Recommended Computer Hardware for CAD

What To Get And Why.

A CAD user’s workflow generally falls into 2 categories, modeling and simulation and getting a CAD workstation to suit your requirement is essential. While getting something better than what you need will delay the need to buy another computer down the track, getting something less than required will end up costing more than the money you saved.

One typical question from the people who hold the purse strings is why do you need all that power and another typical outcome that I see all too many times is suppliers of I.T. not understanding what is required for CAD and providing a sub-standard workstation. Whether it comes down to ignorance and budget or the both intertwine into a Purchase Order for a lemon, here’s some things to consider before you sign off on that next workstation

The Graphics Card

Get a Quadro or FireGL/FirePro Graphics Card and the most expensive one you can afford. This is the one area that is the most important yet gets overlooked time and time again. You can get a computer with a fast processor and heaps of RAM but if the graphics card is slow, then your CAD system will be slow.

It’s important because these graphics cards and CAD systems talk in a language called OpenGL. Typical gamers cards like a Nvidia GeForce talk in DirectX. The hardware is essentially the same except for minor tweaks, drivers and the higher price tag because you need to run CAD. A few years back, you could soft mod a GeForce and make it think it was a Quadro, run the Quadro drivers, and POW, you got yourself a high-end CAD Graphics card for peanuts, but the hardware vendors tweaked the hardware only slightly so you can’t do that anymore and they’ve added more Graphics RAM which was nice of them to do.

3D Applications like 3ds Max and Maya can take advantage of DirextX and if you want really high-end graphics, the Tesla is a beast.

As an added note, Yvan De Lafontaine commented below on being able to use graphics cards that use DirectX to run Autodesk Applications. With Autodesk making the move give their applications compatibility with DirectX drivers, you can save on buying a high-end graphics card for CAD and invest that money into the biggest bottleneck of a computer, which is the Hard Disk Drive. Thanks for your input Yvan.

Processor (CPU)

I’m not up with what AMD has out there, but an Intel I7 or XEON is recommended. If you’re doing 2D/3D Modeling, most CAD systems only run on a single core, so get the fastest GHz processor that you can afford. The CAD vendors are getting better at using other cores and new CAD systems are designed for 64-bit multi core architecture, but if you’re running CAd systems like AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, Pro-E, Solidworks, Unigraphics, etc., then a 8-core processor, isn’t being utilised when your modeling.

If you want to run simulation studies or rendering, this is where a multi-core processor (or multi-CPU) will help out. They take advantage of the additional cores and use it to solve or render.

RAM

RAM is relatively cheap, so get as much as you can afford. 16GB-32GB is ideal.

Hard Drive

A while back, I wouldn’t even worry about what kind of hard drive to get, but with SSD and Hybrid SSD’s in the market, they will definitely help loading up large assembly files. You’re Hard Drive is like your filing cabinet. The faster that is, the faster you can get your files onto your desk (RAM). When you run out of RAM, it uses the Hard Drives Virtual Memory to do file swapping.

The rest is up to you, 1 screen, 10 screens, mind blowing speakers, 3D mouse, ergo keyboard, go nuts.

The major hardware vendors like HP, Dell & Lenovo have a CAD level category of desktop and mobile workstations that has most if not all of these recommendations, but if you want to save some money and look at clones, then it pays to know what to ask for.

5 Comments

  • Yvan De Lafontaine says:

    Your article leaves out important fact, like the fact that since Autodesk took the DirectX road a few years back, high end gamer card will get you more bang for a buck. Recent benchmark on the 700 series show that an 770, 780, 780ti or a Titan will far outperform the strongest Quadro, for a quarter of the cost IF you use Autodesk product. You can look up this benchmark: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/geforce-gtx-780-ti-review-benchmarks,3663-11.html (using 1000 part)
    Recent high-end graphic carg use double floating point calculation instead of single floating point. Just use WHQL driver and your good to go.
    This said, if you use solidedge, solidwork or Catia, A Quadro will do the job way better. The technologies just keep changing, and dogmatic approach to the video card question leave a cold chill on a lot of boss, and leave the draftsman in a frustrating situation because the cheap Quadro don’t do the job when the going get rough.
    As for the hard drive id say if you use autodesk product, get a high-end non Quadro, and spend the extra money on a Raid array of SSD, it will remove the bottleneck of your computer, and make the whole machine faster.

  • Werner says:

    NX, as Unigraphics is called nowadays, is able to utilize multi-cores. But it has to be enabled (UGII_SMP_ENABLE = 1) and – as also true for other software packages – not all modules are ready for multi-cores.
    FloTHERM on the other hand requires a additional license option to run on more than one core.
    BTW, it has to be real cores, hypertheading does not count as an additional core.

    • djovica says:

      Hey Werner, Does UG/NX take advanatage of multi-cores while doing 3D modeling or is it in other areas like drawing, rendering and simulation?

      • Werner says:

        Hi diovica,
        I have no access to a full installed NX machine, but take a look at ugii_env.dat:
        # This variable enables Symmetric Multi-processing (SMP) on systems
        # with multiple CPU’s or that support hyperthreading. Performance will
        # be improved in certain Parasolid operations, such as Mass Properties,
        # Booleans and silhouette generation. This option is only supported on
        # platforms where Parasolid supports multi-threading.
        #
        # Set to 0 to disable SMP
        # Set to 1 to enable SMP
        # Unset will take the Parasolid default
        # UGII_SMP_ENABLE = 1
        So no support in drafting and translators (im-/export). Multi-threading should be supported as well in Nastran, but this may be another story, I have no experience with that. To get the complete picture, check with the support hotline.
        My point is that modern CAD software takes advantage of multi-core CPUs (which was denied in the article above). But naturally the support is not complete and will never be complete. It does make sense only where you can do things in parallel, and many cad operations have to run sequentially. And there is some overhead when splitting threads. So, it is correct that a twice as fast single core is better than a single fast dual core, etc.
        But, a dual core has better response time when doing running several programs at the same time.

  • Paulo Caldas says:

    Having all of the above said…now all I need is to cnvince my superiors in to getting a whole new machine!
    My workstation is obsolete…

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