It seems these days that every music artist/producer/DJ/whatever is using MacBooks and other Apple products. I, on the other hand, chose to go a different route: I chose to use ThinkPads. Lenovo products, let alone ThinkPads and other Think products, are greatly underrated in the music industry and very rarely utilized. I think this is a huge mistake and I’m looking to change that.
Here are some of the reasons I chose to use ThinkPads for music production and DJing:
1. They’re sturdy and rugged.
ThinkPads are tough as tanks. They have a long history and strong reputation of being robust. There have been countless stories over the years about people’s ThinkPads surviving unimaginable circumstances (like a dorm fire, for instance), or just your average, everyday accidents, like an accidental drop from a table or a spill. I, myself, have dropped and spilled liquids on some of my ThinkPads, and it was like nothing ever happened.
Additionally, ThinkPads have to pass several rigorous Mil-Spec tests, which is a battery of tests testing the durability of ThinkPads and making sure they can withstand whatever rigors their users put them through. The Mil-Spec tests cover extreme environmental variables like temperature, humidity, dust, vibration, and pressure testing. No other computer brand puts their laptop PCs through these series of tests.
For touring artists, DJs, and anyone else who perform live in general, this is great news. All of this ensures that ThinkPads can withstand the rigors of touring and live performance, which really puts our equipment to the test. (To find out more about Mil-Spec testing on ThinkPads, just go here.)
2. They’re reliable and last a very long time
ThinkPads are very well-known for their reliability and longevity. When one has to replace a ThinkPad it is usually because they need something more powerful with more up-to-date hardware, and not because it broke down on them. The robustness of ThinkPads, along with their easy maintenance, make them very reliable systems one can depend on in a variety of settings. This also means that I won’t have to replace my laptop after a year or so of use because it broke down. ThinkPads have been known to work even after a decade of use. My T60, for example, is now 10 years old and is still working (I retired it from daily use a couple of years ago), while my T500 is 7 years old and can keep up with the latest MacBook Pro in terms of music production.
This is something that simply can’t be said of other brands.
3. They’re easy to upgrade, service, and maintain
Upgrading a ThinkPad’s RAM or storage drive is pretty easy, due to their accessibility (something that can’t be said for the MacBook Pro). Replacing parts like the keyboard and the motherboard is also pretty easy (especially the former). If my ThinkPad ever needs repairing (after the warranty expires, in particular), I can easily obtain parts for it, repair it myself, and be back to business as usual in no time. This means that I won’t have to worry about replacing my whole laptop because of a fried motherboard or broken screen. If I don’t know how to repair or replace a certain part, I can always go to Lenovo’s website and download the Hardware Maintenance Manual for my ThinkPad, or watch a repair video.
4. They’re expandable
With select ThinkPads, I can expand my storage capacity with the use of up to 4 internal storage drives (HDDs or SSDs), plus I have the option of a RAID configuration. That means that I can expand my storage capacity without having to deal with external hardware and further clutter up your bag and/or workspace. With older ThinkPads, I can do this same thing by getting a hard drive adapter for the optical drive (also referred to as the UltraBay) and use that to expand my storage. All of this is great for music producers and DJs, who need as much space as possible to store projects, samples, music, etc. Having a more convenient way to do this is even better.
Let’s not forget that you get the basic ports you need (a few USB type-A ports, SD card slot, Thunderbolt port [on select models], etc.). If you ever need more ports, you can always purchase a docking station that gives you more ports without anymore cables (with the exception of the AC adapter).
5. There are several kinds of systems to choose from, including mobile workhorses for demanding users
Lenovo has a lot of ThinkPads to choose from: ranging from the budget-friendly E, L, 13, and 11e series, to the more expensive bread-and-butter T and X series, convertible Yogas, and the P series mobile workstations. Such a diverse lineup means that there’s something for everyone. If you’re on a budget, or if you’re just starting out in music, you can always choose to get one of the budget-friendly models and still get the same ThinkPad quality that you get with the more expensive models. If you have more money to spare, or if you’re a more advanced producer or professional, you can go for one of the more expensive models.
If you’re a professional, you’re definitely going to want to consider buying a P series (I’m definitely going to get one when I can afford one). You can get up to 4 internal HDDs/SSDs, a RAID 0 or 1 configuration, max out your memory at 64GB, and Intel Xeon processors! This is obviously great for professional music producers – who need lots of RAM, storage space, and CPU power to be able to do what they do (you need at least 16GB of RAM and a powerful CPU nowadays to be able to run a lot of instances of Serum, which takes up a lot of resources, for instance). Overall, P series ThinkPads provide a much greater value for the same price of a MacBook Pro.
6. They’re customizable
Whenever you go buy a brand new ThinkPad from Lenovo, you have the option to customize your ThinkPad according to your wants and needs. You simply pick a base model and then customize it by picking a different CPU, RAM amount, storage drive, etc. You can even upgrade the warranty from the standard 1 year all the way to 5 years of coverage.
7. They have a superior keyboard and pointing device
ThinkPad keyboards have a strong, lengthy reputation of being superior to anything else out there. Many users, product reviewers, etc. have raved about ThinkPad’s great, ergonomic keyboard throughout the years. This is perhaps the closet thing you’ll get to a desktop keyboard. You really have to try it out for yourself to see what I’m talking about here.
Let’s not forget about the thing that is perhaps the most iconic thing about ThinkPads: the TrackPoint. The TrackPoint is that little red dot in the middle of the keyboard, that is used for controlling the pointer on your desktop. It is pretty much a little joystick, like the one on your game controller. It is beloved by ThinkPad loyalists (including myself) everywhere, and can’t see ourselves using anything else. The TrackPoint allows me keep my workflow without having to take your hands off the keyboard. This is great if you’re adjusting something in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or your VST (Virtual Synthesizer) and are not using a MIDI controller. It saves a lot of time and hassle.
8. They have great warranty options and customer service
With ThinkPads, you have the option to upgrade to a 5 year warranty. You also have the option to add accidental damage protection, on-site repair, priority support, and international coverage. Not to mention that you get great customer service on top of that (my personal experiences with Lenovo’s customer service have always been great). This is especially great if you’re an artist/performer who tours or gigs a lot.
9. They look great and have a smart design & engineering philosophy
ThinkPads have always been black – since day 1. In my opinion, they look best like that. Its minimalist, black, elegant, boxy design is based on the Bento box (a Japanese lunch box), and screams “I mean business, so don’t mess with me”. Its design philosophy is based on that of the Porsche 911. It is a classic, timeless design that is constantly being refined over time, as opposed to always being drastically changed like other brands. This, right here, makes the ThinkPad stand out from other brands – so much so, that you can recognize a ThinkPad without its branding. The black, boxy look of the ThinkPad also fits very well for an artist (like myself) who (primarily) makes heavier, more aggressive music, as it goes very well with the branding unlike a bright, flashy laptop.
In addition to smart design, ThinkPads also have smart engineering. The fan is made as to effectively cool down the system, in order to avoid overheating. The hinges are made of metal, as opposed to plastic, which makes them practically indestructible. A magnesium frame (also called the ‘roll cage’) holds inside the inside components of ThinkPads in place, making them less prone to damage from flexing, drops, etc. And lets not forget about the Mil-Spec testing and the superb keyboard to round it all off. All of these things make ThinkPads the best engineered notebook PCs in the market.
10. They have a rich heritage
The first ThinkPad was released in 1992 (it will turn 25 in 2017). Since then, it has amassed a loyal following and has won several awards for its excellent design and engineering. It has had several firsts: they were the first and only computer in space (they’re aboard the International Space Station), they pioneered the “Active Protection System” – in which an accelerometer was integrated into the motherboard to make the hard drive stop spinning in the event the computer was dropped in order to protect the drive, they were the first to have a security chip, and they are the first and only laptop to have a magnesium frame protecting the inside of the computer (also called the ‘roll cage’). I could go on and on about ThinkPad’s accomplishments but I’ll stop here and let you look up the rest. Bottom line is, no other computer brand has the longevity and heritage that ThinkPad has.
11. They have user’s needs in mind
ThinkPads are made with people’s needs in mind. That’s why they have such a superb keyboard, the TrackPoint, are easy to upgrade and repair, are rugged and reliable, etc. Lenovo has made a few missteps in the past (a notable example would have to be the integrated TrackPoint buttons in the xx40 series ThinkPads) but through customer feedback, they were able to correct those mistakes. This means that I won’t have to deal with dramatic, impractical changes like replacing all USB type-A ports with USB type-C ports or the headphone jack with a USB type-C port before it becomes an industry standard, like a certain fruit-shaped company has done recently. If there’s a new industry standard on the horizon, it will be implemented gradually over time – not abruptly.