2023/2024 School Year

The School of Architecture and Syracuse University are set up to principally support computers with a Microsoft Windows operating system. We no longer recommend Macs as they currently cannot natively run Boot Camp/Windows, and thus can’t run essential Windows apps required by the program (including certain energy modeling and rendering plugins in Rhino and Autodesk Revit). Although third-party apps such as Parallels and Fusion allow Windows to run inside macOS, you may encounter performance and graphics issues that impede your work. 

The School recommends laptops for their easy portability between a residence and studio space. A laptop also can be brought to class when learning software programs and occupies less space on a 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. 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 your home or meet you on campus to fix the computer, rather than waiting a week 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 U.S. This will often 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

Component  Specs Notes
Processor/CPU

Intel i7 (at least 13th generation) or

AMD Ryzen 7 (at least 7000 series)

A faster cpu and one with more cores means faster 3D rendering time and video encoding.
Memory/RAM 16 GB+ (32 GB preferred)  
Storage Drive 500 GB+ SSD (solid state drive) (1 TB preferred) Stay away from hard drives.
Video Card Nvidia or AMD, 6 GB+ memory, discrete not shared or integrated. Avoid Intel graphics. For Nvidia get at least a GeForce 3060 or 4060 or RTX 2000 Ada. For AMD go for at least a Radeon 6700M or 7600S. 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. Keep in mind that 4K resolution (3840 × 2160) impacts general performance and reduces battery life. 2560x1440 is a good sweet spot.
Networking 802.11ac wireless  
Warranty 3-year on-site/at-home warranty Add accidental damage service to protect against drops and spills.
Accessories External 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 to convert from HDMI to USB-C). Most current laptops have HDMI or USB-C for video connections.


Expect to pay $1,600-$3,000 for an appropriately configured laptop. Cheaper laptops usually have lower-end video cards and processors, and may be underpowered to handle advanced 3D modeling and CAD work.

For a Windows system, we recommend the Dell Precision 5690 laptop, which is sold by the SU bookstore (link coming soon) at a discounted price but still quite expensive. You are welcome to purchase a different model as long as it meets the recommended specs above.

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 x15 or x16, and the XPS 15 with the 4060 or above graphics card option. Models from other manufacturers such as the Lenovo Thinkpad P series or Lenovo Legion would work well when configured appropriately.

Other gaming laptops should also work well when appropriately configured with at least an Nvidia 3060/4060 or better video card. While we see students with brands such as MSI, Asus, Razer, etc., a concern is that when they fail, one usually has to mail them in for service, resulting in downtime waiting for it to be returned. An at-home/on-site warranty is crucial for getting up and running relatively quickly after a hardware failure.

Macintosh Operating System (Mac OS X)

We no longer recommend purchase of a Mac, as some essential software used in the program requires Windows (namely certain Rhino plugins such as V-Ray, ArcGIS Pro, Autodesk Revit, ClimateStudio, etc.).

In the past, Mac users could install Windows through Boot Camp, but this option is currently unavailable on the new M2/M3 Macs. The are a couple of 3rd party apps such as Parallels and Fusion that run Windows inside macOS, but we’ve seen many cases where poor performance and graphics glitches cause problems and frustration. If you choose to try Parallels/Fusion, Windows 10 is free for students.

* Rhino for Mac does not support essential plugins used in the school and is  missing commands found in the Windows version.

Other Essential Items

  • 128 GB+ USB memory key (several!), although use of SU’s OneDrive is reducing the need for memory sticks. 
  • External 1 TB+ USB SSD or hard drive for extra storage and backup (available at the bookstore or much cheaper at places like Amazon). You may choose to use cloud storage such as OneDrive or Google Drive instead, but it’s always good to have your data in two places. Make sure your data on an external drive is backed up! They can fail at any time.
  • External mouse
  • External 24”+ monitor with HDMI port (plus HDMI cable and USB-C to HDMI adapter, unless your laptop has an HDMI port). If you opt for larger than 24”, such as 27”, make sure the resolution is at least 2560x1440.
  • 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.