Finding a good laptop for music production under 500 dollars can be a real chore. While there are many options out there, only a few actually fulfil the requirements for music production. When working with a limited budget, it will be difficult to get all the features you want. However, if you focus on the more important ones, and have realistic expectations, you can definitely find laptops that will get the job done, and that too, to a high standard.
Firstly, we would recommend looking for the most powerful processor you can find in your budget. Generally, this is going to be a modern Intel or AMD CPU with at least 4 cores. Alternatively, you can also go toward a last generation model, which will be much cheaper now, but will still provide you with similar performance to its more expensive successor. You can also work with a 2-core processor, but at that point you will be limiting your workload and the kinds of plugins and instruments you are going to use.
Normally, we would recommend going for at least 1 TB of storage for music production. However, considering the price range we are working with, going with 512 GB or even 256 GB should be enough to store your DAW and plugins. Your device should ideally have expandable storage, but even if it doesn’t you can always purchase an external storage device in the future if you run out of space. It is also important that you go for an SSD, instead of a hard drive. Gone are the days when laptops used to come with mechanical hard drives. Nowadays, even the most budget offerings come with an SSD.
The same advice is applicable to your RAM. We recommend going for a minimum of 12 – 16 GB of RAM as that will be enough to handle running multiple plugins and instruments. Having expandable RAM is much more important than having expandable storage so it’s very important that your laptop features a high quality, yet expandable memory kit.
Another important consideration is which operating system you should go for. While both macs and Windows machines provide similar music production experience, since Windows devices offer better value, we recommend going for them. Additionally, you will find a lot of laptops that come with ChromeOS. These might seem like good deals at first; however, they aren’t capable of running demanding software including DAWs such as Pro Tools or Ableton Live.
Best Laptops for Music Production under $500 Reviews
The Asus VivoBook series offers great performance and features for the price. The VivoBook touchscreen comes with an 11th Gen Intel Core i3-1115G4 which is a 2 core 4 thread processor with a maximum boost frequency of about 3 GHz. It performs about 15 percent better than the 10th generation i3 on its predecessor. We were satisfied with the performance of the i3 when running FL Studio, despite having only 2 cores. We did encounter the occasional stutter, but that’s to be expected from a laptop in this price range.
We found the VivoBook’s fans to turn on immediately under load. It got very loud which might be problematic if you are going towards live recording. However, the fans did provide great airflow and cooling. There was very little thermal throttling, and even the external casing was just slightly warm. Although, it should be noted that the exhaust vents did get a bit hot when pumping out the warm air, but that’s what kept the insides cool.
We were pleased to see that the VivoBook came with 20 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. Moreover, this was a high quality DDR4 RAM kit and one of the fastest M.2 SSD. You will not find a better storage and memory configuration on any laptop in this price range. We didn’t have any issue running multiple plugins because of having a massive 20 GB of RAM. It will also be enough to keep your laptop future proof for the next few years. Not to mention, having 512 GB of storage is more than enough to get started as you will easily be able to store all your plugins, instruments and even a few RAW files. For anything more than that we would recommend getting an external storage device or even cloud storage.
The 15.6-inch FHD 1080p IPS display was about what you would expect from this price range. It was sharp with decent colours and had surprisingly good viewing angles. Unfortunately, due to having only 250 nits of brightness and a glossy coating, we found the display difficult to see in bright environments. We wished that Asus had included a matte coating for better outdoor visibility, but otherwise we didn’t have any problems.
One of the main highlights of this laptop is the touchscreen display. It works well for the most part, but we did find that there were many accidental touches and sometimes the touchscreen would register an input on its own. This was also an issue that we found on the VivoBook’s predecessor. We had disabled the touchscreen drivers from the device manager for most of our review and we recommend you do the same unless you really need the touch functionality.
The port selection on the VivoBook was about what you would expect with 1 USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 1 USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C, 2 USA 2.0 Type-A, 1 AC smart pin, 1 HDMI, a headphone jack and a micro-SD card slot. This was the exact same port selection as its predecessor. The only thing we found missing was an Ethernet port. As expected, the USB-C port didn’t support Thunderbolt which is to be expected from a device in this price range. Luckily, having both USB-A and USB-C ports means that you will be able to connect any kind of audio interface you want.
The Asus VivoBook has many premium features which are appreciated at this price range. Some of these include a fingerprint scanner, facial unlock and a pretty decent 720p webcam. The only thing we found missing was support for Wi-Fi 6, something missing on its predecessor as well, which wouldn’t be much of an issue if they included an Ethernet port.
The dimensions of the Asus VivoBook are 14.17 x 9.25 x 0.78 inches and it weighs 3.97 pounds. It’s a bit on the heavier side and the fact that it doesn’t have great weight distribution doesn’t help at all. We found it a bit uncomfortable carrying it in our backpack. If you want a portable machine then you should definitely keep this in mind.
In our testing, the VivoBook lasted about 7 to 8 hours which is what we had expected as its predecessor also provided similar battery life. We managed to get through an entire day of usage on a single charge, as long as we were careful with our usage.
Asus VivoBook Benefits
Excellent performance for the price with the i3-1115G4 despite only having 2 cores.
A high quality and capacity memory and storage kit, with 20 GB of DDR4 RAM and a 512GB M.2 SSD which makes the laptop feel much snappier.
You get access to both a fingerprint scanner and facial unlock which makes opening the laptop a breeze.
Asus VivoBook Drawbacks
The touch capabilities on the display had a few faults which resulted in a lot of accidental inputs.
You neither get an Ethernet port nor Wi-Fi 6 capabilities which means the internet experience is a bit lacklustre compared to other devices even in this price range.
Acer Aspire 5 Slim
The Acer Aspire 5 Slim comes with an AMD Ryzen 3 3350U which is a 4 core and 4 thread processor. Due to being a whole generation older than the Intel, we found the Acer to perform about 20 percent slower in single core performance and approximately the same in multicore performance despite the presence of the extra 2 cores. However, it should be noted that both these machines performed almost identically when running DAWs such as Pro Tools.
The Acer was a very quiet machine. We barely ever heard the fans turn on during our testing even during slightly intensive workloads, which makes it the perfect laptop for live recording. The laptop didn’t heat up either, as both the external and internal temperatures were acceptable. This was mostly because the Ryzen’s power efficiency, and also because the processor was slightly underclocked right out of the box. You can overclock the processor for some extra performance, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that as it will compromise the thermals of the device while providing only a marginal performance boost.
You get 12GB of DDR4 RAM and 256GB SSD with the Aspire. While this might seem like a bit of a step down when compared to the VivoBook, it is still good enough. We didn’t notice any performance issues due to having less RAM than the Asus. The storage is a bit low, but it will be enough to get you started with downloading your DAW and having a few instruments and plugins as well. We recommend buying an external storage device to store all your RAW files. Alternatively, you can also upgrade the internal storage as both that and the memory are user upgradeable.
We found the 15.6″ Full HD 1080p LED-backlit IPS display to be lacklustre. The colours and viewing angles weren’t that great which means you will have trouble looking at the display if you aren’t looking at it head on. This also meant that the outdoor viewing experience wasn’t that great either, and having only 250 nits of brightness also made the problem worse. Fortunately, the matte coating did help in improving the outdoor visibility. We did find the bezels on the Acer’s screen to be on the larger size which made the laptop feel a bit outdated.
The port selection on the Acer Aspire 5 Slim was excellent. You get 1 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, 2 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, 1 AC smart pin, 1 HDMI 1.4b, a RJ-45 Ethernet port and a headphone jack. Just like the VivoBook, you don’t get support for charging or connecting an external display through the USB-C port. Luckily, you can attach any kind of audio interface you want with the included USB-A and USB-C ports and still have more ports leftover for other accessories.
The Acer Aspire 5 didn’t miss out on any important features such as fingerprint scanner, Windows Hello facial recognition, the Kensington Lock and a pretty good backlit full-sized keyboard.
The Acer Aspire 5 was also on the larger side as its dimensions were 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.71 inches and it weighed exactly the same as the Asus at 3.97 pounds. We had the same problem with the Acer as it was fairly heavy which made it difficult to carry in our backpack. The reason for that was that the Acer had one of the best build qualities you’re going to get from a laptop in this price range. It was made from a high-quality plastic and metal which gave the laptop a very premium feel. In our experience and according to a lot of users we talked to, the Aspire was one of the most durable laptops in this price range.
The battery life on the Acer is also pretty good at around 8 hours on a single charge which is similar to that of the Asus. It was enough to get us through the whole day of usage, although we always had to charge the laptop as the end of the day.
Acer Aspire 5 Benefits
The Acer was a very quiet machine as we barely heard the fans turn on, despite that there was barely any thermal throttling.
You get all the important features such as a finger print scanner and backlit keyboard.
The build quality was premium and very durable which is rare to see on a device in this price point.
Acer Aspire 5 Slim Drawbacks
The display was mediocre as it had mediocre outdoor visibility and viewing angles.
The Ryzen CPU wasn’t the best performing despite having 4 cores, it was still slower than the dual core Intel CPU on the Asus VivoBook.
Dell Inspiron 15 3510
The Dell Inspiron 15 3510 is equipped with an Intel Celeron N4020 which is a 2 core 2 thread processor with a maximum boost frequency of 2.8 GHz. We found it to be around 30 percent faster than the Intel Celeron N3020 on its predecessor. It also performed about twice as worse as the AMD 3350U on the Acer. We found that the performance was good enough for basic music production workloads, but once we threw something more demanding at the laptop, it slowed down and did crash once, after rebooting it was fine again.
The Dell Inspiron was very silent. Under idle, we never heard the fan turn on. Even when we subjected it to high workloads, the device was relatively silent, which makes it perfect for live audio recording just like the Acer. Since the Celeron processors are meant to be power efficient, the thermal performance of this laptop was also excellent as we never noticed any thermal throttling.
The Dell Inspiron come with 16GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB PCIe M.2 SSD. You get a ton of memory for running multiple programs or plugins at once. Unfortunately, due to having a weak processor there is a bottleneck in performance which means that you can’t fully take advantage of the memory. Having 256 GB of storage is not a lot, since you will struggle storing all your audio files, however it should be enough to get you started. You can always expand your internal storage and RAM or purchase an external storage device if you ever run out of space.
The 15.6-inch HD display of the Dell was surprisingly good. While it was not as sharp as its competition because of not being 1080p, it still had great colour reproduction and good viewing angles for the price. It even had decent outdoor visibility because of the matte coating. This is the exact same panel used on the Dell’s predecessor and it is really good. However, we would have still preferred if it was 1080p and slightly brighter. Luckily, the screen does have very small bezels which makes it look very modern and more premium, especially when compared to the competition. The Dell’s predecessor has an outdated design, so we are glad to see this improvement.
The port selection on the Dell is very lacklustre. It comes with 1 USB-A 2.0, 2 USB-A 3.1 Gen 1, 1 HDMI 1.4b, a Headphone jack, a charging port and a microSD card slot. As you may have noticed, there is no USB-C which severely limits the type of audio interface and accessories you can connect. Moreover, it doesn’t have an Ethernet port either which is still excusable considering there is support for Wi-Fi 6, unlike the Asus VivoBook.
The Dell Inspiron didn’t skip out on any key features such as a finger print scanner, Windows Hello facial recognition and a webcam. The only feature we missed was the presences of a backlit keyboard, something that was also missing on its predecessor.
The dimensions of the Dell are 14.33 x 9.8 x 0.78 inches and it weighs 3.81 pounds which makes it the lightest laptop in this roundup. Despite only being 0.16 pounds lighter than the other two, it feels much more portable. We didn’t have any problem carrying it around in our backpack. This was because the laptop was made from a cheap feeling plastic. Unfortunately, this resulted in a lot of durability issues. For example, our model had a crack on its outer casing because we dropped it once during our testing. We heard many similar reports from other users as well. You should use this laptop very carefully, otherwise it may end up being damaged.
This laptop provides a respectable 8 hours of battery life. While this is great as it lasted us the entire day on a single charge, it was still below our expectation. The power efficient Celeron processor, coupled with the low-resolution display should’ve lasted at least 10 hours, but we suspect Dell might have not optimized the power consumption of this laptop well enough. That being said, this is still great battery life and it shouldn’t deter you from going towards this laptop.
Dell Inspiron 15 3510 Benefits
The Dell was very silent and remained cool which makes it perfect for live audio recording.
The display of the Dell Inspiron was great for the price as it offered great viewing angles and outdoor visibility.
The Dell was fairly light weight for its size which made it portable and easy to carry around.
Dell Inspiron 15 3510 Drawbacks
The Intel Celeron processor on this laptop is fairly slow because of which it struggles in demanding workloads.
The build quality on the Dell is subpar as it is made of a cheap plastic because of which we noticed a few durability issues.
Based on our scoring model, you can see the highest variance in the Price to Performance and Additional Features categories. Since all these laptops are similarly priced, the winner of the price to performance comes down to the most powerful laptop, which is the Asus VivoBook as it scores a 10 in this category, while the Dell Insprion scores an 8. On the other hand, the Acer Aspire 5 having the best features out of the bunch scores a 9 in Additional features. While the Asus VivoBook, which focused mainly focused on performance, scores the lowest score of a 7.
The Asus VivoBook Touchscreen remains stable in all the categories as it never scores below a 7. It provides you with the best performance out of the three laptops and thus the best price to performance as well, scoring an 8 and 10 in these categories respectively. It also offers the most amount of RAM out of three laptops at 20 GB which helps it score a 9 in that category. It only struggles in Additional Features where it scores a 7. Since Asus put a really powerful processor on their laptop, along with a touchscreen, they couldn’t include many features without increasing the price. That being said, the features aren’t that bad especially considering the budget.
The Acer Aspire 5 Slim also scores really well and is a good all round alternative to the VivoBook. It offers very similar performance that’s why it only has a 0.5 point variance in the Price to Performance and Processor categories. It even manages to offer the best features in this roundup which helps it score a 9. Sadly, due to having low RAM and storage, because of which it only scores a 7.5 and 7 in these categories respectively, the Aspire has a lower average score than the VivoBook, albeit only by 0.2 points.
According to our testing and scoring model, the Best Laptop for Music Production under $500 is the Asus VivoBook Touchscreen, having a total average score of 8.3. The i3 on the VivoBook performs shockingly well, despite only being a dual core CPU. It manages to compete with and sometimes outperform quad core processors, which will make your music production experience lag free. It does skip on some key features such as an Ethernet Port and Wi-Fi 6, and even the touch capabilities aren’t that impressive. However, if you manage to overlook that, you are getting an excellent laptop with high amounts of RAM and storage right of the box, so you won’t have to spend extra afterwards on upgrading the laptop. We can say for certain that the VivoBook will be a very solid purchase, and it will serve you well in your music production journey.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I be making any sacrifices buying a laptop for music production under $500?
There will be minor sacrifices when going for a laptop under 500 dollars, but if you are wise in your selection then you can get a laptop that will get the job done to a high standard. While you may not be able to use all the plugins or instruments at the same time or you may notice slightly lower rendering times, all of these things have valid workarounds. If you focus on getting a good deal with a powerful processor, then these sacrifices won’t noticeably affect your user experience. You can also upgrade components of your laptop over time and not have these issues at all.
What is the most important feature for a laptop for music production under $500?
The most important feature of a laptop for music production under $500 dollars is the processor/Ram combo. You should get the most powerful processor with the most RAM you can find, as that will ensure that you have a smooth music production experience.
How do I deal with limited storage on a budget music production laptop?
The best way to deal with limited storage is to buy an external storage device. A high-capacity external hard drive is shockingly affordable. In fact, many professional music producers also use these because of the amount of workload they have. Alternatively, you can also upgrade your laptops internal storage, which is going to be cheaper, but not all laptops support that or you could also go towards cloud storage.
Will I have to upgrade my machine in the near future?
If you find an excellent deal on a laptop for music production, then you would not have to upgrade it for next 5 years or maybe even more. You will be shocked as to how well a sub $500 dollar laptop can perform.