Identifying the best music production computers

Background and the hierarchy of DAW performance

TLDR: From my research, the following aspects of your computer translate the most to being able to seamlessly work on music:

  1. Processor speed (CPU) – Most important / major factor of performance
  2. System I/O (reading to/from disk and memory) – Next most impactful aspect
  3. Peripheral and audio interface performance – Lowest relevant factor

The pyramid of performance

  1. If you only do one thing, compare the multi-core GeekBench scores for a computer to figure out which will be faster for music production.
  2. If further optimizing your selection, look at the disk and RAM options. When comparing RAM, the MHZ most closely correlates to speed, same with disk, the manufacture GB/s correlates to speed. 
  3. For peripherals like midi keyboard and soundcard, don’t daisy chain them and prefer newer / faster standards like Thunderbolt and USB-C.


Comparing computer / processor performance

In practice, the only GeekBench score that really matters for overall performance is the multi-core score.

This is the most important aspect of selecting a music computer. If you only read this section, you will be able to identify a computer that will in general exceed the performance of a relatively less performant computer. I recommend the GeekBench benchmarks for comparing processors. There are other synthetic benchmarks but GeekBench is cross-platform, has a gallery of scores you can search, and is easy to understand because bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers. Because it’s cross-platform, you can compare PC to Mac or Mac to PC performance when comparing options should you want to switch. Something to note about GeekBench is that there are different versions of the benchmark and you should only compare scores in the same GeekBench version (don’t compare GeekBench 5 to GeekBench 6 scores).


System I/O - disk and memory

After the performance of your processor, the disk and memory performance will have the next largest impact on your system performance for audio.  I’ll start with disks and will then cover RAM.

For disks: use the MB/s rating to compare disks and prefer NVME over SSD and SSD over spinning disks (sometimes called HD).

For RAM, try and get at least 16GB RAM and look at the MHZ rating of the RAM as a general guide for how fast the RAM performs.


Peripherals and audio interfaces

The peripherals are your PCI, USB, and Thunderbolt devices such as midi controllers and your audio interface. In general, these will not have a significant impact on your real-world DAW performance but can in some cases cause problems. As this is a primer, you should mostly be concerned about what not to do and what is the relative performance of your options for audio interfaces.


  • Avoid chaining a large number of USB devices on the same interface as your audio interface or midi interfaces.
  • Avoid older USB hubs that may downgrade your USB peripherals to legacy protocols, you should be looking for USB-2 or USB-3 hubs at a minimum.
  • Prefer powered interfaces and hubs.


Conclusions and example computers

As this is a primer on purpose-built computers for music production and the biggest factor is multi-core performance in synthetic benchmarks, let’s conclude by taking a look at a few example computers and how you can assess them.

Essential Ableton performance

For this class of build, you will be able to run Ableton, render 20-40 tracks using Ableton stock plugins, and occasionally use computation intensive VSTs. You will probably want to keep Ableton’s sample rate at 44.1khz to minimize the amount of calculations that it needs to perform and will need to adopt a workflow incorporating freezing and flattening tracks or adjusting your buffer and delay to compensate for the machine needing more time to calculate the ultimate output that is streams to your soundcard.

Systems in this performance class will have single-core CPU benchmark scores under 1000 in GeekBench 5 and multi-core benchmarks in the sub-3500 range.

Examples of systems in this range:

  • MacBook pro 2014 with Intel i7-4980HQ
  • 2015 iMac with Intel i7-6700k
  • Microsoft Surface Book 3 with Core i7-1065G7

Standard Ableton performance

For this class of build, you will be able to run Ableton, load up 80-100 tracks, and can run a few expensive plugins or work in higher sample rates than on a basic setup. As of writing, in 2021, this is pretty much what I would consider the sweet spot for most Ableton users.

You want a GeekBench 5 single-core score in the 1000 range and multi-core in the 5000-7000 range.

Examples of systems in this range:

  • Mac Pro 2012 with the Xeon X5675 12-core
  • Razer Blade 2020 with i7-10750h
  • Mac Mini M1 (Late 2020)
  • Systems built around the Ryzen 3600x w/ X570|B550
  • MacBook Pro 2019 with i9-9980k
  • Systems built around the Ryzen 5600x / X570|B550

Great Ableton performance

For this class of build, Ableton will dance with delight as you render tracks to your heart’s content. You should be able to render hundreds of tracks in real-time without freezing and flattening and can crank up the quality settings on everything and oversample without it becoming a problem.

You want a GeekBench 5 single-score in the 1300 range and multi-score in the 12000-15000 range.

Examples of systems in this range:

  • iMac (Late 2020) 20,2 Core-i9-10900k (10-core)
  • Intel Systems with i7-12600k w/ Z690|B660|H670
  • Intel Systems with i7-12700k w/ Z690|B660|H670
  • Systems built around the AMD Ryzen 3900x w/ X570|B550
  • Apple MacBook Pro M1-max 
  • Apple Mac Studio with M1-Max
  • Systems built around the AMD Ryzen 5900x w/ X570|B550
  • Systems built around thee AMD Ryzen 3950x / 5950x w/ X570|B550

Extreme Ableton Performance

For this class of build, you are really putting everything you have got into making the fastest possible computer for Ableton. You’re going beyond the practical and into the realm of the possible. Most producers do not “need” a system this fast but if you’re using Ableton all day every day and your well-being is based entirely on shaving seconds off your workflow and never needing to freeze and flatten, you will end up here.

For this class of build, you want a GeekBench 5 multi-core score in the 20,000+ range.

Examples of this type of build are:

  • Intel Systems with Z690|B660|H670 and i9-12900k or i9-13900k
  • TRX40 and AMD Threadripper (3960x, 3970x, 3990x)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2019) with the 28-core Intel Xeon W-3275M
  • Apple Mac Studio (2022) with M1-Ultra