I've attempted to write this series of posts in a way that will be accessible to everyone. It may seem a little boring and geeky, but you'll be better prepared in making purchasing decisions, or when asking questions or for advice. Also please note that the recommendations given here for specific products are not exclusive - there are too many usage scenarios to cover every option.
If you're getting a new computer, you'll want Windows 8 or Windows 7 64-bit. Revit 2014 is officially supported only on Windows 8 and Windows 7. As far as I've heard, Revit 2014 should work fine on Vista and XP. Revit 2013 (with the latest updates) should also work on all of those versions of Windows.
There’s a "Pro" (or Enterprise or Ultimate) and a standard (or "Home") version for Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP. Avoid "Basic" or “Starter” editions of Windows. There are no speed or stability differences between the editions. Unless you work at home, and are sure you don't need any of the features of Pro mentioned below, it's best to get Windows Pro. There are three main advantages of Pro:
1. It allows for "domain" log-ins, which is often used in office environments.
2. If you need to log into your computer with Remote Desktop, the "host" computer you're logging into needs to be running Pro.
3. Pro versions support more RAM. For instance, Windows 7 Home Premium (x64) supports 16 GB of RAM (still more than enough for most users), while Windows 7 Professional (x64) supports 192 GB of RAM.
If you're stuck with a 32-bit version of Windows, 4 GB of RAM is as much as you can use (technically, you can't even use all of that - only about 3.25 GB is actually usable). Even if you're buying a new computer with only 4 GB of RAM, you'll still want to get 64-bit, since you can still access more memory in a pinch, and it will make future RAM upgrades easier.
Note: There's been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Windows 8's user interface changes. It is inarguably the most significant change to the Windows UI in twenty years. I'm not going to wade further into that debate in this post - there is plenty of information available on the web. Suffice it to say, Revit runs exactly the same as it does on any other version of Windows, and by most accounts, Windows 8 is the fastest and most stable version of Windows yet. Most PCs are now shipping with Windows 8 as a default. If you are purchasing a new system that is only available with Windows 8, but you'd rather continue to use Windows 7, there are two possibilities. First, contact the manufacturer or supplier about any available options to "downgrade" to Windows 7 for free. Second, you can still purchase an OEM version of Windows 7 through retail channels and install it yourself.
Get Windows 8 or 7 Professional (or Ultimate) 64-bit.
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VIDEO GRAPHIC CARDS
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STORAGE (HARD DRIVES & SSD)
Storage drives are so big and fast these days, almost anything will work just fine. If your computer will be used in a multi-user office connected to a separate file server where all your Revit project files are stored, you don't need anything more than a 200+ GB drive for Windows and your apps. If you're storing all your files on the drive in your PC, then you'll want something significantly bigger - 500+ GB depending on how many projects you have and how long you keep them on your computer. And don’t forget to back up your data!
Most desktop hard drives are 7.2K (or 7200 RPM - the rotational speed of the discs inside the drive - the higher the number, the faster the drive), while laptops may have 5.4K or 7.2K drives.
There are also high-speed 10K and 15K drives. The only one currently worth recommending is the Western Digital Raptor (2010/5th generation or newer). However, considering the extra money, unless you need very high capacities, I'd strongly recommend considering a SSD instead.
SSD (Solid State Drive)
SSD is the new kid on the block relatively speaking. SSDs don't have mechanical discs like a hard drive – they’re made up entirely of special memory chips. They are extremely fast, much faster than traditional hard drives, but they're still kind of spendy, and the storage capacities are more limited - though they're finally starting to come down in price a bit. What does the extra money get you? The OS boots faster, apps open faster, copying and moving large files is faster, and often gives an unquantifiable zippier "feel" to the computer. They're made by a variety of different manufacturers, some are better than others. I would suggest at least a 200+ GB drive (especially if you have one of the larger Autodesk suite of apps). A not uncommon practice is to use the SSD for the OS and apps, and a secondary hard drive for data. SSDs should no longer be considered a "luxury" component - they really make a noticeably difference in the computer's overall performance.
"Will a faster drive make Revit run faster?"
Aside from actually launching Revit, it will not perform faster – once the application and data are loaded into RAM, the drive speed doesn't really come into play much.
"How about speeding up Revit file opens and saves?"
It does affect it somewhat, but the speed of opening and saving files is largely based on the CPU and RAM, not the drive. In informal tests between a traditional hard drive and a super fast SSD, I found opening files a little bit faster, but saving Revit files to be pretty much the same in most scenarios. A fast drive will launch Revit noticeably faster though. File servers with heavy user traffic can benefit from faster drives. However, if you have time to go get a cup of coffee every time you “Save to Central”, it’s probably an issue unrelated to the drive performance.
"Should I get a second hard drive to use as a dedicated page (swap) file?"
No - this is crazy talk.
"Will a 7.2K drive wear down the battery life faster than a 5.4K drive?"
While technically this can be true, in most scenarios you’ll only save a few extra minutes of battery life. One thing that is still often the case is that 5.4K drives tend to be quieter than 7.2K drives.
Get a SSD 240 GB or larger. Add another SSD or a traditional hard drive if you have additional storage needs.
For Local Area Networks (LAN), Revit will work with just about any networking. For wired connections, you'll want a gigabit (1 Gb) connection (or better), which is standard on almost all computers. For wireless connections, you'll want an 802.11n (Wireless "N") network (or better).
Where you need to pay closer attention is on wired connections to routers and switches (hubs). For instance, many routers still only have 100 Mb ports, so I recommend getting a 1 Gb switch and plugging servers and workstations into that, then plugging the switch into the router. The computers on the network can connect to each other at 1 Gb speeds while bypassing the router (aside from actually connecting to the Internet where 100 Mb connections are typically far faster than the actual Internet connection).
For Wide Area Networks (WAN), typically networking from a remote office (or home) to another office, VPN is known to work, but can be rather clumsy and slow. Services like DropBox are inadequate and will not work. Look into Revit Server or third party products such as Riverbed Steelhead.
For desktops, you'll be using an external display, and any modern display will support a high enough resolution for use with Revit. If possible, your display should support at least 1280x1024.
The higher the resolution, the more drawing area you'll have, the better the user experience. Most laptop displays don’t support that high of a resolution. Revit will still run fine, but low resolutions will make it more challenging to see much of your actual drawings. Also keep in mind that smaller displays, particularly on laptops, may be squeezing a lot of pixels into a small area, and that can lead to some pretty tiny text and icons.
While certainly not required for Revit use, having more than one display can offer a productivity boost. Revit has limited multi-display support at this time. You can drag some tool palettes and dialogs out of the Revit application window and onto another display, but you can’t drag drawing views outside of the Revit application window. However, you can stretch your Revit application window across multiple displays, but you'll want to make sure your displays are the same size and resolution.
One other thing to keep in mind is that many displays (especially on laptops) have “glossy” screens. The glossiness can create a lot of reflections that can make it challenging to use in direct light. The glossy displays can look great while watching a movie, but maybe not so great when doing fine line work in Revit. Some users are very sensitive while others aren’t as much.
For external displays, there's no excuse for anything smaller than 23", but 24" or larger is recommended - you'll really appreciate the extra screen real estate. You'll probably want an external display for a laptop as well for extended use, but if you plan on doing extensive work on the laptop display, get at least a 15" or preferably 17”+ display (if you’re willing to sacrifice some portability).
HP, Dell, Lenovo, Sony, Acer, etc. are all fine. If you can find a reputable local system builder, that's a great way to go as well. There may be some differences in build quality and overall reliability, but they all have pretty much the same components inside, so it mostly comes down to personal preference, available system configurations, budget, etc. Some users working solo or in small offices may choose to build their own computers, buying all the components and assembling the computer themselves (or with the help of a tech-savvy friend).
REVIT ON THE MAC (OS X)
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UPGRADING YOUR COMPUTER
Upgrades, i.e. replacing older parts of the computer with newer parts can sometimes bring new life to an older computer. Upgrading RAM is very common and generally easy to do. Upgrading a video card on a desktop computer is fairly easy to do, though it can be tricky to know whether the PSU (power supply unit in the computer) can support it - definitely check before buying a new video card. Replacing or adding a hard drive or SSD is generally pretty easy to do. Upgrading the CPU and/or motherboard on a desktop is quite a bit more difficult and involves more tech know-how – not to be attempted by the faint of heart.
However, before you start upgrading, think bigger picture. Don’t start down the path of throwing good money into a system that really should just be replaced with a new one. I’ve seen this way too many times, and it rarely turns out well even after the money is spent.
If your system is two years old or older, most often going with a brand new system makes far better sense than trying to upgrade one part at a time.
Don't be cheap - your business depends on your computer. Spending a bit more money is peanuts compared to your computer holding you back from getting work done. When specifying the components of a system, think about value and bang for your buck. When deciding on a budget, think about how long you expect to have the computer and look at the cost of ownership per year over that time period. It often makes more sense to spend a little less money but upgrade more often than to spend a lot of money and be forced to hold onto a computer longer than you should.
Two years on the short end, two to three years is probably considered the sweet spot; anything more than that and you're probably losing productivity.
I've been a computer enthusiast for over twenty years. I know a lot, but I don't know everything. Drop me a PM with suggestions, or if you spot any errors, or think something needs further clarification, or feel free to take it up with me in the forums. And please post those questions, requests for advice, and solutions!