10 Best Laptops for Animation ( 3D & 2D ) in 2020

All animators want to comfortably navigate through any scene with buttery smooth framerates in viewport and also be able to render scenes as fast as possible.

But let’s be real here, there’s no single best laptop for animation.

What’s best for you will depend  on the size of your models and the type of projects you’re working with. 

For example…

If your scenes consist of  high resolution texture details, huge numbers of particles plus ~100 lights & shadows or just an insane amount  amount polys & rigs, then you’ll definitely need  to look at the most expensive and maxed out laptops out there.

But listen…

Not all of you have to do this.

But if you do, you better make sure you spend that half a year of your rent money on a machine that’s worth every penny and will for sure return your investment.

Unfortunately…

If you check around the web  you’re simply thrown a bunch of overpriced huge laptops with mounstrous specs that weight around 15lbs by people who’s never even run an Animation software ( although reddit & quora are good places to look for advice, in fact I got a lot of help from those sites to write this article).

Heck I’ve seen anywhere from integrated GPUs for 3D animation software! Overpriced outdated workstation laptops for beginners! Which is very infuriating to say the least.

I’ll admit that a few of those recommendations will certainly be okay but are you sure you are getting the best bang for your buck?

You gotta be careful with this stuff.

If not, you will end up wasting a lot of cash.

And this is even more likely if you don’t understand computer jargon and you easily get confused with the terminology & useless descriptions thrown at your face by many reviews out there.

Anyways..enough ranting.

This post won’t be like that at all. 

 We’ll also go over everything you need to know about the hardware required for 3D animation and 2D animation too.

What To Look For In A Laptop For Animation ?

There are two things you’ll find in this post:

  1. First we’ll go over the 10 best laptops for Animation you’ll find online as of 2020. These should be able to run 3DS Max, Maya and consequently any 3D animation software out there We’ll also have a separate section for 2D animation laptops because the hardware specs are more tailored to user experience than power.

     2.  In the last section( which you can jump to using the TOC).  I will cover every single detail you need to know if you want to look for other options on your own or if you just want to learn all about the hardware needed for animation. Because that section is quite lengthy and full of computer jargon. If you feel the need to, you can give my “specifications guide” post a read before you go through it.

I’ll try to summarize that section here and tell you what exactly you need know before going over the 10 best laptops for Animation.

Software

Just FYI, when I say 3D & 2D Animation I mean the following:

3D animation: visual effects software, any 3D applications such as Maya, Blender & 3DS Max (including 3D games).

2D animaton: software that does not use viewport: Pencil 2D & Adobe After Effects in 2D. Also stop motion software.

CPU

2D animation
Any modern Intel Core i5 CPU or its AMD CPU equivalent (7th generation onwards/AMD Ryzen).

3D animation
An Intel Core i7/Core i9-XXXXH. A six core would be most ideal but quad cores will do. As for AMD, any of the latest Ryzen CPUs with an “H” on it. Ex: AMD Ryzen 7/9 XXXXH

More specifically:

Editing & Animating: pick the highest clock speed you can afford(measured in Hz).
Viewport: Focus on clock speed too.
Rendering: multicore CPU. HQ or H Series. Ex: i5-9300H or i7-8750H.  Ryzen H/HS. Ex: AMD Ryzen 9 4800HS/Ryzen 7 3550H.

GPU 

2D Animation
Any GPU. Integrated cards like the Intel HD/AMD Vega X series are fine.

3D Animation

Let me briefly mention that I get sick of people calling the NVIDIA GTX/RTX “gaming cards”. These GTX/RTX GPUs (Ex: 960M/1060 GTX/2060RTX) are pretty much equal (actually better) than “workstation GPUS”. There is no discernible difference, whichever cards holds the most CUDA cores and “vRAM” wins.

If you hear people talking about “workstation cards” or “quadros”, that’s outdated opinion. Today the high-tier 10th generation GTX Cards (1070GTX/1080GTX) and even better the RTX series are a lot better than these “firepro/quadro” cards especially for GPU rendering(mostly in Animation though). So…

Students :+960GTX GeForce/1050ti or Equivalent AMD(AMD Radeon RX 540/550/550/560). This is enough for buttery smooth viewport w/ small project loads & game development.

Professionals: 10th generation cards NVIDIA GeForce Cards with lots of vRAM or the latest RTX series: 1060,1070,1080/2060/2070/2080. These will handle viewport of lots of rigs, a huge number of polygons, particles, etc, with buttery smooth framerates. 

I’ll also include a decent NVIDIA Quadro for those who think they might need it though(they do become useful for a specific niche )

RAM
8GB RAM: students/starting with animation. When larger projects such as maps start coming to your portofolio, just do the upgrade to 16GB RAM.

16-32GB: bigger models need at least 16GB. 32GB is fool proof for pretty much any project size with tons of details. 64GB is useless.

*For rendering the more RAM you have the less time it’ll take.

Storage
Solid State Drives for everyone. PCIe NVMe hopefully.
You’ll end up spending less time on a project because loading applications/reading/writing files will be done in split seconds.

Students or small animation models: 256GB SSD are okay.
Pros : 1TB HDD + 256GB SSD or full blown SSD disks with at least 512GB. No 128 GB SSD.

Display

Resolution: 1080p is plenty for animation. Avoid 4k displays they are expensive and can present problems with some software.
Size: Bigger the better, you’ll see more frames with more details. Avoid 13” laptops if you can unless you need an extremely portable machine.


Top 10 Best Laptops For Animation 3D & 2D

Now that the best laptop configuration specs have been presented.

We’ll start with the best laptops for 3D Animation then talk about those laptops for 2D animation and stop motion software only.

Note that these reviews will tell you what you can expect from each laptop and  what the specs can be useful for. Pros & Cons. The specs themselves are listed there for you to compare. I won’t be horsing around and repeating them like most sites out there.

Note: most of these are similar in terms of specs so you’ll notice it all boilds down the GPU for 3D animation and CPU for 2D Animation


1. Acer Predator Helios 300

Best Laptop For Animation & VFX

  Core i7-10750H

  16GB DDR4

   NVIDIA RTX 2060

  512GB PCIe NVMe

  15” full HD 120Hz IPS

  4.10lb

  4 hours

Like I said, in the world of animation, there isn’t really ideal specs but you want to start with 8GB RAM and a good non-integrated graphics card. Obviously you also need a 64 bit system + a multiple core processor or you won’t get past the welcome screen.

Most laptops  above 600$+ have all of that and can run any animation software no problems. The  problem begins when you  viewport & render scenes with multiple light sources/layers..

To best way to minimize issues is to go for the latest series of GPUs released. For NVIDIA, this is the RTX series.

 Performance

I want to start with a 2060 laptop because the 2060RTX is the most budget friendly GPU and also has the best bang for your buck in terms of vRAM & CUDA cores which are both super important for  large scale scenes. 

If you browse around 2060RTX laptops for hours, you’ll come the conclusion that the Acer Predator (although not the cheapest) will give you the best bang for your buck.

Note that unlike other cheaper under 1000$ 2060RTX laptops, the predator has a 10th generation Core i7 CPU and 16GB RAM. The RAM allocation isn’t impressive, you can upgrade any laptop to 16GB yourself however the 10th generation Core i7 processor isn’t that easy to find unless you step into the 1500$ zone.

Anyways the best part of the 2060RTX(or the 10th generation 1060GTX) is that not only is it affordable to help you with large complex scenes but it’s also useful for real-time rendering w/ Unity/Unreal/Stingray etc.

Speaking of rendering,  6GB of vRAM will be OKAY as long as you dont have crazy scenarios like a christmas tree with shadows, lights, objects & lights everywhere. 

Again if you make a spreadsheet of all the 2060RTX laptops and compare the specs side by side, you’ll come to the same conclusion: this laptop has the best bang for your buck for 3D animation.

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2. Acer Nitro 5

Best Budget Laptop For Animation

  Intel Core i5 9300H

  8GB RAM

   GeForce GTX 1650 

  256 PCIe SSD

  15” FHD 1080p IPS

  5.07lb

  5 hours

 Performance

If you can’t afford the predator and you still want to be able to handle pretty complex scenes with a high number of polygons, lights, shadows, etc, try your best to afford this model with the 1650GTX, which isn’t an entry level GPU like the MX250 but it’s actually pretty close in power to the 1060GTX(last year’s 2060RTX version) 

It’s not the bleeding edge of the RTX monsters  but  it should let you render and deal  with a decent FPS (the difference in the number of CUDA cores with the 2060RTX isn’t abysmal and only has 2GB less vRAM)

While there are “supposedly” cheaper laptops with weaker yet powerful GPUs like the 1050 and the 1050Ti. As of August 2020, those laptops are actually more expensive (and less powerful) than this mode. This is hard to swallow  but if you type 1050/1050Ti or even MX250/Mx150 laptops on the amazon search bar you’ll notice they’re all actually more expensive.

Anyways, if you can’t find this model by the time you read this, try to get a 1050Ti laptop at the very least with 8-16GB RAM or a 9th-10th generation CPU, this should cost you around 750$ anything more is not acceptable! Hopefully you don’t have to do that and just buy this model for 650$.

1050/1050ti/1650 GPUs(4GBvRAM) vs higher tier GPUs

You’ll start to see lag and problems whenever you work with scenes that will quickly eat up the 4GB vRAM. Scenes requiring more than 4GB vRAM are kind of rare unless you already a Pro but basically everything will slow down significantly.

But honestly the same situation will happen with any dedicated GPU, even the most powerful desktop GPU will slow down to a crawl with more and more large scale scenes, it’s all relative to what you are working  with.

Any of thse cards should be fine as long as you don’t render anything crazy heavy and don’t deal with intense “real time rendering”.

Another huge difference you’ll see with an low tier GPU like the 1050/1050Ti and 1650 is when you’re trying to use a render that is completely GPU dependent.

For example, iRAY, uses CUDA cores as extra “processing units” to accelerate rendering so the less CUDA cores you have the slower the rendering times.

You know I actually taught myself 3DS Max on a laptop with a far weaker GPU/CPU than this model has(a 960M w/ 4GB vRAM) and still never faced any problems with view port and rendering. So if you’re at that level, you should be good!

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3. MSI GP75 Leopard 10SFK

Best 2070RTX Laptop For Animation 

  Core i7-10750H

  16GB RAM DDR4

  NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 8GB vRAM

   512GB SSD PCIe NVMe

  17” Full HD IPS 240Hz

  5.73lbs

  Up to 4 hours

We’ll now go over the GodZillas for 3D Animation.

This laptop doesn’t seem to be “all that different” if you quickly look at the specs.

 Performance

However, there’s going to be a huge jump performance just for the fact that this model has a 2070RTX especially for rendering software that’s GPU dependent. The amount of Cuda cores of the RTX 2070 and the 2080 is insane so rendering with software like iRAY will be significantly faster.

To render with software like iRAY you want a GPU with as much CUDA cores & vRAM you can get, the 1050Ti and 1650GTX are fine GPUs compared to past generations. However, the 2070RTX, 2080RTX and even the upcoming 3080RTX have several hundred (if not a few more thousand) more CUDA cores (check the table at the end of the post).

Even without the CUDA Cores and their reduced clock speed  (as would be in the case of 2070/2080 Max-Q GPUs) the 8GB vRAM will still make a huge difference in navigating through pretty large & intense scenes (w/ insane amount of polys,lights) and will also help you when using  larger (external) display.

EX:

Here’s an extreme benchmark. Imagine a scene with +18m polys +80 lights. Either the 2080/2070 will get you around 20fps in shaded mode and 10 fps in realistic mode and 8fps with lights disabled.

I know that’s pretty slow but it’s impressive taking the fact that this is an unrealistic super heavy scenario. That scene is a christmas tree by the way.

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4. MSI GS75 Stealth 10SGS-027

Best Laptop For 3D Rendering and Animation

  Core  i9 10980K

  32GB RAM

   NVIDIA  RTX 2080 Super

  1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

  17.3” Full HD IPS 300Hz

  10.28lb

  Up to 3h

This is the most powerful laptop on the list, the one the animation guy was suggesting for you to buy in the comments below. 

I don’t care what you are animating, this puppy should be able to handle it. It has about the same performance as desktop like workstation and actually about the same weight and size too (it’s 17 inch).

 Performance: 2080RTX

This time is not just the 2070/2080RTX GPU (this one has the 2080RTX Super – non max Q ) but the CPU as well. It’s the latest Core i9 processor.

The 2080 Super RTX doesn’t just have more CUDA Cores but a better architecture than the 2070RTX.

The performance gains will become more obvious when using viewport  w/ Shaded & Shaded w/ edges face mode on even larger scenes.

You’ll also see a big performance boost in other apps like Substance Painter/Designer – where scenes with large texture sets  may cause lower tier cards to slow down.

However, if we keep it real, the perforamnce boost from a 2070RTX to a 2080RTX won’t be that impressive and huge. The 2070RTX does a great job already, the 2080 is just better.

The same can be said for the processor, the 10th Core i7 is insanely fast already and the Core i9 is just faster.

 I’m just putting this model in case you really want to go all out and get the best out of the best so your laptop can chew up software updates and hardware requirements for at least 5 years.
One thing I would totally recommend if you decide to opt for a laptop like this or the 2070RTX laptop before is to make sure it’s a 17 inch laptop.
The reason is that the RTX 2070/2080/Core i9/Core i7 10th will need as much ventilation as possible (which also means more space) if they’re not going to undervolt but hit their highest clock speeds.

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5. Razer Blade 15 2020

Best Laptop For 3D Animation & Gaming

  Core  i7 10875H 4.1GHz

  16GB RAM DDR4

  NVIDIA 2070/2080/2070 Super/2080 Super RTX Max-Q

  256GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

  15” Full HD IPS 300Hz

  4.9 lbs

  Up to 5h

This also brings me to a problem with monster like laptops for those on the go, they’re not portable.

The Razer Blade has almost all the power of the two laptops above (it can be configured to have a 2070/2080RTX) and only weights 4.5lb.

I’m saying “almost” because their GPUs have been downclocked/undervolted whatever you want to call it, they’re not working at their full potential, another tearm widely used is “Max-Q”.

This is something that’s unavodaible on portable machines and it must be done in order for that GPU/CPU to survive the high temperatures that can happen in such a small compact area.

Usually the power is reduced by 10-15% so  max Q  2070/2080 RTX is still a lot more powerful than a 2060RTX/1650.

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6. ASUS ProArt StudioBook Pro 17 W700G3T 

Best  Workstation Laptop For 3D Animation & 3D Modeling

  Core  i7 9750H

  64GB RAM DDR4

  NVIDIA RTX 3000

  2TB PCIe SSD

  17” Full HD IPS

  6 lbs

  up to 2h

Here is the “workstation laptop” some of you may have been waiting for.

But i’ll be another one to say it publicly:  “certified workstation GPUs” are wasted money.

From my experience , at least for animation, consumer aka gaming cards will give you nearly the same or even better performance (with many renderers).

It may be useful for AutoCAD or Rhino but for 3ds Max/Maya I have yet to see the advantage.

Why are gaming cards better than workstation cards?

This is based on my experience and knowledge so it may be open to question but it does make sense if you think about it:

Workstation cards were designed for modeling “industry-like objects” where precise calculations & simulations of physical objects were needed: cars, pipin models for oil rigs, etc.

However animation is pretty much like gaming, there’s not need for precise calculations but there is a high need for rendering objects/scenes to interact with or just view. So vRAM & CUDA become a lot more important .

In fact, putting vRAY and mental RAY aside, the Octane, fstorm and Redshift renderers encourage you to use a  consumer “gaming” card.

The only reason I’m listing one here is for those who have been forced by the old IT guy in the building to buy a workstation laptop for animation. 

Another reason is that some animators may know what they are doing and know exactly why they will need this cards and in fact they might find it more useful (this is usually the case of special plugins/software).

Outdated “Certified” Workstation GPUs:

Be careful of choosing workstation laptops with outdated “certified” GPUs they’ll perform worse than small fry gaming GPUs.

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7. Acer Aspire E5

Best Laptop for Animation Students

  Intel Core  i5-8265U

  8GB DDR4 

   NVIDIA GeForce MX250

  512GB PCIe NVMe SSD 

  15” Full HD 1080p

  5.8lb

  7 hours

Time we leave the godzillas aside and go over much simpler laptops for 2D Animation.

For 2D animation you just want a multi core processor & enough RAM (this is to make sure you can run all of your animation software at once without lag). GPUs and storage are not really helpful.

 Performance

Regardless of what 2D animation software you’ll be using, this one should be able to handle all of it. It has way too much CPU power and it even has a dedicated GPU.

So let’s talk about the GPU and what you can do with it for 3D animation software  instead.

The MX250 has about x4 the performance of an Intel HD (integrated graphics card).

If you aren’t rendering intense scenes with multiple shadows, lights, physics, diffusion, post processing, etc. You’ll find this laptop “OK” and enough to mess around with 3D animation software.

You can still render with it but it will take a long time.

As for viewport , it will handle small scenes with a decent FPS but it won’t be as buttery smooth as the high end tier laptops. Processing steps will also take some time but nothing that will be get to be too annoying. 

So yeah, despiste being a low end entry level small fry GPU. Basic to moderate models/scenes  will be fast and have no lag.

Why?

Because today’s dedicated GPUs are a lot faster than the ones developed 5 or 10 years ago and the fact that Maya/3DS Max are pretty old software.

With that being said if you are really really on a tight budget and don’t usually work with crazy scenes, the MX250 will give you the best deal on the web for a laptop with a “dedicated GPU”

This is even a better option if you are a teaching yourself or taking an animation classes on 3DS Max, Maya and so on and will later buy a desktop when the real stuff is presented to you. 

But if you plan on using this for work or you are trying to make a living out of it, you need to run away as fast as you can from this one, break the piggy bank and get the 2060, 2070 or 2080RTX laptops shown above .

There’s one big catch though…today’s MX250 laptop is for some reason more expensive than the even more powerful 1650GTX I’ve shown at the very beginning! So I don’t recommend buying this laptop unless you find it cheaper than 600$. If you don’t then just don’t buy it and get the Acer Nitro 5 instead.

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8. Acer Aspire E15 E5-575

Best Budget Laptop For 2D Animation

  AMD Ryzen 3 3200U

  8GB RAM DDR4

   AMD Radeon Vega 3

  128GB PCIe NVMe SSD+500GB HDD

  15” TN full HD 1080p

  3.97lb

  10 hours

This is a laptop for purely 2D animation software. Although I generally wouldn’t recommend a core i3 processor/AMD Processor , the 10th generation Core i3/Ryzen 3 have insane clock speeds for a “budget laptop”.

Now you may find several dozens of models below 600$ with a Core i3/Ryzen 3 and 8GB of RAM but the reason why this laptop is popular are the extra stuff you’re getting: FHD,IPS, PCIe NVMe SSD,etc.

The only real drawback  is that it’s a bit heavy: 5lb but this is the case for all laptops from 300-500$ .

.Premium laptops with the same specs weight around 3lb but will cost you ~700$. 

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9. Newest Lenovo Premium PC

Best Laptop For Stop Motion Animation & 2D Animation

  AMD Ryzen 3-3200

  8GB DDR4 

   Intel HD

  128GB SSD

  17.3″ HD

  6.2lb

  7 hours

This laptop is a lot faster because it has a Ryzen 5 CPU. It has a 17 inch display and that’s the reason why it’s expensive and the reason why I’m listing it here. That extra screen space becomes super useful if you want to work with multiple animation software simultanously.

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10. Surface Pro 7

Best 2 in 1 Laptop For Animation

  Core m3 , Core i5, Core i7

  4GB-16GB RAM

  Intel HD/Iris

  128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

  12” IPS 2736×1824

  1.7lb

  +11 hours

I’ve gotten a few comments about suggesting a touchscreen laptop for 2D animation but touchscreen laptops are useless for pretty much anything unless they’re something you can draw on with a stylus.

If you want something to feel more realistic when drawing , you should consider a WacCom tablet too. 

If you insist on laptop or tablet for animation where you are able to draw, the only real candidate today is  the Surface Pro 7.

What about the power? I want run every 2D animation software with no hiccups!

As long as you get a non-mobile CPU and 8GB RAM with it, even if it’s an older model, you will blast through any software. By mobile CPU I mean any CPU that’s not an Intel Core like the m3 m5 y3 y5 CPUs.

I would recommend a CPU no higher than the Intel Core i5 though, they’ve got plenty of power to run 2D animation software regardless of the generation.

If you are unable to buy the current version, you can always settle with older models (even the Surface Pro 4 is cool) which are a lot cheaper and  have almost (90%) the same functionality as the current ones.

I doubt there’s any discernible difference when drawing too.

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How To Buy The Best Laptop For Computer (Digital) Animation

Why do we even need to do so much research when buying an animation laptop? 

  1. There’s a huge amount of software for animation.
  2. There’s different types of animation: 2d, 3d, CGI animation, and many more.
  3. Again there’s different sizes of scenes/models animators deal with which leads to different hardware requirements.

For example:

Roughly speaking, 2D Animators may only need a laptop capable of having Windows on it with 8GB RAM and any modern processor. Since most cheap laptops have these features already,  2D animators can spend most of their budget on display & other extravagant features(solid state drives, battery life, weight, touchScreens,etc).

However, 3D Animators however should focus primarily on performance.

More specifically as you’ll see soon it’s all about graphic cards (vRAM) .Regular RAM & Storage are secondary but still important (for a nice boost in performance). 

Before we go into details we have to start with…

The Animation Software

Wether you are in India or the UK ,  people several animations and VFX ( Vissual Effects ) software.

3D Animation

As you may have guessed, the software for 3D animation is far more demanding. A complete list of the most commonly used software can be found here.

The ones you are probably most familiar with are:

AutoDesk Maya

You can do a lot of stuff with Maya: modeling, simulation, visual effects, matchmoving, compositing & rendering and use it for 3D applications, films, tv, architecture and automatotive design.

As for animation animation….it’s been used for some of Harry Potter’s Movies, Kung Fu panda, Transformers.

Some popular games that have used it are FIFA 09 & Prince of Persia.

Autodesk 3DS Max

3D modeling and animation. Used for TV, movies, architectural studies & most importantly game development.

What games?
World of warcraft, Call of duty.

Movies?

Avatar, Tomb Raider Lara Croft, Transformers, X-men,etc.

2D Animation

Obviously laptops that can run 3D Animation software can also run 2D animation.

If you plan on running 3D animation software such as the ones listed above for your 2D animation projects, then you might as well go on with a a laptop for 3D Animation.

However if you are purely interested in 2D animation software keep reading this section.

A list of purely 2D Animation software can be found here.

But the most widely used ones are:  Pencil2D & Adobe after effects.*

Stop Motion Animation

This type of software isn’t as demanding as 3D animation software either. So the same rules as for 2D animation software apply

StopMotion Pro Clipse, Animator HD, Stop motion Studio, qStopMotion, IkITMovie,DragonFrame.

*If you are interested in running any other graphics design software, check my post on the link.

Laptop Specs for Animation ( 2D & 3D )

Recommended Specs For 2D Animation 

2D Animation and Stop Motion animation don’t require anything more than a modern laptop with the following specs:

RAM
8GB RAM

CPU
Intel Core i5 +3Ghz

GPU
Any. Even Intel HD cards will do the trick. The reason is simple: 2D objects are a single frame of images which do not occupy much “memory” and do not need a dedicated memory (dedicated GPU).  Unlike a 3D object which is composed of several hundreds of images constantly switching back and forth to simulate rotation (viewport),  so this occupies far more memory and need dedicated memory for it which “dedicated GPUs” have.

Storage
Pretty much any storage device. An SSD however is optional but a great plus.

Since you might end up with a huge repository of images and projects, you might as well invest one for ultra fast SSD  for ultra fast file reading and loading times of your software. Yeah everything’s ultra with an SSD…

So..if you have the budget invest on an SSD and other features such as display followed by battery and portability.

2D & Stop motion animators: You can pretty much stop reading this section but perhaps you’d like to give the section on display & SSD for 3D Animation a read. .

The next part of this guide will solely focus on 3D animation software

3D Animation Software

The issue really comes down to your scenes and models.

It may require a humongous amount of hardware depending on the project but generally most animators only need a decent dedicated graphics card . 

If you are just an animation student, you can bet you fall right into this category.

If you are a profesional animator,  you need to go quite beyond “the official hardware requirements” to make your viewport & rendering less painful.

Let’s go over the official (minimum) hardware requirements of the most popular and hardware demanding*  3D animation software. 

Software Processor RAM GPU
Maya 64-bit Intel® or AMD® multi-core processor 8GB GTX 680 or equivalent
3DS Max 64-bit Intel® or AMD® multi-core processor 8GB NVIDIA GTX 690 or equivalent
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 or equivalent

We’ll focus on Maya & 3DS MAX. They’re the ones that will give you the most headache:

Newer versions will support real-time rendering and viewport uses your GPU as well.

*Having a computer or laptop satisfying these requirements will make sure yours will also be capable of handling any animation software out there.
*If you are interested in laptops for animation & video editing check my post on adobe premiere, which applies for all video editing software.

Recommended Specs For 3D Animation

The above are the minimum of the minimum recommended requirements. If you know anything about computers you can already tell they’re not that big of a deal:

  • 8GB RAM is standard in most laptops today
  • All processors today are multicore
  • Today’s 9th and 10th generation lowest end graphics card are just as powerful as the 6th generation high end cards (the mentioned 660, 680 and 690).

While you may be able to run your software with these requirements. You won’t get the best performance out of it and you will definitely have to deal with lag (especially if you choose an outdated 4th or 5th gen CPU or GPU has low vRAM – we’ll explain these soon).

Although, the requirements are meant for desktops and not laptops I will talk about its equivalents next: 

CPU

Get an i7 quad core or a six-core processor if you can afford it.

Yeah, today’s laptops with the 8th generation just released can have up to six cores (pretty dope isn’t it?!).

Here are the reasons according to a very thorough study on 3DS Max vs CPU performance.

Rendering

Rendering speed has always and will always depend on the number of cores.

So if you plan on rendering your projects with your laptop (which is a bad idea if your projects are huge &  got a laptop with a lousy cooling system & weak specs) then you need at least a quad core procesor (six core would be a huge boost though).

So Opt for processors that end with an HQ,HK, H from the 5th generation onwards. The H processors such as the Core i7 8500H have up to six cores which is perfect for rendering

Editing and Animating

If you are using the cloud to render or another monstrous size desktop to render, then you could settle with a dual core processor on your laptop.

Why?

Editing only requires one processor with the fastest clock speed. 3D Animation plugins and the effects you apply to your models are single threaded.

You can check this by running any animation software and press CTRL+ALT+DEL. Only to check CPU usage, only one core will be fully utilized.

So the faster your clock speed, the faster you’ll be able to see your previews and manipulate your tools as well.

If your work solely focuses on editing & making animations, opt for the CPU with the highest clock speeds not the number of cores. Processors with the highest clock speeds today have 6 cores in laptops anyway so you may want to opt for a Core i7 from the H series

Viewport

By viewport I mean rotating and viewing any scene in 3D. According to the study mentioned above it does depends on the number of cores more or less. 

Although the study was carried out with desktops, the conclusion was that viewport is mostly single threaded but have significant performance gains with multicore CPUs. A six core CPU would give you about 6% increase in FPS, a 10 core a 15%. 

If you want a higher FPS when using viewport however, you are better off investing on a good dedicated GPU with more “vRAM” than worrying about how many cores your CPU has.

Multitasking

Another reason to opt for a quad core or a six core processor is multitasking.  If you plan on running other software along your main 3D application. 

For example it’s commong to run After effects and Cinema 4D simultaneously.  A quad core or six core CPU will allow you to share the workload between each cor and give you a faster workflow.

Conclusion: you’re better off with a six core CPU or a quad core CPU, in the laptop world these also have the highest clock speeds so your editing will be lightining fast as well.

RAM

3D Applications in general will consume a lot of RAM.

Also the more RAM you can get your hands on, the more applications you will be able to run simultaneously without lag.

Rendering in particular benefits from a lot of RAM.

So aim for 16GB at the very least

RAM in big bulky or 15” inch laptops are always upgradeable. 

So even if you are on a budget getting another 8GB RAM and stick it in your laptop shouldn’t cost you much.

8GB vs 16GB vs 32GB

8GB RAM will work fine if you are a student or a beginner.

But let’s assume you decide to work on larger projects especially those that involve generating maps , then you’ll need 16GB RAM. 

On the other hand, 32GB RAM will be foolproof for pretty much any project out there. 64GB RAM is pretty much useless for animation.

Most laptops you will find around the net and stores come with 8GB RAM and will only be upgradeable to 16GB. None of them had animation in mind when they were produced but gaming, 16GB is still plenty.

There are only a few  laptops out there that do include a pre-installed 32GB RAM, for example the ASUS ROG  and MSI Stealth series. But generally it’s cheaper to do the upgrade yourself, which it isn’t hard at all*

*Note not all laptops are upgradeable to 32GB. So read carefully before you purchase a laptop if you think you’ll need the upgrade.

GPU ( Graphics Card For Animation )

A dedicated GPU is a must have for 3D animation.

Whether you need a mid range, basic or a high end graphics card will depend on how simple or complex your models are or how small or large are the scenes you work with are.

You could always go with the minimum recommended graphics card listed by 3D software manufacturers but if you want smooth performance and never have to deal with lag with any type of scene you’re gonna have to invest the your entire budget on a good GPU after you’ve picked a decent CPU & 16GB RAM.

What’s a good GPU for animation?

One with a lot of vRAM.

vRAM

vRAM is just how much dedicated memory there’s for your GPU to use (just like RAM is reserved to run processes for your CPU).

So the higher the memory of your graphics card, the more information it can hold onto about your scene, map or model. That means bigger scenes, more details,  more polygons, particles, lights, etc.

This rule only applies to graphics card within the same generation though

Why?

Graphics card with newer architecture can outperform those with the same available vRAM

For example the GeForce 10xx series will out perform most of its predecessors (those from the 9th generation)  due to their new design not because the amount of vRAM.

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 10th generation Graphics Cards with the highest amount of vRAM.

If your scenes aren’t that complex then, you will be fine with the older mid range card like the GeForce 960M or the 1050ti which have 4GB vRAM.

What happens if I don’t get enough vRAM?

Hell witill happen. Performance willl drop dramatically in some apps if you have too little vram (Substance Painter comes to mind immediately).

3DS Max will start making objects dissapear completely at random when using viewport. Although this is rare today because 10th generation & 9th generation graphic cards already have a lot of vRAM so you’re likely to see this when working with large scale scenes .

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, for animation the performance gain from these cards may not be worth your money.

NVIDIA Quadro & AMD Fire Pro cards are more beneficial for modeling real products for a market where precision is far more important than looks (for the best simulation possible) so the amount of polygons & calculations end up being extremely high. This is the case for other 3D modeling applications such as SolidWorks.

You will also get support from software manufacturers if you ever run into issues, otherwise they’ll just blame any errors to your “non-certified” graphics card.

But the vast majority of animators (even animation majors during their curricula) will do fine with a regular consumer card.

So if you don’t mind a few pop up erros here and there (which you can just click OK and move on ), there’s no reason to overspend on a Quadro.

To give you an example I started with a 970GTX which was top of the line back then and it wasn’t on the list of certified workstation cards. I only had to deal with a pop up error basically saying the graphics card is not compatible for which I just clicked OK and ran the software just fine ever since.

In fact it runs better than an old “certified workstation” than I have.

Note: Software’s like Maya and Houdini are system extensive. The older versions won’t support on your newer cards like Maya 2012 or Maya 2014.

Nvidia vs AMD for animation

Nvidia cards perform better than AMD cards according to benchmarks studies.

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.

Another reason to stick with NVIDIA is their “CUDA Core technology” which basically act as more “mini processors” that many renderers out there like Octane support.

You may find a few bugs (if you have maxwell or 9th generation card) for example with Adobe After effects but there’s always way to overcome it.

Either way stick with Nvidia for now, today it’s still better for 3D applications & gaming.

Storage

Size

The generated 3D files from animation software are no joke, they’ll quickly eat up all of your storage. .

Type

SSD vs HDD

Whatever size you find, always opt for an SSD.

Your applications and files will load much much faster cutting back a lot of time spent on a project.

The only drawback is their size which is most of the time is limited to 256-512GB, some laptops do offer 1TB-2TB SSD but they’re unrealistically expensive.

There are few cheap ones with 1TB SSD but they don’t come up with the proper CPU or graphics card for animation.

You can easily be solved this issue by buying an external hard drive or buying installing another storage device yourself (most laptops allow you to install either a 256GB M.2 SSD or a 1TB HDD).

SSD + HDD set up

You’ll mostly find 256GB SDD+1TB HDD sets up out there or 128GB SSD+1TB HDD on laptops specifically built for gaming and 3D work.

How to use it?

Have all of your applications on the SSD along with any current files/projects you are working on. This should give you quick file access, quick model previews and launch 3D software fast as hell.

Footage, old files, completed projects can be stored in the large 1TB HDD.

Storage Speed

Just FYI. Here’s a basic speed comparison for SSS & HDD devices, from highest to lowest.

1. SSD w/ NVMe Protocol
2. SSD on PCI Express interface (some of the M2 slots offer this)
3. SSD on SATA3 interface
4. SSD on SATA2 interface
5. 7200RPM HDD
6. 5400 > 5000 > 4600 > green HDD.

Back up

Whatever storage set up you end up with, you should really think about having an external device to back up for your files on a regular basis..

Heres decent brand that’s hot around the web right now. Choose whatever size your budget allows , 1TB is still better than nothing.

Display

Resolution

Most laptops and computers come with a full HD resolution, this is plenty for animation.

It’s okay to want higher resolutions such as the Retina resolution from MacBooks, or the Pixel Sense from the Surface Pro, etc.

I’d just advice you to  avoid +4k displays.

A few of your programs(and plugins) will not display tools and icons properly since they haven’t been optimized to work with those resolutions yet plus you’ll run out of battery in no time. 

If this starts to happen you can try upgradting your software to the latest version but there’s no guarantee that will fix the issue.

Size

Screen size is always useful for just about any application out there.

A bigger display allows you to see more frames and with more detail .

Although laptops can’t really go past 17. But you can always attach an external display to it. 

Avoid 13” displays unless portability is a problem, it can be annoying to work with low size screens for long periods of time.

 

Trackpad

You can forget about track pad quality if you are serious about animation. Get any mouse you’re comfortable with  that can get accurate work done.
If you are serious about drawing and 2D animation, get a  Wacom Cintiq, this is about as “Touchy/Fcv eely” as you’re going to NEED to get.
 If you still insist on a touchScreen laptop for  2D Drawing, the Surface Pro is still tops to this date.

Operating System

Mac

If you are limited to Maya, Final Cut Pro and Adobe Products then you can go for a Mac.

Windows

Windows is a better choice if you are want to dominate several softwar.

You’ll also less software problems and more available tools and plugins. Plus Macs don’t offer NVIDIA GPUs which as you’ll see soon….are in fact crucial.

Rendering

The high end laptops for 3D animation recommended above are fine for rendering most animation projects. The most expensive one will be able to render pretty much everything thrown at you.


Here’s a recap about rendering before you buy a laptop with rendering in mind.

  • 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 for faster rendering time.
  • Rendering takes advantage on the amount of cores your CPU has; physical cores nor virtual cores ( opt for HQ – quadcore or H – six cores).
  • A GPU is beneficial as long as you have maxed on CPU & RAM.So the computations can be off loaded to the GPU.
  • Get a cooling stand for and use it when rendering this will increase the lifespan of your laptop.
  • Lastly not all renderers out there make use of your GPU.

Renderers vs GPU

With Mental Ray you are not going to see much of an effect even with the GI.

Regular vRAY primarily uses CPU.vRAY (regular) supports AMD Cards too

For vRAY RT or iRAY you’ll definitely se an improvement. .

Other renderers like Octane will support CUDA(NVidia).

At a certain point good data management becomes just as important as hardware, and the effect of hardware improvements starts dropping off rapidly.

Conclusion

Let me say publicly that quadro & firepro are not needed ( I haven’t seen the need yet) for animation.

There’s no single laptop out there that’s perfect for animation, even the most powerful bulkiest and expensive laptop can  be slowed down to a crawl with a large scale scene.

So the more complex scenes you have the more RAM & vRAM you are going to need.

It’s always better to have extra vRAM not just for viewport but for rendering.

If you use renderers like iRAY you’ll need even more vRAM with complex scene, if that scenes happens to fit exactly into the vRAM you have avaiable expect your laptop’s case to be able to fry eggs when rendering.

Also don’t forget to opt for highest clock speeds CPUs you can afford.  Even if you settle for a CPU which turbo boosts to “+3GHz”, animating & rendering wll drive that CPU to 100% and then go down dramatically to keep temperatures down (sometimes even go below it’s base clock speed). You can avoid this by buying a nice cooling pad & opt for a high clock processor around 4GHz.

Comments?

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