2020/2021 School Year

The School of Architecture and Syracuse University are set up to principally support computers with a Microsoft Windows operating system. However, students can purchase and use Apple Macintosh computers running macOS if they prefer. Macintosh users will need to install Windows (supplied free) in order to use Revit and certain plugins associated with Rhino.

The School recommends laptops for their easy portability between a residence and studio space. A laptop also can be brought to class when learning certain software programs and occupies less space on a student’s studio desk than a desktop computer. Screen size and resolution are a significant consideration for CAD and graphics work. The most productive combination is a 15” display with a secondary 24” screen to use at your studio desk to increase productivity. Larger laptops are discouraged because the increased weight impedes mobility. Laptops with smaller screens such as 13” are usually underpowered for advanced graphic modeling and CAD work.

Students should purchase a three-year on-site/at-home service warranty for the computer. An on-site warranty means the company will send someone to the home or campus drop-off location to fix the computer, rather than waiting two weeks or more for mail-in service. In the event of a hardware problem this will greatly minimize the time a student might not be able to work on time-sensitive computing projects.

Please do not purchase an underpowered machine! While it may meet your needs for the first semester or two, you will soon discover that it cannot handle the demands of design and modeling software.

We recommend international students wait to purchase their machine in the US. This will make it much easier to receive warranty service.

Here are some basic laptop configurations and specifications recommended for running CAD, graphic, and 3D applications that can be used as a guide to purchase your equipment:

Note: plus signs (+) below mean “or better.”

Windows Operating System (Microsoft Windows 10, 64-bit)

Component  Specs Notes
Processor/CPU Intel Core i7 (hex core or better preferred) A faster cpu and one with more cores means faster 3D rendering time and video encoding.
Memory/RAM 16 GB+  
Hard Drive 500 GB+ SSD drive Solid state drives are much faster at reading and writing of data than hard drives; if you must get a hard drive, make sure it is the faster 7200 rpm speed, although we strongly discourage it.
Video Card Nvidia or AMD, 4 GB+ memory, discrete not shared or integrated. Avoid Intel graphics. This link ranks graphics chipsets (stick to Class 1 or Class 2). For Nvidia get at least a GeForce 1060 or Quadro P2000. For AMD go for at least a Radeon RX580.
Screen Size 15” Minimum resolution should be 1920x1080, and anti-glare is better. Keep in mind that 4K impacts general performance and reduces battery life.
Networking 802.11ac wireless  
Warranty 3-year on-site/at-home warranty Add accidental damage service to protect against drops and spills.
Accessories External optical mouse A mouse is essential for using design software (using the built-in trackpad is not sufficient)
  External 24”+ monitor with HDMI connector Plugs into your laptop to double your screen real estate. Don’t forget the cable (and possibly video adapter). Most laptops now have HDMI connectors but check before buying.


Expect to pay around $2,000 for an appropriately configured laptop. Cheaper laptops usually have lower-end video cards and processors, and are underpowered to handle advanced 3D modeling and CAD work. For a Windows system, we recommend the Dell Precision 5550 laptop, available at a discounted price from the SU bookstore. The 5550 meets or exceeds the School’s performance criteria when configured appropriately. The bookstore packages include a 3-year warranty plus accidental damage coverage.

Other Dell models that can be configured to meet or exceed the listed specifications include the Dell Alienware line of laptops, such as the Alienware m15. Models from other manufacturers such as the more budget-friendly, Intel-partnered Eluktronics MAG-15 (also here) would work well when configured appropriately.

Macintosh Operating System (Mac OS X)

  • Intel Core i7 (i7 quad or hex core preferred)
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 500 GB+ SSD
  • 802.11ac wireless
  • 4 GB+ dedicated video graphics card (avoid integrated Intel graphics)
  • 15”+ display
  • 3-year warranty (AppleCare+ Protection Plan)

For a Macintosh system, we recommend the Apple MacBook Pro 16 configured with the better video card. This system is available through the SU Bookstore and includes a 1-year warranty. A 3-year AppleCare+ warranty is available as an option and is highly recommended.

Note: In order to run Windows programs such as AutoCAD Architecture*, Revit or Rhino** on a Mac, you will need a Microsoft Windows license. Windows 10 is now free for students. The preferred method for running Windows uses Apple’s Boot Camp, which is a feature built-in to macOS. We don’t recommend running Windows within macOS using 3rd party programs such as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, due to performance issues and  glitches when running 3D modeling or CAD software.

* The Mac version of AutoCAD isn’t as feature complete as the AutoCAD Architecture version for Windows.

** Please don’t purchase Rhino for Mac. It’s missing essential features and does not support essential plugins such as DIVA used in the school.

Other Essential Items (both Windows and Mac)

  • Video adapters to plug your Mac or Windows laptop into the school’s digital projectors, which accept either a VGA or HDMI connection. New Macbook Pros need a USB-C to VGA adapter or USB-C to HDMI adapter, such as this combo adapter. Some Windows laptops may require a HDMI-to-VGA adapter.
  • 128 GB+ USB memory key (several!)
  • External 1 TB+ USB SSD or hard drive for extra storage and backup (available at the bookstore or much cheaper at places like Amazon).
  • External optical mouse
  • External 24”+ monitor with HDMI port (plus HDMI cable and USB-C to HDMI converter)
  • Cable lock for securing the computer to one’s studio desk. Unfortunately many new laptops no longer include the mounting point for a cable lock. Check your laptop before purchasing a lock. If you can’t use a lock, make sure to keep your laptop in your locked studio desk drawer or locker (if you have one). Losing a laptop to theft can set you back weeks or months of work.