How to Choose the Best Computer for Chief Architect and 3D Design Software


Chief Architect running on a laptop.

By: Phillip Gibney

Chief Architect produces 3D Home Design Software for professional designers and DIY homeowners. From automated features for quickly creating floor plans, section details, and layouts to photo-realistic 3D renders for visualizing the design, the software is a powerful tool for those with residential design needs. Because the software is so powerful and robust, a question we often hear at Chief Architect is “what type of computer do I need to run the software”? Many computers are capable of running Chief Architect; however, depending on the specs, some will run Chief much more efficiently.  Investing in the right computer will also help ensure that the computer will run future versions of Chief effectively for a longer period of time, making your investment more cost effective over time.

  1. Understanding System Specifications
  2. Real-Time Ray Tracing
  3. Multi-Tasking – factor in other uses for your computer (i.e. video editing, web design, etc)
  4. Tips and Considerations
  5. Resources to get you up and running quickly

Choosing the right tool for any job is critical. Would you attempt to hang drywall for a whole house with a screwdriver or drywall gun? Although a screwdriver is significantly cheaper, it will provide minimum performance whereas a drywall gun will save you an enormous amount of time and energy. The principle of ensuring you have the correct tools in the field, also applies to the tools used in the office. A computer that may seem like a bargain may be impractical for running a 3D program like Chief Architect. When computer shopping there is no specific price point you should target, but instead there are certain recommended system specifications you should account for.

Multiple computers at a Chief Architect event.

Understanding System Specifications

There are specific minimum system specifications needed to run Chief Architect, but we strongly encourage you to go with our recommended system specifications. As we release new versions of the software each year, the minimum system specifications may change due to advancements in the software’s capabilities and technology. Going with our recommended system specifications will help ensure that your computer will run Chief Architect efficiently and help extend the useful life of your computer.

Computer SpecificationExample of use in ChiefSpecification needed to run Chief Architect
Video Card (GPU): Produces the image you see on your screenRenders views of the model on screen including reflections, shadows, lighting, and more.X12 Minimum
Windows 7/8/10: 1GB Memory & OpenGL 3.3+
MacOS 10.14/10.15: 1GB Memory & OpenGL 4.1+

X13 Minimum*
Windows 10: 2GB Memory with DirectX12 Shader Model 6 support & (1) Dedicated Video card such as Nvidia GeForce RTX or AMD Radeon Gaming cards or (2) Intel integrated graphics 9th generation “Skylake” or newer.
MacOS 10.15/11: See List

X12 & X13 Recommended*
Windows 10: Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 Series or AMD Radeon™ RX 6000 Series
Mac OS 10.15/11: AMD with 4GB+ Memory

*Real Time Ray Tracing coming in Chief Architect X13 requires a Windows 10 computer with a Nvidia RTX or AMD Radeon™ RX 6000 Series video card
Processor (CPU): Brains of the computer, process inputsMost drawing, editing, and building operationsMinimum
Multi-Core

Recommended
6+ Core Intel i7+ or AMD Ryzen Class Processor

Mac M1 or ARM processors are not supported.
Random Access Memory (RAM): Short term storageStores data temporarily for quick access by the applicationMinimum
4GB RAM

Recommended
32GB RAM
  • Video Card (GPU): Also referred to as the Graphics Card or Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), this is the part of your computer that produces the image you see on your screen.  Since Chief Architect is a graphics intensive program, the graphics card is an extremely important part of the computer for day-to-day design work. There are a few types of Video Cards: integrated, workstation, and gaming. While some integrated (Intel) and workstation cards will work with the software, it may run slower since integrated (Intel) cards share computer resources from the CPU and RAM and workstation cards don’t perform well when doing 3D rendering in Chief. Gaming video cards do not share computer resources and are designed specifically for 3D rendering tasks used in Chief Architect. For best performance, we recommend a gaming class video card with 4GB+ or more of video memory on a Mac, and on a Windows PC NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX series or AMD Radeon™ RX 6000 Series. Here is information on why we specifically recommend these video cards. Additionally, computers with gaming video cards typically meet all of our required system specifications.
  • Processor (CPU): The Central Processing Unit (CPU), often referred to as the Processor, is the brain of your computer. The processor takes inputs from your computer’s RAM and processes them for output. As you are typing on the keyboard or working in a software program like Chief, the processor is performing billions of operations each second to understand and react to the inputs. The performance of a processor is a function of the number of cores and the speed it is capable of running which is measured in gigahertz (GHz). More cores and higher speed is better, particularly if you expect to run multiple applications simultaneously or work on large projects. We recommend an Intel i7 or AMD Ryzen class processor or equivalent with 6+ cores.
  • Random Access Memory (RAM): Commonly known as just “memory”, RAM is used for short term data storage. The computer uses memory to store information your computer is actively using so that it can be accessed quickly.  The more programs your computer is running, the more memory it will need to run efficiently. A computer with insufficient memory for the tasks that are running will have major performance issues.  The RAM is measured in the number of gigabytes (GB). We recommend 32GB of RAM.

“I recommend a computer with a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30 Series graphics card. A new computer with an RTX card is likely to meet our required system specifications for several versions.”

— Brian Beck, Software Testing Engineer


Real-Time Ray Tracing

Ray Tracing is a process in which the software produces a still, photo-realistic image by calculating the path of light as it travels through the model and bounces off surfaces. For many versions Chief Architect Premier and Interiors has performed traditional Ray Tracing. Traditional Ray Tracing can be time consuming, sometimes hours, depending on your computer hardware and model size. The next version of the software, Chief Architect Premier and Interiors X13, will support real-time ray tracing on Window 10 PCs, meaning you can navigate through the model in real time while in the Ray Trace rendering technique. The minimum video card that will be required to perform real-time ray tracing is a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20 series, but we recommend either a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30 series or AMD Radeon™ RX 6000 Series. If real-time ray tracing is important to you, make sure the computer has one of these video cards. If your Windows 10 PC does not have one of these video cards you will still be able to perform traditional ray tracing and the existing 3D rendering functionality available today, in addition to all the other great features coming in Chief Architect X13.

Please note, that real-time ray tracing coming to Chief Architect X13 requires a Windows 10 PC. On a PC, certain newer NVIDIA and AMD video cards support GPUs with hardware acceleration specifically for real-time ray tracing – see a list of GPUs that support this feature.  Mac’s hardware does not support the same level of GPU hardware acceleration necessary for real-time ray tracing. The Mac version of X13 will still perform 3D rendering, CPU Ray Tracing and have new features. Chief Architect Premier and Interiors X13 for both Windows and Mac is anticipated to release in the summer of 2021.

If you want to check the system specifications on a computer you already have, you can do so by following the instructions in this Knowledge Base Article.

If you have found a computer you like, feel free to contact us and we would be happy to review the system and provide you with feedback. Additionally, we have made this printable checklist to guide you in computer shopping.

Multi-Tasking

For many, a computer is a multi-functional tool that will perform other important tasks in addition to running Chief Architect. For example, you may be using your computer daily for accounting software to run your business, video and photo editing software to provide content for your website, and managing your social media, in addition to running Chief.  If you are using your computer to run other software and you are often multi-tasking with several programs open at the same time, it is a good idea to consider more RAM.  Consider between 16GB and 32GB of RAM and lean toward the higher number if you are doing more multi-tasking.

When upgrading your computer you will want to check to see if other software you use will be compatible with a new computer or if other software will need to be upgraded as well. In addition to meeting our recommend system specifications, make sure you are meeting any recommended system specifications for other software programs you use.

Chief Architect running on a desktop with two monitors.

The software and files you create or download are typically stored on the computer’s hard drive. The two most common types of hard drives are hard disk drives (HDD) and solid state drives (SSD). While hard disk drives may be cheaper, you will get faster performance in starting your computer, launching applications, and opening files from a solid state drive. Additionally, solid state drives will often require less battery power. To improve performance when multi-tasking, consider looking for or upgrading the hard drive to a solid state drive (SSD) that is at least 512GB though a 1 terabyte (TB) drive would be preferred.

To further increase your productivity, maximize your screen space with a large monitor, or even better two medium sized or large monitors. Having ample screen space to clearly see your floor plan views, elevations, and 3D views simultaneously will make it easier and faster to work on the plan. Make sure that your video card is powerful enough to handle the monitors you have in mind and, when setting up your system, plug your computer monitors directly into the video card (if applicable). If your primary computer is a laptop, a second monitor can be a huge benefit – but make sure your laptop’s graphics card is up to the task.

Tips & Considerations

If working on computers isn’t high on your list of hobbies, it may seem like choosing a system is a journey fraught with traps and pitfalls.  It certainly doesn’t have to be – armed with some basic information about system components, you can make informed decisions. Here are some tips and considerations to factor into your computer purchasing decision:

  • If you are doing a lot of rendering buy a desktop over a laptop. The video cards and performance are A LOT faster. Typically desktops are also more economical.
  • Be cautious of computers that are micro computers or a computer/tablet hybrid. These computers rarely meet our recommended system specifications or may be running an operating system that is not compatible with Chief (such as Android). A low number of cores, only 4GB of RAM, and a non-gaming (Intel, integrated, or workstation) Video Card often result in minimal software performance.
  • Chief Architect software is not supported with emulators or virtual machines/environments, such as Hyper-V, Oracle VM, VMWare, Parallels, VirtualBox, and others. Running Chief Architect in this type of configuration often leads to problems with properly recognizing the system’s hardware, such as the graphics/video card (GPU), since these systems emulate hardware instead of utilizing the actual components installed
  • Windows or Mac? This is really a matter of personal preference; however, if you choose to switch to a different operating system, you should factor in additional time to learn how to navigate a new computer platform. If switching platforms, you will want to check to see if other software you use will work on the new platform. Note that the Mac M1 Arm Processors are not currently supported and real-time ray tracing rendering coming in Chief Architect X13 will only be available on Windows 10.
Example of Chief Architect running on Mac and Windows laptops.
  • Some computers come with solid state drives that may have minimal storage space, such as 128GB or 256GB. As you install programs, and download or create files, you can quickly run out of storage space. Check to see if the solid state drive is large enough to hold all of your programs and files, preferably 1TB, or upgradable.
  • Many computers come with a return policy, warranty, and support. Make a note of these policies and factor them into your purchase decision. Warranties may require product registration. Don’t forget to register your computer once you get it set up. Some retailers or manufacturers may even offer assistance in getting your new computer set up. Be sure to ask about this.
  • Make a plan for transferring data from your old computer to your new computer. Migrating to a new computer is a great opportunity to assess your files and how you manage your files. If your files were unorganized on the old computer, make it a goal to be better about file management on your new computer. After you decide on which files to keep, you need to get the data from the old computer to the new computer. Consider backing them up to the cloud or an external hard drive and relocating them to the new computer. In addition to your Chief Architect files, you can migrate your Chief Architect libraries, toolbars, hotkeys, and templates. This Knowledge Base article has information on how to do this.  When in doubt, contact your local computer experts for advice or assistance.

Resources

Lastly, have fun and get excited! Chief Architect Software is very fun and easy to use and computer shopping is part of the process. We want you to be successful in using Chief Architect and it all starts with ensuring you have the right tools for the job – in this case the right computer for running Chief Architect. Getting a properly equipped computer will help ensure fast, smooth performance and maximize the service life of your investment.

Don’t forget to download your printable checklist to guide you in computer shopping.

Once you’ve got your new computer up and running, use these resources to get started with Chief Architect.

Good luck and have fun on your hunt for your next computer to run Chief Architect Software!

23 comments

What are your 2021 plans in terms of supporting the new Apple M1 processor based Macs? As well as having full feature parity between your Windows and Mac clients?

Chief Architect

Hello Tim,

Currently, we do no support the M1 processor on the current version but are looking into supporting it on future versions. As of now the X13 feature of real-time ray tracing will only be available for Windows Users but we will know more as that release gets closer.

– Chief Architect Sales

Cornelia Hoskin

Any update since December 2020 for M1 compatibility? My current machine is choking on CA.

Chief Architect

Hi Cornelia,

We are currently working on compatibility with M1 processors. For the most up-to-date information, you can check our System Requirements page here. The system requirements page will reflect all the current information and changes.

Best,

Chief Architect Sales

L. Joly

Hi! Could my HP Spectre x360 15-eb0020ca support your software as Architect Premier or Architect Interiors?

Chief Architect

Hello!

Yes, your computer meets the minimum requirements. A great test of compatibility is to download a trial, the trial will run exactly as the purchased version will run and has the only limitations of saving, printing, and exporting. Make sure to generate a cross-section, elevation, and 3D views to give it a good test.

Chief Architect Trial

Best,
Chief Architect Sales

Danny T

I love this program but I’m running into freezing problems. I currently have a brand new MacBook Pro 13″ do you have any suggestions on how I can improve this issue?

Chief Architect

Hello Danny,

Thank you for reaching out, please contact our technical support team so they can narrow down the issue and assist you with a solution.

Tech Support: 208-292-3400
Hours: Monday – Friday, 7AM – 5PM PT

– Chief Architect Sales

S Wingfield

Is Chief Architect compatible with a computer running on a Xeon W processor and a Quadro RTX GPU?

Chief Architect

Hello!

Yes the processor and GPU not only meet our requirements but beyond recommendations. A great test of compatibility is to download our free trial, the trial will run exactly like the purchased program.

– Chief Architect Sales

When performing intensive tasks such as designing and gaming, CPU is the be all and end all. It’s what will help ensure that a computer runs at a steady space and helps complete tasks as quickly as possible.

Moira

Hi there I’ve just received the Program and I am looking at purchasing my brand new lap
Top. I am very comfortable with Apple products however I also use a Surface PRO for work and I seeing that it is required to purchase a 15” monitor is that absolutely required?

Chief Architect

Hello Moira,

The size of monitor is recommended for ease of use. If you would like to double check that the computer’s specifications meet our requirements you can contact us at 208-292-3400. We are open Monday – Friday, 7 AM – 5 PM PT.

Best,
Chief Architect Sales

has there been a stand out computer? looking for an upgrade. Thanks

Chief Architect

Hey, John! We don’t have any particular brands we recommend. We do however recommend getting an RTX graphics card for the Real-Time Ray Tracing that’s coming in Chief Architect X13.

Suzanne Maloney

Is Real Time Ray Trace taking the place of Physically Based Rendering in x13? I currently rely heavily on PBR and am thinking of moving from a laptop to a desktop, but I’m not clear on how vital the recommendations/minimums will be if I’m not a devotee of Ray Trace.

Chief Architect

Hello Suzanne,

Real Time Ray Trace is NOT taking the place of Physically Based Rendering. It is an improved ray trace rendering in real time, stepping up the capabilities of the current ray trace rendering.

Best,

Chief Architect Sales

Great post. The right hardware makes an enormous difference, especially if you’re working with large files like point clouds too.

Robert

I am wondering if there is any consideration given in new releases to helping designers comply with IRC code requirements and adopt new building technologies like using ICCFs and ICFs and emplying rain screens and Continuous Insulation etc…

Marco

I am considering to buy Chief Architect, but given that you’re not supporting or planning to the support the Apple Silicon, that would not work for me… Given that the ARM based processors are incredibly fast and have great GPU performance, I don’t really get why you’re not supporting this, particularly with the next gen Mx chips to be even more powerful…

Chief Architect

Thank you for your insight, Marco! It’s certainly our goal to support the M1 processors in the future; however, we do not foresee that being available with the next release.

Christopher

Marco’s comments regarding M1 support warrant being reiterated…

I’d guess you have a significant amount of CA users on the Mac platform and at present CA is only compatible with ONE current Mac, the 16″ MBP. ONE, and ONLY ONE (zero desktop…) options and Apple is going to upgrade it to the M1 MUCH SOONER than LATER, at which point CA is going to be the limiting factor for every single Mac user wanting to upgrade (which I ultimately very much want to given the gains in graphic capabilities and overall speed of system). I have/had every intention of upgrading to the 16″ M1 upon release for this purpose, but that’s going to be forced on hold solely because of CA…

Integrating this support really needs to be at the top of your priority list…

***It’d be great if y’all would release/commit to a timeline for moving to M1 support***

If, for example, it is still not supported by the X14 release, the ongoing expense of CA’s SSA is going to be an increasingly hard pill to swallow, legitimately. My apologies for being so assertive with this, but its a very real concern for me, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one to share among your user base to feel this way (I imagine most haven’t come to the realization of this problem yet…) Thanks in advance for reading and giving this attention. I appreciate it.

Chief Architect

Hello Christopher,

Thank you for your feedback. We are listening to your concerns and we do not take them lightly, our development team is working on supporting the M1 processors for the X13 product. The released version may not be compatible but it is the goal to have compatibility as an update as soon as possible.

We will have a representative reach out to you for more clarification and any additional questions you may have.


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