It is not uncommon, both on the forums and in our Support requests, to be asked “What’s the best computer for SketchUp?” or “Should I upgrade x to maximize performance in SketchUp?” which can sometimes be tricky to answer. This can be tricky partly because the best computer can still suffer under a poorly organized model and partly because “the best hardware” is a moving target. To that end I have some generalized feedback about the hardware side of this question which I’m posting below. Past that, I invite users to respond with their more specific hardware experience as well.
To preface the rest of this post I will say that we really try to steer clear of making specific recommendations for hardware and defer to the wisdom of the crowd (the forum) to ensure they’re talking to people that are buying new computers and not people running on company provided whatevers. We don’t have specific hardware which we can say there are no compatibility/crash issue with… sadly that can change from day to day as the video card manufacturers changes their drivers. With that being said, there are some non-specific recommendations below.
Disk Drive: Having a Solid State Drive (SSD) shouldn’t have much effect on SketchUp performance, it only speeds things up when you’re reading and writing on the Hard Drive, so maybe file opens and file saves, and the initial file launch. Once SketchUp is open then it’s hanging out in system memory (RAM) which is much faster than an SSD. Most systems are coming with SSD and it can’t hurt SketchUp, but it is definitely not going to be a game changer.
Processor: A higher CPU speed will be great, though remember that we don’t support multiple cores so really a 1 core high speed will be more effective than a 2-8 core with a slower clockspeed. A current generation computer should be plenty powerful enough in the CPU power department, remembering that the “more mobile” you go, the less powerful the processor will be. eg. A Macbook will be slower than a Macbook Pro, or a Yoga will be slower than a Dell business class laptop.
System Memory: Having more RAM can net a decent boost but it has limits. Having 4 GB of RAM should be plenty but if you have more then it’ll generally handle the extra junk an operating system tries to load more easily. Similarly, if you’re running iTunes or Spotify in the background the extra RAM will similarly be helpful.
Graphics Card: The last and arguably most critical consideration is the video card, both with the GPU power and the video card memory. I’ve always suggested that the latest generation will be excellent and I discourage paying extra for bleeding edge. The increased GPU will be helpful, but the increase in performance will not likely scale to the cost of a video card released last week. Video card memory? Get as much as you can on the card you choose. Brand? It’s pretty much AMD/ATI vs NVIDIA at this time, nobody else is producing a 3D accelerated video card to talk about, from year to year it changes as to which brand is better… they are neck and neck. Many new systems have integrated Intel based video cards, these are fine for mobile web activity but they haven’t proven to be something to recommend when someone wants to optimize performance.
Personally, I encourage folks to use a desktop system which can be upgraded easily over time (mostly new video cards as they become more reasonably priced) but a laptop should work for many or most people. Again, by my preference, I’d probably get an Intel i7 processor, at least 8 GB of RAM with either ran SSD or Hybrid drive and then as much video card as I can fit in there for under $250 (USD.) Note that you can also get an AMD based system, current generation, and get similar results.
If you are using a certain system, or have upgraded your RAM or your video card and can offer some evidence, anecdotal or empirical, that it’s had a positive effect in your workflow then please share it below. Refer folks back here when you hear the question and hopefully we can get everyone knowledgable about what works for SketchUp.
Hope that helps!