How Big of a Difference Does 8GB to 16GB of RAM Make for CAD on Laptops? The most popular Computer-Aided Design (CAD) applications such as Autodesk AutoCAD requires at least 8GB RAM to function well, but there are many reasons why we should choose a laptop with more than 8GB RAM for CAD. As more and more 3D modeling tools like Revit, Vectorworks, and SolidWorks become essential to school or work, it is important to choose a workstation laptop for CAD with high-end computing features that can keep up with the memory demands.
Choosing a Laptop for CAD: How Big of a Difference Does 8GB to 16GB of RAM Make for CAD on Laptops?
What is RAM?
Random access memory (RAM) is the PC’s short-term memory. RAM is different from hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs) in that it only maintains information while the PC is receiving power, and it loses all contents when the PC is turned off. Because RAM is where the PC’s applications run and store their information during active processing, it dictates the number and size of programs and datasets you can have open at any one time.
Having more RAM means your PC has more breathing space to perform and switch between multiple tasks before redirecting the allocation to virtual memory (the section of the hard disk that is set up to emulate RAM). Ideally, RAM should contain all the information that your OS and applications need while actively processing. When there isn’t enough RAM, the least-active system information in RAM can be written to storage in “swap files”; however, it is more efficient to work directly in RAM than constantly switch information to and from storage.
The most common type of RAM for modern processors is Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory (DDR SDRAM), or more commonly referred to as DDR. The industry has progressed from DDR to DDR2, DDR3, and now DDR4, with each generation significantly increasing in speed and decreasing in power usage.
For 2D designs, 8GB RAM should be the minimum. If you plan to create 3D models, go for at least 16GB RAM on your workstation laptop.
Because CAD may require accessing multiple files, running many programs or having several drawings opened at one time, it can cause excessive memory usage and lead to freezes. Freezing may happen while working on one or more open drawings, or while opening or saving a file. Having 16GB RAM on a workstation laptop will solve most of these problems related to insufficient memory.
How much RAM you need depends on the most demanding tasks your PC needs to perform. In other words, you want to minimize the use of swap files and keep your PC running smoothly. Too much RAM can be a waste, since extra RAM beyond what you need will not make your PC run faster. 32GB RAM can be an overkill for most designing works today, unless you plan to edit RAW photos or high-res video (or other similarly memory-intensive tasks). However, you want to have more RAM than your most memory-intensive workload to prevent your PC from experiencing performance issues.
Purchasing a workstation laptop
Choosing a laptop for CAD applications requires more planning than a desktop because a desktop’s components can be replaced and upgraded in the future. In most cases, it is wiser to purchase a laptop with at least 16 GB (DDR3 or DDR4) RAM, a quad-core processor with a 2.9-GHz processor frequency or greater, and 1TB hard drive disk or SSD, so you most likely do not need to replace or add any components.
Other Things to Consider
While RAM is important for rendering details and layers, graphics cards are for viewing the design. Graphics card contains the GPU chip and is the piece of hardware that produces output to monitor. Typically, it is recommended but not necessary to have an extra graphics card to run CAD. However, having a dedicated graphics card means better performance overall and is highly recommended for 3D modeling.
Your workstation laptop’s processor should be at least Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7. The two main specifications that measure the CPU’s capability are frequency and number of cores. While frequency affects how many operations a single CPU core can complete in a second, the number of cores tells you how many physical cores there are within a CPU. CAD softwares like AutoCAD are mostly single threaded, which means they only use a single core of the CPU. For this reason, you should prioritize higher frequency over number of cores.
CAD applications are memory-intensive, so you should look for workstation laptops with 16GB RAM or greater for high performance or 8GB RAM at the very minimum to function. Next, make sure your purchase has a processor with frequency of 2.9 GHz or higher. Finally, if you are creating 3D models professionally, consider investing in a graphics card. Keep in mind that it is much more difficult to upgrade the components in a laptop compared to a desktop, so be sure to make good initial purchasing decisions.
Written by Ester Tsai