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  • Writer's pictureDuff Bangs

#007 Tools of the Trade

Image by modFORM LLC

The tools of an Architect have changed drastically over the last few decades. There was a time when we had our drafting tables along with our t-squares, pencils, triangles and erasers. I was trained with these analog tools however, I am a part of the generation that has fully adopted and embraced computers and technology to design and create beautiful architecture.

As I sit here, I am attempting to write this blog post on my iPhone as I await for my Surface Pro 3 to make a Windows Update. Typically these update are quick but my computer has ran out of hard drive space and there is not even enough space to make the update. I have removed everything I can from the hard drive ,which cannot be upgraded on a Surface (see below) and I still do not have enough room. Which leads me to this weeks blog post. The search for the next portable architecture workstation.

Image by modFORM LLC

Before we get into the new computer, let me praise how great my Surface Pro 3 has served me.

Image by modFORM LLC

I purchased my Surface in the first part of 2015 after limping my Sony Vaio along for many years long after my cat tore off the keyboard keys and many other parts began to fall off. I was a little skeptical of the capabilities of the tiny tablet Surface at first. I needed to run some heavy programs including Photoshop, AutoCAD and the heaviest, REVIT. I took the leap of faith, bought the Surface, installed the program and much to my amazement, that little tablet ran those programs quite well! It definitely wasn’t going to win any speed races but, I could definitely Work very efficiently and quickly for what I needed.

So if it’s so great, why do I need to upgrade? I honestly would love to continue using this computer, it’s still great and still quite speedy however, I have ran into a fun little issue, storage. I have a 128gb SSD (solid state) hard drive and it is at its maximum capacity. I’ve saved all files to a hard drive, erased every extraneous program I could however, I still am fighting for capacity. The primary programs I use continue to expand every time they update. And now Windows can no longer update and my computer has become started to slow down.

So now it’s time to start researching some other possibilities. So back to the other question, what am I looking for in a computer? Here is a little list of items I am considering (I love lists!)

Power - I actually do not know a whole lot about processors however, I feel I should get something that may seem overkill now so I can make this computer work well into the future. Currently I am looking at Intel Xeon quad core processors or the Intel I7's.

RAM - I am looking for something in the 16gb category or above. From what I understand, Revit tends to work better and smoother with more RAM.

Hard drive - Once again I am not overly knowledgeable here but, I do know an SSD or sold state hard drives are typically faster thatn traditional hard drives. However, they cost more and you typically have less storage. I need at least 500gb however, many files can also be stored on the cloud or on external hard drives. And if I can replace the hard drive (see expanadbility section below) I should be good to go.

Portability- I debate about this one but, I am leaning towards maintaining portability. I could get a big stationary workstation with way more power however, I like the ability to be able to leave my office and work in other locations when I need a change of scenery.

Weight- This really only applies to laptops. My Surface 3 weighs around 3 lbs and is amazing to carry around. It is so thin and lightweight that I can slip it in my bag and barely notice it. Unfortunately, if I upgrade to a portable workstation laptop I most likely won’t get the lightweightness again. I believe the lightest I have found so far is 4-5 lbs. Not that big of a deal but you notice it after lugging your computer around for the day.

Expandability - This is one of the main reasons I am moving away from the surface. It is such a beautiful and sleek machine however, they the Apple model and intentionally sealed cases to not allow for replacing parts ie replacing or expanding hard drives which is why I am writing this blog post. With more traditional laptops without sealed cases, you can replace and update various components as needed.

Screen - I am not too concerned about the screen as I am looking at larger external monitors. The Surface has a touchscreen which I love when I use it but, I barely use it. So I can forgo that.

Ports- Many computer manufactures keep removing ports from computers. I’m sure they have many reasons however, as long as I can find something with at least 2-3 USB jacks, HDMI, headphone jack and possibly an SD card reader,than I should be good to go.

So far I have narrowed my choices down to two brands. Dell and HP. Both brands have very nice portable workstations and recently, they are gearing more towards design and architecture professionals. HP is even selling some of their products with Autodesk Revit included.

So more specifically these are the two workstations I have narrowed down to.

Dell Precision 5520

Image courtesy of

HP zbook Studio

Image courtesy of

After much research, these workstations that I have chosen, They are not necessarily the fastest the best or the biggest computers out there however, they are the computers that fit within my budget and have the best hardware available at this time. I hope with this blog post I can share some useful information for other architects and even architecture students.

Please feel free to leave a comment below or give any suggestions for other computers that work well for you. Thanks reading!

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