Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cheaper music making?

I've been fairly active in my music making hobbies since 2004 primarily on my iMac or iPad. On the iMac, I started with Garageband and eventually moved on to Logic Express 9 and now Logic Pro X. Somewhere during that time, the iPad happened and I also have roughly a hundred music making apps of one kind and another on the tablet.

Anyone knowing me has seen me go through an endless stream of gadgets during my life from early PCs to handheld devices, Linux servers, netbooks etc. I'm a techie and proud of it :). I've had cheap laptops, netbooks and more recently have become enamored with chromebooks.

Cheap is the operative word in most cases excepting my Apple devices. Another thing about me is that over time, I have soured almost completely on Windows. I have to use a Windows PC professionally (though its mostly Oracle and Java stuff) and that is more than enough. As a techie, I've been the de-facto family "consultant" for cleaning, de-virusing and configuring countless PCs and it sickens me how much care and feeding Windows machines require. Yeah, if you know what you're doing, you should be fine. But my elderly aunts, in-laws and neighbors invariably have the machine slowed down to a crawl within a year. Windows is NOT consumer friendly.

Until recently, I recommended the "cheapest" Apple options to relatives - the Mac Mini or a MacBook of one kind or another. The up front few hundred dollars is worth it for the long term pain savings - and overall that is still true. Thankfully, though, there are now far cheaper alternatives that are even easier to maintain - Google Chromebooks and Chromeboxes.

If you've checked them out, you know that they are easy, fast and work well for basic internet type activities and light office work provided you are mostly connected to the internet at all times. For great aunts and moms, its a no-brainer. The only catch so far is no Skype, but Google Hangouts works just as well and at about $200 a pop, you can drop and mangle 5 of these suckers for the price of ONE Macbook Air. Even if you need the full computer for something, as a second computer, these are almost at the disposable price point.

In my personal case, I wanted to take a $200 chrome book and use it as a software development laptop and now as a music laptop. That's a bit crazy! But as I'll show, not terribly hard to pull off if you're patient (and cheap, like me).

So I hope to blog a bit about the process of converting a cheap laptop into a portable music studio and find out if its even worth doing! A short spoiler - I do have things running fairly well at this point so things look promising. I haven't stress tested anything and the open source DAWs do take some getting used to. Stay tuned!


  1. Hey, def. interested in hearing about how this os working for you, we have lots of Chromebooks at our building, although my access to them as the music teacher is limited. We also have iPads.


    1. Thanks. My early response is that it takes patience! There is a nice online app ( that works from the chrome side if you are looking to teach. It is limited to using only the synths it supports, but looks like it has quite a few. Linux takes a lot of tweaking. So far I have Jack working for audio, can use Ardour to make some music but had to do all the tweaks I mention so far and also had to set the audio target in Jack to "cras" - the chrome audio server.