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This article focuses on getting the most performance out of your computing budget for music production. Real-time audio processing and synthesis are key, a fast CPU and, for Windows, an audio interface that has a manufacturer supplied ASIO driver are your top priorities. 

Laptop vs Desktop/Tower

Generally laptops offer less power/performance compared to desktops at the same price-point. Laptops also limit your options for expansion and upgrades. Of course, laptops can be used but you should have a specific requirement to be mobile with your music production/performance. If not, definitely go the desktop route.
 
NOTE: By desktop we mean a 'full height tower' style case that will probably live under your desk (see Quiet PC below). You need room for at least - 2 x hard drives, a full size graphic card & a soundcard.  

Operating System
 

It does not matter which you prefer. But macOS does limit you to pre-built solutions. 

 

  • Windows - FL Studio is supported for Windows 8.1 and up. We recommend Windows 11. 'Windows S' users need to first upgrade to regular Windows 10 or 11. 
  • macOS - FL Studio is supported for macOS 10.13.6 or higher. It's particularly important as older versions of macOS will be more problematic.

Specifications (in descending order of importance)

CPU: The CPU is the primary factor in your ability to run FL Studio with large complex projects. While FL Studio utilizes multi-core CPUs, beyond a certain point, more is not necessarily better. Read the section: 'The logic of audio processing' in the manual to learn why.
 
The best value for performance is usually to be had a few levels down from the top models. We don't recommend spending more than $600 on a CPU that is only used for music production and the internet. CPUs between $300 to $500 USD are usually in the sweet-spot.  Generally, exclude server grade CPUs such as Intel Xeon & AMD Epyc lines, due to their expense.  
 
For macOS an Apple Silicon M1 Pro or M2 Pro CPU is recommended.  
 
For Windows, rather than specifying the exact CPU model we recommend the following features ... 
 
  • Fast single core performance - Search for a CPU with the fastest single-core performance you can afford, in a package with at least 8 cores. Fast single core performance is desirable because if any individual core can't process data fast enough, it doesn't matter how many other cores you have, there will be audio glitches in real-time playback.
  • Strong multicore performance - For CPUs with 16 or less cores we grade performance - Weak: Less than 9,999. Medium: 10,000 to 14,999. Strong: 15,000 to 19,999. Very strong 20,000+.
  • Power (TDP in Watts) - Be aware that the CPUs that run very fast also generate a lot of heat, which requires cooling. Cooling can create noise which is antagonistic to a quality listening environment. Above 125 Watts and cooling starts to become more difficult to do both quietly and cheaply. Spend some time considering how you will cool the CPU and how much noise that will make.

 

NOTE: The measures above relate ONLY to the PassMark benchmarks. Use ONLY these when making CPU comparisons.

 

Psychology - When comparing benchmarks, a 10% performance gain is 'just noticeable', you won't be impressed with this sort of improvement, so don't bother. 20-30% increase is needed before a CPU feels noticeably faster in use (for a while). Of course, the bigger the percentage jump, the happier you will be.
 
CPU Laptops:  The same principles apply as above. Aim for a CPU Mark score of 7,000+ from a quad-core CPU - See CPU Mark Laptop CPU scores here.  
 
CPU performance reality check - Show respect for your CPU and don't throw 30+ high-cpu load plugins at it and then wonder why it chokes. Audio processing, as performed by DAW software, is one of the most CPU intensive tasks done in real-time on computers today. It's more CPU intensive than 3D games, that offload a lot of work to the video card GPU. Each audio stream needs real-time calculation of at least 44100 samples PER second multiplied by the number of plugins you are running multiplied by their own internal shenanigans. But, all hope is not lost, limitations breed creativity, work with what you have and rejoice in the democratization of modern music production. 
 
Audio Interface (ASIO): Of almost equal importance to the CPU is that your soundcard / audio interface supports ASIO drivers. ASIO is a software device driver standard that allows FL Studio direct access to the audio interface rather than communicating via the Windows operating system (as with the standard Windows driver). This will mean a significant performance advantage running FL Studio. Look for a sound card for which the manufacturer has written custom ASIO drivers (check the specifications for mention of ASIO or ASIO2 support). NOTE: ASIO is all about software to hardware communication efficiency and performance here has little to do with the capabilities of the underlying hardware. If your audio interface does not have a native ASIO driver, use FL Studio ASIO.
 
RAM: 8 GB is probably enough. 16 GB is likely more than you need. 32 GB is only needed if you use lots of sample-based instruments, each running Multi-GB orchestral libraries & ROMpler style plugins. Don't install more than 32 GB of RAM, for music production. Spend the money on your CPU, audio interface, video card or plugins. If you have 4 or 6 slots, try to leave pairs of RAM slots free for future upgrades as RAM usually installs in pairs. 
 
Hard Disk Drive (HDD): SSD (Solid State Disk) vs Traditional MHDD (Magnetic Hard Disk Drive)? SSD's are great for achieving fast boot times, initial program loading. While a SSD will load projects faster, you don't load/save projects all that often so we rank a SSD fairly low on this list of FL Studio priorities. Given large SSD's are still prohibitively expensive. The smart solution is to have a 1 TB SSD 'boot drive' (holding your OS + FL Studio) and 2 or 4 TB MHDD for your project data (libraries, sounds, audio recordings etc). Favour M.2 NVMe format SSD, if your motherboard supports it, otherwise use SATA. Either of these format SSDs are far superior to MHDDs.
 
Video Card: Look for a video card with two DVI or some combination of DVI + HDMI + Display Port outputs (see also Quiet PC below). This will allow you to run two video monitors. Any modern Video card will perform similarly. FL Studio work-flow is significantly improved with two (or more) video monitors.
 
OS: Windows 8.1 and 10 x64 Bit are all known to work very well with FL Studio and, more importantly, peripheral devices. There is no performance or operational advantage for FL Studio by moving from the cheaper 'Home' editions to the 'Ultimate/Professional' edition. Windows 8 or 10 will be required if you want more than dual-touch as it delivers full multi-touch performance. 

 

Quiet PC

Having a quiet PC is very important since you need to hear all the sounds in your mix. We recommend browsing the following sites, they have lots of useful information and can be used to specify components in your shopping list even if you don't build your PC yourself.

A comprehensive review site is - www.silentpcreview.com 
 
The following commercial websites are provided for your information. Both offer pre-made and custom build quiet/silent PC solutions and have international shipping: www.quietpc.com (UK based with global shipping) and www.endpcnoise.com (USA based with global shipping)

Generally the main sources of noise are case fans, video card fans, power supply fans and the CPU fan. Mechanical hard drives will make clicking sounds, consider SSDs (Solid State Drive), although very quiet mechanical drives are available and represent much better value for money. Simply opting for low noise versions of each component in your PC need not cost any more money and can have a huge impact on the noise performance.

Setup

The FL Studio manual has a thorough section here on maximizing the performance of your Windows based PC when running FL Studio.
 
Reality Check - Please take responsibility for what you are doing! 
 
  1. OPTIMIZE: Make sure you really have worked carefully through the optimization settings posted here
  2. RESPECT: Don't throw 100's of plugins at your CPU wonder why it chokes. Audio processing, as performed by DAW software, is one of the most CPU intensive things done in real-time on computers today. It's often more CPU intensive than even 3D games, that offload a lot of work to the video card GPU. Each audio stream needs real-time calculation of at least 44100 samples PER second multiplied by how many plugins you are running multiplied by their own internal shenanigans. 
  3. FEAR: Not all 3rd party developers fully optimize their plugins and whatever plugin you are using may just be a nasty and or buggy CPU hog. 
  4. HISTORY: Your grandfather used a four-track tape recorder and made albums like A Hard Days Night and Aftermath that changed the face of modern music. Even the lowliest of modern PCs will put that 4 track to shame. Limitations breed creativity, work with what you have and rejoice in the democratization of modern music production. 

 

Summary

 

Just in case it was not clear, the information above basically says. 1. Choose the fastest CPU you can afford (this is critical). 2. Make sure you have an ASIO Audio Interface and 3. Add at least 8 GB of RAM but no more than 32. Build your PC around those elements.  

 
Ben Jordan on Music Laptops
 

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