Mobile DAW

Hello there. I am planning a trip away this year, during which I would like to make an album on a mobile studio I have yet to design. I’m trying to keep it as minimal as possible whilst still satisfying my requirements, so I wondered if anyone could advise of the minimum specs required for general audio work, in terms of RAM quantity and speed, hard drive speed, processor power and external interface data transfer. I won’t be employing many plugins as I will be doing post production at my home studio, but I estimate there will be a lot of editing, as I shall be working alone and piecing my live sound together in the box as I go. I usually won’t be using more than 1 mic at a time, 2 at the very most, and it is unlikely any project will exceed 16 tracks. Finally, I wish to run Ardour on Ubuntu Studio 10.04 in order to be compatible with my existing home system. Can anyone offer me any advice, please?

I’ve done mobile recording in mono and stereo using a netbook - mine has an Atom N455 processor, which I believe is comparable processing-wise to a Pentium 4. It has 1 gig of ram, and a single slow (5400 rpm) hard drive. I’m using a $50 USB interface providing 2 mic preamps and a headphone jack. I routinely playback 16 channels on it while recording one or two more (at higher latency settings.), often with a bunch of compressors and EQs. If I use very fancy / intensive processing I end up clicking the “Don’t Use Plugins While Recording” option, which I’m very grateful for.

I found upgrades from 10.04 up to 12.04 worthwhile stability-wise. KXStudio has been a good source of packaged-for-Ubuntu apps. Use of XFCE (rather than Gnome/KDE), the low latency kernel, setting of the hard drive option “noatime” via /etc/fstab, and setting priorities up with rtirq are, I think, the only differences between my computer and ubuntu’s default. Except for the noatime thing (which I’m just unsure of), each of those decisions improved performance/stability.

While i read horror stories about laptops and dpc latency that i don’t really understand, i haven’t felt particularly limited by a computer’s processing power in ten years or so. i do appreciate being able to run a great many plugins at once on the desktop, though i could always start bouncing or quit overproducing.

Laptops got big lousy fans and fewer fewer i/o options. i distrust any interface smaller than a PCI slot, but I’ve had great luck with a cheap netbook and 2-channel USB1 interface, and I’ve had great results from a desktop with a 16-channel firewire-based interface. if you want to build a mobile rig, i think you should base it on a fanless Mini-ITX rig with some kind of PCI Express interface - preferably from RME. that’s what i would do, had i greater budget and ambition.

Also: as i understand it, to be compatible with your existing home system, your mobile rig will need to run the same version of Ardour and any plugins used - not necessarily the same version of ubuntu.

@Dan Easley: i regret to note that the “Don’t use Plugins While Recording” has had to be removed from Ardour3. It’s intention was really a mistake but this only became clear as we started to see more sophisticated plugins for whom deactivation and reactivation was an issue.

Sounds to me like you already have it all figured out. Just get in your car and drive.

Dan, that is all extremely helpful. I was envisaging much the same rig you describe, but I was fuzzy on whether a netbook could handle the (relatively simple) workload. Your Mini ITX idea is intriguing; I shall look into it but I suspect my budget will also be limited. Thanks.

I’ve used Ardour 2 for mobile radio work on a Fujitsu/Siemens Lifebook C1320 (Pentium M with 1,7 GHz) with only 512 MB RAM (with an Edirol UA-3FX USB interface, Linux Mint 9) and it worked very well for editing audio clips (46 ms of latency were no problem in that case) - and even for volume automation, so I could work on mixes while riding on a train ;-). It was pleasure, and all worked also on an even older Lifebook C1020 (Pentium 4 with 1,7 GHz, 512 MB, Ubuntu 10.04). So I guess you can run Ardour even on ancient laptops, and it works well :-).


I came to ask if this would be sufficant for a laptop to run Ardour.

3rd Generation Intel Core i7 CPU’s
204 pin Dual Channel DDR3 @ 1600 MHz
2.5" 9mm Removable SATA II/III

after this thread I believe it is over kill. i use an apogee one as my interface… I just need a decent rig to take between houses.

Any one had experiance with the brand system76

The issue you are going to have is likely, does your Apogee One run in Linux?


I have a home set up running ubuntustudio. The apogee one works well.

System 76 makes great computers, and those specs are great. I am glad your interface is working!

Very glad to hear about the Apogee One, they do make some nice interfaces and I have a Duet laying around I use on my Mac I have never tried on Linux. Love the sound of their preamps especially.


A while back, I did seven days of demoing, recording no more than 2 tracks at a time, on a stock Asus Netbook, an external USB drive, and a Fasttrack Pro.

I think if you’re doing lightweight work as you say, you can use just about anything to just record and edit.