You knew the time would come, your dj laptop is getting slow, the screen won’t shut anymore, the WI-FI connection drops more than it should, there are vibrating noises that shouldn’t be happening and you’re at the end of your 2nd batteries life. Technology is jumping further and further ahead making your computers start up procedure feel like you’re in quicksand.
Being in this situation is bitter sweet! You love your computer, it’s been with you for years and is your friend. You don’t want to say goodbye, but on the other hand, you’re getting a new computer!! Awesome, how exciting! But then what about moving all your files and which computer do I get? Yes, as I say, it’ bitter sweet, but a guaranteed process at some point nonetheless. In this article I will be guiding you through some minefields of buying a new Mac laptop, or notebook as they have started calling them in recent years. Although the article leans towards Apple, it still contains some important considerations for those PC shoppers out there.
Where to Start when shopping for a new Computer?
There are a number of factors to consider when buying a new computer, the most important categories I feel (in no particular order)are:
- Screen size
- Storage and
- Connectivity (ie. what ports does it have?)
These are all important, but it is likely that one of these categories is more important to you than the other. They all overlap in some way, but getting them in order of importance is key. Then of course one has to consider the price, at which point you may need to scrap all your calculations and start again!
How would you use your DJ Laptop?
In other words, what will the machines most important task be? – As many of you reading this are DJ’s it is likely that playing music to a room full of people is the answer to that question. All the other stuff, takes a back seat for now. So what tasks are under the umbrella of ‘playing to a room full of people’? You are going to be:
- storing files,
- moving files,
- connecting audio interfaces and controllers and
- carrying your computer around quite a bit.
You are most likely going to be installing Traktor aswell, so maybe the first thing to do, is check the system requirements to make sure you at least have those bases covered. If we take a look at the Native Instruments website we see the following minimum requirements for Traktor 2.6 software.
We are focusing on the Mac right now, so hold those specs in the back of your mind, most computers these days should have those specs, but it is always safest to check and make sure. (NB:If you are wanting to produce music, using Ableton, Logic, Reason or any other DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) it is wise to check their specs too as they may be higher than Traktors requirements.)
Researching your new machine
Now you know your minimum requirements for the software you want to run, we can get stuck in to the good stuff (without forgetting about the 5 categories from the start of the article).
As this is for DJ’ing and will be travelling a lot; the weight and size are very important. DJ’s often have a great deal of gear to cart around, so making it as compact and lightweight as possible will be a noticeable benefit. The smallest and lightest would obviously be the Air 11″, weighing in at a mere 2.38lbs or 1.08kg, it would not be much of a burden in your DJ bag and would be fantastic for using on plane journeys, busses, in the car or even to just whip out in a coffee shop. You may even be able to fit it in a large jacket pocket as it’s under a footlong and only 7.5 inches wide. If you wanted to add 2 inches of screen real estate with the 13″ Air, you would only be piling on an extra half a pound (0.27kg) This extra weight is hardly going to put your back out and the larger screen opens up the possibility of putting the computer that little further away from your DJ position should the DJ booth be a little awkward and demanding, not to mention being more suited towards more screen hungry applications.
The Air’s, as standard, do come with a slightly small hard drive size, starting at 64 and 128 GB, but with the options to upgrade at a cost. Hard drive size is important, but some money could be saved if you were willing to store music on an external drive. I have the luxury of having my desktop computer and some external drives for the lions share of the data, so my laptop wouldn’t need to hold everything. In this case the 128GB flash drive would be a comfortable size, but would not leave much room for expansion. Figuring out the minimum hard drive size is my foundation in this exercise. Using your current hard drive size as a guideline is a good place to start, but if you are planning on streamlining and using your new computer for DJ stuff only, then just knowing the size of your music folder will suffice (not forgetting to leave room for all the operating system and apps). Many people have HUGE music libraries but obviously you’re never going to play all the music in one night out, so consider organizing your libraries, pruning your collection and maximising your capacity by changing the content of your hard drive now and again.
If, like me, you do move large files about now and again (or lots of files such as music), you might not like the fact that the Air’s are not sporting an ethernet port or a firewire port either. They do however come fitted with a thunderbolt port and the new USB 3 ports.
USB 3 Ports
These ports on the new Macs at first offered me a little concern; will my USB 2 cables and devices work? The answer is yes, all USB 2 devices will connect to the USB 3 ports, however, they will continue to operate at the USB 2 transfer rate of 480 Mbps. The new USB 3 ports are said to transfer at a rate of 5 Gbps per second, which is a huge jump in transfer rate. The devices that utilize this functionality will have different connectors on the device end than the USB 2 counterpart. As all traktor devices are currently USB 2, there is nothing to gain from, or worry about, with these USB 3 ports.
MacBook Pro – Retina
The Retina display models also all come with Solid State Hard Drives, which would speed things up a little, this also reflects rather heavily in the pricing structure. Neither do they have the matching requirements for screen resolution. The Retina Display has been causing some issues for some people as it is making many programs and apps look very pixelated as many companies have not yet updated their software to function at such high resolution. Traktor certainly works and looks fine on the new retina displays, but it has not been given the new makeover treatment yet. (if any readers are using this we would love to hear your views in the comments below or forum) Admittedly a high screen resolution would be sweet to see in Traktor, but it certainly isn’t necessary. The entry level price for the Retina Pros is $1699US / £1449GBR, which I feel is a little too high at this stage of the game, especially when it means you get no ethernet or firewire port. One thing to watch going forward though is, the power cable, known as magsafe adaptor. This has changed too, so be sure you always have yours with you and the days of borrowing the other guys’ may be changing). For a few reasons I state here, the retina option is out of the equation, at least for me, for now. That is not to say it’s not amazing machine, it’s just beyond what I need to fulfil my requirements.
Switching our attention then to the non-retina version we are greeted with a $500/£450 cheaper price tag, we get our ethernet and firewire ports back, our original magsafe adaptor and a 500GB Hard Drive. We do loose 4GB of RAM, but unlike the Airs, we are able to upgrade the Pros at a later date, with after market RAM. 4GB can be picked up pretty cheap these days if you shop around, but Apple even offer it at a reasonable $100/£80. The only issue that is puzzling me here is the weight. If you are hoping to drop the weight, then plumping for this model isnt going to be your favourite choice. We have quite a porker on the scales at 4.5lbs. That 2.12 lbs heavier than the 11″ Air and 1.54lbs more than the 13″ Air. It is even a shade heavier than the 15″ retina Macbook Pro who slips in under the mark at 4.46lbs. So this brings us back to our 5 selection criteria. What is more important to you? Maybe we should look at the speeds…..
Bench Mark Test
Geekbench is a speed tester that is used to benchmark computer speeds so that they may be compared to one another. It will quickly and accurately measure processor and memory performance of your computer and is available for download from Primatelabs. The following tests have been completed by Primatelabs and tell us how the various models compare.
If we look at the i5 chipset (there is an i7 option that adds more cost), the 13″ Pro scores faster than the 13″ Air, but not by much. Is the performance worth the extra weight? They are both carrying 4GB of ram and they are both the same price. Both are upgradable to 8GB of ram (the Air only at time of purchase), so they can achieve faster. If you went with the Pro and over time found it being left behind, you could later upgrade the hard drive to a solid state drive, which would increase the speeds for you. I would probably say though as technology improves, instead of making adjustments to your existing computer you may just change it out for new one anyway, so choosing the Pro for the possibility of upgrading it later, may not be the best path. You could add 8GB of ram to the Air at time of purchase for $100/£80 and you’ll likely have better performance from the start. If that’s your choice, then you have saved the weight, you’ve got the power, but you’re lacking in certain connectivity possibilities and hard drive space.
I decided to run a geekbench test on my current DJ computer to see how it compared to the newer models. I have a 2006 2.33Ghz intel Macbook Pro, running with its ram at maximum capacity of 3GB. I know that my current computer can run Traktor 2.6, with an F1, S4 and
Audio 8 connected to it, whilst also running a screen recording application for tutorials and recording the audio in Traktor. The latency is great, but I know when I push it with some effects I am starting to get a few hiccups. The CPU meter is showing pretty full. So I was nicely surprised to know that my Geekbench score was 3183; almost half of the new computer. This means, that any of the computers mentioned in the article will manage what you need, even the Macbook Air 11″ fires out a score of 5436.
This is no easy race, there are many things to consider. As Native instruments ‘recommends’ 4GB of ram, I am confident that all the Apple computers will run Traktor comfortably, which brings the decision down to weight, screen size and connectivity. The connectivity issue can be fixed by a couple of adaptors, which is fine so long as you don’t mind swallowing the cost of those (approx $30/£25 each). The 13″ Air has an SD card slot, something the 11″ does not. I am thinking that the 11″ is lacking in screen real estate, although the portability is very appealing. I feel that after looking at it from all angles there is one option that takes the middle ground here in somewhat achieving all goals: the MacBook Air 13″ with 8GB ram. It cuts down on your weight, it offers you speed, it’s screen size is decent and 128GB hard drive is big enough for any DJ, so long as your main record collection is kept on an external. After all, we never used to take all our vinyl to the club!
Do you use any of the computers mentioned here? We’d love to know some pros and cons, tell us your experiences and help other Traktor users with their Traktor experiences.
- I also have some advice for buying and selling used Traktor Gear
- Thinking of buying a powered USB Hub – Here’s my recommendation.
- Check out the mini review from Mark Settle over on DJ Worx for his opinions on the new retina pros.