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.
For more information on how much RAM you need, see: https://forum.solidworks.com/docs/DOC-1741.
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.
When you're considering graphics cards, buy a workstation-level graphics card that's listed under the SolidWorks Certified Graphics Cards and System section at http://www.solidworks.com/pages/services/VideoCardTesting.html. Use the driver listed on the support site with any special setting.
OS (Operating System)
This is simple; if you use more than 2GB of RAM you need Microsoft Windows 7 x64. For a list of supported operating system see http://www.solidworks.com/sw/support/SystemRequirements.html.
System Imaging and Backup
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.
System Requirements – Learn more about the minimum requirements for hardware, supported operating systems, etc.:
SolidWorks Performance Test– This benchmark ships with SolidWorks and offers a standardized test for determining performance of your major system components (i.e., CPU, I/O, Video) when working with SolidWorks datasets:
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:
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.