So you typed in the best laptop for AutoCAD and ended up even more confused than before.
What did you get?
A few sites claiming that most laptops and even those with integrated graphics cards will run AutoCAD and others telling you to either get the latest , beefiest and heaviest workstation laptop or just give up engineering.
It seems like no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.
But that’s understandable…
The reason is that when you talk about 3D Modeling software like AutoCAD, there’s no one size fits all.
AutoCAD will have different requirements depending on what exactly you are working on.
Some people will be alright with an entry level & cheap graphics card(not an integrated “Intel HD” graphics card of course if they are working in 3D). In fact I bet the majority of you fit into this category.
While a very few others will need to get the most expensive workstation laptops their company can afford.
Another reason is that…
Unless you are into 3D modeling or engineering it’s really hard to give people advice.
You should always try to ask someone who uses the software or has used the software on a regular basis and hopefully that person’s worked with models of different size scales.
Doing these benchmarks is not difficult though. If you have access to several computers then check out their performance with different object models.
If you do this…
You’ll find out a small 3D object in AutoCAD may not even need a dedicated graphics card.
However, a big 3D representation of a very realistic industry object ( w/ ~5000 parts) will only stop lagging if your laptop either has a workstation card or one of the latest consumer “gaming” graphics cards on it. The latter may be a better choice in some cases…we’ll get to that later.
Now I don’t work for AutoDesk….
Nor do I work with models all day long. Very few engineers do that I believe.
But I’ve been using CAD modeling software since my undergraduate years and as a working engineer years later. You’ll automatically be exposed to work with with different scales on different hardware when you join a company.
First, we’ll go over all the different requirements you need for AutoCAD depending on the size of your projects or the type of user you are: student or professional. As fast as possible.
Then we’ll list the current best laptops for AutoCAD with the best performance/money ratio in 2021 or as the popular phrase goes “with the best bang for your buck”.
Top 8 Best Laptops for AutoCAD
To avoid flooding you with hardware details you may not want to know right now (you can check them in the last section using the TOC).
I’ve quickly summarized the specs you need to look for to get the “best performance out of AutoCAD” below .
To make it even easier I’ve divided the requirements you’ll need depending on the size of your projects.
When reading the following table make sure you also know what I mean by small, medium and large projects and by AutoCAD 3D and AutoCAD 2D.
By this I mean AutoCAD Civil 3D, AutoCAD Architecture or just AutoCAD with 3D models. If you’ve got a laptop that can run AutoCAD 3D, you can also run software like SketchUp , Solidworks , Revit and 3DS Max*. Obviously, you can also run any CAD software in 2D.
*To run bigger projects with all other software like 3DS max, I’d recommend a laptop with at least a GTX 1060/2060RTX.
a) Small projects: students taking undergrad classes in regular AutoCAD (mostly). Usually 300 parts.
b) Medium size projects: those taking an autocad class outside of school or those who plan on working with AutoCAD for “individual clients” ~ +500 part assemblies and rarely +2000 parts projects.
c) Large projects: engineers working for companies involved in collaborative projects.These projects may include large 3D drawings with a huge number of polygons/parts.* Ex: ~ +5000 parts on multiple sheets.
*Only a few professional engineers will deal with large projects, most of the time , these guys are provided with workstation computers by their companies. Most people reading this should fall in category a and b.
Regular AutoCAD can run 2D and 3Dmodels, if you are an electrical/chemical engineer or just making contour maps, you fall into this category. The specs are the same as in “small projects” column shown on the table below. Having these specs will also allow you to run software like StadPro , MatLab, anything that doesn’t need you to viewport* a model in 3D.
*Viewport means rotating an object in 360.
|GPU||Intel UHD* , MX350, MX250,1050GTX,Radeon Pro 555X||960GTX,1050ti
1650,Radeon RX 550, Radeon RX 560X,980,1060,
2070, RX 580,RX5500M
NVIDIA Quadro/AMD FirePro
|CPU||Core i5/Ryzen 5 (+8th Intel/4th gen AMD)||Core i5/Ryzen 5/Core i7/Ryzen 7 (+8th Intel/3th-4th gen AMD)||Core i7 +9th gen/Ryzen 7th 4th gen (both with an H label)|
|Storage||128GB+||256GB SSD or 1TB HDD||256GB SSD+1TB HDD or 512GB SSD|
|Display||13-15” FHD (1080p)||15” FHD||15-17” FHD|
*Table includes 2021 hardware though you can use old hardware with similar performance, check table at the end of this post.
Choose the highest clockspeed (measured in Hz) you can afford. AutoCAD does not utilize multiple cores for modeling/designing (as far as recent benchmarks go). Clockspeed is all that matters there. If you are going to try to use heavy renderers on your laptop, then it might.
Viewport framerates depend mostly on the GPU. Applying effects/modeling/editing does not utilize GPU as much as CPU.
So pick the best & most recent GPU you can afford, usually the the best ones have more Cuda Cores/Shaders and vRAM.
Truth is …high tier GPUs will make rendering somewhat faster but CPU clock speed + number of cores is more important here.
So only opt for the most expensive high tier GPUs only if you’re dealing with large and extreme models where every bit helps (You probably will still lag though not much can be done here).
Small projects: Pretty much any “dedicated” GPU from any generation. It’s too risky to go with INTEGRATED GPUs but coupled with a good RAM & CPU, you might be alright.
Medium to Large Size Projects: These will require a +960GTX (870M+ for 8th generation, 1050+ for 10th generation: 1650 1050Ti).
Large Industry level projects: 1060GTX+ . Or any Workstation GPU (NVIDIA Quadro, AMD FirePro) with no more than 6GB vRAM (AutoCAD does benefit from more vRAM but only somewhat).
Size: Only students should opt for the portability of 13” laptops because these projects can be finished relatively quickly. But 13” for a regular CAD user can be detrimental to the eyes and a nightmare if a model needs more space to be visualized.
Resolution: 1080p nothing less. 4k is fine as long as you get the latest version of AutoCAD(2018+) but I don’t see a good reason to go for those.
SSDs all the way. Don’t understimate the power of SSDs! The time it takes to open & save files , launch the software/turn on your PC will be dramatically reduced and believe it or not this will add to less hours spent on a project and looking at your phone when waiting for loading bars/screens. They’re universal on laptops as of 2021.
1. Acer Nitro 5
Best Budget Laptop for AutoCAD
Intel Core i5 9300H
GeForce GTX 1650
256 PCIe SSD
15” FHD 1080p IPS
This year I’m skipping the “entry level” MX250/MX150/940M laptop too and instead I’m starting with a “mid-range” gaming laptop which I am sure will have enough GPU juice for about 80% of you.
In fact it might be too much for students or those starting with AutoCAD but the reason I’m recommending it is because they’re selling for a cheaper price than all laptops with a dedicated GPU.
I’m not throwing a Core i7 10th gen processor or higher tier NVIDIA GPUs like the RTX 2070 either because both AutoCAD & Revit aren’t optimized for “multi-threading” or high performance video instruction sets yet.
Also because I myself used AutoCAD 2017 on a HP laptop with a 940MX and it ran absolutely fine. The 1650 and the CPU shown here are much more powerful hardware.
Heck I’ve seen AutoCAD run on an old Radeon 4000 (this is several years old) and when we tried to add more complexity(more parts) to these simple models , we were only bottlenecked by CPU & RAM before GPU came into play.
If your models are relatively simple(or moderate) putting your budget on the latest gaming card or even workstation card is just wasted money because you won’t see any benefits.
In fact, you’ll only be using 50% of the 1650’s power for most of your projects.
If you opt for a 1070GTX/2080RTX or the most expensive laptops we’ll go over later for simple to moderate models, theose GPUs won’t even feel that AutoCAD is running (probably 10% power usage). It’s just money down the drain.
I know some of you are probably thinking…wait..I want a higher tier GPU because I need something future proof…what if future updates start using more of the GPU than the CPU?
If you check the history of updates, Autodesk isn’t considering adding video card instruction sets to AutoCAD any time soon.
Editing/drafting/making models will not get any quicker with a better GPU in the next 10 years. (Multithreaded operations are starting to surface though so investing on a multicore high clock speed CPU might more of a “future proof” investment).
Having said that…if you use viewport A LOT then you will definitely benefit from higher tier GPUs than a 1650GTX (1660Ti,2060RTX).
So whom would I recommend this laptop to?
I would recommend this set up for those starting with AutoCAD & 3D Modeling students and those. Basically anyone limited to basic drawings & models with a small number of parts(this is several times faster than a MX350) and also those working independently making models for clients.
Unlike an entry level card like the MX350, you’ll have 2D Vector drawing via GPU enabled along with more features.
You can also use this model to work with Solidworks and Revit.
You can double check this by going to this link right here and see for yourself that the specifications of this laptop actually exceed what engineering schools recommend.
Currently, there are no cheaper laptops even with weaker GPUs like the MX150/MX250. Laptops with a 940M on board might be cheaper but they’re only 4x faster than integrated GPUs, the 1650GTX has twice the power of a 940M.
If you find this model out of your budget or you just want another brand because it’s not available in your region. Check out this table.
|ASUS VivoBook||R5 3500U||1050GTX||60Hz||650$|
|HP Pavilion||R5 3550H||1050GTX||60Hz||665$|
|HP Pavilion||i5 9300H||1650GTX||60Hz||686$|
|Acer Nitro||i5 9300H||1650GTX||60Hz||700$|
|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$|
|HP Pavilion||R5 4600H||1650GTX||60Hz||659$|
All laptops in that table have the same performance as the Acer Nitro except for the first two which I would only recommend to students and no one else(1050 is only somewhat faster than a MX350).
Best Laptop For AutoCAD Engineers
Ryzen 5 4600H
GeForce GTX 1650
512GB PCIe SSD
15 ” 144Hz Full HD IPS
This is the most recent and best deal in 2021.
It’s got the same GPU as the Acer Nitro but the CPU is substantially more powerful (though not as much as a Ryzen 7 or 10th Core i7 would be).
The number of cores and clock speed of this model will surely make rendering faster.
The 144Hz display is definitely not something you’re going to find useful unless you are a gamer but that’s what the laptop comes with. It’s currently cheaper than most laptops with the same CPU+GPU but if you find it more expensive (price might go up do the display) then go back to the table above and choose one with the same CPU.
Best Laptop For AutoCAD Engineers
NVIDIA RTX 2060
512GB PCIe NVMe
15” full HD 120Hz IPS
Editing/drafting/modeling only depends on the CPU’s clock speed and this laptop has it maxed out to 5GHz w/ six cores. This Core i7 10th generation CPU is one of most powerful CPUs found on laptops even 2021.
RAM is already upgraded to 16GB so you’ll probably never feel bottlenecked by lack of RAM and if you do, just an easy upgrade to 32GB will do the trick.
Let’s talk about the graphics card now. In reality a 960M or a 1650GTX will already be at the limit to what AutoCAD will put to use for most users . However, if you have extra budget or your company is paying for your laptop, I would definitely opt for you to get a GPU with ~6GB of vRAM (like a 1660Ti,1060,1070,2060RTX).
“…AutoCAD is also very light on VRAM usage, so there is no reason to pay out for a card with lots of VRAM for strictly AutoCAD use.”
As mentioned by Pudget Systems
These GPUs are the limit of AutoCAD’s GPU vRAM usage no matter how big your models . It’s been corroborated byu by several studies (mostly from pudget systems) where they tested viewport performance.
So if you get something like a 1080,2070RTX,2080RTX viewport performance will still be slow down to a crawl with super large models. Also, viewport framerates won’t incrase that much with higher than 1060Ti/2060RTX GPUs for anything that’s not super large.
What about FirePro/Quadro aka certified workstation cards?
Just because this card or any GTX Force card hasn’t been certified by Autodesk doesn’t mean it won’t work, you can actually go to several places (like forums or reddit) to cofirm this, it works.
Yes, you’ll occasionally get that pop up error message and the only reason it’s because it isn’t certified as the almighty workstation GPUs are. Most people just ignore these messages, click OK and save themselves hundreds of dollars and keep working.
The real caveat of opting for a gaming GPU is that you won’t get customer support if something goes wrong with AutoCAD. I’ve personally haven’t come across something like that YET.
Yes, they will all work, if you are a student or getting yourself started. Check the table I posted above, you have tons of options and you can even get a 2GB vRAM GPU.
Best Laptop for AutoCAD 3D Modeling and Rendering
Core i7 9750H
64GB RAM DDR4
NVIDIA RTX 3000
2TB PCIe SSD
17” Full HD IPS
up to 2h
But again if you don’t fall into any of the categories we went over, the difference between the latest consumer “gaming” GPUs and workstation GPUs will be so minimal you’d just be wasting money. That’s really the main downside, they can cost as much as 4k-5k. Although we managed to find this model with a 2020 GPU for less than 2.5k.
Quad Core i7 10th gen
NVIDIA GTX 1650-1660Ti 4GB-6GB GDDR5 vRAM
256GB-2TB NVMe PCIe SSD
13.5”-15” Pixel Sense (3000×2000)
Although both the Surface Book and the Surface Pro can run AutoCAD 3D models, the Surface Book 3 here will handle 3D viewport a lot better because it has a dedicated GPU. You can buy the Surface Pro if you aren’t using 3d viewport, they can both take modeling/editing/drafting no problems.
Rendering should only be done with the Surface Book 3 because it’s thicker has more space, ventilation and can tolerate heavier load for hours.
How is this Surface Book series any special from other laptops with the same specs?
It becomes useful if you run AutoCAD a lot and move to construction sites or meetings on a regular basis.
The Surface Book 3 isn’t just for that though, it’s been actually certified to run SolidWorks a few years ago and AutoCAD is a much less demanding 3D modeling software.
If you are Pro don’t plan to do anything crazy with it though. Leave the rendering to your desktop back home if you can.
3 Best Laptops for AutoCAD in 2D
AutoCAD in 2D not only means autoCAD Electrical & AutoCAD LT by the way but pretty much any engineering that doesn’t use viewport (3D models).
Generally for that any modern laptop would do fine just make sure to get something like an Intel Core i5 and plenty of RAM and hopefully an SSD on it, these specs will do wonders to your productivity.
Cheap Laptop For AutoCAD LT 2018 and AutoCAD in 2D
AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
Radeon Vega 3
128GB PCIe NVMe SSD
14” HD TN Display
Windows 10 HOME
AutoCAD 2D models only care about RAM and CPU, there’s no need to invest on a dedicated GPU or even look at which integrated GPU you are getting.
Although this is an AMD CPU it’s not one of the ARM/mobile chips you find on 200-300 laptops or older models, the Ryzen line has proven to equal or better than their Intel equivalents.
Don’t be scared to grab one if you find a nice deal like this one.
Core m3 , Core i5, Core i7
128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
12” IPS 2736×1824
1.7lb and above
The Surface Pro is a great option if you’re looking for something ultra portable. You don’t need to grab the more expensive and heavy Surface Book 3, you won’t need the graphics card.
The Surface Pro has plenty of juice for any AutoCAD model in 2D and can even run some 3D models provided they’re not large.
While there are several versions and several configurations, they will all run AutoCAD fine as long as you ones with a Core i5 CPU and 8GBs of RAM.
If you try to save a few bucks by buying the model with the m3 processor and 4GB of RAM, you might STILL be okay too but you’ll definitely won’t be able to run 3D models if you ever see the need to.
But if you seriously think you’ll also be modeling a lot in 3D and not just from time to time, then you should consider the Surface Book 3.
AMD Ryzen 5 3500U
I’ve chosen this model mostly because of the display. The 17” screen will make it easier on the eyes when for those really long hours with no breaks and will also give you a more comfortable workspace area to design and access your toolbars.
The only downside is the HD+ resolution. Couldn’t find a cheap FHD 17” model and it’s not something you will find under 700 bucks anyways.
Storage-wise it is pretty good. 256GB is a lot of space since files in AutoCAD probably take no more than 50MB.
On the plus side, unlike last year’s model , this one already comes 8GB and an SSD so you probably won’t have to do any upgrades ever.
How to Buy The Best Laptop For AutoCAD
This section will go through the exact & specific requirements you need for all versions of AutoCAD and explain why you need them.
Although I am mainly writing this section for those outside the USA ( the UK or India) who can’t find these laptops online, AutoCAD will be your main tool of work so you might as well go through it to learn more about the software itself.
However if you are only using AutoCAD for school or a specific class then save yourself sometime and just pick a laptop based on the specifications I’ve listed in the first section.
AutoCAD is actually a broadterm which encompasses several products from AutoDesk. Based on their computer requirements we can be divide all of them into AutoCAD 2D & 3D.
These are all the different versions of AutoCAD:
This is the regular & original version of AutoCAD which all of you are probably already familiar with.It allows you to model and design objects in both 2D and 3D. Although today there are more specialized versions it still widely used today especially in universities. That’s because this version can be useful for just about anyone who needs to be introduced to CAD design.
A less powerful version of the AutoCAD described above, however only for 2D objects.
Mostly for circuit design since most circuitry only need a 2D representation, it is a 2D software.
Unlike regular AutoCAD where you have to design everything from scratch. This version will give you advanced tools for architectural design and provide you with pre-made objects for your models: doors, walls, windows, etc. This is in 3D.
AutoCAD Civil 3D
Similar to AutoCAD architecture. Optimized for planning roadways, rivers, landscapes , etc.
*A few points before we move on to the next section:
- If you buy a laptop for AutoCAD in 3D, obviously it will have no issues with any AutoCAD software in 2D.
- AutoCAD in 2D will need the same specifications listed below with the sole exception of a dedicated graphics card. Therefore if you are a 2D AutoCAD user just ignore the GPU section below.
Recommended Specs For AutoCAD
We will entirely focus on AutoCAD (not revit, inventor or any other software out there). Again let’s start with the most important specs followed by the secondary ones.
AutoCAD primarily uses your CPU when drafting/editing.
CPUs today are already pretty powerful (even the low end CPUs) so the most expensive ones have a hard time providing users with more speed and instead try to increase performance by increasing the number of cores (or mini CPUs).
So should you focus on the number of cores or the speed your CPU has?
Number of Cores
Don’t believe other sites whose writers have never even used , let alone launch AutoCAD and check for CPU usage with the task manager.
If you still doubt what I’m saying, check the link to confirm this with the official website.
If you want to increase the speed of your workflow: focus on clock speed. This is measured in GHz (Ex: 3.4GHz).
Most effects and tools used in AutoCAD are not multi-threaded: they do not take advantage of multiple cores.
So you aren’t likely to get a worthy increase in performance (if any) with a quad core over a simple dual core unless the quad core processor (HQ, HK, etc) has a higher clock speed than the dual core (which is frequently the case for laptops).
Which AutoCAD software benefits from Multiple Cores?
Which CPU is better for AutoCAD?
For any AutoCAD in 2D: any CPU released within the past 5 with the performance of Intel Core i5 processors. (5th generation onwards). 3GHz+ should be plenty.
For AutoCAD in 3D: Same as above but try to get the highest clock speed you can afford. Core i7 processors are the fastest especially if they are from the 8th generation can reach up to 4GHz using turbo boost.
Procesor Labels : HQ, HK, H & U
However a quad Core or a six core processor (the latter has just been recently released) is still good a choice(provided clock speed is higher than a cheaper dual core processor).
Most of you are likely to be running other software along with AutoCAD, a multicore will then allow you to have a single core for AutoCAD and the other (3 or 5 ) to any other program you are running along with AutoCAD.
With the release of 8th generation processors, the Labels at the end of processors (For example Core i7-7700HQ) have become a bit more tricky to read and find out how many number of cores they have.
So let us go through each label:
These are quadcore processors no exception. They can be intel core i5 or Core i7 processors.
A special type of processor that have “unlocked” clock speed. Yes these usually have the highest clock speeds from their generations. I’d say +4GHz.
You’ll only find this very expensive bulky gaming & workstation laptops (they need cooling and a decent space to control the high temperatures from operating at such high speed)
If you are by any chance allured by the name Xeon, note this processors are much weaker than most modern 7th and 8th generation processors when it comes to AutoCAD. They offer less clock speed with higher number of cores which you don’t want.
8th generation CPUs
This where things start to get tricky. These are just like HQ Series but are these are the latest released by Intel. However their Core i7 processors currently have the highest clock speed ~4.1GHz and six cores ! (w/ turbo Boost). However their core i5 processors only have 4 cores.
It gets more tricky here.
U usually means a dual core processor regardless of the generation (the first number you see 6xxx, 7xxxx, 5xxx, etc) unless it’s from the 8th generation. In which case it’ll have four processors. For Example the hottest CPU for budget laptops: Core i5 8250U has four cores while the Core i5 7xxx processors only have two.
CAD software, especially 3D software, is ridicously memory hungry.
They’ll take up all of your RAM quickly and severely slow down your computer if you don’t have the proper amount.
Ideally for AutoCAD you’d want at least 8GB.
16GB may only be necessary for the most monstrous size models in 3D.
Unlike CPUs & Graphics Cards on laptops, RAM is cheap and upgradeable so even if you find 8GB insufficient you can always upgrade it later on.
It’s very rare for someone to need 32GB and much less 64GB of RAM. In fact, 32 and 64GB won’t have noticably affect your render times at all.
There are two types of storage to choose from today: SSD (Solid State Drives) and HDD (Hard Disk Drives).
SSD (Solid State Drive)
With the falling costs associated with SSDs, everyone will recommend you to use one for the primary drive to host your OS, AutoCAD, and any active projects you are working on and with a good reason:
This is because SSDs can read and write data crazy fast.
Which means if you have your OS, AutoCAD and other files stored in it will translate to having your system boot, launch applications, and load files in a flash.
HDD (Hard Disk Drive)
However SSDs are more expensive and offer little storage compared to Hard Disk Drives.
HDDs read/write x17 slower than PCie (fastest) SSDs but they provide you with an insane amount of space (the cheapest one will give you 1TB).
Still SSDs today can give you 1TB or even 2TB however they’re crazy crazy expensive.
I mean the MacBook Air with 2GB is like 2500$ and it doesn’t even have a good graphics card to begin with.
Ok but how much Storage Do I Need?
AutoCAD isn’t heavy but the projects can be, especially if you deal with tons of them and you don’t hand them to clients right away but keep them on your laptop for a while.
Students: You’ll only deal with a few projects here and there which will not go over 4GB and I mean this during the entire stay in college. If you are at an AutoCAD academy, you’ll need more.
A 256GB storage device will do though. 2D objects take even less space in which case 128GB might be enough.
Professionals: Consider getting a 256GB+ internal storage device (SSD if possible) plus an 1TB internal or external storage Hard Disk Drive.
What’s the best storage set up? Should I use and How to Use it
The one I just mentioned for Pros: 256GB SSD + 1TB HDD. Both Internal.
I’m sure you’ll get better storage configurations from desktops but for laptops this is as good as it gets. Here’s how to rock it:
- Having an SSD on your laptop with your OS (Windows most likely) + AutoCAD + any projects you’re currently working on will make sure you’ll take full advantage of its reading/writing speeds and boost every single operation + booting up your system and sofware in a flash.
- On the other hand, having a HDD in addition to the primary SSD, will let you have plenty of ample storage space for your repository,catalog and any old files you might find useful for a new project.
Other Configurations(Extra bit of performance)*
Ideally you’d want more than one SSD + a large storage HDD:
1st SSD: For Windows +AutoCAD
2nd SSD: For all the active projects you have.
3rd HDD: the slow & traditional HDD can be used to store old projects and all the other heavy files that do not benefit from an SSD.
You will only find this set up on a few monstrous size laptops like the CybertronPC Titan 15 SK Titan which has 2 SSDs (you can use an external hard drive for your repository) but this set up is mostly used on desktops, every desktop can have the above set up by the way.
*Only advisable for professionals seeking the fastest performance with 3D Modeling software. I mean if you are rich and want the fastest fastest from laptops.
The right GPU will make all the difference when using viewport with 3D models By this i mean, little to zero lag.
As you’ve probably know, there are two types of graphic cards: integrated and dedicated.
Integrated are attached to the CPU hence the word “integrated” so they share the same memory with the CPU (Ex: Intel HD most of the time), they can still deal with 3D objects but are nowhere near close the power of dedicated graphic cards which have “dedicated memory” to use for themselves (Ex: AMD Radeon, NVIDIA GTX).
You can still run AutoCAD with cheap integrated graphics card. If your models are relatively small, viewport won’t be too bad .
College students may be able to get away with Intel HD cards as long as they have enough RAM & at least a Core i5 processor.
For anyone using AutoCAD outside school (even if you are taking a short course somewhere), a dedicated GPU is a must . Otherwise using viewport will be painfully slow and look terrible.
Dedicated Graphics Card (dGPU)
How to Choose a dGPU?
This is where it gets tricky. The AutoDesk website doesn’t really tell you every compatible graphics card.
Yes, the list of recommended GPUs is short but that’s not because the other cards aren’t compatible.
It’s more like they haven’t tested every graphics card out there or even the current “gaming” cards. Who knows why?
Anyways, before you start shopping for laptops you should know the basics behind dedicated graphic cards.
For 3D software, they can be categorized as :workstation cards or consumer aka “gaming” cards.
a. Workstation Cards
These are “certified” graphics cards which just means they are approved & recommended by the makers of whatever CAD software you are using.
‘Supposedly’ they come with optimized drivers and better hardware especifically designed for CAD software.
Is this true?
I would say it is. But only for industry level projects where the accuracy of models and product simulations become much more intricate & important. These consists of a monstrous number of parts* (or polygons in AutoCADs case) where error correction and double precision computing actually become useful.
*CAD Design is very different from gaming or animation for which graphics and modeling do not need to get into a very high level of part detail (CAD simulations need part level detail since this is how it works in the real world).
They’re more stable and reliable: they’re less likely to crash and you’ll get almost zero pop up errors. If you do buy them you’ll get customer support from AutoCAD whenever you have a problem with the software too.
Unfortunately, they are very costly and 90% of the time they’re unnecessary.
b. Gaming(Consumer) Cards
Don’t be discouraged by the word ‘gaming’. I am not telling you buy them so you can game with them too.
Yes, these are not designed for CAD design. But believe or not, they will work just as good as the expensive workstation graphic cards.
In fact, the hardware behind both types of cards are becoming more and more similar and soon enough there won’t be a need to opt for workstation cards one would just simply need to go for the latest released generation card.
This is more true with the 9th and 10th generation NVIDIA GTX cards.
So if budget is an issue, you can safely invest on any laptop with a NVIDIA GeForce or AMD Radeon Card.
Some of these actually perform just as good as some workstation cards (or even better) for AutoCAD.
There aren’t really any issues with compatibility. If you buy a laptop with a consumer graphic cards from Amazon, you should be alright since virtually all of their laptops have “recent gaming cards”.
If you do end up with compatibility issues it’ll probably because the version you are using is pretty old and the card very recent. A quick update of drivers or the software however should fix the problem.
Which graphics card should I specifically pick?
Modern Graphics Cards
Among modern cards it’s best to pick:
- GTX 960, 960M, 940M, MX150. These are all compatible with the software. (980M, 970, 950 are compatible too but it isn’t like you’ll find them today).
- The GTX 960 in fact is the most compatible out ot the bunch (it’s been tested & touted as the best by thousand of users online).
- The 10th generation GeForce: 1050, 1050ti, 1060,1070 and 1080 should all work well with the software. As mentioned before, the more recently released the graphics card will be more simila to the “workstation cards” architectures but cheaper.
Old graphic cards
The issue comes down to old generation cards. Some of them may or may not be compatible with AutoCAD. The ones I can assure for compatibility are:
- NVIDIA GTX 780, 780 TI.
- NVIDIA GTX 750: this one in fact is recommended by some universities for undergrads.
What are the best Gaming Cards then?
For undergrads and students of autoCAD any of the graphic cards listed should be OK. The cheaper the better in fact. But I’d push the 960GTX or its modern (a bit better) equivalent the 1050 ti for most of you.
So for working professionals who want to try out gaming cards:
- 960GTX /1050ti hands down. The most tested and reliable and the one most recommended by AutoCAD users all over the net.
- Or any of the 10th generation cards: (excluding MX150 and the non 1050 ti) work just as well or better than the 960GTX.
C. Workstation Cards vs Graphics Cards: The difference
College students: get a gaming card, period. You don’t need a workstation card and probably never will.
For those taking CAD classes out of college: get a gaming card for now and see if you may need a workstation card later.
For professionals: If you have the budget and your machine will solely be devoted to 3D CAD design (not just AutoCAD but Solidworks) get a workstation card. But that’s a tough call I mean if you really needed a workstation card, you’d know it.
If you are on a budget or you like the specs from gaming laptops, don’t be afraid to pick a gaming card because as I’ve emphasized several times: they can work just as well.
The few errors that may pop up are nothing to worry about, you can simply click OK and move on.
In terms of model size:
- Small projects: Any graphics card
- Medium size projects: 940M, MX150 and onwards
- Large projects: 960GTX+ and 10th generation GFX cards
- Extreme large projects: workstation cards.
D. I keep reading about GeForce Cards having issues when running AutoCAD
This is most likely due to AutoCAD using the Intel HD cards within your laptop as default as you can read here. You can also find the solution on that link.
This is probably the second most important component after having a decent graphic cards. You want your work environment to be as comfortable as possible since this translates to efficiency and most of it depends on the display.
This is a no brainer, the bigger the size the more space you’ll have for your design and toolbars.
13”: you can still work with this. It will be a bit annoying if you are a pro working on a project for several hours non-stop but doable. Undergrad students should definitely opt for this one since your projects won’t take that long and you’ll probably spend half the time at a computer lab with a gigantic screen anyways.
15”: This is more suitable for Professionals and any serious CAD dude.
17”: Avoid these unless portability isn’t an issue for you. This is my preferred display size but it’s never gotten out of my house. Heck It doesn’t even fit in any of my backpacks.
Just as important as size high resolution will allow you to fit in more tools and a huge part of your interface next to your canvas. This will allow you to quickly access commands and tools instead of having to click on menus.
Literally all laptops with an onboard dedicated graphics card will have at least a 1080p resolution.
These useless high resolution displays may cause interfaces and tools to be out of place plus tools may look way too small to be distinguished. This may or may not happen but it’s just too risky.*
*You can always switch back to 1080p with any 4k display laptop but then you’d have wasted a lot of money for a resolution you can’t use.
The MacOSX version might be fine if you are an undergrad student since you’ll be using AutoCAD sparingly (note that not all AutoCAD software is fully compatible)
You can use bootcamp to use any other CAD software however.
Anyone trying to get serious with AutoCAD or any CAD software should get a Windows Machine, period.
Which Brand Should I try to get?
The brand doesn’t really matter when you have pay for premium laptops (+800$). If you try to get cheap laptops below 600$, then I would say the following applies (excluding Apple & Microsoft Laptops ):
ASUS > Lenovo > Acer > HP > Dell.
That’s just based on my experience.
If you have any questions, suggestions, feedback or perhaps any experiences with AutoCAD with your current machine, please let us know (post your specs if possible).