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Choosing a Computer for Architects (Part.2)

Hello again. In the previous post, I discussed some tips for choosing a computer for architects, covering the laptop vs. desktop debate and selecting an operating system. In this second part, I will continue by discussing the components and specifications of a computer required to run architectural software.


The evolution of computer devices is rapidly changing, with new devices replacing older ones every year. In this post, I won't recommend specific brands or models to keep the information relevant over time. Instead, I will focus on five essential components for architects when selecting a computer: CPU, RAM, Storage, GPU, and Display/Monitor.

CPU (Central Processing Unit)


The CPU is the brain of the computer, processing all tasks and commands. In the market, there are various CPU options, and for those unfamiliar, choosing one might be confusing. CPUs can have single-core or multi-core configurations (usually indicated as Dual Core, Quad Core, etc.). What do these terms mean?

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Think of it this way: a core is like a construction worker. Single-core means there's only one worker, while multi-core means there are many workers. Which is better, a house built by a single worker or multiple workers? A house built by multiple workers will finish faster and be lighter because the workload is distributed evenly. Similarly, a CPU with more cores will complete tasks faster and more efficiently. CPUs also have a clock speed, usually measured in gigahertz (GHz, e.g., 3.6 GHz or 4.3 GHz). Higher GHz values indicate a faster CPU. Going back to the construction worker analogy, a faster worker finishes building a house more quickly.

For architects, what's preferable: a CPU with high clock speed or one with more cores? Each architectural program has different CPU specifications due to varying job types. Tasks like 3D modeling and CAD may only require a single core, while 3D rendering demands multiple cores.


So, choosing a CPU should be thoughtful. Understand your tasks—do you create more models and CAD, or focus on rendering and animation? If it's the former, opt for a high clock speed CPU; if it's the latter, choose a CPU with more cores. Some BIM software works optimally with multi-core CPUs. My suggestion is to buy the best CPU within your budget. Other components like RAM and GPU can be upgraded later, but upgrading the CPU is more complex as it requires compatibility with the motherboard.

RAM (Random Access Memory)


RAM is temporary data storage forwarded to the CPU for processing. Imagine working at a desk; this desk is your RAM. You use it to place tools like pencils, erasers, and paper while working. Every time you start a new task, like sketching, you can quickly grab all the needed tools because they're already on the desk.


However, if your desk (RAM) is small, you can only place a few tools on it. When starting a new task like creating a model, you need additional tools not currently on the desk because it only has sketching tools. You have to put away your sketching tools and replace them with model-making tools like cardboard, a cutter, scissors, glue, etc.


In this analogy, a larger desk (RAM) allows you to place more tools, making it easier to multitask without repeatedly fetching different tools. Similarly, more RAM capacity accelerates the CPU's task completion. RAM capacity is measured in gigabytes (GB), such as 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, etc. The larger the RAM capacity, the more data it can store.

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So, is bigger RAM capacity always better? Yes, generally. The complexity of a task determines the required RAM capacity, and each architectural program has different demands. Before purchasing RAM, check the requirements of each software on their website. They usually specify the minimum RAM needed to run the program. Tailor your choice to your needs, but one thing is certain: the larger the capacity, the better.


Storage


Storage is where data is stored, including the operating system and software. The two common types are Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and Solid State Drive (SSD), measured in gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (TB). Storage capacities for HDD and SSD typically range from 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, to 2TB.


HDDs store data on moving magnetic disks, while SSDs use circuitry. HDDs retrieve and store data mechanically, while SSDs do so electronically. This is why SSDs work faster than HDDs. Many computers now use SSDs because, in addition to being faster, they are more durable, though they are more expensive than HDDs. Even a small-capacity SSD can be more expensive than a large-capacity HDD.

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Architecture works is known to have very large file sizes. The files of a project using BIM software can even reach hundreds of megabytes. To address cost efficiency, I employ two types of storage. I use a small-capacity SSD (250 GB) for installing the operating system and architectural software, enhancing computer performance as I work on the SSD. Meanwhile, for storing old project data, I utilize a large-capacity HDD (1TB or 2TB). After completing each project, I promptly transfer it from the SSD to the HDD.


Oh, also consider using Cloud Storage. Cloud Storage is an online or digital-based storage medium accessed through an internet connection. There are many Cloud Storage service providers, with Dropbox and Google Drive being the most common. This eliminates the need to purchase additional HDD; simply have an internet connection and pay a monthly fee if you want to increase storage capacity. Cloud Storage has the advantage of allowing access to your stored data from any device, unlike HDD or SSD, which must be carried every time data access is needed. Cloud Storage also minimizes the risk of data damage or loss as your data is stored on the provider's servers.


Graphics Card


A graphics card is a component that translates electrical signals from the computer to be displayed on the monitor in the form of images. Ever tried playing a game or creating a 3D model with choppy graphics? This is where the graphics card comes into play.


Graphics cards come in two types: discrete and integrated. Integrated means the graphics card is integrated with the CPU, while discrete means the graphics card is separate from the CPU. Integrated graphics cards share resources with the CPU, limiting their capabilities. In contrast, discrete cards have their own circuit board and separate power system, avoiding competition with the processor.

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To meet the needs of architects, it is advisable to choose a computer with a discrete graphics card, as the goal is to handle heavy tasks. However, they are more expensive and consume more electricity. For laptops, most have integrated graphics cards, but some types have a separate graphics card. Ensure you choose a laptop with a separate graphics card.


How to choose a graphics card for architectural needs? The easiest way is to understand the requirements of the software to be run. Like CPUs, each architecture software has its own specifications for graphics cards. Some architecture and design software even require a workstation-type graphics card. What is that?


Graphics cards come in consumer and workstation/professional types. Workstation-type graphics cards are specifically designed to handle high-level visual computing, such as complex and large-scale visual models. With this type of graphics card, work becomes more effective and efficient. The only drawback is that they are much more expensive than consumer graphics cards. But don't worry, most consumer graphics cards are sufficient for handling small to medium-scale architecture tasks.

Screen / Monitor


HD, FHD, UHD, 4K, 5K—all of these are screen resolutions in pixels. A 4K screen means it has a horizontal resolution of around 4000 pixels and a vertical resolution of 2000 pixels. For architects, working with a large-resolution screen feels better. Tasks like modeling, CAD drafting, and rendering involve small details that often require zooming in or out. The smaller the screen resolution, the more blurred or pixelated the resulting image, causing disturbance.

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What about screen size? For laptops, it's advisable not to go below 14 inches, while for desktops, it's better to be above 23 inches. Using a large-sized screen is advantageous, especially when multitasking. Architectural work often requires opening two or more windows, which is comfortable on a large-sized screen.


Choosing a computer for architects may not be easy, but it's quite enjoyable. You just need to select and adjust what suits your job requirements and budget. Remember, it's about needs, not wants. So, after reading this post, hopefully, you have a bit more understanding of what kind of computer is suitable for your needs.

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