Computer Requirement

Since 1998, students enrolling in all undergraduate programs at Virginia Tech have been required to have a personal computer.


The Architecture and Design programs currently require students to have a laptop computer. We do not have a platform preference: an Apple/Mac or IBM PC-compatible/Windows laptop computer meeting the requirements specified here will be acceptable. Please see the University Computer Requirement website for minimum hardware specifications. In addition to the university-wide minimum specifications, the School of Architecture + Design requires a graphics adapter (NVIDIA or AMD recommended) with 2 GB min. of video RAM.

NOTE: Beginning in July of 2016, a security measure called “2-factor authentication” has been implemented for logging on to some university resources. At least one additional physical device (smart phone, tablet, cell phone, etc.) that you plan to have in your possession must be enrolled as a second factor. For more information, please visit university web pages regarding 2-factor authentication.


All incoming undergraduate students are required to purchase the Microsoft Campus Agreement Software bundle. This includes incoming freshmen and transfer students. The bundle contains Microsoft Office for Windows or for Macintosh and Windows operating system upgrades. This bundle also provides you with upgrades for this software as long as you remain an undergraduate at Virginia Tech.

Software in addition to the University minimum requirement will be required for first-year students. This software must be purchased through the Student Software program from the University’s Office of Information Technology Acquisition. It will be provided by the University at the lowest educational pricing available and will not be required until after the beginning of the fall semester.

For Architecture, Interior Design, and Industrial Design, please see the Student Software website for additional information on the School of Architecture + Design software bundle; the cost changes each year depending on enrollment.

Landscape Architecture students should check the Student Software website for the Landscape Architecture software bundle. (Software requirements are updated yearly and when new versions of software are released.)

Note: For the first time in 2014-15, the Adobe Creative Suite software will be replaced by the Adobe Creative Cloud. A+D students will no longer pay a one-time fee for the stand-alone version of the Creative Suite as part of their software bundles. Instead, all A+D students are now required pay an annual subscription fee for the Creative Cloud. Due to the VT licensing agreement with Adobe, Students who have already have a prior Adobe Creative Cloud account must still purchase an Adobe Creative Cloud bundle through Virginia Tech.

Any additional software requirements are course-specific, and this software may be purchased while enrolled at the University. Students will be informed of other opportunities to acquire various CAD programs for free or at reduced educational pricing throughout their enrollment (please see

frequently asked questions

Q: Will a computer meeting the minimum requirements of the University also meet the minimum requirements of the Architecture and Design Programs?
A: No. Due to graphic intensive software required by the School of Architecture + Design, an Apple/Mac or IBM PC-Compatible/Windows laptop needs to have a graphics adapter with at least 2 GB of video RAM (NVIDIA or AMD recommended).

Please note that the Architecture and Design programs require each first year undergraduate student to have a laptop computer as opposed to a desktop computer. Also, many tablets, such as the Kindle Fire or the Apple iPad, have small screens and insufficient computing power, generally unable to run much of the software necessary in architecture and design, and do not therefore meet the School’s minimum requirements.

Please see the University Computer Requirement website for more information.

Q: I have been admitted to a graduate program in Architecture or Landscape Architecture. Does the computer requirement apply to me?
A: Although the University computer requirement applies to entering undergraduate students (freshmen or transfers), the School of Architecture + Design requires all incoming graduate students in the Master of Architecture (M.Arch.) program and the Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) program to have a personal computer; recommended hardware specifications are identical to those for undergraduate students. All A+D graduate students will need to have access to some sort of personal computer in order to check e-mail, register for classes, etc., as well as to access online resources for many courses. Graduate students in the M.Arch. and MLA programs may purchase the appropriate software bundle from the Student Software office. Beginning in the fall of 2014, all A+D students, graduate and undergraduate, are required to purchase an annual subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud. (For more information on computer requirements for A+D graduate students, please see the Graduate Architecture Program admissions web page.)

Q: Do you recommend one hardware platform (Apple/Mac vs. IBM PC-Comp./Windows) over another?
A: Firstly, there are two common types of personal computer “platforms”:

  • IBM PC-compatible, usually with the Windows operating system; most of these personal computers use processor chips produced by Intel, such as the “Core,” “Celeron,” or “Pentium”; many companies other than IBM manufacture this type of computer, including Dell, Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, etc.
  • Apple (laptop models: MacBook Pro) with OS X (built on Unix) primary operating system instead of Windows; Apple has now moved to “Core” chips manufactured by Intel which will run both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems.

The School of Architecture + Design requires each first-year student to have a laptop computer, either an Apple/Mac or an IBM PC-compatible/Windows platform type. The decision to purchase or lease a particular hardware platform or operating system configuration is entirely up to you. The School of Architecture + Design employs a range of hardware platforms and operating system configurations. We use Apple/Mac and IBM PC-Compatible/Windows computers, and both platforms have complete access to departmental file servers and peripherals (scanners, printers, plotters, etc.).

Please note that if you choose an Apple/Mac computer, you will need to configure the software to allow you to run Microsoft Windows in addition to Mac OSX, since some specific software packages required will only run under the Windows operating system. You can run Windows on a Mac using BootCamp (more info. on BootCamp…) or as a Virtual Machine in Parallels or VMWare Fusion (BootCamp recommended).

Q: Do I really need to have a laptop instead of a desktop computer?
A: YES. From the first year onward, the programs in the School of Architecture + Design are studio-based, and each student will have his or her own desk in the design studio, in one of the School’s buildings, at which to work. The School’s laptop computer requirement is based on the belief that students derive substantial benefits from working alongside their peers in the design studio.

Often, productive educational moments occur outside normal class hours, when, for instance, a student and his or her colleagues in the studio make an important finding while engaging in a conversation regarding a drawing on which one of them is working. If they had been at home or in their dorm room working on their desktop computers at that moment, they would have missed the discovery. A laptop computer can more easily be transported to the studio and used there, as well as in other classes or for use at home.

Studio desks, especially in first and second year studios, are not large enough to accommodate a desktop computer while simultaneously allowing sufficient space for other necessary work.

Q: Do I need to have a computer workstation specifically designed for “CAD” (computer-aided design/drawing) applications?
A: The computer each student brings to the University is intended as a “general purpose” computer, for word processing, desktop publishing, e-mail, web browsing, etc., as well as for image processing, computer-aided design/drawing/modeling, and other graphic work for architecture and design majors. Most commonly-used “CAD” software will run on a laptop that meets the School’s minimum computer requirements. Individual students entering the Architecture and Design programs are not required, nor are they expected, to purchase a “high-end” graphics workstation, although there are additional requirements for the video card beyond the University-wide minimum computer specifications.

Q: Will I need any peripherals (printer, scanner, etc.)?
A: For applications related to academic work, the School of Architecture + Design has low cost print labs available to the students. A+D students generally accomplish their drawing or modeling work on their own laptop and then transfer to one of the School’s computer workstations for printing on one of the School’s output devices: black/white and color laser printers, large format inkjet plotters, LaserCAMM, 3-D rapid-prototype printer, CNC milling machines, etc. The School also has flatbed and large-format scanners for student use. Students pay a program fee that provides resources for the School’s academic environment, including support for the computer labs; students also pay nominal charges for use of the School’s digital output resources, covering the cost of consumables (ink, toner), etc. (for more information please see Purchasing an inexpensive color inkjet printer or an “all-in-one” unit (printer/scanner/copier) may be useful for general work at home, but it is not required.

Q: Should I purchase any other hardware in addition to that which is noted in the University requirement?
A: In addition to the hardware noted in the University requirement, the Architecture and Design programs recommend the following:

  • Because the cursor control devices (track-ball, touchpad, etc.) typically found on laptops are generally not suitable for detailed graphic work, the laptop should have a mouse.
  • Because screen resolution is important for graphic work, if the laptop does not have at least a 15 inch high-resolution display, a large, high-resolution external display monitor (17” or larger) may become a very useful future addition to the system. In this situation, we recommend that the laptop come equipped with an external display port (VGA and/or HDMI, etc.) which can drive an external color monitor with a resolution higher than the built-in laptop screen resolution.
  • We suggest that the laptop have a high-capacity/long-life battery (4 hrs. min.), or, if your computer has removable/interchangeable lower-capacity batteries, that it come with at least two batteries.
  • As an alternative to cloud-based services for file back-up, a large capacity external hard disk drive (2 TB recommended) may be useful for making back-ups of your files. A USB flash drive (8 GB min.) will also be useful to provide temporary storage of files and for sharing files while working on collaborative projects in the studio.
  • We recommend the purchase of a well-padded carrying case and a security cable and lock for the laptop itself. We also suggest that you determine whether or not the system will be covered by an existing insurance policy (homeowners or renters) and, if not, purchase coverage as a separate policy. An on-site service plan with accidental damage protection may save you time if you have hardware problems.

Q: Will the Architecture and Design programs require any software in addition to that which is initially required by the University?
A: For Architecture and Design students, software in addition to the University baseline requirement is required. First-year students will purchase the School of Architecture + Design software bundle or the Landscape Architecture software bundle from the University Office of Information Technology Acquisition (Student Software). This software will not be required until after the beginning of the Fall semester. Beginning in the fall of 2014, all A+D students are required to purchase an annual subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud. Any additional software requirements are course-specific, and this software may be purchased while enrolled at the University.

Q: Must I purchase hardware and software from the University Bookstore?
A: No, you may purchase or lease hardware from any source. In addition to price, issues such as after-sales support and warranty should be considered as well.

Architecture and Design students must purchase the required software (software bundles for entering students; annual subscription to the Creative Cloud) from the University Office of Information Technology Acquisition. Regarding other software, it is unlikely that outside sources will be able to compete with the educational pricing offered through the University, in particular the Office of Information Technology Acquisition. Please wait to purchase any software until you have checked with on-campus sources.

Q: Do you recommend any specific network hardware or interfaces?
A: Please see the University Computer Requirement website for information on network interface cards compatible with University networks.

All studios for School of Architecture + Design students are equipped with wireless network access. This wireless network will allow individual student computers to access the School’s internal servers, as well as the internet. In addition, the Newman Library, the G. Burke Johnston Student Center (immediately adjacent to the architecture, industrial design, and interior design studio buildings), the dining halls, Torgerson Hall, and almost all other academic buildings have wireless network service. Campus-wide standards for wireless network client hardware compatibility have been developed by Network Infrastructure & Services (NI&S), formerly Communications Network Services (CNS). For more information, please visit the NI&S website. All students entering the Architecture and Design programs should have wired and wireless network interfaces as part of their computer system.

Q: Is there any other advice regarding the computer requirement that you would offer?
A: The undergraduate Interior Design and Industrial Design programs are 4 years in duration; Architecture and Landscape Architecture are 5-year programs. The most computing-intensive work will probably come in the upper years of your degree program. By your final year in the program, when you will be counting on your computer for preparation of your portfolio, etc., you will be reaching the end of the normal functional life of almost any computer that you use as a freshman.

It is therefore important to think about a strategy that will provide you with a computer that will fulfill your needs for the duration of your studies. If you plan for the computer you purchase as a freshman to possibly still be functional for you in your final year of your program (especially the B.Arch. and BLA programs), then you should consider components with features beyond the minimum specifications: a faster processor, additional RAM (random-access memory), a faster video processor, additional video RAM, a hard drive with faster access speed, and/or a higher capacity hard drive. If you purchase a new computer meeting the School’s minimum specifications prior to your freshman year, you should probably be prepared to purchase a new computer again in the 4th or 5th year. You could purchase a computer meeting the minimum university specs. now, and then purchase a new, more capable computer prior to the 3rd or 4th year. Or, if you have an existing computer that more-or-less meets the University’s minimum specs. that you could bring and use for the first 2 years, then you could purchase a new, more powerful computer prior to the 3rd-year that would more easily last through graduation. The School of Architecture + Design approves of all of these strategies.

Updated: May 2018