Like it or not, for today’s architects and architectural students one of the most important tools you require (aside from possibly a drawing tablet) is a PC, laptop and/or a Mac. It’s almost impossible to successfully study the subject or run and manage a company without one.
So whether you’re buying your first computer, or simply replacing an old one, here we will run through our pick of the best PC’s and laptops for architects, architectural students, and architectural visualization.
The Dell XPS range is a very familiar face to the world of architecture laptops, and with a new modernized design, this laptop is faster and sleeker than ever. Available in a number of configurations to meet both budget and power requirements, the Dell XPS 15 sits firmly at the top of our list for architecture students and professionals.
Often seen as the pinnacle of laptop design, the MacBook Pro isn’t cheap, but if you can afford it, you wont be disappointed. With an upgraded keyboard and faster processor, paired with the high standard of build quality Apple is so famous for, this laptop stands amongst the architecture heavy weights, and also comes in a 13” model.
On a budget?
With a 15.6 inch full-HD display the Acer Aspire 7 sits at the top of the more budget friendly laptops we’ve used. Its performance is comparable to that of Acer’s entry-level gaming laptops, and is more than capable of carrying out most CAD and 3D work with ease. You may however in time require a little more on-board storage.
Where to start with finding the right laptop or desktop
When considering and choosing the best option, your decision should largely be based around the system requirements of the programs you will be using.
Your college / university or workplace should be able to advise on this, however for architects and students some of the most common ones are:
- AutoCAD, Revit, Vectorworks, and Archicad for CAD work
- SketchUp, 3ds max, Cinema 4D and rhino for 3D modelling
- Vray, Corona Render and Lumion for image rendering
- Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for graphic work and image editing
In fact it’s quite likely that at some point you will work with all of these!
It’s important to note that these system requirements are above what might be classed as normal, and therefore the hardware required is a higher specification and price than your average student computer, but very similar to that of say an engineering student and animator for example.
Therefore these types of computers are not always available “off the shelf”, and do require a good level research to ensure that you buy the right one.
The good news is that other than for specific rendering needs (architecture visualization), the requirements for 2D, 3D and graphic work are quite similar.
What you need to know:
If you want to get into the technical depths of comparing processor and graphics card speed’s then there is an abundance of this information all over the internet (you just need to Google it). Here however (having already done the research), we will highlight only the important aspects that need to be focused on.
For a detailed explanation on each of the key components that help to make up a computer, have a look at the below buyers guide Here
However in short, the most important components are:
- Processor (CPU) – This controls the speed that the software/programs will run at …the more ghz the better.
- Graphics card (GPU) – Controls how fast the screen updates and refreshes, so no screen lag.
- Screen resolution – More pixels equal better quality
- Memory (Ram) – Controls the computers ability to handle large tasks (such as 3D and rendering work) and enables you to do more tasks at once.
- Storage – Controls the speed of how quickly applications open up and files are accessed.
30X40 Design Workshop provide an excellent 15 minute breakdown of these factors here:
If you know what programs you will be primarily using, then it’s fairly simple to find the minimum specification for your needs, however we advise that you get the best your budget can stretch to.
This above anything else will help ensure your computers longevity with new and updated programs.
As laptops for example, due to their compact nature and construction, are practically hard to update with new hardware, further emphasizing the need to get it right first time.
Desktops on the other hand can be very customizable.
Should I buy a laptop or desktop?
When deciding on which is best for an architecture student (a desktop, laptop or apple mac), you should really be focusing on a laptop or mac book and ignore the desktop options.
The versatility that a laptop and mac book offer is far greater and more valuable than the extra power vs cost a desktop offers. As an architecture student you will be working in a variety of locations and often (particularly in a studio environment) won’t be guaranteed to always have the same work space / desk. So portability and flexibility are key.
You will want to be able to take your computer to the studio, library, tutorials, home, travelling, lectures and crits …to name a few. A desktop just can’t offer this level of flexibility, without a whole lot of hassle.
We are not however talking about lightweight notebooks, these are (and need to be) powerful workstations which whilst being portable are not light, and so good laptop bag is crucial, or at least a well padded sleeve.
That said, in monetary terms a desktop will offer far greater performance when compared to a laptop at the equivalent cost, and in an ideal situation you would supplement your laptop with a desktop (but only a lucky few have this luxury!), which is more commonly suited to working architects and practices.
For some, the flexibility a laptop offers when weighed against performance and cost isn’t justifiable and / or they may just prefer desktops. So if a portable solution isn’t required then a desktop can offer better performance, power and memory, along with a much larger workspace (screen).
What are the best computers for architecture students and architects?
As mentioned, there are a lot of variables to consider when choosing a PC and/or laptop, including processor speed, graphics card, memory, storage, screen size, battery life (for laptops), and program compatibility.
It’s worth noting that when compared to Mac products, PC’s and laptops offer greater versatility when it comes to running programs and software. For example, you can only run Autodesks 3ds Max and Revit packages through “Boot Camp”.
Which for those who are not aware of what this is, Boot Camp is a utility that comes with Mac products which lets its users install and use a Microsoft Windows operating systems on its Intel-based Macintosh computers. Basically temporarily turning a mac into a PC, in order to run unsupported programs such as the above.
This works, but does not provide a platform as stable as a genuine Windows operating system.
Choosing an operating system
Second to your computers system requirements, your choice of computer will also be based around its operating system.
This is responsible for the running and managing of your computers tasks, such as your files, devices, software and hardware.
The choice of operating is largely based on personal preference and what is often the deciding factor between choosing a PC or Mac.
To break them down:
Windows operating systems are by far the most popular with the number of users being approximately 4 times more than the next rival system from Apple (macOS). This is largely due to them being cheaper, offering more options and variations, being adaptable and open to upgrades and updates being released more frequently.
…and all this had led to them being easier to repair, due to the sheer number of them.
In terms of specific requirements for architecture, there are also still a few programs that cannot be run on a Mac operating system such as 3D Studio Max.
For these reasons, it is far more common for students and colleges / universities to have windows machines. Although a lot of practices prefer to use or are making the transition over to the more design oriented macOS operating systems.
Just like anything Apple creates, MacOS is a very well designed and thought out product, its ability to allow you to download and install apps also makes the interface very customizable. As described above however, it does have a few compatibility issues with certain programs but there is a work around for this.
MacOS comes at a premium however, with comparable PC specifications being a lot cheaper, and its parts being a lot harder to upgrade and change, with fewer options available.
They are however very well refined and beautiful objects that are both a pleasure to use and to look at, making them hard to say no to, and if they were cheaper, it would be a no brainer.
In conclusion and in terms of design and style, macOS machines usually come out on top with their intuitive usability and seamless integration with anything else Apple, which today is a lot of devices!
That said, windows is more adaptable and works better with non-related apple products with more customization and flexibility at an affordable price.
It is also well worth checking with your college or university to get their opinion, as quite often it is recommended that students go with Windows, simply because there are fewer restrictions and more solutions to problems.
What to consider with a desktop computer
Desktop computers or towers mostly begin without any additional components, such as a monitor or speakers, and often a mouse and keyboard are an optional extra. So don’t forget that you need a monitor, mouse and keyboard to actually use it, and this is an important factor to consider when assessing and comparing prices.
They also come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, that offer a level of individuality and to a certain degree the option to save on space. Although the smaller cases tend to be the less powerful specifications.
As mentioned these are a great option if you are on a budget and looking for increased power over portability, due to their capability to carry large amounts of RAM and larger/faster processors.
What to consider with an all-in-one computer
Perhaps originally and successfully created by Apple with their iMacs, an all-in-one machine combines a computer, monitor and speakers into one complete unit.
This provides a much tidier workspace with less cables and components than the above tower and monitor combination, also making them slightly more portable.
They tend to always come with a nice large screen, that makes them excellent for graphic and 3D modelling work.
And unlike a singular desktop the all-in-one desktops often come with a keyboard, mouse and obviously a monitor, so the cost is combined into one purchase.
However highend and powerful specifications can become expensive.
What to consider with a laptop
Laptops cover a wide range of portable computers with different operating systems from Apple, Microsoft and Google.
The keyboard, mouse and screen integrate within a ‘clamshell’ design, making them extremely portable and lightweight.
Screen sizes vary, but for producing architecture and graphic work, look at a minimum 15” width.
Although a touch plate mouse is integrated into the keyboard, students and architects will require a separate standalone mouse for efficiency and increased functionality.
What to consider with a tablet
Tablets (not to be confused with drawing tablets) are handheld portable computers that primarily use touch screen technology for navigation and use. The most popular example of this is the Apple iPad.
The keyboard is built into the touch screen interface, but this can at times be fiddly and so for productivity a detachable keyboard can be used.
With a range of Apple’s iOS, Google Android or Microsoft Windows operating systems available, these are perfect for travelling and commuting when space and portability are important. More on this here.
Minimum hardware specifications
As already mentioned, the computers most suitable for architects and students are at the powerful end of what’s available off the shelf, and in terms of minimum specifications, you should aim for:
- Processor (CPU) – To avoid problems and to successfully run the programs required, start at Inteli5
- Graphics card (GPU) – Architecture programs such as Rhino and 3DS Max require a heavy graphics card and so start with a 2gb option.
- Screen resolution – 1920 x 1080 (for laptops)
- Memory (RAM) – More often than not you will need to run several programs at once, and so will require memory to do this. Minimum 8gb, but preferably 16gb
- Storage – The ideal scenario is to have both solid state drive (SSD) to store and run your programs and a mechanical hard-drive (HDD) to store files. If its one or the other, the more storage the better.
The best laptops and computers for architects and architectural students are…
To conclude, we have taken the above parameters and broken them down into price categories to select what we believe are currently the best laptops and desktops/workstations.
With no bias towards them, you’ll note that this list is slightly DELL heavy, but having owned a number of these machines (and still do) they are in our opinion some of the best off the shelf laptops and desktops on the market right now.
Best laptop for all-round architectural work
Best MacBook for architects
Best for architectural rendering
Best for Vectorworks
Best all-rounder runner-up architectural work
The best budget laptops for architects
Best laptop for architecture students under $600
Best laptop for architecture students under $900
The best desktops/workstations computers for architects
Best all-round desktop for architects
Best runner-up desktop for architects
Best runner-up desktop for architects
Best iMac for architects
Best computers for architects round-up…
Our revised top pick for the best laptop and desktop for architects so far this year is the Dell XPS 15 7590 laptop and the Dell XPS 8930 Tower Desktop. Both sitting in what we consider to be a very competitive price bracket for high performance PC’s, these two computers currently dominate in terms of price and cutting edge performance.
The best MacBook for architects undoubtably goes to the below MacBook Pro.
…in most cases amazon (links provided) offers the most competitive prices, but there may also of course be other offers to find elsewhere.