Table of Contents
- Difference DJ and music production
- Mac vs PC
- Graphics card
- Display and resolution
- Battery life
When I was a IT student I worked at a computer store.
Later I got into DJing.
From this combined experience I wrote this article on how to choose your DJ laptop.
Difference DJ and music production
Computers for DJing and music production are vastly different computers.
Music-production-software and live-performance-software are basically the same thing.
This is software like: Studio One, Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic.
Music-production-software requires a lot of system resources.
DJ software is software like: Rekordbox, Serato, Virtual DJ.
DJ software requires less system resources.
In my article about the difference between DJing and music production I’ll explain the differences in detail.
How much system resources each DJ software uses, you can find in my article about the best DJ software.
Mac vs PC
A lot of DJs use Macs for their gigs.
What I like about Apple is that things are easy to operate.
Things just work.
If they work …
Because that is a big issue with Apple.
And Apple’s service is abysmal if you need it (which you will).
Both Mac and PCs offer a full feature set for DJs.
So, it is up to your personal preference what you like.
Generally PCs are a lot cheaper and easier to repair.
In my article on Mac VS PC for DJing I dive deeper into all the up and and downsides of using Apple and Windows computers.
Including my own experiences with my iPhones, iPads, Macbooks and Macs.
A Chromebook is an absolute NO-GO for DJing.
Most Chromebooks hugely underpowered.
But even more important than that: no DJ app supports the Chromebook OS!
You can choose a Windows Home or Pro version.
For DJs, the Home version is enough.
The Pro version has support for domains and remote desktop (which you probably don’t need).
I’ve been using the Home version for years for DJing without any problems or need to upgrade.
There is also a S-version (stands for Secure) that only allows apps from Microsofts App Store.
You can disable this in the App-store, which you should in order to be able to install your DJ app.
The processor (or CPU – Central Processing Unit) is the calculating component of your computer.
Your computer is in basic one giant calculator and the CPU is at the heart of it.
Together with RAM (memory) and storage, the processor is a key component to determine how fast your computer is.
Each year new processors are released.
Each year processors getting faster.
Core count is used in a lot of marketing material to show how fast a CPU is.
While that is true, 4 cores is more than enough for DJing.
DJ software doesn’t take advantage of more cores.
- Intel Core 5, 5th gen or better
- Ryzen 5 3000 or better
- Apple M1 or better
Be aware that when you want to DJ with video, you will need more than this.
Also the software Serato “eats” more CPU than any other software
Read more about processors for DJing, it includes performance tests for the different DJ software.
The RAM (Random Access Memory) determines how much information it can load from storage in it’s memory for the processor to work on.
So the more information (=more memory) it can load at once, the faster the computer is.
4GB of RAM is often enough, except for Serato (8GB or 16GB).
You also need more memory when you want to use video.
Make sure to choose a computer where you can actually expand the memory later.
Some Windows laptops and all Mac laptops have integrated memory which isn’t expandable.
If that is the case: choose twice the amount of memory you think you will need.
Read more about memory for DJing, it includes performance tests for the different DJ software.
The amount of storage determines how much you can save on your computer.
For DJs, this means: your DJ software and your music.
How much do you need?
High quality .MP3 files take up roughly 2MB per minute.
.WAV and .AIFF files about 10MB per minute.
Let’s say you have 2500 .WAV files, you need 2500 x 10 = 25000 MB (=roughly 25 GB).
Let’s say your DJ software takes up 15GB.
Let’s say 30GB for Windows or MacOS.
And you need 20% free capacity on an SSD to function properly.
As you can see, 128 GB storage capacity is very meager.
I would advice 500GB if you want to do other things with your computer as well.
The graphics card is responsible for the image on your monitor, often referred to as GPU.
(Technically the GPU is the CPU on a graphics card).
A graphics card can take some load of your CPU to display graphics on your monitor.
But it depends on your DJ software if (and how much) it takes advantage of the capabilities of a graphics card.
When you use visuals (which are 3D rendered) or video (video codecs are often handled by the graphics card), you need to have a proper graphics card.
It it still not super intensive like video editing or gaming, but it can take some toll on the graphics card.
Other than visuals and video, the graphics doesn’t have to be that advanced, generally speaking: DJ software isn’t graphically intensive.
Integrated graphics cards (which is the case for a lot of laptops) don’t have dedicated memory.
They share memory with your internal memory.
Take this into account when choosing memory, especially when you can’t expand later.
A Nvidia or AMD graphics card with 2GB of memory is generally enough.
I hear nobody talking about this, I don’t understand why.
Processors and other computer components can become very hot.
DJ laptops are used in warm environments like clubs.
To protect the hardware from overheating, manufacturers slow down or shut down the computer automatically!
You don’t want this to happen during your DJ gig!
Go for active cooling, instead of passive cooling.
Active cooling = spinning fans
Passive cooling = no spinning fans.
Passive cooling is not enough!
You need to let your computer cool down after working with it for a couple of minutes.
Especially Apple (MacBook Air, iPad) has the tendency to make passively cooled laptops.
Even actively cooled laptops often under perform, due bad thermal design and bad fan configuration (kick in too late or at a too low speed).
Which results in warped and sometimes fried motherboards (see Google).
Actively cooled computer are always faster.
But the downside of active cooling is the added fan noise (which you won’t hear in a club).
The rule of thumb for thermals is:
The smaller the laptop, the worse the heat dissipation is.
The smaller the laptop, the more likely it is to have passive cooling.
Display and resolution
I would advice a 15″ screen, but larger is preferred.
The bigger the screen size, the more you can read comfortably.
Although most software can increase font size, it always it at the expense of usability.
I would advice a monitor with a resolution of at least 1280×720.
Below this resolution, you will run into problems that buttons “fall off” the display, which is very annoying.
A lot of DJs use their laptop battery to perform a gig.
I would highly advice against that for 2 reasons:
Laptops running on battery run in battery-saving-mode, not performance-mode.
This can lead to audio stutters.
You can run out of juice during your gig.
This interrupts your flow, and you are distracted.
You have to search for a power outlet and the AC adapter in the heat of the moment.
Some software like Rekordbox have a battery indicator, which is very convenient.
The marketed battery life (10 hours, 20 hours) is always measured in the most optimal situations.
These situations are typing in a Word document, not operating DJ software.
DJ software drains the battery quicker than Word.
The 20 hour battery life is measured when the battery was new.
With every charge you destroy your battery a little bit.
It can hold less charge next time.
Especially Apple is always very “optimistic” with their battery life.
Translation: about 50-70% of the advertised battery could be a real world scenario.
DJ booths can be cramped places with a lot of cables.
If you can raise your laptop a little bit, it is closer to your eyes and takes up less space in the booth.
On top of that: a raised laptop is easier to cool.
More airflow can reach your hot laptop parts easier.
Meaning, you will have a more performant laptop.
A laptop stand is not a necessity, but a nice-to-have.
But you have to haul that stand with you every time you do a gig.
Most laptops have a plastic shell, but there are some laptops that have metal (aluminium) housing.
Metal is stronger than plastic.
It can take a hit if need be.
This is best when playing DJ gigs.
Your laptop is your work horse.
Constantly packing up and loading in your laptop will result in some damage some time.
Some Apple laptops have metal housing and some Asus laptops.
Also the Dell XPS laptops have Aluminium housing, but XPS laptops are not good for music production because of lag.
Clubs and festivals can be very dark places.
It can be very hard to see what you are typing.
Having a backlit keyword makes all the difference in the world!
Not all keyboards are backlit, often only the more expensive laptops/keyboards.
Most laptops and desktop computers have integrated sound cards.
Compared to a few years ago, the quality is good (not amazing, but often good enough).
If you can weird audio artifacts when you move your mouse or when something is loading from storage, your audio isn’t separated properly on your motherboard from other components.
When this happens you need an external audio interface (=sound card).
When a club needs an XLR connection, you need an external sound card.
When a club needs a mini-jack connection, you can plug it into your laptop directly.
When you need a mini-jack connection, make sure that your laptop has one.
Apple for example has the tendency to remove them for devices.
Luckily WIFI is standard nowadays on laptops for streaming.
Personally, I think that DJ streaming is stupid.
But USB connections is a bit tricky.
If you have USB connected hardware (like a DJ controller), make sure your laptop has the same connection.
A lot of DJ controllers have USB-A connections, while some laptops (read: Apple laptops) have only USB-C connections.
Modern DJ controllers can be connected via Bluetooth (also often standard), but this introduces latency.
This also means that your controller needs to have a battery inside or an external power source.
The battery can go empty, which is another downside to working with bluetooth.
If you want to use streaming services (like Tidal for example), you also need to have a working internet connection.
A USB dongle from your phone provider can solve this.
I wouldn’t rely on WIFI too much, it can be very spotty in a place with a lot of cellphones (read: a club or festival).
Cheap laptops nowadays are in a large part sponsored by software producers.
So cheap laptops come installed with a ton of bloatware you don’t need.
Especially brands like Acer and Lenovo are notorious for these “shady” practices.
Apple on the other hand comes bloatware-free.
It’s up to you to install the bloatware 😉
- Lenovo Thinkpad
Brands to avoid
All brands have bad and good models.
From experience (by working in a computer store) I can name some brand you have to be careful with:
- Lenovo (except: Thinkpad)
- Dell XPS (because of known audio lag/stutter issues)
This has mainly to do with (build) quality and longevity.