What is the best laptop for architecture students? 2019/2020

[Updated August 2019]

What is the best laptop for architecture students?

Every year I take a look at the requirements of popular software that we use in architecture (AutoCAD, Revit, Rhino, 3DS Max etc) and check out all the latest in computing and laptops in order to recommend some of the best laptop for architecture students.

Buying a laptop that is capable of fulfilling the needs of an architecture student can be difficult. We are not normal! We need laptops that can do a lot more than your average. Architectural design now uses many different softwares in order to fulfil different needs. Much of the software we use is very resource intensive and as a result we need a powerful laptop to carry out our architectural designs. Although many laptops are able to run the likes of Revit or 3DS Max, its important to note that they may not run it well. In a moment we will break down all the elements you need to look for when buying a laptop for architecture studies. 

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 need 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!

Make sure you scroll all the way through as there is some really useful information right the way through this blog post.

 

Which operating system?

The operating system manages all the software and hardware of the computer, including files, memory and any connected devices. Often the choice of operating system is quite divisive, and people have their favourites. I know I certainly do. Lets have a look at the options.

Windows

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 is 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. 

OS X

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 really 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. http://www.vmware.com/uk/products/fusion.html

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: https://www.apple.com/uk/support/bootcamp/

MacBooks come with the latest technology, and have powerful processors, great graphics, and they look good – all 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 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.

Chrome OS

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!

Our list of the best laptop for architecture students

 

First In Architecture provides free content and advice. If you purchase using the links below I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. This commission goes a long way to help keep the content on FIA free. If you are considering purchasing a laptop, please use the links below – it means a lot to me 🙂

I sometimes find that the software requirements are the bare minimum, and wherever possible I would go higher spec than recommended. I have made mistakes with past purchases where the laptop just isn’t powerful enough and it constantly crashing/freezing. So with that in mind – here are our recommendations in no particular order:

ASUS ROG Strix ZX553VD 17 inch – GC266T

Great laptop under £1,000 for architecture students

Key Features:
 
Processor (CPU) –  Intel Core i7
Processor speed– 2.8 GHz
Graphics Card – 4GB NVIDIA GRX1050 GDDR5
Screen resolution – 1920 x 1080
Memory (Ram) – 16GB
Storage – Hybrid 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD

 

ASUS ROG Strix ZX553VD – click here to buy

Dell G3 15 3000 15inch laptop

Best all round laptop for architecture students

Key Features:
 
Processor (CPU) –  Intel Core i7 -8750H
Processor speed– 4.1 GHz
Graphics Card – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB GDDR5
Memory (Ram) – 16GB
Storage – Hybrid 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD
 
 

Dell G3 15 3000 15 inch laptop – click here to buy

 

Key Features:
 
Processor (CPU) –  Intel Core i7
Processor speed– 2.3 GHz
Graphics Card – GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Graphics
Memory (Ram) – 16GB
Storage – 256GB SSD 
 
 

Acer Predator Helios – Click here to buy 

 

 Acer Nitro 15inch Gaming Laptop

Best budget laptop under £1,000 for architecture students

Key Features:
 
Processor (CPU) –  Intel Core i5-8300H
Processor speed– 2.3 GHz
Screen resolution – 1920 x 1080
Graphics Card – GeForce GTX 1050 4GB Graphics
Memory (Ram) – 8GB
Storage – 256GB SSD 
 

Acer Nitro  – click to here to buy

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13.5inch 

Best ultrabook for architecture students – two in one
Key Features:
 
Processor (CPU) –  Intel Core i7-8650U
Processor speed– 2.3 GHz
Screen resolution – 3000 x 2000
Graphics Card – GeForce GTX 1050 GDDR5 2GB
Memory (Ram) – 8GB
Storage – 256GB SSD 
(other higher spec models available)
 
 

Microsoft Surface Book 2 – click here to buy 

 

Apple MacBook Pro 15inch

For all you Apple lovers out there…
Key Features:
 
Processor (CPU) –  Intel Core i9
Processor speed– 2.3 GHz
Screen resolution – 2880 x 1800
Graphics Card – Radeon Pro 555X GDDR5 4GB
Memory (Ram) –Up to 32GB
Storage – 256GB SSD 
 

Apple MacBook Pro 15inch – click here to buy 

 

 

The bottom line is get the best you can afford. If you are considering going for a mac – just be aware that Revit and 3DS Max are not available on the mac (at time of writing). You can use parallels or boot camp which is fine but just makes things a bit more tricky. I guess it just depends how much of a mac geek you are – in my case having a mac is worth it!

For your info I have included all the system requirements at the end of this post – a good reference all in one place. If you think there is a great laptop out there that we have missed then let us know. We would like to hear your comments on what laptop you use, which laptop works for you or which one hasn’t worked – please feel free to comment below.

Recommended Specification

This is a quick overview of the minimum specification recommended, as set out by the system requirements below.

Operating System:

Windows 8 or higher (Windows 10 ideally)

Mac – OS X 10.12 or later (10.14 ideally)

Processor: 

Intel Core i5 – preferably i7 processor

AMD equivalent

2.6 GHz or higher

RAM/Memory:

8Gb minimum, with the option to upgrade, or 16Gb if you can afford it

Hard Drive (free disk space): 

500 Gb + with a speed of at least 7,200rpm

Look at SSD if you can afford it or a hybrid HDD SDD.

Graphics Card:

At least 2GB of discrete/dedicated memory – NVIDIA and Radeon are good options – many softwares are looking for 4GB – get the best you can.

Display:

The more pixels you have, the sharper your screen will look. Try and go for a higher pixel count of 1600×900 or 1920×1080 – given the amount of graphic work you will be doing, its 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. 

 

What does this all mean?

Components of the laptop – understand exactly what you are looking for, and what you are buying.

Here I wanted to break down each aspect of the laptop so you know what you are looking for and why. 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.

Screens

 

Resolution

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.

Processor

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 which 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 Processors:

The Intel is at the heart of every modern MacBook and many Windows laptops. The most prevalent is the Core series.
Core i7: The top of the range processor from Intel, and the processor of choice really for high-demand software like 3D modelling, 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 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 Processors:

AMD have a FX and A-Series.

FX: This is the top of the range from AMD and sits around the Core i7 Core i5 area. Totally up to the requirements of an architecture student, great for heavy multitasking.

A10: Good graphics performance, still up to the challenge.

A8: Still holding in there with some good graphics performance but really I would aim for the FX or A10 if you are going for the AMD processor.

A6 & A4: Although still great processors they would not be suitable for managing the types of programs an architect would be using.

RAM

RAM is the computers 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 – The Hard Drive

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 a 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.

 

Is size and weight of 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, it 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 modelling 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 27inch monitor, but if I need to head out I can throw my laptop in a bag and take it with me easily. 

Architecture software system requirements

 

Autodesk Autocad 

  • 3GHz or better processor
  • 16GB RAM
  • 4GB GPU Graphics card
  • 6GB hard disk space for installation
 
 

Revit 

  • Core i5 or better
  • 16GB RAM
  • Graphics DirectX 11 capable
  • 5GB hard disk space for installation
 
 
 

Archicad 23

  • 64-vit processor with four or more cores
  • 16GB RAM or more (detailed models could require 32GB
  • 4GB Graphics card recommended with 4K display
  • 5GB hard disk space for installation
 
 
 

Vectorworks 2019

For high end installation:
  • Core i7 at 3GHz or better
  • 16GB-32GB RAM
  • 4GB VRAM graphics card
  • up to 30GB hard disk space for installation
 
 

3DS Max

 
 
 
 

Rhino

  • Processor not specified
  • 8GB RAM or more
  • 4GB VRAM graphics card
  • 2GB hard disk space for installation 
 
 
 

SketchUp

  • 2GHz processor or better
  • 8GB RAM
  • 1GB Video card – OpenGL 3.0 or higher
  • 700MB disk space for installation
 
 
 

Photoshop CC

  • Intel or AMD processor 2GHz or faster
  • 8GB RAM
  • Open GL 2.0 capable 
  • 3.1GB hard disk space for installation
 
 
 
 
I hope you have found this post useful and that it helps you to make a decision on your laptop for architectural design.
As I mentioned before, First In Architecture provides free content and advice. If you purchase using the links above I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. This commission goes a long way to help keep the content on FIA free. If you are considering purchasing a laptop, please use the links above – it means a lot to me. Thank you 🙂 

Hopefully this post has helped you figure out what the best laptop for architecture students is. If you are considering which software to use, check out the post below.

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