Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

Buying My Latest Computer for Architecture

Buying My Latest Computer for Architecture

After a great 8 years of using a desktop computer that I pieced together, the time finally came when the computer just couldn’t handle the architecture and design projects anymore. It was tired. Worn out. Checked out. So, as fate would have it, I had to go out and search for my next computer to conquer the world of architecture and product design. Then came the age old question. What computer should I get to run my architecture programs and Netflix simultaneously, side by side?

Where do I begin? With myself.

To start off this exciting process of finding my next computer for architecture projects, I had to narrow down my options with what I know about myself. Everyone is different and that is most likely the case with me. As much as I’d like to have a laptop because I believe I’d be a nomadic archi-creature (yes, I just made that term up), I know that I much prefer to sit down at the same station everyday with everything I need at the tips of my fingers.

Whenever I go out to a coffee shop or travel somewhere, I plan ahead and I leave my work at home. I like to read physical books, research ideas on my iPad, and occasionally surf through social media websites on my phone. If I’m traveling to a different city, I usually bring my camera and iPad with me because I would rather walk the city than plop down and develop a BIM model for 6 hours. For me, traveling is about exploring the physical world, not getting lost behind a screen.

Desktop it is! Now the age old question, Windows or Mac?

If you’ve heard some of the podcast episodes Mike LaValley and my podcast, Unpacking Design, you probably know that I’m an avid fan of Apple. There’s something about their products that just seems to be simple, elegant, and intuitive that allows me to focus on the tasks at hand than trying to figure out a new function or be sidetracked by an unknown error. I guess the best way to put it is that Apple’s products impose limitations to what its users can realistically do.

However, the issue with going with a Mac computer is that the primary architecture programs that I use are only on Windows. This includes all of the Autodesk software, which is what I primarily use when I’m on my desktop. I know I can use “Bootcamp” or “Parallels” to run Windows on a Mac and use Autodesk’s software, but I would feel like my computer was a camouflaged Windows with the aesthetic of a Mac.

To help me answer this question, I had to switch my focus to several key factors about the computer that I’d eventually purchase as my next big investment.

Important properties to consider

Getting to the more important properties of a computer for architects, let’s start with a standard baseline for computer components. I’m not an expert at computers, so everything I’m about to say is based on computers I’ve used at a university’s computer lab, professional architecture firm, and word of mouth from my brother who is in the Information Technology industry. I’ll share some of the properties that I had in mind when selecting my next computer and I won’t get into too much detail. Here’s my cheat sheet:

  • Processer – A high quality quad core or greater processor with at least 1.7GHz and 15M Cache

  • Graphics Card – Any current workstation graphics card configured for design software. I don’t suggest buying a computer with a gaming graphics card because they’re typically configured to run programs with lower polygon counts with faster frame rates whereas CAD graphics cards are capable of handling millions of polygons.

  • RAM – At least 16GB. More is preferable.

  • Solid State Drive (SSD) – These types of hard drives are constructed to be almost indestructible with faster writing rates so your programs and files can save exponentially faster than standard hard drives. Luckily, I already own one of these in my current computer that I can salvage and reuse in my new one.

These are the primary things that I look for when purchasing a new computer for architecture. I’m sure this sounds like a generic list that people would probably pick apart and criticize, but based on my experience, this has worked for the kinds of projects that I’m working on.

Why I chose Windows over Mac for architecture

This one might surprise some of you because I’ve been so adamant on my next computer being an iMac with some upgraded components. My decision to go with a Windows computer came down to two reasons. First, I primarily use Autodesk software for my architecture projects. Second, the differences in price versus specifications. Let me explain.

I decided to purchase a scratch and dent workstation from Dell that’s referred to as the Precision T7810 that met all of the items in my cheat sheet with the exception of the SSD. The computer I ultimately purchased came with an 8 core 1.7 GHz, 20M cache processor, 16GB RAM, a 500GB SATA hard drive, and a Nvidia Quadro K620 2GB graphics card. The original price for this machine was $2,853. The sale price was $1,090.99. My final price after negotiation was less than that including taxes…

Compared with an iMac for the same price of $1,099 which comes with a 2.3GHz dual core 7th generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB RAM, and an Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. When comparing the specifications of both these computers, it was difficult for me to go with the iMac. I tried to convince myself several times to go with the Apple product, but I sounded like an addict coming up with reasons to make it sound like a good purchase. Ultimately, it was important that I go with what I felt to be a good deal and that I’ve had experience using for architecture.

Conclusion

Making the decision to purchase a new computer a day after my current one gave out was very difficult. Financially, I wasn’t expecting something like this to happen so suddenly, but I did know that my desktop was reaching the end of its life. Just like all of the other young architects out there, it’s hard to spend money on anything over $1,000 without a good reason. Especially because a majority of us have a crazy amount of loans to pay. If you’re looking for a new computer, make sure you find one that suits you. Look for the best deal and remember to negotiate for a better price. You’d be surprised what you can get for $1,000 or less these days!


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