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The best laptop for CAD, AutoCAD and 3D modelling in 2022

best laptop for CAD: Two laptops on a desk with a notebook
(Image credit: Headway on Unsplash)

Buying the best laptop for CAD (computer-aided design) your budget will stretch to can revolutionise the way you work, no matter if you're a professional architect or engineer, or a student starting out.

Because laptops are now more powerful than ever, while also becoming ever more thin and light, you no longer have to sit at a desktop PC to work on your projects. While CAD software remains demanding when it comes to system requirements, the modern laptops you'll find on this page are more than capable of running your favourite application.

Because of their portability, the best laptops for CAD allow you to work pretty much anywhere you want. With many of us alternating between working in the office and working from home, these laptops are essential tools that fit into our new ways of working.

When picking the best laptops for CAD, we make sure that they come with high-end components that can breeze through projects. This includes plenty of RAM, a multi-core processor, and even a dedicated graphics card for particularly complex work.

A large screen that's comfortable to use is another important aspect, as is battery life. While the powerful components in these laptops means you're not going to get ridiculous battery lives, we've made sure these laptops offer enough to last a work day without you needing to charge them up, giving you greater freedom when working.

Value for money is now also more important than ever, so we've made sure to include a range of laptops that suit all kinds of budgets.

If you need AutoCAD, you can buy it from the Autodesk website (opens in new tab). 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.

The best laptops for CAD available now

MacBook Pro 14-inch in the officeCB

(Image credit: Future)
The best laptop for CAD ever made

Specifications

Processor: Apple M1 Pro or Max chip
RAM: 16-64GB
Screen: 14 or 16 inches
Resolution: 3024 x 1964
Storage: 512GB-8TB
Weight: 3.5lbs

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible performance 
+
Huge battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive

The MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) is a brilliant laptop for CAD, and easily the best one you can buy right now.

Running macOS Big Sur on Apple’s proprietary eight-core M1 Pro or Max chip, with up to 64GB RAM, this is the most powerful laptop Apple has ever created. In our review, we found that it was more than capable of running both AutoCAD and resource-hungry 3D modelling software like Maya, 3DS Max, and Fusion 360 with ease. Note also that you can run iOS here as well, so you can open up the AutoCAD mobile app if that helps your workflow.

The MacBook Pro also offers up to 17 hours of battery life: the longest of any Mac ever. You’ll doubtless get less than that doing intense work in AutoCAD, but it’s a surety that you’ll get through a professional day without having to recharge. You’ll also benefit from the most beautiful, super-high res screen, and up to a whopping 8TB of storage. 

This laptop is very much the Rolls Royce option of MacBooks, and may be overkill for a lot of people’s needs. But if you’re looking for a premium Apple laptop and are willing to pay the price, you won’t find better. See our MacBook Pro 14-inch review for more details.

best laptop for CAD: Dell XPS 15CB endorsed

(Image credit: Dell)

02. Dell XPS 15

The best Windows laptop for CAD overall

Specifications

Processor: 10th Gen Intel Core i5-i7 (4.5GHz)
RAM: 8GB-64GB
Screen: 15.6 inches
Resolution: FHD+ (1920 x 1200)
Storage: 256GB-2TB

Reasons to buy

+
Fast performer 
+
Great screen 
+
Comfortable to use 

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the most high-res

The best laptop for CAD today for people who want to use Windows 11 is the Dell XPS 15. With its powerful Intel Core processor, teamed with between 8GB and 64GB RAM, it’s more than capable of running both AutoCAD and other 3D design software, smoothly and efficiently. 

With up to 2TB of storage, you’ll have plenty of space to store your CAD projects. The lovely 15.6-screen offers Full HD+ resolution (1920 x 1200), and benefits from anti-glare tech and 500 nits of brightness. The keyboard and trackpad are comfortable and easy to use. All in all, this is a premium laptop at a relatively affordable price. 

A front shot of the Honor MagicBook 16

(Image credit: Future)
The best laptop for CAD at a budget price

Specifications

Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 5600H
RAM: 16GB DDR4
Screen: 16.1-inch
Resolution: FHD (1920 x 1080)
Storage: 512GB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Great 16.1-inch 144Hz display
+
Classy, modern design

Reasons to avoid

-
Battery life is disappointing
-
Regional availability is spotty

The Honor MagicBook 16 proves that you don't have to spend a fortune to get a great laptop for CAD. Boasting some great specs thanks to AMD, and a large 16.1-inch screen with a high refresh rate, this is ideal for engineering and architecture students who want something to work on.

It's also one of the best looking laptops you can get for this low price, offering a design that will remind you of a MacBook - but without that high price tag. It runs Windows 11, and comes with enough performance that you can run your favorite CAD applications, though there's no dedicated graphics card, so more complex designs may put a bit too much stress on this laptop.

Battery life isn't great, either, so you'll probably want to make sure you carry its charger with you. Honor is a Chinese company, and that means that its products can sometimes be difficult to buy in the US, so if you're based there you may need to shop around.

Read our Honor Magicbook 16 review for more information.

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Future)
The best value Apple laptop for CAD

Specifications

Processor: Apple M1 (3.2Ghz)
RAM: 8GB-16GB
Screen: 13 inches
Resolution: 2,560 x 1,600
Storage: 256GB-2TB

Reasons to buy

+
Reasonable price 
+
Hi-res screen

Reasons to avoid

-
Less power than MacBook Pro

If you’re running huge, complex CAD projects in a demanding managerial role, you may need the premium power of the MacBook Pro, listed above. For most CAD designers, though, the more affordable MacBook Air (M1 2020) will be more than sufficient for your needs. 

That means making some small compromises in terms of performance. For instance, the RAM of the MacBook Air can only be extended to 16GB, compared to the Pro’s 64GB. Similarly, the battery life is just 15 hours rather than 20.  

However, while the MacBook Pro 14-inch above is a lot more powerful, during our time with the MacBook Air, we found it was still able to run any CAD or 3D modelling software on the market, so if you're on a tighter budget, the MacBook Air should probably be your default choice. For more on this, see our guide to MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air, or our full MacBook Air (2020) review.

LG gram 17 on desk running Photoshop

The best laptop for CAD with a big screen

Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i7-1165G7 (2.8 GHz)
RAM: 8GB-16GB
Screen: 17 inches
Resolution: 2,560 x 1,600
Storage: 256GB

Reasons to buy

+
17-inch screen 
+
Sophisticated display

Reasons to avoid

-
May want more storage

The laptops we’ve featured so far have all had mid-sized screens. But maybe you want to see your CAD designs on a bigger display, allowing you to focus better on all the small details? In which case, let us point you towards the LG Gram 17, with its 17-inch screen.

This WQXGA IPS display is both big and beautiful, with vivid and nuanced colours and deep, rich blacks. Plus with a resolution of 2,560 x 1600, you get the high level of detail you need when working with sophisticated 3D models. 

It’s a strong performer overall, too, with the 11th Generation Intel Core processor, working with well the 8-16GB RAM and Intel’s integrated Iris Xe graphics. So whether you’re running AutoCAD or any other 3D modelling software, you can be sure of a smooth, responsive and speedy experience. When reviewing the LG gram 17, we were particularly impressed with how light it was. This is a fantastic laptop that disproves the notion that large-screen laptops have to be big and bulky.

See our LG Gram 17 (2021) for more information.

best laptop for CAD: HP Spectre x360

(Image credit: HP)

06. HP Spectre X360 (2021)

The best laptop for CAD that doubles as a tablet

Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i7-1165G7 (2.8GHz)
RAM: 8GB-16GB
Screen: 13.3 inches
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Storage: 256GB-2TB

Reasons to buy

+
Use as tablet or laptop 
+
Powerful processor 
+
Quality stylus 

Reasons to avoid

-
You may not want a hybrid

CAD programs like AutoCAD offer both mobile apps and support for touch. So you may be looking for a hybrid laptop with a detachable keyboard. That way, you can switch between tablet and laptop mode, and get the best of both worlds. 

Our recommendation would be the HP Spectre X360 (2021). First, because it’s super-flexible, allowing you to rotate the screen through a full 360 degrees. That means as well as tablet and laptop mode, you can also put it in tent mode for giving presentations. And second, because, it’s very powerful, with the latest Intel Core i7 processors, Iris Xe integrated graphics and 8-16GB RAM allowing you run the most demanding CAD and 3D modelling software, including AutoCAD.

The resolution on the 13.3 inch touchscreen is slightly less impressive than some on our list, at “only” Full HD. But on the plus side, you get a free, high-quality, rechargeable stylus for your money too.

best laptop for CAD: Acer ConceptD

(Image credit: Acer )
A powerful laptop for CAD and 3D modelling

Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i7-9750H (4.5GHz)
RAM: 32GB
Screen: 15 inches
Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160
Storage: 1TB

Reasons to buy

+
High resolution 
+
Smooth, fast graphics 
+
32GB as standard

Reasons to avoid

-
Overkill for some

If 3D modelling is your main interest, we recommend the Acer ConceptD 7. With a six-core Intel i7 processor capable of 4.5GHz, teamed with a hefty 32GB RAM, in our review we found it could handle even the most demanding 3D software. Graphics are smooth, fast and responsive too, thanks to the inclusion of a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics chip. Although this isn't the latest GPU from Nvidia, it's still a formidable graphics card. 

With 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution, the screen is as detailed as you could every wish for. Plus the display is bright, vibrant, Pantone validated, and supports 100 per cent of the Adobe RGB colour gamut. Given these specifications, the Acer ConceptD 7 is excellent value, and a great choice for pro 3D modelers.

Read our Acer ConceptD 7 review for more information.

best laptop for CAD: Razer Blade 15 advanced model

(Image credit: Razer)
An excellent choice for 3D modelling

Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i7-9750H (4.5GHz)
RAM: 16GB
Screen: 15 inches
Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160
Storage: 512GB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
High resolution 
+
Smooth, fast graphics
+
Quiet running 

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the most storage

Another great choice for 3D modellers is the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model. The specs are quite similar to the Acer ConceptD 7, listed above, providing you with more than enough power to run demanding and resource-intensive 3D software, not to mention AutoCAD. 

That said, you are only getting half the onboard RAM and storage of the Acer. But in practice, we’ve found it runs spectacularly quickly, and is very quiet too. Our main problem is the confusing array of configurations, but if you manage to navigate that, there’s much to like here.

Read our Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model review for more information.

Can all laptops run AutoCAD?

Almost everyone working in CAD will need to use AutoCAD, a computer-aided design and drafting software application developed by Autodesk. Used to create both 2D and 3D 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 (16GB recommended) 
  • Disk space: 10GB 
  • Display: 1920 x 1080 resolution 

What laptop is best for CAD?

If you want to run AutoCAD, you’re best off looking at a laptop with the latest Intel Core i5 or Core i7 chips, but how powerful a machine do you need in practice? That really depends on what kind of work you're doing in CAD.

If you’re a student working on relatively simple projects, you’ll probably be happy with meeting the minimal requirements. If you’re a CAD professional, though, you may need a more powerful processor. In general, the more complex and large-scale your projects, the more you'll have to spend. Especially if you’re also looking for your laptop to run other 3D modelling software besides AutoCAD. Of course, generally, the more power you need, the more it will cost.

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Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity (opens in new tab), published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects. 

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