Computer Specs for GIS Work

Caitlin Dempsey


If you’re looking to purchase a computer with optimum system requirements for GIS work, there are certain specs you should be aware of.  An inadequate hardware setup will result in your GIS software hanging or crashing when attempted to process large GIS datasets.  Esri lists its hard requirements for running ArcGIS 10 here.  The OSGeo Wiki has has GIS workstation setup tips.  Listed here are computer specs to take into consideration when running GIS software in a Windows environment which is required for running ArcGIS.  QGIS, which can run on Linux, Macintosh, and Windows operating systems, doesn’t offer formal hardware requirements.


To run intensive GIS data processes or complex spatial analysis, it is important for your computer to have an adequate amount of RAM.  For running ArcGIS software, make sure you have at least 8GB of RAM but preferably 16GB or higher.

CPU Speed

Make sure your computer’s CPU speed is adequate.  The ArcGIS 10.2 system requirements recommend: “2.2 GHz minimum ; Hyper-threading (HHT) or Multi-core”.

Hard Drive Storage

Make sure your hard drive is large enough to store GIS data.  If you are working with a large geographic area or are using high resolution satellite imagery, you will need plenty of space to store GIS data that can easily be 1GB or larger.  A SSD drive has been reported by many GIS users to be a more robust option.

64-bit Processing

Starting with version 10.1 SP1, ArcGIS can now perform 64 bit background geoprocessing.  To use this, your machine will need to be have a 64-bit operating system.  Additionally, this post by Esri’s staff notes, “32bit applications, such as ArcGIS Desktop, can access almost twice as memory when run on the 64bit operating system (due to being Large Address Aware).”

Graphics Card

If you plan to work within a 3D GIS environment, make sure you have a graphic card capable of handling 3D display.  Esri requires OpenGL-compatible graphics cards to run 3D Analyst.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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