Architect Computer - Workstation, Laptop Or Virtual Desktop?

Architect Computer - Workstation, Laptop Or Virtual Desktop?

5 Questions To Ask Before Buying An Architect Computer 

An architect computer is a serious investment - you will want to choose the best machine that supports your needs today and in the long term. After all, you do not want to be stuck with a computer that takes half an hour to render a basic model, when you could have purchased another workstation that does it in minutes.

With so many powerful machines out there, it can be difficult to decide which architecture computer is best for you. This doesn’t have to be. In this quick guide, we will look at five steps to pick the best computer for any architect.

  1. Sizing your machine
  2. Windows or Mac?
  3. Your usage of 3D design software
  4. Your budget
  5. Workstation, laptop or virtual desktop?

Whether you are a student or an IT system professional buying a computer for architects at your business, the following 5 steps will help you to your decision.

5 steps for choosing an architect computer

The following five steps will help you choose the best device for your needs.

1. Size your system: 3D design software and model size of your 3D designs

      Architects will first need to know which BIM modelling software they will use, and what the minimum system requirements are for that software. This is the most important factor to consider when sizing an architect’s computer. After all, “heavy” 3D modelling architecture software – such as Autodesk’s Revit - needs lots of power.

      Whether you are buying an architecture computer as a student or you are an IT systems manager for a large architecture firm, it is vital to ensure that the machine can run the software required. 

      Therefore, visit the website of the software company and review the minimum hardware requirements (for Revit, see here). You are looking in particular at the size of two important components.  

      • The minimum CPU: what minimal amount of computing power? Your vendor will recommend a minimum CPU performance, measured in GB of RAM. Most vendors spec a minimum of 8GB of RAM.
      • Graphics power: what is the minimal recommended graphics card (from vendors such as Nvidia or AMD)? The minimum performance of a graphics card or GPU (such as from the popular Nvidia Quadro family) is 2GB RAM.

      Our advice for Revit: rather than picking the minimum performance of 8GB, we recommend 16 GB of RAM. If the size of your central design model file is larger than 1GB, than pick a CPU that has a performance of 32 GB RAM. You normally won’t need a bigger graphics card than 2GB, unless you also want to do 3D rendering work (Lumion, VRay, 3D Studio Max). Students  who don’t know which software program they will use should contact their college to find out what 3D design software they will be using.

      2. Operating System

      As opposed to other knowledge workers, architects will consider two operating systems: Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac OS.

      Windows is the most widely used operating system among architects and students simply because there are far more machines available and at a lower cost. You will normally find high quality computers at a much lower price than the Apple equivalent. Windows is generally better known and supported by IT departments and university computer repair teams too.

      That being said, the Mac OS is probably more popular among architects because of its focus on design and usability. A perennial drawback is that there’s no Revit version for the Mac OS.

      3. Your planned use of 3D architecture software

      A recent new trend is that virtual computers can run the graphics-intensive software that architects typically use. A virtual computer gives an architect access to a best-in-class virtual machine which runs on the cloud. Just like Google Docs, a virtual computer requires you to connect over the internet to use your preferred architecture software. The advantage is that you can buy very affordable laptops or desktops (or a Macbook laptop or iMac workstation ) and then rent a relatively low cost and high specs (32 GB of CPU RAM, powered with nvidia GPU’s up to 8 GB RAM) virtual desktop online.

      Learn more: What Are The Costs Of Remote Desktops For CAD And BIM?

      There are other advantages of virtual machines: you can work with them on practically any device (Windows, MacOS, and mobile devices if you must), and from anywhere.  

      To summarize: if you don’t need your 3D BIM software 40 hours a week (or if you insist on working on a Mac), you should really consider a virtual workstation (if they meet the requirements in step 1) in combination with a low-spec, low-cost laptop or desktop computer (or iMac or Macbook Pro).

      Bear in mind that virtual machines will only work if you have a constant, reliable internet connection at home, in the office or at school, similar to what you would need for watching Netflix. If you do have such a connection, then you can save a lot of money over time. Plus, your designs will always be stored securely in the cloud rather than being held on an expensive machine which could be a target for theft. 

      4. Your budget

      Speaking about money: how much are you willing to spend on an architect's computer? As a rule of thumb, it is usually best not to economize on the computing power or graphics card - even though Nvidia or AMD graphics cards can be more costly than the rest of the system. In the long run this will pay dividends since you will save hundreds of hours waiting as the computer processes renders, and you can store far more data on the machine itself.

      5. Desktops or laptops?

      A final question to think about when choosing your architecture computer, is whether you prefer desktops or laptops. A stationary desktop or workstation offers the advantage of being easy to customise - you can add more memory easily, pick a specific nvidia graphics card, etc. On the other hand, laptops are of course mobile, and you can use them anywhere.

      It is of course possible to use a virtual architecture computer on both laptops and desktops. If you have gone into college or work and not brought your laptop, you can still use any internet connected computer to log onto your machine remotely and work on your designs.

      The laptop also comes with a sizeable screen. However, most architects will want to buy dual screens, which is a separate expense. If you choose a laptop, you should factor in the cost of a base-station to connect your laptop to a dual-monitor screen.

      The shortlist for your architect computer

      The sheer quantity of architecture computers out there can make choosing a machine overwhelming. However, by using the 5 steps you can easily narrow it down and find the best architect computer for you. Let's summarize and simplify here: 

      1. Sizing your machine: at a minimum 16GB of RAM and 2 GB of GPU.
      2. Windows or Mac: pick a Windows systems, unless you can't live without a MacOS. 
      3. Your usage of 3D design software: if you're not a heavy user - working with 3D design software on a full-time basis - go with a virtual machine. 
      4. Your budget: don't skimp on CPU and GPU power. 
      5. Desktop, laptop or virtual desktop: if you're a heavy user, we recommend a high-end desktops or workstations. For all others, we suggest standard laptops (or MacOS) in combination with a virtual workstation.  

      Virtual desktops from Designair are ideally suited to architecture firms and architecture students looking for a flexible and cost-efficient option for running architecture software - either on affordable laptops or Apple's most impressive iMac's.

      To learn more about Designair's virtual desktops for architects, read about the industries we serve or begin your free trial today.