Architecture Laptop Buying Guide
[Post updated August 2022]
Buying a laptop for your studies and future career can be a bit of a minefield. The main thing to consider is the system requirements of the software that you will be using. The software can range from cad packages, photoshop and image editing, rendering tools – you will become a master of many! I have put together a table of system requirements for the most commonly used software for architects and architecture students. There are many more applications that you may use, but generally they have similar requirements. If you are going to be using something specific not listed below, be sure to check out the system requirements for that software before making a purchase.
You need to be aware that a lot of the software required for your architectural studies and professional work is very resource intensive, and as such you will most certainly need a laptop that goes above and beyond performing mundane tasks in Microsoft office.
I would also like to mention that I have had situations where I have gone to a shop for advice, as to which laptop to buy, and the sales assistant didn’t fully understand the requirements of some of the architectural software that we use. As a result I was advised to purchase a sub standard specification computer. This meant I needed to upgrade pretty quickly as the machine just wasn’t up to the job. So, lesson learnt. It is really important to do your research if you want to make a one off investment that will last – and give you as little headaches as possible!
Hopefully this architecture laptop buying guide will provide you all the right information you need when buying a laptop for architectural use!
What will you use the laptop for?
If you know what software you will be using you can check out all the system requirements of that software to make sure you buy a laptop that is up to the challenge. If not sure, go with a higher specification, that way you cover all bases, rather than realising later that you wish you had invested in a slightly better laptop. Alternatively, get a laptop that you can upgrade later.
You can see all the system requirements further along in this article.
Is the size and weight of a laptop important?
Are you mainly working on your laptop in one place, or will you be carrying it around with you wherever you go? Consider this when choosing your laptop, if you want a large screen, remember that usually comes with extra weight. If you will be only working on the laptop in your office, then a larger heavier laptop may not be a problem.
Laptop screen sizes can range from about 11 to 17 inches. A larger screen is ideal for drafting work, image editing, 3D modeling but just remember to consider the balance between screen size, weight and power consumption.
Working on many of the drafting applications like CAD, ArchiCAD etc, they tend to have numerous toolbars and palettes, which take up a large amount of screen space.
An option is to get a small light laptop, and have an additional monitor that you can plug in to. This works really well for me, when I am in the office I can work on my 27 inch monitor, but if I need to head out I can throw my laptop in a bag and take it with me easily.
What form factor?
The form factor of a laptop describes its physical design, like size, shape etc. Nowadays, laptops come in a variety of form factors different from traditional ones. The most common ones being detachable and 2 in 1 laptops. These offer more flexibility for working. Your personal workflow will determine what laptop form factor will best benefit you.
Which operating system?
The operating system manages all the software and hardware of the computer, including files, memory and any connected devices.
If you are a student, you could consider asking students in the years above for advice. In the case of professionals, the operating system your firm uses may be the way to go to allow for a seamless, hassle free workflow. Often the choice of operating system is quite divisive, and people have their favourites. I know I certainly do. So, let’s have a look at the options.
Windows is most definitely the historical favourite of most architectural offices, certainly in the UK. Although many companies are shifting over to the more design driven OS X, Windows operating systems are still very widely in use. One major advantage Windows has is that more software has been designed for Windows than any other system. This includes Revit. Autodesk Revit is yet to be released on the Mac operating system (at time of writing). Another advantage of Windows computers is that they tend to be much more reasonably priced, and there is a huge range to choose from.
Most universities and colleges have some form of IT department, sometimes a dedicated architectural one. These are often more focused around the windows based system. This means that if you have a windows laptop and need a bit of help, I’m sure they will be happy to do so.
Apple are well known for their beautiful designs and excellent quality. Their operating system OS X boasts the same. It is easy to use, and comes with a great array of apps straight out of the box making it a real pleasure to use.
One issue I mentioned previously is that Revit is not currently available on OS X. What does this actually mean? Well, for now, you can run a parallels program to run Windows alongside OS X, and install Revit on Windows.
Check out these options if you are considering doing this:
Parallels: this software has come on leaps and bounds since I first started using it and it makes working on Windows and the Mac super simple and a real joy to switch between the different programs: http://www.parallels.com/uk/
Another option is VMWare Fusion 8 which does a similar job to Parallels:
If you don’t want to buy a parallels software, you can actually run Windows directly off the Mac using Bootcamp. This is really useful, however, it is more difficult to switch between the two, and you essentially have to shut down the machine as you go from OS X to Windows.
You can read more about BootCamp here:
MacBooks come with the latest technology, and have powerful processors, great graphics, and they look good – however, all of this can come at a hefty price!
Many universities and colleges actually suggest their students do not purchase a Macbook for their studies – it is worth checking with your institution to see if they have any specific recommendations.
Personally I used a Mac throughout my studies, but I didn’t use Revit, or any programs that required Windows. If you can stick to AutoCAD, ArchiCad, Sketchup, Photoshop, V-Ray, and the like – you can get through with a Mac just fine – but just make sure you know your options.
Technical support – some universities have some form of IT support, which often doesn’t stretch to anything Apple. This can be frustrating, so if you are thinking of getting a Mac and aren’t an Apple nerd, and you think you may require assistance at times, make sure your university offers Mac support.
In case you thought I had missed it, there is also the Chrome operating system developed of course by Google for their very own Chromebooks. The Chromebook doesn’t support Adobe, so no photoshop. Sadly, they are in no way powerful enough for serious architectural work!
Architecture Software – Recommended System Requirements Table
We have put together a full table of software recommended system requirements so that you can easily compare the different applications that you might be using.
You can download the spreadsheet as a PDF or Google Sheet document so that you can edit as you need.
Architecture Software – Full System Requirements
Click on the icons for the full system requirements:
This is a quick overview of the recommended specification, as set out by the system requirements listed below.
Windows 10 or later
MacOS 10.15 or later (12.3 if you plan to use ArchiCAD 26)
Intel Core i7 or i9 processor
3.0 GHz or higher
16GB minimum, with the option to upgrade or 32GB if you can afford it
Storage (Hard Drive):
500 GB + with a speed of at least 7,200rpm
Look at SSD if you can afford it or a hybrid HDD SSD.
Please Note – Requirements vary according to software. Make sure you check the software requirements you plan on using.
Graphics Card (GPU):
At least 4GB of discrete/dedicated memory
NVIDIA and Radeon are good options
Please Note – Some heavy graphics based softwares will require more powerful graphics cards. Refer to the software requirements.
The more pixels you have, the sharper your screen will look. Try and go for a higher pixel count of 1680×1050 or 1920×1080 – given the amount of graphic work you will be doing, it’s worth splashing out on a laptop with a good display.
If weight isn’t an issue go for a larger screen size if possible, 15 to 17 inches will be better for rendering and drafting. If you can, try and go for UHD, 4K or 5K if you want to future proof your machine.
Please note: All based on recommended requirements not minimum.
Be sure to double check the full system requirements for the software you plan to use.
What does this all mean?
We have already discussed Operating systems, now let’s look at a breakdown of the components of the laptop – Hopefully this will help you understand exactly what you are looking for, and what you are buying.
The process of buying a new laptop, and parting with a good amount of cash can be a stressful one, and you want to make the most informed decision you can. Read on, and I’ll explain the components as best I can.
The processor is the brain of the computer. A powerful processor will make your laptop run faster, and will save you a lot of headaches when you wait for apps to load, or struggle to orbit a 3d model with shadows turned on!
Intel and AMD are the main manufacturers of processors. Let’s look at Intel first:
Intel is at the heart of every modern MacBook and many Windows laptops. The most prevalent is the Core series.
Core i9: The top of the range processor from Intel, for more specialist computers that work on extremely challenging tasks like editing large videos.
Core i7: This is the processor of choice really for high-demand software like 3D modeling, rendering and similar tasks carried out by architecture students.
Core i5: The middle grade processor, and more commonly seen in most general laptops. It is pretty powerful, but could struggle if you have multiple programs open, that are all in high demand.
Core i3: Entry level, and probably not powerful enough to consider for an architecture student.
Core M: Ok for internet browsing and email checking, but not powerful enough for what we are looking for!
In short – we are really aiming for the Core i7 if your budget permits.
AMD offers a number of laptop processors such as:
AMD Ryzen™ PRO – Multi-core performance and battery life + manageability and additional security features.
AMD Athlon™ – Real performance and modern features for mainstream laptops.
AMD Ryzen™- Responsive, multi-core performance with superb efficiency and battery life.
AMD Ryzen™ Processors with Radeon™ Graphics – AMD processors with Radeon™ Graphics deliver fast web browsing performance and smooth video streaming to support online learning environments.
Graphics Card (GPU)
The graphics card is basically a processor that is designed to handle graphics rendering tasks. It digitally synthesizes and manipulates visual content. It is used for machine learning, architectural rendering, gaming and video editing.
GPUs come as integrated or discrete/dedicated. While integrated graphics cards are cheaper, dedicated graphics cards are more powerful. Ideally opt for the dedicated cards as they deliver better graphics performance.
Typically you will see NVIDIA or AMD graphics cards for laptops.
RAM is the computer’s memory. The more it has, the more programs your laptop can deal with at any one time without slowing it down.
On average, most programs in the architecture field look for a recommended requirement of 8GB. Where possible aim for this, or even more if you can.
Storage (Hard Drive)
The hard drive stores all of your digital content. Having adequate disk space is necessary to allow for smooth installation processes of the software you plan to use.
There are two types of hard drive. HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) are the most common and can store large amounts of data. These are the standard types of hard drive you will generally find on most laptops. They come in two different speeds, 5400rpm or 7200rpm. I would go for the 7200rpm for your needs.
The other type, the Solid State Drive (SSD), is super fast and consumes less power meaning your battery will last longer. They are also smaller in size and weight, and have negligible heat production and noiseless operation.
The drawback is that they have a smaller capacity, so they aren’t always able to store the mountains of work that you will be doing at college or uni and beyond!!
You will find some laptops offer a multi hard drive, featuring a SSD for housing the operating system and applications meaning faster start up, and an HDD for general data storage.
Screen resolution is all about picture quality, it is measured in pixels (horizontal x vertical).
HD:1366 x 768 resolution is standard on general laptops. Good for browsing the internet, e-mail and basic computing tasks.
HD+:1600 x 900 resolution is great for casual gaming and watching DVD movies.
Full HD:1920 x 1080 resolution allows you to watch Blu-ray movies and play video games without losing any level of detail.
Retina display:2304 x 1440, 2560 x 1600 and 2880 x 1800 resolutions are found in Apple’s 12″, 13.3″ and 15.6″ laptop displays, respectively.
QHD (Quad HD) and QHD+:With 2560 x 1440 and 3200 x 1800 resolutions, respectively, the extremely high pixel density creates crisp detail and sharp text, ideal for professional photo and graphics work as well as high-def movies and games.
4K Ultra HD:3840 x 2160 resolution boasts four times the pixels of Full HD, creating rich colors and images for viewing and editing incredibly lifelike images and graphics.
Type of display:
LED backlighting can display bright colours well without draining battery life. If you choose a laptop with a glossy screen you will find it generally will present richer colours and darker blacks, while a matte screen will reduce the glare, particularly if you like to work outdoors, or your workstation is near a window.
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Something to consider:
Now that you know some of the components of a laptop and are aware of the requirements needed to run the software of your choice, you could even consider building your own laptop. Whether or not you would benefit from this, will be entirely dependent on your individual use case and needs. Therefore, carefully consider the pros and cons of configuring your own laptop.
Here are some links that may be helpful:
We hope this post helped equip you with all the key information you need to buy an architecture laptop.
Thank you for reading!
Which laptop do you use for architecture? Let us know in the comments below.
Also, feel free to share some tips of your own.