The question of what type of computer system is best for SolidWorks come up often; this tech tip compiles a list of criteria to help you get the most out of the software.
The first step is to determine what you need from the software and then use that information to figure out what type of workstation will work best for you. This is dependent on the type of work your company does and the size of the datasets you work with.
CAD software can tax your computer. Time spent waiting for your system to respond equals lost productivity. Your hardware and its configuration play a part in the performance equation. Another issue to consider is that as hardware continues to get faster and cheaper, the system you buy today may be obsolete in a couple of years. It may be more cost-effective to just replace it.
If you're working within a given budget (who isn't), analyze the tradeoffs between spending more on the high-priority items and less on the low-priority ones. Simply buying the most expensive components does not insure a direct correlation to an increase in productivity.
Type of System
The type of system you select should be based on your answers to the following question:
Is the system supported and tested by a major manufacturer? Typically, home-built and non-major manufacturers don't put as much effort into designing, testing, and verifying a computer system.
What type of machine are you working on? Workstation-class machines are a better investment for CAD. Regular business- or personal-class machines aren't built to handle the requirements of CAD software. A workstation-class machine can also have a longer life because it's more expandable with memory, multiple CPUs, and so forth.
What support is available? At what hours?
What’s the computer's lifespan? Prior to buying a system, you should have an idea of the computer's useful life. If you plan to use the system longer, invest more money in your new system and make sure it has some expandability (for example, room for a second processor, additional hard drives, and more RAM).
Is the system vendor a partner of the developer of your CAD application? SolidWorks has a list of computer hardware vendors under its Partner Products section.
RAM (Random-Access Memory)
A common question that always comes up is how much RAM do I need for my computer and should I add more. The answer to this depending on how many applications you run at a time, the size and complexity of your SolidWorks parts, assemblies, and drawings. You need enough RAM to work with your common applications (i.e., Microsoft Office, eMail, etc.) and load your SolidWorks documents without exhausting physical RAM.
Why having enough physical RAM is important:
SolidWorks files are loaded to RAM when you open them. The larger or more complex the model the more RAM required.
If memory resources are completely exhausted the machine can become unstable, crash, and performance can seriously degrade.
Configuring RAM based on minimum requirements, not based on what you actually need is a poor investment looking at lost productivity vs. minimal investment. In other words, make sure you have enough RAM to do your job.
Processor speed is second only to insufficient RAM as the most important factor when selecting a CAD system. Money spent on a faster CPU is money well spent. The harder issue is sorting through all the different options. The ways to determine whether the investment is worth it include real-model testing, SolidWorks Performance Test, or a combination of different benchmarking options.
There are multi core CPUs that add additional processors to each CPU. Many workstation-class computers also let you add a second CPU to your system. SolidWorks and some of the add-ons (PhotoView 360) have some multithreaded capabilities, which means’ the application takes advantage of the second processor or multi cores. But rebuilds are single threaded and therefore rebuilds will not be faster, in general terms, with more multi CPUs or cores.
Buying a more cores (dual, six, quad) is more cost effective that adding an additional CPU.
Buying a system that supports multiple processors gives you more flexibility later, even if you don't initially purchase a second CPU. But, this future capability should be weighed against the extra cost of such a machine.
The advantage gained through a second CPU may not justify the additional cost unless you use other applications (such as Simulation) on a regular basis or you are trying to get that last extra drop of performance out of the system.
When buying storage, there are three primary factors; speed, size, and type:
Hard disk type, spindle speed, and data transfer rate affect the system's overall performance.
Drive size should be based on the disk space you need. Consider your operating system, applications, and local SolidWorks documents if you use a local workspace.
For performance, a low-cost option that performs well in most cases is adding a second disk and controller, if necessary, to include RAID level 0 striping to the system.
You need to buy a good workstation-level graphics card and driver. When working with a limited budget, consider a midrange instead of a high-end card unless you work with non-SolidWorks applications and rendering applications that need high-end power.
Once you set up and configure your system, it's to your advantage to image your computer in case you need to restore it. Imaging software captures a snapshot of your system after it has been set up and configured. Using this software, your system, or one just like it, can be re-imaged in a matter of minutes from the original computer image.
One of the benefits of buying computer platform similar to the one you currently have is that you can create and configure your system and deploy and repair it without using the original CD-ROMs and reloading all of the software. Remember that if the chipsets or components are different on a new machine with different drivers, you need to create a new image for each platform.
Share Your Scores– When you complete the SolidWorks Performance Test you have an option to share your score with others. This gives you, and other community members, a sense of where their system stands relative to others: http://www.solidworks.com/sw/support/shareyourscore.htm
The system you purchase today will stay with you for some time, so the more you can do up front to ensure the longevity of your investment is time and money well spent. The best way to understand the differences in the workstations is to configure the machines and test them in your environment. The problem is that this is rarely possible. This is where the SolidWorks Performance Test and Share Your Scores site can be useful.
Balance your investment with short- and long-term productivity gains or losses to help you determine what system to buy. Understand your hardware's lifecycle and plan to replace, upgrade, or move the machine to another user at some point in the future.
Internet Explorer 9 was recently released by Microsoft. Due to an unfortunate timing coincidence (similar to that of the Windows 7 SP1 release date), we will not be able to officially qualify IE9 for use with SolidWorks 2011 SP03, which is due to be released soon.
If you are on SolidWorks 2011 SP03 or earlier, we recommend testing IE9 in your own environment (network, PDM, addins, graphics cards/drivers, anti-virus, etc.) before deploying it on production or mission critical systems.
Please note that Internet Explorer updates typically impact greater portions of SolidWorks functionality, relative to an OS service pack update. We'll post more information about known issues as they become available here.
1. IE versions prior to IE9 that are supported by Microsoftwill continue to be supported for the lifecycle of SolidWorks 2011.
2. SolidWorks 2010 will not be officially qualified for use with IE9. You may certainly install IE9 for use with SW2010 and report any issues found, but those issues will likely be fixed only in SW2011 SP04 or later.
Known issues as of March 15, 2011 :
If you are frequently seeing a warning that says "SolidWorks has detected that your system resources are running low" or are seeing the sldworks.exe process using up a large number of GDI handles, please read on.
In SolidWorks 2011 SP03, we have addressed three workflows that were known to cause a run up in GDI handle usage and the warning message to appear (possibly followed by a crash in SolidWorks). The forum thread that kicked this off: https://forum.solidworks.com/message/190940.
1. Working on SolidWorks Drawings that have GTOLs (specific to Windows 7):
This one came from Lindsay Dalziel from the above thread. We could not reproduce it in house and none of our automated test suites were reporting this failure. It was also reported that the problem did not occur on an older Windows XP 32-bit machine and got dramatically worse on a brand new Windows 7 x64 machine with a much higher configuration.
It seemed to happen when GTOLs were present in the drawing and that the problem happened more after actively working on such a drawing for a day.
The root cause turned out to be a behavioral change in Windows 7. WinXP recycles DeviceContext handles way more aggressively than Win7 does. So the same piece of code, which was being executed during mouseovers on GTOLs, was working as designed in WinXP, but not on Win7.
I apologize for the aggravation this bug has caused and I'm pleased to report that the issue is fixed in SW2011 SP03.
2. Browsing from the File->Open dialog to a folder with a "large" number of SolidWorks files (specific to Windows 7):
This one came from Charles Culp from the above thread. This is related to the functionality that shows the thumbnails for SolidWorks files in the Windows Shell, i.e. Windows Explorer, File->Open and File->Save dialogs, etc. and was somewhat trickier than the first issue. The engineering problem here is the tradeoff between performance and cache size.
Extracting a thumbnail out of a SolidWorks file can be a potentially expensive operation depending on various things. For example, depending on what your shell settings are (view as list, thumbnails, large/med/small icon, etc.), the handler has to resize the image. Also, file access times affect performance.
Imagine browsing to a low-speed network share with a lot of SolidWorks files. The Windows Shell asks the thumbnail handler to extract and return the image in a specific size for EACH file in the folder. Both the shell and the SolidWorks handler has its own techniques of optimizing performance and caching, which sometimes conflict with each other.
We have reduced the effect of this issue by capping the amount of images cached by the shell handler. This should reduce the occurrence of the GDI handle depletion issues in such cases.
3. Opening and closing subassemblies / parts from the master assembly (NOT specific to Windows 7):
The most common workflow we're aware of that causes GDI handle usage to go up is: opening up part/sub-assembly document(s) from within an assembly by using the "Open Part" or "Open Assembly" command in the feature tree and then later closing the opened document. SolidWorks "holds on" to the GDI handles required for such documents until the master assembly is closed.
The change required in the code to fix this is pretty fundamental to how parts, assemblies and drawings operate with each other in SolidWorks, so it's possible that the fix may cause problems in areas outside of just the core workflow in assemblies, e.g. API, 3rd-party addins, our own addins, hole wizard / dimensions / other GDI-heavy commands, etc.
We're taking a cautious approach to this fix, rather than just making the change and hoping for the best. We should have some news around this issue around the 2011 SP03 time frame - please watch this space.
The good news: we have a fix for this problem in SW2011 SP03. We have identified and thoroughly tested all the areas of our code that this change might affect. However, one area that this change leaves open is the SolidWorks APIs that does anything with document handling (open file, close file, etc.). Since we don't have all the number of macros and addins outside of what we ship, we're making this fix available only via a registry key in SP03.
In other words, this fix is "opt-in" for SP03. If you regularly use the "open part/sub-assembly from parent assembly" workflow and are seeing the resources low message, you should immediately see the benefits by turning on the fix as described in the KB article S-054140. If you use any addins, macros, etc. you will be helping us shake out any unknown problems by turning on the fix in SP03. This is optional, of course, but would help us greatly in identifying and getting those issues addressed in SP04.
In SP04 and onwards, we are planning to turn the fix on by default and leave a registry option to turn the fix off. In other words, this fix will be "opt-out" in SP04.
Finally, a plug for our Early Visiblity Program: You can read more details about the program and sign up here: http://www.solidworks.com/sw/support/EarlyVisibility.html. By signing up, you will get early access to SP03 and be able to try out these changes related to GDI handles to try for yourself if they resolve your issue.
Windows 7 SP1 was recently released by Microsoft. Due to an unfortunate timing coincidence, we will not be able to officially qualify Win7 SP1 for use with SolidWorks 2011 SP03, which is due to be released soon.
If you are on SolidWorks 2011 SP03 or earlier, we recommend testing Win7 SP1 in your own environment (network, PDM, addins, graphics cards/drivers, anti-virus, etc.) before deploying it on production or mission critical systems.
Early indicators on our internal Win7 SP1 tests are tracking healthy so far, and barring any major unforeseen issues, we expect to announce support for Win7 SP1 with SolidWorks 2011 SP04.
1. Win7 SP0 will continue to be supported for the lifecycle of SolidWorks 2011.
2. SolidWorks 2010 will not be officially qualified for use with Win7 SP1. You may certainly install Win7 SP1 for use with SW2010 and report any issues found, but those issues will likely be fixed only in SW2011 SP04 or later.
With the release of SolidWorks 2011, a performance test is included to help test your system, compare your score with other users, and share your score on the Share Your Score site. The main problem this benchmark was designed to address was, how fast is my computer compared to other computers? This gives you tangible metrics due to the fact the tests are run in SolidWorks, in a repeatable manners across different computers.
The performance test pushes your computer hard and geared toward the comparison of CPU performance. The I/O is also represented well with the performance test. One area where you will not see significant differentiation is graphics. The reason for this is that the test is run without RealView on due to the fact that some systems cannot run SolidWorks with RealView on. If a system cannot run RealView, the score cannot be viewed/reported in comparison to systems that are running RealView. For this reason, RealView is turned off for all tests.
For more information on benchmarks, visit the Benchmarks page on solidworks.com.
The performance test can be started from the Windows start menu / SolidWorks <version> / SolidWorks Performance Test. Or it can also be started in the Add-In tab for SolidWorks Rx.
The test has three areas; CPU, I/O, and Graphics. Each step of the test (described below) is meant to exercise a specific area of the computer using SolidWorks.
Out of the box, standard settings are used to insure consistent settings are used to run the tests.
The general tasks for the all datasets are as follows. The areas test are listed in  after the test step:
- Open the file [I/O]
- Force a rebuild [CPU]
- Rotate and zoom [Graphics]
- Open drawing [I/O w/Multi-Threading]
- Rotate and zoom [Graphics]
- Add sheet [CPU] & [Graphics]
- Add view [CPU] & [Graphics]
- Render (parts only) [CPU w/Multi-Threading]
Results for the performance test are stored in the My Documents \ SW Log Files directory. The files start with SWPTResults1.txt and new tests have a new filename (SWPTResults2.txt, SWPTResults3.txt, …).
Share Your Score Site
The Share Your Score site lists other machines. You can filter the listing by SolidWorks version, and computer type (laptop or workstation). You also have the option at the end of the performance test to share you score with other on this site.
You cannot have more than one test results for the same computer/SolidWorks version. The most current entry is used.
When you share your score, you will be asked for a name for your system. You can search for this name later, so use something you will remember. Also, note that this is the only item that is displayed that shows anything personally identifiable. All other information is generic system information like CPU type, ram size, OS, SolidWorks version, etc. For more details, see the Terms & Conditions on the Share Your score site for details.
The list is sorted by CPU score. You can sort by other categories by selecting the top column cell.
Filter the results by SolidWorks version or computer type (laptop or workstation) to so only the results that are meaningful to what you are comparing.
Links are also provided to the Administrator section of the SolidWorks Forums. This is a good place to share comments and questions with other users.
The SolidWorks Performance Test is a useful tool that helps you understand, and quantify how fast your computer will generally (in respect to CPU speed) running SolidWorks compared to other systems.
A special thanks to Anna Wood of Auer Precision (www.auerprecision.com) for the dataset and her feedback during the development of the performance test.