Choosing a Laptop for 3D Modeling



Now that I’m going back to school, I’m finally ready to replace my 7-year-old MacBook! As I’m going to be using it for a lot of 3D and design work (Rhino, SketchUp, Adobe Suite etc) I gave up on Macs right away, since I don’t want to have to bootcamp them.

So far the two options I’ve been looking at are the Microsoft Surface Book and the Dell Precision 5520. The main differences are:
processing: intel i7 for Surface, intel Xeon E3 for Dell
graphics: NVIDIA GeForce for Surface, NVIDIA Quadro m1200 with 4 GB dedicated memory for Dell
screen display: 13.5" 3000x2000 touchscreen for Surface, 15.6" 1920x1080 FHD for Dell

I know there are tons of amazing people here with infinitely more knowledge than I do on the subject, so my question is this: do these differences significantly raise one laptop over the other? Or are they close enough that it can all come down to personal preference?

Their prices are within roughly $100 of each other, so cost won’t play in. The tablet capability for the Surface is a great feature I can see myself using a lot, but I’d be willing to give it up for a significant boost in power on another machine.

If anyone uses either of these two laptops, I’d love to hear about your experiences! :grin:


Huh? I run them on a mac just fine (along with Maya, Fusion360 and OnShape)? Fine, if you don’t want a mac, but that’s a weird reason.


At the time I got my Mac, Rhino was only available for windows…is it different now? All I remember is a bunch of people in my class having horrible times bootcamping their Macs, haha


Yup Rhino is on Mac now!


But we have a couple surfaces at work and they work well but can’t really handle a complex sketch model. I don’t have the specs handy so can’t give you a real comparison…


Oh wow, that’s cool to hear about Rhino! Yes, my main worry about the Surface is how it might handle big files, especially because I’m going to be doing a lot of parametric work with grasshopper.


I would also check McNeels website because I’m not sure that there is a stable form a grasshopper for mac yet…


Oooh, good point. Now that I’m thinking about it I think you’re totally right- no grasshopper for Macs just yet.


The extra pixels in the display will make a ton of difference for designing if it comes down to a final discriminator


Agreed. Fusion 360 on a 5k iMac is freaking amazing.


I don’t know enough to recommend a specific video processor but I’ll say I think you will find the pen useful in certain applications. Not so much 3D modeling but in ai or Corel.


Thanks! I was initially drawn to the Surface Book for exactly that- using the pen for 2D design sounds like it would be really great.


I could never go back to Windows after switching to a Mac about four years ago. I currently use Fusion 360 and it works great on the Mac. I’m glad to hear that Rhino is available… I learned it a few years ago, and it’s nice to have options.


I’ve had a few Dell desktops over the years and they seem to be notorious for having power issues…dont know about their laptops but I avoid the company like the plague now…lol
The last 3 laptops I’ve had are Asus…i7’s. They had always been the best choice at the time I was looking…pricewise and performance.


We purchased two Dell Precision M4800 laptops for the mechanical engineers who primarily use SolidWorks. They were purchased based off of the recommendation of our SolidWorks rep. After 3 months of working with Dell and SolidWorks one was so flaky it was unusable and the other sort of works. And by not working and sort of working I mean for productivity apps, forget SolidWorks. I don’t know what the programs you mention require of the graphics card, but that was our experience. Needless to say we bought a pair of Dell desktops and high end video cards and SDDs from a third party and things are just fine.

FYI - I’m anti-laptop for computing; media playing of course, but not actual computing.


Thanks for all the replies, everyone!! The main 3D program I’ll most likely be using is Rhino with Grasshopper.

@smcgathyfay and @caribis2 To be honest, the main reason I looked into Dell is because it’s the laptop recommended by my school. Figured I’d give it a shot! Hearing about it’s long-term performance is really great info. I would love to get a good desktop setup, but for school I need something to take to classes with me, so…laptop it is, haha.


Are you open to the idea of using a desktop and a laptop? You might be able to have extra power with a desktop and extra portability with a different laptop while still spending about the same amount of money.

Trying to shuffle data between multiple computers can be a pain… there are, of course, lots of pluses and minuses. I’m just wondering if it’s something you’ve already decided against doing.


hmm, I haven’t thought about it, but I would definitely be willing to look into it! The only thing I could think of that might hinder that setup is where I would keep the desktop. I don’t think I’d want to have to always be in my apartment for heavy-duty computing, but I would have to look into how to secure my desktop in the free-range studio spaces at school (sad to think about, but we had a few computer thefts at undergrad).


Usually for my comparisons regarding the latest specs as well as pricing, I go to the digital goddess.


I’ve never heard of that site, thanks for sharing!!