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Buying a DJ laptop – what to consider!

Obviously when shopping for the ideal digital setup a DJ’s main concern is finding the best controller, but we believe that a laptop pretty much dominates the second place on this shopping list. It is a crucial part of most digital DJ’s work environment. Although many of us tend to purchase a laptop that, with a processor speed of light will land us straight into memory heaven plus has a hard drive the size of a microwave, but there is more to be considered.

To be honest, I believe that almost any modern laptop bought from a trustworthy retailer will give you a reasonable DJ experience, which is unless the techie in you desires to morph your laptop into a fully featured, smokin’ hot customized audio producing animal with a music encyclopaedia along with broadcasting and recording studio. Most new laptops on the market today can easily handle the basic demands of DJ software.

Having that said, like Graphic Design, Accounting and blogging, the trade of DJ-ing comes with its own unique requirements. DJ’s often find themselves in intense circumstances, several types of equipment to carry from A to B, equipment that often all needs to be hooked on to that same laptop, limited flexibility in space which leaves us more to consider when buying a laptop.

Size and weight of a laptop

On its own a laptop isn’t that heavy, but carry it around together with a power pack, a DJ controller, headphones and cables while crossing the parking lot, manoeuvring through doorways and narrow hallways, up and down staircases and of course wrestling your way through all your sexy groupies, you might find yourself exhausted and sweating before the show starts. Not even mentioning travelling by bus, train or plane and all its weight limitations.

Screen size of a laptop

Laptops are designed to be sat right in front of, not stood back from and glanced at from an angle. If on top of that your screen is too small you will be challenged to do nearly the impossible and will miss out on the important information you rely on your laptop to give you. Ideally I would suggest a 15″screen, knowing not everybody would agree with me on this. Yes a 13″screen is more compact and lighter, but especially for DJs that wear glasses I think many would feel more comfortable DJing with a 15″screen. I use my work laptop mainly for graphic & web design and prefer a wide work area on screen, but I tell you; with its 17″ it is a beast to carry around.

Screen resolution of a laptop

Screen size is important, but actual screen resolution is imperative and frequently disregarded. Most 13″ laptops have a resolution of 1280 x 800, which is acceptable for audio software Serato, fine for mixing software Virtual DJ, however terrible for Traktor, which makes poor use of screen surface. Some 15″will remain at 1280 x 800, however a 15″screen with a resolution of 1440 x 900 will give you more room to play with and although information displayed on screen will “get smaller”, keep in mind that you always have the option to display a big screen at a lower resolution if and when you desire to.

Screen brightness of a laptop

OK I might be overdoing it with my tips, however I think it’s pretty well known that sunlight is NOT a laptop’s best friend, so if you happen to be a daytime DJ or one of those lucky bastards that mix on the beach or at the pool in the blistering sun, you might want to line up some laptops in the store and turn their brightness on full to check which one performs best. Don’t forget; some DJ software, like Serato ITCH and DJAY offer daytime settings which must be a welcoming feature during your next pool party!

Build quality of a laptop

Speaking about pool parties, beach raves or BBQ beats, it is likely that you will DJ at various places where your laptop might take a few knocks, maybe be dropped, shaken and scratched a bit. Be smart and invest in some reliable quality that lasts and makes you feel secure to actually use it as you intended.

Number of USB ports

Some PC’s only have two USB sockets. Make sure you keep your setup in mind when shopping for a laptop. It is not uncommon, for example, for a DJ to hook up an external sound card, a pad controller, and a DJ controller to their laptop, which requires 3 USBs. You can purchase a USB hub of course, but take it from me; if you have the choice you probably prefer to minimize your equipment and wires and simplify your setup where possible.

Solid State or normal Hard Drive?

The hard drive of your laptop will fail! Scary, isn’t it? It is not a question of “if” it is a simple question of “when”, unless you have a modern Solid State Hard Drive (SSD): These have no moving parts and are therefore incredibly reliable. However they are expensive and not available in high capacities. If you can afford one big enough for your needs, it might be worth considering, however like always I cannot stress it enough; MAKE BACK-UPS of your important files, frequently!

Battery life of a laptop

Being able to prepare your show on a plane, in the train, any time anywhere without being depended on an electrical socket can make the difference in the success of your show, especially as life get`s chaotic, particularly for DJ’s, you want to be flexible. Besides that it is FUN to be able to whip out your laptop anywhere and start playing on the fly! But even more important in the unfortunate circumstance you forget your power cord, which let’s face it; isn’t that unimaginable, it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world when you have sufficient battery life.

Choosing what suits you best

What laptop is right for you depends on which of the above factors you choose to prioritize. It goes without saying that an ultra-lightweight laptop will not have a 17” screen. You will not find a laptop that fulfils all your DJ needs 100% and the month after you purchase that excellent laptop a newer version hits the market. Overall recommended minimum tech specifications for a DJ laptop are 2GB RAM; Intel processor, Core 2 or higher plus a hard drive with a few GB free space on it. That should cover most of your basic DJ needs. Hopefully this article helps you making a decision you feel good with.

Contact us anytime when you need help setting up your DJ system. This is what we do, what we are passionate about and excellent at!

Debby Peetam

Creative Director - Radiosolution

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