What Computers do Architects Need? Change the Conversation

What's the REAL question to ask about becoming an architect?

Young female architect in front of a computer screen
Young architect in front of a computer screen. Photo by TommL/E+/Getty Images

One of our readers asks what type of computer her niece should buy for college. The high school grad plans to study architecture and the doting aunt wants to help out. But how do you ensure that a computer has the features and memory needed to run the types of graphics programs architecture students likely will need? Should she get a Mac or a PC? How much memory? What types of graphics capabilities?

What type of monitor?

We posed this question years ago, and our readers are still engaged. Visit Facebook and add your ideas. Keep the conversation going.

Here are some of our readers' suggestions. Remember: The date of a comment is very important when discussing computers and software. And some of our readers changed the conversation entirely—maybe a computer is not the advice this student really needs. Some respondees questioned the very entry into the architecture profession—as a sort of "before you buy" caveat, know what you want to study.

Reader Comments:

Note: Some posts from readers have been edited for clarity.

October 26, 2009 at 8:43 pm Dmoore says:

I would look into a Desktop (unless she requires portability) that has a powerful graphics card (For use of CAD). Me personally, I'd use a Mac due to their known Ego for working well with graphics (Such as Adobe Photoshop CS 4). The Mac line has the All-in-one design with their iMac, so worrying about a monitor won't be a problem.

November 5, 2009 at 10:32 am arch_student says:

Macs are nice for Adobe programs (Photoshop, Indesign, etc.) but cannot run AutoCAD, Revit or other programs which are necessary for an architecture education unless you have a parallel. My contemporaries in school have had problems using AutoCAD and Revit on their Macs so I would recommend sticking with PC.

January 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm Jeff A - Architect says:

The REAL question should be, why does she want to be an architect?
5 years of school, treated like crap
Long work hours (80 to 90 per week), treated like crap
Low pay, treated like crap
High unemployment rate
Misunderstood profession, poor public perception
Most expensive registration exam ($120 x 7 = $840), not including prep materials (another cool $1,000)
Success may come by age 50 if you are lucky
I speak from 20 years of experience, currently unemployed. Pick another profession my dear, do yourself a favor, avoid the pain and anguish!!!

February 9, 2010 at 7:00 am Jan Leach says:

Message to Jeff A

You mentioned "pick another profession my dear," but have you got any suggestions, as to what would be a good career? I am now in the process of having to choose which GCSE to take and what career. Everybody in school seems to be coming up with these flashy jobs (for example "Stock Broker"). I was thinking of Landscape Architect, but have now been really put off by your comment.

March 29, 2010 at 11:18 am Josh says:


I'm sure Jeff A. has some truth about what he's saying...but just imagine...you aren't graduating right now...by the time you graduate, things will turn around. You should do what you love.

May 27, 2010 at 7:24 am D says:

Jeff A

Question is what profession isn't hard or doesn't have long hours??

5 years of schooling to become a professional, isn't too bad. Compared to Law, Or anything Medical.

Low pay, for interns or unlicensed architectural designers.

There is high unemployed everywhere...it's called a recession for a reason....

As for the Computer question:

- Anything with lots of RAM

- lots of processor power...Intel is are great

- And a high-end graphic's card (nvidia GT, Quadro, etc.)

Those are key. Everything else doesn't really matter as much, except for maybe a large monitor.

I guess i don't have as much as experience as JEFF. But 5 years experience. Registered Architect at a major corporate FIRM. Making competitive money with my other professional friends.

It's always about how much you want it, and how hard you will work to get it. Don't let anyone spoil your dreams.

"Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe."

July 30, 2010 at 3:14 pm LC says:

You are joking, Yes? I am an architect myself, and I will tell you one thing: I gave it up after 10 years. I loved it as a professional and hated it from the money standpoint. I just finished my Msc in mathematics, learned computer programming, and now I AM QUANT. Guess what is my first salary as Quant [quantitative analyst]: above 80k per annual with bonuses. And remember that I am Polish in origin. I was excellent in architecture; I am excellent in financial, but in next 4 years my salary as quant will be around 250k. I will work hard day and night to obtain that, but in architecture no matter as hard I could work my salary would be somewhere around 40k.

October 15, 2010 at 5:01 pm mike says:

...I am an architectural student right now and I love it. Yeah it's hard and long hours but what other career allows you to dream of something and actually allows you to live/walk/feel it. Get a mac.

October 31, 2010 at 12:36 pm Agustin Bernal says:

To all that have said architecture is not the way to go and that it's long hours and not fulfilling and that you cant find jobs and all these other reasons:

I'm going to agree with you on one thing—the hours are long, but you're in architecture because you love it. I'm sure you wouldn't mind spending time with friends for hours because you love it.

Also you need to have testicular fortitude to be in this career. People are always going to be critiquing your work, but it's up to you to stand up for what you did and change their mind and show that it was the best decision. If not, then you have to have the testicular fortitude to admit that their critiques were right.

Also the money question. If you are not making money or are unemployed you probably have some horrible ideas or you are just a pain to work with and no one wants to hire you. Yeah, you could blame it on the recession but there's always a limit to what you can blame the recession for.

For the original post: Macs are a great way to go because most of the architecture programs are starting to put out Mac-based programs now. If not a Mac, because your used to a PC, then I would suggest either a ThinkPad or HP. Also gaming computers are great Like Asus and Alienware.

1. MAC (I have used a Mac since my second year in college and it is still running great)

2. ThinkPAd / Asus (these two, I know work great because most of my Archi friends own one of these)

3. HP (I used an HP for 5 years and ran great. After the 5th year, it starting breaking down. But then again what computer doesn't break down after 5 years, except a Aac :)

4. Alienware (The only reason the alienware is so low on the list is because they cost sooo much for what you get, although they are amazing computers)

February 22, 2012 at 1:26 am Cathy says:

Architecture has always been a demanidng profession even for white guys. But let's remember a few things....the construction industry in this country is a $816 billion dollar business annually...and half of that is in engineered work. The other half is residential and commercial work and architects design 3% of that market....Why not be a civil engineer and get paid well. Unless you already have a social basis that will connect you to supportive clients, then it is a tough profession. And women make up a very small percentage still of registered architects. Check the facts and decide for yourself. Ask yourself what sort of life you want...do you want a family? How many hours a week do you see yourself working if you are a mother? How much does support cost? nanny, day care....I don't want to scare you, but please do prepare yourself. Just Google the questions you have, like what state has the highest volume of construction? Where do architects have work? Which state is poised for an increase in construction? Architecture is a great profession and a very difficult business. Take care.

May 13, 2012 at 12:55 am Kas says:

This society has determined that you have to pay a dear price to do what you love or what can even greatly benefit others. That is the bottom line; but anyways if your mission is to honor life and nature, then you can find a feasible way to do that like pursuing architecture, even without possibly receiving what you may deserve from others in a timely manner.

Our society is paying the price as we speak and all of the clever individuals who have not had enough faith to make the world more beautiful and functional, will inevitably move closer into the darkness of their own limitations.

September 11, 2012 at 7:19 pm Gallard says:

Listen to your heart and follow your dreams. Don't let anybody tell you that you cannot do something. Well, I think the Dell xps 14 is really great....

May 25, 2013 at 1:45 am Tagle says:

Get a Macbook pro. And about the career—studying careers like design or architecture is great when you do have potential and you just need the "tools" to make your ideas and creations become "real." Other careers like engineering, science, law, etc. do not need a creative brain. Those careers teach you how you have to think and do stuff, so if you are good doing that stuff great—you have a nice salary. But in architecture and design, it doesn't matter if you excel in drawing, using the software, modeling....You need a special thing that will make you unique. That's why it's difficult to get a good salary or get employed. If you do not have that "special thing" you will be hired but with a lower salary and with small jobs, because you will be using the software, doing the drawings but you will not be creating, which is the important thing. If studying architecture and design would guarantee your success then all the students that graduate from, let's say fashion design, would become famous fashion designers with a distinctive brand. But that's not going to happen....

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