Appendix I Pro Tools 9 Laptop System For the recording engineer or musician who likes to be mobile, nothing can beat a laptop for the portability and convenience of being able to take a Pro Tools rig just about anywhere—on a plane, on a train, in a car, in a hotel room, out in the woods, or wherever.
And if you need a dual-use system that you use at home or in a small studio part of the time and take around to other musician’s homes or to other studios from time to time, then a laptop is what you need.
I decided to put a Pro Tools 9 system together on a laptop in December 2010, and after first considering a Windows machine, I finally decided to get an Apple MacBook Pro. To work with large Pro Tools sessions and also to work with video need lots of hard disk space, so I looked at the various options for adding external drives.
Because I have been using lots of Universal Audio plug-ins on my main Pro Tools HD system with a UAD card installed on my desktop computer, it was a priority for me to have access to these on the laptop system. Fortunately, the UAD-2 SOLO card is available for laptops equipped with an ExpressCard slot, so I was able to include one of these in the system.
To get audio in and out of the laptop, I was able to choose from various interfaces that I already owned, as well as considering newer options to buy.
Running Pro Tools 9 on a Real Laptop To work with Pro Tools 9, I chose a top-of-the-range MacBook Pro 2.8 GHz laptop with a 27 in. Apple LED Cinema Display and a full-size keyboard and mouse.
*insert FigAI_1_AppleLEDCinemaDisplay.jpg* Figure I.1 Pro Tools 9 in My Living Room Running on a Laptop with a 27 in. Monitor!
This laptop has 8 GB of RAM, the maximum that it will take, which is not really enough when I want to use lots of plug-ins and virtual instruments. But a laptop has the advantages of smaller size and much greater portability compared with a desktop.
I chose the largest internal drive option—a 500-GB 7200-rpm drive—which, again, is not nearly enough when I want to load up Pro Tools 9, Logic Studio, Final Cut Studio, Digital Performer, and Cubase for good measure, then stuff it with lots of virtual instruments with large sample libraries! So I added an external 500 GB Western Digital Passport for Mac hard drive to hold most of these sample libraries, a G-Tech G-Drive Mini 500-GB drive to record audio onto, and a LaCie 1 TB Little Big Disk Quadra to provide additional storage to back up my audio recordings and general files onto and to provide space for my video files.
The Little Big Disk Quadra is a 7200 rpm RAID 0 drive, particularly suitable for video editing. It has FireWire 800 and 400, high-speed USB and eSATA-300 interfaces, and its small size makes it ideal for use as an external drive with a laptop.
The G-Drive Mini is even smaller, similar in size to the Western Digital drive, and also can handle FireWire 800 and 400, and USB 2.0, and is a 7200 rpm drive suitable for recording audio from Pro Tools.
*insert FigAI_2_LittleBigDisk.jpg* Figure I.2 LaCie 1 TB Little Big Disk Quadra.
*insert FigAI_3a_G-DriveMiniOverview.jpg* *Insert FigAI_3b_G-DriveMiniRearView.jpg*
Figure I.3 G-Drive Mini.
Interfaces for Pro Tools 9 OK—you have your computer system and all the software you need to run your Pro Tools system with lots of plug-ins, and you can get audio into and out of the laptop using its built-in audio input and output—but those tiny minijacks are so easy to damage and the analog audio quality from these is not the highest. So, you really need to have an audio I/O interface to use with your laptop.
If you are buying your first Pro Tools system, it can make a lot of sense to get an Avid interface to go with this, such as one of the new third-generation Pro Tools Mbox range.
However, now that Pro Tools 9 works with Core audio and ASIO software, you can work with most other interfaces as well.
I already own a couple of Pro Tools LE systems which came with audio I/O interfaces; I have a Digi 002 which I use in my songwriting room for smaller projects, and I have an Mbox Micro which I have been using with an old Mac laptop to work on smaller sessions when I am away from my studio base. But this was often very frustrating as I could not open larger sessions (or 96 kHz sessions) on the laptop and hear all the tracks because of the track count limitations. And I also have a Focusrite Saffire interface which has enough outputs to feed a surround system, but have never been able to use this with Pro Tools LE earlier.
Amazingly, Pro Tools 9, especially with the Complete Production Toolkit 2 option with its higher track count, resolves all these issues. I tried all these interfaces with Pro Tools 9, including the built-in audio on the laptop, and they all worked fine right away!
I also have a Native Instrument Guitar Rig 3 system which has a USB audio interface. I discovered that this worked perfectly with Pro Tools 9 not only to act as a controller for the NI Guitar Rig software but also as an audio input/output device for Pro Tools. And this turned out to be very convenient to take out to gigs with my laptop!
*Insert FigAI_4_UAD2SoloLaptop.jpg * Figure I.4 Native Instruments Rig Kontrol Top View.
*insert FigAI_5_EMT140.jpg Figure I.5 Native Instruments Rig Kontrol Rear View.
Summary It is definitely possible to put a really powerful Pro Tools 9 system together on a laptop— but you will have to pay for extra RAM, hard drives, screen, keyboard, and so forth if you want to use this for serious work for any length of time.
My advice is that you should always buy a desktop, unless you absolutely need a laptop for the portability. Why? Because you will always be buying a less-powerful, less versatile computer for the money you will be asked to pay.
And if you do decide to buy a laptop to run software such as Pro Tools 9 with lots of third-party software (Logic, Final Cut Pro, etc.) and lots of plug-ins, virtual instruments, and sample libraries, then get a top-of-the range laptop with the most memory and largest internal hard drive that you can afford, with fast external drives for audio and video. You should also get an external keyboard and monitor if you intend to work regularly with this for long periods of time (2 h or more)!
Also, if you just want to be able to tweak your mixes while you are on a beach, then you can probably do this using the headphone socket on your laptop. For anything much more serious, you should definitely invest in a decent audio I/O interface for your Pro Tools 9
system. The “good news” here is that you are now “spoilt for choice” when it comes to choosing which interface to work with!
Now that I have put my system together it is working really well for me. I can take the laptop out to “gigs,” so I can play back tracks from Pro Tools—or even record the gig— and I can go to record a song with my cowriter at her place whenever I get over to her side of town!
In between “gigs,” this system sits comfortably in a corner of my living room, so I can turn to it whenever I need to try something out quickly at home, with access to all the professional recording studio tools that Pro Tools 9 provides. Mission accomplished!