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 7 64-bit. Of course, Vista and XP still work fine with Revit 2013 if that's what you already have.
There’s a "Professional" (or Enterprise or Ultimate) and a "Home Premium" version for Windows 7, Vista and XP. Avoid "Home 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: Windows 8 was recently released. I did some *preliminary* testing of Revit 2013 using the Windows, and Revit appeared to run well on my system. However, other users have reported issues with the Ribbon that may require keyboard shortcuts to get around. Revit 2013 and earlier remain officially unsupported by Autodesk at this time. My recommendation is to stick with Windows 7 for the time being. Most PCs are now shipping with Windows 8 as a default. If you are purchasing a new system with Windows 8, contact your OEM about your options. You can still purchase an OEM version of Windows 7 through retail channels and install it yourself.
Get Windows 7 Professional (or Ultimate) 64-bit.
See this post!
The most important thing you need to know about RAM is how much to get. All the tech jargon about type and speed is a distant second.
“Just tell me how much to get!”
2 GB won't work very well or maybe not at all, and 4 GB will do in a pinch on very small projects. Plan on no more than very small projects with a 50 MB project file size or less... very small houses, small tenant improvement projects, etc. However, RAM is so inexpensive these days that you shouldn't consider less than 8 GB for a new computer purchase.
8 GB for medium size projects with project files over 50 MBs... large residential projects, small to medium size office buildings, a couple buildings linked together, etc. Don't bother buying a new computer with less than 8 GB.
16+ GB for the really large projects - very large buildings, skyscrapers, multi-building campuses, etc.
Estimating RAM Requirements
The most common rule of thumb used to calculate the necessary amount of RAM for Revit is to:
Multiply the Revit project file size by 20 and add 1 GB.
For example, if you have a 100 MB file, you'd require 4 GB of RAM for Revit (100 MB x 20 + 2 GB).
However, that's really just a rule of thumb. You can actually observe RAM usage (this is assuming you already have a computer running Revit with your largest project file open): Work on the same file for an extended period of time (at least several hours). Go to the Windows Task Manager (WTM). You can actually view under the "Processes" tab how much memory Revit is using at any given time. You can look under the "Performance" tab to see how much memory your computer is using, and what the peak amount of RAM it used at any time during that session. As long as the amount of memory your computer is using is never more than the amount of RAM installed in your computer, you're doing okay.
RAM Tech Jargon
Dual Channel/Triple Channel/Quad Channel architecture is the RAM's data throughput. Quad Channel is fastest, but since it's dependent on the CPU architecture, it's not a significant reason by itself to choose one system over another. Probably the most important thing to know is that RAM modules should be installed in pairs with Dual Channel, and in triplets with Triple Channel (for best performance), and two pairs for Quad Channel (for best performance). Laptops currently only have Dual Channel.
DDR2, DDR3, etc., are types of RAM and 1066MHz, 1333MHz, etc. are speeds of RAM. Like Dual Channel and Triple Channel, these are almost completely dependent on the CPU you get... while faster is better, it doesn't have a huge impact on performance, so pick out the CPU, and the RAM will follow.
I've done some informal benchmarks performed on a system that supports both Dual and Triple Channel and the results were virtually identical. And most benchmarks I've seen show that adding faster RAM than the CPU is designed for has a negligible affect on performance.
Virtual Memory, Page (Swap) Files & The /3GB Switch
I’m not going to use a lot of space here on this subject because with 64-bit and RAM so plentiful, it should not be necessary to fiddle with these on a new computer. If you don’t already know what the terms mean, you don’t have to concern yourself with them – just move along. If you’re still using 32-bit, and you need to change these settings, don’t waste your time – get a new computer with Windows 64-bit. If you’re determined to change these settings, feel free to post about it... or read RFO member Gordon Price's informative and entertaining post on it:
Dr. StrangeSwitch or "How I learned to Stop Worrying and Use 64 bit Windows"
"Does adding more RAM makes my computer faster?"
It's really all in the wording. Having enough RAM keeps your computer from slowing down. You never want to have too little RAM, and having more than enough never hurts. However, since most of us have to stay within a budget, you don't want to waste money on unnecessary RAM that you could put to better use elsewhere, such as a faster CPU, which will make your computer faster. To use a automobile analogy, adding more fuel won't make your car go faster, but you need to have enough to get where you're going.
Get at least 8 GB of RAM.
VIDEO GRAPHIC CARDS
See this post!
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.
"SCSI drives rulz!"
Well, they once did - now they're considered obsolete. Get an SDD instead for workstations, or SAS drives for heavy duty servers.
"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 get only 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 200 GB or larger - the Intel 520 series Intel 330 series come highly recommended, but there are lots of good ones.
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 space. 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.
REVIT ON THE MAC (OS X)
See this post!
UPGRADING YOUR COMPUTER
Upgrades, i.e. replacing older parts of the computer with newer parts can sometimes bring new life to and 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-five 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!