2017/2018 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 certain programs such as Rhino and Grasshopper.

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 22” or 24” screen to use at your studio desk to increase productivity. Larger 17” 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.

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 7, 8.1 or 10, 64-bit)

Component  Specs Notes
Processor/CPU Intel Core i7 (i7 quad core preferred)
Clock speed: 2.2 GHz+ (turbo boost preferred)
A faster cpu and one with more cores means faster 3D rendering time and video encoding.
Memory/RAM 8 GB+ (16 GB preferred)  
Hard Drive 500 GB+ SSD drive SSD 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
Video Card Nvidia or AMD, 2 GB+ memory, discrete not shared or integrated. Avoid Intel graphics. This link ranks graphics chipsets (stick to Class 1 or Class 2).
Screen Size 15” Minimum resolution should be 1920x1080 and anti-glare is better.
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 22”+ 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 $2000 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 5520 or Dell Precision 3520 laptop. These are available at a discounted price from the SU bookstore and meet or exceed the School’s performance criteria. 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 15. Models from other manufacturers such as Lenovo’s ThinkPad P51 or P51s would work well when configured appropriately.

Macintosh Operating System (Mac OS X)

  • Intel Core i7 (i7 quad core preferred)
  • 8 GB+ RAM (16 GB preferred)
  • 500 GB+ SSD
  • 802.11ac wireless
  • 1 GB+ dedicated Video Graphics Card (avoid Intel or integrated graphics)
  • 15” display
  • External optical mouse
  • External 22”+ monitor with HDMI port (plus HDMI cable and USB-C to HDMI converter)
  • 3-year warranty (AppleCare Protection Plan)

For a Macintosh system, we recommend the Apple MacBook Pro 15 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 recommended.

Note: In order to run Windows programs such as AutoCAD Architecture* 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. Another option is to run Windows within macOS using 3rd party programs such as Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, but the performance suffers compared to Boot Camp, and you may experience glitches when running 3D 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 plugins such as Grasshopper.

Other Essential Items (both Windows and Mac)

  • Video adapter to plug your Mac or Windows laptop into the school’s digital projectors, which accept a VGA connection (Apple Mini Displayport-to-VGA adapter or for newer MacBook Pros, a USB-C to VGA adapter). Some Windows laptops may require a HDMI-to-VGA adapter.
  • 32 GB+ USB memory key (several!)
  • External 500 GB+ USB hard drive for extra storage and backup (available at the bookstore or places like Newegg)
  • Kensington-type cable lock (here or here) 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.