Best Laptop for Architecture
Every now and then we get the question about which laptop is suitable for architects and designers who have to do a lot of computer-supported drawing and image processing, yet also spend quite some time on the road for site meetings and inspections.
If you’re doing a lot of CAD operations and 3D modeling tasks, you may want to get a laptop with the necessary specifications and features needed to make those operations smooth and seamless.
Nothing more frustrating and time-consuming than slow and ill working software when you’re trying to do your job.
Given the cost of a quality laptop for architects, trial and error is not really a good approach, so here below are some important factors, along with the best laptops in the market today, to help you select the right computer.
Taking into account these tips you can make sure the software required to do your job as an architect will work well for you, so you can focus your energy on your job instead of yelling at your PC :)
Desktop or Laptop?
Architects need a powerful computer, with a quality graphics card, a powerful processor, high screen resolution, and sufficient RAM.
Architects – often on the road to client meetings or site inspections – also need a portable solution to get the most out of their time. A portable solution allows them to access their files and documents, and continue with their tasks on-the-go.
That’s why most architects still chose a powerful laptop that they can hook up to a monitor if they need a bigger screen.
Take in mind though, that laptops are still more expensive, more restricted, less expandable, and less ergonomic.
They’re often relatively heavy and large, and while they may be powerful, they’re not always as powerful as a desktop with the same specs. Read more over here on laptops vs desktops.
So don’t forget to look at the alternatives!
For example, a desktop that you use at the office, combined with a tablet with a portable keyboard is definitely a set up to take in mind. Looking for a tablet? Check out this guide.
This setup (desktop + tablet) would assume that your data and files are available via the could so you easily switch between desktop and tablet as you move between the office and the field. Here you can find some examples of cloud-based software for architects.
Let’s assume you’re going for a laptop. Let’s take a look at the criteria to take in mind (which are the same criteria for desktops for that matter) first, and then share the best laptops for architects today.
Criteria to take into account when buying a laptop
When considering and choosing the best option, your decision should obviously be based around the system requirements of the programs you will be using. For example here are the system requirements for AutoCAD, and here for Archicad.
Let’s take a look at the most important criteria to take into account.
1 – Graphics Card (GPU)
One of the most common mistakes architects make when shopping for laptops is buying the wrong graphics card.
Graphic software like Rhino, 3ds Max, ArchiCAD, Revit or Vectorworks, require a performant graphics card in order to run loaded 3D applications smoothly.
If you’re rendering and editing 3d models, we recommend getting at least 4 GB of dedicated GPU for smooth processing.
We recommend Nvidia Quadro and AMD Radeon Pro (formerly Fire Pro) because they are specifically designed for CAD, 3D modeling and rendering works.
2 – Screen size
A laptop with a screen size between 15 and 17 inches is required for architectural rendering.
Don’t worry too much about the screen size though, because a laptop can still connect to an external display and support any size of monitor, screen, or projector.
A monitor with a 23-inch display is much bigger than even the largest laptop screen, and you can buy a decent one for less than $150. This way you have the best of both worlds: a huge workspace for your work in the office and a small and handy portable computer when you’re on the road.
Moreover, small screens on average have longer battery life.
Conclusion: assuming you’re using an external monitor at the office, I wouldn’t buy a laptop that’s bigger than 15 inch, to keep the best balance between battery life, usability, and portability.
3 – Screen resolution
Make sure that the screen 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.
IPS display with full HD should do the job, but if you can, go try and go for UHD, 4K or 5K, which will help a lot if you need a huge panoramic view.
4 – Battery life
If you’re using your laptop for meetings and site visits, instead of a tablet with a keyboard, then sufficient battery life is crucial.
A laptop that will last through the day without a recharge is a must-have. So, look for a laptop with at least 6 hours or more of battery power on a single charge.
Nothing more frustrating than having to look for an outlet everywhere you go, or even having to switch back to pen and paper and no access to your files and plans, due to a dead battery.
Your time is valuable, so don’t be stingy on this. If you’re charging $70 per hour and investing in a laptop with more battery life costs you, say, $140 extra then your investment is already paid back after 2 hours of time savings.
5 – RAM
RAM (random access memory) is essentially the core of your computer. It can be considered just as important as your processor, or hard drive.
It’s your system’s short-term data storage; it stores the information your computer is actively using so that it can be accessed quickly. The overall performance of your computer is determined by how well your CPU and RAM work together. You should install the highest-speed RAM the processor can utilize. You can find this info on your processor vendors website.
The more RAM your CPU has access to, the easier its job becomes, which enables a faster computer. More RAM will allow you to work with more programs at once and open bigger datasets.
While architectural software will account for a big chunk of your RAM, particularly when multitasking, often you don’t need more than 16GB for CAD modeling, animation, and rendering. I would recommend 32GB, just in case you will deal with more advanced workloads with very large models or having a large number of files open at the same time.
Here again, RAM is cheap and your time is expensive, so the most economical thing to do is max out your RAM.
6 – Processor (CPU)
The processor is the heart of your machine which does all the computing work.
When it comes to CPUs there are 3 main specifications that define the capability of a CPU (Central Processing Unit):
The frequency directly affects how many operations a single CPU core can complete in a second (how fast it is). There’s the base frequency that pertains to all cores, and a maximum turbo boost frequency that can be achieved by a single core. The higher both frequencies are, the better.
The number of cores is how many physical cores there are within a CPU (how many operations it can run simultaneously).
Finally, there is the cache and hyperthreading of the processor. Only processors with high amounts of cache and hyperthreading should be considered. That rules out i5 processors, leaving the highest-frequency Intel i7 and Intel i9 processors, with the latter being preferred.
Whether a higher frequency or higher core count is faster depends on how well a program is designed to take advantage of multiple CPU cores. In the case of CAD software for example, the majority of the software is only single-threaded so it is only able to utilize a single core of the CPU.
Given this single-core affinity, it is better to have fewer, faster cores than more, slower cores.
Less cores and higher clock speeds win the race when choosing CPUs for CAD productivity today.
This means it doesn’t make sense to pay more for an Intel Xeon processor with up to 56 cores.
Here you can find a comparison of the relevant Intel and AMD processors:
Important! The processor is the one thing you can’t upgrade later, so don’t cut corners here, – get the higher-speed Intel i9 or AMD Ryzen 9.
7 – Storage
Architectural design files often require significant space, so the higher the storage, the better off you are.
With the falling costs associated with SSDs, we recommend using an SSD which is faster and more reliable.
The difference between a hard disk and a new-generation SSD is about a factor of 30X, for only a $200 to $300 upgrade.
Same story, SSD is cheap and your time is expensive …
Our recommendation: select a 1-TB NVMe-based SSD as the boot disk, so all operating systems, software, and current project files are loaded from a fast SSD.
8 – Weight
The most ideal weight for anyone on the move would be around 3lb. Unfortunately, laptops with dedicated graphics cards & fast CPUs start at 3lb. The lighter the more expensive.
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.
1 – MS Windows
In many cases, a laptop with Windows is a good choice.
If you have an older laptop, 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 the 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 one).
With a few exceptions, any software for architects is available on Windows, more than on any other operating system. Autodesk Revit for example, is available on Windows but not yet on Mac operating system.
Another advantage of Windows computers is that they are more reasonably priced, and there is a huge range to choose from.
2 – macOS
Apple is known for its top quality, great graphics, and beautiful design.
And if you can stick to software that is available for Mac OS, like AutoCAD, ArchiCad, Sketchup, Photoshop, V-Ray, and the like you can get through with a Mac just fine.
Revit for example is not available on Mac OS.
You can use parallels programs (like Parallels) to run Windows alongside OS X, and install the software on Windows. But it’s important to make sure you know your options.
If you’re going for App, the Macbook Pro is a great option. The workstation version is the Mac Pro.
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 either.
3 – 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).
Best laptop selection for architects
We hope that the consideration above helps you select the best laptop for your budget. Now, let’s take a look at some laptops that should do the trick for architects and designers. These laptops are tested and selected by a team of laptop experts in the architecture field. We’ve done the heavy lifting for you, you can just sit back, read this article and make a pick.
Budget Option: DELL XPS 15 – Above average performance at an affordable price – $1949
Specifications (read more here):
- RAM: 32 GB
- Storage options: 1TB
- Processor: 9th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor, with 6 cores, clock speed of 2.6GHz, and turbo boost up to 4.5GHz
- Screen size: 15.6 inch
- Screen resolution: 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) OLED
- Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 4GB GDDR5
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home, 64-bit
- Battery Life: 10 hours, depending on your tasks
- Weight: 4.5lbs (2kg)
This laptop is very portable for the power it has, and it has decent battery life.
However, it’s not a workstation. The most important spec that separates the Dell XPS 15 model from a full-blown workstation laptop is the graphics cards. It doesn’t have a Quadro or Radeon graphics card, so don’t expect it to handle rendering tasks for very complex projects.
If you’re not an architecture student and you can afford a higher price then I definitely recommend going for one of the laptops below.
Best overall choice for architecture – MSI WS65 Mobile Workstation – starting at $3000 ($3899 for fully configured version)
Specifications (read more here):
- RAM: max 64 GB
- Storage options: up to 2TB SSD storage
- Processor: up to Intel Core i9 processor, with 8 cores, 2.3GHz clock speed and turbo boost up to 4.8GHz
- Screen size: 15.6 inch
- Screen resolution: FHD (1920×1080) or 4K (3840 x 2160), IPS level display
- Graphics card: up to Nvidia Quadro RT 5000 16GB/GDDR6
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home or Pro
- Battery Life: 6 to 8 hours, depending on your tasks
- Weight: 4.3 pounds (2.0 kg)
MSI is a brand that you can trust for top quality and great value for money.
The MSI WS65 is a great workstation laptop for CAD work with an impressive list of high-end specs and state-of-the-art hardware components, in a light and compact military-durable chassis.
A 9th Gen Intel Core i9 processor and ultra-fast SSD offer a smooth stress-free work station, which provides excellent computer capability. You can rest assured you will be able to work seamlessly on large-scale computations and graphically intensive applications with ease.
Together with its gorgeous 4K display and solid battery life, this is one one of the most impressive workstations around for professional architects.
MSI Mobile Workstations are ISV certified systems, which ensures that both hardware and software are fully stable and compatible for a professional experience.
For the 32 GB RAM version, the Intel Core i9 processor, an RTX 5000 graphics card, and 1 TB storage you’ll pay around $3899.
Best Mac Laptop for architects: Macbook Pro 16 – starting at $2900 (~$4500 for fully configured version)
The Macbook Pro, just like all Apple products, is well known for its beautiful design and excellent quality and durability. The latest MacBook Pro 16 bundles all the right essentials one would expect in terms of graphics, productivity, storage, and portability.
Specifications (read more here):
- RAM: 16GB, which can be upgraded to 32 GB or to 64GB
- Storage options: up to 8TB SSD storage
- Processor: 9th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor, with 6 cores, clock speed of 2.6GHz, and turbo boost up to 4.5GHz, up to Intel Core i9 processor, with 8 cores, 2.3GHz clock speed and turbo boost up to 4.8GHz
- Screen size: 16 inch
- Screen resolution: Retina display with 3072 x 1920 Resolution
- Graphics card: Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB DDR6 Graphics
- Operating system: macOS
- Battery Life: 8 to 10 hours, depending on your tasks
- Weight: 4.3 pounds (2.0 kg)
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. So the MacBook Pro should work decently well with AutoCAD products.
It is powered by a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor (up to Intel Core i9 processor) that you can pair with 16GB, 32GB or even 64GB of RAM. As far as the graphics on this work machine is concerned, it comes with a 4GB of dedicated AMD Radeon Pro 5300M. All these powerful specs should help handle demanding its requirements easily, and come in a chassis that weighs just 4.3 pounds which gains it an upper hand when compared with other laptops in its segment.
The retina display (with resolution 2x the resolution of full HD displays) along with the IPS technology will give you a high-quality color reproduction.
We all know Apple products are rather expensive. For the 32 GB RAM version, the Intel Core i9 processor (8 cores), and 1 TB storage you’ll pay around $4500.
To utilize the battery to the largest extent, remember to keep Automatic Graphics Switching enabled as otherwise, battery life tends to get depleted much faster.
Also, storage, battery life, keyboard, and touchpad are very decent.
Powerful lightweight laptop for architects: Dell precision 5540 – starting at $1299 (~$3000 for fully configured version)
If you’re looking for a performant laptop designed for the most demanding workloads, that is still lightweight for comfortable traveling, then Dell Precision 5540 will be your best bet.
- RAM: 8GB to 64GB
- Storage options: 256GB to 1TB
- Processor: Intel Core i9-9880H, with 8 cores, clock speed of 2.40 GHz, and a max turbo frequency of 5.0 GHz.
- Screen size: 15 inch
- Screen resolution: 4K OLED display
- Graphics card: Nvidia Quadro T1000 or T2000, with 4GB of dedicated VRAM.
- Operating system: Windows 10 Pro (64-Bit)
- Battery Life: 6 to 8 hours, depending on your tasks
- Weight: 3.93 lb (1.78kg)
The Precision 5540 is very similar to an XPS model, with a few workstation twists, like the option for a Quadro GPU, along with being certified for a lot of creative and engineering software.
The Dell Precision 5540 is a great laptop for CAD because of its ultra-high-end hardware and portability features (it weighs just 3.9 pounds). It is a fast machine, with a stunning 4K OLED display.
64 GB RAM for a thin and light mobile workstation like this will benefit many users.
While the 5540 pricing starts at $1,240, a fully-configured unit prices out at just over $3,000. If budget is not a problem, then the Dell Precision 5540 is one of the best workstation ultrabooks money can buy right now.
For architects on a tighter budget, it may be worth investigating the DELL XPS or DELL Inspiron series.
Best mobile workstation laptop for architects: Lenovo ThinkPad P73 – starting at $1800 (~$5000 for fully configured version)
- RAM: up to 128 GB (4 memory slots)
- Storage options: max of 6TB of SSD storage
- Up to 9th Generation Intel Core i9-9880H with vPro: clock speed of 2.30GHz, with 8 cores and turbo boost up to 4.80GHz.
- Intel Xeon E-2276M with vPro: clock speed of 2.80GHz, with 6 cores, and up to 4.70GHz turbo boost.
- Screen size: 17.3-inch
- Screen resolution: 4K UHD IPS Display
- Graphics card: Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 16 GB VRAM. Other options are P620 4 GB VRAM, T2000 4 GB VRAM, RTX 3000 6 GB VRAM, RTX 4000 8 GB VRAM,
- Operating system: Windows 10 Home, Pro or Pro for Workstations (when using Xeon processor)
- Battery Life: 9 to 11 hours, depending on your tasks
- Weight: starting at 7.5 lbs (3.4 kg)
The Lenovo ThinkPad P73 is a customizable, power-driven mobile workstation that can be outfitted with an impressive set of components. It will excel in any resource-intensive professional application thrown at it.
Weighing in at over 7 pounds with a 17-inch screen means that this isn’t the most portable device, so you’ll need a hefty laptop bag to lug this thing around. All of this is certainly understandable, as Lenovo certainly is focused on power over mobility with its new workstation.
The laptop comes with a 17.3-inch UHD 4K display to provide an excellent viewing experience.
The powerful NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 graphics card will make it better for 3D modeling and sketching than any consumer graphics card.
Combined with 128 GB RAM, and an Intel Core i9-9880H or Intel Xeon E-2276M vPro processor you’ll have a beast of a machine. Don’t be surprised by a price tag of around $5000 though, for the top version.
Outfitted with 32 GB RAM, Intel Xeon processor, the NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 graphics card, and 1 TB storage it will cost you around $3300. You can customize it according to your own requirements from here.
Overall, the Lenovo ThinkPad P73 Mobile Workstation is an impressive top-class solution for those with high-end graphics needs.
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!