Suggested PC laptop models for computer audio

I am looking for advice directing me towards an inexpensive, simple Windows based laptop - used or new - to which I will add an external solid state hard drive to use as a server for a computer audio front end at home.

I currently use a one year old Dell Latitude at work with a WD external hard drive running iTunes and JRiver Media Center 21, and it sounds remarkably good (although music software programs not ideal companions within enterprise networked office environment:\). Given my current budget and space constraints, the advantage of having the screen, keyboard processor and I/Os all in one chassis, combined with my familiarity with PC systems and software, I would probably not consider a Mac Mini at this time.

Music file procurement, storage, handling and reproduction would be the sole purpose of the laptop. Currently running FLAC, AIFF and mp4 files at resolutions up to 24/96, with capacity to handle higher res files in future. Lots of ripped redbook files. DAC will be Arcam irdac for the time being. No DSD files for now.

Your PC laptop suggestions very much appreciated.

Ag insider logo xs@2xknownothing
I have a windows based Asus 14' laptop with 8gb ram and Intel I-3 processor and usb3. I also have a 2tb Western Digital usb3 hard drive with ALL my music files. I run J. Rivers 21 with excellent results. I have turned off every Windows service which isn't needed as this laptop is strictly for music, nothing else.

It sounds incredible into my Wyred4Sound dac2 with dsd and Femto clock. I couldn't be happier.
Why not just put a simple desktop/mini-tower together. You can choose higher quality parts and still keep the cost down.
Amazing that you have not been fired from your job, given the your lack of awareness of the cyber security issues you have created with your WD external hard drive running iTunes and JRiver Media Center 21. Did you check with your IT department before you did so? If not, please check with them. You put all your fellow employees at risk if you do not do so.
Have to agree with Zd542 - why a laptop? You'd be paying a premium for portability and included components. Build/buy your own box for the music server w/o the overhead of screen, keyboard, battery, and similar unneeded components. It sounds like you have other gear so you could remote desktop or use a switch to share those things. You also wouldn't necessarily have to use external drives (there are trade-offs either way).
Buconero117. Tell me more. I am the boss, so I guess I should fire myself.
My IT people are aware of what I am running. Do you have links to some
citations we can see that document the threat of iTunes, JRiver and an
external drive to PC based network? The applications live on my laptop,
and only JRiver accesses files on the WD external drive.
Are you going to use USB? If so, then speed of computer, type of hard drive, amount of memory etc. are unimportant. It is because asynchronous USB strips timing from the signal and new timing is recreated inside of the DAC. Amount of electrical noise is still important since it affects operation of the DAC, but it is difficult to predict which computer will be the best for that. Often slower computer can be less noisy then the fast one. USB cable can also affect operation. You need cable with very good shielding and possibly no power wires, if your DAC doesn't need it.
If you want something small, have a look at the 2 links below.
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As others have said, a screenless desktop would be best, but a laptop will certainly work.

If your DAC connects through USB, try to connect the external hard drive with something other than USB. USB works in series, so real time transfer of music to the DAC and data exchange with the hard drive will go though the same pipe. Avoid if you can.

As far as software, I found a very significant improvement by using Windows Server 2012 in core mode and using AudioPhil's Audio Optimizer (which only works in WS2012). Very, very significant.

Other than that, the cheapest laptop will do. You don't need much processing power or RAM for this, and you should shut down all hardware bells and whistles to minimize electrical noise as Kinjanki mentioned, so why pay for that? You need minimal processing power.

If going WS2012, however, it needs to be a 64-bit machine (any new machine will be, but you could even get a used one).

I think optimizing hrdware on a laptop is a bit of a waste of time. This, coming from a guy with a heavily optimized headless server.
Since your current laptop is only one year old, and you like the results, what's wrong with simply keeping your current setup?

I agree with Lewinskih01 in that you don't need much horsepower for your purposes. Even the most inexpensive laptop nowadays will be very lightly loaded with this task.

So the question is, which one to pick? For something decent at a low price, I would consider one of the Lenovo offerings.

For a better solution, although I think you'll have a bias against this idea, I feel that currently the best laptop for the price is a Macbook Air. If you're dead-set on Windows, it can run Windows just fine. The Air is a very compact, well-built laptop that will easily fit your needs perfectly. At the moment, I don't think there's anything out there that can touch it for the price. Although you can get lower-end laptops by the major vendors (HP, Lenovo, Dell) for less money (the Macbook Air starts at $900 I think), in my opinion they won't represent as good of a value. And besides, the Air makes a GREAT travel laptop, so you will be able to repurpose it outside of work.

You have a lot of great choices here, including the choice to stay with what you have now at zero extra cost.

Thanks Michael, I need a separate home computer that will be dedicated for music. My office computer is described simply as example to show I have already had some success with laptop driven audio, admittedly by luck, but it has multiple tasks and demands on it. Will set up a much simpler single purpose laptop system at home.

Ok, so if using an external drive for file storage with a PC laptop, and I should avoid using USB for both file delivery to DAC and from drive to laptop/server, what other option do I have, Ethernet?
Knownothing, In asynchronous USB computer downloads
"frames" of data every 1ms into DAC's buffer. DAC sends back
buffer under/overflow signal to reduce or increase size of next frame. That
way no data is lost. Next, DAC takes words from the buffer and loads them
into D/A converter at its own internal clock. This scheme makes computer
irrelevant. Use any external HD, USB or not. It won't make a difference.
USB is most likely the best scheme for you.

As others stated keep ambient electrical noise to minimum avoiding for
instance dimmers, etc.
Thanks Zd542. Is USB 3.0 input for data from drive also problematic if digital signal out to DAC is via USB 2.0?
Thanks Kijanski, so you are saying that asynchronous USB defeats problems with data input and output using the same serial bus? This makes some sense because in my office system that uses an AQ Dragonfly, the external USB drive sounds at least as good as the internal laptop drive that I assume is SATA.
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From what I understand USB 2 and USB 3 are different systems, so there should be no conflict. I would try it both ways and see if you can hear a difference. The only thing is to make sure which ever one you use for audio, don't put anything else on it. USB 3 is backwards compatible, so you can plug USB 1 and 2 devices into it if you use USB 2 for audio.
Knownothing, Placing different peripherals on the same USB bus affect timinig. Since timing is removed in asynchronous USB scheme it should not make any difference.
Steakster, thanks for the info on Empirical Audio's suggestions. They do look a little dated, though, referring to XP and Vista and recommending computers with at least 4GB RAM (that's virtually EVERY laptop available now).

If USB has problems with both streaming audio and external hard drive connections simultaneously, that makes my suggestion of a Macbook Air even more appropriate, as you could use the Thunderbolt connector for the hard drive and one of the USB 3.0 ports for the DAC.