Best laptops for Architects – The Principles
So, the time has come to buy a new laptop! If you have arrived here, you might be looking for the best laptops for Architects. If so, you are probably overwhelmed by all the jargon and options. Do not worry anymore, because you have come to the right place. In this post, we will explain what is what in the laptop world in a clear and entertaining way. We will not speak about any specific laptops here. We will talk about what you need to look for and about which components suit the Architect working requirements.
This article will help you navigate through your buying process so you will know better and faster whether a certain laptop is a good match for you. After reading this post, you will be able to distinguish which components you should pay attention to and what they do. Moreover, you will have a rough idea of the specific brands and product families you should be looking at for each component. In the next post of this series, Best laptops for Architects – The Recommendations, we have created imaginary Architect personas and we have looked at which components and which laptops would suit better their needs. Our idea is that, with these two posts, you will have all the knowledge, background information and context to choose the laptop that suits best your needs.
So, what do you need to know to find the best laptops for Architects?
Well, you need to look at the following components, which, due to the nature of our jobs, are the most important:
- CPU (Central Processing Unit)
- GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
- Screen and resolution
- Storage Drive
- Operational system
So, let’s get a bit more into detail about these components and what you need to look for.
CPU (Central Processing Unit):
The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is the brain of the computer. It is the part of a computer that performs calculations, actions, and runs programs. As a result, it is a crucial part of the buying decision.
However, if you have already been looking around, you will have realised how confusing CPUs’ names are. We will keep it really simple here, but you can follow the links added if you are interested in learning more. Currently, the main CPUs in the market are the following:
- Intel Core family: The most common option. This family includes the Intel Core i3, i5 and i7. The page Best Intel processor: Core i3, i5 and i7 explained from trustedreview.com explains this complicated family very well, with both a short video and a long article. Moreover, their page Intel 7th Generation CPU list has all the different Intel Core processors and their characteristics. It can be very useful as a sort of anchor point when checking computers, as you will know easily all the characteristics of the CPU in each laptop. As far as Architects go, within this family, you should be looking only at i5 and i7. Which one is suitable will depend on your intended use, which we will look at in the following post of this series.
- Intel Xeon family: This family is the one you should be looking at if you are really serious about using your laptop for architecture. Because the Xeon family has more cores, it performs better in tasks like rendering or structural calculation. Why? Well, each core is basically one processor. As a result, in software that takes advantage of multiple cores (like rendering), you have more processors doing the same job, so it gets done faster. For example, a rendering done with a CPU with 8 cores would be done roughly twice as fast as one done with a CPU with 4 cores. You can see that this decision can actually have a massive impact on your efficiency depending on what you use your computer for. Apart from the number of cores, Intel Xeon processors are more stable and therefore crash less often. There are more reasons why Xeon is better than Core for CAD applications. A good and quick explanation can be found at the following link. CAD Workstations: Xeon vs i7 vs i5 Processors. The downside? It comes with a big price increase, so it might not be a good compromise depending on how much you use your laptop and which programs you use more often.
- AMD processors: They are not that common, so we will not go into detail about them. If you come across one laptop with an AMD processor, just make sure it is a multi-core processor and that it is equivalent to at least i5 (depending on the use you want to give it, of course).
GPU (Graphics Processing Unit):
A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is used primarily for 3D applications. It is a single-chip processor that creates lighting effects and transforms objects every time a 3D scene is redrawn. These are mathematically-intensive tasks, which otherwise would put quite a strain on the CPU. A dedicated GPU is a massive boost in your work, especially when using any 3D application such as 3DS Max, Rhino or Revit. Therefore, our recommendation is that your laptop has a dedicated GPU and not only the graphics card that comes with the CPU.
If you have researched a little bit about GPUs, you will have seen that both Nvidia and Radeon produce the highest quality products. However, programs such as Rhinoceros do not recommend Radeon, so we personally think that you are better off going for Nvidia cards. Within Nvidia, the GeForce family is the most common one in the laptop world. Nvidia GeForce GPUs, however, have been designed for gaming, so they are not the ideal option. Nvidia has a specialised (and more expensive) family of graphics processing units called Quadro. A good explanation of the differences between Nvidia GeForce and Nvidia Quadro can be found in this Quora Page: What is the difference between Nvidia Quadro and Geforce? How each of them performs on CAD and Gaming?
As with the CPU, your choice will depend on how much time you will spend using 3D applications and how much money you can spend. If you are looking for top performance in 3D applications, you should choose a laptop with Nvidia Quadro. If not, a good Nvidia GeForce will also do a good job. As an example of this difference, you can read the Autodesk 3ds Max 2018 Graphics Hardware Certification. In here, you will see that Autodesk recommends that you use Nvidia Quadro for 3ds Max, although they also note that they have tested certain Nvidia GeForce GPUs successfully.
RAM (Random Access Memory):
This is basically the memory of your computer. According to Wikipedia:
Random Access Memory (or simply RAM) is the memory or information storage in a computer that is used to store running programs and data for the programs. Data (information) in the RAM can be read and written quickly in any order. Normally, the random access memory is in the form of computer chips. Usually, the contents of RAM are accessible faster than other types of information storage but are lost every time the computer is turned off.
As for the amount of RAM you should be looking for, Autocad asks for a minimum of 4 GB (8 GB recommended), whilst Rhino requests 8 GB and Revit requirements go from 4 GB for small projects to 16 GB for big projects. Bearing in mind this information, our recommendation is that you have at least 8 GB of RAM. Ideally, you should get 16 GB.
Screen Size and Resolution:
This will depend on the use you plan to give to your laptop and how portable it needs to be. We think that your choice should be between 14″ & 17″. In my case, the last personal laptop I bought was 14″ because I wanted to use it also while commuting, so I could you use to write this article (for example). However, if portability is not one of your major priorities, you should go for either 15″ or 17″. As far as resolution is concerned, FHD (full high definition) resolution should be enough for the work involved. However, higher resolutions such as UHD (ultra high definition), 4K or 5 K can be a good add-on.
HDD vs. SSD vs. Hybrid Drive:
There are currently two different types of drives on the market. The traditional HDD drives and the SSD drives. What is the difference between them? SSD drives are faster and more reliable than HDD, but they come with a higher price tag. It is like choosing between a donkey and a horse. The horse will carry you faster and will be more reliable, but you will have to spend more money on it. We would recommend that you get at least 500 GB of storage, as architectural files tend to be quite big. If you can afford it, we would recommend that you pick SSD or, if not, a hybrid drive.
Mac vs. Windows:
This is, we think, more of a personal preference. Macs tend to be more reliable and faster and they have the added value that the brand brings. On the other hand, some of the most used programs for architecture are not available on Mac. That means you might end up having a Windows system within a Mac, diminishing the advantages of having a Mac. We are personally more inclined towards Windows, but both are good options to consider, depending on your personal preferences.
So, to summarise, these are the minimum requirements for your laptop. That doesn’t mean they are adequate for all the tasks you might need it. But it is what we consider the basics for any Architect.
- CPU: Intel Core i5 minimum. Better i7. Go for Intel Xeon if you are will be rendering or heavily using the computer with CAD applications a lot. If you come across an AMD processor, check for an equivalent to the Intel you have picked up.
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce as a minimum. For some 3D applications such as Rhino or 3DS Max, Nvidia Quadro is a much better choice.
- RAM: Minimum 8 GB. Better 16 GB.
- Storage Drive: Minimum 500 GB. Better if it is SSD (or hybrid) than HDD.
- Screen size and resolution: From 14″ to 17″, depending on how portable you want your laptop to be. FHD for the resolution as a minimum.
And that is it! If you want to see which specific laptops we recommend, please check our Best Laptops for Architects – The Recommendations. There, we have chosen the best laptops for different Architect personas; such as the commuting Project Architect, the struggling Architecture student or the perfectionist Senior Architect.
If you liked our post or have any comments, please let us know below or send us an email through our contact us page.