Our recent survey regarding what people use as their Pro Tools computer has shown that there's a huge variety of experiences when selecting the best Pro Tools computer. Some users like the simplicity of a machine running Pro Tools on a Mac whereas others prefer the expandability and flexibility of Pro Tools for Windows. But there also seems to be a lot of difference in the cost of these machines and the comments in our recent story show some people are buying Mac Pro 6.1 'Trashcans' or MacBook Pro laptops and others are choosing to build their own Pro Tools Windows machines, buying enterprise class machines from top brands or selecting a specialist to supply their Pro Tools computer like Create Pro with their Mac OS X custom configuration or iZ Technology RADAR with an embedded Windows OS.
How Much Do You Need To Spend On A Pro Tools Computer?
This is what some call the cost of entry, or how much will it cost me to join the Pro Tools party? Well there is no simple answer because a couple of questions need to be answered. The first question is what are you planning to use your Pro Tools computer for? If you want to record some voiceovers or a podcast then that requires a different beast to one where you want to record the Boston Symphony Orchestra or complex songs with lots of plugins. The second question is are you going to be using it as a professional or on a ad-hoc basis? This is important because many cheaper machines, especially laptops and things like a low cost Mac Mini are simply not built for 24/7 use running applications that require a constant amount of power.
Pro Tools can sometimes be perceived as a temperamental DAW, and being as ubiquitous as it is there are bound to be those who have issues running it on their computer, but on the whole Pro Tools will run quite happily on most modern computers. In fact it is less about the computer and more to do with how the computer is set up and configured. If you plan to use a machine for recording and mixing then you should really have a machine that is just your Pro Tools computer and try and keep it from being the family gaming and internet surfing machine. A clean machine, be that a Mac or a PC is going to give you less headaches.
So back to the question, how much? Well we've run tests with Mac Mini and other lower cost machines and got very good results using them as a Pro Tools computer, a lot has changed since Pro Tools 11 and the introduction of a 64 bit application, this has made Pro Tools more stable and agile - we know of Windows users happily running Pro Tools on a $500 Windows laptop - but again you must decide what kind of use your Pro Tools computer you are going to get before you decide to buy.
Does Avid Approve Computers For Pro Tools?
Some may think that surely the best thing Avid could do is create a list of Avid Approved Pro Tools computers, but imagine them having to work through all the different Mac and Windows machines. That said there is a list of Windows computers approved by Avid for use with Pro Tools software, although the last time that was updated seems to be in February 2014. There does seem to be more up to date lists of approved computers for Media Composer which also includes Apple computers approved by Avid. If you assume the Media Composer list could be the same as the Pro Tools list then for Mac users Avid approve the Mac Pro and for Windows HP, Dell and Lenevo, it would be nice if Avid would create a Pro Tools version of this list.
Buying A Pro Tools Computer Summary
As already outlined there is no simple answer to how much you should spend on your Pro Tools computer, but as a rule of thumb here are our recommendations;
- Decide exactly what you want to use it for before starting your research?
- Will you be using it for hobby or professional use?
- Try and budget for it just to use solely as a Pro Tools computer.
- Think about expandability and future use - don't buy the computer you need now, but the computer you need in 2 years time.
- Get the best machine you can afford.
- Don't buy extras from a manufacturer, Apple and all the other big brands will charge a lot more for extra hard drives and memory.
- If you want a Pro Tools for Windows PC then consider a self build, it's not as hard as you may think and plenty of people in the Pro Tools community happily using custom built Windows machines they built.
- Consider second hand, especially Mac, as we've shown on Pro Tools Expert, the cheese grater Mac Pro can be customised to make a very powerful machine. The last generation Mac Mini i7 servers are more powerful than the newer i5 Mac Mini and have more ways to customise.
We would love to hear more about the kind of machines you've got running as your Pro Tools computer, be they Apple Mac or Windows PC - off the shelf budget machines or NASA style, water cooled home builds - we have a lot of knowledge between us, so let's share us, please leave your machine specs, cost and results in the comments, we may even feature your machine in follow up articles.