This week I’ve got a massive post on picking a laptop for FL Studio (and in most ways – music production in general).
In this post I’m going to list out what are the specific requirements we’re targeting for, which laptops meet them for every price range and what you should do after getting a laptop. Time to find out what is the best laptop for FL Studio!
Without further ado.
2017 February 1st update. Have been looking into DJing laptops and thought it’s a good time to post an update for FL Studio since most requirements are the same. I’ve updated the recommended specs and all laptop suggestions.
What are we looking for?
A good place to start would be FL Studio 12 minimum requirements:
- 2 Ghz Intel Pentium 4 / AMD Athlon 64 (or later) compatible CPU with full SSE2 support
- 32 or 64 Bit versions of Windows 8, Windows 7, Vista, XP (with service pack 3)
- 1 Gb or more RAM recommended
- 1 Gb free disk space
- Soundcard with DirectSound drivers. ASIO/ASIO2 compatible required for audio recording
Looking at these requirements it seems that any recently released laptop would be more than enough (1 GB of RAM, really?). Well… yes and no. It might be enough to launch FL Studio but it is far from what you need if you’re using VSTs and sample libraries. Apparently some known plugin libraries have significantly higher requirements than FL Studio itself.
So do these requirements actually say anything?
I’d argue that the only thing that you should take from these requirements is that video card doesn’t matter at all and hard drive space matters only if you have an extensive sample library.
FL Studio team have written a lot more sensible guide for choosing a PC but that is mostly focused on desktop/tower setup.
In sum, it seems that we need to form our own custom requirements one by one.
Let’s dive in.
The CPU is the primary factor in your ability to run FL Studio with large complex projects.Image Line Support Team
Processor is THE most important thing that comes to FL performance. You do not need to get the best product to run it smoothly but a few extra bucks for a higher-end processor will surely help.
That is what we’re targeting for.
Cores vs Threads vs Hertz
FL Studio can use multiple cores and threads. But despite that, you should prioritize faster clock speed.
Why?Each unit in the audio chain from the instrument through to the Mixer track and the effects must be processed in sequence on the same core. If one mixer track is linked to another, then all the instruments and effects on both Mixer Tracks now have a dependency and can’t be split across cores efficiently.Image Line Support Team
As it turns out, FL Studio (and you) will never balance out every single instrument through every channel without chaining multiple sends. And that causes not all the load being split equally.
That results in a peculiar case where you could run 2 instances of FL Studio both claiming to use 80% of CPU without glitching. That’s because FL Studio CPU Load doesn’t reflect usage of every core – as Task Manager does.
But how to avoid that?
Split your instruments into more channels, avoid using too many effects in the same chain. It is a lot better to split every generator into its own channel and give every channel only the essential effects they need instead of trying to balance multiple instruments in the same one.
This is especially noticeable when adding a lot of VSTs to the mastering chain. Since it comes last in the audio chain, it cannot be speed-up with multiple cores. Try to keep it clean and lean.
What does it mean for you when buying a laptop?
Your priority should be clock speed and not cores. In short – anything beyond 4 cores, at least right now, is not worth the extra money.
If I understand FL Studio correctly, this graphic should help you understand how dual core processor would handle a mixer with 5 tracks:
In this particular case, “the red core” helps out the main blue one and cuts down the time to prepare the master track by 31%, since blue one didn’t have to process Track 2, 3 and 4.
If Track 1 sends to Track 5, having extra cores will not help at all. On the other hand, if Track 5 is independent then 3rd core would speed up the process by 11% and 4th core by final 4%.
Obviously, this is not a real-life scenario unless you’re making a simple beat. Usually, you’ll end up using more tracks which can be processed in parallel but even then the additional gain is limited.
So which processors we’re looking for EXACTLY?
Anything in the higher range of the latest two series of processors. A higher-mid range is the Goldilocks zone for processors – not too slow and not too hot – just right.
To be sure how good a processor is I’ll use benchmarks from Notebookcheck and Passmark. Then I’ll prioritize single core priority over multi-core when comparing several models. I’d consider anything above Intel Core i7-3630QM very good. I have this processor in my own laptop for the last two years and it manages to handle ~20 generators going to ~20 mixer tracks with ~6 effects each. It can handle almost that much even without ASIO when oversampling isn’t used.
A few good processor examples:
- Intel Core i7-7700HQ
- Intel Core i7-7820HK
- Intel Core i7-6700HQ
- Intel Core i7-6820HK
Here’s a graphic illustrating basic selection process.
How each processor is valued, especially below that line, depends more and more on their single core performance. For that I’ll use mobile processor list sorted by their score in Cinebench x64 using 1 core.
On social media I got a good question: “How these benchmarks scale up in real life FL Studio performance?“. I was given a personal example – a reader had a laptop with processor of ~4100 on Passmark benchmark page. And he wanted to upgrade it to a laptop having a processor with a score of ~8100. The simple question is, what performance gains would be realistic? As in, if right now the project runs at 100% – how would it run on the new laptop?
I love these types of questions as they help to apply all seemingly abstract benchmarks to clear real-life scenario. So this was my answer:
To get an answer to this I checked my FL projects from 2012 when I had a lot slower processor myself.
After doing a quick pen and paper “analysis” I saw that usually if you correctly setup your new PC, you should expect an improvement of 0.65 * benchmark ratio. That means moving from 4100 to 8100 would make your projects capped at 100% running on avg ~68%.
Though in reality, it depends on how you use FL. If you use under ~15 instruments while adding a lot of effects to them then the speed boost will be smaller. If you use a lot of instruments/samples with a few effects on each of them, then the difference will be more apparent. The best example of that is the master bus. If you put a lot of effects on the master bus you might get a rather small improvement. And if you have your master channel clean, you could get closer to ~60%.
ASIO Drivers Support
ASIO drivers are as close to The Holy Grail in digital audio processing as it gets. They allow DAWs as FL Studio to talk directly to the sound card.
And that matters a lot.
The good new is that basically every non-edge-case laptop released in the past two years will be compatible with some kind of ASIO/ASIO II drivers, usually ASIO4ALL.
If producing music is one of your hobbies – that’s enough. If it is more than that – you should get an external audio interface. I’ll touch this topic in a bit more detail later on in the post, but for now – let’s stay on course.
8 GB is the standard for RAM capacity. Though, in 2017, 16 GB is becoming the de facto choice for laptops starting at $1,000. You can go up to 32 GB if you’re absolutely certain that 16 GB won’t be enough. But 99% of the time it is plenty.[…]32 Gb is only necessary if you typically use lots of sample based instruments (each running Multi-Gb orchestral libraries & ROMpler style plugins for example).Image Line Support Team
Just in case I’ll cover all my bases before getting a comment “what about memory speed/latency/dual channel?”. In this case channels won’t matter, frequency doesn’t matter and every laptop comes with CL9-11 RAM anyways.
One last thing we should consider is having extra slots for extra RAM later on. If you’re going for 8GB – that will surely come in handy if you’re planning to keep your new laptop for the long haul.
This can be a shortcut to better performance with very little additional spending (as you’ll see later on).
In this case, you might face a hard decision if your budget is limited.
Now here’s why.
On one hand, 1TB of space can be used for a larger sample library. Meanwhile smaller SSD drives (for their cost) deliver gains in noticeable performance. This mostly improves the general experience of using a laptop and in our case – loading samples/VSTs and etc.
If you want the best of both worlds – pay the price for 1 TB SSD.
If you don’t care about extra hard drive speed – save your money for a better processor and just go for an HDD. That is completely viable since hard drive speed won’t hinder FL Studio.
If you’re on the fence, you could go for a hybrid solution which means having two hard drives – one (SSD) for Windows and FL Studio. And the second one for your samples. If SSD has 250GB+, most VSTs should fit too.
External screen ports
Working with multiple screens is a delight.
Firstly, good news! Almost every laptop has a connection for an external screen, usually via HDMI.
And now the bad news. A lot of laptops under 17″ have ONLY that connection dedicated for extra displays. You might be wondering what to do then if you want to rock out with a 2-3 external monitor setup.
Then you have 3 options:
- Laptop with 2 HDMI connections
- Laptop with 1 HDMI and a DVI/VGA connection
The most common scenario which is completely OK. When dealing with graphics VGA (D-Sub) connection is inferior to others due to its lossy analog nature – at least somewhere people can agree digital is better than analog.
- Laptop with (mini) Display Port and a multi-screen hub
- Laptop with USB 3.1 Type C, preferrably with Thunderbolt III controller, so it can be used as DisplayPort
- Laptop with plenty USB connections and then buy a USB to VGA/DVI/HDMI adapter
USB has been THE mainstream port for peripherals for a long time. Finally, it’s becoming a standard for external audio interfaces as well. Once a lot of devices rely on a single type of port – you’ll need a lot of them.
Look for 3 or more USB ports.
Of course a laptop needs a 3.5 mm audio jack but every single one has it. Even Apple left it intact after ditching every other port in their latest MacBook.
Sadly, FireWire is almost extinct from consumer-grade laptops. Its replacement – Thunderbolt is also found almost exclusively on Apple laptops with a few worthy exceptions I’ll mention in the suggestion section.
Battery life requirement is entirely based on how you’re going to use the laptop. If it will be used mostly in home/studio – you can get away with a minimal battery life. Meanwhile, if a laptop is going to be your PC on-the-go – you’ll need every extra minute you can get. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Remember: advertised battery times do not represent actual time a laptop will run with FL Studio. As any other DAW, FL can be very performance hungry. Expect 1/2 – 1/3 of advertised battery time depending on a particular project and your workflow.
To keep things simple I’ll give extra points in my comparisons for laptops with good battery life.
Peace and Quiet
Working with a machine that requires a lot of power has one significant drawback – audible noise. Laptops aren’t designed to be liquid cooled (though you can try). That leaves laptops with the only other option – fans.
If you’ll want to record audio in the same room with a laptop – you’ll have a problem – a few extra decibels.
Thankfully, improvements in manufacturing and the speed of integrated graphics allowed some laptops to get away without using them. This is known as fanless design. Laptops with this type of cooling (or lack of it) only started getting traction in the last year or so. Their list is expanding and probably will double in the coming year.
Sadly they are limited in performance. So please consider them only if you’re fairly certain their processors will be able to handle the load you need.
That’s why fan-cooled laptops are here to stay for at least a few more years when it comes to music production.
How to minimize fan noise?
- When possible, opt for newer generation processors – they tend to produce less heat
- Coolers, cooling mats, and heat shields
- Once a year clean laptop’s fans and radiators or bring it to a person that can do it for you
As time passes by dust accumulates within a laptop. That forces fans to spin a little bit faster and louder day after day. Not cleaning it long enough can result in your fans working at max speed and still not managing to keep temperatures within a safe range (which is usually under 212° F/100° C). Then processor is forced to slow down. This is known as CPU throttling.
The first time I cleaned my laptop, CPU/GPU temperature dropped by 20 degrees. Which was way beyond my expectations. To do this I bought a small screwdriver set on eBay for 5$ and watched a disassembly video for my model. Though if you’re new to PC hardware – you might as well leave it to a specialist.
What doesn’t matter
Dedicated graphics card won’t help you one bit. Unless you’re using more than 3 screens or they are beyond Full HD resolution, an integrated graphics chip will be enough. Audio processing doesn’t benefit from a powerful visual engine. So if you don’t work with video/3D and don’t play new-ish 3D games – spend your dollars on a better CPU/HDD/more VSTs/etc.
It is worth noting that there have been various attempts to leverage the tremendous power of GPU to work on audio. But even in tasks that are best suited for GPU as IR reverbs – it is not a mainstream practice due to its complexity and drawbacks.
I also did not weigh a few minor things as laptop speakers as anyways even the best notebook speakers fall way too short to be used for actual sound monitoring.
To Mac or not to MacWill there ever be a native Apple Mac OS X release of FL Studio ? Once upon a time, the answer was no. Now the answer is probably. Never say never we suppose.Image Line Support Team
Image-line currently does not support Mac OS X. Though they are developing an OSX version which recently even had its first public Alpha release. Despite compatibility problems, a lot of artists still dare to use Mac platform for making music with FL. These are the ways how to run it on a Mac:
- Run FL Studio OSX (which is just a wrapped Windows version)
- Run FL Studio in a virtual machine through Boot Camp or Parallels
But until there’s a native Mac solution, trying to cram FL Studio into a MacBook is problematic especially when trying to move from a previously PC-based setup. So proceed with caution.
Consumer PC laptops
Consumer laptops have reached a state where their hardware does not limit the creative process. You might still want to buy an audio interface if already don’t have one but apart from that consumer grade is no longer something professionals can laugh at.
Here I cherry picked a few best-rounded laptops paying a lot of attention to previously outlined requirements.
Just like one famous Canadian rapper, we’ll start from the bottom.View on Amazon
Just to get this out of the way – this laptop is not as fast as the others on the list. But damn, it’s as close as you can get at this price. It’s definitely best budget FL Studio laptop. It doesn’t have most of the premium bells and whistles but it is a surprisingly decent computer for its price tag.Processor3 / 5Intel Core i7-6500U
Wow, first laptop on the list and already an i7 processor. We are not playing around, aren’t we? It’s more than enough for FL Studio with a handful of VSTs and tracks. You might need to render some most expensive synths and effects into audio clips if you don’t like the smell of a frying CPU. If you don’t insist on having all of your synths running straight to your final mix, you should have a fairly smooth workflow with this notebook.RAM1 / 38 GB8 gigabytes – exactly what I would want in a budget laptop. You won’t have a problem in this departament.HDD1 / 41000 GBPlenty of space considering you won’t be able to run too many plugins/samples at the same time anyways. Hehe. In all seriousness, trying to get i7 + SSD is not an option at this price. I’m not a fan of HDDs but it’s good enough (though I wish it wasn’t 5200rpm).Mobility3 / 5OK battery, average weightBattery is reported to work ~6 hours for light work. In other words, it should last around 1-2 hours on FL Studio.Ports3 / 5HDMI, 1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0Nothing to complain about. It covers all the basic requirments – 1 connection for an external screen, 1 fast USB 3.0 for external storage and 2 USB 2.0 ports for keyboard/mouse/optional audio interface.Noise levelFans and HDDAs expected.Screen1 / 215.6 HD TouchscreenA touchscreen? That’s a nice touch (heh) which saves an otherwise below-average screen.
Well, that was fun. This laptop draws a line for people with a tight budget. I wouldn’t recommend below this line, but I guess a $400 laptop with an i5 CPU would still work.
Best value laptops (~1000$)View on Amazon
A balanced machine which shines in all the compartments but portabilty.Processor5 / 5Intel Core i7-7700HQYou’ll not get a better than this without stepping over $2000. It’s great seeing this CPU at this price point.RAM2 / 316 GBHDD3 / 4256 GB SSD + 1 TB HDDMobility1 / 5Short battery life, on the heavy sidePorts3 / 5HDMI, 3x USB 3.0, USB Type CNoise level2 / 2Can get loud under stressScreen1 / 215.6 non-IPS FHD
A great laptop if you want the best performance your buck and you don’t care about a short battery life and a mediocre display.View on AmazonProcessor5 / 5Intel Core i7-7700HQRAM3 / 332 GBIs it Christmas already?HDD3 / 4250 GB SSD (PCIe) + 1 TB HDDFast SSD for Windows, FL Studio and most of your VSTs. Samples will probably end up in HDD.Mobility2 / 5Just a bit better battery; quite heavyPorts4 / 5HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB Type CNoise levels2 fans and HDDFrom what I found – it is a bit better than average but that’s not very impressive. So no additional points.Screen1 / 215.6 non-IPS matte 4KGreat resolution and I appreciate the matte finish though adding an IPS panel would it make it more suitable for work (better viewing angles).
High-end laptops (1500$+)View on AmazonProcessor4 / 5Intel Core i7-6700HQRAM2 / 316 GBHDD4 / 41 TB SSD + 2 TB HDDYou can’t ask for more than that. 3 TB of storage! Hell, you might be completely satisfied with the 1 TB SSD on its own. Definitely the highlight of this laptop.Mobility2 / 5average battery life; heavy as all 17-inch laptops are5 hours of battery runtime on Wi-Fi is nothing to be impressed with, but for a laptop with upper-range CPU and a huge display – it’s an achievement.Ports3 / 5HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0Just an allright setup. Usually large laptops like this one pack at least a few more ports.Noise levelsloud fans and HDDCan get louder than other laptops under stress.Screen1 / 215.6 FHD IPS
A great desktop-replacement workhorse with a pretty good battery and weight. Apart from that, you get a decent graphics chip.View on AmazonProcessor5 / 5Intel Core i7-7700HQRAM2 / 316 GBHDD3 / 4500 GB SSD (PCIe)External HDD might be needed. Having only 1 storage drive is the price we pay for getting a moderately light laptop.Mobility4 / 5slightly above-average battery life; a bit thinner than most 15-inch modelsPorts3 / 5HDMI, 2x USB 3.0, Thunderbolt III (USB Type C)Good setup. I’d like to have 1 more USB port, but Thunderbolt III can be split into multiple of USBs or even converted to a DisplayPort.Noise levels2 / 2relatively quiet and no HDDOf course, we can’t get a fanless laptop with such a powerful processor. This is as quiet as we can get without risking to overheat and to throttle the CPU.Screen2 / 215.6 4K IPS TouchGreat!
BONUS! FireWire/Thunderbolt Edition
I said I’ll give a few great suggestions for those using FireWire hardware. Since Thunderbolt is backwards-compatible with FireWire, I’d suggest getting a Thunderbolt laptop.
Important to note that the free slot is SATA 2 and not SATA 3 (which is what you need to get all the performance out of an SSD). This can be easily solved by moving main hard drive from SATA 3 to the free slot and using its’ slot for an SSD. But even if you don’t go through the trouble of switching hard drive slots, you’ll still get a visible performance boost. And don’t forget to buy a hard drive caddy and screws since most SSDs come without them. The biggest drawback for this laptop is its weight. If you want a portable ultrabook you’ll have to steer away from this 17″ beast.
A good and a much lighter alternative is a bit more expensive 15.6″ ASUS ROG G501JW-DS71. It also comes with a Thunderbolt port and a Retina-like (UHD -3840×2160) resolution. There are a few complaints that the laptop can’t keep up with this resolution while playing games and watching 2K videos, but that’s not the reason a producer would buy this computer anyways.
Custom-built music production laptops
I have found several sellers offering custom built laptops specifically for music production/DJing. In most of these machines I haven’t found much of a difference between them and general consumer laptops. One notable exception would be FireWire port which is only ever found in workstation grade laptops or Macs. If you have equipment that uses FireWire and you’ll need it for your laptop you should check out these custom solutions.
Price and performance wise none of the websites I played around with managed to beat out the consumer level laptops. Despite that, if you have very unique needs, you still should check these websites out:
Beyond the laptop
This can be a topic of its own but if you don’t already have one – something like Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or something simple from M-Audio. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need an audio interface at all.
Do not forget to clean all the useless pre-installed software that is usually added to PC laptops to maintain their prices low. Then install your FL Studio copy, move your VSTs and samples in. Finally check that you have ASIO4ALL or FL ASIO installed. If not, grab a copy. Then setup your FL settings and copy your projects to your new laptop. Happy producing!
Read if you haven’t – Optimizing FL Studio performance.
I’ve showed what is important for a FL Studio laptop, what are good guidelines and which laptops are best for each price range. You might have some custom needs that are beyond this article, so adjust accordingly.
I hope this has helped you choose your next FL Studio notebook. I’ll shamefully close this post by quoting FL Studio Knowledge base:Your grandfather used a four-track tape recorder and made albums like A Hard Days Night and Aftermath that changed the face of modern music. Even the lowliest of modern PCs will put that 4 track to shame. Limitations breed creativity, work with what you have and rejoice in the democratization of modern music production.Image Line Support Team