Architecture software are demanding, economically and technically. We use it extensively to design concepts, presentations, editing, documenting, organizing and last but not the least, deadline submissions. It is not difficult to say while working, we use our software for most of times other than sketching and site work. However, even our software require the best of functionality and graphics to perform at their best. This post we will share insights on best laptops for architects and architecture students in 2019.
You start off generally with window shopping when going around looking for the right hardware, except that you know you want to buy something. You just don’t know what to choose. Too expensive? What specification can I compromise with? Is the compromise going to affect my workflow? Mac or Windows? Laptop or assembled PC?
The right hardware is a must as nobody wants a hindrance with their workflow and a possible submission breakdown. Let us look into how to choose the right hardware for by looking into the roles different components play during workflow.
In this article, we are to speak of the appropriate hardware or the best laptops for architects based on the software popularly used in architectural colleges and in profession, namely:
- Autodesk AutoCAD
- Autodesk Revit
- Autodesk 3DsMax
- Adobe Photoshop
- Trimble Sketchup
1. Laptop vs Desktop
This is a no-brainer. During my time as an architecture student, I worked on both. I eventually moved over to a laptop. Desktops are undeniably cheaper compared to laptops when speaking in terms of the similar hardware specification range. But the greatest advantage that lies in laptops: mobility.
An architecture student requires his/her computer for presentations, print-outs, possible site-works and working in a group. Owning a PC restricts the mobility in these circumstances and makes these situations difficult to handle.
If you already have a desktop, try an alternative by purchasing a cheap range laptop that is not fully fledged with specifications and will only be required to present items and not for working on them. And if you are used to working on larger screens, purchase a good monitor. It can work as an extended screen along with a laptop, or a single screen with an HDMI attached to your laptop.
Make sure your laptop has the following features:
- HDMI Port: During presentations, you might be required to plug in your device to an already available larger screen. That is where these come handy.
- Extended Monitor Port: HDMI cables are expensive. Sometimes the presentation rooms provide extended monitor cables as an alternative.
- SD Card Slot: Architecture students require to take photographs during site visits. When in possession of a digicam, transferring images to the computer is easy through the SD Card slot
- Minimum two USB ports: One for the mouse (Yes. Buy a mouse. Keypads aren’t good enough). Other for connecting any other possible device.
- Numeric Keypad (comes only with 15” + laptops): Software like AutoCAD require typing dimensions frequently. For easier workflow, the numeric keypad is really handy.
2. Mac vs Windows
Though Mac does have more durability and better workflow, it is strongly recommended to opt for Windows over MacIntosh OS to select the best laptop for architecture students. There are several reasons why:
- Macs are expensive. While a MacBook Pro (Air doesn’t have all the features a basic architecture student laptop needs) starts from Rs. 170000, a Windows laptop can cost around Rs. 80000 to Rs 100000 with the same internal specifications.
- Macs have a fixed specification. Hence, one cannot customize when the need arises and would require purchasing an entirely new piece. Windows laptops are customizable.
- Revit and 3DsMax don’t run on MacOS. There is an alternative by installing Revit and 3DsMax through Bootcamp, i.e., installing a Windows OS in parallel to the MacOS in the MacBook. It is not a workflow-friendly approach, though. It is often required to switch from software-to-software during the workflow, and in a MacOS, one would need to reboot the system every time to use Revit or 3DsMax in parallel to, let’s say, AutoCAD.
Some of the best architecture schools such as Harvard GSD, Cornell University and University of Texas at Austin recommend students to purchase Windows based laptops.
Reference : wikis.utexas.edu
Image credits: gsd.harvard.edu
Image credit: aap.cornell.edu
3. No. of Cores v Clock Speed (CPU)
While looking into the motherboard/CPU a laptop possesses, we often come across two terminologies: Number of cores and clock speed. And often when we are on a budget constraint, we hardly find a CPU that is equipped with both in high numbers. So, let us try to understand what roles these elements play during our workflow.
An architect performs various tasks. They could be drafting, 3D modelling, video editing, photo editing or rendering. Drafting, 3D modelling and editing are single-threaded tasks, which means they tap only one CPU. Rendering, video editing and transcoding are multi-threaded tasks, which means they distribute the process into multiple CPUs and execute the that way. (Reference: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/operating-system-difference-multitasking-multithreading-multiprocessing/). BIM software, even though simply 3D modeling, are multi-threaded as they are information-based elements. (Reference: knowledge.autodesk.com). This might make it clear as to what is more necessary for you personally. Architecture students require to perform renders. Hence, it is recommended to look at laptops that have higher number of cores. The clock speed per core (GHz) is simply a bonus.
NOTE: Make sure you check how old the processor is. It would be a sustainable option to purchase a laptop whose processor is no older than one year.
4. Extended Graphic Card
There are two types of graphic cards. One that comes inbuilt with the motherboard, and the other that is installed externally as per the compatibility with the motherboard. Graphic card is inbuilt in laptops and is often the last item that is customized.
The primary role of the graphic card is to reprocess the image once there are changed made in their orientation. It plays a vital role in 3D modeling workflow. Below is an image that explains the difference between a good and a bad graphic card in layman terms.
To find out the minimum memory of graphic card a software requires for a good workflow, check the website of the software. The links to some software are provided at the end of this article.
5. Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM is a form of computer data storage that stores data currently being used and allows data items to be read or written in almost the same amount of time as it is stored in its memory. (Reference: Wikipedia). The higher amount of RAM allows more data to be stored, and hence quicker access to processes that have been performed recently. This eventually affects the workflow.
Architecture software often demand a minimum of 8GB RAM and mention 16GB as the recommended.
Image credit: Rhino3d.com
Image credit: knowledge.autodesk.com
6. Internal Hard Disk/Internal Storage
This is where the data is stored. There are two types of hard drives: Solid State Drives (SSD) and Hard Disk Drives (HDD). When we open a file or boot a software, the computer uses the internal hard disks to open the files. In these processes, SSDs are a lot faster than HDDs. Here are some statistics.
Image credits: blog.cadalyst
The only issue with SSD is they are expensive. Hence, laptops often provide low SSD storage and high HDD storage. (Eg. 80GB SSD + 500 GB HDD). In that way, you can install the software and the Operating System to the SSD and all the personal files to the HDD.
7. Warranty period
Laptops are expensive. It is a very difficult item to replace in quick succession. This is where warranty periods play an important role. Higher warranty makes the product price higher, but it is eventually an investment for the future and a money-saving step to choose the best laptops for architects. This enhances the longevity of the product and helps maintain the performance of the system making it hassle-free for both architects and students.
NOTE: Laptop brands such a HP, Apple, Lenovo and Dell provide student discounts which comes in handy to purchase a laptop which might initially seem beyond your budget.
Now that we understand what role each element of a computer plays to the design workflow, this should help choose a good machine for you. Again, the software is not the design but a medium of expression. One of the reasons we advise architecture students to execute their design processes through handwork in the initial couple of years is so that they understand their strengths. It does not mean that you cannot learn the software in the meantime. But try not to buy a computer for yourself too soon until you will understand what the perfect kind of hardware for you is, and your laptop will have greater longevity.
Also, if you are looking for gift ideas for architects and architecture students read our post on gifts for architects.