Optimizing SketchUp Performance: Part 1 – Hardware

This is the first in a three-part series, based on my 12 years of using SketchUp. It’s my answer to the one question I constantly see online and hear in classes:



In  this part (as you might have guessed from the post title), I discuss the best hardware for running SketchUp. Part 2 will be about setting up the ideal SketchUp user interface, and Part 3 focuses on the modeling process itself.

The Best Hardware

A speedy hardware setup is essential for 3D rendering programs that are CPU- or GPU-based. CPU is your computer’s processor (the brain). GPU is the computer’s graphics card (the looks). Don’t be intimidated – most laptops and desktops these days have what you need for SketchUp to perform moderately well. But if you’re designing and/or rendering complex or large models, you should be aware of what’s under your computer’s hood.

SketchUp requires three things to run at peak performance:

  1. Good CPU
  2. Great Video Card
  3. Sufficient Ram

CPU (Central Processing Unit)

Most PC or Mac computers these days ship with an i5 or i7 processor. The “i” is for Intel, the number is the processor generation. With an i7, you’ll have no problem reaching peak SketchUp performance. Naturally, the newer the processor, the better.

If you want to get even geekier, you’ll want to know that SketchUp, like most CAD programs, is a single-thread application, and not able to multi-thread.

GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

Your graphics card matters, a lot. Graphics cards are improving with every passing minute, it seems. They are the driving force behind the creation and display of complex images, models, renderings and animations. For example, they are the key behind the recent development and release of virtual reality technology, including headgear. GPUs have gotten so fast that they are starting to replace the traditional CPU-based rendering allowing for the creation of hyper-real rendering programs like Lumion.

optimizing SketchUp performance. Rich, complex models and renders. Road interchange modeled in SketchUp and rendered in Lumion. (Dan Tal and Justin Clark)

For example, here’s a good GPU: Nvidia GeForce 980 GPU – excellent for modeling and rendering with programs like Lumion.

optimizing SketchUp performance 1

Most standard desktops and laptops, even those that are sold as high-performance computers, do not include the best GPU for 3D modeling. Don’t worry about running out today to replace your card, though – most standard GPUs are good enough for amateur-level modeling. But if you do need to step up SketchUp’s game, it’s neither difficult nor expensive to get a good GPU. Here’s a list of top GPUs and their prices. The list is updated regularly and showcases a wide range of prices. The letter M in a GPU model number is for “mobile,” and can be found in laptops. If you’re laptop shopping, check if the laptop’s GPU appears on this list.

It’s easy to replace the GPU in a desktop, even an older machine, and it could greatly improve SketchUp’s performance. Keep in mind that higher-end GPUs sometimes require that you upgrade your desktop’s power core. This is usually cheap and easy to do as well. And not to name names, but Nvidia Quadro cards, intended to be “holistic GPU” to run photo editing and 2D/3D CAD software, do not perform as well as advertised unless you drop $3K or more. Avoid these jack-of-all-trade cards; stick with Nvidia gaming cards (GeForce, linked above) instead.


RAM (Random Access Memory)

When SketchUp was first released, RAM was a big issue – there was never enough. The typical modern 8 gig computer is enough to process most of what SketchUp needs. For peak-of-the-peak performance, 16 gig is great, but you can get by without it.


Desktop vs Laptops

If you work in one set location, a desktop with the right hardware is much cheaper than a laptop, even after upgrading the GPU. Peak-performance laptops are pricier and cannot have their guts upgraded.

A typical high-performing laptop ranges from $1200 to $3000, but you do get what you pay for. Most less-expensive laptops come with integrated graphics cards which can run SketchUp but not at its absolute best (though again, good enough for amateurs).

In my practice, I use both desktops and laptops. I’ve been using my current Asus laptop for over two years, and it’s still going strong for SketchUp modeling and Lumion rendering. A good source of information on all of this is ASUS Republic of Gaming.


Coming next in Part 2: How SketchUp settings affect performance, and how you can tweak them.


About Daniel Tal

Daniel Tal, ASLA, is a professional speaker and a registered landscape architect with over 17 years of experience. He is a 3D modeling and visualization expert, has authored two books with Wiley and Sons: SketchUp for Site Design and Rendering in SketchUp and is the tech-editor at large for Landscape Architecture Magazine. Tal runs a 3D modeling and visualization studio for Stanley Consultants, a 1,000 person multi-disciplinary engineering firm. Read more about Daniel.


1 Comment

  1. Hi
    Is there any different to use v-ray or v-ray rt GPU in rendering time??


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