Purchasing a Computer for GIS

The following is intended as advice and general guidelines from and for GIS Users (as opposed as coming from a genuine computer hardware expert).

Should you have the luxury (or necessity) of purchasing a new computer for GIS work, here are some guidelines and resources.

ArcGIS (and GIS software in general) is very resource intensive, and a budget (or an older) model computer can cost you hours in time waiting for the screen to reload or the geoprocessing to finish. In general, the bigger, and the faster, the better, particularly in terms of RAM (16 GB + recommended) and Video Card (4 GB + recommended). In other words, the more you spend the happier you'll be...

General Suggestions:

  • Most sales-people have never heard of GIS, but they do understanding graphics-intensive video gaming, which has similar demands. So for the most simple shopping technique: look for the best 'gaming' computer you can afford

  • Make sure the video card is a "dedicated" card (and not built in to the main board)

  • Try to get a computer that can be expanded later (i.e, add even more RAM and/or an even better video card)

  • Have a look at ESRI's System Requirements, but keep in mind that these are the minimum (not the recommended or ideal) specs.


Additional Resources:



The IDEAL WINDOWS computer for running GIS software would be (something like, see also spec sheets linked from above):

  • Windows 10 (64 bit)
  • Multi-core, hyper-threaded
  • i5 or better processor
  • 6+ Processing cores
  • 16+ GB of RAM (32+ GB recommended, 8 GB minimum)
  • 6+ GB graphics card with (8+ GM recommended, 2 GB minimum, and dedicated graphics cards are typically better)
  • 512+ GB SSD (Solid State Drive) - or bigger depending upon your needs...
  • (Basically, something similar to a high-end gaming computer)
  • Large (and/or multiple) monitor(s)


If you have an older / less ideal Windows computer ​​​ArcGIS Pro may still work:

  • See ESRI's ArcGIS Pro System Requirements (linked above)
  • See 'Can You Run It' (linked above)
  • BUT the only way to know for sure is to try it and see...



  • ArcGIS Pro only works on Windows - it does not work on the Mac operating system
  • It is possible to install ArcGIS Pro on a Mac (but you first have to have Windows or a Windows emulator installed)
  • To run ArcGIS Pro on a Mac:
    • You will need a Mac with sufficient ram, hard drive space, video card, etc.
    • You will need to install either Boot Camp or Parallels software
      • Boot Camp allows you to create a 'dual boot' computer (both iOS and Windows)
        • NOTE: the newer Macs may or may not be able to install a dual-boot Windows partition...
        • If you use Boot Camp you will also need to obtain and install a copy of the Windows operating system
        • Boot Camp is free but there are requirements for the amount of hard drive space, the iOS version, the computer version, etc.
        • Students may be able to obtain a free (student) copy of Windows
      • Parallels allows a Mac computer to 'emulate' Windows (running Windows software such as ArcGIS)
        • You will need to purchase the Parallels software (see student option). There is also a 14 day trial that would allow you to see if it works.
        • Using Parallels for ArcGIS (or other Windows programs using large datasets) will not be as fast as running the same programs / data on a Windows computer
    • You will need to install ArcGIS Pro (see notes on using ArcGIS Pro Off-Campus (on a Personal Computer)
      • ArcGIS Pro is free for WWU students
  • Installing Boot Camp (and Windows) or Parallels so that you can install ArcGIS may work, or may not - and the only way to know for sure is to try it and see...



  • ArcGIS Pro only works on Windows - it does not work on the Linux operating system


Laptop vs. Desktop.

At this point the difference between a high-end laptop and a reasonably high-end desktop computer is pretty small. Indeed, many new desktops are now 'all-in-one' units (that are just a monitor with the computer built into the monitor) - i.e., essentially a non-mobile laptop computer. If mobility is important to you a high-end laptop in combination with an external monitor is a good combination and should be able to run ArcGIS just as well as a desktop computer. On the other hand, a desktop computer with similar GIS capability would probably be slightly cheaper.