the chip was. On hoovering out the dust, amazingly the PC sprang back to life and booted properly. The chip is indeed an i7 920 and I have 6Gb of RAM

Well, that's a turn-up! MIght still be a bit of life in there yet then. The 920 pulled just shy of 5000 using CPU Benchmark test, whereas the laptop pulls about 13,750 so I'm fairly confident in saying that you're looking to easily at least double your overhead and then some with the laptop. For comparison looking at something like the 9900K (midrange desktop flagship), it pulls over 20,000 with the same test.

I won't risk another 10 years however so am going to take this as fair warning to save everything I need and proceed with buying a laptop. I think it only fair to take my custom initially to Scan given how well my last purchase has turned out!

Yes, I guess another 10 might just be pushing it. :D
Great chips from that generation though, certainly they've tended to survive some abuse over the years. My 960 from the same range sits under the stairs these days as a media and backup server. It's probably run 24/7 in there for 6 years now and it was hardly turned off all that much when it lived in the studio before that.

If you've any other questions regarding the range as it currently stands, feel free to give me a PM too. I'm not on the sales desk, but I'm probably better placed to answer technical questions before you make your choice.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby GilesAnt » Wed Jun 26, 2019 11:59 am

Thanks Pete - I have tried to send pvt message but not quite sure if this has worked or not. Please let me know.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby banterbanter » Mon Jul 01, 2019 5:52 pm

Hi,

Not sure of your budget but this laptop I can at least vouch for in term of no DPC latency issues ( https://www.resplendence.com/latencymon_using ):

https://www.amazon.co.uk/ASUS-VivoBook- ... way&sr=8-2

Well, I have the previous i7 model but should fine. DPC latency is a huge issue because, unless you buy a laptop from a Specialist Complany like Pete's, then it's just a lottery - even with a good make of laptop with the best of specs.

I was able to open this laptop up easily (guy on youtube to watch) - and add another 8 gigs of RAM making 16gigs. It also has two HD slots an M2 for OS and a separate SSD slot for samples / audio so no external HD's needed.

With a focusrite 6i6 2nd gen I can works at 128 samples live with multipe VSTi's on the go.
Or when mixing with 256 samples I can run a full project with no freezing/rendering of tracks needed. The CPU does heat up a fair bit to the 70's degrees C but the fan is not too obtrusive at all.

If space and portability isn't an issue then a desktop will always win for spec per £ and for upgrades etc but this laptop at least you can change the RAM and hard drives easily.

I use an HDMI cable to a 27" monitor and with a wireless mouse and keyboard it can act as a desktop tucked away - but with the option to unplug it and take it away for gigs etc.

Recommended.

Cheers
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby OneWorld » Mon Jul 01, 2019 7:01 pm

I too have considered the laptop option, to save space and to use the laptop with an external 40" 4K monitor - but I have several external MIDI controllers/synths. These I hope to replace with VSTi alternatives but as I increase the use of VSTi I find I need more RAM and am considering going to 64gig. And of course a desktop allows several drives, in my case c:SSD for OS/Apps, a separate SSD for samples and libraries and a third SSD for drive imaging.

Before committing I would try and anticipate any circumstance where you might want to expand the system, for example in my case I used to have an external UAD QUAD rack unit. I replaced it with the equivalent PCIe card, one less wall wart, one less occupied space in the rack, one less cable trailing about.

If portability is an issue a friend of mine bought a powerful rack server PC, mounted that into a 6u rack, along with the RME FF800, a patchbay and a couple of EFX rack units. He mounted all these in a box with of course a couple of good fans, and in the lid mounted a monitor with the qwerty keyboard/mousepad exposed when the lid was lifted. He recorded on location and it worked fine. When back at home he wheeled it into the cubby hole under the stairs next to his studio and plugged it all in and he was away, ready to edit/mix
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby hobbyist » Mon Jul 01, 2019 11:32 pm

Yes.

They will more than replace the old tower.

But a new tower will still surpass the current laptops.

I did not have the money to replace the tower.
So I got a DELL on one of their black friday sales cheaper than the original tower cost.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby GilesAnt » Tue Jul 02, 2019 10:26 am

hobbyist wrote:They will more than replace the old tower.But a new tower will still surpass the current laptops.

Looks like this is a fair summary. Luckily my needs are middle of the road - normal home computing plus making music as a hobby on a limited scale. Cubase 10 Pro, plus NI Komplete, and a few others, plus a little home recording. I was lucky enough to have access to a couple of VCS3s as well as a massive EMS Synthi 100 as a student.

So following the advice of Pete and others above I am looking at a laptop now.

I do however recall when I used to go to lots of business meetings that people would always be complaining that their laptop batteries only lasted a few minutes - the business laptops would have been middle of the road, and usually not more than 4 years old. And so the meetings would be a safety hazard with all the mains cables involved. Before the days of Wi-Fi there would be a similar scramble for the limited Ethernet ports in a conference room.

The lifespan of laptop batteries is therefore a concern, although 80% of my work would be desk based.
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Re: Are modern laptops a suitable replacement for old tower PC

Postby N i g e l » Tue Jul 02, 2019 1:43 pm

Please excuse as Im probably Stating the obvious here but just in case...

Its good to plug an external monitor into a Laptop for music purposes, not only for a bigger screen but because the desktop area can be extended across both screens (in windows, I don’t know about apple). The extra screen can be placed in portrait mode, landscape or even upside down.

Also, for convenience, I connect my laptop thru a hub, so that I only have 1 USB connection to make to my laptop, a bit like the docking station idea.
The USB hub can handle keyboard, mouse, printer, sound card and synth keyboard. I have heard some stories that not all music kit works through a hub but Ive not had any problems myself.

hobbyist wrote:The lifespan of laptop batteries is therefore a concern, although 80% of my work would be desk based.

The battery packs have a limited lifetime of maybe 5 years [ ? ]. It doesnt pay to try to save battery use as it doesnt prolong the life. If youve got a lot of accessories plugged in, that might be quite a drain on the battery anyway. I tend to only use battery power for catching up on email/internet when out & about as Im down to about half an hour of juice now.
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