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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)

If you're looking for the best laptop for CAD (computer-aided design) in 2022, then you've come to the right place. You may be an architect or engineer, or a student starting out, and the laptops on this page could prove to be essential tools for your projects.

Modern laptops are now more powerful than ever, while remaining thin and light, and this means rather than having to work at a desk on a PC, you have the flexibility to work almost anywhere, which is great for those of us who are alternating between working in the office and working from home, 

CAD software needs capable hardware to run it, so you'll need to make sure you invest in a laptop that has powerful enough components to keep up with your projects - no matter how complex they may be.

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.

To make picking a laptop as easy as possible, every laptop on this page has been tested by us (you can read up on how we test laptops) to ensure they are able to run the most popular CAD applications with ease.

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.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) on a wooden table with trans pride flags in the background

(Image credit: Future)
A more affordable laptop for CAD

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2 with 8-core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 10-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 24GB
Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 display with P3 and True Tone technology
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Dimensions (H x W x D): 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56 cm

Reasons to buy

+
M2 chip is a brilliant performer
+
Excellent battery life
+
Almost silent in use

Reasons to avoid

-
No new design
-
Still only two Thunderbolt ports

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is a great alternative if the 14-inch MacBook Pro, above, is too expensive. A new model is out, featuring the brand-new M2 chip, and while the M1 Pro and M1 Max still have the edge, the M2 is a brilliant performer in its own right, and handles CAD programs without any issues.

The new MacBook Pro 13-inch also boasts an incredibly long battery life. We've tested it ourselves and it's seriously impressive, allowing you to work all day and still have battery life left. This means you can visit clients, work on the road and much more, all without worrying about having to plug it in.

Also read: MacBook Pro 13-inch (M2, 2022) review

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.

A front view of the Surface Laptop Studio.

(Image credit: Future)
A unique Windows 11 laptop that's great for CAD

Specifications

CPU: 11th Gen Intel Core H
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe / NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti  laptop GPU
RAM: 16GB or 32GB
Screen: PixelSense Flow 14.4in 2400 x 1600 touch display
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Comfortable keyboard
+
Beautiful touch screen with stylus compatibility

Reasons to avoid

-
A little heavy

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. It also boasts very impressive battery life. All in all, it's a fantastic showcase for Windows 11. See our Surface Laptop Studio review for full details.

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.

Dell XPS 17 9710 in a home office with the screen open

(Image credit: Michelle Rae Uy)
The best big-screen laptop for CAD

Specifications

CPU: Up to 11th Generation Intel Core i9-11980HK
Graphics: Up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 6GB GDDR6
RAM: Up to 64GB DDR4-3200MHz
Screen: 17.0" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge Non-Touch Anti-Glare 500-Nit – 17.0" UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit
Storage: Up to 4TB M.2 PCIe NVMe

Reasons to buy

+
Thin for a 17-inch laptop
+
Excellent display with HDR

Reasons to avoid

-
Unimpressive battery life

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 11th generation Intel Core processors, up to 64GB RAM and an Nvidia RTX GeForce 3060 graphics card. We found this to be more than enough power for even the most intensive CAD workloads when we tested it out – see our Dell XPS 17 9710 review for more details.

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.

Read more:

Tom May
Tom May

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. 

With contributions from