I am the 'Nephew who knows about computers' for an itinerant professional musician. My uncle does resort gigs in Wisconsin and Arizona, plus anywhere else he happens to be traveling to - Last winter was Australia.
He'd like to purchase a Laptop for use on the road - I'd like to include maximal recording/performing/play-back functionality in the device. Checking the web, I've seen several portables supposedly configured for musicians, but all cost multiple thousands and we were seeking a price-point just under a grand. (There's probably a little wiggle-room in there, but my uncle certainly isn't a 'famous' musician, so the budget is tight.)
His primary instruments are Yamaha keyboard, Hammond organ, saxophone, and guitar. He does recordings on Mini-disc.
What I'd like to ask is: Is there any hope? What would be a good manufacturer/platform and what components will be most critical? Any peripherals, cards, or add-ons that will make a big difference?
Your feedback is greatly appreciated.
I realize that a lot will depend on software, but which OS should I reccommend to my Uncle for this traveling musician's laptop? I like XP Pro for the networking and power-user tools, but would XP Media Center, with its focus on multimedia, be a more effective choice? My uncle is a competent user, but not a computer tech...
Still no answers for what hardware/cards/ports to focus on...
Would a dual-core processor be any use, or should I focus on getting the best single-core we can afford?
Is a larger screen - 17" - of any value, or can I let that slide and spend the money on other components?
Can anyone reccommend a better manufacturer than Dell/HP? I mean specifically for a pro-musician, rather than just a general notebook.
You mentioned he currently records to minidisc. I'm going to assume he's doing that off the main mix. If that's all he's interested in, start with a decent PCMCIA audio card (never trust the built-in audio) or a USB audio device and go from there. If he's needs more than 4 inputs, you will be better off going to a firewire-based outboard audio interface and probably need a good firewire PCMCIA card. I don't remember what to gravitate towards on the firewire cards, but again I've read they are not created equal.
XP Pro should be fine. Media Center will only add toys, not function.
As you said, software is everything, and will play a role in what you need hardware-wise. If it's just simple playback or recording, even a general laptop will do. If this will be a travelling DAW, doing real-time synthesis, multi-track recording, and the works, there's no getting away from a performance machine with a good processor, 2GB memory, and a 7200rpm HDD if possible (which should be defraged very frequently).
After reading your post a couple more times, I think somewhere in the middle would work. XP Pro, single core processor, 2GB ram, 100GB 7200RPM hard drive, external hard drive (for when you start running low on space and as a backup for pre-recorded tracks), and a USB external audio interface (which I have to do a bit of research myself, as I don't remember what's available/preferred). With your price cap, it's going to be pretty tight, and will probably have to sacrifice somewhere, esecially if you have to purchase software as well. While it is possible in the grand mark, you should probably look at the audio interface first (most important) and go from there, as that alone will run a couple hundred minimum (I spent about $700 on my audio interface alone). You may also get more laptop for your money by getting a refurbished one from newegg.com, surpluscomputers.com, or another site.