Laptop for architecture student

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I need help in choosing a laptop for my son who will soon be off  
to college to study for a degree in architecture. I'm fairly  
knowledgeable about desktop hardware, especially AMD platforms.  
But I don't know much about laptops.

I won't ask what would be the best laptop for an architecture  
student because I can't afford a high-end model. Besides, I have  
to question the wisdom of shelling out a small fortune now, only  
to see it become rapidly demoted long before my son completes the  
5-year course. I think it makes more sense to buy somethinhg that  
would be reasonably adequate for the next few years, and then buy  
another contemporarily adequate model during the latter half of  
his studies. He could then continue to use that until he starts  
earning himself.

I don't have a strict budget because I have no clear idea of what  
would be "adequate" for an architecture student. I'd like to stay  
within ~US$600 unless that's a ridiculously low budget. (Based on  
US prices. The actual price here will be higher).

Having said all that, unless there are serious flaws in my logic  
(for which I'm quite ready to be corrected), what do you advise?  
An i5 system? Which level? What about AMD APUs (A8 or A10)? RAM  
and other factors? Graphics? Specific laptop models? Thanks in  
advance for any constructive input.  

Re: Laptop for architecture student

Pimpom wrote:
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Simple. Visit the web page of the architecture department
of the university being attended. They may already have
a document defining minimum student computer requirements.

    search terms : architecture department recommended laptop

You'd be surprised how much effort, and how large an IT department
some universities have now. And how locked-in to computers they are.


    December 13, 2006 (seven years ago)

    Core 2 Duo T7400 2.00GHz
    Windows XP Professional, Windows Vista Capable
    17 inch Wide Screen XGA Display or better
    2GB Shared Dual Channel RAM
    (usual storage...)
    Video card
      256MB or greater
      OpenGL capable <-------------
      1280x1024x32-bit color

The item that defines the laptop there, is a certified CAD capable
OpenGL graphics capability. Now, unfortunately, the graphics companies
choose to hobble regular desktop graphics. If you attempt to do complex
OpenGL with "ordinary" desktop graphics, the graphics subsystem seems to
"choke" at a relatively low item count (say, 50 items). Screen updates
slow right down, when they should not do that. This is done on purpose
(so you end up paying for a more expensive solution).
In many cases, there is little functional difference between
a graphics chip with CAD quality drivers, and the driver they provide
for the cheaper desktop graphics.

By the time you identify a CAD machine, you've already seen a rapid rise
in price. And the rest of the goodies "come for free", once you've paid
for "certified driver" and "CAD capable".

At a guess, an architect draws things in a drawing capture tool (3D views).

But they also do structural analysis, and the CAD tools that do that,
prove a design is strong enough, or earthquake proof, those would
be examples of CAD-type tools. For example, if you do a skyscraper,
you place impulse or sinusoidal excitation near the base, to
see how the building wobbles (and adsorbs shock without failure).
You would need to learn that, for cities that have earthquake
requirements in the building code.

While it is tempting to say "buy a quad or an octal core processor",
the thing is, software varies a lot in the extent to which it supports
threading. You would need to survey the software used, to get some idea
whether extra cores would help.

As an example, my desktop is a dual core. Many times I've hungered for
a quad or larger, but the thing is, lots of the software I use, really
runs on one core, and the second core handles disk I/O and background
OS activity. So while I'd "feel better" if I had a quad, in a lot of
cases two of those cores would only be generating heat.

My laptop with one core, is a mistake. It's just too slow for any
purpose. Just the background activity slows that one down (I noticed that
right after installing a webcam and printer driver). You want
at least a dual core with a high clock, or a quad core with a moderate
clock, to help with the sins of modern OSes. OSes like Windows 8, are
always "doing maintenance for themselves", so you can count half-a-core
just to keep the OS (and AV) happy.

It's hard to find good sites which discuss such OpenGL matters. Not every
user is proficient at understanding what is holding back their
computing solution. But I've heard enough stories about "stuttering",
and seen bad benchmark results with my own hardware, to know it happens.

    "I've tried about 18 cards in the last year... anything that has
     512mb ddr2 will probably do well, GPU core considered.

     If you do a lot of large models, with glass and Utilities
     (sinks, toilets, rounded GSM objects) and tree models (we're talking
     a lot of polygons) then the FASTER the card, the better.

     I've found that the consumer cards (I.E. cheaper) work great. AC
     does NOT need much to run at all... my 8400 GS in my portable laptop
     (1240x800) runs fine, but stutters on big models. The 8600 GT can
     handle anything so far. My 7900 GT/GS and GTX's can handle everything.
     The firegl x1700 and up can do anything, as well as anything in the
     professional realm (but you don't need a pro card for AC!!!!)."

The certified OpenGL solutions have brand names like Quadro and FireGL.
If you want to take a chance on ordinary desktop GPUs (non-certified
drivers), then ask a professor if that will be suitable or not.

To give you an example at the other end of the spectrum, we spent
maybe $15K to $20K to provide a mechanical engineer with an OpenGL
capable machine. One day, he gave me a demo. His model loaded 200K
models (not polygons, a model might be a screw for example)
from the corporate database, with a couple million polygons
(many occluded). And the poor guy could barely rotate the model
in 3D on his screen. I was shocked, at how all that money on hardware
was still not sufficient to help a professional do his job. I figured
he'd be able to spin that model at 10 revolutions per second on
a big hardware box. But the thing was a slug. He designed a ton of
mechanical parts for us, and to see him have to walk away from his
desk and find something else to do, is a sad commentary on computing.
You load entire models like that, to check for interferences, that
doors on things open without binding, do tolerance analysis. Sure, he
could load tiny portions of the model, and the computer would fly,
but that spoils the whole purpose of visualization in a virtual 3D
environment. Might as well go back to pencil and paper, as wait
seven hours for a model to load. And if you only load a portion
of a model, you might miss some details along the way.

To summarize:

1) Get the computer requirements from the architecture department.
2) Shop for something OpenGL capable. Look for words like Quadro or FireGL.
3) Computer should have at least dual core CPU. And if you go dual core,
    the highest possible clock on a dual core.

It really depends, on how insistent the department is, that the
students be "mobile". For example, if I was buying, I might buy a
super cheap "note-taker" for a laptop, and buy a more capable
desktop (with room for second-hand Quadro or FireGL card), and
do my homework that way. If the staff insist the students drag
"workstation grade" laptops around with them, that's going to
cost a lot more.

If you're buying a workstation grade machine, get some
insurance for it :-) Theft is a problem in universities,
especially near the end of the school year. Mobile devices
disappear real easy.


Re: Laptop for architecture student

I see Dell has a twitter feed.
Quoted text here. Click to load it

The other corporate grade PC is Levono. I never owned one, but their  
owners are quite satisfied.

Re: Laptop for architecture student

Except this has nothing to do with a laptop, especially a budget laptop.  
As I clearly showed, AutoCAD (oink oink) has very minimal requirements  
for the lower tier. For the upper tier, a notebook won't be used.

Go to the NAHB show and look at the software demos. They use quite  
ordinary hardware. Or do a survey of the software other than AutoCAD. No  
balls are being busted.

Re: Laptop for architecture student

Somewhere on teh intarwebs miso wrote:
Quoted text here. Click to load it

The 'p' versions of the IBM ThinkPads had FireGL GPUs fitted whereas the  
vanilla versions had Radeon GPUs.

I don't know if Lenovo ThinkPads still do a similar thing - they're a much  
diluted version of the original IBM ThinkPads by all reports (and the little  
hands-on xpeience I've had with them).

"Humans will have advanced a long, long, way when religious belief has a  
cozy little classification in the DSM."
David Melville (in r.a.s.f1)
[Sent from my OrbitalT ocular implant interface.]  

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