Whether you are a seasoned music producer, looking to get mobile with your performance, or just starting out creating music on the computer, finding the best laptop for Ableton Live can help your creative process.
The first recorded music on a computer was on a Ferranti Mark 1, which was one of the first commercially available computers of its time. Nicknamed “The Baby,” this mainframe took up an entire room. In 1951, Christopher Strachey, a mathematics professor from Manchester, England, wrote a program that played a synthesized version of “God Save the Queen” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”
Computer generated music has come a long way since then. In the early 1980s, Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) revolutionized the way computers and synthesizers talked to each other, ushering in an age of computer-generated music.
In 2001, Ableton released Ableton Live. This software ushered in another revolution, pushing the envelope of music creation even further. It is now used around the world, helping artists create new music right on their computers.
Best Laptop for Ableton Live: What to Look For
Before we can talk about the best laptop for Ableton Live, you need to know what to look for. Here are a few things you need to know to find the best laptop for Ableton Live.
What is Ableton Live?
Ableton Live is software that allows you to create as well as perform music. This program includes music effects, sampling, instruments, and more.
What are the minimum specs for Ableton Live?
Ableton Live 10 runs on either Windows or Mac-based operating systems.
For Windows computers, the minimum specs for Ableton Live 10 are Windows 7, 8, or 10; a 64-bit Intel or AMD multi-core processor; and 4 Gigabytes (GB) of memory.
While these are the minimum specifications to run Ableton, the company recommends at least 8 GB of RAM and Intel Core i5 processor or faster.
To run Ableton on a Mac, you need OS X 10.11.6 or later with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better and at least 4 GB of RAM. However, Ableton recommends an Intel i5 processor or better as well as at least 8 GB or more of RAM.
What to consider when choosing a computer for Ableton Live?
Picking the best laptop for Ableton depends a lot having the right components as well as your personal preferences. When choosing the best laptop for Ableton, it is a good idea to determine your needs and budget. You should also take the time to learn what components are integral to your Ableton needs and why.
The central processing unit (CPU) is the brains of a computer. The CPU processes the data when you are editing tracks on Ableton. In general, you want to buy the most powerful processor your budget allows.
If you are buying a Mac, you will be choosing from a variety of Intel-based chips. Intel chips you can find in Mac laptops like the MacBook Pro and MacBook Pro Air are going to be Intel i5 and above. These processors will work well with Ableton.
If you want a PC laptop, you have more options, as you can find good laptops running Intel and AMD chips. What side you take in the Intel and AMD wars is up to you. If you are unsure which is better for your needs, check out Tech Radar’s guide to AMD vs. Intel.
In general, stick with an Intel i5 or above processor or an AMD Ryzen 5 or above for AMD.
There are two types of long term storage on laptops: hard drive or solid state drives. Hard drives have two magnetically sensitive disks read by a moving metal arm. Conversely, solid state drives have no moving parts.
In general, hard drives are cheaper with a larger storage capacity than solid state drives. However, hard drives are also heavier and slower than solid state drives. They also run hotter than solid state drives.
Solid state drives are faster and more energy-efficient than hard drives. When choosing the best laptop for Ableton, while a solid state drive is not essential, it is definitely worth the investment.
Random Access Memory or RAM is your computer’s working memory. Ableton Live 10 requires at least four GB of RAM. When it comes to audio production, the more RAM you have, the better. When trying to find the best laptop for Ableton, always buy the computer that has as much RAM as your budget allows.
Other things to consider
The processor, hard drive, and RAM are all essential and fairly universal components to consider when choosing the best laptop for Ableton Live. There are also a few other components that you may want to consider, depending on your needs and preferences.
Most laptops come with displays between 13-inches and 17-inches. In general, smaller screens will be more affordable than larger ones. Also, larger screens tend to be heavier though there are ultra-portable, large screen laptops that are quite light and thin.
If you are using Ableton Live mainly at home or in the studio, and portability isn’t a factor, a large screen may be helpful as it allows you to see more of the screen at any given time. However, if you often perform in live settings with Ableton, a smaller, more portable laptop may be better.
Another thing to consider if you perform live with Ableton is screen brightness and clarity. If you play live, be sure to choose a laptop with a display that is bright without glare issues, mainly if you tend to perform with other audio and lighting gear.
When choosing the best laptop for Ableton, think about what peripherals, if any, you may need. Be sure to consider gear you may need during production as well as any equipment you may need while performing. Ensure that whatever laptop you choose has the appropriate ports for your peripherals.
How We Reviewed
To find the best laptop for Ableton Live, we looked at a variety of laptops recommended by audio engineers and enthusiasts, as well as other top-rated laptops that exceeded specifications. From there, we took a look at what professionals had to say about each computer. Finally, we checked to see what consumers had to say about each laptop, in particular about audio production quality where available.
Since everyone’s budget is different, we looked for the best laptop in a variety of different price points. The laptops on our list range in price from $545 to $2,400 online.
Best Laptop for Ableton Live: Our Picks
Here are our top picks for the best laptop for Ableton Live.
Apple computers and laptops are a favorite amongst creatives for their power and sleek design.
The MacBook Pro comes in several configurations, but the one we recommend boasts a powerful 2.6 GigaHertz (GHz) Intel i7 processor, 15-inch screen, and 16 GB of RAM.
Website CNET gives the MacBook Pro a score of 8.2 out of 10 stars, giving it high marks across the board, especially for performance. However, CNET does note that the MacBook Pro only has USB-C ports which may be a strike against it, depending on your needs. CNET also notes that performance and style come at a high price.
Laptop Mag also gave the MacBook Pro high marks, with a score of 4.0 out of 5 stars. The magazine had the same observations as CNET, loving the overall feel and performance of the MacBook Pro but taking issue with the lack of USB-A connections.
The power behind the MacBook Pro makes it a long-time favorite of audio professionals. The laptop is on both TechRadar and the Best DJ Gear websites as an essential laptop for aspiring and professional DJs and other audio creatives.
- 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 Processor
- Brilliant Retina Display with True Tone technology
- Touch Bar and Touch ID
- Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655
- Ultrafast SSD
Dell XPS 13
The Dell XPS 13 is a top-rated, Windows-based PC, packing the power to run Ableton Live in a small, portable package. This laptop comes in a variety of configurations which you can customize on the Dell website.
The 13.3-inch, Intel i7 1.8 GHz processor, with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB solid state drive gives you a sturdy machine for running Ableton without breaking the bank. This configuration is available for between $1,200 and $1,350 at Best Buy, Newegg, and Amazon.
The Dell XPS 13 gets excellent reviews from professional reviewers. Laptop Mag gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars, giving it points for its good looks and excellent battery life. However, Laptop Mag did notice that the Dell XPS 13 does not have a USB-A port, which may be problematic if you have gear that uses USB-A.
Similarly, CNET also gave the Dell XPS 13 high marks, giving a score of 8.4 out of 10 stars. CNET liked that the laptop was robust with an excellent cooling system and also noted the fingerprint reader. However, CNET was less than impressed that the Dell XPS 13’s touch screen is not standard and also noted the abundance of USB-C ports.
Amazon customers also like the Dell XPS 13, giving it 3.8 out of 5 stars. The majority of the reviews like the Dell XPS 13, giving it high marks for power and overall value. However, critical reviews complain about various issues but mostly about Dell customer service.
- Consumer Alert: Most users do not need a license to operate this wireless microphone system. Nevertheless, operating this microphone system without a license is subject to certain restrictions: the system may not cause harmful interference; it must operate at a low power level (not in excess of 50 milliwatts); and it has no protection from interference received from any other device.
- Purchasers should also be aware that the FCC is currently evaluating use of wireless microphone systems, and these rules are subject to change. For more information, call the FCC at 1-888- CALL-FCC (TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC) or visit the FCC's wireless microphone website at fcc.gov/cgb/wirelessmicrophones.
Apple’s other entry on this list is the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is more affordable than the higher-end MacBook Pro but is still a favorite among creatives. True to its name, the MacBook Air is quite light, weighing under 3 pounds, with a 13-inch screen.
Its small size belies its power. The MacBook Air boasts an Intel i5 processor with an 8 GB and a 128 GB SSD drive. Other configurations can upgrade the RAM to 16 GB and the storage up to 1.5 Terabytes.
The Apple MacBook Air gets excellent reviews from professionals. CNET gives the Apple MacBook Air an 8.1 out of 10 star rating. Overall, CNET liked the Air’s portability and good battery life. However, like other Apple products, CNET noted that it was quite expensive and also had a limited number of ports.
On a thread in the Ableton forums, one user pointed out that they use the MacBook Air with Ableton Live and it runs smoothly. However, this same user also cautions against using the MacBook Air if you have other equipment to run with Ableton.
- Stunning 13.3-Inch Retina Display
- Touch ID and the latest Apple-designed keyboard and force touch trackpad
- Dual-core 8th-Generation Intel Core i5 Processor with Intel UHD Graphics 616
- Fast SSD Storage and 8GB memory
- Stereo speakers with wider Stereo sound
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The ASUS Zenbook is a laptop with a lot of value. The ASUS Zenbook has a 14-inch screen with an Intel i.7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. With these specs, Ableton is sure to run smoothly.
The ASUS Zenbook gets excellent reviews from professionals. Laptop Mag gives it a 4.0 out of 5 star rating for its compact and durable design. As a bonus for audiophiles, Laptop Mag also gives it a thumbs up for good speakers. On the downside, it does not have great battery life and has a dim display.
Ableton users also seem to like the ASUS Zenbook, getting at least one thumbs up in this Reddit thread. Users on the audio professional website Gear Slutz gave the ASUS Zenbook approval for use with Ableton.
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Acer Aspire E
If you are just starting out in your music hobby, finding a budget way to use Ableton is probably very important. While many of the candidates for the best laptop for Ableton Live start in the low $1,000 range, the Acer Aspire E is an exception.
The Acer Aspire E is the not-so-little laptop that can still be a great audio production tool. This 15-inch laptop has an Intel i5 processor, capable of up to 3.4 GHz speeds, with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD. However, at a price of between $550 and $600 online at Amazon and Walmart, it is just a fraction of the cost of other laptops on this list.
Laptop Mag gives the Acer Aspire E a 4.0 out of 5 star rating. It gave the Acer Aspire E high marks for performance and available ports, as well as its overall value. However, Laptop Mag also did point out that the Aspire E is bulky and riddled with bloatware.
Amazon customers love the Acer Aspire E, giving it a 4.0 out of 5 star score with 749 customer reviews. Positive reviews like the computer overall, with one review calling it a “fantastic machine at an affordable price.” Critical reviews complain of problems with the display and lack of support.
- 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U Processor (Up to 3.4GHz)
- 15.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080) widescreen LED-lit IPS Display
- 8GB Dual Channel Memory & 256GB SSD
- Up to 15-hours of battery life.Adapter: 65 W
- Windows 10 Home
Microsoft Surface Pro
For audio engineers that want some flexibility with their Ableton laptop, the Microsoft Surface Pro may be a good fit. The Microsoft Surface Pro is a 2-in-1 tablet and notebook, with the base offering running an Intel i5 processor, with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD. You can also find configurations with 16 GB of RAM and up to a 1.5 TB SSD.
CNET gives the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.5 out of 5 stars. In particular, the website likes the portability as well as performance and battery life on the Surface Pro. Unfortunately, CNET did not like the lack of USB-C ports on the Surface Pro and noted that its SSD is a bit sluggish. That is something to be wary of if you plan to use Ableton in a performance setting.
Surface Pro Audio is a website dedicated to audio production on the Microsoft Surface. The site has several posts on using and optimizing Ableton for creating music on the Surface Pro.
- A best in class laptop with the versatility of a studio and tablet; Sensors: Gyroscope
- More power now with the new 8th Generation Intel Core processor
- Ultra slim and light, starting at just 1.70 pounds. All day battery life, with up to 13.5 hours of video playback
- Casing: Signature unibody magnesium design with hidden perimeter venting
- OS : Windows
Mixing It Up
Like making great music, finding the best laptop for Ableton Live is all about finding the right combination. If you have the budget for it, hands down the best laptop for Ableton Live 10 is the Apple MacBook Pro. Its powerful processor and sleek interface make it a formidable machine, beloved by audio creatives everywhere. For a more affordable option, the Acer Aspire E is a great option for beginners.