What is the best laptop for architecture students? 2018/2019

Post Updated August 2018

If you would like to download our mini guide to purchasing a laptop for your architecture studies, click on the link below.

I need a laptop for my architecture studies!

Every year I take a look at the most commonly used software programs in the field of architecture and look at the system requirements in order to recommend some of the most suitable laptops for an architecture student.

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 list of system requirements for the most commonly used software for 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 architecture studies and beyond is very resource intensive, and as such you will most certainly need a laptop above and beyond the kind of laptop most other students would require.

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!

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.

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. 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.

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!

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 room/study, 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.

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 if you plan to use ArchiCAD 22)
Mac – OS X 10.11 or later (10.13 if you plan to use ArchiCAD 22)

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

Graphics Card:

At least 1GB of discrete/dedicated memory

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.

Recommendations:

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


Key Features: [tie_list type=”star list”]

  • 17.3 inch
  • Core i7
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 128GB SSD
  • 1TB HDD
  • NVIDIA GTX1050 4GB GDDR5 Graphics
  • Windows 10

[/tie_list]

ASUS ROG Strix ZX553VD – click here to buy

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Dell Inspiron 15.6 Gaming Notebook


Key Features: [tie_list type=”star list”]

  • Intel core i5 7th Gen
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD
  • 4GB Graphics card
  • Windows 10

[/tie_list]

Dell Inspiron 15.6 inch gaming notebook – click here to buy

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Acer Predator Helios – 15.6 Inch gaming laptop

 
Key Features:

[tie_list type=”star list”]

  • 15 inch
  • Intel core i7
  • 16GB Ram
  • 256GB SSD
  • 6GB Graphics
  • Windows 10

[/tie_list]

Dell G5 15.5 Inch Gaming Laptop 

 
Key Features:

[tie_list type=”star list”]

  • Core i7
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128GB SSD
  • 4GB Graphics
  • Windows 10

[/tie_list]

Dell G5 15.6 Inch Gaming Laptop – click here to buy

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ASUS ROG Strix ZX553VD 15inch Core i5

Key Features:

[tie_list type=”star list”]

  • 15 Inch
  • Core i5
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128GB SSD
  • 1TB HDD
  • 4GB Graphics
  • Windows 10

[/tie_list]

ASUS ROG Strix ZX553VD Core i5 – click here to buy

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 Acer Nitro 15inch Gaming Laptop 

Key Features:

[tie_list type=”star list”]

  • 15 inch
  • Intel Core i5
  • 8BG RAM
  • 256GB SSD
  • Windows 10

Acer Nitro  – click to here to buy

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 Apple Macbook Pro 15 inch Laptop

Apple Macbook Pro

Key Features: [tie_list type=”star list”]

  • Processor: Intel Core i7
  • Memory: 16 GB
  • Hard Drive: 1TB or 512GB SSD up to 1TB SSD
  • Size: 15.4 inch

[/tie_list]

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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.

The System Requirements:

Autodesk Autocad 2019

PC:
  • Windows® 10 64 bit only, Windows® 8.1 with Update, or Professional edition, Windows® 7 SP1
  • 2.5-2.9 GHz processor (3+ GHz recommended)
  • 8 GB RAM (16 GB recommended)
  • 6 GB free disk space for installation
  • 1,920 x 1,080 display resolution with true colour
  • 4GB with 106GB/s bandwidth and DirectX 11 compliant
  • Google Chrome
  • Install from download or DVD

Autodesk AutoCAD 2019

Mac:
  • Apple® macOS® High Sierra v10.13 or later; Apple macOS Sierra v10.12 or later; Mac® OS X® El Capitan v10.11 or later
  • Apple Mac Pro® 4,1 or later; MacBook Pro® 5,1 or later; iMac® 8.1 or later; Mac mini® 3.1 or later; MacBook Air® 2.1 or later; MacBook® 5.1 or later
  • 64-bit Intel CPU (Intel Core Duo CPU, 2 GHz or faster, recommended)
  • 3 GB of RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 3 GB free disk space for download and installation (4 GB recommended)
  • All graphics cards on supported hardware
  • 1,280 x 800 display with true color (2880 x 1800 with Retina Display recommended)
  • All Mac OS X supported language operating systems
  • Apple Safari 5.0 or later
  • Apple® Mouse, Apple Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, MacBook® Pro trackpad, or Microsoft-compliant mouse.
  • Mac OS X-compliant printer

Autodesk Revit 2019

PC:
For entry level configuration (for advanced level see website)
  • Microsoft® Windows® 7 SP1 64-bit: Windows 7 Enterprise, Ultimate, Professional, or Home PremiumMicrosoft® Windows® 8 64-bit: Windows 8 Enterprise, Pro, or Windows 8Microsoft® Windows® 8.1 64-bit: Windows 8.1 Enterprise, Pro, or Windows 8.1, Windows 10
  • Multi-Core Intel® Pentium®, Xeon®, or i-Series processor or AMD® equivalent with SSE2 technology. Highest affordable CPU speed rating recommended.
  • Multiple cores for many tasks, up to 16 cores for near-photorealistic rendering operations
  • 8GB RAM
  • Models created in previous versions of Revit products may require more available memory for the one-time upgrade process
  • 5 GB free disk space
  • 1,680 x 1050 with true colour
  • DirectX® 11-capable graphics card with Shader Model 5
  • Microsoft® Internet Explorer® 7 (or later)
  • MS-Mouse or 3Dconnexion®-compliant device
  • Download or installation from DVD9 or USB key
  • Internet connectivity for license registration and prerequisite component download
Mac:
Not available on a mac – unless using Boot Camp, parallels or similar.

Running Revit products on a Mac

Learn more about using Autodesk Revit software with Boot Camp®, part of Mac OS® X that enables you to install and run Microsoft Windows (and Windows-based applications) on a Mac® computer or with Parallels Desktop, a system utility available from Parallels, Inc. that allows you to run applications in each operating system without restarting your computer.

Autodesk 3DS Max 2019

PC:
Autodesk 3ds Max 2019 software is supported on the following 64-bit operating systems and at a minimum, requires a system with the following 64-bit hardware:
  • Microsoft® Windows® 7 (SP1), Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, Windows 10 Professional operating system
  • 64-bit Intel or AMD multi core processor with SSE4.2 instruction set
  • 4 GB RAM minimum (8 GB recommended)
  • 6 GB free disk space for installation
  • 3-button mouse
  • Latest version of Microsoft® Internet Explorer®, or Mozilla® Firefox® , Google Chrome web browser
  • Refer to 3ds Max Certified Hardware for a detailed list of recommended systems and graphics cards
Autodesk is not responsible for errors or failures of Autodesk software arising from the installation of updates, extensions or new releases issued by third-party hardware or software vendors for the qualified software or hardware identified in this document (or for any other third party software or hardware that you may use in connection with Autodesk products).
Mac:
Not available on a mac – unless using Boot Camp, parallels or similar.

Adobe Photoshop (Creative Cloud)

PC:
Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor (2 GHz or faster) Microsoft® Windows® 7 with Service Pack 1, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1 *, 2 GB of RAM (8GB recommended) 2.6 GB or more of available hard-disk space for installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on removable flash storage devices) 1024 x 768 display (1280 x 800 recommended) with OpenGL® 2.0, 16-bit color, and 512 MB of VRAM (2 GB recommended)** Internet connection and registration are necessary for required software activation, membership validation, and access to online services.
Mac:
Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support Mac OS X v10.13 or higher,  2 GB of RAM (8GB Recommended) 4 GB of available hard-disk space for installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on a volume that uses a case-sensitive file system or on removable flash storage devices) 1024 x 768 display (1280 x 800 recommended) with OpenGL 2.0, 16-bit color, and 512 MB of VRAM (2 GB recommended)** Internet connection and registration are necessary for required software activation, membership validation, and access to online services.

Adobe Photoshop (CS6)

PC:

Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor Microsoft® Windows® XP with Service Pack 3 or Microsoft Windows 7 with Service Pack 1. Adobe® Creative Suite® 5.5 and CS6 applications also support Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. See the CS6 FAQ for more information about Windows 8 support.* 1 GB of RAM 1 GB of available hard-disk space for installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on removable flash storage devices) 1024 x 768 display (1280 x 800 recommended) with 16-bit color and 512 MB (1 GB recommended) of VRAM OpenGL 2.0–capable system DVD-ROM drive This software doesn’t operate without activation. Broadband Internet connection and registration are required for software activation, validation of subscriptions, and access to online services.† Phone activation is not available.

Mac:

Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support Mac OS X v10.6.8 or v10.7. Adobe Creative Suite 3, 4, 5, CS5.5, and CS6 applications support Mac OS X v10.8 or v10.9 when installed on Intel-based systems.** 1 GB of RAM 2 GB of available hard-disk space for installation; additional free space required during installation (cannot install on a volume that uses a case-sensitive file system or on removable flash storage devices) 1024 x 768 display (1280 x 800 recommended) with 16-bit color and 512 MB (1 GB recommended) of VRAM OpenGL 2.0–capable system DVD-ROM drive This software doesn’t operate without activation. Broadband Internet connection and registration are required for software activation, validation of subscriptions, and access to online services.† Phone activation is not available.

Graphisoft Archicad 22

PC:
Windows® 10 (64-bit)
Note: 32-bit operating systems are not supported.
64-bit processor with 4 or more cores.
16 GB RAM is required, 32 GB RAM or more is recommended for complex models.
5 GB free disk space required for a full installation of ArchiCAD.
Additional 10 GB hard disk space required per project for work with complex models and 3D visualisation.
Resolution of 1440 x 900 is recommended.
OpenGL 3.2 compatible graphics card with on-board memory of 1024 MB is recommended to fully exploit hardware acceleration capabilities.
Mac:
Mac OS 10.13 High Sierra
Note: ArchiCAD 17 is the last version of ArchiCAD to support Mac OS X 10.6
64-bit processor with 4 or more cores.
8 GB RAM is required, 16 GB RAM or more is recommended for complex models.
5 GB free disk space required for a full installation of ArchiCAD.
Additional 10 GB hard disk space required per project for work with complex models and 3D visualisation.
Resolution of 1440 x 900 is recommended.
OpenGL 3.2 compatible graphics card with on-board memory of 1024 MB is recommended to fully exploit hardware acceleration capabilities.

Sketchup Make & Pro 2018

PC:
 Windows 10, Windows 8 and Windows 7
Software
  • Microsoft® Internet Explorer 9.0 or higher.
  • SketchUp Pro requires .NET Framework version 4.5.2 For more information about the .NET framework, click here.
Recommended hardware
  • 2+ GHz processor.
  • 8+ GB RAM.
  • 700 MB of available hard-disk space.
  • 3D class Video Card with 1GB of memory or higher. Please ensure that the video card driver supports OpenGL version 3.0 or higher and up to date.
  • SketchUp’s performance relies heavily on the graphics card driver and its ability to support OpenGL 3.0 or higher. To test your graphics card’s compatibility, please download and run the SketchUp 2017 Checkup application. Historically, people have seen problems with Intel-based cards with SketchUp. We don’t recommend using these graphics cards with SketchUp at this time.
  • 3 button, scroll-wheel mouse.
  • Some SketchUp features require an active internet connection
Mac:
Mac OS High Sierra 10.13, OS X 10.12 (Sierra), 10.11 (El Capitan)
Recommended hardware
  • 2.1+ GHz Intel™ processor.
  • 8 GB RAM.
  • 700 MB of available hard-disk space.
  • 3D class Video Card with 1GB of memory or higher. Please ensure that the video card driver supports OpenGL version 3.0 or higher and up to date.
  • 3 button, scroll-wheel mouse.
  • Some SketchUp features require an active internet connection.

V-Ray:

PC:
  • Intel Pentium IV or compatible processor with SSE3 support
  • 4 GB RAM minimum, 8 GB or more recommended
  • 16 GB of total hard disk space
  • 300 MB of available disk space
Mac:
  • Intel® Pentium® IV or compatible processor with SSE3 support.
  • 4 GB RAM minimum, 8 GB or more recommended
  • 300 MB of available disk space

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 architecture student 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.

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.

If you would like to download our mini guide to purchasing a laptop for your architecture studies, click on the link below.

The guide features a comparison chart with all recommended system requirements for all the different softwares
All of the information in this article in one useful pdf!
On signing up for the download you will gain access to my newsletter – full of useful tips, news, downloads and more. You can unsubscribe from this at any time.
DividerPlease don’t ask my advice on specific laptops – I have recommended the above laptops based on their specification and how it compares to the system requirements of most softwares that you may be using. Please do further research, read reviews and ask for professional advice before purchasing a new laptop. I am not an expert, and this post is based on my opinion from my experiences using various laptops. I am not a laptop sales person!

My favourite Tools and Resources

I have curated a list of some of the tools and resources I would strongly recommend for anyone studying or working in Architecture.