Choosing a new PC naturally means you have to consider a list of criteria that it will need to meet. This requirement is very much true for architects and architecture students alike.
With that in mind, it will not do to grab any gaming style computer off the shelf and expect it to fulfill your needs solely because it has more inherent power.
Your goal will be to consider these five key criteria when choosing a laptop or desktop computer suitable for your architecture needs.
1. Does it need to be portable?
You will need to decide whether this will be a laptop or a desktop.
Desktops are easily upgradeable and tend to last longer, but their bulk renders them stationary. This limitation includes having multiple parts making them more inconvenient to move, such as an external monitor, mouse, keyboard, etc.
Laptops go with you wherever you need them. They may not last you quite as long as a desktop, but that gap has been shrinking as laptops have improved.
If you need the PC with you while taking classes or wherever you go on the job, it becomes clear that the laptop wins; however, you may have to spend more money on the laptop.
Another option is the mini desktop PC. It will undoubtedly be more portable but still has the same issues as any other desktop in that you must connect a monitor and everything else it needs.
Nevertheless, they remain more upgradeable than the laptop option, making them a better, longer-term investment in a continuously improving environment.
2. What tools will you require?
Will you be fine only using a keyboard and mouse with your computer?
Do you need other input methods like a touchscreen or stylus?
While a gaming-style PC would fit the first question and provide productive power, it lacks the necessary parts for the latter question. However, there are laptops designed explicitly for ‘creatives’ that include options to interact with your work directly on-screen.
You can do this through specialized monitors on the desktop side, and you will need to match the proper hand tools to it – if they do not already come with the monitor chosen.
Some desktop accessories can be quite expensive by themselves, but you can use some of them alongside laptops.
With this in mind, make sure everything you intend to use will have a place to connect to your chosen PC.
3. What should you do about graphics?
This one is simple; go with a dedicated graphics card.
Onboard graphics have become more powerful – these have the graphics (GPU) on the motherboard, but they still will not meet the 3D and rendering requirements typical for architecture.
It is also ideal for the graphics card to have as much RAM as you can get. Two-gigabytes (GB) is the minimum it should have, but more is better.
Note that the graphics card’s RAM is separate from the computer’s RAM; you would ideally want 16GB or more for the latter.
4. What processor should you use?
“Go big or go home” is a common idea when it comes to the processor, as a more powerful CPU (central processing unit) in your PC will mean it can do more work for you.
Even so, buying more than you will need can be a waste of resources. Consider the software you intend to use on the computer.
Look at its recommended list of PC requirements as you will often find particular CPUs listed there or, at least, the speeds the CPU should be able to handle.
Do this with every piece of software you intend to install to discover how powerful a CPU you will need for all your software needs.
For example, AutoCAD requires a minimum of 2.5 GHz, but it is recommended to use a CPU with 3+ GHz. Therefore, narrow your search to computers with 3.0 GHz or more.
The number of cores in the CPU translates into the amount of multitasking the computer will handle. More and more software is being programmed to use the multiple cores present in most computers today.
This includes programs like AutoCAD, Photoshop, Rhino, and SketchUp, so you can expect a single program to be making use of more than one core at the same time.
The higher core count you can afford, the better as this will help keep your computer from slowing down and add to its life span.
5. What about the monitor?
This component is too often overlooked. It becomes crucial if you need to do detailed work such as an artistic render or the like.
On a laptop, you will be OK with a 1080p screen, but if you must, there are higher resolutions on laptops, including 4K. Laptops have smaller screens compared to your typical desktop, which is why 1080p is often enough.
4K will be more expensive on a laptop and will drain the battery faster; however, there are more of these popping up, and they are improving the battery lifespan.
If you choose the desktop, go with a 4k monitor as it will make a difference as you work on the larger monitor. The monitor’s color accuracy is an item to keep in mind if you need to do more artistic work.
Other Architect PC Considerations
There are always other things you can consider when buying a PC for work or when preparing for architecture school, but they are not as crucial as these top five.
Storage space these days is cheap. Start with a 1TB SSD (solid-state drive), and if that is not enough, there are always options to add more. The upgradeability of your machine is another item to consider.
Desktops have already been mentioned as relatively easier to do this, but you can upgrade laptops too. Even so, more laptops today have soldered parts, so the number of components within them that you can easily upgrade has shrunk.
With the five criteria mentioned above in mind, you should have better hunting!