No current off-the-shelf PC laptop w/working DAW firewire?!?

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Aj
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No current off-the-shelf PC laptop w/working DAW firewire?!?

Post by Aj » Tue Mar 17, 2009 7:59 am

I've spent hours googling, sifting thru message boards, and company support forums. And I simply cannot find anyone who can recommend a specific, currently available off-the-shelf PC laptop (model number please!) that works well with a firewire soundcard interface (RME Fireface, Echo Audiofire, Motu, etc.) while multitracking low latency audio.

I want to purchase a PC laptop to use for recording full bands remotely (using something like an Audiofire 12, or similar interface). I use Steinberg Nuendo and Cubase. My budget is about $900. I know that I should be hunting down laptops with the Texas Instruments firewire chipset. But that information is difficult to find - it's not listed on most vendor spec sheets, and even looking at the driver download page on vender Web sites doesn't always reveal the chipset type. Worse still, apparently some companies swap out different firewire chipsets (TI vs. Ricoh, for example) during the run of one particular model.

Then there are the problems with DPC latency spikes, caused by system processes and other hidden routines running in the laptop's background. Oh vey...

I know I can pay a premium to outfits like ADK to build me a working laptop. But I cannot afford to pay 2-3 times as much as my budget allows. So again... I simply want to find someone (anyone!) who has a real world positive experience with a particular, current PC laptop model that I can buy for under a grand. I've *heard* that certain business models of Toshiba, Compaq, and HP might qualify - but nowhere can I find a real live person who can vouch for a particular current model that they are actually using successfully.

One would think this info would be out there somewhere, if it exists... help!

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Post by Winstontaneous » Tue Mar 17, 2009 3:15 pm

I've been looking for something similar but haven't found anything. I've read quite a few posts around the web by Scott from ADK and aside from FireWire chipset issues, PC laptops often have unresolvable IRQ conflicts.

You could try a white MacBook are maybe an older used MacBookPro and run XP on BootCamp...but that's quite a workaround, and still a FW chipset crapshoot.

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Post by Aj » Tue Mar 17, 2009 5:54 pm

Yeah, I don't want to get a Mac... I'm a PC user. I've heard even the newer Macs have issues in this area, but I'll leave that for some enterprising Mac recordist to research.

I still can't believe there isn't SOMEONE on the whole Internet using a current PC laptop successfully for this. Anyone?

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Post by 0-it-hz » Tue Mar 17, 2009 6:39 pm

Dell 9400 + Siig TI firewire express card.

Don't screw around with the onboard FW controller... you will only suffer.

Mine is rock solid, 96 samples buffer with a presonus firebox (guitar rig, ableton, absynth and B4 all live at the same time) and I've done 56 track live recordings with two RME FF800s with no problems.

You'll need to wipe the factory XP install and put something sensible on it like tiny XP... keep it off the web.

And I'm running hacintosh OSX 10.5 on my Dell on a separate partition for web stuff and Mac only programs... I think you can find these out there for under $1000 with 2,2ghz and 2gb RAM
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Post by b3groover » Tue Mar 17, 2009 7:28 pm

I've been using an HP zv6130 for years. I guess it's not "off the shelf" anymore and is definitely not current as far as technology is concerned (no dual core), but the onboard firewire works great with Cubase and my Firepods. 24 tracks, no problem. Only thing I did was max out the RAM (2gb) and create a separate boot partition for music.
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Post by Aj » Wed Mar 18, 2009 8:35 am

Thrilled to see these responses, thanks! It's certainly a start to finding out what works...

Sadly, both the Dell 9400 and HP zv6130 are years old and discontinued. My research (listen to me! I sound like a grad student with this purchase) has also unearthed a few other older and no-longer produced laptop models which seem to work. Again, these are all old, discontinued laptops, not new ones:

1) ASUS A4K
2) Compaq Presario V5155EA
3) IBM T42
4) Lenovo T60 (with a Via-based PCMCIA Firewire add-on card)
5) TOSHIBA Satellite 30M
6) HP NX8220
7) Multicom Kunshan D900
8. Dell Latitude d520
9) Acer Extensa 5620
10) ASUS F7F

I found these models listed in a helpful four-page thread over at the Sound On Sound Web site titled "Survey of Working Laptop Models." It was started by SOS editor/writer Martin Walker, who has written for years about laptop audio. The thread has attracted over 150 responses. Yet in all those replies, there are ZERO (!) current off-the-shelf PC laptop recommendations!

Anyway, here's a relevant/helpful quote:
Common laptop issues do include ground loops and firewire chip incompatibility, but such problems pale into insignificance next to those relating to laptop CPU throttling/fan cooling schemes, which on some models result in audio dropouts when they ramp the processor clock speed up or down to suit demand. Unfortunately, some laptop fan cooling schemes can't be disabled (I've noted on-line grumbles about certain Dell and Toshiba models for instance), which can be absolutely infuriating.

Unfortunately, you can't generalize about one laptop manufacturer being bad and another being good, since this problem may only affect particular models in any manufacturer's range.

Choosing the audio interface beforehand may help narrow down the most sensible Firewire controller chip, but in general it doesn't help very much.

Overall, the only reliable way to buy a laptop for making music that you can guarantee won't be an expensive mistake is to let someone else try it out first, to check for any incompatibilities. Buying one from a specialist music retailer removes such uncertainties but will cost... and of course the DIY route doesn't exist as it does for desktop machines. In my experience the only other real way to avoid your purchase ending with tears is to get a recommendation from another musician who has already tried the make and model you're interested in.
So frustrating...

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Post by llmonty » Wed Mar 18, 2009 9:47 am

I so hear ya. I have for used only used a laptop for recording -- and it is my day job issued versions. The thing is, I get a new one every 2 years so I have gone though about 4-5 since I started recording. Every single 1 I have used until recently has worked great -- mostly for only 1-8 tracks at a time, but going back to 2000. Now, of course, that I have been doing much more tracking and editing/mixing of more complex/multi-track stuff, the computer I have SUCKS big time.

Dell D630C. Mind you it is a work computer and I have a ton of work crap on it (not by choice) -- things like Vista, virus software, VPNs, backups, IM, auto software updates/configurations. I have tried a million things and think it is either the FW chipset, power supply issues, or both.

I get pops and click hailstorms with PTLE and Sonar, with digi and RME boxes (much more with Digi). Audio engine stoppages. And they come and go, but are always there at least a little.

I tend to think it is a ground loop issue primarily as I seem to have the least problems on battery. Also seems that the longer it is on the worse it gets. A fresh reboot helps, especially if it sits cold for a while.

I have tried a ton of things, and next will be trying a ram upgrade and perhaps a pcmcia card (though that is what the RME works on and i still have issues). I think I am resigned to a new dedicated computer purchase in the nearish future. A laptop would be great for the work I do, but if I get a dedicated space I think i am going desktop. Sucks, bc I totally think that the raw processing power on laptops is totally fine for what I do. But so many things related to the build of them contributes to problems (did I mention that when I move the mouse or trackpad while listening to music on headphones (even with stock soundcard) i get a ton of noise). WTF!

On the Digi site they do list a few laptops that are compabile (though I think out of production).

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Post by Rolsen » Wed Mar 18, 2009 2:26 pm

This is very disheartening. I?ve been wanting to ditch my standalone korg DAW and go the laptop route. I thought selection would be easier than this. Do we really represent such a small niche that our particular needs have no influence on the manufacturers?

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Post by Bro Shark » Wed Mar 18, 2009 2:41 pm

I'm using a Dell Inspiron 6000 that I bought new in 2006. (2GHz, 2GB RAM) I have to hook up the Digi 002 to the onboard 4-pin firewire port, and run the audio drive off an aftermarket Siig cardbus firewire port. If I try and swap those two buses, or run both devices off the Siig, everything falls apart. Pretty precarious situation but if I don't goof around, everything does work reliably. I also have to disable networking and firewall/antivirus.

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Post by b3groover » Wed Mar 18, 2009 6:47 pm

Well, most people with this problem just buy a Macbook and call it good. Of course, the new Macbooks no longer have firewire, so you're kinda fuckled.

I understand wanting to buy new, but buying used isn't a bad idea. If you did, I would wipe the drive, re-install a copy of XP (no Vista) and start from scratch.


That said, I took a gamble with the HP and it works great. The biggest culprit for firewire problems is the chipset that is used for the connection. In general, Texas Instrument chipsets are safe. I have no idea what's in my laptop. You can always get a cardbus firewire adapter if the onboard connection is glitchy.

If you're going to use the laptop for anything else, create a separate boot partition and put a clean copy of XP Pro on there. Slim down your visuals (most laptop video cards use a chunk of RAM and CPU to operate), only load the bare essential of drivers (no wireless) and tweak the system for audio (lots of guides for doing this on the web).

I think you'd be fine with just about any major brand laptop.
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Post by qball » Thu Mar 19, 2009 4:00 am

I have the HP DV9000 with Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, wide screen and two 100gb drives. I replaced the 2nd HDD with a 7200rpm version for recording audio. All chipsets are Texas Instruments. Using it with 2 Firepods and Reaper. It's the best setup I've ever had!

http://reviews.cnet.com/laptops/hp-p...tag=mncol;psum

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Post by Smitty » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:14 am

i'm kind of in this situation as well, looking to get one that will jive with my Fireface.

thanks for all the responses... very helpful!
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Post by kingmetal » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:38 am

I've had virtually no problems with any firewire interface on any computer ever, but I've got a MOTU and MOTUs are magic.

Jokes aside - I've run my 828MKII off of integrated FW busses on PCs since my HP DV1000 and my current Fujitsu Lifebook T4215 but I usually use a cheap-o PCMCIA-to-firewire card. Haven't had any problems, but the MOTU does only go down to 128 samples. My desktop hiccups on occasion down at 128 samples, but I'm blaming that on my shitty Athlon X2 5000+ processor more than my FW bus (I've tried an external card and it made little difference). This is pretty much the first time I've even thought twice about a firewire interface in 5 years or so.

Buy the laptop you want, but just make sure it has a expresscard slot. If the FW interface gives you shit, buy the siig external card everyone keeps talking about and call it a day.

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Post by b3groover » Thu Mar 19, 2009 11:33 am

MOTU stuff and PCs are a bad combo, in my experience. I know it works for some people, but man I wasted a lot of time trying to get them to work with two different computers (custom built by me) and as soon as I switched to the Firepod I've had nothing but total stability.

YMMV and all that shit.

Max out the RAM, make sure your system drive is at least 5400rpm (7200rpm would be better), don't record audio to the system drive, clean install of Windows XP (getting rid of all that crap that most laptops are filled with these days) and you'll be good to go.
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Post by ctmsound » Thu Mar 19, 2009 12:12 pm

Get the old white macbook. I run it with an M-Audio Profire 2626 and it runs SOLID. You can even run bootcamp and run windows native on it. You can get 'em used for cheap and new for under a grand.

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