Customers frequently ask us for some guidelines on the best hardware to run SOLIDWORKS on. Luckily, there are some simple guidelines on configuration to help you pick the right type of workstation for your needs. In this post, we will list each of the major types of components and describe how each of the characteristics affect SOLIDWORKS performance.
Since SOLIDWORKS is now exclusively 64-bit and we can take advantage of as much RAM as you can stuff in to a computer, we are tempted to put as much in as possible. Although I am very much in the camp of more is better when it comes to computer hardware, the reality is that people and companies often have budget limitations they have to deal with. With that in mind, use the following chart to guide your decision regarding RAM amounts.
|8GB||Entry Level||Simple parts, small assemblies, single page drawings|
|16GB||Midrange||Complex parts, larger assemblies, multi-sheet drawings|
|24-32GB||High End||Very complex parts, very large assemblies, simulation|
|64GB||Extreme||All of the above with the addition of very complex simulations|
Graphics (Video Card)
This is a critical component. This is the one aspect of your new system that will either grant you rock solid stability or alternately cause you to pull your hair out because of crashes or glitches.
Think of it this way. You could walk into your local electronics / computer store and stand a great chance of buying a computer right off the shelf that would have all the key ingredients listed below *except* the correct graphics card. If you were to try and run SOLIDWORKS on such a computer (and it would run), you would have a *much* higher chance of crashing or other unintended problems.
Graphics and video related problems are one of the most common types of calls we take on our Alignex Help Desk from our SOLIDWORKS end users.
There are two main vendors for graphics cards for engineering and scientific computing: Nvidia and AMD. Both of these vendors make a wide range of video cards but also have a specific family of cards intended for running CAD or other 3D content creation apps. Nvidia has the Quadro line of cards and AMD has the FireGL line of cards. These special graphics cards are tested by SOLIDWORKS and confirmed to work correctly with each version of the software that gets released. There is a lot of variety regarding models and features but to keep it as simple as possible, just remember this. Each vendor has an entry level card, a midrange card, and high end card (in some cases, multiple high end cards).
For almost all applications CAD-related, the mid-range card is the choice that will give you the most bang for the buck performance-wise. If you are looking to get an entry level system for simple design requirements then the entry level card from both vendors might be acceptable.
Keep in mind that you can spend more on just the graphics card (if you select one of the “high end” models) than the rest of your workstation combined. So, why buy a card like that if it doesn't give you that big of a performance improvement? It depends on how you'll be using it. Certain applications will have higher requirements such as photorealistic rendering, animation, and Simulation post-processing (particularly CFD fluid flow post-processing, visualizing streamlines/particle flow, etc).
This is an area where there has been a sea change on the technological front. Cutting edge technology has gone from physical spinning platters in a mechanical enclosure, to solid state drives with no moving parts (SSD’s). SSD’s are dramatically faster than the old conventional mechanical hard drives. The only drawback to using them has been a) they were much more expensive $/MB and b) they had a much smaller storage capacity compared to conventional mechanical drives.
Recently these constraints have started to loosen and the $/MB ratio has gone down while the average storage size has been going up. One key consideration is your working environment. If the majority of your storage is going to end up on a network server drive, then you might not need a very large internal drive in the first place. On the other hand, if you do need to be standalone and self-sufficient, then a common solution that is not too expensive is to have both types of hard drives in your computers. Your primary drive is an SSD that will hold your operating system as well as critical applications like CAD and any design files you are currently working on, and then a secondary mechanical drive of large capacity for long term storage and retrieval.
This is the beating heart of your new workstation and the most complex part that goes into it. Because of this status, there is a lot of information here to consider.
Intel and AMD are the two major vendors in this market. AMD has in recent times focused more primarily on the entry level low cost section of the processor market. So if you are most concerned about performance then Intel is your only real option.
Intel has several distinct architectures that span from the low end to the high end. Of these different choices, there are really only two to consider for engineering class workstations: Intel Core-i7 and Intel Xeon.
Last year Intel introduced their new Core-i9 processor which definitely add a boost in performance, but if you are looking for more bang for the buck we would suggest holding off for awhile as the cost-to-performance results haven't made us justify the upgrade quite yet.
The Xeon and Core-i7 are based on similar designs but the Xeon has additional features not found in the Core-i7. These can be generally summed up 4 things:
- Typically more L3 cache.
- Support for ECC memory (error detection and correction).
- Xeons typically are made from the best batches of silicon produced. They tend to run cooler and with lower voltages at a given clock speed and thus tend to last longer.
- The motherboards that host the Xeon family of processors support a multi-CPU sockets. In those applications where you need as many CPUs and cores as possible (see below), the Xeon family or processors would be your best bet.
Here is the most important deciding factor in your decision to configure a workstation to run SOLIDWORKS. For almost everything relating to performance in SOLIDWORKS, the clock speed of the processor is the most important factor.
All other categories covered below being equal, it is the clock speed that will decide which system has the best performance in your day-to-day work. Just like in car engines, the faster you want to go the more expensive it’s going to be.
If you had two processors, one a Xeon and One a Core-i7 of the same clock speed and all other components being equal, the Xeon will definitely be faster under an extreme load.
One very important factor though is in that situation of the two equal processors, the Xeon is going to be quite a bit more expensive. Also, the ecosystem surrounding a Xeon processor (motherboard and RAM) is more expensive than their non-Xeon counterparts for similar quantities and capabilities.
So, if you have a hard budget to stick to, you will be able to get more “speed” using a Core-i7 platform instead of a Xeon.
Now that we have discussed the concept of “clock speed” and its effects on your SOLIDWORKS performance, we have to discuss the concept of Cores. Modern CPUs usually have multiple cores (separate mini-CPUs) inside a single chip. Common amounts of cores are 2 (increasingly rare) 4, 6, and 8.
These are physical cores but Intel also supports a technology called Hyper-Threading, which gives you another virtual core for every physical core. Basically, if you buy an Intel processor with 4 cores (common), your task manager will show 8 (see below).
So how do cores affect your performance? It’s a very simple answer. For most common design tasks inside SOLIDWORKS, the most common CPU configuration (4 cores) is sufficient. There are certain circumstances and use cases when more cores are necessary, including:
- Non-Linear and Dynamic Simulation
- Flow Simulation
- Advanced Rendering and Animation
If you perform any of these tasks, additional cores *will* benefit you, to a point. What do I mean? There is a point of diminishing returns, as illustrated in the chart below. So although more is better, it’s only up to a certain point.
Buy the processor with the fastest clock speed you can afford, that has four cores (or six, if you do a lot of simulation). More cores equals better performance, so if you can find the money to invest in some of the 10 or 12 core juggernauts you will see the difference.....
Thanks for reading the Alignex Blog! We hope you found our recommendations on the best hardware to run SOLIDWORKS helpful in optimizing your workstation and getting the best SOLIDWORKS performance to meet your needs.
Check out our SOLIDWORKS System Requirements compatibility charts to see a complete list of supported products. Plus, take a minute to subscribe to the Alignex Blog below for the latest technical content delivered straight to your inbox.
Written by Mack Rasmussen
Mack Rasmussen is the Technical Director at Alignex, Inc. It’s rare for Mack to have a spare moment between leading Alignex’s team of application engineers and supporting our sales team, but when he does, you’ll most likely find this avid sportsman in the outdoors—skiing with his son, camping, fishing or hunting.