Modern architectural design and drafting are almost exclusively done on a computer nowadays. At the same time, architects and architecture students have to make frequent trips between construction sites, designing studio, school, and, needless to say, back home. Therefore, it's quite important to have a reliable laptop to make sure your workflow is not interrupted in any way; but not just any laptop will do.
Today's architecture involves using several resource-intensive software and tools that require powerful machines with the right configurations. As such, companies are producing mobile "workstations" (essentially super-powerful laptops), which can handle whatever heavy-duty architectural processes are thrown at them. In this guide, we'll present our top picks for the best laptop for architects, solid machines that push the limits of what you can possibly create.
But before we get started, we'll take a sneak peek of what's important in the best laptop for architecture?
1. CPU - 4Ghz+ clock speed for drafting and drawing; ~5Ghz is the ideal clock speed.
- 6-8 cores, or more if you're rending at home or using the cloud
2. GPU - 1050/1050Ti GPU for students.
- 1060GTX/1660Ti for professional architects.
- Quadro/Firepro for special plug-ins in 3ds Max or Revit
3. RAM - 8GB for students
- 16-32 GB for professionals.
4. Storage Space - 256GB SSD for students.
- 512GB or 256GB and 1 TB HDD for professionals.
5. Display - 15" full HD is the sweet spot between sufficient screen real estate and weight.
With this in mind, let's dive into the best laptops for architecture:
1. Microsoft Surface Book 2
- Microsoft Surface Book 2 Features a 8th generation Intel Quad...
- Enhanced Graphics performance with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060...
- The fastest Surface Book yet, with 4x more power
- Vibrant PixelSense Display: now available with a new 15"...
- Four versatile modes of use and new USB-C port
There's no denying the Microsoft Surface Book 2 looks pretty sleek with its full-body aluminum build. The massive popularity is possibly from its dual-mode (laptop and tablet mode) usage; the display is detachable from the keyboard. This is definitely one of the most versatile laptops for architects and architecture students and certainly the most convenient to lug around.
The backlit keyboard is quite punchy and super comfortable to use, even for long periods. For a 15-inch laptop, the keys are still well-spaced for the average typer. Furthermore, it also comes with quality speakers attached to the tablet.
It's hard to find a more powerful 2-in-1 laptop than the Surface Book 2. It comes with an Nvidia Geforce GTX 1060 GPU, robustly equipped to handle any CAD-related software, and even run most games at 1080p. The 16GB RAM will more than suffice for most applications, although you might experience some lags when you're running several heavy-duty programs. Better still, the CPU and GPU are housed quite far from each other, thus very quiet operations. And, it also comes with 512GB of SSD storage.
The Surface Book 2 display is miles ahead of its competition in the 1080 pixels category. Details are crisp and accurate like we've never seen before, partially thanks to the excellent contrast. However, the 3:2 aspect ratio might throw a few people off.
Additionally, you can use the Surface Pen for drawing and shaping. The screen's pressure sensor offers pinpoint accuracy. Plus, stray lines or errors are erased by the software automatically. Not to mention, there are no lags whatsoever when using the pen on the screen.
This laptop excels at power efficiency. It can run for up to 7 hours on moderate use. This is quite impressive, even for a 2-in-1 laptop that you'd expect to consume plenty of power.
2. Apple MacBook Pro 15" Z0V10001W
- 2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to...
- 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
- 512GB SSD storage
- Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB memory
- Touch Bar and Touch ID
The new 15" MacBook Pro follows the lineup's ethos, coming in a silver and space grey color scheme and a slim, elegant aluminum finish. It's 0.6 inches thick and weighs only 4 lb, meaning it's thinner and lighter than its predecessors. As far as portability goes, architects and architecture students can lug this machine around with very little hassle.
As for the ports, it only comes with 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports. However, they deliver extremely fast data transfer and allow connecting two 4K monitors simultaneously.
This MacBook Pro comes with an Intel Core i9-8950HK processor and 32GB DDR4 RAM for super-fast performance, perhaps even more than you might actually need. Adding the 4GB Radeon Pro dedicated graphics card means you can run several applications at the same time with seamless ease. For context, model rendering and video editing take about half the time it takes on other PCs. To cap it all of, it comes with 1TB SSD storage.
The 15.4" display is stunningly crisp and bright with excellent vivid contrast. Running 4K on the 2880 x 1800 display is a total breeze. Apple has also included multichannel sensors that adjust color and screen intensity depending on ambient conditions. The display can reproduce 117% of the sRGB spectrum, significantly higher than the industry standard. Plus, it also offers a lot more brightness, which stays constant from all viewing angles.
The battery life on this MacBook Pro is head and shoulders above the laptops featured on this guide. It can last up to 10 hours on light to moderate usage. And if you want to use the battery more efficiently, you can enable Automatic Graphics Switching.
3. Dell Precision 7730
- This Certified Refurbished product is tested and certified to...
- Intel Core i9-8950HK, Six Core 2.90GHz, 4.80GHz Turbo, 12MB 45W,...
- 32GB DDR4 Memory,4X8GB,2666,Non-ECC,SoDIMM
- 1TB PCIe NVMe Class 40 Solid State Drive Upgrade with Win 10 Pro...
- 17.3" UltraSharp UHD IGZO 3840x2160 AG, w/Prem Panel Guar 100%...
The Dell Precision Series is an absolute powerhouse, even drummed up as the world's most powerful 17-inch workstation. The 7730 is an excellent choice if you want sheer raw power, and cost isn't too much of a factor.
The 7730 comes in a sleek and sophisticated construction, with a carbon-fiber lid, a metal frame and a shiny metal clip around the deck. The black-and-silver design is undoubtedly quite appealing. However, you'll also notice it's a heavy laptop weighing 7.5 pounds, so you'll definitely have to use a backpack to carry it around.
The laptop has a chiclet-style backlit keyboard, making it comfortable to use for even long typing sessions. The keys are decently spaced to minimize typing errors. More so, it also includes a couple of gesture features, like pinch-to-zoom in or a three-finger swipe to switch between programs.
The left side of the 7739 houses two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an SD card slot and a smart card reader. On the right side, it has a headphone/mic jack and two USB 3.1 Type-A ports. The back of the laptop has an HDMI port, mini Displayport, Ethernet port, an extra USB 3.1 Type-A port and the power jack.
It features the super-powerful Intel Core i9-8950HK CPU with six cores, allowing you to run extremely demanding programs and applications, like 3D rendering and video encoding, with total ease. Furthermore, the Nvidia Quadro P5200 GPU delivers some of the best graphic processing in the business. Additionally, the 8GB of GDDR5 memory is more than adequately equipped to run the most graphics-intensive programs. And, you have 512GB of SSD storage to store all your files.
Display & Audio
The 4K 17.3-inch UltraSharp display is absolutely outstanding and incredibly sharp, bringing out every color and minute detail. The matte display is remarkably crisp, and you'll never have any issues with screen resolution. This laptop also has some good speakers at the bottom, loud enough to be audible in a large room, but the sound quality might not exactly be the best.
Unfortunately, the battery life is not too great. The battery runs for around 4 hours when using the laptop continuously -one would arguably expect more at the price point. More so, the laptop also seems to heat up quite often, so you might need to use an external fan.
4. HP Zbook Studio G5 Mobile Workstation
- Processor Manufacturer: Intel
- Processor Type: Xeon
- Processor Model: E-2176M
- Processor speed: 2. 70 GHz
- Processor Core: Hexa-Core (6 core)
This is arguably the best laptop for architecture students, powerful yet affordable. It sports a silver and grey finish that looks quite stunning. It's also a lot lighter than other models featured here, partly thanks to the smaller 15.5-inch screen, making it easier to carry around.
The auxiliary ports include one card reader, USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt 3 connection and an HDMI 2.0 port.
The Intel Core i7-8750H processor with 6 cores is extremely powerful, with its clock speed ranging from 2.2 GHz to 4.1 GHz. It comes with 16GB DDR4 RAM, which can be upgraded up to 64GB. With two M.2 220 slots for SSDs, you can expand the internal storage from the 512GB base specification. This laptop is also equipped with a formidable CAD-optimized Nvidia Quadro P1000 -although it's not as fast as the latest Quadro cards, it's still pretty efficient in running CAD software.
It features an impressively bright 4K display with exceptional vivid contrast. Colors cover 96% of the sRGB color scheme to bring out even the most minute detail. It also comes with Bang and Olufsen speakers, between the display hinges and the keyboard, for some really good sound quality.
The 97Wh battery can allow you to pull off a decent 5-6 hours when using the laptop with moderate intensity. This can go all the way to 10 hours in idle mode.
5. Lenovo ThinkPad P72 Mobile Workstation
Coming in the traditional ThinkPad design, the P72 sports a black soft-touch finish, a magnesium lower chassis and a fiber lid. It weighs 7.2 pounds, but the weight feels well evenly distributed, so it won't inadvertently slide out of your hands. The sturdy construction also means it holds up well against damage.
The keyboard is exactly what we've come to expect from Thinkpads, super comfortable and accurate. The keys are well-spaced out, but it's worth mentioning they aren't particularly shallow, in case you prefer shallow keys. In addition, this laptop features high-quality dual 2W speakers -with Dolby Premium Audio- between the keyboard and the display.
This is probably the Thinkpad P72's biggest draw, as it's an absolute beast when it comes to performance. It comes with 16GB RAM, but you can bump it all the way up to 128GB! The 6-core CPU makes breeze work of even the most intensive processes like 3D rendering. In fact, with this laptop, you can compile one video in the background while editing another one without any problems.
It features the Nvidia Quadro P5200 GPU with 16GB DDR5 RAM. This top-of-the-line graphics card easily matches up to anything thrown its way, from demanding software to AAA games. On top of that, it comes with sizeable storage of 512GB SSD.
The Thinkpad P72 comes with a 17.3-inch 4K display. It's a vivid color screen that fully supports 100% Adobe RGB color gamut with a 10-bit color depth. The matte display is antiglare so that you won't have any eye problems, even after prolonged use. Even though it doesn't support Dolby Vision, it's still very accurate, ensuring every detail in your models and map pops out.
Quite frankly, the Thinkpad P72 is not built for power efficiency, especially when you consider its heavy-duty processor, graphics card and 4K display. That said, the 99Wh battery is fairly decent, giving you around 2 hours of battery life.
Factors to Consider in the Best Laptop for Architects
A couple of key factors have to be considered to find the perfect laptop for your specific needs, and preferences, by extension. The following specs should help you narrow down to an ideal fit, whether you're an architecture student, a budding architect or a seasoned practitioner.
1. CPU (Central Processing Unit)
Every architecture student and professional architect has to run powerful CAD and modeling software. Therefore, we always recommend getting a laptop with a multi-core processor, at least an Intel Core i7 processor, or an AMD Ryzen 7 processor. With a capable CPU, your working experience and workflow will always be smooth and fluid.
2. GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
You'll also be running some hardcore graphic software, suchlike ArchiCAD, Rhino, 3ds Max, Vectorworks or Revit. All these programs require robust graphic processing to run smoothly. Therefore, the ideal laptop for architecture students and practitioners should have at least a 4GB vRAM graphics card for fluid processing.
Architecture software will definitely take up a huge chunk of your RAM, especially when you're multitasking heavy applications and producing high-quality renderings. Therefore, you'll need a laptop with at least 16 GB RAM (although a student can probably get by with 8GB RAM). But if you really want to get the best performance from a computer, we recommend spending a bit more on 32GB RAM laptops for architects.
You'll certainly need significant storage space for your architectural design files. In that case, the higher the storage, the better off you are.
- Solid State Drive (SSD) is faster and fairly more reliable than their counterpart mechanical hard drive, but they also tend to be more expensive.
- Hard Disk Drive (HDD) might not be as reliable as SSD but offers more storage at a cheaper price.
- Hybrid Drives give you the benefits of both SSD and HDD. You can opt to install your operating system and architecture software in the SSD and the rest of your files in the HDD for optimal performance.
6. Screen Size and Resolution
Attention to detail is immensely crucial when it comes to the best laptops for architects. Ideally, we recommend a 15- to 17-inch screen size to get the best out of your display, especially for architectural rendering. That being said, if portability is a factor for you, a 13.3- to 14-inch display can more than suffice most everyday architectural design tasks.
Typically, a full high definition (FHD) should be just fine for the work involved. However, higher resolutions, like UHD or 4K, ensure that you future-proof your laptop display.
7. Weight & Battery Life
Ideally, we would all want a lightweight, portable laptop that can last us the whole day on a single charge. However, laptops that come with dedicated graphics cards and powerful CPUs tend to weigh around 5lb. You can still find models that fall within the preferable 3lb, but these are also more expensive.
Battery life is just as important when looking at the best laptop for architects. However, most of these laptops are geared towards high-performance, meaning they are very intensive on the battery. Be it the case, you can still expect above-average battery life from our picks.
8. Other Considerations
a). Mac vs. Windows
The choice of the operating system comes down to your personal preferences since both OS'es are well-equipped to handle all the requirements of architectural software. On the one hand, Windows is fairly more user-friendly, with an extensive array of programs and applications, but it's also more prone to viruses than Mac. On the other hand, Mac has a flattering reception from and by professionals but is also arguably overpriced.
b). Ports and Peripherals
You also have to consider how many ports you'll need, from USB and ethernet to specialist ports. This also extends to peripherals you might want to use, such as computer mice, touchpads or external hard drives. Ultimately, this varies depending on your preference for wired or wireless connections.