When trying to find the best laptop for animation , not only do we have to take careful consideration to the specifications of the software we are using but also the type of work & complexity of the projects we may encounter. Not every animator or animation project will require the same specifications which makes buying a computer or laptop a bit more challenging.
That’s not all…
You were probably thrown a bunch of suggestions around the web that were probably way overpriced. Who knows? with all the computer jargon, software compatibility and specific features that one has to consider for animation, you might have ended up with an expensive laptop or computer that may not even be that useful for animation.
However there’s not need to worry anymore..
Whether you are just starting or already working with 3DS Max, Maya and Blender, this article will help you find everything there is to know to make the right purchase when buying a laptop for animation.
I divided this article in two parts: the second part is a guide that will show you how to look for the best laptops for animation yourself while the following and first part will go over the top laptops for animation as of 2017 .
The 5 Best Laptops for Animation
Here are the top 5 best laptops for Animation whether you are a student, a professional or in a budget you should find one useful for you. Your choices will be between workstations and gaming laptops. Chose one depending on the complexity of your work and your own budget.
The Best Laptop For Animation
CPU: Intel Core i7 6820HK up to 4.1 GHz | RAM: 16GB 2133MHz DDR4 (up to 32GB) |Storage: 512GB NVME SSD | GPU: NVIDIA Quadro M1000M 2GB GDDR5 | Display: 15.6″ FHD IPS 1920×1080 Wide LED
This Dell Precision is one of the most popular choices among those looking to get serious work done in all areas of 3D Applications.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, the specs are as high as they can get for workstations today.
The processor in particular is not just a quad core processor which is the ideal number of cores for 3D Animation software but also belongs to the HK series which translates to the fastest clock speeds you can get today from laptops: up to 4.1 GHz when overclocked.
The ultra high clock speed along with the certified graphics cards for 3D software: NVIDIA Quadro series, will give you the best performance when animating, applying effects and any editing you may encounter no matter how complex your model or how big your scene is.
Add on top of that, its 16GB RAM (upgradeable to 32GB), you’ll have no issues if you plan on doing heavy rendering with it as well.
The Display isn’t 17” but 15.6” shouldn’t be limiting when modeling. Being full HD and having IPS technology will also help you in giving you an accurate reproduction of your work and a pleasant working experience if you have to deal with high angles and accurate color reproduction to edit images in 2D as well.
It also has an SSD for quick access to your files , fast boot up times of your operating system and 3D Applications with plenty of memory for your current projects and files: 512GB. It’s also worth noting it has the fastest SSD technology available for laptops today: PCIe NVMe SSD.
As a bonus, its battery life isn’t that bad either: 6-7 hours which you will find hard to replicate among laptops with the same performance.
The only downside(just like its XPS cousins and other DELL Laptops): the camera placement isn’t positioned traditionally.
Other than that if budget isn’t an issue for you this is definitely the best laptop you can get for Animation or any 3D software for that matter.
It’s got every feature listed in the written guide below for the best performance with 3DS Max, Maya, Blender and any other animation software.
Best Lenovo Laptop For Animation
CPU: Intel Quad Core i7-6700HQ up to 3.5GHz | RAM: 16GB RAM 2133MHz DDR4 (Upgradeable) |Storage: 500GB SSD | GPU: NVIDIA Quadro M1000M (2GB memory) | Display: 15.6 inch FHD IPS Screen
You can’t really leave Lenovo out of the picture when it comes to workstation laptops. Similar to the Dell Precision, this one has a QuadCore Processor , a certified Graphics Card (Quadro M1000) and plenty of RAM( 16GB) for rendering which can be upgraded up to 32GB or even 64GB.
It’s got nearly everything the DELL Precision has with the exception of the storage device, which is still an SSD, just not the same technology.
However, there’s no need to worry as you’ll get the same benefits of having an SSD over an HDD which is limited to fast boot up times and launching of your 3D applications.
Alternatively, you can downgrade your purchase and choose the one with an HDD and 1TB for capacity, you’ll have far more space available for your projects and files since storage speed isn’t essential for animation software, CPU & RAM and GPU are far more important in that order.
The display is also full HD and has great viewing angles from its IPS panel technology.
The only issue seems to be the brightness levels which you will find all the time with workstations that have a long battery lives which this model also offers: 8 hours (greater battery than the Precision).
Best Laptop For Animation and Rendering
CPU: i7 4710MQ(up to 3.5GHz) Quad Core | Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro K1100M | Screen: 15.6-inch AntiGlare full HD | Storage: 1TB HDD | RAM: 8GB
Lastly, the third workstation laptop listed here is somewhat special. This has the best GPU out of the laptops listed here. If you’ll be dealing with a lot of rendering and it’s much more important for your work or if you’ll be working with far more complex scenes with high textured details, you’ll benefit from it’s GPU (K1110) which is a few steps above the M1000 Quadro that the above two laptops offer.
You’ll be paying around the same price as the Dell and the Think Pad with the downside of not being able to have an SSD on board and a much greater weight to deal with. The RAM is upgrade-able up to 32GB, it should save you a few hundred bucks to upgrade it yourself.
Best Laptop For Animation Students
CPU: i7 7700HQ (2.8GHz-3.8GHz) Quad Core | Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 1060 3GB | Screen: 15.6-inch full HD | Storage: 256GB M.2 SATA SSD | RAM: 16GB-32GB
Gaming laptops are a popular choice among animators in general. These all work out well if you are not looking to have the greatest rendering performance with a laptop and you have a render farm to go to or a desktop at school to do the rendering. After all, rendering should be left to desktops don’t you think?
Despite having a GPU (Nvidia 1060) not certified by most 3D Animation software out there, the reason of their popularity is that they do perform almost on par with Quadro/Fire Pro Series when it comes to animation effects and 3D software workflow experience (no lag when using viewport for example) but are more affordable.
This particular GPU is of the 10×0 series which are one of the latest as far NVIDIA graphic cards goes.
Other than that, the MSI series have everything you need from a laptop for animation: QuadCore i7 Processor with plenty of RAM which is upgrade-able and the bonus of having an SSD for storage. You can also add an internal storage to it for all of your other files that aren’t being used during your current projects.
On the plus side, they offer high end quality displays and vivid colors covering most of the sRGB spectrum as well as being relatively lightweight which is perfect for students or those doing some animation on the go (4.4lb). However, as expected, this takes a toll on its battery life which is not that great at only 3 hours.
Best Budget Laptop For Animation
CPU: i7 7700HQ Quad Core (2.8GHz-3.8GHz) | Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 1050 4GB | Screen: 15.6-inch full HD | Storage: 1TB 7200 RPM HDD | RAM: 16GB-32GB
Lastly but not least, we can’t really not take into account those on a very low budget especially those looking into getting acquainted with animation. This is also a gaming laptop as you can easily tell. It has most of the features needed for flawless animation software including: the Quad Core i7 processor we’ve been repeating, one of the latest GPU from NVIDIA with great vRAM (4GB). And 16GBRAM which is upgradeable up to 32GB.
It doesn’t have the bonus of an SSD but it does have more than enough storage for all of your projects (1TB HDD). You can choose the version that comes with an SSD (256GB) + 1TB (HDD) to get the best out of Maya, 3DS Max, Cinema 4D and all animation apps by installing them on the SSD and all other files/old projects on the HDD however you’d be hitting the price range of the other laptops above.
Alternatively, you can do the upgrade yourself and install an SSD later.
This is a laptop “barely” under 1000 but still affordable (relatively speaking) for animation software.
How To Buy The Best Laptop For Animation
As you’ve probably found out by now, buying a laptop for animation requires an immense amount of research due to the wide choices of software used for 3D and 2D Animation as well as the different types of work every animator has to deal with. The best place to start is the software requirement of the most popular used software in animation.
These are the recommended specs for the most popular software used in animation. You can also directly go to their sites and get pre-built computers recommended to give you an idea what you are looking for.
|Maya||64-bit Intel® or AMD® multi-core processor||8GB||GTX 680|
|3DS Max||64-bit Intel® or AMD® multi-core processor||8GB||NVIDIA GTX 690|
|Blender||Quad Core||8GB||Any Dedicated Graphics Card With Open GL Support and 2GB RAM|
|Cinema 4D||Quad Core Processor||8GB||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660MX|
Recommended Specs For Animation
Obviously depending on the type of work you do and the complexity of your projects the above requirements by each party may not be appropriate for you. Plus let’s not forget that even if you visit their sites you will only find very few graphics cards and computers tested to work with their software. This is why you are going to have to do your own research or (since I did all of that work for you) go carefully through this guide.
In terms of priority here’s what you need to look for when buying a laptop or a desktop for animation.
Go for an i7 quad core processor if you can afford it. Here are the reasons according to a very thorough study done on 3DS Max and CPU performance.
If you plan on rendering your projects with your laptop, you have to consider the amount of cores your CPU has. Otherwise, you could settle with a dual core or quad core processor for all areas of animation. Rendering has always been dependent on the number of cores as far as CPU goes.
Editing and Animating
A processor with the fastest clock speed is always recommended for the best performance when dealing with 3D Animation Apps and the effects you apply to your models since most of these features are single threaded. The faster your clock speed, the faster you’ll be able to see your previews and manipulate your tools as well.
According to the study mentioned above, view port performance (rotating and viewing an scene in 3D) depends on the number of cores more or less. However dual CPUs (2×12 or 24 cores) weren’t as useful so you can forget about Xeon set ups or Workstations especially if you plan on rendering with an external machine or render farm service.
A quad core is the sweet spot for viewport performance. However it also depends on how graphic intensive your scene/model is but you can safely bet on a quad core if you are shopping for laptops.
Another reason to opt for a Quad Core Processor is multitasking. If you plan on running other software along your main 3D applications. For example running After effects and Cinema 4D simultaneously, you’ll be sharing the CPU load from them with a multi core processor for a better and faster workflow.
A dedicated GPU is a must have for animation. Whether you need a mid range, basic or a high end graphics card will depend on how simple or complex your models are also how small or large are the scenes you work with.
You could always go with the minimum recommended graphics card listed by 3D software manufacturers but if you want smooth performance and not deal with any lag issues with any type of scene you’re gonna have to invest the rest of your budget on a good GPU after you’ve picked a decent CPU.
Which graphics card should I get?
The higher the memory of your graphics card, the more information it can hold onto about your scene, map or model.
But that’s not the only factor, graphics card with newer designs can outperform those with the same vRAM available. For example the GeForce 10xx series will out perform most of its predecessors due to their new design more not because its RAM capacity.
If you have a complex model with a lots of rigs, an scene with quite a lot of polygons or a huge number of particles then you will benefit from the latest graphics card with the highest amount of vRAM. Go for them if you have the budget, otherwise you may do well with a mid range graphics card like the GeForce GTX 960M.
Quadro/FirePro for animation
A few years ago, the quadro/firepro might have outperformed the GTX Geforce series by a long shot. Even though these cards are designed with 3D Modeling in mind, as far as animation goes the performance gain from these cards may not be worth your money. Quadro seems to be more beneficial for modeling real products for industry market where precision is far more important and the amount of polygons is extremely high.
However, you can still find a Quadro/FirePro card beneficial:
They have drivers that are more compatible with 3D Modeling applications and are overall more stable plus you will also get support from software manufacturers if you ever run into issues (which isn’t likely with them).
You’re paying for realibility rather than performance because they might be negligible for animation .The vast majority of you will do fine with the GeForce series. If a GeForce works fine for you and you don’t mind a few issues here and the lack of support, there’s no reason to overspend on a Quadro.
Nvidia vs AMD for animation
Which is best? As far as performance goes, Nvidia cards perform better than AMD cards according to benchmarks around the web. However, AMD offer more speed for the same price Nvidia cards offer. This is only an issue with desktops where you can configure your graphics card to your liking but laptops come with an installed graphics card so your choices are very limited.
Either way stick with Nvidia if you can, it’s more beneficial at this point for 3D applications in general.
This is where you shouldn’t go easy. 3D Applications in general will consume a lot of RAM. The more you can get for your laptop or computer the better it will be for your workflow especially when working with many applications simultaneously.
Rendering in particular benefits from a lot of RAM.
Aim for 16GB at the very least, RAM is always upgrade-able. Even if you are on a budget a 16GB RAM laptop shouldn’t be an issue.
If you do decide to go easy on RAM (8GB), it will work fine if you are or a beginner since your projects won’t get that big. However if you decide you to work on larger projects especially those that involve generating maps you will start to see the difference between 8GB and 16GB RAM.
Most Laptops you will find around websites and stores will be limited to 16GB though, because really none of them had animation in mind when they were produced but gaming.
Among the laptops that do include pre-installed 32GB are some of the ASUS ROG and MSI series. Otherwise if you want to go further than 16GB, you might want to upgrade it yourself which isn’t hard at all.
3D files and software are no joke, they’ll quickly consume up all of your storage space. Ideally you’d want to aim for the highest storage capacity you can afford. Try to aim for 1TB if you can.
If you can afford for a laptop with an SSD, then you don’t have to go go for an 1TB for internal storage. You won’t find laptops with 1TB and having an SSD that easily.
Whatever size you find, go for an SSD if you can. Your applications and files will load much faster than with regular HDDs. The only drawback is as mentioned before their size which is most of the time limited to 256-512GB.
But this can easily be solved by buying an external hard drive or buying a system that lets you install another drive (or one already comes with a hybrid set up).
SSD + HDD
Ideally you’d want all of your applications on your SSD Driver as well as any current files/projects you are working on for quick file access, previews and fast launching of your applications.
Footage, old files, completed projects can be stored in the large HDD.
One of the most popular combos is one 256GB SSD + one 1TB HDD, but your should choose the configuration that suits you (and your budget) best.
Here’s a basic speed comparison for SS & HD drivers, from highest to lowest.
SSD w/ NVMe Protocol
SSD on PCI Express interface (some of the M2 slots offer this)
SSD on SATA3 interface
SSD on SATA2 interface
5400 > 5000 > 4600 > green HDD.
Whether or not you decide to roll with an HDD, an SSD or a hybrid set up, you’re gonna need a back up for your files constantly just in case.
Currently, there are external hard drives with far more storage than 1TB. Get the one according to what your budget allows (if you have any money left) or the amount of projects you work with.
Most laptops and computers come with a full HD resolution, which is more than enough for animation purposes. If you’d like to invest in higher resolution displays for your personal preferences, try to avoid going too far with 4k or even 5k display whether it’s a laptop or a desktop. A few of your programs will not display your tools and icons properly at such high resolutions since they are not optimized to work with them yet plus you’ll run out of battery in no time.
Screen size is always useful for just about any application out there. With a bigger display you’ll be able to see your frames with much more details when you animate . But as far laptops go, you can’t really go past 17 in which case an external display comes in handy.
It depends on the software you wish to run. If you are limited to Maya, Final Cut Pro and Adobe Products then you can go for a Mac.
However if you aren’t a Mac User and you have to pick one in terms of productivity for animation, you’d definitely benefit from Windows. You’ll have better software compatibility, less support problems and more available tools and plugins for animation in general.
You can always dual boot into Windows using a powerful Mac machine though to eliminate all of these issues.
You can also cross battery life out of your laptop. The better your specs are the more energy they’ll use and the shorter your battery life will be. If you care about battery life, then strike the right balance for the complexity of your projects and the laptop specs you choose to buy and you might be able to find the battery life you are looking for. For example, stay away from big displays with a higher resolutions than 1080p if you don’t really benefit from them.
A high end laptop such as ones recommended below are fine for rendering complex images and most animation projects in general. Ideally you’d want to look into other options for rendering, after all these are laptops and not desktops.
A recap about rendering before you decide on your laptop and if you decide to render with it:
- Contrary to popular belief rendering is not a visual computation (GPU) but rather mathematical process(CPU).
- Whether it’s a laptop or a desktop, your focus should be on RAM and CPU, with CPU being far more important in terms of rendering time.
- Rendering takes advantage on the amount of cores your CPU has; physical cores nor virtual cores.
- A GPU is beneficial as long as you have maxed on CPU & RAM as some of the computations are off loaded to the GPU.
- For a laptop get at least 16GB for rendering and the fastest and latest CPU you can get your hands on, again with physical cores rather than virtual cores.
- Get a cooling stand for long renderings this will increase the lifespan of your laptop.
If you have any questions, something is not clear or any suggestions. Use the comments below or contact me, it would benefit all animators out there to get better and even more information.