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ASUS K501UW-AB78

Best Budget Laptop

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Best Budget Windows Laptop For Recording

ASUS K501UW-AB78


If you need a great laptop for audio production, the ASUS K501UW-AB78 is the one to get. With the ability to max out the RAM and add an extra SSD, this i7 (Sky Lake) laptop will grow with you and your audio production skills. It has enough power to handle almost anything you can throw at it in a home studio environment.


If price is an issue, there are several laptops under a thousand dollars that will do the job, as long as you take some precautions.

There was a time when my daughter and I could share my computer for recording. Now that she has the bug and spends considerably more time working on music, it was time to get her a laptop for herself.

Home recording

Navigating the Maze of Budget Laptops

When you’re talking budget laptops, some of the reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. There aren’t many up-to-date budget laptop articles with the home recording enthusiast in mind – in fact most of the search results on Google (at the time of writing) are over five years old!

What Makes a Great Budget Laptop For Audio Production?

First we want reliability more than anything. Our picks, listed below, generally have 4 stars or higher on Amazon, and glowing reviews by publications that benchmark laptops for a living.

Second, we have certain tech specs we’ll need to meet. These can be gleaned from the technical requirements of most DAWs and other production software.

Here’s our tech requirements:

  • Solid state drive (SSD).
  • 8GB RAM or more.
  • USB 3.0 ports.
  • Intel i5 or i7 CPU (processor)

If you can find a budget machine which meets all these, it will be able to handle pretty much anything you throw at it.

What Kind Of Sound Card Should It Have?

It doesn’t matter.

Since you’ll probably be using a USB digital audio interface for recording and production, that becomes your sound card. So don’t be too concerned with the onboard audio, unless you have something else you’re using it for besides music production or recording.

In mid-2016, our base models will not have Thunderbolt connectors, but we expect in another year they all will be equipped with the famed super fast connector. Don’t let that bum you out: tons of great albums and recordings have been done on laptops without it.

Budget Laptop Buying Strategy

If budget is your primary limitation, focus on getting the fastest processor you can afford. Why? The processor is generally impossible to upgrade. However, RAM and storage can be upgraded pretty easy.

Our Pick

Our pick is a perfect example of the aforementioned buying strategy.

The Asus K501UW has the Intel Skylake i7 dual core processor. It ships with 8GB RAM, which is the bare minimum for most DAWs. You can upgrade to 16GB RAM by dropping in another 8GB. The extra memory will set you back about 30 bucks.

There’s an empty bay inside which allows you to add an additional drive. According to ASUS, the correct HDD to fit in that bay is a 2.5″ 7mm SATA HDD or a 2.5″ 5mm SATA HDD. You can get a great one for 75 bucks or less on Amazon.

For even faster drive performance, Put a SSD in that extra bay. Any of these ones are great..

This way your software, and DAW can run on the 256GB SSD for maximum performance, and you can use the extra hard disk drive for storage, samples, and so on.

It’s less than an inch thick, weighs 4.4 pounds, has 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and an HDMI connector for attaching an external monitor.

User Reviews

With around 500 reviews on Amazon alone, the ASUS K501UW-AB78 has a solid 4 star rating.

An engineering student reviewed the laptop and had this to say:

“The performance is nothing short of amazing. I routinely run applications such as AutoCAD, Inventor, and Overwatch and the machine has yet to give me any rough patches in performance. For reference, I run Overwatch at medium to high settings with consistent 60 FPS. The CPU and GPU along with the 8 GB of DDR4 RAM will handle pretty much any computationally or graphically intensive task.”

There’s a bunch of other great user reviews here.

Conclusion

In the budget category, there’s always going to be an Achille’s heel of some sort. With a recording laptop, the main concerns you need to address are RAM, Drive Speed, and Processor Speed. Our pick comes with 8GB RAM, which is the bare minimum suggested for most DAWS. If you would like to upgrade it after awhile, this RAM from Kingston is only $40. If you are nervous about putting in your own RAM, you can probably get a friend who is computer savvy to upgrade it for you.

Our pick is well under a thousand dollars, but you can upgrade the RAM and even add an additional SSD via the extra bay. You get the latest, fastest Intel Skylake processor, and the reviews for the laptop are solid. For these reasons, without question, the ASUS K501UW is the one I would buy if I needed to stay well under a thousand dollars.

If you need more USB ports, check out our picks for best USB hub for audio production, our favorite $100 studio headphones, and digital audio workstations.


 

Note: If price is not a factor, and you just want the best, check out our pick for Best Laptop For Music Production.


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Best Budget Windows Laptop For Recording

ASUS K501UW-AB78

Best Budget Windows Laptop For Recording

Important Specs

Processor Intel Core i7-6500U 2.5GHz (Turbo up to 3.1GHz). Skylake
RAM 8GB, expandable to 16 GB
SSD 512GB (with empty bay for additional drive)
OS Windows 10
USB Ports 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
Display 15.6 inches Matte FHD. 1920 by 1080 resolution.
HDMI Yes
Weight 4.4 lbs
more specs

Synopsis:

Our pick is well under a thousand dollars, but you can upgrade the RAM and even add an additional SSD via the extra bay. You get the latest, fastest Intel Skylake processor, and the reviews for the laptop are solid. For these reasons, without question, the ASUS K501UW-AB78 is the one I would buy if I needed to stay well under a thousand dollars.

Acer Aspire V 15 V3-575T-7008

Rock Bottom Price Pick

Acer Aspire V 15 V3-575T-7008

This is significantly less expensive than our other picks. This is because you will eventually want to upgrade a few things: switch the HDD to SSD, and upgrade the RAM. However, the CPU is the latest Intel i7 Skylake one. So you will have plenty of power.

Toshiba Satellite C55

Great Tech Specs

Toshiba Satellite C55

This is a really great deal for a laptop with great specs for recording and mixing. User reviews tend to complain about the keyboard, and how it is slightly thicker than the current crop of laptops. If it is primarily your studio laptop, and you maybe just take it to other rooms in your house to mix, this would definitely be the laptop to get on a budget.

- M

Sources

  1. Michael A. Prospero, Laptop Reviews, 20140508
    Acer Aspire E1-510P (2014) Review
    “Available for less than $500, the Acer Aspire E1-510P is a solid budget Windows 8.1 notebook …”
  2. Forum User, Gearslutz.com, 20130912
    Need laptop for recording music
    “I bought a cheap laptop for grins, just to have a simple portable rig. Less than $400. An Acer Aspire 5750-6461. Much to my surprise I’m doing most of my tracking with this thing now. Didn’t plan it that way to be honest with you. One of the best things that ever happened to me by accident. I bought an Aspire specifically because I’d always had great experiences with them when I worked in the communications field. I liked that series because it doesn’t come with a bunch of bundled crap to hog system resources. Far easier to setup for audio than a lot of other brands and models.”
  3. Nahoon, Amazon Review, 20170322
    Unbeatable Performance for this Price-Level (Engineering Student's Review)
    “The performance is nothing short of amazing. I routinely run applications such as AutoCAD, Inventor, and Overwatch and the machine has yet to give me any rough patches in performance. For reference, I run Overwatch at medium to high settings with consistent 60 FPS. The CPU and GPU along with the 8 GB of DDR4 RAM will handle pretty much any computationally or graphically intensive task.”
Originally published: August 25th, 2014
  • kelleyclark47

    I see your daughter has a good set up there. We are just trying to get my son set up the same way. He doesn’t have any equipment now. What items would you recommend we start with? I can’t tell what your daughter has. Thanks!

    • mscgr

      Hi Kelley! As far as laptops go, you can get something in the $500-$600 range as shown in the guide above. My daughter also has a $100 microphone that she gets great sound from, which is our pick here: http://mscgr.com/best-budget-large-diaphragm-condenser-mic-211238444

      Then you’ll need a device to connect the microphone to the computer. This is called an audio interface, I would recommend the one listed here, of course:

      http://mscgr.com/best-usb-digital-audio-interface-28154722

      If you want to play virtual instruments, he’ll need a midi controller. My faves are listed here:

      http://mscgr.com/best-midi-keyboard-controllers-090929874

      With those three things you can do a lot. You’ll just need to get some software to record into. My daughter uses and loves Reaper (very inexpensive), but the Audio Interface mentioned above comes with some recording software called Ableton Live Lite, which is absolutely great.

      You’ll also need to grab a mic cable or two, some headphones, maybe a mic stand and pop filter.

      Hope that helps. Happy recording!

  • Eirik Nelson

    I’ll preface my question by saying that I know very little about the inner workings of a computer. My 12 year old is a talented musician and wants a laptop for recording and editing programs. You recommend the 4th generation Intel Core processor. Why is this better than others? I found a similar laptop with the 2.16GHz Intel Celeron N2830 Dual-Core Processor, for example. Thanks in advance!

    • Don Makoviney

      Eirik,
      Since I don’t know what kind of music your 12-year old is going to record or mix, I’ll run under some assumptions, and you can go from there. For recording a guitar, or piano, it should be fine. But if your child wants to add virtual instruments, say, some strings, or synths, or a drum program you will start to hit the limits of your processor rather quickly. On top of that, mixing down (or rendering) your projects will also see the processor struggle.

      The limits will manifest themselves in: skipping or jittering while recording, latency (delay between the instrument being played, and when it’s recorded to disk). I have an Intel i3 processor that is quite dated, but more powerful than a Celeron, and when it struggles I get odd clicks a stutters while mixing down.

      The Celerons are designed to be used in lower cost, entry level computers. They have significantly less (or no) L2 cache, and a lot of the higher performance features are disabled.

      Other than, perhaps, a simple acoustic guitar and vocals demo, your processor will start hitting limits pretty early on.

      Hope that helps!

    • Eirik,

      Since I don’t know what kind of music your 12-year old is going to record or mix, I’ll run under some assumptions, and you can go from there. For recording a guitar, or piano, it should be fine. But if your child wants to add virtual instruments, say, some strings, or synths, or a drum program you will start to hit the limits of your processor rather quickly. On top of that, mixing down (or rendering) your projects will also see the processor struggle.

      The limits will manifest themselves in: skipping or jittering while recording, latency (delay between the instrument being played, and when it’s recorded to disk). I have an Intel i3 processor that is quite dated, but more powerful than a Celeron, and when it struggles I get odd clicks a stutters while mixing down.

      The Celerons are designed to be used in lower cost, entry level computers. They have significantly less (or no) L2 cache, and a lot of the higher performance features are disabled.

      Other than, perhaps, a simple acoustic guitar and vocals demo, your processor will start hitting limits pretty early on.

      Hope that helps!

      • Eirik Nelson

        Well, he’s a drummer, and we have a few guitarists in the family as well. However, I think much of what he intends to do is compose with electronic programs, drum machines, synths, etc.

        • Yeah, if that is the case then I would suggest figuring out what DAW he is going to use, then at least make sure the laptop you ultimately decide on has, at the very least, the minimum requirements that DAW requires.

  • Ahmonster

    I wanted to know what you think about the HP Probook 455, I’m still learning music production and my current laptop is and HP Elitebook 8540w. it did the job but wasn’t super fast, until it was dropped by accident now it overheats and shuts off. Today I found a new HP Probook 455 15.6″ on sale (last day) with Windows 10 64 bit AMD A10-8700 APU 1.8GHz to 3.2 GHz 2 MB cache Quad core Radeon R6 Graphics 16 GB DDR3L-1600 MHz Ram 1 TB Sata Hard Drive 7200 RPM HD Anti-Glare Led Backlit (1366×768) Display 2-3.0, 2-2.0 USB, HD Audio DTS Studio Sound. I bought it under $500. After reading up on it the only problem I kept finding was the DTS Audio distorts at higher volume, that may be the only thing I may need to change. What do you or anyone think about this HP? do you think I made a good buy?

    • mscgr

      Those specs look respectable, you should be enjoying that laptop well by now. Regarding the audio crackling, this should not be an issue once you get a digital audio interface, as that ends up becoming your soundcard anyways. Hope that helps! Let us know how it’s been working out for you. We haven’t had many HPs in the running for our favorites, so we’re always looking for contenders. Thanks for your comment.

      • Ahmonster

        The HP has not let me down, it handles all that I throw at it.The Soundcard wasn’t a big deal at all, all I had to do waa make sure to level out the audio EQ so the Monitors could do all the sound (of course with the Daw). If your new to music production, and researching on what laptop to use (like I was). HP will do the job for you and at a great price, I will always use HP for any work I do. One other thing you will see as a main problem to decide, which DAW Do I use. It’s not easy and you will see people always saying this or that is the best. The real truth is.. Whatever works best for you!! Try all the demo’s of every Daw out there, and then pick the one that works with your work flow and fits you. There really isn’t a top Daw that fits everyone, because no one’s work style are the same. So try them out and go with the one that works for you, and all will be great in the land of music production.

  • elektrokilla

    Hello i want to ask u cause i cannot find the ASUS K501UW-AB78 in uk there is a laptop in the same price range maybe newer i need it to oroduce music i normally use ableton and reason together and midi keyboard and launchpad!thanks

  • Katrina

    I’d like to echo the sentiment of elektrokilla below – I cannot find this laptop in the UK. I am so overwhelmed and bamboozled by all the information out there that it was refreshing to come across this article. But now frustrated that I can’t find the model, and not computer savvy enough to work out the difference between other ASUS models and if they will be suitable for music recording, or if the model has been upgraded since your post. If you are aware of an upgrade/newer version of this model, your advice would be very much appreciated. Many thanks, and thanks for taking the time to write this article 🙂

    • Don Makoviney

      Hi Katrina! Thanks for the kind words.

      We are currently in the middle of a refresh of this guide. If I needed to get a new laptop for audio production right now, I would get the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW-US71 Our current budget choice doesn’t have Thunderbolt, but ZenBook Pro does. Most (and very soon all) new audio interfaces coming out are Thunderbolt, and most new Windows laptops coming out are now Thunderbolt-capable. I hope that helps, and stay-tuned, as this Guide will be updated shortly!

Important Specs

Processor Intel Core i7-6500U 2.5GHz (Turbo up to 3.1GHz). Skylake
RAM 8GB, expandable to 16 GB
SSD 512GB (with empty bay for additional drive)
OS Windows 10
USB Ports 2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0
Display 15.6 inches Matte FHD. 1920 by 1080 resolution.
HDMI Yes
Weight 4.4 lbs
more specs



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