Best Laptop for GIS, ArcGIS 10, ArcGIS Pro [2021 Reviewed]

Best Laptop for GIS, ArcGIS 10, ArcGIS Pro

Introduction

GIS (Geographic Information System) software is one of the most powerful applications for geographic data and complex rendering. With tons of raster crunching and polygon rendering – it’s a software that demands good hardware. For those of you who don’t want a large workstation, a laptop with great processing power is best for the job.

There are some things you need to consider before choosing your machine. While macs are insanely popular, they may not be the best option. You’ll be paying a serious premium for very little performance gains. On top of that, a lot of opensource GIS software and FOSS ecosystems don’t support the Macs. You can get around this by using virtualization software, but it’s too much of a hassle.

Okay, so Macs are off the table. What then? To figure out the best laptops for GIS software, you need to think about the CPU, the GPU, and the RAM capacity. Most GIS software work is heavily reliant on CPU performance. Many of its processes leverage single-threaded performance. That’s why a powerful CPU is a must have.

If you’re not rendering thousands of polygons, then an integrated GPU will do just fine. However, you’ll need a powerful discrete GPU if you’re looking to render the data or use demanding software such as the ArcGIS Pro. These GPUs can get you some serious performance gains. A RAM buffer of around 16 gigabytes is perfect for vector work. But if you’re looking do a lot of raster crunching with Pro/QGIS/R/Python, then you’ll run into performance issues. Bumping the capacity up to 32 gigabytes will set you up nicely.

While these guidelines are great for traditional GIS work, a lot of users have far complex and demanding workloads. If you’re looking to use software like the ArcGIS Pro, then having an integrated graphics solution just won’t cut it. You’ll need a graphics card with around 8-12 gigabytes of VRAM to render all that complex geographic data and ensure smooth panning and zooming. A powerful 6-12 core processor and a 1TB NVMe SSD are also must haves.

Keeping all these in mind, we’ve picked out three stellar options for your next purchase. With these machines, you’ll be up and running in no time!

Minimum System Requirements

Please keep in mind these are the minimum system requirements laid out by ArcGIS. Do not confuse minimum specs with the recommended specs. They’re definitely not an accurate representation if you’re into heavy duty work. For example, Running ArcGIS Pro 3D is a much better experience with the GPU. You’ll also need something a lot more solid if you’re planning on running ArcMap. Also, larger storage space for files!

Professional GIS users will say they would never in a million years consider doing their job without a big screen and as much RAM as possible.

CPU speed 2.2 GHz or higher; Hyper-Threading Technology (HTT) or multicore recommended.
Processor Intel Pentium 4, Intel Core Duo, or Xeon Processors; SSE2 minimum. Run this Microsoft utility from your Windows command prompt to check your processor.
Disk space 1 GB is needed for the app, and more is needed for cache and swap.
Memory/RAM 2 GB or higher.
Display 24-bit color depth.
Screen resolution 1024×768 or higher recommended at normal size (96 dpi).
Swap space Determined by the operating system; 500 MB minimum. ArcGIS Runtime will create cache files when used; additional disk space may be required.
Video/graphics adapter 256 MB RAM minimum, 1 GB RAM recommended; NVIDIA, ATI, and Intel chipsets supported; accelerated graphics card driver
OSWindows 10 Home, Professional, Enterprise, and Educational (64 bit [EM64T])
Windows 8.1 Basic, Pro, and Enterprise (64 bit [EM64T])
Windows Server 2019 (64 bit [EM64T])
Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard and Datacenter (64 bit [EM64T])
Windows Server 2012 Standard and Datacenter (64 bit [EM64T])
Windows Server 2016 Standard and Datacenter (64 bit [EM64T])
AdditionalDirect3D feature level 9_3
Default: DirectX 11 hardware support
Falls back to DirectX 11 software rendering if hardware support is not available

Source: ArcGIS Earth System Requirements Page

Top 3 Laptops for GIS, ArcGIS 10, ArcGIS Pro [Reviews]

ASUS TUF Gaming Laptop

ASUS’s TUF line of mobile gaming laptops have taken the market by storm. They offer best-in-class performance for the price and come in a sleek chassis that is built to last. We’ve picked out the ASUS TUF Gaming Laptop Computer for its impressive spec sheet in a great overall package.

Powering this laptop is the AMD Ryzen 5 3550H processor. It is equipped with 4 cores, 8 threads, max boost clock speeds up to 3.7 GHz, and a total L3 cache memory of 4 megabytes. AMD’s Ryzen lineup of processors has made unprecedented strides into power efficiency and multi-core performance, while being an absolute beast when it comes to productivity. The Ryzen 5 3550H is no different. Belonging to the High Performance “H” class of processors, the 3550H features strong multi-core and single-core performance that is perfect for most GIS workloads. You can freely pan, zoom, crunch data, and analyze patterns smoothly without any lag. And the best part is that all this performance is available to you at a lower power draw. So, you can keep on working for longer.

This machine has a no compromises approach to RAM and storage. Featuring 32 gigabytes of thunderous DDR4 RAM, the TUF Gaming Laptop is practically built for handling large GIS assets. No matter how big your projects or the data sets are, you can be sure to operate without any performance hiccups. The RAM capacity is more than enough to rapidly store and allow retrieval of all these application assets. On top of that, you’re getting not one but two terabytes of blazing fast NVMe SSD storage. Booting up applications, loading assets, saving files, and exporting renders will be faster than ever. On top of that, this is more than enough to store any GIS software that you might want. You can scale up to larger projects that require more space without having to worry about anything.

Powering the graphics side of things is an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 with 4 gigabytes of GDDR6 video memory. The recent refresh of this popular graphics card saw it introducing faster memory to aid in productivity workloads. This results in increased bandwidth for memory intensive GIS software. You can experience substantial gains when trying to render or use visual representations of geographic data. Even without the fast memory, the graphics card is plenty capable for entry to mid-level rendering – which is typically what most users will do when using GIS software. When you’re not using it for GIS, you can use it to play the latest games at very respectable framerates at medium to high graphics settings. It’s a great all-rounder at this price range.

The graphics card powers a gorgeous 15.6-inch FHD Display with Anti-Glare technology. The colors are bright and vibrant and don’t really distort when viewed off-axis as the viewing angles are superb. Visual clarity is similarly superb due to the high pixel density. You can easily make out small details on your maps without having to squint your eyes. The keyboard layout that ASUS used might be too large for some users who prefer smaller options. However, it’s great for professionals looking to use the extra space. The keys are tactile and responsive and there is plenty of arm rest for comfortable typing. On top of that, it’s RGB backlit for some sweet looks as well as allowing you to type in the dark. The trackpad is fairly standard and will get the job done. What’s impressive are the speakers. They deliver acceptable stereo sound at this price range but feature great clarity and precision when dealing with a high range of sonic frequencies.

In terms of wireless features and connectivity, the machine comes with a standard wireless AC and Bluetooth setup. The port selection is great as you’ll get 1 USB Type-A 2.0, 2 USB Type-A 3.1, 1 HDMI 2.0, 1 3.5-mm headphone/microphone combo jack, and 1 x RJ-45 ethernet port. The inclusion of HDMI 2.0 is splendid as it will allow you to hook up your machine with the latest and greatest TVs and monitors around. You also get a 720p Webcam which is sufficient for all your zoom calls and conference needs.

This TUF laptop comes with Windows 10 out of the box. The machine is fairly portable for the serious hardware it’s packing. Coming in at 4.85 pounds with dimensions of 14.17 x 10.31 x 1.02 inches, you can carry it around as a mobile workstation. It weighs less and occupies a smaller footprint compared to similar laptops at this range. ASUS has opted for a pure black design with grey accents that look modern and minimalistic. The unobtrusive design scheme will be appealing to most users who want an understated look. The cooling solution is good enough to avoid thermal throttling but you can expect the machine to run a bit warm when under serious load. The 3-cell Lithium-ion battery is good for around 5 hours of mixed to heavy use – a number that’s respectable given the performance you are getting.

The ASUS TUF 15.6″ FHD LCD Gaming Laptop Computer combines amazing performance in a package that can still be carried around without much fuss. It can handle most, if not all, GIS operations you can throw at it.

PROSCONS
Efficient processorMight not be suitable for intensive rendering work.
Large RAM and storage capacity 
Beautiful display 
Capable discrete graphics card 

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Microsoft’s Surface line up of portable devices has redefined what performance on the go and premium construction means for the average consumer. That’s why the Surface Pro 7 makes its way to our list.

At the heart of this device is a powerful 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor. This processor is easily a laptop/desktop grade part that delivers outstanding single-threaded performance and respectable multi-threaded power. With this processor powering such a portable device, you can easily expect the Surface Pro 7 to get some serious work done even when you’re commuting. Since most GIS workloads are single-threaded, you’ll experience substantial performance gains in just about GIS operation you can think about. On top of that, you can also get some entry-level gaming done with the integrated graphics card. While you won’t get high level rendering done on this machine, the Intel Iris Plus graphics solution is powerful enough to handle most average GIS visual workloads. It’s a far cry from the integrated graphics solutions of yesteryear. Overall, this is a great package at this range.

The Surface Pro 7 features 16 gigabytes of fast DDR4 RAM and 512 megabytes of SSD storage. This is a great configuration for a device like this which is essentially a tablet with laptop functionality. The RAM capacity is enough for almost all vector data crunching and can feasibly handle other computational assets without much hassle. While having 32 gigabytes of RAM would enable you to kick back and not have to worry about RAM bottlenecks, the 16 gigabytes on offer is the best you can get in devices like this. In real world use, the difference is hardly noticeable. The fast SSD storage will ensure quick boot and load times so you can get up and running as fast as possible. Exporting renders is also quite speedy. However, you won’t be able to conduct multiple large projects as the storage capacity will quickly get eaten up.

The most noticeable feature of the Surface Pro 7 is the absolutely breathtaking 12.3-inch FHD Touchscreen Display. In terms of tablet displays, it doesn’t really get much better than this. The colors are very accurate with a good level of contrast. The clarity is top-notch due to the extremely high pixel density and there is minimal color shift when viewed at different angles. But the standout feature is the touchscreen functionality with pen support. Navigating the optimized Windows UI is an absolute breeze and with the Surface Pen, you can get some serious work done. You can easily take notes or sketch up diagrams and blueprints. Compared to traditional laptops that rely on a mouse, panning and zooming and selecting with a pen or a finger is miles better. It feels responsive and smooth and allows you to enjoy whizzing across the vast geographic maps you’ll be working with.

The overall design is amazing with the platinum option being extremely popular. If you’re looking to expand the Surface Pro 7 into a full-fledged laptop, you have options to choose from. You can easily use the included kickstand to prop up the device for extended viewing sessions. The device can also be titled for studio work. Or you can retract it to use the device like any normal tablet. If you buy a signature cover, you can hook it up to the device and use the kickstand to create a traditional laptop setup. The included keyboard with the cover is great and extremely compact. It’s perfect for those long emails and text messages as well as entry-level coding work. It’s worthwhile investment that pays in the long run.

Another outstanding aspect of the Surface Pro 7, as alluded before, is its portability. It only weighs a measly 1.74 pounds and comes in at dimensions of 7.90 x 0.33 x 11.50 inches. The device can be used by one hand, carried around in just about any standard backpack, and is extremely lightweight. It’s a boon for frequent commuters who find it difficult to deal with bulky devices. Because of the lightweight design, the battery life sees a substantial improvement. Microsoft rates the battery to last around 11 hours but you can realistically expect around 7-8 hours of mixed to heavy use. This is good enough battery life for the performance you are getting and you’ll be hard pressed to find any better at this range. It also helps that the battery can be topped up fairly fast.

The port selection is alright, if a bit unremarkable. It features a USB Type-C port, a micro SD card reader, and a headphone jack – ports that many users will appreciate. However, you won’t find thunderbolt ports or USB 3.1 on this device. The wireless features, however, are pretty great. You’re getting Wi-Fi 6 that is 802.11ax compatible alongside Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology. It’s perfect for all your streaming and conference call needs. The included mic support is a great upgrade from similar devices at this range.

If you’re looking for a portable device that packs great performance, a gorgeous display, and responsive touchscreen functionality, it’s hard to beat the Surface Pro 7.

PROSCONS
Powerful i7 processorNo discrete graphics card
Gorgeous display with touchscreen functionality 
Extremely lightweight and portable 
Great design 

Acer Predator Helios 300

Acer’s Predator line of premium laptops have always impressed with their outstanding performance and longevity. The Helios 300 is a serious piece of hardware that’s practically built for heavy duty work.

The Helios 300 packs the ever popular 10th generation Intel Core i7-10750H 6-core 12-thread processor with 12 megabytes of cache memory and clock speeds up to a staggering 5.0 GHz. Many reviewers have sung its praises – putting special emphasis on its unbelievable single-threaded performance. With this processor, you can expect amazing performance – no matter how intensive the GIS software. Single-threaded performance doesn’t really get much better than this. With 12 threads, you can also expect great multi-core performance. But as most GIS operations heavily rely on single cores, this processor is a champ. Gaming is also fantastic on this processor as it can handle just about any AAA game you can throw at it.

Of course, in a beefy gaming laptop like this, you can expect a powerful graphics card. You’ll get the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 with 6 gigabytes of GDDR6 video memory, and RT and Tensor cores. This GPU has been a popular choice among professionals who want to do rendering work at home. It packs lots of CUDA cores and fast memory clocks on top of the wide memory bandwidth. All this means you’ll get great performance when using rendering techniques on GIS software. Zooming in to view minute details in full clarity and analyzing complex texture work is a breeze on this graphics card. On top of that, you can get some serious gaming done with this beast. It can handle most AAA games at high to ultra-settings without breaking a sweat.   

The graphics card powers a stunning 15.6-inch FHD 144Hz Display with a 3ms response time. While not on par with the Surface Pro, the display is color-accurate enough for color critical work. Pixel density and viewing angles are similarly great. You can expect rich and vivid colors even though out of the box calibration is not the best. Its standout feature is the 3ms response time and high refresh rate which will ensure smooth motion handling. Games and other animation work will benefit from such a fluid display with minimal input lag. The keyboard has 4-zone RGB backlighting which leaves a lot of room for personalization. It looks great and functions efficiently too. You can easily use it in the dark without having to ever squint your eyes. The trackpad is very responsive and a pleasure to use. The speakers pack quite a punch even though clarity might pose a problem.

Where the Helios 300 lags behind in comparison is in the RAM and storage department. The machine features 16 gigabytes of 2933 MHz DDR4 RAM and 512 gigabytes of NVMe SSD Storage. While the RAM and SSD speeds are amazing, the capacity might bother power users looking scale up their workloads. If your project numbers and sizes aren’t too large, then this setup will work just fine for you. However, the 16 gigabytes of RAM will be eaten up if you do far more complex texture work, vector and raster crunching, and rendering on your GIS software. Similarly, you’ll have to upgrade the SSD down the road as 512 gigabytes will get used up sooner rather than later. Thankfully, there are upgrade paths for you to add more storage capacity.

Wireless features are great as you get an 802.11ax wireless solution with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 6. Acer included software to tweak the amount of bandwidth each application and device gets for increased user control. The port selection is fairly decent too. In terms of the design, this laptop does have a lot of gamery accents that might be a turn off for some users. However, most consumers found them unobtrusive in normal use. Regardless, the machine is well-built and sturdy and can definitely last you a long time. Acer’s cooling solution is excellent as the large fans and well-thought out vents give ample cooling to the core components. Even under immense load, you can expect this machine to stay under reasonable temperatures.  

The Helios 300 comes with Windows 10 Home pre-installed. It is a hefty device coming in at 5.07 pounds and with dimensions of    14.31 x 10.04 x 0.90 inches. It’s not the best when it comes to portability and some users might find it cumbersome to carry it around. However, for the performance you are getting, it’s a worthy tradeoff. On the other hand, battery life is below average. You can expect around 3-4 hours of mixed to heavy use – which is not that great in this range but definitely manageable.

If you don’t mind the gamer aesthetics and just want raw performance, then the Acer Predator Helios 300 fits the bill. It is fast, built well, and will run all your GIS software like a champ.

PROSCONS
Powerful i7 processorBattery life could be better
Impressive RTX 2060 Graphics cardMight be bulky for some users
Sturdy build 
Responsive display 

Final Words

We’ve looked at three different laptops at three different ranges for all your GIS needs. All of these machines are perfectly capable at handling all basic GIS workloads and then some. However, if you’re looking for powerful rendering performance or smooth operation in ArcGIS Pro, then you might want to recalibrate your options. Ultimately, what you’ll choose is dependent on your specific use case.

If you’re looking for a great all-round performer with solid specifications and no cut corners, then the ASUS TUF Gaming Laptop is the best for you. It has a powerful and efficient processor, and just enough graphics power to operate most rendering workloads and run all the games you want. The keyboard and build quality are excellent, as well as the battery life – which is quite respectable. You’re getting a gorgeous looking display too – all of this in a package which is still relatively portable. However, this laptop might not appeal to users who want some serious graphics performance or the best of the best processor.

If maximum performance is what you want, then the Acer Predator Helios 300 is the best option for you. It has an extremely powerful and top of the line processor along with a very impressive RTX Graphics card for that sweet raytracing performance. This laptop will blow past any application you can throw its way and you can get some serious rendering done on this hardware. However, the RAM and SSD storage capacity might be too limiting if you’re running large projects and applications. Similarly, the battery life is not remarkable and while it gets the job done, you’ll be searching for a charger much faster than other options at this range.

Finally, if you’re looking for a powerful portable device that you can operate with a pen or your fingers, then the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 will dazzle and impress you. It has an absolutely gorgeous screen with remarkable clarity, accurate color reproduction, and great viewing angles. The touch experience is fluid and responsive, making navigating GIS software a breeze. The processor and battery life are similarly impressive. However, you won’t find a discrete graphics card in such a portable device. It might be a bummer if you’re looking to render GIS data.

All things considered, our vote goes out to the ASUS TUG Gaming Laptop for its impressive performance, good battery life, and an overall robust package with no compromises.