As an architecture professional or a student, you can use a variety of software packages. Most probably, you’ll be working with Autodesk software suite. It includes well-established applications as AutoCAD Architecture and Revit. There are a few other Building Information Modeling (BIM) programs that you might be using in your company, as ArchiCAD or Vectorworks. But for simplicity’s sake, I’ll focus on Autodesk package as its best known. And anyways, a laptop that works well with these programs is just as good for other BIM packages.
In the 2nd part of this guide, I’ll give 6 best laptops for architecture and why I picked them.
The key to the best laptop for architecture is hardware performance. Everything else is just icing on the cake. If the applications you depend on can’t run smoothly – there’s no point in trying to spend money on other aspects of a laptop. Of course, an expensive powerhouse is not always necessary – in many cases, especially for students, even a mid-range machine can do the trick.
Major Core i7 Processor
The processor is the core of any performance-driven computer. In the past few CPU generations, Intel has expanded its mobile i7 series. Now it includes some processors that in my opinion are closer to other i5s that to their top-of-the-line i7 models. At the end, it means, that unless you’re getting an i7 CPU (or the very best i5 chips) – you’ll be limited in your workflow.
So here are the EXACT models I would insist on when seeking for the best laptops for architecture:
The upside of Revit is that it doesn’t require a powerful graphics card and that makes Revit a lot more suitable for laptops. Knowing that I’m going to guide you through the requirements for a good Revit notebook and my picks for the best laptop for Revit.
November 16th update. Updated CPU, GPU write-ups, added MSI GL62 6QF and Dell XPS 15, updated the spreadsheet (290 laptops compared instead of just 58)!
Autodesk makes it very clear that the processor should be #1 priority:
“Highest affordable CPU speed rating recommended.” – Autodesk
Unlike other visual software (AutoCAD, Solidworks etc.), Revit does not need a powerful graphics card for rendering the drawings.
So what do I recommend?
For an entry model under 950$ – a higher-end Intel Core i5 model is a necessity. Anything above that should have a 5th-7th generation “i7” processor. In some rare cases (covered at the end of the guide), there are laptops under $900, that come with a fast i7 H-series CPUs.
Exact models, I am talking about are:
Intel Core i7-6700HQ, i7-4720HQ, i7-4710HQ or equivalent for 950$+ models
Intel Core i5-6300HQ, i7-6500U, i7-7500U for anything under 950$
As per usual, 8 GB of RAM should be your starting point and 16 GB is the magic spot where you don’t have to worry about the memory (for the most part).
Right now, 1100$ is a good line to draw for what amount of memory is acceptable. Any laptop under 1100$ can have 8 GB of RAM and anything above must come with 16 GB on board.
It does not matter whether it’s DDR3/DDR4 – the DDR4 potential isn’t yet fully used due to higher memory access time which is just as important as the memory frequency itself. In short, don’t worry about it.
Solid State Drive
For Point Cloud interactions, it is required to have either a 10,000+ RPM hard drive or a Solid State Drive (SSD). That leaves laptops with only 1 option – SSD. SSDs have fallen dramatically in price and apart from budget laptops – should be the standard package.
Now you need to draw a line on how much storage you need – 250, 500, 1000 GB? Most likely, something like 250/500 SSD + 1 TB HDD is enough. In that case, your OS, Revit, and projects you’re working on should stay on the SSD while older projects and general media can be moved to a spacious HDD.
There are some well-rounded laptops that don’t come with an installed SSD. In that unfortunate case, I recommend keeping 100$-200$ extra for 250/500 GB SSD (I’ve had the best experience with Samsung EVOs, but there’s plenty of good brands to choose from).
Minor Requirements for the best laptop for Revit
We’ve got down our 3 major requirements – processor, memory, and storage. Now any leftover budget should go towards making sure it lasts long, it has a great screen to look at and it can perform well when using other professional software apart from Revit.
You’ll be looking at it throughout the day (and once in a while – throughout the night), so we might as well make sure it looks good.
A good screen is essential in 3 simple ways:
it allows working during bright sunlight without straining your eyes
it helps you see your work as it should be seen (as it will be in real life and how your clients will see it)
it makes your work a bit enjoyable
Every screen can be broken down by its resolution, contrast, brightness and color gamut.
When talking about the resolution – go for Full HD (1920×1080). There’s not much reason to go above Full HD, especially when Revit developers do not recommend going above 150% DPI scaling. That simply means, that fonts and buttons in Revit will not scale properly at high resolutions.
Contrast should be 800:1 or more, average brightness should be 280 cd/m or more (which is ~20 cd less than usually advertised maximum brightness). Good contrast and brightness are mostly important when working outside or near a bright window.
Finally, color space/gamut is not usually mentioned with other specifications but some reviewers measure it. In that case, 90%+ sRGB coverage and 60%+ Adobe RGB coverage indicate a wide color space. That means that the screen can produce vivid colors. In some cases, you might need to manually calibrate the screen to minimize its color bias – tendency to be a bit too blue/green or red.
So you are searching for the best laptop for the new AutoCAD 2017? Well, be prepared to spend extra cash on the laptop as AutoCAD demands a lot of performance.
Best laptop for AutoCAD LT
First off, if you want to use AutoCAD LT for 2D drawing and drafting you do not have to buy high-end machines for that. I’ve run AutoCAD LT 2015 and 2016 (haven’t tested 2017) without a problem on laptops priced just under 500$. It took a while to load AutoCAD, but it still worked. At the same time, if you are like most, you’ll probably need the full AutoCAD package, which works with 3D graphics (architecture, 3D design and etc). In this article, I’ll focus mostly on full AutoCAD version and its requirements.
What is essential for a good laptop for AutoCAD
AutoCAD can be surely demanding and if you can, buy a more high-end machine as AutoCAD will be able to take advantage of your extra spending through more lag-free (and stress-free) workflow with complex structures. But let’s start off with the bare minimum – what do you need to run AutoCAD without ripping your hair off? These requirements are roughly based on official minimum requirements.
So what you should actually be looking for is:
If you’ll work with 2D drawings – this criterion is hard to mess up. Any non-entry tier processor will suffice. But if you can spend more than let’s say 700$, you should aim for higher-end processors. 3D work (architecture, 3D models and design) can put a lot more stress on this part so you should aim for 4 core processors with clock speeds above 3 GHz.
For raw performance under $2000, i7-6700HQ is the best option. The good news – this processor can be found in laptops as cheap as $700 (though I would not recommend these models as they sacrifice every other aspect to squeeze in this i7 processor). But in the $1000-$2000, it is the best pick. At the same time, if you are looking for a laptop that offers a balance of battery life and performance – i7 U line of processors would be better. For example, i7-7500U, i7-6500U, i7-6600U. In short:
For best performance look for i7-****HQ (or HK) processors
For good performance and battery life balance look for i7-****U processors
8 GB of RAM (16 GB recommended)
I would not recommend buying anything below 8 GB for any type of laptop for a professional. This is especially the case for performance hungry programs such as AutoCAD. So do not skimp over memory and get at least 8 GB and if you can try to get it to 12 – 16 GB range if you are running more apps than just AutoCAD at the same time (like browser, music player, MS Word and etc.). Even if you are a heavy multitasker – that 16 GB should be enough.
When it comes to any visual work – the bigger the better. You surely do not want to squint your eyes to select lines, especially if you go for a higher resolution laptop. Unless you’ll use a laptop for only small touch ups you should not go below 15″. I would even recommend going for desktop-replacement class 17″ laptop if you’re going to work on it primarily. This can come at an expense of portability, so use your best judgement for that – 17″ if you’ll work mostly in the same place; 15″ if you’ll need to work in several places. Also, be sure not to buy a lower-end HD screen (with a resolution of 1366×768). Nowadays anything below 1920×1080 for a 15-17″ laptops is sub par.
Do you need a 4K display? No. These high resolutions are not yet well supported in professional applications and you’re bound to have at least 1 or 2 programs in your application suite misbehaving under a 4K/QHD/UHD resolution. But there’s no reason to deliberately avoid these displays. They can be downgraded to the standard FHD (1920×1080) resolution and when applications under your belt start supporting 4K – you’ll be able to upgrade to these ultra-high resolutions without changing your laptop.
Where it would be wise to spend your money but not essential
The Good Investments
Dedicated graphics card
If you’re working with complex 3D models, your processor will surely be thankful for the help it can get from a dedicated graphics card, which is specifically optimised to handle such tasks. Applications like AutoCAD rely on these graphics cards to deliver the smooth workflow we all want. So if you have covered the essentials, grab the best graphics card you can within your budget. Nearly all dedicated video cards are produced by Nvidia and AMD (Radeon line). Meanwhile, majority of integrated graphics chips for laptops are produced by Intel and AMD.
Bad graphics cards for AutoCAD:
Anything in Intel HD line
Any graphics chip in AMD APU
Entry-tier Nvidia chips: 920M, 930M, 940MX
Good graphics cards for AutoCAD:
Intel Iris Pro 5200 or better
Nvidia GeForce 950M or better
AMD FirePro W4190M or AMD R9 M370X or better
Nvidia Quadro M1000M or better
Best graphics cards for AutoCAD:
Nvidia GeForce 1060 or better (1070, 1080)
Nvidia Quadro M5000M or even M5500M
Of course, I have not covered all cards here, just the most popular on the market right now (January 2017).
Solid State Drive (SSD)
SSDs have been named by many as the best investment you can make to make your machine faster and a lot more responsive. Whether other bloggers whether my personal friends – everyone says that installing a Solid State Drive as the main system drive made them regret not pulling the trigger on HDD sooner.
SSD will not improve AutoCADs performance as much as it will improve the responsiveness of the whole system. So if you do have everything covered to run AutoCAD, make sure you can launch it fast with an SSD. I would discourage going for hybrid solutions where you get a regular hard drive and a small “buffer” of SSD as they do not deliver the full benefits of SSD and make it not worth the extra spending. It’s worth reminding that if you do not have enough money for an SSD, you can buy a laptop with an extra empty slot for it. Then you’ll be able to buy an SSD down the road and retire your older drive as your “archive”. But once again, if you can afford it, buy an SSD from the start as moving between drives can be a painful hassle.
This one is more up to your situation than others. If you’ll work at the same place most of the time taking your laptop out only when it is necessary or taking it out to places where there’ll always be a power source, you can treat battery life only as “nice to have”. On the other hand, if you’ll be working on the go or you’ll need to work without a guaranteed power source – spend almost everything else you have left in your budget for a better battery. Nowadays manufacturer estimates of battery lifetime are a bit more accurate than they used to, so even that can be a good way to compare two or more laptops. If you want to be sure of real battery lifetime, check the laptop list or search for reviews of laptops online.
What would be nice addition to fully round out the laptop for AutoCAD-type software?
Extra memory (16GB+)
I have already talked a bit about the importance of RAM and how you should don’t go below 8 GB even on a strict budget. But if you want to be future-proof, having 16 GB (or even 24 – 32 GB in some rare cases) will make your life easier down the road. As time goes on, the software uses more and more memory (which is also true for AutoCAD) and having more of it will ensure you won’t be in trouble when you have to run 2 or 3 memory-hungry applications. It is worth mentioning that there’s a way to reach a compromise without adding more memory and not breaking your budget – buy a laptop with an additional empty slot for extending RAM. That way, when you’ll need to buy more RAM, you’ll be able to just add a new memory module without breaking the bank.
High resolution IPS screen
By high resolution I mean screens beyond Full HD (1920×1080). Just a few years ago these resolutions were hard to come by, but now high resolution is a key part of a high-end laptop. But not only the pixels count – some screens have high resolutions but still look like ****. To be more certain of the quality the screen can deliver, be sure it has an IPS panel.
Compact mouse (and keyboard)
Do not forget to get a mouse, you’ll be using it a lot, even if you buy the best laptop for AutoCAD and you remember every single keyword in AutoCAD command line. Do not skimp on investing in comfort! It is often underrated as it can be hard to measure, but if you’ll be working with a laptop for most of your day, you sure want something that makes it feel as effortless as possible.
I updated my recommended laptops 2016 January 26th, July 12th and 2017 January 5th!
This is a well-rounded mid-range laptop. It has 4 USB ports (nice!), matte display (less shiny reflections but a bit dimmer colors) and high-mid range CPU/GPU. This ASUS also comes with a full backlit keyboard with number pad and to top it off you get 1 Year Warranty/Accidental Damage Protection.
Overall, if you have a tight budget – be aware of its 256 GB storage which might limit you if you decide not to invest 50$ – 160$ for extra storage.
This Dell Inspiron is very similar to the ASUS K501UX above with a few notable exception.
Firstly, it has a better graphics chip and a bit weaker processor. Usually, I would advise going for a faster processor but if you see yourself gaming on a laptop – getting this Dell would be a smart choice.
Secondly, it is very easy to upgrade – even if you’ve never had to deal with PC upgrades, adding extra RAM and more storage is a piece of cake.
Talking about storage, it falls short in the same category where ASUS K501UX did. That’s understandable, 512GB SSDs are still not cheap and manufacturers are forced to put in 256GB for that lower pricetag. Nevertheless, if you plan to use it as your main workstation – be ready to spend up to 160$ for extra storage.
Finally, Dell has a bright and vivid IPS screen which is superior to the one Asus offers if you don’t have to deal with bright reflections.
1.5x+ faster GPU than any other laptops under $1500
Poor battery life (~2 hours)
Performance wise, this laptop is an absolute killer machine. If you can sacrifice battery life and having a bit of extra weight – it’s a great machine for its price. It has Intel Core i7-6700HQ (Skylake), GTX 970M and 16 GB RAM and a 500 GB SSD storage.
A few things to note – it has an bright screen with wide viewing angles (w/ IPS) but it’s only mediocre when it comes to color accuracy. It has a reasonably large SSD (512 GB) but if that’s not enough for you – storing files in the cloud is always an option.
Laptop that was in recommended in this price range before January (2017) update – MSI GE62 Apache Pro
If you don’t absolutely need a FirePro/Quadro, this laptop is as good as it gets.
It packs a few cutting edge technologies like SSD over PCI-Express. This ensures performance that isn’t possible for 95% laptops on the market no matter how fast their SSD drive is. It also comes with USB-C (and thus Thunderbolt III) which might be a life-saver for some external hardware.
One of the cheapest laptops with CAD-certified graphics card
4K Resolution with IPS Technology
128 GB SSD for OS and 2 TB storage for everything else
OK-ish battery life of ~5h
No HDMI port (but it has DisplayPort and even VGA)
I would consider this a great option if you absolutely need a CAD-certified card but you don’t need an expensive higher-range model.
This HP ZBook 15U G3 Workstation laptop comes with many other useful features such as a full spill-resistant keyboard, low noise and temperature levels, NVMe SSD and it is considered to be one of the best lightweight laptops for AutoCAD. However, less weight comes with a cost. Though this laptop lacks a spacious SSD.
DELL XPS 15 comes with a popular i7-6700HQ and NVIDIA 960M GPU which is enough for complex 3D modeling and drawing. Display ports are included which make setting up multiple displays a no-brainer.
The laptop supports 4K Resolution, has 500 GB SSD PCIe Storage and a healthy battery life while staying just under 4 lbs. If you want to have a laptop that is close to highest performance levels but is not inflated in its price by some highly-priced professional features – DELL XPS 15 is the right choice.
Great performance (Intel Xeon processor, Nvidia Quadro card & SSD)
Plenty of ports: HDMI, DisplayPort, USB 3.1C, 4x USB 3.0
Massive long-lasting 9-cell battery (8.5 hours)
Just under $2000, we can find this Lenovo workstation. Thinkpad P50 comes with a high-end Intel Xeon E3-1505M processor and Nvidia Quadro M2000M card which is ~1.5 times faster than M1000M. Also, this is one of the best-reviewed workstations with a great keyboard for long work sessions.
Finally, to make it perfect, I would add 500 GB SSD and/or additional 2 TB HDD.
Best CAD-certified laptop graphics card on the market (NVIDIA Quadro M5000M)
Best laptop for AutoCAD, Revit and other CAD/modelling software
Time to bring out the big guns. This laptop has some of the best specs on the market and probably the best ones when you consider Quadro graphics chip. If you can settle for 2nd-best, you might as well save 1900$ by getting slightly cheaper model.