It’s a good time to be a laptop-based studio musician. Modern high-spec laptops put many dedicated desktop units to shame, and offer the perfect blend of portability and performance. Right now, choosing a laptop for music production no longer feels like a compromise.
For many musicians, the obvious choice has been to look to Apple. Its MacBook Pro range has stood the test of time, combining sleek design with a focus on creative applications and usability. All that has changed though. Now, Windows-based machines offer serious competition to Cupertino’s finest, all of which means more choice for us.
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One model stands out above all the others as a genuine MacBook-killer: the Dell XPS. On paper the XPS range packs a spec-sheet which means there is finally a genuine rival to the MacBook Pro. Here we’ll outline some of those MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS differences, and help you decide which system best suits the modern musician.
MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS 13: specs at a glance
Apple MacBook Pro 13"
Launch price: From £1,299/$1,299 | Finishes: Silver, Space Grey | Display: 2560x1600 Retina | CPU: Intel i5 - Intel i7 | RAM: 8GM-16GB LPDDR3 | SSD: 128GB - 2TB | Ports: 2-4 Thuderbolt 3 USB-C | Size: 11.97”x8.36”x0.59” | Weight: 3.02 lbs | Battery: Up to 10 hours
Dell XPS 13
Launch price: From £999/$949 | Finishes: Platinum Silver, Rose Gold, Frost White | Display: 1920x1080 - 3840x2160 | CPU: Intel i5 - Intel i7 | RAM: 8GB - 16GB LPDDR3 | SSD: 256GB - 2TB | Ports: 2 Thunderbolt 3, 1 USB-C | Size: 11.9”x7.8”x0.46” | Weight: 2.7lbs | Battery: Up to 12 hours
MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS 13: Design
Aesthetically, both machines are relatively similar. Both come in either 13” or 15” screen sizes, both are milled from a single piece of aluminium, and both weigh near enough the same. And, being honest, neither of these laptops are what we’d call ugly ducklings. They look, feel and operate exactly how you’d want a premium device to; high class engineering and craftsmanship abound. Both have interesting quirks though.
For the MacBook Pro, the biggest quirk lies in the Touch Bar. Situated across the top of the keyboard, this strip of OLED has certainly proven controversial since its introduction. If you’re using Apple’s creative apps like Logic Pro X, which add context-specific actions, then you might find it useful but to others it might seem gimmicky.
The Dell XPS range opted for overall finishes as a way of standing out. We found the woven-glass Frost Silver in particular had that double-take appeal, and we also rated the more tactile experience we got from the keyboard and trackpad. Apple’s trackpad is superb - large, and reactive - but there’s just something about those keys we couldn’t get on with.
In truth, both are the perfect blend of luxury and high-technology. It won’t be on visual appeal or design where they fall down.
MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS 13: Hardware and features
Musicians’ needs are slightly to different to the usual laptop user. Sure, portability and battery life are important, but a laptop is just as likely to be the stationary centrepiece of a studio as it is thrown in a bag and carried around. So, it makes sense to consider performance as one of the key deliverables.
Here, you’re looking at the all-important triumvirate of processor, RAM and storage. For processor-hungry DAW applications, you’re ideally going to want a minimum of 16GB of RAM, augmented with a decent CPU and a solid-state drive for snappy access to your data.
Both machines pack plenty of grunt, as you’d expect for the price. The entry level 13” Dell XPS model starts out with 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM on board, which pairs with a 10th-gen Intel i5 processor and 256GB SSD. Each component can be configured at the start, with a fully tricked-out 13” version offering a 4K touchscreen, 16GB LPDDR3 RAM, a 10th-gen i7 processor and 512GB SSD.
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The 15” screened version takes that and runs with it, maxing out with a 9th-gen i9 processor, 32GB of DDR4 RAM and a 2TB SSD. So, on paper, the XPS can be as powerful as you want it to be; no complaints there.
It goes without saying, however, that if it’s power you want, Apple has you covered. Available in a multitude of configurations, the MacBook Pro has a potential spec-sheet (and accompanying price tag) that will make your eyes water. No two ways about it, it may look like it hasn’t changed much over recent years but underneath the hood this is a highly evolved monster. Looking purely at the maxed-out 15” versions of both, the MacBook Pro would walk this challenge. But, realistically, how many of us are going to put down north of $4k on a laptop?
Assuming you find price-to-performance levels you are content with, there are other considerations. Both are reliant on USB-C and Thunderbolt ports which, while geared for the future, do mean you’ll probably be needing dongles in the short-term. Displays on both ranges are, as you’d expect, superb. The MacBook Pro features Retina screen as standard, while the XPS comes with 1920x1080 HD in the lower bracket, and 4K Ultra HD at the premium end. Battery life is always a moot point; the user checking emails and scrolling through MusicRadar will always use less power than the producer rendering 64 tracks of audio. Your mileage may vary.
MacBook Pro vs Dell XPS 13: Verdict
Essentially, what we have here are two laptop families that deliver everything they promise. Superb design, colossal amounts of power on tap; the Dell XPS and Apple MacBook Pro ranges are both elite-level audio production machines which can handle recording, performing or DJing tasks with their eyes shut.
More than likely, you’ll make a decision based on personal preference. For example, we found ourselves slightly more drawn to the sleek lines and modernity of the Dell XPS, yet found the actual performance of the MacBook Pro - using more plugins, larger arrangements - to be slightly better. What we would say, however, is that the lines are now increasingly blurred. Windows-based machines are no longer solely the preserve of offices, and you can rest assured either machine will cope effortlessly with music production.
The simple fact is that, for many users, their choice of laptop is an extension of them. It’s an expensive decision, and a choice you hope to make once. And, in a showdown this tight, it can be the finest of margins that swing a decision. For us, there are a few outcomes. If money is no object, or if pro-level power is a must, then the MacBook Pro is arguably the best option. If you’re looking for a more versatile all-rounder, that can handle music projects on top of life as a regular computer, then the Dell XPS might be the route to take. Ultimately though, whichever choice you make you won’t be disappointed.