Can one effectively use an older (2004) laptop for audio recording and multitrack mixing?


I have an older laptop I'd like to salvage for music recording and digital mixing. My question is general enough for SE but I will also give specific details about my specific case:

I have a 2004 Gateway M275 laptop: 1 GB RAM. 30 GB HD. Intel Pentium M processor @ about 2Ghz. 1 MB L2 cache. Firewire port. Might do a clean wipe and put a lightweight Linux distro on it. For use with a MAudio Firewire Solo audio interface and free or cheap audio software. Recording and multitrack mixing up to 5-10 tracks, 3-5 minute pieces. I'd run it with no other software running while recording/mixing music.

One can Google articles from around that time that say that computers with far worse specs than that were routinely being used for successful audio recording. Here's a quote from someone online:

Doing audio stuff does not demand a lot of a computer, and I started digital recording on a PC with lower specs than yours [565Mhz processor. 279MB RAM], and did so quite successfully.

If I can do this, it would save me the need to buy another computer. But I'm worried that maybe I'd get in trouble with laptop fan noise (which maybe I can isolate in a box somehow?), or just that it would limit too much what free music software I could use. But if I can do it, it'd be great.

So...does this seem feasible based on the demands on the computer given what I would like to do?


Posted 2015-06-13T21:01:36.227

Reputation: 21

One potential issue in your project is support of your audio interface on a Linux distro. That might require a bit of hacking as M-Audio does not provide Linux drivers for this product. There are nevertheless records of successful installation on various websites. Ubuntu studio + seems to be one option.

– audionuma – 2015-06-14T08:22:37.730

@audionuma Thanks, that's such a key point I had totally overlooked. This is just why I reach out for help. Thank you so much. – tripperjack – 2015-06-14T19:33:58.017



For straight recording, I'd say you'd probably manage. If your audio card has it's own processor, then it should be fine. You may have to cope with a large latency setting. When it comes to effects, I think it will NOT cope.

I have a laptop that does great from 2006, but I've upgraded its insides, it's now got a 2GHz Dual Core T2500 (2MB L2 w/667MHz FSB) with 4GB RAM and 1TB HDD. I use the 1616m to record when out and about, and I get no problems. It handles VST and VSTi plugins well (up to a certain point).

If your recording 20 x 48000Hz @ 24bit Tracks, then your system needs to cope with

[20 x 48000 @24 bit

1152000 bits/sec per track;

x20 tracks = 23040000 bits/sec

or 2880000 Bytes/sec

or 2.88MB/sec ]

..about 3MB/s of data being processed and written to the Hard drive.

The only problem I see, is with your RAM, It's cheap enough for old modules, so I'd say upgrading this is a must.

Laptop performances can vary depending on different things, so the only thing you can do to be sure is to try it out.

Marc W

Posted 2015-06-13T21:01:36.227

Reputation: 2 042


It all depends on particular case, but that setup of yours should do nicely. It did whole EDM production on PC FAR worse than your laptop, but it reuired me to get really creative. But it could be done easily. Just remember two things: don't go crazy with modern VST plugins, more often than not stock plugins in your DAW of choice are far better optimised, even if it means that you need to go an extra mile to achieve your goals. The second thing is - you need to make some peace with destructive edits - with RAM as low as you have that might be the only way sometimes. So, cherish your Undos.


Posted 2015-06-13T21:01:36.227

Reputation: 151


I would suggest also some GNU/Linux distribution. You need to learn some skills about it, but it is not hard.

I have recently installed Debian 7.8 on my VAIO from 2005. I can easily do video editing and that includes effects, without a separate video card!

So I would recommend: Debian 7.8 (not 8.1) with XFCE desktop ...and important: use only stable versions of that distro. You can use Audacity and Ardour for your needs, they are fully functional and stable. Do not install the newest versions. It will break your dependencies.


Posted 2015-06-13T21:01:36.227

Reputation: 13