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Computer Hardware Audio interfaces, MIDI interfaces, control surfaces, MIDI controllers & USB MIDI keyboards (not motherboards or system components)

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Old 6th September 2008 , 05:14 PM
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Default Recommend your laptop set up

Hi

I'm looking to buy a laptop for fairly portable music creation and am wondering what all of you out there are using and what you'd recommend and what you'd avoid?

Please post anything, it'll all help and be much appreciated!

I've got a budget of about 1k and am seriously looking at the following:

Dell XPS 1530 (preloaded with Vista)
Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 (2.50 GHz, 800 MHz FSB, 6 MB L2 cache)
4096MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM [2x2048]
160GB Free Fall Sensor (7200RPM) Hard Drive

- Does anyone prefer Mac to PC?
- Should I try and get it preloaded with XP rather than Vista?
- Is 7200RPM hard drive noticeably better for audio than 5400RPM (you get less capacity options with 7200RPM unfortunately)?
- Should I use an audio interface through USB2 or Firewire?
- Any recommendations for external audio interfaces?

I'd be looking to use all the usual audio applications, i.e. a sequencer such as Cubase or Ableton Live and software synths such as Absynth, Massive, etc.

Please help!

jon
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Old 6th September 2008 , 05:52 PM
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i used to do PC, not any more but they are both good so this decision comes down to preferance and cash, secondly 1 major thing to watch out for is the firewire chipsets, some audio interfaces have complications with certain manufacturers. agere is a known problem for digidesign stuff but texas instruments make a great chipset which as far as i know is best in my books.
a firewire audio interface is always better but on some pc laps they use the 4 pin f/w socket but a simple convertor cord changes it into your generic 6 but i think you will need external power, where as Macs have the 6 pin f/w socket installed already and ready to go.

now once you get your laptop decide what operating system you want, then you'll have to tweak it to get the most performance and stability out of it. more so on a pc than mac, im sure if you do a google search for "(os) audio tweaks" you'll get a long list of options.
get as much RAM as you can afford or choose to imo (others may choose to differ on opinion)

as for audio interfaces for it, whats your budget?

pc: RME fireface 400 here
mac: apogee duet - metric halo
here lower end

and here need some moola for this 1



as far as hard drives, always try and record onto an external or seperate drive than your os is on

and as for speed of drives

tickle me here

from what iv heard if going PC get XP, i used to use it and after alot of tweaks was ok.
XP Tweaks


hope this is of help dude

Oh yeah i got a Macbook Pro 15" 2.6 C2D 4gb RAM but i do like the dell you chose, it does rather tickle my fancy
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Old 6th September 2008 , 06:18 PM
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As a fed-up PC user, I would say go with a Mac, although your budget is tight if you are talking about getting a laptop, interface and music software.

If you go PC they I would try to get XP rather than Vista. I recently bought a desktop PC with Vista pre-installed. While I like the look of the OS, I don't like the problems I have with my music software. Other people will have different experiences, naturally, but I am saving to make the transfer to Mac.

Hope this helps some.
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Old 6th September 2008 , 07:39 PM
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My advice is try and find someone that builds audio laptops, phil rees has sadly stopped but tbh thats the best laptop ive ever had, bit more pricey than most but considering mine is three years old and outperforms some brand spanking new ones when it comes to using things like reaktor id say it was seriously worth the extra cash i paid. New centrino chips are damn good too and use far less power than their core 2 counter parts.
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Old 7th September 2008 , 11:31 AM
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This is just my reading of the situation over the last 3 yrs or so on several forums and in magazines.

If you don't mind the extra expense and limitations, go mac, however you are STILL not out of the firewire chipset compatability woods even there because I think some AI's still wobble.

If you can afford it, go specialist audio pc supplier, AFAIK this is even more important than with building a desktop system.

Checkout Studio-Central for the Modern Computer Musician (yes, I know, very mom's apple pie but Nanashiwanderer knows his onions).
Checkout SOS Home back issues and forum, they have a list of lappies....

Lastly, if I were 30yrs younger and wanted a portable recording setup I would only use a laptop for internet!
I would buy a mini MOBO, put it in a rack with some decent pci/ pcie sound ***t. A 199 monitor (better have that nicked/trashed than 1000 lappy!) Out board mixer (A&H, Soundcraft) wireless keyboard and mouse.
Want to be totally mains free? Maplin, inverter, 12v SLA's!

Yes I KNOW laptops are cool and BLING but they were NEVER designed for audio work. And XP pro, all the way.

Dave.
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Old 7th September 2008 , 06:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ecc83 View Post
This is just my reading of the situation over the last 3 yrs or so on several forums and in magazines.

If you don't mind the extra expense and limitations, go mac, however you are STILL not out of the firewire chipset compatability woods even there because I think some AI's still wobble.

If you can afford it, go specialist audio pc supplier, AFAIK this is even more important than with building a desktop system.

Checkout Studio-Central for the Modern Computer Musician (yes, I know, very mom's apple pie but Nanashiwanderer knows his onions).
Checkout SOS Home back issues and forum, they have a list of lappies....

Lastly, if I were 30yrs younger and wanted a portable recording setup I would only use a laptop for internet!
I would buy a mini MOBO, put it in a rack with some decent pci/ pcie sound ***t. A 199 monitor (better have that nicked/trashed than 1000 lappy!) Out board mixer (A&H, Soundcraft) wireless keyboard and mouse.
Want to be totally mains free? Maplin, inverter, 12v SLA's!

Yes I KNOW laptops are cool and BLING but they were NEVER designed for audio work. And XP pro, all the way.

Dave.
Great idea of the rack but unfortunatly not very practicle, it would cost more for a rack based machine because of the cost of the rack case then there is the issue that youd need 3-4 U rack in order to cool a modern chip sufficiently if you switch over to using a mobile chip in order to reduce the power and heat then you might as well go back to a laptop as you wouldnt be gaining anything apart from weight. but if heat wasnt an issue then this would be a great idea.

That said i dont think you can outright say a laptop is not for audio work, its a computer the same as any other, you just have to be more selective of the chasis that you wish to use in order to get the right controllers for firewire etc. Ive had no problems recording audio with my laptop and its been pretty damn handy, sure theres things you may need such as an external power supply for a firewire device or sacrifice some of you main power and there is the issue of ground loops with some interfaces (admitadly) but thats not an issue unless you require several hours of recording constantly, if your not doing this then use mains between takes and you should be fine. Speed switch and speed step provide great solutions for optimising power as thy dynamically switch the CPUs multiplier so that if the computer is only idling then it will be running at its base speed which uses little, if you have acess to external screens where your recording this can also save power so there are many ways in which to make a laptop efficient. its just a case of buying a good one rather than a run of the mill machine from the highstreet but its not going to set you back any more than a mac book pro if you look in the right places.
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Old 8th September 2008 , 04:27 PM
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Thanks guys for all your replies.

Sureno, how do you find your Macbook Pro? Surely it'd be better than the Dell laptop I'm looking at?

My budget of 1k is just for a laptop. Yours and others comments are seriously making me consider a Mac (and added to that I am a software developer on Windows so have literally had enough of PCs! Bring back the fun!). A refurbished Mac laptop might be good, but I've no idea how powerful I'd need it, or a PC laptop for that matter for the latest audio applications?

I'd get an audio interface later, would probably spend a further 300 notes.

Good call about the external hard-drives. If I went PC, I should just get an external firewire with an internal drive running at 7200rpm? How does it work for Macs - they have a different file system, right?

Sphelan, what is your set up? What do you hope to get Mac-wise?

Jaydmf, I've been recommended Phil Rees in the past, I may have a look at some specialist built ones. Can you recommend any? What is your current set up?

ecc83, thanks for the advice but I think I'm rather set on a laptop for now - I will more than likely build a DAW later on when I have some more cash, but I need the portability and will also use it for internet, etc.
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Old 8th September 2008 , 04:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ukjon77 View Post
Sphelan, what is your set up? What do you hope to get Mac-wise?
Well, to be honest, I have fully decided yet. However, I do know that it will be a Mac Pro and not a MacBook Pro, so that really puts me out of the discussion, I suppose.

My current set up is listed in the following two threads:
Show Us Your Studio...List Your kit! and
Introduction sphelan.

I am tired of conflicts and things not working how they should on PC and want a Mac at the centre of my system. The problem is the cash!

You will see from the thread I started
New Mac - but which one is the best value for money? that it is not an easy decision.

But given the information I have received on the thread I will probably go for something like a refurbished Mac (given the offers) or a new 2x 3.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon with 4GB (4x1GB) RAM to which I will add further hard drives sourced externally.

Sorry if I can't be of more use. What I can tell you though is, if I were to buy a MacBook Pro (which would be a cherry on top when I have a decent Mac Pro system up and running), I would go for the highest spec available...I have expensive taste.
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Old 8th September 2008 , 08:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ukjon77 View Post
Thanks guys for all your replies.

Sureno, how do you find your Macbook Pro? Surely it'd be better than the Dell laptop I'm looking at?

My budget of 1k is just for a laptop. Yours and others comments are seriously making me consider a Mac (and added to that I am a software developer on Windows so have literally had enough of PCs! Bring back the fun!). A refurbished Mac laptop might be good, but I've no idea how powerful I'd need it, or a PC laptop for that matter for the latest audio applications?

I'd get an audio interface later, would probably spend a further 300 notes.

Good call about the external hard-drives. If I went PC, I should just get an external firewire with an internal drive running at 7200rpm? How does it work for Macs - they have a different file system, right?

Sphelan, what is your set up? What do you hope to get Mac-wise?

Jaydmf, I've been recommended Phil Rees in the past, I may have a look at some specialist built ones. Can you recommend any? What is your current set up?

ecc83, thanks for the advice but I think I'm rather set on a laptop for now - I will more than likely build a DAW later on when I have some more cash, but I need the portability and will also use it for internet, etc.
It's cool, not raving about it, but it simply does the job and does it well, i run logic 8 on it, bias peak pro and use it to DJ via traktor scratch. i use my Mac pro mainly so trying to compare it to that which is my main station is like comparing mini to a bentley gt, both great but different uses but that is why im not raving about it but like i said it does the job which is the most important. as for hard drives i know mac and pc both read FAT32 but sharing stuff between OS's can be problematic cant put stuff made on the Mac to the FAT32 drive if formated on the PC. what ever you get PC or Mac get an external drive for recording onto and leave as much free on the main drive as you can in my experience. but for me i will never get a PC for any real audio work again thats my view because sinse coming from PC i can't fault the Mac and thats how i feel towards the PC vs Mac debate.
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Old 8th September 2008 , 09:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ukjon77 View Post
Thanks guys for all your replies.

Sureno, how do you find your Macbook Pro? Surely it'd be better than the Dell laptop I'm looking at?

My budget of 1k is just for a laptop. Yours and others comments are seriously making me consider a Mac (and added to that I am a software developer on Windows so have literally had enough of PCs! Bring back the fun!). A refurbished Mac laptop might be good, but I've no idea how powerful I'd need it, or a PC laptop for that matter for the latest audio applications?

I'd get an audio interface later, would probably spend a further 300 notes.

Good call about the external hard-drives. If I went PC, I should just get an external firewire with an internal drive running at 7200rpm? How does it work for Macs - they have a different file system, right?

Sphelan, what is your set up? What do you hope to get Mac-wise?

Jaydmf, I've been recommended Phil Rees in the past, I may have a look at some specialist built ones. Can you recommend any? What is your current set up?

ecc83, thanks for the advice but I think I'm rather set on a laptop for now - I will more than likely build a DAW later on when I have some more cash, but I need the portability and will also use it for internet, etc.

Yo. My laptop atm is a 2GHz centrino (single core 2 threads) with 2GB DDR 333 (corsair) in a rather random chasis with an ATI Radeon 9000 128MB graphics card, outbox is either my x-station or a ua25 and ive used cubase sx2, 4, ableton live 4, reaktor 5, waves plugins and it all runs hunky dorey with plenty of processing power.
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Old 9th September 2008 , 05:23 AM
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Morning JAYDMF.

Hmm? Since I would build the rack system myself I don't think it would cost me that much and cooling these days is not such a problem?

As to practicality. I think of the days when I had to lug a Revox/ Teac 3440 and a Ferrograph7 (for safety copy) A&H desk (built like B.S.H.then) Quad303/ KEFs, cans, mics, cables, Ksink.....Oh! and tape, don't forget the bloody tape!

As to laptops not being "suitable" for audio AFAIK PCs'! are not, very! Look at all the tweaks we have to do! And ref processor power, again this is only my take on the information I read but it is the MOBO that is the weak link in a laptop.

Still, my HP Compaq ( 850M, 512ram!) records 2 tracks @24bits/44.1kHz, nicely and silently. But that is about as far as you can push it!

Rock on chaps,

Dave.
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Old 10th September 2008 , 08:40 AM
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Quote:
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Morning JAYDMF.

Hmm? Since I would build the rack system myself I don't think it would cost me that much and cooling these days is not such a problem?

As to practicality. I think of the days when I had to lug a Revox/ Teac 3440 and a Ferrograph7 (for safety copy) A&H desk (built like B.S.H.then) Quad303/ KEFs, cans, mics, cables, Ksink.....Oh! and tape, don't forget the bloody tape!

As to laptops not being "suitable" for audio AFAIK PCs'! are not, very! Look at all the tweaks we have to do! And ref processor power, again this is only my take on the information I read but it is the MOBO that is the weak link in a laptop.

Still, my HP Compaq ( 850M, 512ram!) records 2 tracks @24bits/44.1kHz, nicely and silently. But that is about as far as you can push it!

Rock on chaps,

Dave.

Maybe its cuz its early but some of that didnt make to much sense to me. The cost of a rack system is much more than an equivalent PC due to the case, rack cases start at about 100 and decent ones are about 2-400 where as a PC case can be anything from 30 an upward. Decent rack cases tend to be heavy especially when built up (my pc weighs in at 13kg in the antec 182 and if i moved it into the antec rack case itd be a whopping 17kg which when you compare that to the weight of my laptop which is about 2kg it is pretty hefty).

The issue with cooling is that your looking at the same size as a media centre PC in which to fit everything and you have far less ventilation(especially if racked in with other effects processors/audio interfaces) and are probably going to want to use a faster/beefier processor you also need low profile fans etc and generally a system like this tends to work at around the 50 degree mark under load, this generally would cause all the fans (which will probably be all 80/92mm) to be spinning around 2-3000rpm making it noisy.

I agree its not like lugging around tape machines but i dont really see the point in lugging 4U of PC around (unless you are doing some seriously heavy duty tracking) when a laptop is sufficient. I used to use mine with the FA101 and have 8x8 working perfectly which is more than enough for most applications that youd be taking a laptop to.

In terms of processing power i wouldnt say laptops fall far behind to be perfectly honest. My centrino holds up well, reaktor at 50% load on my desktop works out to be around 75% load on the centrino and the centrino is nearly 2 years older. I agree the MOBO is the weak link in a laptop but as i have said before in another thread you dont buy it from the highstreet because highstreet laptops and PCs are designed for the average joe wanting to do a bit of everything. Its like the saying "jack of all trades, master of none" you want a good audio laptop/PC then buy one designed for audio.
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Old 10th September 2008 , 10:42 AM
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My experience with laptops so far has throw up the following frequenct issues:

Very poor internal I/O performance - (probably resulting from power saving etc) can turn an apparently well specified machine into something that I would allmost clasify is near useless for even internet browsing Toshiba seem among the worst in my experience.

As mentioned above - internal firewire chipset choice - obviously only relevent if you plan on using a firewire audio interface and that interface was designed and primarily developed and tested against something else. TI tend to be a favoured chipset, but some of the newer interfaces may have been developed against other chipsets. At this point in time VIA chipsets have pretty much dominated motherboards with the latest intel chipsets, so the chances are that recent firewire device may actually work quite well with them. Personally - I still dont entirely trust VIA and Ricoh chipsets (i need to see them being stressed to get over previous experiences) - Ricoh is what you will find in most modern laptops.

Hard drives - I have two recent PC laptops here - lenovo thinkpad T61P (an IBM brand) which has two 160GB SATA2 7200 RPM drives in it and an ACER 7720G which has a single 250GB 5400 drive in it. Both run vista 32, both have 4GB RAM, the T61P is a 2.2Ghz duo, the 7720G is a 2.4Ghz duo. Ive used ableton live on both of them with moderate track counts (20 or so) - I didnt have any problems with either, CPU use was low, I didnt have that many fx etc loaded as it was a DJ set, but at time I was running all 20 or so tracks - 44.1/24bit.
Conclusion is it doesnt make alot of difference with an otherrwise well specified machine and and with all else being equal between the hard drives. If you are short of memory, then yes - it could make a noticeable difference assuming other system limits dont hit first (HD transfer rates, drive type, seek times, caching etc). For running lots of of audio tracks, then I actually expect seek times to hit harder due to the need for the drive heads to keep skipping across different files to fill buffers. Drive rotation speed of course contributes to effective seek time as after head has moved, you still have to wait for part of the disc containing the data to come under the head.

Display and display hardware - a large hi resolution display is probably to be avoided unless the rest of the machine is of high specification - good internal bus and memory speeds etc - if the display chipset displaying direct from main memory (Intel integrated graphics for eg), then the machine could end up being near useless for low latency audio. A high resolution display takes alot of bandwidth to fill up - that can degrade the response time to interrupts etc. Both the laptops we have here have 1920x1200 displays with recent nvidia mobile GPUs and otherwise decent I/O memory speeds etc PCI-express architecture etc, so seem fine.

The other side of course - productivity goes right up when you can see all of what you need to see, but it might be too tiny to read at typical use distance. 1920x1200 is fine in studio, but when DJing actually it all looks a bit small.

USB2 ports - if you plan on using non-hub friendly USB devices then do check (if possble as typically salesmen in stores dont have a clue) that there are enough root ports - some laptops may have a load of USB ports, but if all of them are actually on an internal non-root hub, then that could be near useless for audio, 8+8 midi interfaces and of course the newer USB integrated synths (Virus TI for eg). Personally I avoid hubs for anything that needs a combination of bandwidth and low latency - especially whatever I am using as a master keyboard if playing through a DAW.

Heat/Power save etc - a laptop CPU is just like a normal CPU - stress it and it gets hot - check where its vents are and think how they may impact placement of other gear near it. For eg - if you like to work with a large controller on the left and the vent is on the left - then you may end up with it slowing down lots and going glitchy then shutting off in the middle of a gig - not good! Ive seen an audio interface fail due to enhaust heat from a laptop over a long gig as well.
Most laptops tend not to get continuously stressed in the same way in general office/browsing type use. A small laptop may look cute, but if the result is its thermal behaviour is poor then it could be a distaster for audio. The lenevo we have is one of the smaller large screen laptops - closer in size to a 15.4 - it really does not like stuff near it when its being thrashed. the ACER on the other hand doesnt seem to care (and it is huge), even though it probably generates more heat from the slighly faster CPU, yet it doenst seem to get as hot to touch - unless you stick it directly on your lap - which blocks some of the vents on the bottom.

Power supplies - this has to be the bane of laptop use. Laptop seem to universally have terrible power supplies when it comes to ground loop problems. Mac are alot better in this respect - just one manufacter to worry about. I have been told that Acer actually manufacture laptops for Apple - Ive no idea if that is actually true. In any case, I dont think that nescesarily makes Acer laptops a good choice - the PC laptops tend to be driven by a different cost/quality/performance ratio anyway. In the end, the power supply headache may or may not hit your combination of laptop, audio interface and other gear. In general balance audio is better (life is hard for DJs.. ) - it gives you more choices if the worst happens. Audio interfaces with own power supply seem better - a 4 pin FW port doesnt have power on it anyway. Actually some laptops have rather limited power on the USB ports as well - dont be entirely suprised if when plugging in a large USB keyboard (Novation Remote 61 sl for eg), or a large multi-channel DSP assists FX type USB2 audio interface just causes a power surge event in mac os/xp or vista

In general, I have found and generally heard that more recent hi-spec acer laptops do seem to be quite decent audio machines especially in terms of price/performance. BTW - you can stick two drives in the 7720G and RAID them...

One other comment - 'fairly portable' - could mean a shuttle PC - the big disavantage of them is luggin around a separate display - if you want a 1920x1200 display for eg - then 24" is probably you only choice - not small - not light. Otherwise they have been in my experience very good little machines - we have an older shuttle PC here as well, though it isnt still used as an audio workstation. The main problem with them however is noise - their coolinig is excellent and TBH quite quiet too, but litttle or no damping, grills all over the place and you hear everything it does, alleit alot quieter than may bog-standard desktops. It is however small and light and for larger gigs I might choose one over a laptop. Stick a UAD duo in one and your all set
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Old 10th September 2008 , 11:07 AM
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With an 8ms latency, my Dell Vostro 1710 (Core2Duo 1.8GHz, PM945 chipset, 4GB RAM, WinXP, etc), connected to an M-Audio NRV10 by Firewire, has no problem playing back 4 48KHz/24bit tracks and recording 4 more on top of them. The mouse gets a bit stuttery when it's playing back 42 EQ's and Reverb'd tracks simultaneously, but there's no drop-out. 530 it cost me a month ago, with 4 year Next Business Day warranty, and 3 years of Keep Your Harddrive warranty. I'm happy with it.

Edit: Oh, and yeah. Since it's got a 17" screen, the system's quite large, so I can plug two harddrives into it for double-fast RAIDy goodness.
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Old 10th September 2008 , 11:38 AM
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With an 8ms latency, my Dell Vostro 1710 (Core2Duo 1.8GHz, PM945 chipset, 4GB RAM, WinXP, etc), connected to an M-Audio NRV10 by Firewire, has no problem playing back 4 48KHz/24bit tracks and recording 4 more on top of them. The mouse gets a bit stuttery when it's playing back 42 EQ's and Reverb'd tracks simultaneously, but there's no drop-out. 530 it cost me a month ago, with 4 year Next Business Day warranty, and 3 years of Keep Your Harddrive warranty. I'm happy with it.

Edit: Oh, and yeah. Since it's got a 17" screen, the system's quite large, so I can plug two harddrives into it for double-fast RAIDy goodness.
Indeed just make sure you have a good recovery device to hand at all times. Im sure you know this but laptop HDD are more likely to fail due to the way theyre handled and in stripped RAID that can be a nightmare
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