I get exactly where you are coming from.
You are probably a student in your second year…
Or someone already in the field looking for an upgrade to the old rig your best friend got you several years ago.
Now you’ve done some googling here and there and found out a bunch of conflicting information about the requirements for the software you’ll be using (3DS Max, AutoCAD, Revit ,etc).
That’s not all…
You’re probably confused about the hardware too especially with the CPUs and the GPUs we have available today (which are the two most important specs for modeling/drawing and navigationg/viewporting a model).
Things have gotten even more confusing in 2021 with the release of 11th generation Intel CPUs, the 4th generation Ryzen processors and the new RTX NVIDIA GPUs.
If you don’t want pull the trigger…
Because you’re afraid you’re not going to get the best bang for your buck. Relax…
Me and my brother were in the exact same situation several years ago.
We’ve already graduated and have more AWESOME laptops now but we did rely on the computer lab during our second and third year because our father couldn’t afford us to have one.
When we finally saved up the money to buy one (this was during our fourth year), we wanted to make sure our machine could get us through ANYTHING for the next few years.
Since this was our only shot to stop handing in our assignments late and we were definitely going to use this laptop for our first gigs! Getting the best bang for our buck was an utmost priority!
This is why how we ended up knowing everything there is to know about how Interior Design software uses computer hardware for specific situations.
So in this post..
You’ll find just that. Everything will be covered in this article.
Recommended Specs for Interior Design
Before we list the 6 best laptops for Interior Design let us quickly talk about the specs & the software used in Interior Design. (Just in case there are people here who can’t find these laptops in their region).
If you feel you need more details than what’s outlined here, jump to the last section.
During our years studying interior design (and a few years on the field) we’ve used and found others using:
The last 3 are 3D modeling software and they all have more or less the same hardware requirements. The last two are the most hardware demanding of the group.
Note: AutoCAD 3D is the least hardware demanding software, you’d just need any laptop with a “dedicated GPU” for it. If you rely mainly on Revit, either stick with this article or check our Revit post.
When shopping for a laptop, look for these specs in order of priority:
Revit, AutoCAD and all the other software mentioned will be more than happy with any low-end dedicated graphics card. Ex:
NVIDIA: 940MX, MX150,MX250, MX350, 1050GTX,Intel Xe Max*
AMD: Radeon Pro RX 555X, RX540, RX550, RX 560X
However 3DS Max will be buttery smooth with anything equal or above a 1050Ti. Ex:
*We are aware that you’ve read people saying gaming laptops are okay and yet the official Autodesk site tells you that these are not supported. Well, it’s the interior design guys who are right. AutoDesk is just being political. You can trust laptops with “consumer” GPUs.
*The higher you go in that order, the better, but I would probably stop at a 2060RTX.
All 3D modeling software, including Revit, are RAM hogs.
8GB RAM minimum. You might even need 16GB but that can be adjusted later.
There’s a guide written a guide here on how to do it or you can buy 16GB right off the bat.
Modern CPUs are fast as hell. They have plenty of speed for drawing,interacting with a design, applying effects and shapes, etc.
For drafting/designing:something like a Core i3 10050G1, Core i3 8130, Core i5 8265, Core i5 8250 / AMD Ryzen 3 3300U AMD Ryzen 5 3500 U will be alright.
Rendering can be an issue if you can’t really wait more than 30 minutes. If you want render AFAP, you need to check out the number of cores. 4 cores is average and a minimum to make it fast, 6-8 is nice but expensive. Most CPUs today have 2-4 cores. Get one of these if you want….
Super fast rendering:AMD Ryzen 5 3550H, AMD Ryzen 7 3750H, i7 8750H, i7 9750H, i7 10750H, i5 9300H, AMD Ryzen 5 4600H and so on. Basically anything modern with an H.
Solid State Drives will load up projects/files/models and the software lightining fast. It’ll also boot up your machine in 5 seconds flat. Most modern laptops have an SSD.
Which is really nice (they didn’t back in my days).
You guys don’t have to have a client/professor/classmate staring at your screen from behind and breathing over your neck waiting for your design to load.
Ideally you’d want the biggest screen you can find because you’ll have more space to work with. That means more space to fit in more tools/interfaces(which translates to less time having to use the drop-down menu bars) and of course bigger models. This can be speed up your workflow!
However big displays are heavy. You might not even find a backpack to fit it in into.
So get a 15” with FHD as a bare minimum, this is the standard these days!
If you want to know all the technical details on how interior design software will utilize computer resources for rendering, drawing, navigating, viewporting, etc. Give our last section a read “How to Buy A Laptop For Interior Design” and if you have more time “How To Buy A Laptop For Revit”.
If you just wanna buy a laptop fast , then just read the descriptions very carefully when you pick a laptop from our list.
Top 6 Best Laptops For Interior Design
Interior Designers vary widely in what they do and what software they use but the hardware requirements are pretty much the same.
The only real difference is whether or not you need to use 3DS Max.
3DS Max is the most hardware demanding software and it’s widely used for walkthroughts so it might need something a little bit more powerful.
1. Acer Nitro 5
This is probably as much power as 90% of you reading this will need and guess what?
This laptop is is not that expensive, a 1650GTX+Core i5 or Ryzen 5 usually sells for anything between 650-720$(depending on the time of the year).
We actually had to buy a laptop far weaker than this one (one with a 940MX which was about 700$ back then). A 940MX GPU doesn’t even come close to the power of a 1650GTX.
What’s so good about a 1650GTX?
It’s not a “cheap” reachable GPU byt the way, it’s actually more powerful than modern “entry level” GPUs.
It’s got a lot more “cores” and more vRAM than a MX350,1050,1050Ti,Intel Xe Max (other dedicated GPUs which are usually selling for about the same price or higher as of 2021).
Now I have to admit that it might be a bit too much because it is very likely you are not going to venture into 3DS MAX but it doesn’t hurt to have that extra power if it’s cheap imo.
What about rendering?
You can render with any laptop the question is how fast will you be able to do so.
Rendering is mostly CPU-bound, that means you need a powerful CPU and rarely a good GPU(depends on the renderer but still a CPU takes about 80% of the rendering load).
This one has a 9th generation Core i5 CPU, that’s mid-range powerful of the latest generation, going past 4GHz(this used to be workstation clock speed in my days). It’s enough for fast rendering!
One thing I would do to speed up rendering even more is to upgrade the RAM to 16GB. You can take it to any computer store and they’ll do it for you possibly for free because it’s simple and easy or you can do it yourself.
We chose this laptop because it’s the upgraded version of the old Acer Aspire which means it is very easy to upgrade (it’s thicker than average) and has an easy-access to the RAM/M.2 Storage slots.
If you don’t find this model on stock, you can check any of these other options with a 1650GTX.
|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$|
Core i5-10th generation
8GB RAM DDR4
15” full HD IPS
Some people out there will not be doing any walkthroughs nor will they be designing huge mansions or using 3DS Max but rely heavily on Revit and AutoCAD.
So they might not need a powerful GPU like a 1650GTX or even my old time favorite GPU, the 1660Ti(or 2060RTX).
They will do just fine with an Intel Xe Max, MX 350.
However, this time I’m listing a 1050GTX laptop because MX350,Intel Xe Max for some odd reason are kind of pricey despite being weaker than a 1050/1650GTX.
This is still a GPU geared more towards simple remodeling projects though.
What do you mean by simple remodeling projects?
Construction documents for kitchen remodeling, cabinet elevations, some 3D sketch up work,etc. A lapto pwith an entry level dGPU will also be able to handle additional software : PhotoSHop, Illustrator with all their features unlocked.
Me and my brother had to go for a model like this. Actually we went for something like the older and first version of the Acer Aspire E5 which had a 940MX.
Now, with that version obsolete, the newest model has a MX350 which is about 1.5x as powerful as long as you get the non Max-Q version. You can find that model here.
But like I said, the price isn’t great and you can get a GPU x2 as powerful like the one shown here.
This is perfect for an interior design student or those just getting into the field.
Wait, I can’t even afford that, any other options?
Well, you can check if the Acer Aspire 5 price has gone down. If not, then you’re going to have to ditch the dGPU and settle with an integrated GPU.
An integrated GPU is not something you want if you are going to use viewport a lot or walk through a house all the time. However, if you’re just using a laptop for all the other instances of “simple remodeling” (like we described before), it’s doable, you will lag but it’s doable.
But hey, hopefully you can start saving up during your first few months on the field and afford one with a dGPU.
3. Dell XPS 15
Best Dell Laptop For Interior Design
Core i7-9750 Up to 4.5GHz
16GB RAM DDR4
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB
1TB SSD PCIe NVMe
15.6” UHD Touch IPS
6 hours Web Surfing / 2-3 hours gaming
This is a laptop for those already making the big bucks and who have stumbled upon this article looking for a premium laptop that’s not only powerful enough to handle Interior Design Software but portable and pretty.
There are premium laptops out there with a powerful CPU and GPU and by premium I mean, they’re thin, relatively lightweight and have awesome aluminum chasis which means they’re going to take a few hits and all the jostling when you’re on the road.
The Dell XPS 15 is one of the most popular laptops for 3D designers, in fact, it’s been released in 2015 or so and each year the series releases a model with the latest hardware.
What makes the Dell XPS kind of special among other premium laptops is that if you go for the 15” version you can get a 4k screen resolution, which will roughly give you about 1.5x the amount of screen space available.
By the way, I know you’ve noticed that this model has the same GPU as the Acer Nitro 5 and yet it’s far more expensive. That’s true, however, it has a much more powerful CPU and the RAM/Storage have already been maxed out. Although you can upgrade RAM/Storage on the Acer Nitro 5, you can’t upgrade a CPU and this is what will have the biggest impact when rendering/drawing more so than a GPU.
I can’t afford it but I want something like this?
You could go for past models or even this year’s model but with a weaker GPU like the 1050, 1050Ti and ditch the 4k resolution display. Here are some options for you to check. Do note that you will get the premium quality in terms of size, thinness, weight , display but not in terms of power, older models will be either a bit weaker than the Acer Nitro 5 or just as powerful.
Quad Core i7 10th gen
NVIDIA GTX 1650GTX /1660Ti 4-6vRAM
512-2TB NVMe PCIe SSD
15” Pixel Sense (3000×2000)
The latest Surface Book has a CPU and GPU with the power of the Dell XPS 15 and there’s a version that can hold a much more powerful GPU: 1660Ti.
It’s a good option if you have no budget and you’re looking for something even more portable than the Dell XPS 15 and need the touchscreen feature to take down notes too.
The note taking features with the stylus is nothing short of amazing!
If you can get used to it, you can really just bring a Surface Book instead of a notebook and a pen wherever you need to.
If you are an interior design moving from client to client, from conferences to construction sites for a good part of the day, then this is a great alternative to tablet-like laptops and thick gaming laptops with a dGPU because it can act as both!
5. MacBook Pro
Intel Core i9 9th generation 8 Cores
16-32GB RAM DDR4
Radeon Pro 5500M GDRR6
512GB-1TB Flash SSD
16” Retina Resolution
The most obvious choice for a laptop if you’re looking for the best form factor and enough power for any professional.
Probably, the least expected laptop here too.
But you know, we’ve used a MacBook a couple of times and there was no issue whatsoever with any interior design software.
You can run either VMWare fusion or BootCamp to handle incompatibilities.
BootCamp: allows to switch between Windows or OSX with a restart.
VMWare: allows you to run Windows along with OSX simultenously, next to each other, with no need to restart.
You can use BootCamp if you realy need to devote every piece of hardware to the software you’re trying to run like 3DS Max/Revit.
Wait, do I need to do this for every interior design software?
No, probably only for 3DS Max. There’s an autoCAD and Revit version for a Mac already.
By the way, when I used VMWare fusion to run windows on a VM , the macbook gave me no issues whatsoever. I remember I was able to run AutoCAD 2013, sketch up, Modo 901 and Rhino and that was on a 2012 MBP!
But obviously if you model with Revit and render with 3ds MAX and use photoshop, illustrator and inDesign, all at the same time.
You’re going to have to run BootCamp on a MacBook Pro most of the time.
While we are at it, let us talk about rendering with the Macs:
First of all you gotta have a dedicated GPU on it, this is only available with the 15-16” Models, the more recent version of the Pro the better (the graphics card will be more powerful).
Second, you have to check if your renderer uses dedicated GPUs to accelerate rendering (this is probably the case) and then check if that renderer supports AMD GPUs instead of NVIDIA GPUs.
For example, most GPU renderers take advantage of CUDA cores (this is NVIDIA) . V-RAY RT is a prime example.
While other renderers like V-Ray advanced will mostly rely on the CPU and RAM. So whether you’ve got a dGPU or no dGPU will make no difference.
Core i7 10750H
16GB RAM DDR4
NVIDIA RTX 2070 8GB vRAM Super
1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
15” 240Hz full HD IPS
>1 hours under load, 5 hours otherwise
The most powerful laptop out of the entire list and the heaviest.
But there’s no way around, if you want the most powerful hardware on a laptop, it’s going to be heavy.
This is a laptop for interior designers that have to deal with pretty large models/sketches in 3DS Max/Rhino on a regular basis.
They need to look for laptops with the 1660Ti/2060RTX( for high framerates/rendering with large Revit models) and the 2070RTX/2060RTX(to handle large models in Rhino/3DS Max with ease).
However, don’t forget that the CPU is the most important component, you need at least a 4th Ryzen 7/9 or 10/11th Core i7 CPU too.
If you are put off by the price or the looks, just remember to look for a laptop with similar specs. MSI, Razer are good brands to look for gaming laptops with beefy specs and they look stylish too.
If you are reading this section. I am assuming you are just getting started with Interior Design.
Before we get into technical jargon, we first need to go over what software you’ll and what exactly you’ll do on each (rendering or drafting require different specs).
AutoCAD 3D or AutoCAD Architecture: By the way AutoDesk Provides a free 1-year license
Revit Architecture (AutoDesk provides a free 1-year license to students as well)
Adobe Photoshop (Any version)
Adobe Acrobat X Pro (or other PDF Creator)
Google Sketch Up Pro (current version available)
3DS Max (rarely)
AutoCAD/Revit: most interior designers used them for remodeling.
3DS Max: although rarely used, it’s mostly used for Rendering.
Sketch-up: as the name suggests used to do some 3D sketches.
Usually I tell students (of any subject in college) that they can skip on buying a laptop (even engineering students). However I must emphasize this time that a laptop is crucial for interior design students. The use of 3D modeling software for studio projects will start to get pretty heavy from the second year and on through graduation
Even a low end laptop with low configuration can tremendoosly help you in passing exanimations with flying colors. While you could try and use the computer labs (mostly for AutoCAD 3D and 3ds Max since these require pretty beefy configurations), there may be a few times that you won’t be able to complete your assignments on time. Plus you can bring laptop computers to work in any studio, on and off campus, in and out of town. Further, any troubleshoot hardware and software can easily be fixed once you have a laptop because you can easily take it to a nerdy classmate or the IT department.
Hardware Specs for Interior Design
We’ll discuss 3D modeling software like Rhino, 3DS Max, AutoCAD 3D and Revit. PhotoShop, Illustrator and even Sketch up can just run about on any modern laptop released either in 2018 or 2019.
This is the single most important component behind 3D Modeling Software, more than the graphics card and RAM. The following are based on benchmark studies done by third party testers such as Pudget Systems.
All 3D modeling software including AutoCAD, Revit, 3DS Max are mostly single-threaded. That is the speed at which you design/apply effects/sketches/see your previews/manipulate tools will depend on the clock speed of your CPU.
Why did I say mostly? Well Revit it’s the only exception(along with Inventor). Although it started as a single-threaded application (it didn’t care about the number of cores a CPU Has), current versions use multi-core CPUs, mostly for visuals (calculating walls) and loading all the elements in view.
More explicitly here’s a list of all the functions that are multithreaded for Revit.
But yeah it’s still multi-threaded.
So if you plan on mostly do remodeling with any software buy the CPU with the highest clock speed you can afford (measured in Hz), these come with 4 or 6 cores CPUs anyways.
No matter what software you talk about. Rendering has always and will always be a multi-core dependent task. If you are a student, you don’t have to worry about it as you can see your school’s lab for any heavy rendering that you may encounter.
If you are a professional and plan on rendering with your laptop. Get the highest number of cores you can afford. The higher the number of cores, the less time you’ll spend waiting and I’m talking about hours.
Students should be fine with 8GB.
Pros should get 16GB RAM.
Rendering is predominantly CPU and RAM based. After getting getting the highest number of cores you can afford (the highest for laptops is six even from Xeon or the latest Core i7), you need to get bucketload of RAM to do as much work as quickly as possible.
8GB vs 16GB vs 32GB
8GB RAM will work fine if you are a student or a beginner.
But let’s assume you decide to work on larger projects especially those that cover a pretty large area, then you’ll need 16GB RAM*.
On the other hand, 32GB RAM will be foolproof for pretty much any project out there. But it is very unlikely you’ll need this much.
64GB RAM is pretty much useless.
*Note not all laptops are upgradeable to 32GB. So read carefully before you purchase a laptop if you think you’ll need the upgrade.
GPU (Graphics Card)
This is a very tricky subject and the trickiest decision you’ll make.
Ending up with a wrong graphics card will probably give you bugs with whatever software you are using and then you’ll be forced to turn off “hardware acceleration” in other words disable your graphics card.
You will then have to up with waiting a few seconds between operations because the Intel HD GPU will have to redraw the view like a etchasketch.
While Revit is not very taxing on GPU, 3DS Max and Rhino surely are.
Why do I need a Graphics Card for?
They’ll mostly help you using viewport(panning, zooming, orbiting, rotating,etc) and give you buttery smooth walkthroughs. And in a few rare cases: rendering.
The bigger and more complex your model, the more difficult it will be to get a nice 3D View of it without a decent dedicated graphics card.
What about rendering?
While Revit does not use the GPU for rendering, this may not be the case for other renderers. You have to check if the rendering software you use is GPU dependent.
For example: V-ray rt only uses gpu renders while V-ray advanced uses CPU
Some universities’ websites list NVIDIA Quadro as the only supported graphics card and AutoDesk Support will also recommend workstation graphics card: either NVIDIA Quadros or AMD FirePros.
The truth of the matter is that consumer graphics cards “AMD Radeon” or “NVIDIA GeForce” will work just as well and in some instances even outperform workstation cards (according to our experience), especially for 3DS Max.
There are several universities who aren’t too old fashioned and don’t mind recommending them and most interior designers can confirm this.
More explicitly, let’s go over your three options.
Integrated Graphics Cards (Intel HD)
You’re playing with fire with Intel HD Cards but they will work for you in some instances especially if you just rely on Revit & AutoCAD and if these models are on the smallish range (file sizes up to 50MB). As long as you have an Intel Core i5 processor + 8GB RAM and hardware acceleration dissabled, you’ll be OK with them.
Dedicated Gaming Cards (GeForce AMD Radeon)
For bigger file sizes > 100MB, you’re only choice is a dedicated graphics card.
Like I mentioned before even if you are Pro or a student who’s been asked to buy an expensive Workstation card (these can range from 2-3k).
Whether you are a student or a professional, you should really consider a gaming or “consumer card”.
The latest gaming graphics cards’ architecture are becoming more and more similar to the “workstation cards”, with incoming generations the difference will be minuscule. Plus nearly all interior designers are happy with them.
There are a few disadvantages besides having the huge gaming tag on the back though:
- Not all of them are compatible with 3D Modeling. All 9th and 10th gen are though, you can’t go wrong with them. Just make sure the first number is either a 9 or 10 (GTX 960M, GTX 1050, etc)
- You will not get customer support from either AutoDesk or Your Laptop Company.
- Yes, you will get a few “more” bugs here and there but it won’t affect your workflow you can just click OK and move on. They do not in any way justify the price they put on those workstation cards.
These cards are not necessary, they are expensive but they are a bit more useful than gaming cards in a few rare cases:
The advantages to consider though:
- Guaranteed compatibility out of the Box
- A few cool features for other CAD software (ECC)
- A few less bugs and glitches with 3D Modeling software like Revit, AutoCad(you’ll still have them but much less frequently)
- Official support from AutoDesk if something goes wrong.
- Will let you run a few plug-ins that are dependent on their architecture
If you are Pro with huge and complex models, the advantages might be useful to you, the call is on you. We have certainly not seen the need of one yet.
Storage today isn’t just about capacity. Nearly all storage devices have sufficient storage for your software and all the files you’ll accumulate during a life time. It’s more about reading/writing speeds.
If you mostly user Revit, storage speed is probably just as important as CPU. Why? There’s a bucketload of libraries for diagrams, surfaces, textures, lightining which all need to load up when you launch your software.
On the other hand, for all the other software: 3DS Max, Rhino, AutoCAD, having a fast storage just becomes a bonus, a huge bonus I may add. You’ll have your heavy duty projects/models load up in a flash with the proper storage.
Solid State Drive
And SSD can read up to x17 faster than traditional HDDs. If there’s anything left in your wallet after investing on GPU and CPU, spend the rest trying to land one, even the slowest SSD is several times faster than an old fashioned Hard Disk Drive (HDD).
The problem is their size, they’re in the range of 256GB-512GB for laptops compared to the 1TB that the old HDD bricks give you.
Hard Disk Drive + Solid State Drive
With modern 15 and 17 laptops you can have both on the same machine, that is, you can install an SSD and an HDD on one.
If you are a student you probably don’t need to bother with this setup, the 256GB you’ll get from Solid State Drives will be plenty.
On the other hand if you are a pro you’ll be better off with the 256GB(or 512GB) +1TB HDD combo. You can use the HDD as a repository for finished projects or tons of media files that don’t need the speed from your Solid State Drive. You can also use it as a back up (the chances of both storage drives failing are pretty slim!).
If your laptop does not come with this set up, as long as it’s either 15 or 17, you can do the upgrade yourself as shown in this post.
Contrast ratios, brightness levels is pretty irrelevant to talk about. Not only will you not find this information frmo the manufacturer but laptops today rarely come with bad contrast ratios.
The only thing you should watch out for when looking at their display is resolution and size. You want at least a 15” display on a laptop unless you have a desktop rig back home to do most of the work.
Resolution is just as important. It’s just size that allows you to have more windows open next to each other and more interfaces/tools at your disposal without having to click menus, resolution plays a huge role in this.
768p or 900p: are undesirable. Autodesk layouts don’t work well with 768p. Even high resolution displays (4k) are to be avoided, most 3D modeling software aren’t optimized to work with these.
1080p or full HD: these are the perfect resolutions. Only settle for this and nothing less. 900p resolutions might be okay if portability is very important for you.
Matte vs Glossy
Glossy screens will give you more accurate colors. Unless you are an avid photo editor, the difference in color accuracy between glossy and matte displays will be barely noticeable.
Since we value our eyesight, we prefer Matte Displays, these deal better with glares.
IPS vs TN
IPS displays have much better color reproduction than TN displays plus they have better viewing angles. It’s a nice bonus to have but not exactly essential.