Don’t get the wrong CAD hardware!

cad-hardwareThe workflow of a CAD user typically falls into 2 areas: simulation and modelling. Therefore, selecting the correct CAD workstation for your requirements is vital. If you buy hardware that’s better than what you actually need you might see the benefit of pushing the need to upgrade further into the future. However, buying something that falls short of requirements will certainly mean you’ll ultimately end up paying out more money than you saved in the first place.

A frequent question from those who hold the purse strings is “Why do you need so much power?”, and another thing I see so many times is that the suppliers of I.T. equipment simply can’t grasp what is needed for CAD. So they end up providing a workstation that’s sub-standard. Often both ignorance and budget combine to generate a Purchase Order for a lemon. Therefore, here are a few things to consider before you agree to your next workstation:

1) Graphics Card

You want to get the most expensive one you can afford – a FireGL/FirePro or Quadro is highly recommended. The graphics card is the most important part of a CAD workstation, yet it gets overlooked frequently. It doesn’t matter if you have a computer with heaps of RAM and a fast processer, if you have a slow graphics card your CAD system with definitely be slow.

It is important to be aware that graphics cards and CAD systems talk to each other in a language called OpenGL. On the other hand, graphics cards for gamers (e.g. the Nvidia GeForce) talk in DirectX. The hardware is basically the same with a few minor differences: a few tweaks, different drivers and a cheeky higher price tag for the CAD-compatible cards.

A few years ago, you could actually modify the software for a GeForce card and effectively make it think it was a Quadro card. Then you’d simply run the Quadro drivers instead, and suddenly you were the owner of a high-end CAD Graphics card for next to nothing! Sadly, this is no longer possible because the hardware manufacturers modified their design slightly to prevent this.

3D applications such as Maya and 3ds Max can utilise DirextX, and it’s worth knowing that for really high-end graphics, the Tesla is absolutely excellent.

2) Processor (CPU)

I’m not quite up-to-date with AMD’s current offerings, but a XEON or an Intel I7 is highly recommended. For 2D/3D modelling, most CAD systems just run on a single core. In this case, buy the fastest processor you can afford. The CAD vendors are starting to get better at using other cores, and newer CAD systems are now being designed for 64-bit multi core architecture. However, if you run CAD software like Inventor, Pro/E, Unigraphics, AutoCAD, Solidworks, Revit, Pro-E etc, then an 8-core processor isn’t being utilised whilst you’re modelling.

If you want to do lots of rendering or run simulation/FEA, a multi-core processor (or multi-CPU) would be a good asset. These utilise the additional cores to compute/render faster.

3) RAM

Get as much RAM as you can afford. It’s relatively cheap. The ideal amount is somewhere between 16GB and 32GB.

4) Hard Drive

A while ago, I wouldn’t have been too concerned about what type of hard drive to use, but now that SSD and Hybrid SSDs are available, it should be known that they really make a difference when loading up large assemblies. If you think of your hard drive as your filing cabinet, then the faster it is, the faster your files land on your desk (RAM). When the RAM runs out, the Hard Drive’s Virtual Memory cuts in to do file swapping.
The rest of your setup is entirely your choice: 1 screen, 5 screens, head-banging speakers, ergonomic keyboard, 3D mouse. Go crazy!

Major hardware vendors (Lenovo, HP, Dell etc) all provide a CAD workstation solution (usually both desktop and mobile options). Typically they fulfil most – if not all – of the recommendations within this article. However, if you’d like to save some money, a good option is to consider “clones” of these products. In this case it certainly pays to know what you need.

Article kindly supplied by Redstack

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