The 10 Best Laptops for Architecture in 2021 (By An Architect)

Unfortunately for architects (especially old timers and second year students), today’s architectural design and drafting are mostly done on a computer.

So you’ll need to get either a desktop or a laptop with a dedicated GPU capable viewporting large models/designs/scenes/walkthroughs in CAD software such as Revit,  3DS Max and, for the advanced version of “sketch up”,  in Rhino.

While most architects can sometimes accomodate a desktop, architecture students & those architects on the go will have to get something portable.

But…

It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy the most powerful, heaviest,thickest and  ultra expensive workstation laptop you can find.

Sure, it won’t hurt to get one of those though but 

But before you make that decision,

I advice all of you to quickly go over this article especially if you are a student or an architect who’s getting started with CAD software. 

You need to get the best bang for your buck and if you are always on the go you should probably trade off a bit of power for portability. 

Recommended Hardware for Architecture

The truth is, most of you do not need to spend 3000$ to have a capable laptop for architecture (there’s a very very small percentage of people who will need that though). We will surely list the best 3k$ laptop for architects though.

If you are a student or someone on the go with deep pockets, you’re better off  investing that money on a portable and well designed laptop rather than power you might never have to fully use. 

Fear not...

In this post,  you’ll learn what kind of laptop you’ll need and hopefully avoid the three most common mistakes architects make when buying one:

  • Getting the wrong graphics card: depends on the size of your models and if you’re using special plugins.
  • Not getting enough RAM: makes all the difference when rendering.
  • Getting an awful display: not enough workspace area to draft, resolution incompatibility with some software 

There is a lot more to discuss but I’ll leave that to the last section. For now let’s quickly go over the best laptop configuration you should aim for.

Note that this post is aimed for ARCHITECTS and STUDENTS. Stdeutns can go through every laptop on this list and last section which is solely written for students, architects should only focus on reading laptop descriptionsd and skip laptops 5 6 and possibly the first one unless you’re just using Revit/AutoCAD and plan to do so for a long time

GPU
A 1050/1050Ti GPU for students is plenty. A 1060GTX/1660Ti is going to be more useful for professional architects or students already doing some side work. A  Quadro/FirePro only for those dealing with special plug-ins in Revit/3DS Max.

RAM

8GB RAM for students. 16-32GB for everyone else.

CPU
Clock speed: +4GHz for drafting or drawing. ~5GHz is best.
Cores: 6-8, . Ex: Core i7-9750H/AMD Ryzen 7 4800HS unless rendering back home or using the cloud.

Display
15” full HD.

17” would be better but that means more weight to carry. Only adviceable for pro architects that are not moving from site to conferences all the time. 4k is no longer something to be avoided it can help a lot if you need a huge panoramic view of the tools/interfaces.

Storage
256GB SSD for students is plenty.
512GB or 256GB + 1TB HDD for Architects.
x2 PCIe NVMe SSDs is the best combo: one used for windows and the other for Arc software.

Weight
The most ideal weight for anyone on the move would ~3lb . Unfortunately laptops with dedicated graphics card & fast CPUs average at 5lb. 3.5lb-4lb with great GPUs and CPUs exist but are very expensive. 

*The above recommended specs will suite virtually all students and most architects (80%) . Working Architects dealing with huge collaborative projects  should consider reading my articles on Revit  or 3ds max  to gain more insight into what exactly they might need for these kind of projects.

Top 10 Best Laptops For Architecture

All of these laptops not only satisfy all the requirements we just went over they also have the best specs/money ratios among their competition (you can obviously find dozens models with the same hardware). 

I’ve tried to include a laptop for every budget, need & type of project so whether you are a student or an architect as long as you keep scrolling down and reading carefully you should find your pick.

I’ll start with the ideal one: a high performance yet budget friendly laptop that should suit virtually every student and some architects.

Then we’ll continue with the most powerful but at the same time portable ones(hencethe most expensive).

Then a few more powerful budget laptops and

Wrap it up with workstation laptops(which should only be looked at by professional architects who know what they are doing).

 


1. Acer Nitro 5 

Best Budget Laptop For Architecture 

  Core  i5 9300H

  8GB DDR4

  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB vRAM

  256GB PCIe NVMe

  15” Full HD IPS

  5.25 lb

   6 hours

If you’ve already clicked on this laptop and it’s not available on your or it’s out of stock don’t worry, there are several models with the same specs and almost the same price below.

Anyways let’s talk about why I chose the Acer Nitro 5 or more importantly why a 1650GTX laptop.

 Hardware

Simple,

It’s the cheapest laptop with a dedicated GPU right now, with the best manufacturing quality and hence the best selling 1650GTX laptop on Amazon.

There have been several past releases of the Acer Nitro, this is the latest one and this time the manufacturer has decided to go from a 1050Ti to a 1650GTX which is considered a “mid-range” GPU for gaming but it’s actually far more useful for CAD software than it is for gaming.

The new version has also dropped the ultra low voltage “U” processor (i5- 8250U) which you still see on some laptops and replaced it with either a Ryzen 5 H processor or a Core i5 9th or 10th gen processor. This not only adds 2 more cores to the processor (in the case of the Ryzen 5 chips 4 cores!) but also a boost of .5-1GHz of clock speed. 

This obviously has a huge impact on drafting and obviously more (with the extra cores) on rendering.

 Design

There’s one small caveat with this laptop: the RAM.

8GB is plenty if this is your first year or second year in architecture school or if you’re an architect working SOLO.

If you’re working with larger scenes and actually rendering them on your laptop as in the case of 4th year arch students or those working with huge group projects(these are usually the biggest ones), then you’re definitely going to need 16GB.

You don’t have to buy an additional laptop though, you can easily upgrade it to 16GB on your own and this is ANOTHER reason why I decided to recommended the Acer Nitro 5, it’s much easier to upgrade. Unlike the Lenovo L340, which we will soon use it for the 1650GTX benchmarks, which is thinner and needs to be fully opened up to do the upgrade.

Storage:

256GB is plenty for students or those getting started with CAD software.

However, it’s definitely going to run out pretty fast if you’re an architect. Luckily, just like RAM, you can an additional storage drive to it and it’s just as easy as upgrading RAM.

Here’s a trick, if you upgrade it, you can get a boost in performance if you MOVE your SOFTWARE and Operating SYSTEM on one drive and nothing else! This has a substantial impact in opening up libraries, software, files and so on

If you don’t find the Acer Nitro 5 available, consider any of these laptops too:

*Note if you’re a student you could grab any of these including the 1050GTX models if you’re an architect ,do not grab the orange ones.

Amazon Link CPU GPU Display Price
ASUS VivoBook R5 3500U 1050GTX 60Hz 650$
HP Pavilion R5 3550H 1050GTX 60Hz 665$
HP Pavilion  i5 9300H 1650GTX 60Hz 686$
HP Pavilion Gaming i5 9300H 1050 3GB 60Hz  
Acer Nitro i5 9300H 1650GTX 60Hz 700$
HP Pavilion R5 3550H 1650GTX 60Hz 700$
HP Pavilion i5 9300H 1650GTX 60Hz 700$
ASUS TUF R5 3500U 1650GTX 120Hz 737$
ASUS TUF R5 3550H 1650GTX 60Hz 750$
Lenovo 3 i5 10300H 1650GTX 120Hz 750$
Dell G3 i5 10300H 1650GTX 60Hz 750$
Lenovo L340 i5 9300H 1650GTX 60Hz 628$
HP Pavilion R5 4600H 1650GTX 60Hz 659$
MSI GF63 Thin 9SCX i5 9300H 1650GTX 60Hz 699$

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2. DELL XPS 15

Best LightWeight Laptop For Architecture

  Core  i7-10750H Up To 4.5GHz

  16GB-32GB RAM DDR4       

  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 – 2060RTX 4GB vRAM

  512GB-2TB SSD PCIe NVMe

  15.6” 4k UHD Infinity Edge TouchScreen IPS 

  4.5lb

  8 hours

I am aware this is pretty expensive laptop for a student. The main reason behind this is its portability.

In fact, it is probably (with the Razer Blade) the most lightweight 15 inch laptop with a 4k resolution atm and mid-range dGPU. 

You can choose between a 1650GTX (perfect for students) and a 2060RTX (fool proof for architects).The latter can handle any project size but I think it’d be a better investment if you’re already an architect.

  Hardware

Performance is mainly dictated by its 10th Core i7 CPU which has nearly 5GHZ, that’s 5000 MHz, for clock speed. Pretty close for what workstation laptops offer. With 6 cores (12 threads) for ultra fast rendering.

Storage:

Just like virtually any laptop made in 2021, it’s got a PCIe NVMe SSD which is the fastest of its kind. However, you can choose the size according to your budget and needs. 

A 512GB is full proof for virtually every student.
1TB for most architects.
2TB for who want to use this laptop as a repository of old files.

Display:

Display is also configurable. 15-17. 15 is the right balance between portability and canvas space. 
17” is way too heavy and might only be useful if you’re using this laptop around the office.
13 there are some models with 13 that costs about 900$ but they can be a pain to work with as you’d have to switch views or use the menu bar to access commands instead of interfaces/palletes right next to your canvas.

GPU:

Graphics can be now configured between a 1650GTX and a 2060RTX. The latter GPU has actually been shown to have the biggest performance/money ration for rendering. What they mean is that the high tier 2070/2080/1080 GPUs which are far more expensive do not offer a noticeable increase in performance that would be worth the cost. That’s only for a few software like AutoCAD/Revit/3DS Max, other software will see a worthy increment although a 2060RTX is  in my opinion sufficient for 99% of the people reading this.

 Display & Design

It’s not just the price why this machine is so expensive, it’s got a 4k resolution which definitely helps doubling the amount of work space area to accomodate several ready-to-click palletes/interfaces. Older versions of CAD software may not scale up well though.

Another reason, it’s the chasis and the material, it’s all aluminum making it more resistant to drops though you should still take good care of it, it just minimizes damage doesn’t really make it damage proof.

If you can’t afford a 2021 version like this one, you can always go with past models: the The 960 on this model is just as powerful as the 1050GTX and a bit behind the 1050GTX. That woulde a great choice for students only though.

Just remember whatever model you pick, it has a dedicated GPU like a 1650 or you’ll only see fast performance in 2D software like SketchUp.

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3. MacBook Pro

Best Mac Laptop For Architects

  Intel Core i7-Core i9 9th generation

  16-64GB RAM DDR4

  Radeon Pro 5300M/5500M 4GB vRAM

  512GB-2TB PCIe SSD

  16” Retina 

  4.3lb

  10 hours

Contrary to popular belief,  Macs are actually quite popular for architecture. You’ll notice this as soon as you start schoool, a lot of the faculty members in the architecture departmetn will be sporting a Mac and some students a MacBook.

This is even more obvious if your school does not use Revit but Maya, Rhino or AutoCAD.

 Performance

Not any MacBook will do though. If you want one that can do pretty much everything, you need to grab either the latest 16” Model or ANY of the past versions that come with a dedicated GPU.

The New MacBook shown here has actually workstation like performance, clock speed can reach up to 5GHz and you can also choose a Core i9 with has 8 cores/16 threads for rendering and even RAM can be upgraded (before purchase) all the way to 64GB.

The 16” MacBook has two graphics cards, both are not like the 1080/2080RTX, these Radeon Chips have approximately the power of the 1660Ti which is close to the 2060RTX in other words fully capable of satisfying most architects.

 Display & Design

Any MacBook obviously has a way better design and manufacturing quality than even the most premium Windows Laptops. Not only are they thin and lightweight, virtually all of them have amazing battery lives and durability.

You also get a +2.5K resolution, which isn’t like a 4k display but still makes a huge difference when drafting/designing in terms of workspace area vailable.

Other options:

The only problem is the price tag. This  configuration can be way too expensive for anyone.

However you can configure the specs to your budget. and if you’re a student as long as you’ve got a dedicated GPU on yours,  you should be okay.

If you can’t even afford that but you really want a MacBook, you can always opt for the old refurbished models. Since they’re all macbooks, they work like new.

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4. Microsoft Surface Book 3 

Best UltraBook For Architecture Students & Architects

  Quad Core i7 10th gen

  16-32GB RAM

  NVIDIA GTX 1650-1660Ti 4GB-6GB GDDR5 vRAM

  256GB-2TB NVMe PCIe SSD

  13.5-15 Pixel Sense (3000×2000) 

  3.62lb

  7 hours

This is the windows equivalent of the MacBook Pro: it has the same high quality design & about the same power while retaining a compact and lightweight form.

 Performance

Don’t confuse the Surface Pro that acts more like a tablet with the Surface Book.

The Surface Book can support a 10th generation Core i7 CPU which can have up to 5GHz for clock speed, workstation speeds, and a dedicated GPU like the 1660Ti, which is again the ideal GPU for most software in architecture.

You can also configure storage/RAM according to your budget. You can’t upgrad it later on your own so get whatever RAM & Storage you think you’re going to need although I would go no more than 16GB and 512GB.

 Display & Design

Just like MacBook Pro, design is top notch. The entire chasis is made of full aluminum plus and it’s as thin as  MacBook.

Note that just like the Surface Pro, this one also has a touchScreen display so you can try and start designing with a stylus and take notes on top of it.

Unlike the MacBook Pro and more like the Dell XPS 15, it has way more resolution :  (3000×2000) and  it’s more color accurate( it has ~130% as opposed to the MacBook Pro’s 113%).

Battery life is lower than the MacBook Pro. The main culprit is not really the GPU nor the CPU because the MacBook Pro 16” has even crazier CPU, it’s the thin form factor which doesn’t allow it to fit in a bigger battery (and the display which consumes a lot more energy).

Surface Pro or Surface Book 2?

The Surface Pro is basically the Surface Book without a dedicated GPU.

Both versions will revolutionize how you work when sketching in the field and give you all the advantages a table/pen device can offer when working outdoors or when taking notes. They both will make the ultimate presentation device and it’ll be much easier to share your work at a conference too.

But the Surface Pro will not be able to anything more than small 3D models in Revit/AutoCAD. Complex models (200k objects) will start to lag in viewport. The Surface Pro  will still be able to run most Revit models without issues though (as long as they don’t get bigger than say ~4000 square feet). So if you are in a budget and you are a student, you may be able to get away with it.

On the other hand, the Surface Book 2 shown here with the RAM maxed out and a dedicated GPU will never give you any issues when modeling, drafting, sketching in school or in the workplace.

Summary:

If you are an architect working with simple models in Revit / AutoCAD 3D Sketch Up & find yourself working outdoors quite often get the Pro: it’s more portable, lightweight & smaller. 

If you are a student or an architect working indoors (ocassionally sketching), the book 3 shown here will be more of your style.


Enough of premium laptops, the following four laptops are for those of us on a budget. Although these will have more or less the same performance as the premium laptops shown above, they’ll bea lot bigger and thicker.

The point is you’ll have to sacrifice portabiltiy. This okay if you plan to keep your laptop at the studio or at a home and ocassionally carrying back and forth between your school/office and home.


5. ASUS VivoBook

Cheapest Laptop for Architecture Students

  AMD Quad Core R5-3500U 3.7GHz

  8GB DDR4

   GeForce GTX 1050 4GB

  512GB PCIe SSD

  15.6” 60Hz Full HD

  4.3lb

  5 hours

The ASUS VivoBook is the cheapest worthy laptop with a dedicated GPU. 

There’s the MX250 but that’s far too weak for architects and even students will have a lot of trouble using viewport for just a small house or walking through it. A MX250 will give you more lag as you deal with more complex CAD software, like Maya, 3DS Max or Revit.

This is why today you should at least opt for a 1050 if you’re a student.

Another reason why this is for students, is the clock speed, while viewport can always be avoided, applying effects on large models will be a bummer with this CPU. Small models should not have any issues with it though.

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6. Lenovo L340

Budget Laptop For Architecture School

  Core i5 9300H

  8GB DDR4

   NVIDIA GeForce 1650 4GB vRAM

  256GB NVMe SSD,

  15.6” 60Hz Full HD IPS

  6.93lbs

  5 hours

This is only 80$ dollars or so more expensive than the ASUS VivoBook but the Core i5 9300H and the 1650GTX are huge upgrades from the 1050 and the Ryzen 5 mobile U CPU!

This can be used both by students and most architects. It has exactly the same performance as the Acer Nitro 5 and it’s actually much cheaper and thinner. This also has one drawback, it’s not easy to upgrade so you’ll probably have to take it to an expert to do the job.

One reason why I decided not to put this model first on the list (even though I bought this for my cousin who’s in architecture school) is because it runs out of stock pretty fast!

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7. Acer Predator Helios 300

Best Budget Laptop For Architects

  Core i7-10750H

  16GB DDR4

   NVIDIA RTX 2060

  512GB PCIe NVMe

  15” full HD 120Hz IPS

  4.10lb

  4 hours


This is the most popular laptop with an RTX 2060 which has plenty of power for professional architects and definitely for every student regardless of what year they’re in or what they’re concentration is.

The RTX 2060 doesn’t come alone it comes with the 10th Core i7 and as you already know it’s got 12 theads for rendering and the clock speed is close to workstation numbers.

2070RTX/2060RTX:

By the way this is the most non-workstation laptop out of the list, the Dell XPS 15, MacBook Pro and even the Surface Book 3 do not support a 2060RTX GPU. This model is only superseded by the workstation laptops will go over (which are solely aimed for architects working with special plug-ins or have been forced by their companies to get one).

You could go and aim higher if you have the budget like a 2070RTX/2080RTX but that will not add much performance in most CAD software unless you’re trying to squeeze out as much rendering power as possible or you’re dealing with super large scale models.

Most benchmarks have shown the 2060RTX to be most cost efficient for faily large models. 

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The following three are workstation laptops, these should not be used by students at all. Only those who are completely sure they’re going to need a workstation GPU should.

8. Lenovo ThinkPad P17

Best 17” Workstation Laptop For Architecture

  Intel Core i7 10750H

  32GB

   NVIDIA Quadro T2000 4GB

  1TB PCIe

  17” full HD IPS Anti-Glare

  7.7lb

  4 hours

Workstation laptops:

There’s a huge caveat when shopping for workstation laptops. Usually they will be very overpriced because consumers just think that any workstation GPU is worth a lot of money and should be at least as powerful as mid-range or high-end GPUs. 

You should look this table whenever you shop for workstation GPUs:

Workstation GPU Consumer Equivalent Cores/Shaders Clock Speed vRAM
P500 MX150- 256 1519 2GB
P520 MX150 384 1493 2GB
K2100M GT 750M 576  667 2GB
K3100 765M- 768 706 4GB
P620 MX250/1050 512 1442 4GB
M620M 950M- 512  1018  4GB
M1000M 950M 512 1072 4GB
Pro WX 3200 RX 550  1082 640 4GB
M2000M 950M/960M 640 1197 4GB
M1200 960GTX 640 1150 4GB
P1000 1050GTX 512 1519 4GB
P2000 1050Ti 768 1468 4GB
T2000 1650/1660Ti 1024 1785 4GB
T1000 1650- 768 1455 4GB
RTX 3000 2070RTX+ 1280 1380 6GB
RTX 4000 2070/2080 2560 1560 8GB
RTX 5000 2080RTX+ 3072 1350 16GB


As you can see only the handful of them are equivalent to the cheapest laptops with consumer cards. I can’t really recommend anything else other than the last 5 out of the list. If you’re going for a workstation laptop, you might as well get as much  power as you can.

About this laptop:

This is one of the most budget friendly workstation laptops with a decent workstation card. Like I said, if you’re not careful you may pay the same price for a much weaker GPU from the table.

I think this is the least amount of power needed for large models and no architect should go for anything lower than this GPU, it’s just not worth the money. Going for lower-end GPUs will eliminate errors and warnings sure but they will still lag when you use viewport on large models & scenes.

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9. ASUS ProArt StudioBook Pro 17

Best WorkStation Laptop For Engineers

  Core i7-9750H 8 Core up to 5GHz

  16GB RAM DDR4 (Up to 64GB)

   NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000

  1TB

  17” full HD IPS

  5.21lb

  3 hours

This is a much more fool proof model for anything large scale. 

The GPU here belongs to the new RTX series of workstation cards. Althugh it comes with the turing architecture (the RTX implies it has more features like Tensor Cores and machine learning optimization,etc) that is still not useful for CAD software as far as I’m aware.

However, these RTX GPUs have with a LOT more CUDA cores and VRAM than its predecessors.

Here you are getting 8GB of vRAM which is the maximum amount you get from consumer gaming cards. This is going to improve MASSIVELY the framerates you’re going to get when walking through scenes or viewporting 3D objects. 

The amount of CUDA cores will substantially reduce rendering times because the number of CUDA cores have significantly increase with the new RTX series.

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10.MSI WS66 10TMT-207

The Best Workstation Laptop For Engineering

  Intel Core i9-9880H

  16GB DDR4 (MAX 32GB)

   Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 6GB

  512GB NVMe SSD

  15” full HD IPS

  5.51lb

  2 hours

Lastly, one of the most expensive and most powerful workstation as of 2021.

Both the 10th Core i9 and the RTX 5000 series are the latest components released by each of these companies. 

The Core i9 has 8 cores which means 16 threads for rendering and the clock speed is well above 5GHz  ~5.3GHz. This means you’re going to reduce rendering times ENORMOUSLY and will have an easier time applying effects with super large scale models (though there will be lag the bigger and bigger they get).

While the Core i9 can be beaten by its ryzen counterpart the Ryzen 9, the RTX 5000 is the ultimate and most powerful workstation card released by NVIDIA (AMD doesn’t have an equivalent here). 

You’re getting x2 amount of the maximum amount of vRAM that’s avialable on consumer gaming cards, this is going to make a huge difference with super lage scale scenes too because that’s exactly where the model’s data is allocated when you’re interacting with it using the software.

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How To Buy The Best Laptop For Architecture Students’

This section is written for architecture students. If you are in the UK, the US, Australia, The Philippines,etc, it doesn’t matter. I’m sure you’re going to ind it helpful because all architecture programs are more or less the same.

However, if you are coming from a japanese school, then the situation might be different. That’s because the japanese curriculum relies a lot more on coursework than software and if you are in a school that uses software to design models then chances are the software that will be listed here will be entirely different.

Wait, I am an architect what should I do? If you are an architect, skip this section and check my posts on Revit, 3DS Max and Solidworks so you can have an idea of the kind of hardare you’re going to need.

Operating System

Believe or not, not all architecture programs require you to strictly use Windows. You might be surprised to know a few are Mac all the way. 

Nobody’s going to force you to use a Mac or a Windows  machine but it’s a good idea to go with the OS they use. This will make your studies easier and less time consuming because you won’t be wasting time learning a new OS (although that may be a huge plus in your CV).

Lab

Most students didn’t really have to buy a laptop because their department had a computer lab to run any software they may need. However, post Covid-19 chances are , students will not have access to their labs.

Achitecture students on the otherhand definitely need to buy a laptop, whether or not there is a lab available. Unlike other types of students  they cant rely on computer labs because this is not going to be an occassional usage for some paper but something that will be very frequent and by that I mean designing and drawing and this is going to get a lot worse on your second year.

Software 

There will be subtle differences in the kind of software that you are going to use depending on what kind of concentration you choose(Landscape , Interior & so on) but the hardware requirements will stay pretty much the same.

One thing worth checking on your school’s site is whether or not the software they’ll use can run on a Windows or a Mac.

For example, Revit and Rhin need a Windows machine. Although you can run those software with a Mac too these days, you’re just going to have to dual-boot into windows (this requires a restart on a Mac).

Anyways, here are the most common software used by departments:

  • Modeling: Rhinoceros 3D + Grasshopper, Revit
  • 2D drawing : CAD
  • Models with straight shape: Sketchup
  • Animations: Autodesk Maya
  • Multimedia editing: Adobe After effects
  • Rendering and Visualization: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop

Recommended Computer Specs For Architecture

Display

Size

Most schools and fellow architects will recommend you to buy a laptop with at least a 15” display. 

The bigger the screen size the better your overall work will be as you’ll be able to see your projects from a much wider perspective.

Note that much of your screen will be taken up by toolbars and palettes with the rest of it being taken up the workspace area of your drafts and designs and that’s what you want to  maximize  as much as you can.

Unfortunately the bigger the screen size the bigger and heavier the laptop will turn out to be. It’ll be less portable and your battery life will also drain much faster than expected but there’s really no choice for architects. You have to deal with those drawbacks.

You can’t really choose a small screen size, 13” might be pushing it as that can be difficult and even annoying to work with for most people. Try your best to strike the right balance for you.

Later on you will probably need an even bigger screen size (up to 17”) as it would make it easier for you to show your work to prospective clients, companies and employers.

For now stick with 15 if you are a student, as an architect you can choose the 17 if you don’t mind the weight.

Resolution

1080p resolution will do.

Don’t get too crazy with resolution because there are  applications that have issues with higher resolution than full HD.

Most 3D Applications in fact are not designed to work with 4k resolution so they will present problems when running them (you will toolbars, paletes and see everything out of place). You can scale your display resolution back to 1080p though but you’d just wasted a ton of money for no reason. 

CPU 

Clock Speed

For 3D Modeling and pretty much any architecture software, the higher the clock speed the better. Anythinig above 3GHz will do fine. A high clock speed will make drafting / editing/modeling and designing much less time consuming as you won’t have to wait as much between operations/commands.

3D Architectural Rendering

To find the best laptop for architecture rendering get any laptop with a quad core processor, these can be an intel core i5 or core i7 it doesn’t matter. The higher the number of cores the less time you’ll have to wait to render your projects.

If one core renders a picture in 1 minute, then 2 cores will do it in 30 seconds, 3 cores in 15 seconds, and so on. If you plan on rendering on your desktop or computer labs or another computer, then you don’t have to worry about it.

Any processor with 3GHz for clock speed and if possible 4 cores

RAM

Adobe and other 3D Modeling software are RAM hogs. They will need as much as you can afford.

Not only will higher RAM improve rendering times and make your laptop capable of handling many large files, it will also allow you to deal with several heavy programs simultaneously.

8 GB of ram is the minimum  but 16GB or more being the recommended amount for both animation and rendering which will become more common during the last two years. If you are an architect you should aim for 16GB

RAM is cheap so if your laptop doesn’t have enough feel free to upgrade it to the Max.

Storage 

Output files from architectural software are huge. Just consider all the images, textures and videos in high quality you would have to deal with. Needless to say they’ll take up most of your computer’s storage in no time.

For those who don’t know there are currently two types of storage devices today:

Hard Disk Drive

These are the ones you are most likely familiar with and can be easily maxed out to 1TB or more but they are slower compared to Solid State Drives. They are also more fragile and prone to physical damage.

Solid State Drive

These are the fastest on the market today and are essential to increase the speed in loading times for AutoCAD, Revit or any architectural software . At this point is really an essential feature for Architects, reading/writing huge files & loading heavy libraries is what modeling software is all about.

The best part ?

Unlike a powerful CPU, they don’t take a toll on your battery life(it actually makes it last longer).

 Ideally  you would benefit the most from both an HDD and an SSD. A high capacity hard drive to store your output files and a SSD drive where you can install your software and operating system to take advantage of its speed

If you can’t have both, always settle for the option with an SSD. it is far more beneficial to have your software load operate much quicker than having tons of storage space.

Why? You can always get an external hard drive to store projects and regular files.

In fact, an external hard drive is a must have for all architects and is required by most schools. Alternatively, you can also store all of your files on the Cloud.

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External Hard Drive: You probably need an External Hard Drive for back-ups anyways. .

You will also need it to back up your own files, you don’t want to end up with a stolen or broken laptop and your 3 month long project gone with it too. Regular thumb drives just won’t cut it. Some classes will even require you to bring your own.

Your school most likely will  recommend you to buy one with the following features: 

  • USB 3.0 interface.
  • 120 GB capacity (min)  and 1TB 
  • SSD Drive with USB *3 and Thunderbolt interface (in case you have to deal with Macs).

You can buy one such as the one on left right off the bat, no need to give it much thought really.

GPU

Ideally you’d want the best graphics card on the market today to make drafting, modeling and design much more productive. Even better, you would want a graphics card especially built to handle Revit Maya and any CAD software you’ll encounter.

Workstation Cards

In fact there are such graphics card today: the Nvidia Quadro / AMD Firepro series. Both of these graphic cards are approved to run architectural software flawlessly especially those dealing with rendering. These are also recommended by AutoDesk and the software companies behind CAD applications. Unfortunately they can be too expensive and will definitely make your laptop much bulkier and heavier. They do have a lot of advantages but that’s only for professional architects to consider:

  • Far less bugs,glitches & errors with more complex & complex models.
  • Full support by AutoDesk & virtually all 3D Modeling Software
  • They’re required to run some especialized plug-ins with 3D CAD software.

Gaming Cards

NVIDIA

Workstation cards are definitely overkill for architecture students. Gaming cards resembling the power of a  NVIDIA  GTX 960M will be enough

AMD

AMD Cards found on the MacBook Pros will be enough for architecture students, that is, those found on the 15 Versions. Architects dealing with large projects can’t really rely on the 15 Pros. Either a Workstation card or a high end NVIDIA Card is required.

Most architecture schools will advice you to get any card with at least 2GB vRAM. Most modern cards such as the 960GTX and any of the recently released 10th generation cards will be enough. Architects can either choose a 1060GTX or a workstation card when dealing with huge projects

Weight & Battery Life

We would all love to have the lightest laptop that can last  all day long with a single charge, wouldn’t we? Well there are such laptops today (MacBook Air) or Chromebooks unfortunately they are not for even close to handle architecture software.

You could buy one for the first year or two as mentioned before though. Just make sure to check with your department when is it you are going to need “The real McCoy”.

Other than that, for reasons mentioned above, a laptop for architectural work will be heavy and the battery life will run out much faster compared to traditional laptops.

The best you can do is to find the  right balance of the  specs you need (RAM,GPU,CPU) and the much weight you are willing to carry.

Do not to go overboard with your laptop specs unless you know for sure you’ll need them.

Operating System

Most schools and seniors will tell you to get an PC Laptop because of compatibility issues with some of the software you will encounter (Revit, 3D Max for example) but you can still use a Mac Laptop throughout your school years and be alright.

There are two ways by which you can run Windows on Apple hardware these days:

  • ‘Boot Camp’ to ‘Dual Boot’ and switch between Macintosh and Windows OS.
  • Use VMware Fusion or Parallels  to run both at the same time.

The problem then is having to boot from one OS to another constantly if you have to deal with software for Windows on a regular basis.

However it really depends on your department, you might only have to deal with one out of 10 programs for Windows. 

If you don’t mind dual booting constantly because you love your Mac so much, then a Mac is not a bad choice at all. You might be surprised that a MacBook Pro is a very popular choice among architects .

Two reasons behind is the fact that PhotoShop, InDesign and other editing programs work much better on a Mac(or so they say) and the fact that they have great durability they can last you throughout the entire four years of school and beyond.

But if you have to be on Windows all the time and most of the software you’ll use will be in Windows anyways, there’s not much benefit in using a Mac. Windows Machines are much cheaper as you probably know.

Windows on Parallel

Note that running Windows with VMware or Parallels will give you both Mac OSX and Windows at the same time so your computer will need enough RAM to handle it (8-16GB) and an SSD (Solid State Drive) to operate faster and be able to keep up with both Operating Systems. 

Even then, there will be performance issues when you try to run the heavy stuff. I wouldn’t even think of running 3D Software with Parallels. So you’ll have to rely on bootCamp as it runs Windows Natively (by itself).

The Best MacBook ?

A 15” MacBook Pro fully speced out might be enough for your undergraduate work with the exception of not being able to use Revit and a few other software natively but on BootCamp it all works out well.

Some schools do not use Revit as much and some not at all, yours might be one so you can get by with a Macbook Pro throughout the entire curriculum. 

Accesories

Here are a few you might want to consider:

Laptop vs. Desktop: Which one to buy?

You may have noticed something interesting. With all that computer power needed , external  hard drive, a huge exernal monitor and a USB Mouse: why not just buy the best desktop for architecture ?

You are right you are better off with a desktop. As a matter of fact a laptop won’t get you much work done as compared to a desktop and you’ll actually start to feel its limits as you work on bigger projects and move away from undergraduate level stuff.

Rendering will always be much easier,faster and of higher quality with  a desktop.

You will have to spend several thousands of dollars on a laptop (workstation) to come close what a much cheaper desktop can do.

As you know the whole point of a laptop for an architect is the portability. So these are the options you have:

  1. Buy a powerful (perhaps a workstation) laptop with a high end gfx card that can match a desktop for all your undergraduate work and for any complex project from internships, jobs,etc. 
  2. Buy a mid-range laptop along with a desktop. Use your laptop for all the undergraduate courses and assignments and a desktop/computer labs when far more complex projects come up or for rendering.

The choice for an architect highly personal. Some find it more convenient to buy a workstation as they will only take their laptops for a few trips during the day or leave it at the studio. Others find it more convenient to make their laptop a bit more portable as they will be constantly going to school to take their designs all around campus or work daily while taking their designs to clients.