Rain Recording make audio-ready notebooks – that is, they’re pre-tested to function well with audio software, with Windows tweaks, driver selection, and configuration all chosen and tested for music and visual production, and no crapware installed. They’re one of a handful of music-friendly vendors that does that (see also: PCAudioLabs, etc.). Given that the PC music making experience can range from awesome to awful depending on which hardware and (particularly) drivers you’re on, that’s no small matter.

Rain has always styled themselves a premium brand. But the latest Diablo really does go to extremes spec-wise. It’ll cost you – base price starts at US$4000, though that’s not as high-end as these sort of desktop specs commanded more recently. Intel and AMD/ATI really are economizing, even at the high end. But cost aside, this machine really maxes out components. You have to admire the results:

  • Quad CPUs: up to 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Quad 12MB/1066 MHz “Montevina” Centrino 2 — the most powerful brain you can put in a laptop right now
  • Up to 8 GB DDR3 RAM (and if you boot a 64-bit operating system like Vista x64 or – cough – Linux, you can use all of it)
  • ATI Radeon MR HD3870/512M DDR3 RAM — just about the most powerful GPU (and some people do prefer ATI to NVIDIA), giving you up to two discrete GPUs
  • 17″ display at 1920×1200
  • Optional dual 320GB 7200RPM SATA drives with 16MB cache
  • 1x eSATA, 3X USB2, 3xFireWire (yeah, you read that right – one onboard FireWire, plus two more using a bundled, TI chipset PCI ExpressCard that pops into that slot, also standard on the lower-cost LiveBook)
  • 1 x HDMI, 1 x VGA, card reader, headphone out, mic in, gigabit RJ45 Ethernet, fingerprint scanner

The key specs, of course, are the quad CPU, that ATI GPU, and the maxed-out-res 17″ display. Given those specs, the weight actually isn’t all that bad – 8 lbs. with the 12-cell battery (which you’re going to want, as this machine is likely to suck up electricity in a hurry).

You can put audio on a dedicated chipset (the TI, which isn’t currently available from Apple). You can run two drives in RAID-0, or opt for solid-state drives (which have been improving in performance and value at a pretty impressive rate). And the ATI chipset means this is a pretty powerful visualist / visual production workstation – that also happens to be faster than a lot of high-end gaming laptops, for your off-hour enjoyment..

This is usually the point where someone says, “but do I need all that power to –”

No. You don’t. This is a bit like buying a souped-up supercar — and likely to be about as fuel-efficient. You might “need” this if you want to play Crysis between Pro Tools sessions. (I’ll let you bend the definition of “need” there.) That’s not to say you won’t get a lot of performance out of this, though, and it’s nice to know you have this option if you want it. The GPU only really impacts visuals at the moment, but with the push to do more processing on the GPU, that could change soon even for audio.

Actually, maybe the reason Rain keeps misspelling the GPU as “discreet” is that you can “discreetly” buy one of these and hope your significant other / the IRS / your conscience doesn’t notice you just bought a killer gaming rig as your (ahem) pro audio machine.

For mere mortals, I like the $1999-base-price LiveBook from Rain. It actually gives you a fair amount of this performance, all of the same I/O specs, and compares favorably on specs against Apple’s rival (including offering some serious FireWire and expansion the Apple lacks). And, incidentally, it isn’t a bad gaming machine, either, in case you want to join some of the CDMers the next time they fire up Left 4 Dead.

I do find all of this interesting, though, on two points. One, if any had doubts that you could buy a pre-configured PC and know that it’ll work reliably on audio tasks, Rain ought to put those doubts to rest. I’ve tested the previous Diablo and LiveBook, and out of the box they were ideal audio machines – no tweaks required. It’s absolutely possible to build or buy a mainstream PC that does that, but the luxury of knowing someone at the other end has actually tried running Ableton Live and SONAR sure is nice. (Heck, that’s not necessarily true of Apple – as people found out the hard way during some buggy early releases of Leopard, happily since fixed.)

This also demonstrates that said PC vendors don’t have to fall behind the “enthusiast” custom builders who cater to gamers – if you want to push the envelope on your laptop for audio and visuals and not just games, you can do that, too.

I certainly know not everyone can — or should — spend $4 grand and up on this particular machine. But just like that supercar, it’s sort of nice to know it’s there. And hopefully it can start to serve as a wake-up all that there are communities pushing their PC to the bleeding edge who aren’t primarily gamers.

Diablo Product Page [Rain Recording]

Diablos don’t hang around long, but I do hope to get my hands on a current-generation Rain soon; stay tuned.