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.
2017 August 30th update. Updated CPU, GPU write-ups, replaced 4 laptops an updated the spreadsheet (~500 laptops compared instead of just 290 in the last revision)!
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 $900, that come with a fast i7 H-series CPUs.
Exact models, I am talking about are:
Intel Core i7-6700HQ, i7-7700HQ, i5-7300HQ or equivalent for 950$+ models
Intel Core i5-6300HQ, i5-7200U, 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.