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1. Best overall: Acer Swift Edge 16
2. Best Mac: MacBook Pro M3
3. Thin & light: Lenovo Slim Pro 9i
4. Most power: MSI X17HX
5. Touch: Surface Laptop Studio 2
6. Best Dell: Dell XPS 17 (2023)
7. Best large: Razer Blade 18
8. Ultraportable: Zenbook S 13
9. Best beginner: Acer Swift X 16
Choosing the best laptop for CAD is a crucial step if you're using computer-based design software for your project. Architects, engineers or students need to pick with care to avoid choosing a device that is incompatible with their specific workflow. For instance, a really powerful GPU isn't critical for 2D CAD workflows but may be a benefit for some 3D workflows.
We've spent hours with every laptop on this list, using our knowledge of exactly how creatives need to use laptops for CAD to inform which ones are capable of handling the varied load of this kind of work. With some software needing more power than others, it's worth doing the research before you buy. Plus, not all software is Mac-compatible so you'll need to check you have a Mac version before buying an Apple device. (Note: only the AutoCAD 2024 version works natively on Apple silicon, and it still has some missing features that could be key for your workflow – see the FAQs at the bottom for more).
Our reviewers have put them through their paces, considering the all-important display, power, portability and speed whilst assessing whether their specs for the demands of CAD software (see our how we test laptops guide for more). Not sure what you're looking for? Scroll to the bottom of the guide for tips on how to choose the best laptop for AutoCAD and CAD.
If you need AutoCAD, you can buy it from the Autodesk website. If you're looking for a laptop for other uses, check out our guide to the best laptop for graphic design and the best laptop for animation.
Asus's ProArt Studiobook OLED is the perfect power machine for creative pros and CAD specialists. It sports Intel's most powerful 13th Gen CPU, and up to Nvidia RTX 4070 graphics. To cap it all off there's a stunning 16-inch 3.2K OLED display and the nifty Asus Dial rotary controller. It ain't cheap, but it is awesome.
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The newest MacBook Pro has a lot going for it; long battery life, a beautiful display, and of course, the latest 3nm M3 Apple silicon for blazing performance. Even the M3 Pro will handle most CAD programmes with ease, let alone the M3 Max monster, and the 16-inch display is a stunner. Just make sure your preferred software has a Mac-compatible version, and be aware AutoCAD 2024 still has some missing features.
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Best thin and light
Lenovo's latest Slim model adds "Pro" chops to its already very appealing thin-and-light appeal. Despite the super-sleek proportions, you get a 14-core Intel CPU, Nvidia RTX graphics and 32GB of RAM. Then factor in the incredible 3K mini-LED screen and it all makes for a fantastic package.
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If it's serious pro-level power you're after, including for the most demanding CAD workflows, look no further than the MSI CreatorPro X17HX. It's a beast. Along with the massive 17-inch mini-LED display and Intel's fastest laptop CPU, you get Nvidia finest pro GPU for laptops, the RTX 500 Ada. It's simply the best hardware currently available.
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With a versatile design, and brilliant PixelSense touchscreen, this will let your work sing. The zippy touchscreen could be handy for many creatives using CAD software, and the stylus compatibility is a win. Plus there's integrated graphics from Nvidia or Intel.
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The best overall laptop for CAD, AutoCAD and 3D modelling
It's all wrapped up in a high quality chassis that's designed for getting serious work done and includes the configurable Asus Dial rotary control. The OLED panel not only supports touch input and offers 3,200 by 2,000 pixels, it also serves up an outstanding 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space, so it's super accurate, too.
Asus has engineered in fully 160W of total CPU and GPU cooling, allowing the both the Intel i9-13980HX processor and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 graphics chip to really do their thing.
Elsewhere you can have up to 32GB of RAM, which should cover off even the most heavy duty CAD workflows, and there are SSD storage options up to 2TB of super-fast PCIe Gen 4 spec. All told, it's a fabulous machine for getting serious CAD work done.
The best Mac for CAD
The M3 MacBook Pro is a stellar option for Mac-compatible CAD (remember, the Mac version of AutoCAD is not quite the same as the Windows iteration, though the 2024 version is very close it still lacks some features that might be key for you – see more at the bottom of the page).
You can pick between the 14-inch and 16-inch and 13-inch versions depending on which screen size you want (though we did call the 14-inch the "King of laptops" in our MacBook Pro 14-inch (M2 2023) review), and you can upgrade to the Max chip if you need supercharged power. Check out the specifications of your software before you buy a Mac – many have Mac-compatible versions but there are also CAD software options that aren't suitable for MacBooks.
We lean toward the 16-inch model for that extra screen space for CAD work. But in terms of performance you can't go wrong. even the entry-level M3 in the base 14-inch is no slich and the M3 Max is an absolute monster. All MacBoo Pros also offer absolutely stellar battery life that most high-performance Windows laptops can only dream of. This means you can visit clients, work on the road and much more, all without worrying about having to plug it in.
Want something thinner, lighter and cheaper, but still a Mac Try our MacBook Air (M2) 2022 review.
The best thin and light laptop for CAD
Thin and light used to mean weak and weedy, too. But not these days. The Lenovo Slim Pro 9i is a compact 14-inch laptop that's less than two centimetres thick but packs a monster 14-core Intel CPU. You also get a discrete Nvidia RTX 4050 GPU.
OK, that's not the most powerful graphics chip available. But it will get the job jione very nicely for the vast majority of CAD workflows. Another highlight is the 3K mini-LED display. It offers out of this world specs, including 1,200 nits peak brightness, 165Hz refresh and 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 gamut.
You also get a very healthy 32GB of RAM and a fast NVMe SSD. It's all crammed into a gorgeous alloy chassis which, despite its compact proportions, can handle up to 100W of combined CPU and GPU power thanks to advanced thermal design.
If there is a downside, it's relatively poor battery life. Lenovo claims 10 hours of video playback, which is less than half of what you can expect from a MacBook Pro. Moreover, real-world battery life is typically less than manufacturer claims. So, it's very unlikely this laptop can run all day away from the mains.
The best powerful laptop for CAD
If there's a more powerful pro-grade laptop out there than the MSI CreatorPro X17HX, we'd like to know about it. This monster has the very fastest 13th Gen laptop CPU Intel makes paired with Nvidia's finest professional GPU, namely the RTX 5000 Ada. For most CAD workflows, this laptop is arguably overkill.
Still, As if all that's not enough, you can spec this monster with fully 128GB of RAM and two NVMe SSDs, one of which supports the latest ultra-fast PCIe Gen 5 standard. If this thing doesn't tear through your toughest CAD workflow, well, little else will.
Along with those core components, you have the option of either a 240Hz 1440p IPS display or a 144Hz 4K mini-LED panel that's good for not only 1,000 nits of brightness, but also 100% coverage of the DCI-P3 gamut. Now that's impressive.
On the downside, it weighs 3.3kg so it's not exactly ultraportable. Also, the battery is the largest allowed by most aviation authorities, but you still can't expect battery life that even remotely compares to smaller less powerful Windows laptops, let alone Apple's ridiculously long lasting MacBook Pros. Unfortunately, that goes with the territory with this class of ultra-powerful Windows laptop.
The best touch-screen laptop for CAD
If you're looking for something a little different, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is a great choice.
Not only does it have a gorgeous versatile design, but it has an excellent PixelSense touchscreen that will make your work look its very best. The screen can also offer a zippy refresh rate of up to 120Hz. That touch screen in particular will be of interest to many thanks to its stylus compatibility (although you have to buy the stylus separately).
There's plenty more to like too. It's also got an excellent keyboard, powerful specs (including cutting-edge integrated graphics from either Intel or NVIDIA, depending on the configuration you go for), so any CAD application runs with ease. That's especially now that this second-gen device has been updated with Intel's latest CPUs and Nvidia RTX 40 series graphics.
It also boasts very impressive battery life, plus build quality and ergonomics to die for. All in all, it's a fantastic showcase for Windows 11. For more on why we rate this Microsoft portable so highly, see our review of the first-gen Surface Laptop Studio.
The best Dell laptop for CAD
Having a gorgeous, large screen with a high resolution can be a great help for using CAD applications, giving you more room to work, and to show off your projects to co-workers and clients. The Dell XPS 17 is a laptop worth considering, then, as it packs a fantastic 17-inch UHD+ screen with HDR, which is bright, vibrant and comfortable to work on.
The Dell XPS 17 also proves a large-screen laptop doesn't have to be big and bulky. This is an impressively thin and light laptop, with the same attractive design found in the smaller Dell XPS 13 and XPS 15 laptops. It also comes with some powerful components as well, including 13th generation Intel Core processors, up to 64GB RAM and up to NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 4080, 12 GB GDDR6.
(We haven't tested the 2023 version of the Dell XPS 17 but the 2022 version is also very good indeed. Read the Dell XPS 17 9710 review.
The best big-screen laptop for CAD
The Razer Blade 18 is a fantastic laptop for seriously heavy-duty CAD work, and we really rate last year's version too. While Razer is best known for its gaming hardware, laptops like the Blade 18 pack some of the best – and most powerful - components you can buy right now, such as Nvidia's high-end Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 laptop GPU, which isn't just great for gaming, it also makes light work of complex 3D CAD projects.
It's very expensive, but for your money you're getting some of the best mobile tech available right now, plus slick design. Combined with fabulous build quality and stunning 18-inch screen with smaller bezels than the old 17-inch Razer Blade, this is a brilliant creative workstation for people who need a lot of power. (We haven't tested the Razer Blade 18 officially yet, it's on its way, but read our Razer Blade 17 review for more information on that model).
The ultraportable laptop for CAD
If you want the ultimate in portability, with a gorgeous screen to look at and capable performance for anything up to and including photo-editing, the stylish and ludicrously light Zenbook S 13 OLED should be at the top of a very short list.
Its specs, apart from the integrated graphics, are fairly well future-proofed too for any general on-the-go work. However, if you need more graphics-processing grunt, you'll need to either consider a Mac or take a step up within ASUS' ecosystem. Still, this absolutely belongs among the best 13-inch laptops on the market right now.
Read the ASUS Zenbook S 13 OLED review where our reviewer says this tiny laptop "is a hybrid worker's dream."
The best CAD laptop for beginners
If a big screen and budget top your list of laptop priorities, the Acer Swift X 16 will have a lot of appeal. And if you're just starting out you'll want something super-useable.
It manages to offer a big screen and decent power for a very reasonable price. Compromises have had to be made to accommodate the low(ish) cost, and they present in the somewhat underwhelming design and battery life. But it's still a solid laptop, with lots of connectivity options, a quality 2.5K display and comfortable typing experience.
"Overall, the Swift X 16 offers great value for money, with solid, all-round performance for everyday tasks and that little bit more." - Read more of our Acer Swift X 16 Review.
Can all laptops run AutoCAD?
In short, yes, but there are differences between how AutoCAD runs on Windows and Mac.
AutoCAD is a computer-aided design and drafting software application developed by Autodesk. Used to create computer aided designs, it's been around since 1982, and is very much the industry standard for all the professions we’ve mentioned. The requirements for the latest version of AutoCAD are as follows:
- Processor: 2.5GHz (3+ GHz recommended)
- Memory: 8GB (32GB recommended)
- Disk space: 10GB
- Display: 1920 x 1080 resolution
There is a separate AutoCAD 2024 for Mac, which closes the gap between using AutoCAD on Windows and Mac. AutoCAD can now run on Apple silicon for the first time, meaning the experience is almost exactly the same as on Windows when using M1 and M2 chip. However, there are still a few missing features such as 3D Rendering and Drawing History.
Can AutoCAD run on Mac?
Historically there has been a big difference between how AutoCAD runs on Mac and Windows, with the Mac version missing a lot of the functionality. However, AutoCAD 2024 now has a version that runs natively on Apple silicon (the M1 and M2 chips). This means that the experience on both machines is much more similar than ever before – though there are still a few key features missing from the Mac version, and the interface is different.
What's missing from AutoCAD for Mac 2024? The Mac version does not support 3D rendering, no support for Drawing History, you can't extract object data to tables, share/use data from DGN files, Navisworks and Bing Maps, apply and monitor CAD standards and there is less access to specialised toolsets. Added to that, there is a different interface.
We recommend checking thoroughly to see what your workflow demands before relying on AutoCAD for Mac.
How to choose a laptop for CAD?
If you want to run AutoCAD, you’re best off looking at a laptop with the latest Intel Core i7 or Core i9 chips, but how powerful a machine do you need in practice? That really depends on what kind of work you're doing in CAD.
In general, the more complex and large-scale your projects, the more power you'll need and the more you'll have to spend. Especially if you’re also looking for your laptop to run heavier 3D modelling software. But many software types are less power-hungry, meaning you can get away with a less powerful computer.
The ideal machine for longevity (to ensure it can handle it all) will have high-end components, including an abundance of RAM, a multi-core processor and a dedicated graphics card that can manage complex work. However, if you're working on relatively simple projects, you’ll probably be happy with meeting the minimal requirements.
For design work, you'll also want a large screen so your eyes stay comfy and your work can be displayed to its fullest. While you'll need to consider battery life, the power in these laptops mean this is where you might need to compromise. Here, we've picked laptops with enough battery to get through the day.
What hardware is most important for AutoCAD?
Your CPU, GPU, RAM and screen size are some of the most important factors when considering which laptop to buy. Here's a little rundown to help you understand what is important in each category.
It's worth knowing that Autodesk recommends a 3+ GHz processor with a 4+ GHz turbo but anything above 2.5GHz will be fine. There's no need to spend excessively on the number of cores because AutoCAD majors on single threaded processes which are perfectly calculated on a powerful CPU. The latest generation Intel or AMD processors will handle AutoCAD with ease.
Having a dedicated graphics card is essential but make sure it's DirectX 12 compliant. Other than that, any NVIDIA GeForce, NVIDIA Quadro, or AMD Radeon with at least 8GB of video memory and 106 GB/s Bandwidth will be sufficient. If you are primarily working with 2D CAD tasks then consumer grade cards with enough video memory will work great.
Even though AutoDesk recommends 32GB of system memory, in reality it can function fine on as little as 8GB. Considering memory is so affordable though it would be worth aiming for 32GB or 64GB. Ensuring that it's DDR5 will help reduce power consumption while at the same time increasing bandwidth.
This will largely be personal preference. I like as big a screen as possible, ideally a 17-inch for a laptop, to make those complex designs as easy to navigate as possible. If you're going to extend your display to other monitors though, you can get away with a much smaller screen size knowing that you won't be using it for this type of work.
How do we test?
Testing a laptop for a CAD remit starts with considering the overall specification of the machine. Does it have a balanced setup with evenly matched core components, including the CPU, GPU and RAM. It's no good pairing a cutting edge CPU with barely any memory and vice versa.
We then run benchmarks to ensure that the key components are delivering their full performance. Laptops are much more prone to thermal and power issues than desktops, so you can't assume that a given processor or graphics chip will perform the same in every portable system.
Storage performance tends to be more consistent between desktop and mobile. However, laptop makers rarely provide detailed specifications for the SSDs they fit. So we test for sequential throughput and random access to make sure that a really cheap and nasty drive hasn't been fitted.
As for screen quality, the last word in colour accuracy isn't typically essential for CAD workflows. However, a screen with at least 95% coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space is always a good idea.
It's also a good idea to go with a panel that has high pixel density for sharp fonts and viewing fine details in designs. So, we assess all those qualities when considering how suitable a laptop is for CAD workflows.
We also assess ergonomics, build and usability, including keyboard quality, chassis rigidity, trackpad response and more. For more options, see our pick of the best laptops for game development.