Rackmount vs. Laptop

January 9, 2012 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer


Electronic DJing (EDJ) has evolved into an integral part of the modern DJ performance. The technology is developing at the speed of light; new hardware with advance capabilities is being introduced by all the major manufacturers on a regular basis. Software companies are constantly updating their products to keep pace with the new hardware. Almost all new EDJ products now have a computer interface to increased functionality. My 45 years as a disc jockey and electronics engineer have taught me much about our industry and its technology. I hope to share this knowledge with you. Take USB 2.0 as an example of change. It has become the standard EDJ hardware to computer interface. However the limitations of USB 2.0 have been reached, and a new USB 3.0 is available for use. Faster and with higher power ability, USB 3.0 is just one example of the continually advancing computer industry. There is also a SATA600 for faster disk access. Are you going to be ready for the new technology?140-100


The majority of EDJ’s use a Laptop for all their entertainment and control applications. Laptops are small, very portable and self-contained. Just plug-and-play. Unfortunately, laptops have an inherent problem limiting their flexibility when it’s time to advance the technology. It is very difficult to “upgrade” a laptop and many come with a lot of bundled software that can interfere with EDJ functions and operation. Common upgrades are adding more memory or the installation of externally USB devices. All this puts additional stress on the power supply by increasing the thermal properties of the unit. Laptop cooling pads are now becoming a required piece of equipment to maintain operation.
Most low to medium-priced laptop have a slower, 500GB hard drives and “shared” video memory for limited external screen resolution.

Laptop CPUs are designed for minimum power usage and not performance. Just remember that loading on more functions, memory, video, HD speed and USB devices requires more power. Power also produces more heat. In addition, different audio, video and karaoke formats require various amounts of computing power to translate and convert.

There is no question that the portability, along with ease of use and set up are the main reasons why most EDJ’s prefer a laptop computer, seeing the only alternative being a typical tower-style home PC, which would never make it on the road. But wait, there is a more powerful alternative!

Rackmount computers can be configured and modified to adapt to any performance requirement, while maintaining an upgrade path as technology develops. I’ve been using a 2U rackmount computer for six years. Each year I may “rebuild”
the entire system to keep current. I can changes motherboards, CPU, memory, video card, disk storage and other functions as newer and better components become available. I keep the case and change the components.
This level of workmanship does require more than basic computer knowledge, but it?s not beyond the capability of many EDJs. I currently have 4TB of removable RAID* One disk storage, two 1-GB video cards, DVD burner/player, wi-fi, 12 GB of RAM (64 Bit OS), 500W power supply, illuminated wireless keyboard/mouse, USB 3.0, fans and a shock mount chassis.

All of this is prewired in a single case that also includes a mixer, CD/DVD/CD+G player (backup), Hercules RMX controller, two wireless microphones, power conditioner and monitor holder. I can reconfigure my system any time I wish. And the best part is that no one can pick it up and walk away with it!

Here are some typical laptop and rackmount configurations and their cost.

The rackmount system is custom-built and designed for maximum performance, but it can be configured at a reduced cost by using more economical components. A less expensive version may cost about $600 to build (no keyboard or monitor). The main advantage of a rack system is the ability to change and upgrade as technology advances. The case itself can be used again while the boards and card are replaced.


Using Virtual DJ (Ver. 7.0.5b) software as a test bed in Four Player mode, for the Rackmount High Performance system, I discovered that there is no noticeable performance impact decoding any audio, video or karaoke formats, or while loading VERY large video files from disk. On the other hand, the Performance Laptop did show signs of slow video and MP3 loading but continued to output quality audio and video signals. The Low Cost Laptop did not perform well in the Four Player Mode and was limited in the two player mode. There was “stoppage” in the video output due to the slow disk and CPU speed, but none with the audio. Large files will always cause slower loading time.


If you are a serious EDJ who insists on providing your clients with the best performance and reliability for Music, video and karaoke, then a rackmount system is the way to go. The higher capabilities of a top-quality system will only enhance your show. You will be able to add games, graphics, PowerPoint, internet music/video search, audio/video recordings, cameras and DMX lighting controls, not to mention a full-size keyboard and monitor to your system without impacting your show.
And I’ll mention it again: This system is NOT something that a person can pick up and walk away with.
If a rackmount system is beyond your budget or personal capabilities, make sure to purchase a high-end laptop that will serve you for a long time. A good one should work well for 3-4 years before advancements make it “outdated.”

I STRONGLY RECOMMEND that all EDJs stay away from the low cost laptops just to save a dollar. It is not worth the problems. There is a lot more that can be said about EDJing and the systems we use. In future articles, I will be addressing many issues confronting computer music users and how to make systems run better and easier. MB

* RAID = “redundant array of independent disks”

Mobile Beat Staff Writer (371 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.

Filed Under: 2012, Digital DJing, Mobile DJ Performance Tips, Sound Engineering for Mobile DJs