What sort of computer do I need?
We get asked a lot for what sort of computer you need if you're going to learn 3D animation, develop VFX, code or design games. The software that you will use in these courses can be very demanding on your computer. The good news is that most computers made in the past three years will run most of the software we use at AIE.
If you're familiar with computer specifications and what you should be looking for, head straight to the recommended specifications table further down this page. Otherwise, we recommend you read on to find out more.
Important components in computer specifications
CPU - Central Processing Unit
The main brain in a computer, the CPU runs all the complex calculations required by the software. This is the most important part of your computer and usually, not possible to upgrade without upgrading other parts of your system such as your motherboard. Generally this should be the most expensive part of your computer.
GPU- Graphics Processing Unit (or Graphics Card)
This is the secondary brain in your computer that controls all the display information. All of the 3D and games-related software relies heavily on your GPU and increasingly other software can offload some of the processing to the GPU as well.
Some computers have an integrated GPU and share memory with the CPU. Many laptops have integrated graphics to make the most of the battery life and reduce the amount of heat generated. A dedicated graphics card is highly recommended as it will be significantly more powerful and has it's own dedicated memory. This is generally the second most expensive part of your computer.
RAM - Random Access Memory
RAM is the temporary or short term-memory of the computer. When you book software, it loads all the instructions into memory. Any work you create are stored in this part of the memory until your save them on your hard drive. Because much of the software and files that students are working on are large, it's important that you have enough. The most common type of RAM currently is DDR4 and if you have an older system you may have DDR3 or DDR2.
A fast hard drive is essential for the speed that your system boots, programs load and transfer of large data from storage into memory (RAM). We recommend using a SSD drive (Solid State Drive) as they are faster and more resistant to shocks as it has no moving parts. These generally more expensive that traditional HDDs (Hard Disk Drives) which consist of spinning magnetised plates. Many systems feature both types of drives: an SSD of 256Gb or 512 GB to run the computer's operating system and applications, and a HDD of 1 or 2 TB for additional data storage.
Monitors come in a range of sizes and are very important to have an efficient workflow as many of the applications used in games and visual effects are designed for larger monitors and reply on users having multiple toolbars and workspaces on screen. We would recommend students have at least one screen of 22 inches or larger. In AIE classrooms we use 2 x 22" LED monitors so that students can have two large workspaces available. This means they can have a tutorial on one window while working in the other or can work across two applications, such as visual studio and Unity, simultaneously.
Laptop vs Desktop
Whilst the size and portability of a laptop can be very appealing it is important to note that generally a desktop computer setup is best suited for most students working in games and visual effects for the following reasons:
- Ergonomics: Laptops are not built for working in front of for long periods of time. Hunching over a small screen with built in keyboard and mouse is not efficient or good for posture. It is highly recommended that students using a laptop for a significant amount of time connect and use an additional large monitor and external keyboard and mouse so they can setup their workspace following best work health and safety practices.
- Power: Laptops often use lower-power or speed-limited CPUs and GPUs to reduce heat and extend battery life. This means a slower computer than the equivalent components in a desktop computer. Most laptops suitable for games and visual effects work will have serious power requirements which means that battery life is often limited to 2 hours or less, limiting the ability to work on the go.
- Cost: a laptop with the same specifications as a desktop will cost anywhere from 20-75% more because of the additional engineering and design requirements to fit all those components in a small laptop design.
- Upgradability: A desktop uses interchangeable parts, which can be sourced independently and more competitively. Laptops have very limited parts that can be updated, unlike desktops which can have every component replaced and updated.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to buy a computer if I study at AIE?
If you are studying on-campus, we provide everything you need to complete the course during course hours: computers, all the software and have equipment like wacom tablets and game controllers that you can borrow. If you want to continue working on your projects outside school hours (and we highly recommend that you do), you will need your own computer.
If you are studying online, you will need your own computer and good internet connection. We provide most software but there is some that we can't provide due to licensing restrictions. This differs course to course and there are free and paid options.
Mac or PC?
The most popular platform across the game development and VFX industries is PC systems running Microsoft Windows. AIE uses Windows 10 in all computer studios and staff computers. Our curriculum has been developed and is designed for the Windows versions of the software taught and we are not able to provide technical experience to help with issues students may experience on Macs.
If you have a Mac, you can run almost all the software we use, but we highly recommend using a Windows PC for the course.
Laptop or Desktop?
You will get more 'bang for your buck' if you get a desktop - essentially you can get a more powerful computer - CPU, GPU, RAM and hard drive (see below) - in a desktop setup. If you are buying a laptop don't forget to budget for an extra monitor - 22" or larger. Laptops are great if you spend lots of time on public transport and can be productive in transit.
The following table shows a computer specification that for a mid-range PC that will run all the software required in all AIE courses.
|Operating System||Windows 10|
|CPU||Intel 12th Gen i7-12700F|
|GPU||Nvidia GTX RTX 3060|
|Hard Drive||2TB NVMe M.2 SSD|
|Monitor||27" LED (or 22 x 2 LED Monitors)|
|Approximate cost (2023)||$2000|
Minimum specifications outline the lowest level of hardware that will run the software. Software developers will list this to help customers understand whether their PC will run the software or not. It is important to mention that the closer your PC is to the minimum specification, the slower it will run and the more likely it will be to not be able to perform complex tasks.
Please note use the minimum specifications to purchase new equipment - use the recommended specifications listed above.