When choosing a laptop for Pro Tools, what you want really depends on the use case. Working with a lot of tracks and plugins can be taxing on the CPU so having a powerful machine will put you at an advantage. If you don’t mind freezing tracks then a lower powered laptop may be something you can work with, however, if you’re committing and bouncing, the extra processing power will serve you well!
Luckily, Pro Tools isn’t really heavy on the graphics so you don’t have to worry about getting a powerful GPU. But generally, when you purchase hardware, it is always a good idea to get the most powerful machine you can afford. It will serve you well since Pro Tools does require a bit of processing power. It is a good idea to get something good upfront so you do not have to worry about upgrading in the near future.
Working in a DAW environment requires a decent bit of storage, especially for your raw audio files. Having at least 1 TB of storage on board is a good idea. An SSD can save a lot of time over a traditional hard drive, especially if you’re going to import or export audio tracks often.
If your budget is somewhat limited, you can get a laptop with 512 GB of SSD storage and purchase an external HDD drive for storing your project files. However, it is a hassle and you’d rather fork a little more and save yourself the trouble while working on projects. The best case would be to go with a 1 TB SSD and buy an additional 5 TB storage for archiving projects or having them off your computer if you do not intend to work on them right away. In any case, external storage will almost always be required.
You will also need at least 16 GB of RAM, but getting more is always better to ensure you never run into any stutters or crashes. Even Pro tools recommends 32 GB of RAM, but there are users who even run it on 8 GB and somehow manage their workflow, it is however not recommended that you do so. In our testing, we did use a laptop with 12 GB of RAM and it did feel like we were pushing it. 16 GB as a minimum is highly recommended but 32 GB will be ideal!
A large part of the Pro Tools community uses Mac, so there is a lot of community support if you go with macOS. You won’t have a difficult time resolving any problems you encounter, and the developers focus a bit more on the Mac community. Going with Mac does have its perks, but Pro Tools works well on all platforms. If you’re already used to Windows and aren’t comfortable with switching then you don’t have to worry about it. It is not a hard and fast rule! Windows can run Pro Tools as good as Mac, so stick to the OS you are used to, unless you are wanting to make a switch for some reason.
Minimum System Requirements for Pro Tools
|Intel® PC Windows 10 & 11 Home, Pro, and Enterprise 64-bit Editions (please find version specific qualifications in the Windows OS Compatibility Grid below) Windows 10 & 11 for Workstations supported on Intel® Xeon processor-equipped machines||macOS 10.14.6, 10.15.7, 11.6, 12.3 (PT 2021.12 and later with 2022.2 Plugins) (please find version specific qualifications in the macOS Compatibility Grid below)|
|Pro Tools Artist & Studio – Intel® Core i5 processor||Pro Tools Artist & Studio – M1 (see computer specifications below) or Intel® Core i5 processor|
|Pro Tools Ultimate/Flex – Intel® Core i9 or Intel® Xeon processor||Pro Tools Ultimate/Flex – M1 (see computer specifications below) or Intel® Core i5 (specific models only) or Intel® Core i7 processor|
|16GB RAM (32GB or more recommended)||16GB RAM (32GB or more recommended)|
|Internet connection and 15 GB disk space for installation||Internet connection and 15 GB disk space for installation|
|PCIe slot for HDX or HD Native card (incl. one power connection on motherboard)||PCIe slot for HDX or HD Native card (incl. one power connection on motherboard),|
|USB-port, FireWire-port for ASIO-supported audio device||USB port, FireWire port or Thunderbolt port for CoreAudio-supported audio device|
For both mac and Windows, Pro Tools Ultimate 2021.12 and earlier requires a Pro Tools DigiLink I/O license to access HD hardware. Pro Tools 2022.4 now has this license is built into the software so the separate DigiLink I/O is not necessary.
Best Laptop for Pro Tools Reviews
Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch M1 Pro
The 16-inch MacBook Pro has been the top choice for all kinds of creators including music producers. It comes with the M1 Pro which has a 10-core CPU, 16-core neural engine and 16-core GPU. In our benchmark tests, we found the M1 Pro to be about 65 percent faster than the regular M1 and about 20 percent faster than the i9 found on the previous 16-inch MacBook Pro. These performance gains were apparent when using Pro Tools, as we could run more tracks simultaneously on the MacBook Pro than any other laptop we tested. When comparing the GPU performance, the M1 Pro is twice as fast the regular M1 and 150 percent faster than i9 found on its predecessor.
During our testing, the MacBook Pro did suffer from thermal throttling, however we didn’t hear the fans turn on to their full capacity. If they did, there would have been no performance loss due to overheating, but the machine would run louder. The overheating issue isn’t as bad as last year’s model, where the laptop would often freeze and the chassis would be warm to the touch, even during simple tasks.
Luckily, you get 16 GB of fast DDR4 RAM with 512 GB of storage. In our experience, having more storage is beneficial, but 512 GB is good enough to store all your programs, plugins and some audio file. However, if you’re planning to store a lot of raw audio files locally, then look towards getting an external storage device or even some form of cloud storage like iCloud.
The MacBook Pro’s display was a delight to use. It is a 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, which is the exact same quality as Apple’s premium Pro display XDR monitor. You get the most color accurate panel on a laptop with excellent brightness. Even when using the laptop in direct sunlight we found the display to be as visible as using it indoors. The only problem is the notch on the top of the screen similar to that on the iPhone. Many people do eventually get used to it, but during our time with the MacBook Pro, we found it to be very distracting.
Apple has improved their port selection compared to the previous model where along with the 4 USB-C Thunderbolt ports and a headphone jack, you can get an SD card reader and an HDMI port. The only thing missing is a USB-A port. If you use an audio interface which connects via USB-A then you will have to buy a USB-C docking station.
Moreover, the Mag Safe charging port has made a comeback. In fact, during our testing, the MacBook remained stationary even when someone tripped over the charging cable while the laptop was plugged in. If you haven’t used Mag Safe before, you will fall in love with it.
The MacBook Pro has some other notable features like an amazing backlit keyboard and excellent speakers. Not to mention the countless features that macOS offers which makes life easier such as Airdrop and iMessages. MacOS alone makes the MacBook a no brainer for Apple users.
One point to note about the MacBook is that it does not include Wi-Fi 6E, which is a slightly faster version of Wi-Fi 6. We didn’t find a noticeable difference in internet speeds between Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, but if you import or export a lot of audio files from the cloud then having the slightly faster upload and download speeds can save you a lot of precious seconds.
Apple has listened to their customers and have finally made the MacBook a bit thicker than its predecessor. This allows for more ports and better cooling like we mentioned before. The added weight doesn’t ruin the experience either so it was a worthy sacrifice. The dimensions of the new 16-inch MacBook Pro are 14.01×9.77×0.66 inches and it weighs 4.7 pounds which is pretty light for a 16-inch laptop, although a bit heavier than the 4.3 pounds 2019 MacBook Pro.
The MacBook Pro has an amazing battery life. In our testing it lasted about 18 hours which is unheard of from a laptop. We could never kill this laptop even when using it for 2 days straight, which just goes to show the amazing optimization of the Apple silicon Macs.
MacBook Pro 16-Inch Benefits
The MacBook Pro provides you with one of the best performing CPUs beating out all high-end processors.
You get the best display found on a laptop which rivals professional external monitors.
The Mag Safe charging technology makes a return, ensuring your laptop or charging port isn’t damaged if someone trips over it.
Amazing battery life which easily lasts for two days of heavy usage.
MacBook Pro 16-Inch Drawbacks
You only get 512 GB of storage which fills up easily if you store a lot of audio files locally.
The MacBook is susceptible to heating up and thermal throttling, although under very high loads only.
You don’t get a USB-A port which can cause some problems if your audio interface connects via USB-A.
MSI Creator M16
The MSI creator M16 is a powerful laptop! A top choice for audio engineers who want a high-performance device. It comes with an Intel Core i7-12650H which is a 10 core and 16 threads processor running at a maximum turbo frequency of 4.7 GHz. In our testing, we found the performance to be 30 percent better than the 11th Generation i7 and on par with the M1 Pro found on the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It could easily handle multiple audio tracks even when third party plugins were being used.
You also get to choose between a RTX 3050, RTX 3050 TI and RTX 3060 GPUs. For Pro Tools, all three of these are overkill and even the integrated graphics of the i7 will work perfectly fine. You can go for either of the models depending on your budget and if you use any graphically intensive programs. While using the M16, we never noticed the machine heating up at all. The Cooler Boost 5 technology incorporated into this machine really did its job.
The MSI comes with 32 GB of DDR4 RAM and 1 TB of SSD storage. No matter how many tracks or plugins we worked with simultaneously, the MSI didn’t struggle at all when it came to RAM management. The storage space is also plenty to store all your audio files and programs locally.
The MSI also has a pretty good 16″ QHD+ 60Hz 500 nits display which covers 100 percent of the P3 color Gamet. It is very color accurate and we found it usable even under direct sunlight. While it isn’t as good as the one found on the MacBook, it’s still a pretty good screen. Not to mention, you don’t have to deal with large bezels or a notch either, so your production experience is uninterrupted. The screen can also tilt 180 degrees. Our only complaint was that for a laptop like the M16, we were expecting a 120 HZ display, however, the 60 Hz screen is smooth enough and doesn’t negatively impact your Pro Tools usage.
The port selection on the M16 is perfect with 1 Thunderbolt Type-C USB3.2, 2 Type-A USB3.2, 1x Type-A USB2.0, 1 RJ45 Ethernet, 1x HDMI and 1 headphone jack. You will not face any issues connecting any kind of audio interface on this machine.
Some other noteworthy features include a backlit full size keyboard layout with the number pad, support for Wi-Fi 6E and both a finger print scanner and Windows Hello facial recognition. The MSI M16 comes with Windows 11 Pro preinstalled. In our testing, there was no difference in using Pro Tools on Windows 10 versus Windows 11. There were a few bugs initially with running Pro Tools when Windows 11 just came out, however, Microsoft has since resolved most of them.
The MSI M16 is one of the heavier laptops we tested. It comes in at 20.5 x 13.3 x 4 inches and weighs almost 5 pounds. Unlike the MacBook Pro, it didn’t have good weight distribution, which is a problem that existed on the predecessor model as well. We had trouble carrying it in our backpack and would not recommend you to do the same.
Another problem we encountered was that compared to how much you pay for this machine, the build quality felt cheap. While the laptop was durable, the plastic outer body was of low quality. Not to mention it was a finger print magnet. Despite using the MSI very carefully, by the end of a session, our model was covered with greasy fingerprints which were difficult to remove.
The battery life of the MSI isn’t that great either. You get about 3 to 4 hours of screen on time. We always had to plug it in during the middle of the day. With the heavy weight and mediocre battery life, we recommend using the MSI M16 as your desktop replacement rather than a portable machine.
Overall, these are really petty things that you can totally ignore. In terms of performance, the M16 is a pretty solid machine. It does everything that you want a laptop to do, and more. It is an awesome selection for running Pro Tools.
MSI Creator M16 Benefits
It offers amazing performance which shreds through any task you throw at it.
You get 32 GB of RAM which can handle many audio tracks and plugins at once.
Great port selection with both USB-A and USB-C ports to connect any kind of audio interface.
MSI Creator M16 Benefits
It is very heavy and difficult to carry around.
The build quality feels cheap for the price, especially the outer plastic, which easily attracts finger prints.
The battery life is mediocre which will run out in the middle of the day.
Acer Aspire 5
The Acer Aspire 5 is a popular option for Pro Tools users who want the best price to performance. It comes with the AMD Ryzen 3 3350U which is a 4 core and 4 threads processor with a maximum turbo frequency of 3.5 GHz. It is about 70 percent slower than the i7 12650H on the MSI. While the single core performance on this laptop is pretty good, the lower core count holds it back. The Ryzen 3 3350U is about 25 percent faster than the Intel i3-8145U found on the Aspire 5’s predecessor.
We used Pro Tools initially with fewer tracks and plugins and the Acer performed really well. However, using more tracks with third party plugins proved to be a bit difficult. We heard the fans on the Acer Aspire 5 turn on to full capacity as soon as we started a session on Pro Tools. It was very loud and got annoying after some time. This is a problem that existed on the previous model as well. However, the laptop remained fairly cool and there was no thermal throttling under normal load.
With the Acer Aspire 5, you get a 512 GB SSD and 12 GB of DDR4 RAM. There are higher and lower tier models with more storage and memory, but we did all our testing on this model. The RAM configuration is lower than the minimum recommendation, which did reflect in the performance to a certain degree. Running multiple tracks sometimes gave use the “Low Physical RAM” warning message. However, if we froze tracks and didn’t use a lot of plugins, then Pro Tools ran smoothly. We would also recommend getting an external storage device, because the 512 GB SSD can fill up very quickly if you store a lot of audio files.
The Acer Aspire 5 comes with a 15.6″ Full HD 1920 x 1080 widescreen LED backlit IPS Display. Pretty good for the price! It wasn’t as color accurate or bright as the one found on the MacBook. You get good viewing angles and outdoor visibility. We didn’t get the best visibility when we used the laptop under direct sunlight. If you’re mostly using your laptop indoors in a decently lit environment, then the Acer Aspire 5 will work just fine. This updated panel is a major upgrade over the Aspire’s predecessor which had bad viewing angles and no outdoor visibility.
The port selection on the Acer is also on-par with what we have come to expect. It comes with 1 USB 3.1 Type-C Gen 1, 2 USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 Port, 1 USB-A 2.0 Port, 1 HDMI Port and a headphone jack. Most audio interfaces will do just fine with this port selection, however if you have an interface that features only a Thunderbolt port, then this machine will not be a good choice.
Acer Aspire 5 comes with some noteworthy features such as a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint scanner and Windows Hello facial recognition. The backlighting on the keyboard isn’t as bright as we would have liked. The Acer Aspire 5 comes with Windows 11, but it has S mode turned on. S mode doesn’t allow you to download application from third party sources so you won’t be able to download Pro Tools. Luckily, turning off S mode is as simple as changing the settings on your computer. All our testing was done with S mode turned off and we would recommend you to do the same.
The Acer provides the most portable package out of all the three laptops. It dimensions are 14.31 x 9.86 x 0.71 inches and it weighs only 4 pounds. Compared to regular ultra-books, it is a bit heavier, but it’s still light enough to carry around. We had no issues carrying the Acer Aspire 5 in a backpack, which is something we can’t say about the other two options.
You also get respectable battery life with 7 hours of screen on time. It isn’t as good as the one on the MacBook, but still better than the battery life on the MSI. We got a full day’s worth of usage, although in one instance the Acer died before the end of the day. We realized that the battery would drain faster if your laptop was on sleep mode, that’s why we recommend turning off your laptop if you’re going to take a long break. If you’re conservative with your battery usage, then the laptop will easily last you through the entire day.
Acer Aspire 5 Benefits
Provides amazing value for money, with the best performance for its price point.
Good port selection with both a USB-A and USB-C port.
A lightweight and portable design.
Acer Aspire 5 Drawbacks
The fan gets very loud.
Windows 11 S mode is enabled which prevents you to download programs from third party sources, although this can be easily turned off from the settings.
Only 512 GB of Storage and 12 GB of RAM.
Based on our scoring model, the highest variance can be seen in the Additional features, Connectivity and Processor categories. Apple provides a lot of features within the mac OS which enhance the Pro Tools experience, along with some noteworthy hardware features such as the great display and speakers. The M1 Pro processor is also a cut above the rest, and while the i7 on the MSI does come close, it still isn’t as good. The Acer has the lowest score in both of these categories, but that’s more so because it is a budget option so it can’t pack as many features and performance as the other two. The MacBook also has a perfect score in connectivity because of the Thunderbolt ports which is missing on the other two options.
The MacBook Pro has the highest overall score as it performs well across all the categories. The lowest score it gets is an 8 in the price to performance, storage and RAM categories. Apple charges a premium for their laptop due to which they will always get a low score for price to performance, but that’s justifiable by the exceptional features offered. They also provide low storage expandability, but you can buy an external storage device to ensure you never run out of storage. The MacBook does have sufficient RAM with 16 GB, but compared to the 32 GB offered by the MSI, it falls a bit short. That being said, the performance is not handicapped that much because of the low RAM variant.
The MSI M16 and the MacBook had a very similar score with a variance of only 0.1. Both of these can be very good options. If you only want to use Windows, but still want the high end specifications and features like the MacBook, the MSI is a perfect option. The Acer while having a low average score of 7.1, can be a great budget option for those just getting started with Pro Tools, or who want a secondary device for audio production.
The overall winner has to be the MacBook Pro with the final overall score of 8.8. We found that it provided the best performance, because of the M1 Pro processor which is a revolutionary change over its predecessor. Not only that, it also provides the most amount of features such as the excellent display and Airdrop to name a few. MacOS also has amazing community support for Pro Tools, which means you will always find a solution for any bugs or problems. Amazing hardware and software features, coupled with great performance makes the MacBook Pro our favorite choice for a Pro Tools machine!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are the Minimum System Requirements for Pro Tools in some aspects lower than what you have suggested?
You will find our suggestions to be a bit more powerful than what is recommend. That’s because those are just the bare minimum specifications required to run Pro Tools. If you’re going to use many plugins, third party virtual tools and work with multiple tracks, then having the extra performance can really help you avoid any crashes or the “Low Physical RAM” messages.
Having the additional performance will also future proof your device. Newer versions of Pro Tools require more power, such as how the minimum requirement for Pro Tool v9 was only 2 GB and now its 16 GB.
How do I decide if I should get a mac or Windows laptop for Pro Tools?
Pro Tools works equally well on both Macs and Windows. Majority of Pro Tools users use Mac, so you will get better community and developer support. However, if you are already using Windows and don’t want to switch then you don’t have to.
Does my laptop come with Pro Tools Installed?
Pro Tools is not preinstalled on either Windows or Mac laptops. It is a third-party software that you can install following the instructions on these links:
Will I be able to run future versions of Pro Tools on my laptop?
The MSI and the MacBook should be good for a bunch of years, we can’t say the same for the Acer Aspire! If you do choose to go with the latter, look into getting a RAM upgrade. If you do that then all these machines are good to go for the foreseeable future. Unless Pro Tools chooses to release a version that requires an insane amount of RAM/CPU Power (highly unlikely), you should be fine at least for the next 5 years, or more.
Other than Pro Tools, will my laptop also be compatible with my other Audio gear?
Audio interfaces can connect via either USB-A or Thunderbolt USB-C. If your laptop doesn’t have the port which corresponds to your audio interface, then you can get a USB hub to expand your connectivity. The rest of your audio gear such as the mixer and MIDI controlled can then be connected to your audio interface.