Buying a laptop for archt. student

I'm a student. I need to buy a new laptop regardless not just for my architecture classes so I am asking this because there's professionals out there who may have specific suggestions I could really benefit from on a student budget.

I have about $1,300 I can spend.

My architecture professor will be using a PC to teach autoCAD 2015

Some concerns I have is if I went Mac-- I am being told by fellow students Mac might not even support 2015 yet?

Also Mac will be harder because he is using PC to teach and some interface may be different he said already if you get a Mac buy the program to run a PC on your Mac? This confused me

QUESTION: If you had this 1,300 what kind of computer would you buy to get the absolute best bang for your buck? Thanks all :)
Aug 27, 14 4:59 pm

Windows PC, Intel i7 49xx or Xeon 12xx-V3, minimum of 8GB RAM, SSD or Hybrid Hard Drive, minimum 2GB discreet video card...

That video card might jack your price up a lot, most laptops have integrated graphics on the CPU, and I guess that's ok for most people.  With a laptop focus on the CPU, i7 or nothing really, then RAM clocked no lower than 1600 mhz.  I like Macs, but they're nothing more than a fashion statement in the classroom, somewhat buggy with autodesk programs, and by no means the definition of bang for your buck.  Have you posed the question on the forums?  I got a lot of help when I built my PC there, and I know there are several threads dedicated to laptop CAD machines.  $1300 is kind of on the low end from what I remember, but you should be able to find a deal.  Just an example on - HERE <---click

Aug 27, 14 5:20 pm

Macs run AutoCAD fine. Years don't matter because it is fundamentally the same program. That's about it though besides Maya. You'll need to boot into Windows for everything else used these days (e.g. Rhino, Revit, 3ds Max, etc).

Look at something like a Lenovo Y50. Looks alright, a gaming machine but it's surely going to accelerate enough of your programs for the first few years. $1300 is tight, you might be able to find a older W530 workstation or save a bit more for the recent models. This is a bad time to buy since new releases are just around the horizon and old models have yet to be discounted.

AutoCAD isn't that demanding, a on-chip graphics card can run it (Intel HD4600, HD5000, etc). The other programs should gain from Nvidia's CUDA, preferably their Quadro workstation cards due to optimized drivers. These options cost a lot so you might want to hold of until you know what you want.

Aug 27, 14 6:39 pm

It would be foolish to get an Apple Macbook or Macbook pro.


You want a windows 64 bit laptop with an Intel i7 processor, at least 12gb RAM and a discreet graphics card - Nvidia or AMD is fine. That's it. Go to newegg, amazon, or Costco websites and just find those specs. You should be able to do it for less than $1300. I picked up a 17" touchscreen HP envy with those specs (actually 16gb ram and a 2gb GeForce card with an Intel i7 Q2100 ) for only $750 at newegg. Save the remainder for buying software because hardware is only half of it.


I recommend Rhino or sketch up, an older AutoCAD (buy used on Craigslist from an arch firm), and Adobe creative cloud for students, which will cost monthly. You could pirate software, but I would really advise against it as it usually will not run as well and can really mess with your computer.

Aug 27, 14 6:54 pm

Almost all Autodesk software is free for students!

I am a professional architect using Autocad and Revit. After researching the options, the best option I found was to get a gaming computer. The same hardware that is needed for gaming is also needed for 3D modeling. I have two laptops; an Alienware M11x (from 2010), and an Alienware M14 (from 2012). Both these can run even the most complex Revit models. I bought these both used for $400 and $600 respectively. Alienware (owned by Dell) computers are so powerful that even a two or four year old laptop can blow away a normal laptop. Check out Ebay for good used deals.

A new Alienware computer (M14) can be bought for under $1,200. Check out the Alienware/Dell website. Also, Alienware computers are completely upgradable; you can add RAM etc... Definitely get an SSD over a hard drive; they are 10 times faster.

If I had $2,000 I'd by a Razor Blade, as they are the best gaming computer today. Check out the Razor website.

There are a lot of other good gaming computers. All would work for Revit.

One last note; don't get a MAC for CAD or 3D Modeling. Yes, you can install windows on a MAC, but it is better just to get a PC. I had a MAC until I started my architecture firm. MACs were so bad with architectural programs that you just can't do everything on a MAC. ( No Revit for example). I bought a copy of Autocad for my MAC in 2011 or 2012. Within a year it stopped working. Apple had changed the video drivers, and Autodesk never upgraded the software. There was no fix except going back to the older version of MAC OS. When Autodesk won't support their own software on the MAC platform, then it is worthless. I stopped doing any work on MAC and bought PCs for my architecture firm. If you get Autocad, make sure it is for the PC. MAC Autocad doesn't have all the features of the PC.

If you do get a MAC, make sure you install windows and reboot it for Autodesk programs.


Aug 27, 14 7:16 pm

Do not buy a Mac.  I have tried running Windows on my MacBook pro with both Parallels and Boot Camp and neither one is a very good solution as they are both slow and inconvenient compared to operating a PC.  Apple is now a mobile phone and tablet company.  They stopped being interested in computers and professional users a long time ago.

Aug 28, 14 12:20 pm
Thanks a lot for all the input everybody. Very helpful in my final decision to buy an ASUS ROG G56JK-EB72 Gaming Laptop Intel Core i7 4710HQ (2.50GHz) 12GB Memory 1TB HDD NVIDIA GeForce GTX 850M 2GB GDDR3 15.6" Windows 8.1 64-Bit
Aug 28, 14 7:44 pm
Came out to about $1,140 with tax + shipping. I bought a wireless mouse so that bumped it up to about $1,200
Aug 28, 14 7:45 pm

Nice get, hope it serves you well.  Oh, make sure to get a cooling stand or something for it so it doesn't overheat when you're rendering...

Aug 28, 14 7:49 pm

Good choice.

I suggest when you get some more money to swap out the HDD with an SSD. Also get an external hard drive for back-up and archiving.

Aug 28, 14 8:05 pm

Google Drive and is a great alternative and you can retrieve files anywhere!

Asus ROG! You'll get the strongest configuration possible plus the robust cooling mechanisms that will allow you to render and model 24/7 confidently. Also the Matte screen of the ROG is very good but still affordable.

Oct 4, 14 3:24 am
blanket statements

Agree with Manh, for most people something like an Asus ROG G750 will be more than sufficient for any type of modelling ranging from 3ds to Rhino. However if you are going to be doing very complex high detail projects like structural engineering I would find a laptop with a Quadro card. But yes those are typically based at 2,000usd +.

Oct 8, 14 4:08 am

Hi, I am a community college student, and I am planning to transfer to studying architecture next spring. I am an international student, so my economic situation is not that good. I have reading this topic because I need to buy a new laptop for when I transfer, but I have noticed that architecture computers are too expensive. I was wondering if a computer less advanced could be an option. Cornell has recommended specs to buy a laptop, and I have been looking for a computer mostly based on that. Do you think HP envy dv6 is a good choice? The graphics card is not ideal, so I really do not know. Also looking at how much that one cost you can get an idea of my budget. Do you think it would be good for at least a year, before I find a way to buy a better one?

Apr 13, 15 8:55 am

I am an architecture student and I am between buying the Toshiba satellite s55t c5165 or the Asus k501ux or the dell inspiron 15. Any thought or recommendations? My budget is under 900 and those laptops seem to have good specs for that price.

Jun 5, 16 10:47 pm

For Revit, Autocad, 3DMax, etc... you need a "Quatro" graphics card from Nvidia, or similar from AMD. A gaming graphics card no longer works with the the last year or two of Autodesk products. (No more using an Alienware laptop for Autocad.)

The Precision line from Dell is specifically designed for architecture and engineering. These have either an AMD FirePro or Nvidia Quadro graphics card. The cheapest is the Precision 15 3000 series at $999.

If you don't mind a big bulky laptop, then a used Precision 15 5000 series is less than $500 on Ebay.

You can go to the Autodesk website and search for which graphic cards work with Autodesk products.

Jun 5, 16 11:31 pm

Quadro is over-rated, many of my classmates and myself included have regular laptops with nvidia video cards in our M.Arch program at Kansas State University, we're not building the Mercedes Benz Stadium !


"For Revit, Autocad, 3DMax, etc... you need a "Quatro" graphics card from Nvidia, or similar from AMD. A gaming graphics card no longer works with the the last year or two of Autodesk products. (No more using an Alienware laptop for Autocad.)"


What the hell are you talking about?  I use a 900 series Nvidia gaming cards in two different computers to run those programs on a daily basis.  Hell you can use a Macbook Air without a dedicated GPU to run Autocad (not recommended).  

Jun 6, 16 12:06 am

There is a "hardware accelerator" in Autocad, and other Autodesk programs. If you are not using a certified graphics card, it will automatically turn off the graphics acceleration. The program still works, just much slower.

For the Nvidia graphics cards the gaming cards and the professional "Quatro" cards are the same, but they hobble the gaming cards to be slower. That way they can sell the professional cards at a much higher price.

Years ago I used a Mac Book Pro to render in Maya. It would take 24 hours to render a complex scene. My current computer is a Dell Precision and it can render the same scene in minutes, not hours. 

If you are just using Autocad then you don't need a super graphics card. If you plan on using Revit or 3D Max, a graphics card is a must.

Jun 6, 16 12:44 am

Lenovo Thinkpad W550s flies for me, but I believe it was more like $2300.

Jan 18, 18 4:39 pm

You need a powerful laptop with high end configuration.

Since laptop can be upgraded like desktops, it is better not to compromise in the configuration.

HP Omen-X models can be a very good option for you. Best models in this series are costlier than Macbook Pro but they worth it. 

Gaming laptops like Dell Alienware are also good options for you. 

Apr 25, 18 2:00 am

I personally recommend the best Dell XPS Laptop you can afford. I've been very happy with the performance on mine. 

Apr 28, 18 8:22 pm

Would be interesting to see if the computer served OP well since its been four years since the original post! 

Jul 12, 18 8:56 am

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