How to buy a laptop for DJing

November 1, 2012 by Steve Sharp

How to buy a laptop for DJing:

This is a topic that comes up regularly on forums and Facebook groups, and the conversations sometimes turn heated, as there is a lot of information (and misinformation) about brands and types of computers. It’s good to be a fan of something you like, but if your affinity makes you blindly biased, you’re not helping people by spreading your bias, you’re simply stroking your own ego.

So, how do you get help, and how do you know what to buy?

Certainly, you should talk to as many credible people as you can, both online and better still offline. People you might meet in person could SHOW you what they use, and the hows and whys. DJ conferences and other local meetings are GREAT for this as well, as you can get “hands on” with systems you’re considering. Youtube channels are also helpful, as long as you’re mindful that some youtube videos are DJs like yourself, while others are working FOR a specific company, which could bias their recommendations. However, at the end of this all, it’s YOUR decision.

How to narrow it down, and wade through TOO MANY choices!

If you’re DJing (or going to DJ) using software, START WITH THE SOFTWARE. If you’re reading this article, this is the reason you’re BUYING a (new) computer. Does your software work best on a Windows PC or a Mac? Check the software’s website for minimum specifications (specs), and be sure you meet or (better yet) BEAT them. Ask around about which softwares work best on which platforms. Example: While both claim to be (and offer) Mac or PC versions, Serato Scratch Live is said to work best on Macs, while Virtual DJ is said to work best on PCs. How true is this? Depends on who you ask, which version of the software you’re using, the usual considerations (ie. which processor), whether you’re doing strictly audio, or video as well, and several other factors. To make matters worse, it’s always a moving target. By the time you read this, new versions of the software could be in release making my preceeding statement obsolete!

PC or Mac?

Even if you’re not using a computer for DJing, you’re probably using one to read this article. What kind is it? What kind are you most comfortable with? Are you willing to switch platforms, in order to DJ? I’m such a fan of computer-based DJing that I recommend having an identical backup laptop, should your computer crash (and don’t believe the hype, Macs crash, too). Sure, you could lug CDs around for backup, but you’ve lost the convenience that most of us made the switch for in the first place. Let’s say you decide on a Mac. While they’re significantly more expensive than PCs (they’re made by ONE company, Apple, while PCs are made by several, who have to compete with each other as well as with Apple), they’re excellent machines. And, you can partition via BootCamp, or run a program called Parallels, and install Windows on your Mac, if you want, and have the best of both worlds. The main reason this is possible is because Apple now uses Intel processors, which are the same ones used in most PCs. On one hand, this is great, on the other hand it’s now very easy to compare a Mac to a PC in processing power, storage space and memory… and once you do that, you’ll find that Macs are a lot more expensive for the same specifications. With Macs, the choices are limited – there are usually less than 6 models of Mac laptops available at any given time. With Windows PCs, there are HUNDREDS of different choices. But Macs are cool, easier to shop for, and more expensive compared to Windows PCs. If, like me, you’re going to want TWO identical machines, Mac’s appeal begins to take a backseat to the more practical appeal that I can buy two (sometimes more) quality PCs for what I’d be paying for one Macbook Pro.

How to determine which PC to buy:

Again, start with the specifications from the software’s webite, and meet or EXCEED them. The good news: audio DJing isn’t processor intensive by today’s standards, and most new laptops will do a pretty good job for you, right off the shelf. If you have a brand loyalty, fine. I like HP, while others hate HP. Intel processors tend to work better than AMD processors, so I stick with them, even though going AMD might save you money. Hard drive space isn’t especially expensive, and I recommend going at least 500 Gig and storing your music collection on the internal hard drive. While you could store your music library on external hard drives, or even “the cloud”, I find having it locally, internally, is a convenience and level of security I don’t want to do without. If you’re planning to VJ (music video mixing), take another look and realize you’ll need a more powerful computer for this, and specifications you might not care about for just audio, you’ll need to care about for the best results in video mixing, such as: having a dedicated video memory card. As of this writing, you may still be able to get a Windows laptop with a 32 bit processor, which will work fine for audio, but video works MUCH better with a 64 bit processor. I recommend 512 Meg or better dedicated video card (1 Gig isn’t hard to find), and I prefer ATI over NVIDIA, but others may differ. Oddly enough, I prefer the Intel i3 processor over the i5 or i7 (both of which are supposed to be better). I’ve had better results with Virtual D.J. with the i3.

The Bottom Line:

1) Do your research and determine, as best you can, what you want – driven by software and your preferences.

2) Find the deal you’re looking for. With more competition on the PC side, you’re much more likely to find deals on PC laptops, but Mac deals pop up, as well. I recommend keeping an eye on<>, or<>, as well as the Sunday ads, and simply visiting local computer retailers.

Now, the controversial suggestion:

3) [and this is important] BEFORE you buy, find out what the return policy is where you’re planning to buy. Let’s say you have 14 days, with no restocking fee (which is a good policy – watch out for restocking fees). BUY that machine, take it home, set it up, install your DJ software, and then… BEAT THAT MACHINE UP! I don’t mean physically, but functionally, via your software. Load up as many tracks as you can, scratch, beat juggle, go NUTS! TRY to crash it! Doing video? Load up videos and see what your CPU usage is like. Is your picture and sound quality good, or does it start to break up, when you hit it this hard? And do this WITHOUT changing anything, or deleting anything, or turning off anything… see how well it works OUT OF THE BOX. It won’t take long to realize either a) this machine does what you need it to do (and if you’re like me, you’ll order another one), or b) you’re not happy with it. TAKE IT BACK, and try another machine. THIS is how I wound up sending back an i5 that gave me audio glitching, in favor of an i3 (a step DOWN) that works flawlessly to this very day. I cannot explain why this is true, but it is. This is why I make this recommendation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people post about how they bought this machine or that machine for a great sale price, and it isn’t working well for them, but they’re going to MAKE IT WORK. Then, out comes the list of things to try (turn off networking, etc.) simply to get audio that doesn’t glitch. If the average laptop lasts 3 to 5 years, don’t you want something that works right from day one, instead of “workarounds” and “fixes” for all that time?


Steve Sharp Steve Sharp (15 Posts)

Steve Sharp is a veteran of mobile, clubs, and radio in Southern California. He’s driven to deliver for his clients, both his private clients, and business clients, which also include representative stints for D.J. manufacturers, such as Hercules, Denon, and Virtual D.J.

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