Best Windows Laptop for Music Production | Dell XPS 13 9360

best windows laptop for music production

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If you’re looking for the best alternative to Apple’s MacBook Pro, you’ve come to the right place. I spent many hours searching for the best Windows laptop for music production and found that the Dell XPS 13 had the most potential. What do you think?

One of the reasons I believe the Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows laptop for music production is because of its Thunderbolt 3 support. I only emphasize that because I know you’ll be needing it one day (even if you won’t, there’s nothing to lose). I also really like that the Dell XPS-series laptops can be configured just like the Apple MacBook Pro. I’ll be recommending the configuration I’d personally use (suitable for 99% of musicians), but you can always work with one of the other models. That being said, I also encourage you to do some of your own research.

An overview of the best Windows laptop for music production

One thing’s for sure about the Dell XPS 13, it looks just as sleek as the Apple MacBook Pro. The level of quality is impressive and to be honest, its affordability would probably make you think otherwise, but there’s nothing out there quite like it.

Of course, it really depends on the configuration you choose.

I’ll be going with these specifications:

  • 1.6 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U (overclock up to 3.4 GHz)
  • 8GB of DDR4 SDRAM
  • 256GB of PCIe-based SSD
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620

It’s more than powerful enough to meet the needs of 99% of musicians. It’s actually significantly more powerful than what I’m currently using (2018 Mac Mini) and I’m somewhere between the 99% and the 1%.

That being said, here are the connections you’ll have access to:

  • 1x Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 (gen 2)
  • 2x USB 3.1 (gen 1)
  • 1x SD Card Slot
  • 1x HDMI 2.0
  • 1x Auxiliary Input/Output

I’m really glad that XPS 13 includes at least one Thunderbolt 3 port. It can also be used to power the Dell Thunderbolt Dock (sold separately) to have access to even more connections. However, I’d be using that Thunderbolt 3 port to power one of my Universal Audio interfaces.

Other than that, I really like the backlit keyboard.

It’s really useful for stage-use.

The touchscreen also provides some additional functionality. The display itself is also stunning since it can handle up to 4K! And of course, you’ll have access to onboard WI-FI/Bluetooth.

The Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows laptop for music production because it supports Thunderbolt 3

So, we’re going to start by talking about that Thunderbolt 3 port. It’s important because many Windows-users haven’t heard of this revolutionary technology. That’s because it used to be exclusive to Apple.

However, it still requires Intel-based processors.

In layman’s terms, it’s the much-needed replacement for USB. Instead of relying on drivers (computer software), Thunderbolt devices can completely bypass the CPU and read/write data directly from/to the drive.

It’s called Direct Memory Access (DMA). It’s the main reason why Thunderbolt is so revolutionary.

Most people attribute that to its 40GB/s bandwidth, but that doesn’t impact signal-processing. It’s made it possible to stream video in 4K and to transfer data from/to external storage at groundbreaking speeds, but it’s irrelevant for music production.

USB has more than enough bandwidth, so it’s the technology itself that changes everything.

Another advantage of Thunderbolt technology is its ability to “daisy-chain” multiple devices using ONE port. That would certainly come in handy considering the Dell XPS 13 only has a single Thunderbolt 3 port, but audio interfaces don’t usually possess this feature.

Daisy-chaining can also be tapped into by using adjacent Thunderbolt ports, but we’ve only got one to work with here (it’s better than nothing).

It just works much better than USB if ever you wanted to synchronize multiple audio interfaces. It’s impossible to achieve the same using multiple USB audio interfaces (because of drivers). It also means that your CPU won’t be working as hard to combat audio latency.

In other words, you can achieve more with less!

The Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows laptop for music production because of its 8th generation processor

Although the newer Dell XPS 13 laptops are shipping with 10th generation processors, I still think it’s “overkill” for most musicians. Not to mention that you’ll be paying MUCH more, so make sure you’re getting the older Dell XPS 13 (usually available through Amazon Refurbished).

As I mentioned, I’m personally still working with 8th generation and I’m more than satisfied with the performance (Intel Core i3-8100B).

If you’re wondering why I’m emphasizing processor generation more than anything, it’s because it has a direct correlation with single/multi-core performance. If you’re not aware, single-core performance is the single most important benchmark for music production.

I talk about this extensively in my free ebook entitled Computer Buying Guide for Musicians.

Basically, I’m not too concerned about clock speed or whether it’s i3/i5/i7/i9.

Generally, laptops like the XPS 13 are clocked at lower frequencies to economize on battery life, but you can always overclock it if you’ve got it plugged in. Another general observation is that an i7 would usually have better performance than an i5.

If you’re interested in comparing the XPS 13’s Intel Core i5-8250U with other processors, you can consult this benchmark

Other than that, I think that 99% of musicians would be more than pleased with the performance. I would only consider more if you were working with hundreds of tracks (which isn’t that common). The only genre of music that usually calls for overly-powerful CPUs is orchestral.

Rock/Pop producers like myself can still thrive using an i3-8100B (it’s included with the entry-level 2020 Mac Mini).

The Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows laptop for music production because it uses PCIe-based SSD

Another important consideration I made was in regards to storage. The best Windows laptop for music production needs to have an SSD. It’s useless to have state-of-the-art components if it’ll all be slowed down by a hard disk drive (HDD).

HDDs are the ONLY mechanical component still available for computers.

Even CD drives are going extinct!

When translating performance from digital to analog, there’s always some form of latency. Just think of the audio latency you hear from converting an analog signal to digital (and back).

HDDs even use buffers/caches in order to compensate for the mechanical latency.

The popular excuse used to be that SSDs were too expensive, but that isn’t the case anymore. Manufacturers are beginning to make SSDs the default because they’ve become the industry standard (for professionals, anyway).

The Dell XPS 13 includes PCIe-based SSD which is better in theory.

Traditionally, hard drives would be connected using SATA-III, but PCIe can actually provide better performance. However, the current read/write speeds of SSDs hasn’t surpassed the limitations of SATA-III.

Does that mean that PCIe-based SSD is simply a gimmick?

I can’t say for sure, but don’t expect any HUGE improvements or anything.

I’d personally go with the 256GB model because it’s the most cost-efficient. I personally use 128GB on my 2018 Mac Mini and that’s enough for all my applications. I keep everything else (sample libraries, projects, etc…) on an external HDD.

I think that’s the best option for most musicians!

The Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows laptop for music production because of its game-changing battery life

Obviously, one of the most important elements of laptops is the battery life. However, it’ll never become an issue with the Dell XPS 13. Even working with your most demanding applications, you’ll be capable of expecting no less than 10 hours.

That basically means you could perform an entire show without even plugging it in!

The whole point of having the best Windows laptop for music production is to be able to use it wherever you go without limitations. How annoying would it be to have to recharge your laptop every 3 hours?

Just keep in mind that plugging in more peripherals like…

  • External Storage
  • Audio Interface
  • USB/MIDI Controllers

Will inevitably drain your battery life quicker.

That being said, I think the Dell XPS 13 has the potential to outlast the 2020 MacBook Pro.

Either way, it’ll really depend on what you’re planning to do with your laptop. I recommend plugging it in for live performances (and even boosting the CPU). If you’re just making beats on the bus though, you’ll have more than enough battery for the ride home!

The best Windows laptop for music production is the Dell XPS 13

I’ve looked at many Windows laptops, but none impressed me as much as the Dell XPS 13. I also considered the XPS 15, but it’s only shipping with 10th generation processors at the moment. The older XPS 15 are MUCH more affordable, but they won’t be around for much longer.

You can usually find some refurbished models on Amazon.

If you’re interested in purchasing an older model of the XPS 13 or even the XPS 15, it’s the best place to find some excellent deals. I’ll be leaving some links at the end, don’t worry!

Just make sure to follow the recommended specifications I’ve outlined in this review when doing so. Remember not to go any lower than 8th generation, use only SSD and make sure it’s got Thunderbolt 3 support (you’ll need it one day, I know you will).

I’m just concerned for those of you who may need more RAM. The model I’m recommending has only 8GB which is acceptable for most of us (that’s what I use). However, the 16GB XPS 13 9380 can most likely provide that additional performance boost for some of you.

On that note, I’ll be leaving you with some links to the model we covered today as well as some alternate options. If you need any assistance and/or personal recommendations, feel free to reach out to me!

After researching the best Windows laptop for music production, I’m actually starting to respect Windows-based PCs again. The appeal towards Thunderbolt 3 support is really exciting. At some point, it was exclusive to Apple computers which is one of the main reasons I made the switch. However, I think I’ll be sticking to Mac, but take it from me… I think the Dell XPS 13 is actually better than the MacBook Pro. If you haven’t already, you can download my ebook for FREE. It’s all about computers and musicians, so you can become an expert too! I appreciate your support, thank you for reading.

2019 Dell XPS 13 9360 (for 99% of musicians)

2019 Dell XPS 13 9380 (for 1% of musicians)

2019 Dell XPS 15 7590 (NEW)

2019 Dell XPS 15 7590 (REFURBISHED)


4 Responses

  1. Hello Stefan,

    Thank you so much for your review and recommendations. I find them very useful, especially that i’m just starting out in my music production quest.
    What do you say about Dell XPS 13 (2015).
    The recent models are kinda pricey for me at the moment.
    Could you recommend some budget friendly ones please?

    Thanks for your reply.


    1. Hey Osarobo,

      Welcome to the world of music production!

      What are the exact specs of the model you’re looking at? The 2015 XPS 13 I’m looking at has an i5-5200U processor.

      The fact that it’s 5th generation will severely impact single-core performance so I can’t recommend it. I think you’ll be wasting your money, even if it’s less expensive.

      Also, what’s the price of the model you’re looking at?

      I’m finding some used/refurbished at around 800$.

      That being said, you can get one of the newer ones (with 10th generation Intel) at the same price. Here’s the one I found for you.

      It’s actually relatively affordable for what you’re getting. However, I simply don’t recommend anything less than 8th generation Intel.

      Regardless of the year, that’s what you should be looking for.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. It’d be easier to help if you have more information (models, budget, etc…).

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Stefan

  2. It seems that I’m at the right timing that I come across to your review. My son is into playing guitar and he’s good at it.

    Right now, he’s somewhat starting to compose his own music, so, I have a feeling that he will ask me to buy him a laptop later on *sigh — Seeing your review, quite helped me to think wisely.

    MacBook is pricey for a 13 yr old and the one that you are suggesting, Dell XPS 13, is also a bit over my budget. He’s just starting, and you know, kids… They’re minds are not fixed. These laptops are for professionals.

    So, do you have any suggestion on a good laptop that can be use for music production by beginners like my 13yr old son? I’m not looking for the same exact functionalities that Dell XPS 13 has, because of my price range, but somehow will do the work.

    1. Hey Mina!

      I’m really glad to hear that you’re doing all you can to support your son’s guitar playing. It’s true that the computers I recommend are aimed at professionals, but I have a recommendation for you.

      Check out:

      The Asus VivoBook

      The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

      These are the two tools your son will need to succeed in this new age of computer music. Both of them will cost you less than the laptop and provide more than enough performance.

      If your son needs any more guidance, feel free to contact me. I’d be more than happy to facilitate the setup process for both of you (it can be difficult at first).

      Thanks for stopping by, best of luck!

      – Stefan

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