21 Replies Latest reply on Nov 5, 2010 4:00 PM by Rich Schneider

    Budget workstation questions

    Richard Elliott

      I am looking to build an affordable SW workstation to use at home to allow me to work from home on a regular basis. I have not yet worked out a budget for this machine but I expect somewhere between $1500-2000 AUD. Obviously I would like to have a machine that will last for several years with upgrade potential if required.


      The work I do often involves very large assemblies that take a long time to rebuild, save and load on my work PC, I would like to have better performance on this new build. (My work PC is... Win 7 x64, Core 2 Duo E8500 3.16GHz, 4GB RAM, Quadro FX 1700 graphics). I occasionally do FEA, but mostly I just use standard SW, no fancy rendering etc.


      I have checked Anna's Solidmuse Blog and looked at the benchmark performance of many PC configurations, I can see that the i7 900 series processors perform very well, but these are expensive. I was considering using an overclocked i5 760 processor to save money (this has 4 cores like the i7 but no hyperthreading) judging by some of the benchmark results very high performance can be achieved in SW without hyperthreading. I have seen several articles that suggest the i5 760 could be overclocked to approx 4GHz.


      For a graphics card I have looked at both Nvidia Quadro and Ati FirePro cards, the best comparison I have found so far has been from this site http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/quadrofx-firepro.html

      but the article is quite old, and is missing some of the newer cards but It does look like the Nvidia cards had the best performance for SW at the time of the test.

      For my budget my choice is between the Quadro FX 580 or a FirePro V3800 or V4800 cards. Any opinions


      At the moment I am stuck on one technical stumbling block. Can anyone tell me whether these graphics cards use the full PCI express x16 or only x8, I have found that one potential problem with any P55 chipset is that there is a limit to the number of PCI express lanes that the processor has available. So that if the graphics card uses x16 then there are not enough lanes left available for features such as USB 3.0 or other add in PCI cards. I want my PC to be compatible with future usb 3.0 devices if possible. Would limiting the graphics card to x8 have a noticeable effect on its performance?




        • Re: Budget workstation questions
          Mark Larson

          are you sure about i7 being too expensive? an i7 930 can be had for $200, maybe you are talking about buying Dell or HP

          tip: check out local independants, tell them you are going to be running SW

          they should be able to let you pick & choose ala carte the components you want and put it together for you

          you'll save at least 1/3, closer to half from "off the shelf"

          and they will warantee it and support it as good or better than the big boys

          • Re: Budget workstation questions
            Rich Schneider

            "Budget" and "large assemblies" really can't be used in the same sentence with Solidworks.  When you look at some of the graphics cards starting around $300 that will handle larger assemblies, you're going to have to make concessions on either price or performance somewhere along the line.  That having been said, I'd advise to make sure your motherboard has all the features you want.  It's a whole lot easier to go with a slower processor for less money now and replace it with a new faster processor when you can afford it (keeping in mind the same slot) than replacing a motherboard and reinstalling an OS.  As far as the video card, the 580 is a good start (based again on budget constraints), there was another one with 1 Gig of memory that looked decent for the price but I can't remember the model/vendor at the moment.  Leave room for memory expansion, 4 Gb is minimum and 6~8 is better.  USB 3.0 is good for updates, but I think the flash drives will migrate to ESata pretty quick (Kangaroo has a pretty slick one out that does USB and ESata).  Best of luck.

            • Re: Budget workstation questions
              Charles Culp



              There have been some recent mumblings about the ATI FirePro V4800, but the V3800 and V4800 are a definite bargain good choice. What do you call a "large assembly"? A thousand components? The V3800 may be enough! The V4800 is probably enough!


              You can expect a benchmark time on Anna's punchholder of 70-80 seconds with a non-overclocked Core i5 (I have one at home). I have seen quite a few people who have successfully overclocked the Core i5 750 to 4GHz, that seems to be both popular and fairly safe.


              SolidWorks does not use hyperthreading, and in 2007 it would even show lower benchmarks when it was enabled on the Core2 machines. Also note, that for typical rebuilding, SolidWorks is mostly single threaded, so you aren't going to get a huge benefit out of multiple cores anyway. Some features like fillets do use multiple cores, and each drawing view will rebuild seperately.


              Here is a system that I specified that should work well: https://forum.solidworks.com/message/175659 . If you replace the Core i7 with a Core i5, you should be able to get that price down to about $1200 including Windows and everything.


              I can't tell you whether the video cards use x16.

                • Re: Budget workstation questions
                  Richard Elliott

                  Thank you very much to Charles, Mark and Rich for your advice and ideas.


                  This last month I have agonised over the details of my new PC. Now it is sitting on my desk and I have put it through its first set of Benchmarks (from Anna's Solidmuse). http://www.solidmuse.com/solidworks-benchmark-scoobydoo-surface-model.html


                  I thought I should post a follow up as I am very pleased with the results.


                  Benchmark rebuild times as follows....


                  Scooby-Doo Surface model 11.93 Sec

                  Punch Holder 50.45 Sec

                  Sheet metal carrier 27.77 Sec


                  These times are currently very near the top of the submitted results on Anna's blog. So what hardware did I use?


                  I have not listed prices as they change so fast but my whole system as listed below including build (excluding Office 2010) was just $1955 AUD


                  CPU - Intel Core i5 760 (4 cores, no hyperthreading, 2.8GHz standard, I have been playing in the BIOS and have tuned this up to 4.2GHz, this is how it does so well in the rebuild times)


                  Motherboard -      Asus P7P55D-E Pro (if you are looking for a P55 motherboard and you want to use USB3 or Sata 6GB in the future be very careful which one you pick most manufactures sacrifice graphics card performance in order to provide the USB3 or Sata 6GB bandwidth, make sure that the motherboard you choose uses a PLX chip instead - this article explains it better than I can http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/usb-3.0-sata-6gb,2583.html other motherboards that use this chip include ASRock P55 Deluxe3, MSI P55-GD85)


                  Graphics card - nVidia Quadro FX 580 (typically just as I buy this version nVidia release a new version with better specs - Quadro 600, I also considered the ATI firpro cards but they were harder to get hold of)


                  Ram - 8GB Corsair (2x 4GB) 1333MHz CL9 (this was cheap at the time and it leaves me two free sockets to upgrade to 16GB should I ever want to. I am not convinced that using faster RAM would make any difference to SW performance and it is usually a lot more expensive)


                  SSD - 60GB GSkill Phoenix PRO (Very impressed with this, I use this as the system disk. It is obviously more expensive than a hard disk drive but I thought it would be worth it)


                  CPU Cooling - Thermalright Silver arrow (I had realised that to get great rebuild performance required a fast processor. Overclocking was my intention from the beginning and to push the processor requires more cooling than the standard intel heatsink and fan. The cooler I selected is expensive but it can cool better than many water coolers and it uses 2 high quality 140mm quiet fans)


                  PC Case - Cooler Master Storm Scout (Cases are often personal preference, this case has a large handle to make carrying it about easier which is something that I tend to do quite a bit. It also looks great and has good cooling with 3 included fans 2x 120mm 1x140mm.)


                  Power supply - Corsair TX650W (My estimates using this handy tool http://www.antec.outervision.com/ showed that with an overclocked cpu I would need a 500W PSU so i got a 650W just to be safe incase I ever decide to put a more powerful graphics card into the PC - I went for a known brand with 80 plus efficiency certification and a quiet fan.


                  Monitor - Dell 23"UltraSharp (this was on special offer at the time with $100 discount, and it is also one of the only monitors I could find within my budget that could support a Display Port connector.)


                  WiFi adapter - D link DWA 131 Wireless N LAN Nano USB adapter (to connect to my home WiFi)


                  Other items - Windows 7 Pro 64bit, Office 2010


                  Some overclocking details


                  I have been using the guidelines in this excellent article http://www.overclockers.com/3-step-guide-overclock-core-i3-i5-i7/ to help me overclock my PC by making changes to the BIOS settings, this is not as difficult as it first might seem and is apparently more reliable and kinder to the CPU than using software overclocking tools or auto setting which have a tendancy to use higher voltages than are required which can shorten the life of a CPU.

                  My highest stable (intel burn test - maximum) overclock so far has been 4200MHz, achieved with a BCLK of 210MHz and a CPU multi of x20. this required a vCore voltage of 1.344 and gave a core temp of around 81 DegC. Faster is probably possible but this is my best result so far.


                  I hope that if you have read this far that some of this information has helped you.

                • Re: Budget workstation questions
                  Rich Schneider

                  That looks like everything worked out pretty slick!  Around 50 seconds on the punchholder is pretty decent.  Keep an eye on the overclocking that you don't over do it, getting "spontaneous errors" once you've put a lot of hard work into an assembly can throw you for a loop, but you'll get a feel for how reliable the PC is over time and back it down a little.


                  I'm just starting up a new PC today for tryout, I'm looking forward to the numbers.  Our IT guys were nice enough to let me spec out a custom rig when we weren't finding what we wanted from the major players without premium pricing.  When I get a chance I'll try and post the hardware and timing.  But I think I'd better get back to productive work...

                    • Re: Budget workstation questions
                      Richard Elliott



                      As you suggest I expect I will usually run my new PC at a milder overclock most of the time and save the really fast overclock for if I have to deal with a particularly demanding model or task. I am not an overclocking expert but from what I have read the intel burn test will really stress my system far more than I ever could hope to do with Solidworks. With the burn test settings at maximum all of the CPU cores are run at 100% load and all of the available RAM is used. The test then runs for a set number of cycles and a comparison between cycles indicates system stability. The test generates a lot of heat and quickly uncovers any system instability.


                      However no test is ever perfect so I plan to tread carefully as I get to know this new system.


                      Please post the benchmark results of your new PC once you have tested it (will you be overclocking the CPU?), I would be interested to see the comparison.



                        • Re: Budget workstation questions
                          Charles Culp



                          Do you have photoview 360? If you ever use that, it will tax your processor fully. I've been playing around with SW 2011 at home on my Core i5. When I turn on the integrated preview (so it uses the SolidWorks window as the PV360 render window), my CPU goes to 100% usage non-stop. My CPU fan starts to scream at me. Just be aware that this will happen.

                      • Re: Budget workstation questions
                        Rich Schneider

                        Just a quick update on the PC the IT guys threw together here.  Rough specs are:


                        Core I-5 670 @ 3.46 GHz

                        Intel DH55 series series motherboard

                        8 Gb Ram

                        Win 7-64 bit

                        FX 1800 video board

                        WD 7200 rpm hard drive


                        Punchholder time with 5 IE tabs going, task manager, 4 other SW files open, Acrobat open as well:  91.51 s




                        Rebooted to clean things up, had open Win Explorer, Task Manager, just punchholder: 94.2 s




                        Changed Win 7 to "performance" setting, set Solidworks Affinity in Task Manager to 2 processors, sldworks priority to "High":   111.71 s




                        Apparently I shouldn't do ANY of that...


                        Set affinity back to four processors:  92.84 s




                        93.54 s


                        Overall, happy with the new PC despite these numbers.  I'm sure when I get some free time I can tweek a lot of things (video driver, overclock, etc.), but I'm not seeing the sub 75s numbers I was hoping to see. I think I need to dive into what motherboard was ordered (I had some say but did make some concessions to keep budget down).  I also have to get into the pagefile stuff as well as the system is allocating 7.86 Gb to the page file (on a Caviar black 7200 rpm drive)  and I'm pretty sure I have enough memory to get rid of that all together.  Will post again when I have more time, any comments (other than "What were you thinking getting an I5?") are appreciated .

                          • Re: Budget workstation questions
                            Charles Culp



                            The Core i5-670 is only a dual-core processor, so setting the affinity to only 2 processors with hyperthreading turned on (which creates two threads per processor), would be silly.


                            i5's make good processors, you are correct in expecting numbers in the 70's, I'm not sure what the issue is for you.

                              • Re: Budget workstation questions
                                Rich Schneider

                                Yeah, I guess that's where I might have to do some homework.  When Taskmanager shows four CPU's, is that two dual-core processors doing hyperthreading?  And it seemed like Solidworks is starting to use more cores/hyperthreading than I was thinking it was (outside of rendering, simulation, etc.).  There was a 23% performance increase in setting all four processors as opposed to two (not that you normally wouldn't have all of them set, just doing some experimentation).  To me that's fairly significant.


                                It was interesting that the top performers on Anna's chart all seemed to be overclockers, I think I'm going to buy stock in Zalhman (processor coolers).  Maybe gamers getting into CAD are people to contend with .

                              • Re: Budget workstation questions
                                Jim Zink

                                The desktop dual core i3 and i5 CPUs are slow - despite the high clock speed.  It has something to do with the sharing the memory interface with the integrated graphics - even if you are using a dedicated graphcs card.   Your results are consistent with what I've seen in non-SolidWorks benchmarks.