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Best Laptops for AutoCAD

By John Semel | CAD, Hardware, IT

Mobility and remote work are becoming more critical in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction. This can range from architects wanting to maximize their efficiency while traveling to contractors getting up-to-date documents while on site. Laptops also take up less physical space and are more energy-efficient.

I’ve prepared this guide to help you choose a good laptop for use with AutoCAD, including an overview of preferred specifications, as well as specific laptops that may suit your needs.

I have noted the importance of processor, memory, storage, graphics, and operating system and how they impact your CAD software’s performance.

Hardware Overview

Central Processing Units (CPU)

The CPU is the heart of any computer, and as a result, there are myriad options available now, primarily from Intel and AMD.

Over the years, CPU increased its speed primarily by making its transistors smaller and thus faster. As it has become more difficult to shrink the transistors’ size, CPU designers have started adding more cores, which is similar to adding more CPUs to the computer. This means that different applications can run on separate cores; some applications are also designed to utilize multiple cores.

AutoCAD is not optimized to use multiple cores, meaning that the primary benefit of a chip with a high number of cores will be that you can run other applications reasonably fast. This also means that you may want to emphasize clock speed (GHz) over the number of cores if given a choice. Since you will almost always be multitasking and running other applications, you should consider a quad-core processor common in laptops today.

Intel i7 and AMD Ryzen 5 chips are good options. However, Intel i9 and AMD Ryzen 7/9 series chips often have a “Turbo Mode” which shuts down unused cores and lets the active cores run faster, so you may want to include them in your comparisons.

If you are using the rendering features of Autodesk products or using 3rd party render engines with 3ds Max, those functions are multithreaded and can benefit from additional cores. For those uses, we recommend you select a CPU with the fastest clock speed and number of cores you can afford. As of January 2020, we recommend AMD Threadripper or Intel i9 chips.

Memory

We recommend a minimum of 16gb of RAM for AutoCAD. If you use other memory-intensive applications (such as Photoshop or Revit), you may want 32gb.

Storage

As the saying goes, you can have size, speed, or low cost, but you can’t have all three. AutoCAD primarily relies on hard drive speed for file operations (open, save, and back up), so fast storage is not always the most critical factor. I’d still recommend M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD (solid-state drive), but NVMe SATA drives can also do a good job. You should specify at least 512Gb of storage space.

Graphics

AutoCAD is primarily producing lines in a 2D or occasionally 3D environment. Thus it’s not typically a demanding application for graphics. Autodesk applications (including 3Ds Max and Revit) usually rely on the CPU, rather than graphics, for rendering. As a result, you can use a variety of graphics cards, including ones intended for gaming. Although it is not a critical component, I still recommend selecting a laptop with a dedicated graphics card and at least 2GB of VRAM for the best performance. You 

 

Specific Laptops

In addition to the hardware overview and guidelines above, I have recommendations for specific laptops. There are many laptops that I deem the best value for the money and at different price points. The first ones on the list are those on a budget, mid-range laptops, and the premium machines that offer top specifications.

Budget Laptops

Laptop HP Omen 15T DH100

HP Omen 15T DH100

This is a gaming laptop, good for users on a budget or students.

  • 15.6″ FHD
  • Intel i7 2.6GHz
  • 16gb DDR4 2933 MHz
  • 1 TB NVMe M.2 SSD
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6GB
  • 6 lbs

Laptop Acer-Swift-5-SF514-54-Blue-main

Acer Swift 5 Pro

The Acer Swift is a good combination of affordability and lightweight. However, you may want to increase the RAM if you use it regularly; also note the use of an integrated graphics card.

  • 14″ FHD
  • Intel i5-8250U processor Quad-core 1.60 GHz
  • 8GB DDR3
  • 256GB SATA
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • 2.2 lbs

Mid-Range Laptops

 

Laptop Lenovo ThinkPad P15s

Lenovo ThinkPad P15s

ThinkPads are a classic option; in this case, falling in the middle in terms of weight and performance.

  • 15″ IPS FHD
  • Intel i7 1.8GHz
  • 16gb DDR4 2667MHz
  • 512GB PCIe SSD
  • NVIDIA Quadro P520 2GB
  • 4 lbs

Laptop ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8

The X1 is Lenovo’s ultralight option, great for working in the field or for constant traveling. The performance will be a little slower than the P15s, but it will be much easier to carry in your bag.

  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8
  • 15″ FHDIntel i5 1.6Ghz
  • 16 GB LPDDR3 2133MHz
  • 512 GB PCIe SSDIntegrated Intel Graphics
  • 2.6 lbs

Laptop Dell G7 15

Dell G7 15

The Dell G7 is a gaming laptop that offers a lot of bang for the buck, including more RAM. It’s a little heavy, starting to get into “desktop replacement” territory. As always, it’s typically easy to customize Dell models to add more RAM or a different HD right from the factory.

  • 15.6″ FHD
  • Intel i7 2.6 GHz
  • 32GB DDR4 2933MHz
  • 1 TB NVMe M.2 SSD
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 8GB
  • 5 lbs

Laptop ASUS-ZenBook-Duo-UX481FL-XS74T-stylus

Asus ZenBook 14 UX481FL-XS74T

The ZenBook’s display is a bit on the small side but adds a touch screen. Combined with its lightweight, it can be an excellent option for doing markups in the field.

  • 14″ FHD Touch Screen
  • Intel Core i7-10510U Processor
  • 16GB LPDDR3
  • 1TB PCIE G3x4 SSD
  • NVIDIA GeForce MX250
  • 3.5 lbs

HP ZBook Studio G7 Laptop

HP ZBook Studio G7

The HP ZBook offers a lot of performance, almost in the high-end territory with the i9 chip and NVIDIA Quadro GPU. However, it’s more of a desktop replacement due to its weight.

  • 15″ UHD Touchscreen
  • Intel i9 2.4Ghz
  • 16gb DDR
  • 512 GB PCIe NVMe
  • NVIDIA Quadro® T1000 Max-Q
  • 6 lbs

 

High-End Laptops

Boxx Technologies GOBOXX SLM 15

Boxx Technologies is one of the best designers and manufacturers of computers for the AEC industry, hands down; they know how to optimize their offerings for high performance, with 32GB of RAM and a Quadro RTX Mobile. At 4.2 pounds, it’s a portable powerhouse.

  • 15″
  • Intel i7 2.3 GHz
  • 32GB DDR4 3200MHz
  • 1 TB NVMe M.2 SSD
  • NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000 6GB Mobile
  • 4.2 lbs

Boxx Technologies GOBOXX MXL 17 Laptop

Boxx Technologies GOBOXX MXL 17

The MXL 17 is the big brother to the SLM 15, with a 17″ display, a full RTX card, a weight of 8.6 pounds, and (in terms of clock speed) the fastest CPU on the list. This is intended as a desktop replacement option.

  • 17″ Full HD
  • Intel i7 3.6GHz
  • 16GB DDR4 3200MHz
  • 512 GB NVMe M.2 SSD
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 8GB
  • 8.6 lbs

Lenovo ThinkPad P17 Laptop

Lenovo ThinkPad P17

The P17 is another laptop with a 17″ display. It won’t have quite the same performance as the Boxx MLX 17 but weighs 2.6 pounds less.

  • 17.3″ FHD
  • Intel i7 2.6GHz
  • 16gb DDR4 2933MHz
  • 512GB PCIe SSD
  • NVIDIA Quadro T2000 4GB6 lbs

Laptop Dell Precision 3550

Dell Precision 3550

The Precision 3550 is the lightest and most affordable of the high-end options, but still has plenty of RAM and a Quadro card.

  • 15.6″ FHD
  • Intel i7 1.8GHz
  • 32GB DDR4 2666Mhz
  • 512GB NVMe SSD
  • NVIDIA Quadro P520 2GB
  • 4 lbs

Windows vs. Macs

In terms of hardware and operating system, it all comes down to your personal preference. High-end Apple and PC laptops are well geared to handle the challenges offered by the job.

All of the above computers use Windows 10, and most will include Windows 10 Professional.  Windows 10 is arguably more user friendly as it supports a wide array of software but is exposed to more viruses than Mac. So here’s an option to use Apple OS X.

Apple_MacBook_Pro_Laptop

 

 

Apple MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro supports multiple resolutions, offers four Thunderbolt ports, and a pressure-sensitive trackpad. While Autodesk does offer a version of AutoCAD for Mac OS X and works with BIM 360, Autodesk offers very few applications for the Mac platform.

  • 16″ IPS
  • Intel i7 7 2.6Ghz
  • 16GB DDR4 2666Mhz
  • 512GB NVMe SSD
  • AMD 4GB GDDR6 Radeon Pro 5300M
  • 4.3 lbs

One option is to use BootCamp, which is the built-in dual boot option; in this case, you set up a separate partition on your Mac and boot into a full Windows environment. Using Bootcamp gives the best performance, but you can’t access your Mac OS environment or programs while it’s running.

The next option is to run Windows 10 using virtualization, such as VMWare Workstation Player or Parallels. Using Parallels runs a virtual machine within the Mac OS, which allows you access to both operating system environments. However, this also means that both operating systems are using the hardware at the same time. If you plan to use virtualization, I recommend considering the higher-end Macbook Pro, which has a 2.3Ghz i9 8-core CPU and configures it with 32gb of RAM.

 

For design professionals using demanding software on a day-to-day basis, that made for a tough decision — should one opt for a slim model to make trips from the studio to site easier, or a powerful unit to run programs like Revit and 3ds Max, or even Solidworks. Depending on your preferences, many of the laptops listed here offer the best of all worlds when it comes to power, aesthetics, and mobility.

Do you have your own view on which is the best laptop for architects and engineers?

Let us know.

Contact our Microsol Resources Technical Team and email support@microsolresources.com.

 

INDUSTRIES: Architecture, Civil Engineering, Civil Infrastructure, Construction, MEP Engineering, Structural Engineering

About the Author

John has been the Director of IT at Microsol since 2014. Prior to that, he worked with architecture firms. He is an expert in multi-site collaboration technologies, licensing, subscription software, CAD & BIM specific hardware & digital imaging.

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