Thoughts about a new laptop?

Considering upgrading my current Cantabile laptop, which is a HP elitebook 8770w (2012) with 16gb RAM and 512gb SSD, 2.70 ghz Intel Core i7-3820QM, 17-in. screen, to something that is newer,faster and lighter weight (15" screen would be fine). This laptop has done pretty well, although I’m getting an increasing number of blue screens on startup (maybe 1x/wk) which I’ve been unable to trace. A backlit keyboard would be nice.

I don’t need anything monstrous. $800 is a ballpark figure. Thinking new but would consider a recently model refurbished. Suggestions?

And is anyone using a laptop with a touchscreen? How does Cantabile respond to touch screen and would you recommend it?

Also, I really don’t understand how to gauge processor speed and guidelines for what’s a minimum for Cantabile would be helpful

Thanks!

@Torsten is your best help on this one. To me, your current specs do not even look too bad (16gb RAM and SSD), quite similar to mine. Look in the archive also for the benchmark test Torsten setup, so you can see how your and other systems perform

I’d be interested if we set up a sort of permanent thread on what good configurations are at present, and keep it updated; and include e.g. two price classes (one under 1000 USD/EUR, and one above 1000). I am thinking to upgrade this year as well but might go to a cube-type solution, as used and suggested by others as well

Hi Lee,

since I was prompted personally :wink: - here some thoughts:

Fundamentally, an up-to-date chipset and CPU (i5 or i7) should definitely do the job. Wouldn’t look at the “gaming” machines, since the $$$ you spend on them is often on graphics capabilities, which are mostly wasted on a Cantabile machine. I’ve had some success looking at “office”-specified laptops; you can get them refurbished at a good price (Lenovo Thinkpads!).

Processor-wise, I haven’t seen such a massive difference between i5 and i7 in my Cantabile use, so going with an i5 might be a way to save some bucks. I would look for a quad-core processor - multi-processor use doesn’t always help with audio loads - single-processor performance is still pretty relevant, so CPU frequency is definitely a factor, but I wouldn’t look at anything overclocked. The key for audio is reliability and stability, not the last 5% of performance…

Today, I would go for an all SSD (system on M2) machine, but you can get some pretty decent hybrid setups (SSD + HDD) that perform well. Depends if you use lots of sample-based instruments - then by all means go all SSD.

RAM: that’s where I’d spend money - especially if you use sample-based instruments. 16 GB is a good basic setup, with lots of samples, I’d go for 32 GB.

Re touchscreen: I use a touch monitor with my live cube, and it’s pretty useful for some tasks when using Cantabile live (quick selection of songs from the setlist grid or operating the control bar), but generally, I prefer controlling Cantabile from my controller keyboard via MIDI with buttons and pots. Touch screen operation is just too fiddly on-stage for my taste and absorbs too much focus - I want to concentrate on playing and singing…

In my case, I use the touch screen since I don’t have a USB keyboard sitting around during gigs (I use a mini-PC-type device, not a laptop, but I’m not missing ANYTHING when I use my live laptop that doesn’t have a touch screen.

Long story short: I personally wouldn’t spend money on a touch screen for a cantabile laptop - I’d rather have a good number of buttons, faders and dials on my controller keyboard.

There are tons of laptops with these specs, the problem is that not all of them are optimized for smooth real-time-audio operation. And you can’t decide from the specs if this machine will work nicely or throw tons of glitches at you - power management can be messy on laptops. So it’s really trial and error.

Lenovo Thinkpads have been a pretty solid choice; Dell is hit-or-miss (some praise them, others won’t touch them with a 10 foot pole); I have had a good experience with my Acer Nitro, bad experience with an HP gaming laptop that I couldn’t stop glitching, …

The best way would be to check out the laptop you are considering with optimized power settings and LatencyMon for some time - if there are funky interrupts, I’d stay away…

Hope this helps!

Cheers,

Torsten

Hi Lee,

If the blue screen is always at startup most likely culprit is a driver update needed.

Doug

Doug, yes probably a driver but I’ve been unable to find it using Microsoft’s recommended procedure

Thanks Torsten, as always a thoughtful and thorough reply!

There’s really no rush to replace my current laptop. I WOULD like a lighter unit with a smaller screen, faster performance, but really, the Elitebook has never give me any problems as far as running Cantabile is concerned.

Lee

My last 15 years experience are a little bit scary… With a Sony Vaio, Asus Vivo book and a very recent MSI Stealth Gs66, I never solved in a serious way the glitching problem.
I am so pissed off, that I want to cross the ocean and buy a Mac…
Only possible hint: try LatencyMon on your next candidate: if a full run for some hours doesn’t give any issue, then your machine is suitable.
Choosing with brands, high end models, or special features didn’t help me.
There are some integrators selling machines designed to be audio compliant.
I am trying to explore on these…

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It’s difficult to build a list of known good laptop brand/model because the vendors make changes under the hood while retaining the the model number. I’ve had good luck with 8 year old Lenovo x230s. Some more recent models in that line (x240 and x280) were limited to 8GB RAM as an example.

Thanks @Torsten for answering, and sorry for bothering you, but I think you are one of the most knowledgeable, which shows in your answer :grinning:

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I’ve bought a Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Extreme Gen 3, 32GB RAM, 2TB + 1TB SSD.
I’m very happy with it :slight_smile:

Cool!

I just ordered a Dell 15 5000. 16GB, Core i7-1165G7, 512gb SSD, with backlit keyboard (something I really miss on my current laptop. This should be more that sufficient for what I’ll be doing.

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Very nice LeesKeys. :+1:
I checked the PassMark rating of that 11th gen i7-1165G7. It’s fast for a laptop processor and low watts too. The single thread rating is very good as well, that should improve the time load % in C3 with VST’s. Let us know when you’ve got it up and running with Cantabile.

Did you check there is no a engine-on UFO close to home? It seems you are a bit unlucky with PCs :frowning:

True! It is always immigrants’ fault!

I have 15+ years experience with Windows and 10 with MAC OS / OSX. Previously, since my teenage (read: ages ago), I worked with a 6502-based board, + four 8 bit DACs, running a self written program (in assembly!), as a sequencer for my first analogs (and modular) synths. [Yes, J.S. Bach in Wendy Carlos style was my obsession].
I (almost) always won my challenges with synths and, later, with PCs.
That’s why I find weird your very bad experiences with most of your Windows PCs. I’m sure your problems depends from bad-code drivers, surely not the hardware itself. Your MSI gaming PC is a meaningful example of what I say. Why does my 2015 i7 permit audio glitch free, but your recent i7 doesn’t?

I totally agree with some of your statements.
A bad driver alone can damage real time performance of a very powerful processor.
I graduated as electronic engineer with a dissertation of production scheduling algorithms coded in Lisp on Unix machines.
Then I worked as developer for a company producing real time software in Robotics.
I used C language, VxWorks operating system, and various hardware on VME racks.
Then I switched to sales (I was not a good software engineer).
But I remember disasters produced by a DAC board with a faulty ISR that was able to stop a robot 30 meters high.
I built for myself and friends dozens of PC with mixed boards, new and used so I think to have some experience on wintel hardware.
But notebooks are different, you cannot change any hardware…
Fact is that if you buy a wonderful, powerful, expensive, beefy notebook, with a performing Intel i7, you cannot be sure of its performance.
If only one software driver is badly written, for our beloved audio synthesis is a disaster.
It can be graphic driver, Acpi management (battery), chipset, bios, etc etc.
The only deterministic procedure is trying to run some diagnostic (LatencyMon or similar) before buying.
It is dangerous to buy before testing, because a faulty audio pc cannot be considered faulty for all other applications, so vendors can refuse to get back the defective product.
I will try to test with my hands an Apple notebook in the next months.
I don’t like Apple at all but it seems to me that its audio subsystem is much more robust.
It does not seem strange, there are no other vendors driver, control on software performance is much easier.
In the meantime I am fighting with MSI to do some repair on my new, expensive, faulty gaming notebook.

Unfortunately, you are right - it’s a lot of trial & error (or paying the premium for a pre-selected notebook from an audio specialist). Notebooks are just not built with a priority on seamless low-latency performance, but with a lot of focus on power management - getting the a good mix of performance and a reasonable battery life.

Apple have the advantage of being a completely closed ecosystem - they control processors, chipset, other components, so they can avoid some of the issues. Plus, Apple has traditionally been more focused on media production. So I see your argument.

Just personally, I’m not willing to make the massive investment to switch platforms (and lose the ability to use Cantabile :scream:) - especially since the bang-for-buck ratio on the Apple platform is just not acceptable to me (a monitor stand for $1000???). On the desktop side of things, it is pretty easy to have a well-behaved Windows audio system, and for live use, my experiments with desktop-type mini PCs were so successful that I’ll probably continue in that direction (as long as there are good platforms available for that form factor).

Good luck in your battle with MSI!

Cheers,

Torsten

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There is another advantage in Apple systems. Audio core or whatever the name, is inside operating system. This is same advantage as with iPad. ASIO works well but it is not inside Microsoft routines, so it is depending from interaction of other drivers.
I agree with @Torsten, a small desktop is more solid, notebooks are too dangerous.
But I have rehearsals with my cover bands in equipped rooms we rent for two hours, I love to open a notebook and start playing in minutes, I don’t want to have an external screen.
I also have big hands and hate touch screens…
I must thank @cpaolo, he gave me a link for a known integrator in Italy, I spoke with this guy on the phone and he claims to sell extremely performant notebooks tested for audio, internally assembled by himself.
I think I will sell my new MSI and investigate in this chance.
If I cross the river, all my software synths can be used on Mac too, so all my software investments would be saved.
The only thing that I would lose is Cantabile, and this is quite disappointing, to say the least

Another opinion.
I think that big instrument companies should consider a design for a flexible musical workstation. A keyboard with a PC inside.
And a compact screen. Internal sounds mixed with user bought VSTs.
Everyone knows we can have better simulations of an Hammond through a VST instead any keyboard on the market.
I will never buy a 3000 euro thing if I cannot play with that thing the best simulations on the market.
Montage and Fantom are first step (they have an audio board inside and usb link).
I want to see more steps on this direction

In basic terms, that is what is in a workstation already, you just don’t have control of it. But I understand what you are saying, and trust me, the keyboard manufacturers would screw it up, plus charge an arm and a leg for it. Then, there would also be a lot of proprietary crap involved that would limit usage and cost $$$$$. They would never give you the freedom without making money on it. I am doing just fine with laptops and controllers.