There's never been a better time to become a music producer. With modern laptops now boasting the kinds of unreal performance once only the preserve of specialist desktop PCs, producers and performers can now effectively carry an entire studio around with them in a backpack.
While Apple has traditionally led the way with creative-focused laptops, that is changing rapidly; Windows-based systems are now proving more than capable as an alternative. Leading the charge in this area is the Dell XPS range, which rubbishes the notion that Apple has the monopoly on slick design. But are these laptops as geared towards music production as a MacBook Pro? We'll be taking a look at the evidence right here.
With Black Friday taking place this month, it could be worth holding off on picking up a new Dell XPS laptop until the Black Friday music deals start emerging. We'll be reporting on the best offers throughout the month and right up to Black Friday itself.
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Dell XPS 13 deals
The upgraded and updated versions of the XPS range all gave welcome boosts in the areas that really count. Aesthetically, the range remains largely similar to its predecessor, but under the hood some significant improvements have been made. The base, entry version of the range boasts an Intel i5 processor with 8GB RAM, but each model above it has been enhanced to keep pace with Apple’s alternatives.
The model we’d go for is the Dell XPS 13, with Intel i7, 16GB RAM and 512 GB of solid-state storage. At launch, this model retailed around the $1,600/£1,600 mark, but there are savings to be had if you know where to look. Thankfully, we do know where to look!
Dell XPS 15 deals
It is possible, with the Dell range, to find a 15”-screen version with identical spec to the smaller 13” version, however our pick for musicians and producers is a different beast altogether. The Dell XPS 15 2020 we’ve gone for packs in the top-line Intel i9 processor, along with a monstrous 32GB RAM and a large 1TB SSD for storage.
Make no mistake, this is a powerhouse of a laptop and it has the price tag to match. The Dell XPS 15 2020 range starts at around $1,999/£1,949, but the model we’ve chosen – Intel i9, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD – comes in at $2,799/£2,908. That is, make no bones about it, a significant wedge of cash to put down on a machine but, for the right user, it also makes for a tantalising boost in power, performance and overall practicality. There’s very little this machine couldn’t do, in music production terms.
Dell deals: Range overview
If it’s a Windows-based system you’re looking for, it can be tricky to identify what the right laptop for you will be. By their nature, there are multiple brands vying for your hard-earned dollar, each with their own quirks, meaning no two Windows-based systems are the same.
Fundamentally, however, there are more similarities than differences. Because the operating system, Windows 10, is the same, the actual user experience will largely be the same. Differences will come in areas like screen size/resolution, battery life, keyboards, trackpads and connectivity. That’s before we get into the internals like memory and storage. Let’s break it down.
For music and audio production, you are predominantly looking for three things – processor speed, memory and storage. You’ll have your own wish list of requirements on top of that; if you’re on the move a lot then battery life will be important, or a decent screen if you edit video, for example. But as a music production-capable rig, focus on the three things mentioned there. Digital audio workstations (DAWs) are notoriously power and process-hungry, and buying an underpowered laptop can seriously affect your ability to work, so don’t skimp at this stage.
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Thankfully, the Dell XPS range contains some very capable, powerful laptops which can cope admirably with music production work. Where things become interesting, and different to the MacBook Pro range, is in the option of having the Dell XPS as a 2-in-1. This adds in a touchscreen, and effectively bridges the gap between laptop and tablet device. Imagine having a full Ableton Live session which you can tweak and manipulate with your fingers; it may seem gimmicky but, having tried it ourselves, we can certainly see how this could be an interesting way to work.
Clearly there is the issue of budget. Whichever way you look at it, decent spec laptops are not cheap, so it’s important you choose wisely. That said, consider how much you will actually use the device. If you, like us, spend a large amount of time working, writing, recording and producing, then it makes sense to invest in a machine that will serve your needs well.
Dell XPS deals: Specs
The Dell XPS range comes in four main variations. Essentially, you have a choice between a 13” screen or a 15” screen, and whether you want a standard laptop or a 2-in-1 version. Within that there are options according to performance and power, ranging from lightweight entry-level versions right the way up to workhorse, pro-grade systems.
The Dell XPS 13 2020 is of particular note here. Enhancements here include a new 16:10 screen ratio which is a real head-turner, and larger trackpad. Put simply, this is still the lightweight Windows laptop to beat.
There’s plenty of scope for individual configurations too so somewhere within that line-up sits potentially the exact balance of price, power and performance you are looking for. Here are our recommendations from the Dell XPS range.
Dell XPS 13 and 15 alternatives
The obvious contender, as an alternative to the Dell XPS, comes in the shape of the Apple MacBook Pro. Both machines come with similar specifications, and the right version of either will happily meet the needs of most producers and musicians. That said, the Apple devices do tend to have a slightly higher cost, so if price alone is your key driver then the MacBook Pro might not be the machine for you.
Another avenue might be to look into gaming laptops. While their garish aesthetics might not appeal, the performance these machines tend to offer is certainly of use to music producers. The ASUS ROG STRIX G731GU, for example, delivers similar specifications to the Dell XPS we identified, and runs on Windows 10. Gaming machines also tend to be user upgradable too, unlike the XPS and MacBooks, so you can happily boost its performance in the future should you need to.