The most important thing when looking for the best laptop for architecture is that it must be GPU-optimized so you can have lagless viewport when drawing which will speed up your workflow with ALL BIM software.
BIM & CAD software may mean software like “Rhino” (basically an advanced version of Sketch up) but for most people reading this it will mean Revit because that’s the standard now as of 2023.
Yes, ocasionally you may have to use software 3DS Max for high quality renders but you’ll mostly be stuck with Revit and/or perhaps Rhino.
For a quick workflow with ANY BIM or CAD software, you’ll need:
A) CPU w/ at least ~4.5GHz
B) GPU with at least 2GB vRAM (student) and 4-6GB vRAM (architect).
Also, Notice how so far I have not mentioned workstation GPUs or laptops at ALL.
I’ll explain why soon but basically 95% of the people reading this don’t need to shell out 2-4k bucks for a 10lb workstation laptop.
Best Laptop Specs For Architecture
If you want to maximize the performance/money ratio of your laptop, its important to know the three most common mistakes architects make when purchasing ANY computer:
1. Not maximizing CPU clock frequnecy
2. Wasting money on high-end GPUs.
3. Not having enough RAM to speed up rendering.
Now before we go over the best laptops for architecture, let’s go over the hardware details quickly. If you need a more complete and easier explanation head over to the end of this post.
Clock Frequency: this is measured in GHz, the higher the faster the drawing & designing because most of those functions are “frequency” dependent.
#Cores: will not speed up the sketching process, it will only speed up rendering. The limit is about 10 (after that more cores do not speed up rendering significantly).
Architects: 4.5GHz frequencies with 8 cores. Recommended CPUs: Core i7 11375H/Ryzen 7 5800HS.
Students: You aren’t likely to work with 3D CAD software on a regular basis till your 3rd or 4th year thus you can settle for something less. Ex: AMD Ryzen 5 5600H or Core i5 10300H.
vRAM: This affects viewport fps (rotating a model in 3D). So this has a direct effect on how fast you design and draw. The bigger your models, the more you’ll need.
CUDA Cores / Shaders : You’ll find more on more recent GPUs but they don’t add significant performance gains when rendering.
Students: 4GB vRAM GPUs. Ex: 1050Ti/1650GTX/3050Ti
Architects: 95% of architects will be happy with just 6GB vRAM. Ex: 2060RTX/3060RTX/1660Ti.
Workstation GPUs: Unlike regular consumer GPUs, they are explicitly made for 3D CAD Software however given the similarity with gaming GPUs, they are only useful if you need the extra vRAM for skycrapper like designs (They can have up to 16GB vRAM) or when you need to unlock very niche and special plug-ins & features.
Students: 8GB RAM is enough. You can upgrade to 16GB RAM if you want to massively speed up rendering (for bigger projects).
Architects: Minimum 16GB RAM this for both rendering purposes and additional software in the background.
SSD don’t speed up rendering or improve viewport fps but they’ll speed up everything else especially file access. Virtually all laptops have SSDs, type doesn’t matter, if yours doesn’t (old or refurbished) be sure to do an SSD upgrade as shown here. As for space:
Students: 256GB is plenty for school even if you plan on installing games. Projects weight ~1GB on avg. Make sure to use a cloud storage for back-ups though (DropBox or Google Drive).
Architects: “Unpurged” revit files will take up 256GB but it should still be okay. 512GB is necessary if you want to keep old projects.
Weight & Display
They’re directly correlated.
Students: 13” should be okay if you’re a student with no need of good graphics. 15” is the only choice if you want high power graphics. 17” must be avoided unless it’s going to stay in one place.
Architects: The bigger the better (for canvas & direct access to interface tools). 17” is the biggest and if you have the budget, adding a QHD or UHD resolutions will increase available space even more making it easier to work on much larger models.
*If you are an architect and want more details on hardware usage & efficiency for architectural software check my Revit and AutoCAD posts. If you are a student and want more details, just head over to the last section of this post.
Top 10 Best Laptops For Architecture
The following list is made out of laptops for students, architects and even those few people that will actually need a workstation GPU. They’ve got all the hardware I’ve discussed above and they’re the best deals on each of their brackets.
I could’ve just listed 5 laptops but I tried to include more variety as far as portability goes (for students) and power (for architects). Don’t worry I’ll explain in detail when exactly each of these are useful, I won’t be talking about useless jargon like hardware specs as most sites do.
1. HP Victus
Core i5 13420H
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 3050Ti 4GB vRAM
512GB PCIe NVMe
15” Full HD IPS 144Hz refresh rates
This is a different variation of the last year’s model, the only difference from last year is the processor.
This may not seem like a huge upgrade but for architecture purposes (especially drafting & rendering) the extra CPU speed (cores) give you massive boosts as we’ll discuss soon. Hands down the best bang for your buck, all under 700 bucks.
GPU: 3050Ti 4GB vRAM
A 3050Ti is going to be bullet proof for all types of designs you’ll work with in architecture school during your four years. You MAY need a bit more vRAM after you graduate but it isn’t likely a laptop will last you more than 5 years.
As for 2GB vRAM GPUs like the MX450 or 1050Ti, nothing wrong with those, they will work even if you are a professional architect. If you pick the 1650GTX, you’ll get the same viewport performance (on large models) as the 3050Ti shown here.
Such laptops (1650GTX , 1050Ti) are on average 100 dollars cheaper than 3050Ti laptops. The price of a 3050Ti GPU on a laptop is anywhere from 650-730, the low end being the price of laptops with weaker GPUs (MX450 , 1650GTX).
If you have the budget though, it is definitely worth going for a 3050Ti GPU, there’s a significant extra amount of CUDA cores and speed which is going to make rendering with GPU-based renderers (Lumion, iRAY and 3DS Max) faster. It isn’t likely you’ll use those in architecture school though so if you’re a student, you can opt for the cheaper 1650GTX I’ll show next.
CPU: Core i5 13420H
I could’ve picked a cheaper 3050Ti laptop from last year which is usually around 650-700 dollars but that also comes with an older CPU. And as we discuss later on, CPU is the single most important spec, when it comes to being productive because rendering (since most architects in school and work use AutoCAD, Revit & Rhino all CPU dependent) and drafting (drawing and design) are is a CPU tasks. GPU only comes into play when using viewport (only for large models) and when using GPU-renderers (not very common to use them in school).
This model has the LATEST of the LATEST CPUs which was released just a couple of months ago and it’s still hard to find on laptops today (it takes much more time for newer CPUs to be available on laptops than desktops).
Another cool thing about this model is that it has way more storage than you’ll need for architecture school. If you’re an architect, you may need a bit more if you’re keeping all past projects files on your laptop. Other than that, for temporary files and say the files generated within 6 months, it will be more than enough.
This is one of the reasons why it’s more expensive than other 3050Ti laptops .
If you think you’re going to run out of space, there’s no reason to compromise CPU speed for extra storage. You can upgrade ANY modern laptop to have 1TB or even 2TB (depending on what’s soldered to the motherboard to begin with). If you need more info check my post : How to upgrade Storage.
RAM: 8GB vs 16GB RAM
Here’s the thing, RAM isn’t that much useful beyond 8GB RAM UNLESS you want to speed up rendering on LARGE models. If you’re in architecture school, there should be minimal difference between 8GB RAM & 16GB RAM.
8GB RAM will be more than enough (for viewport, drafting and fast rendering on small-medium BIM models), as you approach your third or fourth year, it may be a little too annoying to wait 30 min to wait for the final work to render in that scenario you can just upgrade the RAM on your own to 16GB RAM. All models (except those thin portable laptops) are upgradeable up to 32GB RAM(though more than 16GB becomes unnecessary for most people – no differences in rendering speed).
This could be one of the most expensive 3050Ti laptops due to the spacious SSD and the latest CPU , if you can’t afford and still need a 3050Ti (for GPU based renderers), then check out the following alternatives:
|Ideapad gaming||3050Ti||R5 6600H||FHD||256GB||659|
|Acer Nitro 5||3050Ti||i5 12500H||FHD||512GB||775|
Do remember, for CPU-based rendering, the lower the clock speed performance the longer it’ll take for things to render. Listing RAM is irrelevant because they can all be upgraded to 32GB.
Budget Laptop For Architecture School
Intel Core i5 11400H
NVIDIA GeForce 1650GTX 4GB vRAM
256GB NVMe SSD
15.6” Full HD IPS Display
If you can’t afford any of the 3050Ti laptops, the next best cheaper alternative is a 1650GTX laptop.
1650GTX GPUs have the same vRAM as 3050Ti RTX so you’ll get the same viewport performance (rotating, 3D view of a model).
However, the 1650GTX has significantly less CUDA Cores than the 3050Ti and lower “GPU clock speeds” so for GPU renderers (Lumion, iRAY) you’ll get significantly less performance. However, you’ll get the same performance when rendering with AutoCAD, Revit or Rhino since they are CPU based.
Since the CPU is two generations older, however, it’ll take +10 min or so to render the average BIM project (in total it will take around 25 min with this CPU and 15 min with the CPU on the first laptop) .
I believe it’s a good compromise if you’re still in school because you aren’t likely to work with SEVERAL design projects back and forth every single week. You’ll be basically rendering the same project over the course two months.
|HP Victus||i5 12450H||1650GTX||120Hz||256GB||630|
|HP Pavilion||i5 9300H||1650GTX||144Hz||256GB||609|
|MSI GF63||i5 10300H||1650GTX||60Hz||256GB||564|
|MSI GF63||i5 9300H||1650GTX||60Hz||256GB||544|
|MSI GF63||i5 10200H||1650GTX||60Hz||256GB||599|
If you can’t afford this model, check out the alternatives above. As a rule of thumb, the older the CPU, the cheaper it’s going to get. As long as you don’t get a “U” CPU (as opposed to the H which stands for high performance), things should be plenty fast.
3. ASUS ZenBook
Best Laptop for Architecture Students
AMD Ryzen 7 5700U 4GHz
GeForce MX450 2GB vRAM
15.6” FHD IPS
The best most portable affordable laptops are still going to be the ASUS ZenBook in 2023, they’re the cheapest laptops that are going to have a relevant GPU for architecture (by that I mean not too old).
This fall there’s a great deal on this model, it costs about the same as the usual MX450 laptops of last year except that it has a better CPU (Ryzen 7 5700U vastly outperforms the Ryzen 5 series) in terms of rendering and drafting speed.
Either way, any of the ASUS ZenBooks or any laptop that has a GPU of the MX Series (350, 450 , 550) is the only best alternative to the more expensive 3050Ti or 4050Ti.
Now I would’ve LOVED to post a laptop with the latest MX chip (as of 2023 , it’s the MX550) but they’re selling for over 900 dollars, which doesn’t make sense from a performance point of view. But it is a great deal from an ergonomical point of view, by that I mean portability, display, battery, keyboard, etc. For example:
The Dell Business (1700 is crazy I know) weighs 4.5lbs despite having a 16” display and QHD resolution AND a 13th gen CPU, you can find much 15” lighter models.
Either way, since viewport speed is what really determines how fast you’ll draw and draft in architecture school, you’ll get pretty much the same performance as any of the past MX GPUs (MX350, 450) since they all ahve 2GB vRAM.
If you can’t afford the MX450 I’m posted here, check out the following alternatives.
|ZenBook 14||MX450||Ryzen 5500U||256GB||8GB||529|
|ASUS ZenBook 14||MX450||Ryzen 5500U||256GB||8GB||539|
If you rather look for alternatives on your own please remember NOT to buy MX150 or MX250 (I would also try to avoid MX350 in fact) because their GPU performance is VERY modern laptops WITHOUT A DEDICTED GPU. That’s right today’s integrated (default) GPUs on laptops under 550 bucks perform more or less the same as OLDER 2GB vRAM GPUs like the MX250.
Rendering Performance: MX 450 and Ryzen 5/7
Do remember that rendering is mostly CPU dependent , thus, the Ryzen 7 here will definitely render things somewhat slower than a Ryzen 7 from the H series or an Intel Core from the H series. However, it will take no longer than 30 min (for high quality renders) and it wont take longer than 10 min for AutoCAD projects in Architecture school (they aren’t that big anyways).
As for the 2GB vRAM GPUs, they’ll give you SMOOTH viewport performance for houses and small buildings but you will lag with large buildings like hospitals. Lag doesn’t mean you can’t work with it and need another computer, most architects work through the lag anyways (they are lag spikes as opposed to continous lag). Either way, this is a great choice if you’re entering architecture school, it may not be a good choice though if you’re in your 3rd or 4th year (first or second laptop would be better).
The Best Laptop For Architects – Best Specs
Ryzen 7 6800H
NVIDIA RTX 3060 6GB vRAM 140W
1TB PCIe NVMe
15” full WQHD
The first two laptops are going to be useful to most architects (especially those working for a small firm). However, anything more than that, say very large projects and buildings with high BIM, you’ll need AT LEAST a 6GB vRAM GPU.
As of 2023, there are TWO 6GB vRAM GPUs useful for architecture, the 3060RTX and the 4050Ti RTX.
The two older counterparts are the 1660Ti and 2060RTX, though they are cheaper and they have the same “vRAM” they perform significant less for GPU-based renderers. To be honest, they’ll work just as good as the two modern 3060RTX and 4050Ti RTX, since most architects do not use GPU based renderers. Revit is CPU-bound and so it’s rhino. 3DS Max is a GPU-based renderer and the performance gain from the two modern GPUs isn’t abysmal. What this means is that if you can’t afford the 3060RTX shown here, you are WELCOME to pick 4050Ti or any other 6GB vRAM GPU for large projects but BE SURE to have an equally powerful CPU because this is what will do MOST of the lifting.
If you KNOW you’re going to use iRAY or Lumion or any GPU-bound renderer AND if you have money, then yes invest as much as you can on a GPU, you will significantly reduce the time with GPU-based renderers (I said it’s not abysmal but in the grand scheme of things, it is significant, remember, the more you render the more useful they are ).
What exactly do GPU- based renderers use? The CUDA cores as shown in the table:
Note how the 3060RTX still has WAY more CUDA Cores than the latest 4050 (1000+), this makes a HUGE difference in GPU rendering, for example a lumion render of 45 min will only take 30-25 min with the 3060RTX as opposed to the 4050.
Wattage: 3060RTX 140W vs others
Now don’t go around looking for the cheapest 3060RTX laptop you can find because NOT all 3060RTX GPUs on laptops perform the same. Yes, they all have the same hardware but MOST 3060RTX GPUs on laptops do not run at full power to prevent the GPU & CPU from melting. Only a few laptops will run the 3060RTX at the highest wattage (140W) because they have the space & air cooling design necessary to control high temperatures and this is why they’ll be significantly more expensive. They are a must for rendering with Lumion, iRAY or 3DS Max as fast as possible.
Now, if you just want the 6GB vRAM GPU for fast viewport with very high BIM models and most of your rendering is with Revit, AutoCAD or Rhino, then you DON’T need to pay for the 140W 3060RTX. You can just settle with the less powerful 3060RTX or the 4050. The model below is a bit more expensive but has lots of extra useful features:
CPU: Ryzen 7 5800H
But remember, the CPU also plays a big role in how fast you’ll draft and render in virtually every architecture software so pick a similar CPU if you’re going to downgrade the GPU.
For example, if you have to choose between a 6GB vRAM (95W) with Core i7 11th gen CPU or a 6GB vRAM(85W) with a 13th Core i7…..you SHOULD pick the 13th gen. Regardless of what you’ll be working with, the CPU will do MOST of the heavy lifting in every step of the design process. More specifically, rendering (in autocad, revit, rhino) , viewport (used along with the GPU) and drafting (100% CPU job).
I repeat INVEST as much as you can on CPU clock speed performance (after you’ve picked a 6GB vRAM GPU), every bit of CPU clock speed translate to significant performance gains. As for the CPU on this machine, it’s a 6th gen Ryzen 7 CPU, it has more or less the same performance of the 12th Core i7 equivalent but has more efficient cores (this helps LOTS in CPU rendering). An upgrade to the Ryzen 7 would be the 13th gen Intel Core or the 7th Ryzen ( both which just came out thus expensive).
5. DELL XPS 15
Best LightWeight Laptop For Architecture
NVIDIA RTX 3050Ti 4GB vRAM
1TB NVME SSD
15.6” 4k Touch
Now, if you’re an architect looking for the power of the Lenovo Legion Pro but you just can’t afford to carry something that heavy, there’s going to be very few choices for you. There aren’t many laptops with lots of CPU & GPU power with a lightweight design (I can count with one hand the models available).
The reason it’s simple: it’s extremely expensive and difficult to fit in something so powerful and big such as the latest GPU & CPU while at the same time managing to keep the design efficient for temperature control on a small thin device.
We’re going over THREE laptops like that. The most popular is the Dell XPS .
If you head to the official website (Dell.com) , you can configure your Dell XPS to have the RAM & Storage you want and you also get more options for GPU & CPU. The one I’m showing you here has the ideal CPU+GPU combo for all architectural purposes within the industry except for the extremely large models (say a huge hospital campus) which may lag a bit when using viewport (here a desktop or a workstation would be a better choice).
I suggest you MAX out the CPU , that is, choose either the 8th gen Ryzen 7 or the 13th gen Core i7 (Ryzen 5 or Core i5 at the most) and get at least 6GB vRAM from the 3060RTX (if available), otherwise the 3050 or 4050Ti will do fine too especially if you’re not using GPU based renderers.
The Dell XPS 15 and the next laptops we’re going to go over all have much better displays the all the laptops we went over so far. Usually have at least QHD resolution displays (2k resolution) and the most expensive ones have 4k displays. This may not seem useful at first hand but when you’re designing very complex models and using TONS of functions and toolbars, you can have them all next to your canvas because the extra resolution gives you an insane amount of screenspace. In other words, you’ll have QUICK access to these instead of relying on drop down menus.
Best MacBook For Arechitecture Students
M2 / M1 Pro Chip 8-12 Cores
8GB-96 GB RAM DDR5
Pro Chip 12-38 Cores
16.2” 3456 by 2234 resolution 120Hz
As of 2023, Macs are incompatible with most architectural CAD design software. Though AutoCAD & Maya have a Mac Version. 3DS Max & Revit do not. This is a huge problem because Revit is the STANDARD for those starting up.
Luckily, Rhino & Sketch Up have a Mac Version. This is why there are some architects who use a MacBook.
There are SO MANY models in the market regarding the MacBooks and if you count the older models, the number of choices becomes overwhelming. Now you should not discard the old MacBook Pros altogether, they are not ONLY cheaper but in fact, they are still pretty good choices ESPECIALLY if you’re an architect who does NOT rely on Revit or BIG models.
We’ll focus on the newest models though and clear up the confusion behind the M1 & M2 chips regarding performance for architecture.
The newest models (M chips) have both the GPU & CPU on the same chip, they are not separate entities, so you could say the GPU is “integrated” into the CPU, it is an integrated GPU but that does not mean it’s going to perform just as bad as integrated GPUs found on laptops. The performance of the GPUs in the M1 & M2 Chip is higher than any other GPU found on windows laptops as far as viewport is concerned , this is due to the high amount of “RAM” or “vRAM” memory available on MacBooks, it goes by the name of “unified memory” . For GPU rendering software or any other GPU-dependent process in architecture software, it’s going to be slower.
M2 Pro> M1 Pro Max> M1 Pro > M2 > M1
Now here’s the deal, obviously the M2 Pro chips are going to be the fastest ones but the performance gains for pretty much everything is not significant. You will not lag when using viewport with ANY of these chips.
However, rendering will be faster with the more recent chips. Significantly faster.
If you want to the best performance for rendering and drafting, keep in mind the performance hierarchy shown here. For example, the M2 chip is not faster than the M1 Pro, although the latter is more recent, the former has way more cores (thus making rendering faster)
2019 MacBook Pro: AMD RX 5500M Pro
Here’s a very cool tip. If you really want a MacBook and you want to run pretty much EVERY architecture software (even if it isn’t compatible), you can grab the older models that have a dedicated GPU. For example, the 16” MacBook Pro I own, has the AMD RX 5500M which is equivalent to a 4050Ti .
They will cost you half the price of the M2 & M1 Pros and , if you’re not working with high BIM projects, you’ll get pretty much the same performance as the M2 & M1 Pros.
How do you run architecture software like Revit on the 2019 MacBook Pro? Simply, install Bootcamp. Bootcamp lets you install Windows on your MacBook and allows you to switch between OSX and Windows by restarting the machine. In other words, you can install Revit on the windows partition and all the other software on the OSX partition, or just install everything on the Windows partition.
****The newer models do not allow you to install BootCamp. Only the models that have an Intel CPU which are the older models****
Display & Design
Here are some reasons why some architects still choose a MacBook Pro despite the compatibility issues:
- Build quality: it will last much longer than a Windows laptop. They’re built like tanks so if you’re moving around from the office to construction sites and carrying your macbook with you all the time, it’s still going to last way more than a Windows laptop (on average 7 years).
- Compact : The 16” MacBook Pro is of course HUGE but it’s still lighter and thinner than the windows equivalent (say a Lenovo Legion 5 Pro) and the 13” MacBook Pro is pretty much an ultrabook (only weighs 3lbs).
- Display: the specs, even on the older models, are just better than most windows laptops. The recent models not only have QHD (2k or retina resolution) but they also have true-tone AND wide sRGB and aRGB colorspaces (they include more colors), this makes them the ideal display to show-case final renders to clients.
Core i7 11th Gen 4.8GHz / Core i5 4.4GHz
NVIDIA GTX 3050Ti 4GB vRAM / Intel Iris Xe
256GB-1TB NVMe PCIe SSD
14” 2400 x 1600 pixels TouchScreen 2-1 Display
The windows alternative to the MacBook (it’s rival so to speak) its the Surface Book (or Surface Studio in 2023). Both the Surface Book & Surface Studio have DEDICATED GPUs with at least 4GB vRAM and they’re usually paired with the LATEST CPU at the time of their release.
Note that as of August 2023, the latest Surface Studio only has an 11th generation Intel CPU, the new version which should come out by the end of the year, will have a 12th gen or 13th gen Intel CPU.
Performance: Surface Pro vs Surface Studio
The Surface Pro and Surface Laptop, both lack dedicated graphics, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad choice for architecture. If you’re a student, in fact, they are a pretty good because they’re portable AND they have enough power for you to draft and render the models you’ll see during your four years in architecture school.
Be warned, however, that you must choose a model with at least 16GB RAM (not vRAM, just RAM) because the extra RAM will come in handy to boost the integrated GPU performance (which will make viewport smooth). If you choose the newest models, even better, they’ll be bullet proof for just about anything. Going for the older models (which are much cheaper) is not a bad move though, they’re still plenty fast (as long as you get 16GB RAM).
If you’re an architect, however, your only choices are the Surface Book and Surface Laptop Studio, both have a dedicated GPU (the latest ones have 4GB vRAM). The Surcace Book 3, however, has 6GB vRAM, and that might also be a good choice if you’re working with high BIM models.
For quickworkflow purposes, you need both a high-end dedicated GPU (fast viewport) and a high clock speed CPU (drafting & viewport). If you want the fastest rendering times you need a high clock speed CPU with lots of cores. With that info, please check out each of their specs, compare them and choose the one that’s going to give you the best bang for your buck.
- If you render A LOT (in AutoCAD & Revit), you want the latest Surface Studio and Surface Book, because they have the highest clock speed CPUs.
- If you use third party renderers or GPU renderers, you want the Surface Book 3 with the 1660Ti or a 3060RTX (more CUDA Cores).
- If you work with super large BIM models, you want to choose the Surface Book 3 which currently has 6GB vRAM as opposed to the 4GB vRAM found on the Surface Laptop Studio.
- You can get the best of both of everything if you wait for the new Surface Laptop Studio which is going to have a 6GB vRAM GPU and a 12th gen Intel Core i7 CPU.
Display & Design
The design of every Surface Device is pretty similar to the MacBook Pro, it’s made of full aluminum, rock solid built quality (no bending, built for all the jostling if you are on the go). In fact, if you press HARD on the keyboard or anywhere near the chasis with the palm of your hand, there will be NO BENDING. It’s also very resistant to drops.
They’re all thin and lightweight, the models with no dedicated GPUs (Surface Pro and Surface Laptop) weigh no more than 3.lbs and the Surface Book & Surface Laptop Studio, despite all the high performance hardware on them, they weigh no more than 4.5lbs.
All of them have higher resolutions than the average laptop, usually around 3072 × 1920, depending on how big the screen is. The newer MacBook Pros, however, have much higher resolutions.
Stylus & Tablet Mode:
Most of these devices, except the Surface Laptop (not the surface laptop studio), can turn into a tablet where you can draw and sketch. This is probably the biggest reason WHY architects choose the Surface Book or Surface Studio despite the high price tag.
Recently, apps have been developed to exploit this feature, for example you make the first draft using the stylus then you can convert the file to a CAD or Revit file. This means, you can comfortably use the tablet feature with the stylus to get started on a new design while you’re sitting in the train or the park, then you can finish the rest of the work back home with AutoCAD or Revit.
Workstation laptops are usually seen as the de-facto choice for 3D modeling and that includes architecture but the truth is you aren’t likely to need the power of workstation laptops. In other words, they are likely unnecessarily expensive for about 95% of architects.
Now if you’ve been told YOU NEED a workstation laptop or you KNOW you’ll work with very huge BIM models, then you MIGHT need a workstation laptop.
Before you buy a workstation laptop though or before you even LOOK at the three workstation laptops I’m going to post, there’s a few things you need to know, otherwise you will waste thousands of dollars and still get lower performance than the laptops we went over before.
- First, workstation laptops are usually sold by ‘re-sellers’ so the price tag is higher and the specs presented to you are limited. When buying a workstation laptop it’s always better to buy it off the official website (if you want to buy a workstation laptop from Dell , go to Dell not AMAZON). Otherwise, you’ll be overpaying as much as 1000 dollars.
- Workstation laptops are HUGE and WEIGH much more than regular laptops. Usually between 6lbs and 10 lbs. It’s not something you want to buy if you’re moving to construction sites all the time.
- NOT ALL workstation laptops are BETTER than regular “gaming” or consumer laptops (like the ones we went over). You have to meticulously check the GPUs specs and compare them to consumer “graphics cards” (3050Ti, 3060RTX, etc) to find out whether or not they’re an upgrade.
- It is very very easy to make a mistake and buy a weaker workstation laptop than regular laptops because there are so MANY workstation GPUs to choose from you just won’t know which one is better by looking at it.
Because the last point is the MOST CRUCIAL and it takes HOURS to research the GPU performance of a workstation laptop, I’ve made the table above to save you time. You can use it to make the right purchase and to make sure you’re not overpaying for anything.
Ex: Say you find a workstation laptop with a T2000 for 1000 dollars? Check the table, that’s equivalent to a 1650GTX which is found on laptops around 700 dollars. Is it worth the extra 300 dollars? Unless you need the workstation GPU for very specific software (mostly plugins), then it’s not worth it.
|Workstation GPU||Consumer Equivalent||Cores/Shaders||Clock Speed||vRAM|
|Pro WX 3200||RX 550||1082||640||4GB|
|RTX A5000||~3080 RTX||6144||1695||16GB|
|RTX A5500||~3080Ti RTX||7424||???||16GB|
The only relevent workstation GPUs missing on the table are the RTX Ada GPUs released a few months ago. Now although these have WAY more vRAM than any other GPU found on regular laptops, the laptop versions are capped at 16GB as of Mid 2023.
So although there’s going to be performance gains when rendering (due to more CUDA Cores and higher clock speeds), there isn’t going to be much performance gains when using viewport (working with a model) when you work with a very large BIM with LOD = 500 . Yes, there’s going to be SOME performance gains but not anything significant.
Intel Core i9-11980HX
64GB DDR5 RAM
NVIDIA Quadro RTX A5000
1TB NVMe SSD
17.3″ FHD (1920*1080), IPS-Level 144Hz
If you want me to be honest, unless you’re using very special GPU renderers or plugins that are only compatible with Quadro GPUs, it isn’t worth buying the RTX A3000 or RTX A4000.
Laptops with those GPUs can cost TWICE as much as “gaming” laptops with regular GPUs despite having the same amount of vRAM and worst of all as you can see in the table they have less vRAM than the 3080 and 3080Ti both which are CHEAPER than laptops with the A3000 or A4000.
Anyways, that’s the reason why I recommend YOU ONLY BUY workstation laptops with 16GB vRAM GPUs like the RTX A5000, RTX 5500 or the Ada Series we’ll go over soon.
RTX A5500 vs RTX A5000:
Now as you can see in the table, they both have the same vRAM, so honestly you could go either way. The only difference, as far as architecture is concerned, between the two is the extra amount of CUDA Cores (<1000) which translates to FASTER rendering with GPU renderers only.
CPU: Core i9 12900H vs Core i9 11980HX
Do remember though to pick the most powerful CPU you can find out of these models (which is either of these two). The performance difference between the two is somewhat significant but they’re both WAY ahead of all other CPUs such as the Core i7 12th.
Note: Large BIM models with high LOD
What kind of project would that GPU be useful for? Full sized hospitals, college campuses, skycrappers with very high LOD (500 , detailed interiors ). It is in this isntance where artifacts are more likely to show up due to all the calculations being done as you navigate and interact with a model. It’s also in this instance where plugins come in handy. This is where , workstation GPUs, all things being equal (vRAM and CUDA Cores) will significantly reduce the artifacts and speed up some steps due to the compatibility with some plugins.
Do remember though it is likely that , if you are working on such projects, they will be broken down into sections so an entire can work on the same project. So don’t expect to design (viewport) throughout the entire project on this machine alone, it will handle just a section of it. This is obviously better than LAGGING massively with any of the laptops above.
Intel Core i9-13900H
64GB DDR5 RAM
NVIDIA Quadro RTX A4000
1TB NVMe SSD
15” UHD IPS
This is not a workstation laptop because it lacks a “workstation” GPU, however, the 4090 for all purposes can perform or even outperform slightly workstation GPUs like the A5500 and A5000 when it comes to “GPU rendering” to having more CUDA cores.
Also, these laptops usually have a CPU a generation HIGHER than what you find on A5500 or A5000 RTX laptops which means “CPU rendering” will also be significantly faster. Lastly, all other things remain equal: vRAM, RAM, Storage, etc.
So which one should you choose? The A5500 or 4090 laptop?
Well in this particular INSTANCE the 4090 GPU has more CUDA cores than the A5500 so GPU rendering will be FASTER , in fact, even if you they had the same # of CUDA cores, the 4090 will still be faster in SOME GPU renderers which are more “compatible” with non-workstation NVIDIA “gaming” GPU such as the 4090.
If you however would like to reduce artifacts and speed up viewport as much as possible (because you’re working on very large BIM models), then you MIGHT get a slightly better performance with the A5500.
If you’re working with Revit & AutoCAD mostly, then you probably want to choose whichever has the fastest CPU as these two are mostly CPU-dependent.
I apologize if this is confusing but either way, you can’t really go wrong with either, performance gains and losses are not SIGNIFICANT from one or the other. THey’re both the same price and they both have similar performance. So if you’re in a hurry just buy either.
Best Workstation Laptop For Architecture
128GB DDR5 RAM
NVIDIA Quadro RTX A5000 Ada 16GB vRAM
2TB NVMe SSD
17” 144Hz UHD
Now, this is currently the most powerful GPU you’ll find on laptops as of September 2023: RTX Ada 5000. There’s the Ada 6000 but it isn’t available on laptops yet.
If you look up the stats of the RTX Ada 5000 and compare them to the 4090RTX, you’ll notice that the RTX Ada 5000 has SLIGHTLY MORE cuda cores and SLIGHTLY higher clock speeds. It isn’t significant by any means, it’s a small increase for both specs.
However, the RTX Ada 5000 will vastly outperform the 4090RTX (laptop) in all instances of CAD design and architecture software for the simple reason that each CUDA core on the Ada 5000 is designed to handle all the calculations going on when you viewport in a CAD software so you’ll have a faster workflow if you’re working with very very large models that always lag and requires a team of architects to work on separate sections to reduce the lag.
How To Buy The Best Laptop For Architecture
This post has been written mainly for students in the United States. If you are a student outside the U.S, it may be worth checking out your department’s curriculum as most international architecture students do not use computer for architectural design until their 3rd or even 4th year. Since most architectural programs are more or less based on a US curriculum , it’s very likely you do not fall in that category though.
If you are an architect, skip to the hardware guide section and or check my post on Revit . In the latter, I go into much more details about what CAD software for architecture uses for every instance of the design process.
Although the software will depend on the concentration you choose(Ex: landscape and interior design will use Revit along with 3DS Max), this hardware guide can be used across all of these software because they’re all CAD (Computer Aided Design) software.
Note that some of these software may not have a Mac version. Most will though and even Revit and Rhino are available on Macs. You may need to use bootcamp for the rest of these software if you want to use a Mac (Bootcamp is not available on the newer models though).
- 3D Modeling: Revit, Rhinoceros 3D + Grasshopper or AutoCAD
- 2D drawing : CAD (AutoCAD) or Revit
- Models with straight shape: Sketchup
- Rendering & Animations: Lumion, Autodesk Maya, 3DS Max
- Additional but less hardware demanding software:
- Multimedia editing: Adobe After effects
- 2D Rendering and Visualization: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop
Hardware Optimization Guide for Architecture
If you don’t have a good grasp of hardware terminology like cores , clock speed, vRAM , Turbo Boost, and so on please check my beginner’s guide to computer specifications .
As you know there are ONLY TWO specs in a CPU to look after when shopping for a laptop or a desktop: #Cores & Clock Speed. Depending on what you want to use your computer for, you may need to focus on one of these or both:
Modeling and Drawing: Clock Speed
Virtually every single CAD Software (Rhino, AutoCAD, Revit) only relies on the CPU’s ‘speed’ measured in GHz to do these tasks. All the workload will also be pretty much done by ONE SINGLE CORE, in fact one thread (3rd square in the monitor) as shown below:
What this means is that if you’re going to use this laptop mostly for drawing (and leave things like rendering to the cloud or another computer), then you can just focus on clock speed. It doesn’t mean that the more clock speed you have the faster things will load though, there’s sort of a limit to how much you can take advatange of clock speeds for a fast workflow. I would say about ~4.5-5Ghz but anywhere near 4GHz is good.
3D Rendering: #Cores
Any software that has to render something will make good use of every single core you have on your CPU. Cores are basically ‘mini computers’ if you will, so the more you have the faster these can get the job done.
Ex: If one core can render a snapshot in 1 min, 2 cores can do it 30 sec, 3 cores 20 sec, etc.
Again , it doesn’t mean you have to go crazy with #cores. I’d say 8 is a good limit, after 8 you probably won’t see very good gains becauasae 8 cores can for the most part render in best quality ~10 min (it may take more on more fancy renderers like 3DS Max & Lumion).
The following CPUs are currently, as of 2023, the best bang for your buck CPUs found on laptops.
While it’s true there are 12th generation Intel CPUs & 6th gen Ryzen CPUs and Core i9 and Ryzen 9 chips, they’re too expensive and the following CPUs already have enough cores: 4 cores (for students) and 8 cores (for architects), the latter will speed up rendering significantly. Also note most of these hit at least ~4GHz if not more.
|i5 10300H||2.5GHz||4.5 GHz||4|
|i5 12500H||3.3GHz||4.4 GHz||8|
|i5 13420H||1.5GHz||4.6 GHz||8|
|i7 11800H||2.3GHz||4.6 GHz||8|
|Ryzen 7 7745HX||3.6||5.1||8 – 16|
|Ryzen 7 6800HS||3.6||4.7||8 – 16|
|AMD Ryzen 7 5800H||3.2||4.4 GHz||8|
|AMD Ryzen 7 4800H||2.9||4.2 GHz||8|
|AMD Ryzen 5 7535HS||3.3||4.55||6-12|
|AMD Ryzen 5 6600H||3.3||4.5||6-12|
|AMD Ryzen 5 5600H||3.3||4.2GHz||6|
|AMD Ryzen 5 4500U||2.3||4.0GHz||4|
Now if you checked my ‘beginner’s guide to computers’ post, you’d know the GPU0 = integrated and GPU1= dedicated.
The integrated GPU comes by default with ANY CPU you buy be it for a desktop or laptop, the dedicated GPU is an additional piece of hardware that adds A LOT of money to the overall price of a desktop or laptop. This is why it’s important you know exactly WHEN a dedicated GPU becomes useful.
Drawing/Drafting: If you check figure 1 in the CPU section, you’ll notice there’s minimal GPU usage and the only reason why it’s being used is because the structure and material has to be RENDERED (colored) while placing a column. GPU usage is about ~4%? That means even the iGPU can do this job (I have forced Revit to use the dedicated GPU for this test).
Viewport: This is where dedicated GPUs come in most handy. In fact, if you lack GPU power for a model of a given size you will lag as you pan,zoom & orbit.
Below you can see a moderately sized hospital building with a LOD (level of detail) ~200 (max is 500) and just rotating it puts the dedicated GPU under heavy loads (~20% on average, 40% max).
Now this is a pretty heavy model, the likes some architects will see during their first year or so. Students aren’t likely to work with something like this unless it’s a senior project.
Notice, however, ONLY 1GB out of 6GB vRAM is being used.
What is vRAM? If you checked my beginners post, you’d know ‘vRAM’ is video memory is that’s where a 3D object ready for ‘viewport’ gets temporarily stored so the bigger your object is the more vRAM you’ll need. What I’m trying to say is that you aren’t likely to need 6GB vRAM for a fast viewport while you work with a model. I’d say 4GB vRAM is a good number with 6GB vRAM being the absolute maximum.
There are some rare breeds of architects who may need 8GB or even 16GB vRAM but those are usually working with very very very detailed and large models and clients rarely , if ever, ask for this (think about working on a project that needs a model of all building within whole block each with a LOT of 400-500 without having to break up the project into parts).
NVIDIA GPUs in 2023 (Laptops)
Below you’ll find the most common GPUs on laptops (the desktop variants are similar in vRAM but have more ‘shaders’, we’ll talk about those soon).
I’d say even the 2GB vRAM are good choices for most people, with the 4GB vRAM GPUs being more ‘bullet-proof’ for larger models and the 6GB vRAM the absolute maximum for both students and most architects.
As for price, that’s the total price of a laptop that has these GPUs (on average).
We already know rendering is a CPU task and that’s going to be true for ANY renderers for any CAD design software. However, since the GPU ALSO has ‘cores’, albeit less complex & smaller, it can also speed up rendering and depending on the rendering software you use, the performance gains can be significant.
For Revit as shown below, the performance gain is insignificant because only a small percentage of the GPU’s total power is used.
However, for renderers like Lumion or 3DS Max, the dedicated GPU (and its number of ‘CUDA’ cores) speeds up rendering SIGNIFICANTLY. In other words, if you PLAN on using other software than Revit & AutoCAD (CAD Design software) AND if you want to reduce the time it takes to render something, then you could grab those high-end GPUs (8GB vRAM) because they have a massive amount of CUDA cores.
What about workstation GPUs?
For most architects, workstation GPUs are pretty much useless. They really offer nothing new. Gaming GPUs (the ones I’ve listed and talked about so far) still have the same features : CUDA cores, vRAM, approx. same speed, etc.
Workstation GPUs are said to have ‘special’ plugins to make rendering & working with 3D CAD Software much smoother but they just work as good as any gaming GPU especially when you don’t deal with extremely complex models.
Below you can see MOST of the workstation GPUs released for laptops during the past 7 years. I added an ‘extra’ column to give you an idea how powerful each of these GPUs are compared to consumer ‘gaming’ GPUs.
|Workstation GPU||Consumer Equivalent||Cores/Shaders||Clock Speed||vRAM|
|Pro WX 3200||RX 550||1082||640||4GB|
|Ada RTX 5000||~4090|
|Ada RTX 4000||~4080++|
|Ada RTX 3000||~4070|
When are they useful? When your current rig gives you LAG when zooming, panning, rotating a very large and complex model you can then go for workstation GPUs. Do note that only one or two workstation GPUs offer more vRAM than the latest consumer GPU. Having ANY workstation GPU will not solve any performance issues, it’s only worth going for those that exceed the stats of gaming GPUs.
What about AMD GPUs?
|Pro RX 555X||768||2GB||855||MX150/MX250|
|Radeon RX 550||640||4GB||1287 – 1476||+950M|
|Radeon RX 560X||1024||4GB||1172 – 1275||1050GTX|
|RX5500M||1408||8GB||1327 – 1645||~1660Ti|
AMD cards work just as good for viewport purposes. You can follow the same ‘vRAM’ rules I outlined (small = 2GB vRAM, large = 4GB vRAM , extremely large = 6GB vRAM) when you buy a laptop with an AMD GPU. Note that AMD GPUs are extremely rare on laptops, they are way more common and actually preferred on desktops due to their price/performance ratios.
Do note that AMD GPUs cannot be used to accelerate rendering and this isn’t a problem with AutoCAD and Revit and even Rhino (all basically CPU-renderers) though.
If you fail to get enough RAM when building a desktop (or when buying a laptop), then even if you have a powerful CPU and a beast GPU, everything from drawing to viewport and rendering will be massively SLOWED down.
Now revit will take approx. 1GB when open (more if you have several files open), Windows 11 or 10 will take approx. 4GB, that’s 5GB already which gives you only 3GB to spare for any background process and any other software (AutoCAD will take an extra 1GB).
8GB: Bare minimum
this is why 8GB is the bare minimum for architectural software. Luckily, most laptops have at least 8GB RAM especially if you make sure to grab the CPU or GPUs I’ve talked about. If you’re building a desktop, no seller in their right mind will sell you a dedicated graphics and 4GB RAM so you’re probably covered anyways.
16GB: Great for Rendering & Extra Viewport Performance
Now I recommend you up to 16GB only in three instances:
- If you work with very very large models. The extra RAM will be used by your CPU to viewport, just like your GPU uses vRAM.
- If you cannot afford a laptop or desktop with a dedicatedGPU, maxing out to 16GB will give your ‘integrated’ GPU articial ‘vRAM’ to work sort of like a dedicated GPU , this will also speed up viewport performance
- The more RAM you have the faster the rendering because RAM is where all the data is temporarily stored for your CPU to run calculations. There’s a limit to this though and that’s usually about 16GB for most people.
32GB & 64GB: Maximum Rendering Speeds
You can get rendering performance gains with RAM up to 32GB. Maybe even 64GB depending on the kind of projects you work with but 64GB gives you very very low returns but again it’s the maximum amount from my experience.
Size: 256GB vs 512GB
Storage size isn’t an issue because you can always buy external storage devices to store all your projects and you might not even need to do so as most revit & rhino files take no more than 1GB and most laptops have about 150GB left after installing windows, revit & AutoCAD. If you do install games though and I mean heavy games then yes you will run out of storage pretty quickly for which a 512GB will be an absolute minimum.
Speed: SSD vs HDD
Far more important than size is storage speed because this is where files & the software will be stored and where the data will be retrieved for the CPU to process (it gets moved to the RAM first). That means having a faster storage means faster reading and writing of data files, fast saving and opening files, launch software in an instant and turn on your machine in literally seconds.
I’d say the greatest benefit from fast storage devices is opening very large files and importing files because that can take 10 min on a slow storage device but only 30-1 min on a fast one.
The fast ones are SSDs and they are available on any laptop made within the past 5 years. Only a few models have the slower storage (much slower): HDD and those are usually found on laptops below 300.
External Hard Drive: The problem with SSDs is that buying them with high storage capacities ( 1TB) can make a laptop very very expensive. You can however do the upgrade yourself as shown here on my post: SSD Upgrade which results in a much much cheaper process or buy an external storage device to store those projects you no longer work on as shown below:
The motto for CAD design is the more space you have, the faster your workflow will be. That’s because the more screen space there is, the greater the overall view of your model you’ll have AND the greater the amount of quickaccess tools at your disposal (through on screen toolbars) as there will be less need to access drop down menus.
You get more screen space by choosing:
Big Display : Obviously the bigger the display, the bigger the on-screen space for Revit, AutoCAD, Rhino, etc. Now the problem is bigger means more weight and it isn’t ideal to grab the biggest (17”) if you are a student but if you are an architect, this is a good option as most likely your laptop will stay in a single location most of the time.
Resolution:High resolution means more pixels, more pixels means more figures can be scaled down in size which frees up space. The effect is MASSIVE as you step into QHD or UHD resolutions, they offer an insane amount of extra screen space EVEN if you have a 15” laptop. They will literally make 17” displays with FHD. Unfortunately, they are expensive and I do not recommend buying those unless you are already making big big bucks. For the most part FHD will do the job, if you go less than FHD that’s where the problem starts! But most laptops have FHD anyways so it’s hard to miss them out.
External Display: A much much cheaper way to increase your workspace area is getting an external display. All laptops support external displays. Now you’re obviously NOT going to bring an external display in a suitcase if you’re going to work or to architecture school but only use it back home to boost your productivity (if you don’t have a desktop already).
Laptop vs. Desktop
Now this brings me to a very good point. If you are using your laptop mostly at home or at work, why not just get a desktop? A desktop is not only much cheaper than laptops but they also have way way more power for less money. For example, a 1650GTX desktop GPU and Core i5 10th gen CPU are x4 times more powerful than CPUs & GPUs found on laptops with the same name.
That’s because desktops have ‘more space’ and chips are able to hit higher clock speeds without the need to be careful of high temperatures (more space means easier cooling).
If you are a student, my advice would be to buy both though. Have a nice desktop back home and a cheap (portable) laptop to design and draw on the go or in school, then do the rendering and final touch ups on your desktop. This is just an expensive as buying a high-end gaming laptop which sells for about 1500-2000 dollars! A good cheap laptop for Revit & AutoCAD would be the HP Victus for example which sells for about 600 but you can even go cheaper and get those with less powerful CPUs and integrated GPUs ~450, a build a desktop with only 600 dollars!
If you are an architect, you may not even have to buy a laptop, if you know how to use the cloud. You can use a desktop back home to do your work and upload it to the cloud to work on the same project at your workplace.
Anyways, this is just random advice, i don’t know what your exact situation is but I would try to see a way to use a desktop (for reasons mentioned) unless a laptop is a MUST (maybe you need to show your on-going progress to clients, who knows?) .
Besides the external hard drive two accessories are a MUST if you’re buying a laptop:
Nobody uses a the trackpad to draw. But I can tell you most people do not choose a good mouse draw, they have no idea what a big difference a good mouse makes. I recommend you give ‘gaming’ mouses a try because not only are they EXTRA SENSITIVE to movements but they also have A LOT OF EXTRA BUTTONs to the sides as shown below:
The one I use is the Razer DEATHADDED essential. It has two buttons on the left and a wheel mouse which if you press it down acts like an extra button, you can set these extra keys to activate certain functions on your software as shown in this post.
Power Extension Cord
A must have if you are still a student, you’re going to need a power extension cord because battery will run out pretty quickly when you use CAD software for too long or when you buy a laptop with a dedicated GPU (they consume a lot of power). The power cord will give you a few extra meters of range so you can find your way into the nearest outlet in the library, the lab or whever you do your work. It may not be a problem if you there are plenty of space and outlets where you study but it might be during finals when every building is packed.
Windows or Mac?
There’s no problem with using Macs now that Revit & Rhino are both available on Macs. The only issue is Sketch up which is still popular in school although there are several alternatives for mac OSX. The main issue is having a MAC OSX and then having everyone else around using Windows, the functions and menus can be different for CAD software so when you need trouble-shooting or you need help on how to do something from your peers, it may be a little different to do on a MAC OSX.
You could still use the Window versions of any of these software if you can install BootCamp on a MAC or Parallels may even work for sketch up since it isn’t really that hardware demanding (Parallel runs OSX along with Windows simultaneously whereas BootCamp only runs Windows ). Unfortunately, you cannot install neither BootCamp nor Parallels on the newest MacBooks with the M1 & M2 Chips, you need an intel chip or amd chip for windows to run on a Mac which means you have to go for older models like I did.
The best Macbook for this would be the 2019 MacBook with the Core i9 and the 6GB vRAM Radeon GPU shown below:
Any good input will be added to this post.
If you have any questions, suggestions or recommendations. Please let us know in the comment below
- I am physicist and electrical engineer. My knowledge in computer software and hardware stems for my years spent doing research in optics and photonics devices and running simulations through various programming languages. My goal was to work for the quantum computing research team at IBM but Im now working with Astrophysical Simulations through Python. Most of the science related posts are written by me, the rest have different authors but I edited the final versions to fit the site's format.