Best CPS platform: laptop, desktop/tower, rack or shuttle?

Many DJ's are "switching up" to computers as the new way to DJ. They provide near-instant access to large song lists and can be integrated to control video and DMX lighting.

Moderator: Dave Miller

Best CPS platform: laptop, desktop/tower, rack or shuttle?

Postby dokai » Fri Mar 30, 2007 1:11 pm

Inspired by another thread here.

I'm going to start by defining the various formats as Laptop (including notebooks), Desktop, Tower (usually mini-tower), Rackmount, and Shuttle(including the MAC Mini.) If anyone thinks other categories need to be included, speak up! I'm also counting on some of the other Techies to make sure I'm accurate, so chime in if I'm off base.

LAPTOP

Pros:
Weight - You can't get any lighter or more portable, although some are heavier than others.
Space - Very compact all-in-one design, easy to accomodate.
UPS - Battery backup is designed in, no UPS needed. (Still need surge protection!)
Price - There are some decent laptops out there for cheap.
Peripherals - Essentials like monitor, keyboard, speakers and pointing device are all integrated. External monitors, keyboards and pointing devices can be connected if desired, but aren't needed.

Cons:
Price - Spec for spec, still more $ than equivalent Desktop or Tower, but the difference is much smaller than it used to be ( in most cases).
Performance - A lot of laptops don't have the horsepower needed for VJ use unless you go big $ for Alienware or similar. (See note below)
Expansion - Laptops typically have very limited internal expansion or upgrade potential. Expansion is usually done externally via USB and Firewire ports, which is slower compared to installing the equivalent device inside a Tower, Desktop or Rackmount.

Note on Alienware Laptops: Alienware and a few others are called "desktop replacements" because they use desktop components, not the low-power designed-for-laptops components. That means your performance will be as good (if not better) than you'd get from an equivalent desktop system. However, it also means that the battery won't last as long (20 minutes?) and that it will be heavy for a Laptop. Still much lighter than a Desktop or Shuttle, though, and twenty minutes is plenty of time to act as a UPS. And some desktop replacement Laptops also provide some nice internal expansion, like space for a second harddrive, onboard RAID controllers, etc. Hang on to your wallet, though, as they're very expensive compared to a typical Dell or Toshiba laptop. Just like most things, you get what you pay for. :wink:



DESKTOP or TOWER

Pros:
Price - usually least expensive option, at least for the computer itself.
Performance - limited only by your budget.
Expansion - usually has space internally for an extra harddrive or two, a pro-grade soundcard, etc.

Cons:
Weight: Will be much heavier than a laptop or shuttle.
Space: Will take up a lot more room than a laptop.
UPS - Requires an external UPS, which takes up more space and adds expense and weight.
Peripherals - Requires a monitor, keyboard and pointing device to become useful. Don't forget to include these items when calculating the TRUE weight, cost, space requirements, etc. Note that some 17" LCD monitors alone are heavier than some laptops. Also include the cost and weight of the brackets you'll need to mount your monitor, keyboard, etc. There are finally some nice solutions out there for mounting your peripherals to your case, but it's still added weight and expense.



RACKMOUNT

Pros:
Space - If you're using a rack, then the Rackmount form factor is a big plus.

Cons:
Weight - Will be much heavier than a Laptop or Shuttle. Will usually be heavier than a Desktop or Tower.
Space - Will take up more room than a Laptop, but probably not as much room as a Desktop or Tower, depending on how (or if) you're casing them.
UPS - Requires an external UPS, which takes up more space and adds expense and weight.
Price - Usually a stiff premium for the ability to mount in a rack.
Peripherals - Like all except the Laptop, requires a monitor, keyboard and pointing device to become useful.
Expansion - 1ru models have nearly no expansion capabilities, but 2ru and 3ru models trade the extra rackspace for room for extra disks, etc.



SHUTTLE

Pros:
Weight - Saves weight on the computer (but not the peripherals.)
Space - Compact design, easier to accomodate than most Desktops and Towers.
Performance - Typically uses the same cpu, harddrives and other components as the Desktops/Towers, so performance is similar.
Expansion - Limited internal expansion, but more than most Laptops.

Cons:
Price - More expensive than most Desktops/Towers, close to Rackmount prices.
Expansion - Limited internal expansion, but more than most Laptops.
Peripherals - Same as Desktop/Tower and Rackmount.


Obviously I'm firmly in the "Laptop" camp, despite my love of rackmounts from my datacenter days at IBM. When you add up the costs of the brackets, UPS, monitor, keyboard, pointing device and whatver else, you're probably going to be spending pretty close to what you'd spend for a "desktop replacement"-class laptop. And you're going to be carting around a LOT more weight, for little or no performance improvement. (Note that I'm comparing a desktop replacement laptop to desktops/towers/rackmounts/shuttles. There WILL be a larger performance difference if a standard laptop is compared.)

So, anybody have any thoughts on this?
"You are what you do when it counts."
User avatar
dokai
Gold Premium Member
Gold Premium Member
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 2:27 pm
Location: Richmond, RI

Postby Dj Sean » Fri Mar 30, 2007 8:55 pm

You pretty much covered it dokai, I too am a laptop DJ but with one uncommon difference, I use a Apple powerbook G4, cost more but more stable and better built for music and video in my humble opinion, compared to 80% of PC laptops. The exception being some super PC laptops like Alienware as you mention in your original post.
On Beat Productions
http://www.TheEventDj.com/
Professional DJ service for all of Northern California and Nevada.
User avatar
Dj Sean
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 280
Joined: Sun Apr 16, 2006 12:35 am
Location: South Lake Tahoe, CA

Postby Jumpin' Jeff » Sat Mar 31, 2007 11:14 am

My desknote, a desktop replacement Laptop, doesn't include a battery at all, so a UPS is still needed in this case. Drive space is also at a minimum of 40G whereas nowdays that has been bumped up to what... 160G? I'd still want bigger, of which would require external drives anyhow....
Jumpin' Jeff
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 289
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 8:04 am
Location: Independence, IA

Re: Best CPS platform: laptop, desktop/tower, rack or shuttl

Postby djconroy » Tue Apr 03, 2007 1:47 pm

I'd add that laptop video cards (except for super hi-performance like Alien) can't adequately handle Video DJ'ing.

Mixing video is going to require a video card with dedicated RAM, not shared like most laptops do.

But otherwise, nice post, very thorough, dokai!
djconroy
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:26 pm
Location: Milford, CT

Postby CJ Greiner » Thu Nov 15, 2007 2:19 pm

Reviving this thread since it contains valuable info that adds to the discussion...
____________________________

I'm looking at building a better/lighter/more powerful DJ system than the one I'm currently using.

At the moment my system weighs exactly 120.5 lbs -- and that's for the TOP box. That doesn't include the roller box that goes beneath the table and contains my Amplifier, UPS and DriveRackPA.

It currently contains a 4U Rackmount computer, keyboard with touchpad and an LCD touchscreen monitor (+ wireless mic receiver, mixer, etc.)
The rackmount computer is VERY heavy, and so is the touchscreen monitor.


So... here's my thought: I can go with a lighter touchscreen monitor, or forget the touchscreen and go with a very light LCD monitor.

For the computer, I can either go with a lighter 2U or 3U rackmount -- but they only get so light.
OR, I can go with just a laptop.

I share everyone's concerns about the available video power in laptops, but so far I haven't run into problems when I've used my 2-year-old laptop for video... so a newer one should do even better, I would think.


I've also thought about a "hybrid" system where I would use the laptop as the rackmount computer, and still have an LCD monitor and full-size keyboard plugged into it. The advantage would be that if the monitor or keyboard had problems, I would simply pull out the drawer containing the laptop and use it directly. Another advantage would be the built-in battery which would allow me to set up my system without a UPS.

...Thoughts? Ideas? 8)
>> CJ Greiner
Website Administrator

Image
www.SmithfieldEntertainment.com
www.SilverStarDJs.com
User avatar
CJ Greiner
Site Owner
Site Owner
 
Posts: 2563
Joined: Thu Nov 28, 2002 11:21 am
Location: Smithfield, VA

Re: Best CPS platform: laptop, desktop/tower, rack or shuttl

Postby djconroy » Thu Nov 15, 2007 2:49 pm

If I were in the market, I'd look at a 1U server that has a free PCI or PCI-X slot.

For around $3K, you can get a 1U server with dual 1TB SATA drives, 4GB of RAM, a 2.66GHz Quad-core CPU (i wouldn't attempt a multi-cpu configuration, some DJ software might not get along with the multiprocessor HAL), and a DVD drive. This will kick the living snot out of any laptop out there.

Then you not only have a terabyte of storage for music/video, but a backup right inside the case.

In this day of SATA and 750GB-1TB drives, SCSI might not be the most cost effective or best solution weight-wise(You'll need 4 300GB drives at ~$800 each and a RAID controller to get a usable TB of storage).
djconroy
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:26 pm
Location: Milford, CT

Postby Jumpin' Jeff » Thu Nov 15, 2007 2:55 pm

CJ, I'm of the opinion that a Rackmount is overkill. I own one, and yes it is heavy, but, if you think about it, you have a case within a case....

My next configuration will be a single case design. A compartment of that case will be for the motherboard, behind the LCD. the Drives will not be in this compartment, but instead in a space under the keyboard, for easy access. It may even include dual displays, as the second monitor could take the place in the rack case weight alone.

It may look similar to the image attached.
it will indeed be a variation of this.

Obviously, as you can't find a case like this on the market, it will be a custom job.
Attachments
case.JPG
Jumpin' Jeff
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 289
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 8:04 am
Location: Independence, IA

Re: Best CPS platform: laptop, desktop/tower, rack or shuttl

Postby CJ Greiner » Thu Nov 15, 2007 3:05 pm

Dave -- that's a great point about the hard drives.
Are you suggesting that the second terabyte drive mirror the first, or simply be a second drive?

Jeff -- that's a very cool design. I'm not sure what materials you could use other than wood -- and that would make it fairly heavy because of the case alone.
>> CJ Greiner
Website Administrator

Image
www.SmithfieldEntertainment.com
www.SilverStarDJs.com
User avatar
CJ Greiner
Site Owner
Site Owner
 
Posts: 2563
Joined: Thu Nov 28, 2002 11:21 am
Location: Smithfield, VA

Re: Best CPS platform: laptop, desktop/tower, rack or shuttl

Postby Jumpin' Jeff » Thu Nov 15, 2007 3:14 pm

Yes, CJ, You are right, but my current home brew case with rackmount only weighs 90# compared to your 120# unit.... ;)
It's made of 1/2" ply with 1"x2" corners, glued, screwed, and carpeted. I suspect the new design to weigh about the same when completed... Purhaps a pound or 2 more... ;)

If I could find a lighter more durable, and thinner alternative that I could make this from, I would, but I do know, I'll never find this on the market pre fabricated/molded...

I have also considered designing this from aluminum, and pop riviting it together, but not sure that would be any lighter. Then theres the issue of making it look good. Carpet just wouldn't work with aluminum me thinks.

My Brother-in-Law owns a metal shop, so I could cut and bend the aluminum sheeting there, then fit, drill, and rivet it at home if need be.
Jumpin' Jeff
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 289
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 8:04 am
Location: Independence, IA

Postby djconroy » Thu Nov 15, 2007 6:06 pm

CJ> I would set up the 2nd drive as a mirror - in the grand scheme, it's cheap insurance for your ripped collection, and it's live in case your HD crashes during a performance.

Jeff> If you're using aluminum, you could look at a home powdercoating unit. It just clips to the material to give it a charge, and then the paint gun sprays negatively charged coating material.

Eastwood Company

You can bake on the finish in your kitchen oven. My wife loves when I do this.
djconroy
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:26 pm
Location: Milford, CT

Postby Jumpin' Jeff » Fri Nov 16, 2007 8:08 am

Thanks Dave! That's a great idea, but I don't expect the pieces to fit in the oven... We have a double oven Maytag, and the large oven is pretty small compared to a single oven unit. Considering some of these parts will also be about 32-36 inches long....
Jumpin' Jeff
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 289
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 8:04 am
Location: Independence, IA

Postby dokai » Fri Nov 16, 2007 11:38 am

CJ Greiner wrote:Another advantage would be the built-in battery which would allow me to set up my system without a UPS.


If you're using an external harddrive, you still need a UPS to keep the external drive running. Alternately, if you have a big enough C:\ drive, you could keep all of your "essential" songs there and use the external drive as a place for those rarely used songs. That might mean you'd be willing to lose access to your external drive while waiting for power to come back, and therefore wouldn't need a UPS.

All of the above assumes that your system has an external drive, of course.
"You are what you do when it counts."
User avatar
dokai
Gold Premium Member
Gold Premium Member
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 2:27 pm
Location: Richmond, RI

Postby CJ Greiner » Sat Nov 17, 2007 10:44 am

You're right -- the laptop battery only protects my laptop hard drive.

Right now, I have my laptop drive partitioned into a C: Drive for operating system and DJ program software, and an M: Drive for music/video.

The M: holds quite a bit of my audio, but only a small selection of videos. Full versions of my audio and video collections are on external drives.
>> CJ Greiner
Website Administrator

Image
www.SmithfieldEntertainment.com
www.SilverStarDJs.com
User avatar
CJ Greiner
Site Owner
Site Owner
 
Posts: 2563
Joined: Thu Nov 28, 2002 11:21 am
Location: Smithfield, VA

Postby TheBartman47 » Sat Nov 17, 2007 4:45 pm

If you lose power, how are you going to play music anyway (unless your speakers are on battery too)?

Instead of a rackmount computer, a plain desktop computer secured to the bottom of the rack instead of actually bolted to the rack rails could be just as useful, plus a lot cheaper than getting an actual rack-mount PC.
Bartman Audio Production
http://www.bartmanaudio.com
TheBartman47
Senior Gold Member
Senior Gold Member
 
Posts: 1380
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 1:37 pm
Location: Denison, TX

Postby CJ Greiner » Sat Nov 17, 2007 11:13 pm

Sure it's cheaper.... (maybe...) but what happens when you loose power? Your computer shuts down. Actually, it crashes hard. Even when power comes back, and assuming you haven't caused damage to the OS or hardware, it'll take between 2 to 4 minutes to get the music going again. And there's no telling if your DJ Music program will remember your song list and cue up to the same place.

The rule with computer DJing is to have a UPS. The benefit of a laptop is that it's built in. Otherwise you have to use some other form of UPS. I currently own a 1U rackmount UPS:

[url=http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=192397&CatId=235]Tripp Lite 750VA UPS Smart Pro
Image[/url]

The problem there is that it weighs ~ 30 lbs.

A laptop weighs 1/3 or even 1/4 of that for the entire computer including screen, keyboard, mousepad and battery.
>> CJ Greiner
Website Administrator

Image
www.SmithfieldEntertainment.com
www.SilverStarDJs.com
User avatar
CJ Greiner
Site Owner
Site Owner
 
Posts: 2563
Joined: Thu Nov 28, 2002 11:21 am
Location: Smithfield, VA

Postby dokai » Sat Nov 17, 2007 11:39 pm

TheBartman47 wrote:If you lose power, how are you going to play music anyway (unless your speakers are on battery too)?


Bartman makes a VERY good point, and it happens to be a topic that I was discussing with a colleague this weekend.

The bottom line, especially to a client, is whether or not the music stops. The clients don't care about how inconvenienced we are, or how much effort we have to go through in order to recover from a power failure. All they know is that the circuit breaker was reset thirty seconds ago and there's still no music.

My colleague and I are in the process of designing a solution that will keep our front-end units (mixer, pc, external HDs, etc) and at least one amp (for the tops/mains) up and running. If we can also accomodate a few LED light fixtures so that the room doesn't go dark, so much the better. So far, it looks like it's going to be the size of one of those large ice-chests with a pull-handle and wheels. It will also probably weigh a LOT, but if it gets the job done, it'll be worth it. I'll keep you posted.

Until that solution is a reality, if we can't keep the music going in the event of a power loss, we can at least minimize the length of the silence as much as possible. With that in mind, here's the problem as I see it: when the circuit breaker is reset, the amp comes back on immediately. So does the mixer, external HDs, et al. What DOESN'T come back up immediately is the computer UNLESS it didn't crash when the power disappeared.

However, the external HDs have to be protected somehow because if they suddenly disappear when the power goes away, it doesn't matter if the laptop is still up and running - a chunk of your music just disappeared and it's very difficult to get it back. MY experience with this scenario resulted in me trying everything I could think of to get the laptop to recognize the external HDs were again available once power was restored. The recovery efforts included disconnecting / reconnecting the USB cable, etc. Only rebooting the laptop returned things to normal, which pretty much negated the benefit of keeping the laptop running. At least I was able to use music located locally on my C:\ drive while I got my backup laptop booted up, which then covered things while my primary laptop was rebooting. Had my backup laptop already been booted up and running, the impact would have been less. Since then I've started booting up my backup laptop at the same time I boot the primary laptop. (duh!) On the "plus" side of things, this showed that I was able to learn, thereby disproving my ex's opinion of me. :hahaha:

I wish there was a decent external HD that was powered from the USB connection. It'd drastically increase the drain on the laptop's battery, but that would negate the need for a UPS to keep the external HDs up. Hmmm...

Instead of a rackmount computer, a plain desktop computer secured to the bottom of the rack instead of actually bolted to the rack rails could be just as useful, plus a lot cheaper than getting an actual rack-mount PC.


My first CPS was an IBM Intellistation E-Pro desktop/workstation, and it just barely fit between the rack rails on my SKB case. In fact, it fit so tightly that I could turn the case upside down without it falling even though it wasn't fastened in the rack. It protruded slightly from the front and back, but the rack covers still fit over it for transport. It was a great box, but felt like I was carrying a boat anchor. Coupled with the 14" CRT monitor and the rest of the kibble, it was a VERY heavy system. But it rocked! :D
"You are what you do when it counts."
User avatar
dokai
Gold Premium Member
Gold Premium Member
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 2:27 pm
Location: Richmond, RI

Postby TheBartman47 » Wed Nov 28, 2007 11:21 pm

I have one of those overgrown power strip UPS units (APC 500) that I use on my home computer (since I still use a laptop for DJing), but I also haven't tested it to see just how long the battery would keep my computer running. It has held up for over a minute when power went out and then came back on shortly. I have my computer, monitor, cable modem, and router plugged into it and it didn't seem to struggle at all. Anyone ever use these little UPS "power strip" types?
Bartman Audio Production
http://www.bartmanaudio.com
TheBartman47
Senior Gold Member
Senior Gold Member
 
Posts: 1380
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 1:37 pm
Location: Denison, TX

Postby Jumpin' Jeff » Sun Dec 02, 2007 11:46 am

Here is an example of something similar to what I'd be after...

This is a project for a light jockey light desk....
http://www.martinpro.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9359
Jumpin' Jeff
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 289
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 8:04 am
Location: Independence, IA

Postby Jumpin' Jeff » Sun Dec 02, 2007 11:58 am

Jumpin' Jeff
Active Member
Active Member
 
Posts: 289
Joined: Wed Oct 20, 2004 8:04 am
Location: Independence, IA

Postby dokai » Sun Dec 02, 2007 1:44 pm

Jumpin' Jeff wrote:Here is an example of something similar to what I'd be after...

This is a project for a light jockey light desk....
http://www.martinpro.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9359


That and the other two links have some VERY sweet setups! I can't imagine how much time was spent in fabrication, though. Still, if you can't find what you need/want off the shelf, nothing beats a custom solution!
"You are what you do when it counts."
User avatar
dokai
Gold Premium Member
Gold Premium Member
 
Posts: 1173
Joined: Thu Feb 03, 2005 2:27 pm
Location: Richmond, RI

Next

Return to Digital DJ's - Computer Audio, Video & Lighting

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron