Laptop and Software Recommendations
Technology Requirements for Students - General
Students need to have reliable access to technology, as follows:
- A computer with a supported operating system, as well as the latest security, and malware updates;
- A current and updated web browser;
- Webcam/Camera (built-in or external);
- Microphone and speaker (built-in or external), or headset with microphone;
- Current antivirus and/or firewall software enabled;
- Stable internet connection
You can find out more about these technology requirements on the University of Calgary's eLearn site. Please note that each of these technologies may not be required for every course, and/or may be used in different ways. Course instructors may decide on the combination of technologies that helps to be deliver course material most effectively. Instructors will provide a more fulsome technology list – or a subset, as appropriate – in course outlines so students can clearly understand the requirements for specific courses.
For design students, a good quality, powerful laptop is a must. Most of your design work will require drawing, rendering and creative software, and not just any computer will do. You'll need something that can power drafting software, large renders, GIS map files, and if you have more than one program open at a time along with a multi-tab browser (this is very typical), investing in the right computer is essential. This can make the different between waiting 20 minutes and hours to do a simple render.
To facilitate your development of digital skills, and to ensure you receive the best possible design education, SAPL professional course-based master’s programs require all students have a laptop.
So, when shopping for a laptop, gaming laptops are usually the best value. They are also likely to out-perform any ultra-book (thin/light-weight laptops), which will typically overheat and run slowly even if they have good hardware. Memory Express is a good local resource for gaming laptops.
Here are some baseline recommendations:
- Processor: Intel Core i7, Hex Core
- Memory: minimum 16 GB DDR4 RAM, upgradable is good if possible. Buying a laptop that comes with 32GB will be significantly more expensive, but some models have accessible slots that you can upgrade yourself. This is ideal because a DIY upgrade is relatively inexpensive.
- Storage: 500 GB or higher capacity solid state drive (SSD)
- Screen size: 15”–17”
- Second screen/external monitor: While not mandatory, incoming students should highly consider a second monitor, especially for virtual classes.
- Display: minimum Full HD (1920 x 1080). FHD (full high definition) resolution should be sufficient, but higher resolutions such as UHD (ultra high definition), 4K or 5K prepare you for the future.
- Graphics/Video Card: A You may be using hardcore graphic software such as ArcGIS, Rhino, 3DS Max, ArchiCAD, Revit, Vectorworks or other 3D modelling platforms, all of which require a formidable graphics card, and you'll want your programs to run smoothly. We've found NVIDIA GeForce RTX or GTX, 6GB VRAM, or equivalent, to be suitable.
- HDMI capability/connectivity for presentations
- Back-up storage: UCalgary provides 1TB of cloud storage through OneDrive for all students, external hard drive is another option
- Windows vs Mac: Both Macs and PCs are used by our students. Windows supports more required design software but can be vulnerable to more viruses than a Mac. If you choose to use a Mac, consider Bootcamp and ample disk space.
- Built-in camera and speakers
- Good warranty: 3 years recommended
It's also recommended that you do some research on the software you'll be using for your specific program to makes sure your laptop meets those specific needs.
Students can also access the SAPL lab computers to run programs if you need more power than your laptop can handle.
Visuals are the primary way for architects, planners and landscape architects to communicate their ideas to clients, engineers, the public and other designers. Over time, you'll develop preferences and expand on the types of software you use, but here is a list of basic programs to supplement your hand drawing techniques and help you get from concept to presentation.
- Autodesk, which includes AutoCAD, Revit, Maya, 3ds Max: free for students http://www.autodesk.com/education/home
- ArcGIS: contact IT to order https://www.esri.com/en-us/arcgis/about-arcgis/overview or https://ucalgary.service-now.com/kb_view.do?sysparm_article=KB0032290
- QGIS: free https://www.qgis.org/en/site/
- Rhino 6 and Grasshopper: students may buy as a group for a discount https://www.rhino3d.com/6. If you want to purchase Rhino for use on your own device as opposed to remotely accessing the software from the computer lab for free click the link. If you are upgrading from a previous version you purchased then it is only $95 US. https://www.rhino3d.com/sales/north-america/Canada. Note the “students and faculty” single user price of $195.00 US is the same as the “schools” single user price.
- SketchUp: available at a student rate https://www.sketchup.com/
- Vectorworks: free for students https://student.myvectorworks.net/
- Microsoft Office 365: free - provided by UCalgary https://ucalgary.service-now.com/it?id=kb_article&sys_id=86e7438013753ac06f3afbb2e144b031
- Microsoft Teams: Enable Multi-Factor Authentication to be able to access Teams: https://ucalgary.service-now.com/it?id=kb_article&sys_id=044cf45edb6097000177561bdc9619e9
- Adobe Creative Suite, especially Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
- 60% off for students and educators https://www.adobe.com/ca/creativecloud/buy/students.html
- While students cannot get their own copy for free, then can access it remotely via the University’s Virtual Remote desktop. Here is how to download VMWare software on your computer so you can use Adobe software without any cost: https://ucalgary.service-now.com/kb_view.do?sysparm_article=KB0032324
- Blender: Free and Open 3D creation software. Needed for Architecture Graphics II. https://www.blender.org/download/
This is not a comprehensive list and there may be additional software that is course- or studio-specific.
You do not need obtain all of these programs prior to starting classes. If this is your first year in your degree program, please note that different software will be associated with different classes in different degree years. Please communicate with your course instructors about software required for the courses you are registered in for each term.
If you're working from home, you will need high-speed internet. For a consistent video call experience, broadband Internet speeds of 10+ Mbps is recommended, and for large file downloads, you'll need 50+ Mbps. Find out more about internet speeds and performance on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) website.
While sketching tablets used to be a niche product for illustrators, they've now become more accessible and can be a useful tool for designers. Drawing tablets allow you to draw something that immediately becomes a vector file that you can manipulate.
You can draw on your laptop using your conventional mouse and screen, so not every architect, planner and landscape architect will want or need one, but if you do a lot of sketching and illustrating, a drawing tablet is something to try out and see if it’s right for you.
One of our instructors picked up a Wacom Intuos for around $100 and comments, "It's definitely not like drawing with a physical pen, and the hand-eye coordination takes some getting used to. That said, it will help with desk crits. Pointing a laptop camera at a physical piece of paper seems impractical. It also has good functionality with Adobe Suite and Blender -- the pressure sensitivity is particularly fun to play with."
Tutorials and other resources
Online tutorials are a great way to learn new applications. We strongly recommend that you start to become familiar with them even before you arrive. Some resources to get you started:
- Taylor institute: https://taylorinstitute.ucalgary.ca/students
- Spatial & Numeric Data Services (SANDS): https://library.ucalgary.ca/sands
Frequently Asked Questions
Will the computer labs/library be available for student use?
The Computer Lab will be available through remote access. Students will not be able to go to the Computer Lab.
How will the University ensure all students have access to computers/internet in order to do their work online?
Students are responsible for their own laptops/internet access.
I am having trouble accessing D2L, what should I do?
Head to the following links for troubleshooting tips.
If you're a degree student, visit these pages:
If you're a Continuing Education student follow this link: https://conted.ucalgary.ca/info/