3D Modelling and CAD drawing entail the use of some of the most resource-intensive applications that you could possibly run on your computer. When you started off with your career, you may have listened to people advising you to invest your money in a personal computer, so you can capitalize on the power output of desktop computer hardware.
Well, the good news is that thanks to continuous technological developments from organizations like Intel and Nvidia for starters, we now have compact laptop hardware, that can easily rival the performance of PCs, with the added advantage of mobility and portability.
What’s essential for a good laptop for CAD or 3D modeling?
From a designer’s perspective, it is imperative to understand that most of the tools that you use, like Auto CAD, 3d Max, Maya, Blender, Revit, and more, are all graphics-intensive applications that require the presence of an onboard GPU(Graphics Processing Unit) so that the load on the CPU and RAM modules are reduced. Modern CAD software, especially takes full advantage of multicore processors, enabling you to render models in a short period of time.
Besides this, having copious amounts of RAM is also a necessity if you want to make sure that you do not get caught off guard, by lags. A large amount of hard drive space is equally important since project files generated by these tools that you use daily will be quite large. Ultimately, a great high definition screen is what really shows you how good your work is, once rendering is complete. So being able to find the right balance between performance and price for your requirement is the key to making a great purchase.
Having discussed what the salient features of a good laptop for CAD and 3D modeling are, let us now take a closer look at some good choices.
Acer Predator Helios 300
• Comes with a 144Hz 3ms IPS display
• GTX 1660 Ti 6GB graphics adapter
• 16GB of fast memory
• Need a proprietary tool to control fan speed
• Overclocked CPU can get rather hot
3D modeling professionals who do any kind of game design or artistic rendering will appreciate the Acer Predator the most. It comes with an extremely fast SSD and memory cards. That means you’ll spend less time waiting for scenes to render than you ever thought possible.
While it’s a tad more expensive than most other Acer offerings, the i7-9750H microprocessor alone is worth it. VFX experts and animators who use Blender should find that Helios runs this app quite well. It works with some of the experimental builds, which should prove attractive to those who want to try out new 3D modeling features before anyone else.
Mechanical designers who want to run the latest stable release of FreeCAD shouldn’t have any problems with it either. They can install all of the extra modules and run them without any significant tweaking.
Those who are more into commercial design packages won’t have much difficulty either. The Predator is more than capable of running a majority of rendering software currently on the market. You’ll just need to watch the on-screen display to make sure your fan doesn’t spin too fast.
Apple MacBook Pro i9 Edition
• 10-hour battery life
• Up to 3.2 GB/s access speeds
• Supports up to 32GB of RAM
• Comes with Turbo Boost CPU function
• Premium price
• Not all CAD apps are compatible with macOS
• Traditional designers may not like Apple’s touch bar
As long as you don’t mind paying what some refer to as the Apple Tax, the latest version of the MacBook Pro is among the best CAD and 3D modeling laptops ever made. It comes stock with a 4K resolution screen and very low seeks times. If you’re working with Machinima or any other kind of complex 3D models, then you shouldn’t experience any slowdown from this machine.
As well as Apple’s patented Retina display, the new MacBook comes with what Cupertino calls True Tone technology. This makes colors display all the more realistically. While that might not be a big deal for those who only draw monochrome CAD documents, it’s great news for 3D modelers.
Those that do prefer traditional CAD should still find plenty to like. It should run the macOS version of AutoCAD 2020 without any problem. Since it supports most of Apple’s external pointing devices, you can sync a ton of drawing gear to it.
Best of all, it should continue to receive updates for some time. That means you’ll be able to run AutoDesk software that hasn’t even come out yet. For that matter, it can run the Macintosh version of Blender with ease.
Razer Blade Stealth 13
• Thunderbolt 3 compatible
• Relatively affordable
• 256GB SSD
• Keyboard backlight might be annoying
• Display is only 13 inches
If you don’t mind smaller 4K resolution screen sizes, then the Stealth 13 might be for you. While it’s been given a custom branding, it’s still made with all big-name components. Take the NVIDIA GeForce MX150 4GB graphics system. The developer calls it perfect for content creation.
CAD artists and 3D modelers would certainly agree. The contrast is extremely good. Some users have clocked it at over 400 nits. Those who need even more power can plug in an external Razer Core GPU enclosure. As the name suggests, this laptop is designed to work with that kind of aftermarket equipment.
Outside of the impressive graphics card, users also have access to a ton of regular RAM. It comes with 16GB of LPDDR3 memory. That’s enough to hold some of the largest CAD documents that AutoDesk can load up. It should also stay relevant for years to come. Much like Apple’s offering, the Razer Blade can run AutoCAD 2020 as well as versions that haven’t been released yet.
Since it’s Windows-based, it can also run most freeware animation programs. Posting video content made with these kinds of apps is quite simple as well.
Dell XPS 9570
• Extremely fast 4.1 GHz 8th Generation Intel Core i7 CPU
• No loading delays due to the PCIe SSD
• Bluetooth 4.2 Support
• Good sized 1920×1080 display
• No optical drive
• Shorter battery life than other Dell laptops
• Lacks additional SATA headers
Dell’s marketing team has decided to promote the XPS 9570 against a large number of gaming laptops. While that might be wise, it doesn’t do justice to the incredible 3D modeling features that it supports. Since it comes with two sticks of 4GB DDR4 memory running at nearly 2.7 GHz, it’s perfect for RAM intensive applications.
XPS users will also get to enjoy a huge 9MB cache, which should help to speed up rendering even more. Though it lacks an optical drive, this model is also slightly less expensive than some of its competition. It might not really be a budget option, but it still should please those who are looking to save a little money.
It’s also one of the few models that can support the newest fast SD cards. That gives you the freedom to render objects or CAD drawings right to a card. You can then plug them into a TV or electronic whiteboard.
Unfortunately, some users had hoped it would have extra SATA headers for more storage space. CAD artists can get around this limitation by connecting an extra-large external hard disk. Around 2TB of storage should be more than enough for those editing huge documents.
ASUS ZenBook UX333FA
• Comparatively inexpensive
• Up to 4.6GHz CPU
• Comes with a 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
• ErgoLift hinge is innovative but fragile
• Trackpad is poor, so you’ll need an external mouse to draw
Budget-minded consumers who want a smaller machine that isn’t going to cost them a whole lot should love the ASUS ZenBook UX333FA. One reviewer called it a laptop the size of a legal pad. While the internal mouse controls might not be the best, this is easily remedied by using the built-in USB Type C adapter.
An onboard TPM security chip helps to encrypt all your data. Commercial users who do CAD drawings for work should appreciate this because it’ll keep all their blueprints private. Extra security features, like a built-in IR camera for facial recognition and support for Windows Hello, will also be welcomed by those in this market segment.
Individuals who make machinima or do other types of recreational 3D modeling will probably be more interested in the switchable touchpad. It can change over to an immediate data entry mode, which is great for entering in character coordinates and changing around models. This laptop even supports the latest free version of MMD, so gamers who’ve developed a taste for modeling will find it to be a great fit.
Users who want a desktop replacement laptop that’s going to do it all should certainly look into the Apple MacBook Pro. While die-hard PC fans might not like it, the MacBook comes with an unbelievably sharp 4K resolution screen and plenty of CPU power. In fact, its built-in Intel chips are close to what you’d find in a very high-end desktop PC.
Those who aren’t willing to give up Windows just yet might want to look into the Razer Blade since its GeForce MX150 GPU can’t easily be beaten. Others who want to save a little cash should be happy with the ASUS ZenBook, especially if they plan on using MMD software. Users who are ready to take the plunge will certainly love the MacBook’s raw power.
They’ll also love many of the peripherals it can work with. Since it supports Apple’s latest gear, you shouldn’t have any trouble hooking up a special drawing device to it. Interior designers and those who do any kind of serious CAD work should appreciate this fact.
Of course, that also makes it perfect for those who just want to draw 3D movies and post them online. Any of the picks on this list are great if you need something to draw with. The Retina display alone helps to make a strong case for the MacBook, however.