Choosing a laptop for playing backing tracks

(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)

Let’s say you’ve decided that you want to use a laptop computer to play your backing tracks on stage. You probably arrived at your decision because you love the big screen display as opposed to fiddly little mp3 player readouts and you probably also like the fact that you can work on your laptop while you’re sitting in the dressing room waiting to go onstage (hey, if you’ve got a wireless internet connection why not ask the audience for song requests and if you don’t have a particular song, download it immediately from MP3 Backing Trax midway through your gig)!

The next thing you’re going to want to know is, which laptop is best for playing backing tracks?

As far as laptops go, it’s really difficult to say what’s good or bad because laptop manufacturers change their models and specifications almost daily nowadays. Add to this the fact that a laptop that had a great spec 6 months ago is now like a dinosaur compared to their newer models, it gets very difficult to keep up.

The good news is that “as a general rule of thumb” you can normally do ok by just buying the cheapest laptop you can find at the time. This is because you can pretty much guarantee that even the cheapest laptop on the market today is probably twice as good as a £2,000 laptop from last year.

However, there are a couple of things to look out for if you need a laptop for a specific purpose or to do a specific type of job.

For example, keen gamers should buy a laptop with a particularly good video card. Musicians should buy a laptop with a particularly good sound card.

There’s also the operating system to consider. Many of the cheaper laptops are cheap because they don’t run Windows as the operating system – they run Linux or one of the Linux variations. This basically means that you can’t run Windows software on them (well, technically you can, but you need to be a really clued-up techie and run a virtual Windows environment on the Linux computer – and that’s not for the faint hearted, I can assure you)!

So if you’re not technically minded, my advice is don’t even try it. On top of that, even if you were brave enough to attempt to run a virtual Windows environment on your Linux computer, you’ll most probably still run in to problems. Windows is famously temperamental at the best of times, so you can imagine what it’s like trying to run Windows programs on an operating system that wasn’t actually designed for Windows!

If you really want to run computer programs and get them to work the way they were designed to work, then use programs that were designed for the operating system you’re using.

It’s a bit like buying a petrol car, and trying to get it run on diesel…yes, it is possible to do it, but do you really need the headaches? Wouldn’t you just be better off buying a diesel car in the first place?

As the world demands cheaper and cheaper electronic products from the manufacturers and those manufacturers try to outdo each other to be the cheapest, many are now selling laptops (and desktop computers) with linux pre-installed instead of Windows. While this does help to keep the price down (Linux is a free open-source system) the downside is that you may have trouble doing the things you want to do on a Linux computer. Don’t misunderstand me, Linux is a great operating system (in fact we use it to run our servers here at MP3 Backing Trax because it’s more stable and robust than Windows server software).

The problem is that for so many years 99.9% of computers sold have always came with Windows pre-installed and people can be forgiven for thinking that this is the norm.

So before you splash your cash on that new fantastic spec laptop with it’s incredibly cheap price, super-fast processor, massive hard drive and loads of memory, just check the operating system…or you may be in for a disappointment when you get it home and out of the box!