Choosing the Right Computer for CAD, BIM and 3D Visualization (Plus What I Personally Use)

There’s a part of me that doesn’t think I am qualified to write this post. I’m an engineer, after all, and don’t necessarily consider myself a ‘computer guy’. Sure, I know a thing or two and I built one once, but my friend did most of it.

But then the other part of me realizes that I have used a half dozen computers in the past two years for CAD, BIM and 3D visualization, at least 4 of which have been my personal machines. Part of that high number has been the trial and error necessary to find something that can handle what I need it to at the budget I can afford. This continual experience makes me feel like I am at least qualified to point you in the right direction. I figure if you are an expert in computers you probably already have the right machine and won’t be digging into this post.


The problem with finding the right computer for use in CAD, BIM and 3D visualization (while trying to stay on a budget) is that there are so many variables involved. You can really try and look at all of the spec sheets for all of the software you will be using and then find the best combination of hardware that will satisfy those requirements.

But that’s a lot of work. And also, kind of unnecessary.

You really want to design your computer to the software you will be using with maximum requirements and work from there. This will likely be something like 3ds Max or Lumion as they take the most processing. If you are just doing CAD work with maybe a little 3D modeling you can probably get away with an integrated graphics card. However, if you are using 3ds Max or Lumion you will have to have a dedicated graphics card.

You also need to decide what you will be using it most for. Will you be doing rendering on the machine? If so, do you have an on-site or off-site render farm that will actually be doing the processing? Will you be having many software programs open at the same time?

One point I also need to bring up right here and right now is this- don’t choose a Mac. It isn’t because I have a personal vendetta against Apple, it is just because not all CAD programs are cross compatible with Mac machines. Sure, Macs are fantastic if you will be just doing photo, video and audio editing but that’s not what we are talking about here. As of right now in 2014, stay with Windows. Windows 7 is preferable, but my newest laptop has 8.1 and it seems to be doing just fine.

Also a disclaimer- I don’t really know that much about processors. The days of saying “Yay, I have a 1.4 Ghz processor” are largely gone to me because I don’t know if it is a dual core, quad core or eight core. I’m learning, but there are major gaps in my processor knowledge so pardon the over simplification.

The best way I can give guidance is just like any other software requirements- the minimum and the preferable. After that I will explain what I am currently using.

Minimum Requirements for CAD, BIM and 3D Visualization

  • Windows 7 or 8, 64 bit
  • 8 GB of RAM
  • i5 Processor or equivalent
  • Integrated graphics card
  • 500 GB hard drive

Preferable Requirements for CAD, BIM and 3D Visualization

  • Windows 7
  • 32 GB of RAM
  • i7 Processor or better
  • Dedicated graphics card with at least 2 GB of RAM
  • 1 TB hard drive
  • Dual screen set up (preferable 22″ or bigger)
  • Mouse with side buttons

If you want to make it really simple, just buy a computer made for gaming and spend at least $1000 USD for desktops and $1500 for laptops and you will probably be fine.

Essentially, that’s what I did. I bought a gaming laptop about a month ago and it has been basically what I need and a little more. No complaints here.

ASUS Gaming Laptop

  • Windows 8.1, 64 bit
  • 12 GB of RAM
  • i7 Processor
  • 500 GB of hard drive
  • NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 870M graphics card
  • Wireless mouse
  • Occasionally connected to 22″ monitor

Let us know your specs in the comments!

Note: I rendered the image above and doesn’t necessarily represent my own machine!