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Best Laptop for Architecture

Every now and then we get the question which type of computer is suitable for architects and designers, who have to do a lot of computer supported drawing and image processing. Nothing more frustrating and time consuming than slow and ill working software when you’re trying to do your job. 

Given the cost of such a device trial and error is not really a good approach, so here is some useful information to help you select the right computer. Taking into account these tips you can make sure the softwares required to do your job as an architect will work well for you so you can focus your energy on your job instead of fighting and yelling at your PC :)

Desktop or Laptop?

The difference between a Desktop and a Laptop is not that big anymore. Most architects chose for a laptop because of flexibility. Note that laptops are still more expensive, more restricted, less (or even not) expandable and less ergonomic. As far as the performance is concerned, the more expensive laptops (with a good graphics card and a relatively large screen) are necessary for CAD usage, while in desktops you are well provided for less money.

Netbooks, Sub-notebooks and Tablet computers (iPad, Android) are not suitable for CAD/BIM-software (but can be handy for staying mobile).

PC with MS Windows

In many cases a PC with Windows is a good choice. If you have an older PC, this does not necessarily mean that you cannot use it. The system demands for CAD software are pretty high, but it can work on lesser configurations e.g. in case when you only need 2D drawings. It can be useful to install extra work memory and possibly to look at a better graphics card (for $100 you can already buy a decent desktop card).

Apple Mac with OS X (Macbook Pro, iMac…)

If you elect to have an Apple Mac, an analog configuration can be chosen as the PC. Many CAD software packages are also available on Mac, but in spite thereof, you still have to use a version of Windows for some applications (see below). In any case provide sufficient RAM memory, especially if you want to work via emulation.

The affordable iMac is a good option. If you have stretch in your budget we recommend, other than the iMac, especially the Macbook Pro. The workstation version (Mac Pro) is intended for professional business use.

Mac Mini and Macbook Air are not suitable for CAD, because of the weaker graphics card and the very restricted expand possibility. An iPad or iPhone is not suitable for CAD.

Graphics Card (GPU)

In order to run loaded 3D applications smoothly, a good 3D graphic accelerator is actually necessary. This is not (necessarily) the same as a fast gaming card. The card has to offer good support for OpenGL and more and more also for Direct3D. These are both standards that are being used by many 3D applications to also show scenes in 3D (e.g. AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, 3ds Max, Maya). Avoid a card that is being integrated into the motherboard (Intel HD Graphics and such).

Especially the cards containing the GeForce chipset of Nvidia or the Radeon chipset of ATI are suitable and are also offered in affordable versions. In professional work stations, usually the Quadro and the FireGL of these manufacturers are being used.

Screen

Make sure that the screen (and the graphics card) support working in high resolution. Higher resolutions leave more space for the work part. Typically for the CAD and 3D applications is the large number of toolbars that may take up a large part of the screen. Laptops and flat screens operate best in their ‘native’ highest resolution and therefore care should be taken when choosing at purchase. Make sure you have at least 1280×1024 pixels available. Larger screens often offer Full HD (1920×1200) resolution or higher.

The Retina screen of the latest Macbook Pro is an awesome screen but hardly any software uses that optimally. ArchiCAD and Office work pretty good on that. Photoshop has some problems if you do not use the latest version. Websites and non-adapted applications look rather bad.

Software

Lots of programs such as Autodesk AutoCAD, VectorWorks, ArchiCAD, Cinema4D, Artlantis, SketchUp and Unity are available both on Windows and on OS X and operate fairly identical. Others are only available on Windows and will require Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion.

MS Windows

With a few exceptions, any software for architects is available on Windows. The most CAD applications on the PC operate with Windows 7 or 8. Support for XP and even for Vista is slowly disappearing, just like support for 32-bit applications. You certainly have to bring the drivers for your graphics card up to date and supply a lot of RAM memory. Make sure that you use the 64-bit versions of drivers and programs with a 64-bit system, when available.

On OS X the choice in CAD software is much more limited.

Revit and MicroStation do not work with OS X. Rhinoceros3D and BricsCAD are ‘under preparation’ for OS X. The typical engineer software for, as an example, structural calculations, is almost exclusively available for Windows. The MS Office version for Mac is reasonably compatible with the Windows version (certain document parts and fonts are not available on the Mac version). This could be the cause that there are certain documents that you cannot use. The architect offices that work with Macs, mostly make use of SketchUp, ArchiCAD and Adobe Software (which, by the way, also exists in a Windows version).

Windows on your Mac?

In order to run certain software such as Revit or Rhino + Grasshopper or calculation software, you still need MS Windows on your Mac.

Every reasonably recent Mac can run Windows. The most integrated is working via an installation of the operator system as a separate application in OS X (via Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion or Oracle VirtualBox). This way you can also use your Mac applications. The speed will be a little slower, but in general it is workable very well.

You can also choose for Apple Boot Camp, which makes a separate partition on your hard disc. Reserve at least 40 Gb of space for the installation. The Mac installation supplies also all the necessary drivers so that your hardware will be recognized in Windows. Use this if you want to utilize bulky CAD or 3D applications with the complete hardware. Notice: the exact version of Windows that is supported depends on your Mac and your OS. Recent Macs for instance, only support Windows 7 and 8 in 64-bit.

In both cases you need a separate installation of Windows (and the associated licenses).

Linux?

For Linux, far fewer CAD applications are available. Of the commercial packages, BricsCAD, Draftsight and ARES are available for Linux. Other solutions are QCad and FreeCAD. There are no full BIM packages for Linux. The OpenOffice suite also has compatibility problems with MS Office documents, especially when using advanced options such as VBA and linked objects.

Many graphic Open Source applications, such as Processing, Inkscape, GIMP, Scribus and Blender work well on all platforms (Windows, OS X, Linux).

We hope that the consideration above help you select the best PC for your budget. To conclude, here we recommend 4 laptops that should do the trick for architects and designers:

Low Budget Option: ASUS K501UW – Good Performance at Reasonable Price

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This laptop is equipped with graphic card for 3D modelling. It has only 8 GB RAM but you can upgrade it to 12 GB. For storage, it has a 256 GB SSD drive. The matte display support full HD. The light weight is another advantage for construction professionals who are often on the move. This is a very affordable option promising you stable performance. Check out this review for more information.

Normal Budget Option: DELL XPS 15 – Above average performance at affordable price

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This laptop does the job for 3D modelling and drawing, but just like the ASUS here above it’s not a workstation (unlike the MSI here below) so don’t expect it to handle rendering tasks for complex projects. It has a good graphic card and supports 4K Resolution, has 500 GB SSD storage and a good battery life while staying rather light. It’s a windows machine so it’s compatible with all software programs you’ll need.

High Budget Option: MSI WT72 6QL – The Best Laptop for CAD and 3D Modelling

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This laptop offers the best CAD-certified laptop graphics card on the market and a very good overall performance which makes it probably the best laptop for Autocad, Revit, and other modelling software. Output your work to a 4K display for the best viewing experience and stunning details. The below average battery life is the most important disadvantage. See here for more info.

Best Option for Apple Addicts: Macbook Pro

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The Macbook Pro, just like all Apple products, is well known for its beautiful design and excellent quality and durability.

We didn’t recommend Macbooks as the top choice for architecture, as there is not a Mac version of most Autocad products (for example Revit). But even then, as explained here above, it’s possible to run most Autocad products, be it native Mac or via Parallels or VMWare Fusion. So the MacBook Pro should work decently well with AutoCAD products. One thing to take in mind at purchase is that not all Macbook models have a dedicated graphics card. The retina display along with the IPS technology will give you a high quality color reproduction which is useful for those using PhotoShop and any other image editing software. Also storage, battery life, keyboard and touchpad are very decent.

We hope this information is useful to you for selecting the right laptop. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at support @ archisnapper . com should you have any further questions about this!