Charles Culp

March 2014 - Suggested Computer Specs

Discussion created by Charles Culp on Mar 3, 2014
Latest reply on Dec 6, 2017 by Jason Young


I do want to specifically thank Anna Wood for helping run the benchmarks this year. This posting is a bit late, as this general setup has been available since July, and available from the major computer builders (Dell, HP, Lenovo) for a few months already. Also, it is now much more complicated to specify a CPU, as there are many reasonable choices from Intel. The biggest update is the video cards (which will not be a separate post), which now with SolidWorks 2014 SP2 not utilize more of the video card. This means the more expensive video cards might be worthwhile for some users.


If you need a system for FEA, or rendering, start a forum post with exactly what kind of analysis or rendering you do. Someone will respond with some general suggestions for the best way to get what you need. Because these systems can be very nuanced, you deserve a better answer than a generic system as specified below. These may include 6-core single CPU machines, or maybe dual-socket systems. Whatever you do, don't buy a dual-socket system just for regular CAD work, it will be very expensive, and probably slower than what I have suggested.


This first post is my suggestions. The follow-up comment directly below is my source data showing why these specifications are the best.



$907 is the cheapest price, but this will be just as fast as any of the Dell/HP/Lenovo systems below. This computer will be over twice as fast as a Core 2 Duo, so it should be pretty easy to justify to management. Note that this does not include a monitor, Windows, keyboard, etc. Don't forget to include these when comparing to other systems.


If you want to build your own computer, or your IT department wants to build their own system, then the above system is a great place to start. I assume that you don't need lots of local storage, all your CAD files should be on a PDM server. If you deal with very large assembles, you might need more memory, but 16GB should cover nearly all SolidWorks users. Here are the details of each component:


CPU: This consumer grade CPU is the "sweet spot" for performance and price for single-threaded performance. It is a "haswell" Intel chip that was released last summer. There is no need for a 6+ core machine for regular SolidWorks modeling. SolidWorks only uses one core most of the time, so everything is tied to CPU design and frequency. You want the highest GHz possible. I only suggest systems that run 3.4 GHz or more. If you use a Xeon CPU, pick a Xeon E3-1240v3 or 1270v3. The 1280v3 is faster, but comes at a very large price increase. These Xeon chips give you access to ECC memory, which does an error correcting check whenever it uses the memory. Once in a blue moon you could have a flipped bit (from cosmic rays!) that could cause a glitch in your computer/data.


Memory: I assume 16GB is enough for almost everybody, but do your own check. Load up your largest assembly, and see if you max out your current system's memory. Open up Outlook, plenty of part files, whatever you typically do when you need to use SolidWorks.


Primary Disk Drive: I won't suggest anything but a SSD for new computers. The response is difficult to measure, but the user experience speaks for itself. Once you use a computer with a SSD you will wonder how you can live without it. The performance difference between drives is not a huge difference, but you can always find a good update on Tom's Hardware. Here is the latest as of when I specified this computer (mid-January).,3269-6.html,3269-6.html

Video Card: My next post will show the results of video card testing. My summary though, is that the basic CAD cards are still fine for almost all users. A NVIDIA Quadro K600 or AMD FirePro V4900 are still my cards of choice. The K600 is actually my preferred card today (at least for the next month or so).


Power Supply: Don't cheap out on your power supply. Buy one from the top of this list: The cheap power supplies will die by having a component inside explode, sending sparks everywhere and nasty power spikes. Not a good situation for inside any computer.


Case: For this, I selected just a reasonably priced case, with plain looks and USB3 on the front. For whatever reason many cases still only support USB2, which is a deal killer for me. For a much quieter case, even if you aren't overclocking, see the Fractal case below.


Suggestions for Overclocking - DIY

If you overclock (and it is very useful for SolidWorks), you need to do plenty of your own research to make sure all of your components are compatible. Do not rely solely on this thread. I did build an overclocked system for myself last summer, and it is phenomenal with SolidWorks. I was able to run my Core i5-4670K at 4.3 GHz, making it 26% faster than a chip running at stock speeds. With Haswell, I can even have it idle at lower frequency, so it doesn't always run at 4.3. Only when it needs to. While I write this post, my computer is running about 0.92GHz. This uses less power and is less load on the CPU and the cooling system. Then when I actually do something intensive, it ramps up to 4.3GHz.


You can see pictures of my build here:


Case: I have a Fractal R4 case. It is great. I suggest this even if you aren't overclocking. They are very quiet, because there is sound dampening material on the inside. This computer is quiter than most workstations, even when it is running full-bore.


Cooling: I have a Noctua NF-A14 air cooler. This requires a larger case, but the Fractal has that. It is even better than the prebuilt water coolers, and again it is quiet. They are known to create stresses on motherboards if they are moved around, but if your computer sits in one place, like most computers do, it is not a problem.


Motherboard: I used a Gigabyte Z87X-UD4H motherboard, although by now I'm sure there are other great options.


Power Supply: Seasonic Platinum 860. This is an ultra-premium power supply, but before I installed the dedicated video card, it ran without a fan. It is just that efficient. This also made it much more quiet. I am very satisfied, and the 860W rating is necessary for the extra power from overclocking; although my calculations only show 700W required.


CPU: I picked the i5-4670K because the sandy bridge chips actually got higher frequencies with the i5 then the i7. This is not true for the Haswells (it has to do with the type of solder used), so I just suggest the i7-4770K if you want a big SolidWorks machine.


Video Card: I have the AMD FirePro v4900, which I still suggest for most people. The NVIDIA Quadro K600 has inched away as a better value, so that is actually my first pick. If you do want a bit more, then the AMD W5000 or Quadro K2000 might be worthwhile (see below).


I'm not going to give a full spec sheet for DIY overclocking, because as I said, you need to do your own research. My system was less than $1,200.


Prebuilt Computers

Which should you buy, a Dell, HP, or Lenovo? Tough to say. Most users don't get to pick, it is whatever IT requires. If you can, it is fairly easy to justify getting a premium system, which I have under the next header. These are much better suited for CAD performance than these workstations. That being said, most of us are stuck with these choices at work, so here is what I suggest:



Everything was priced on January 20th, 2014. I included all discounts and sales at that time. Prices for all prebuilt systems include Windows 7 Professional. This is approximately a $140 for purchasing the OEM version of Windows 7 on the open market. The price difference between the Dell and the HP and Lenovo is likely due to the lack of an SSD drive.


Really, I suggest the Dell T1700 with specifications as close to the system at the top of this page as possible. But Dell's new website does not allow for true customization. Because of this, I was only able to find a comparable system with the Dell T3610. If your company only uses Dell, and you have a Dell representative you can contact, please call them up and ask for a T1700 with the specifications at the top of this page. You will get a much better price point than I was able to find on their website.


Dell T3610/T3600


Xeon E5-1620v2 3.7 GHz


1TB 7,200 HDD (eek)

AMD FirePro W5000



Lenovo E32


Xeon E3-1240v3 3.4GHz


256 GB SSD



Also, don't forget that HP offers three configurations of CAD workstations: Workstation, Small Form Factor, and the Z1. The Z1s have an integrated computer behind the screen, which makes them look nice on a desktop without any extra cords or boxes. They come at a very steep premium. I actually suggest the small form factor if you can get the specs you want.




Xeon E3-1240v3 3.4GHz

16 GB Non-ECC

128 GB SSD


Premium Systems

There are some premium systems that are more expensive, but often worth the value if you are a heavy SolidWorks user who needs extra performance. There are quite a few boutique builders out there, but the only one I've found that caters directly to CAD users (instead of gamers) is @Xi.



If you buy a Boxx, please tell them you read about them here. They have provided me (and Anna Wood) with test machines for benchmarking, and your feedback will ensure they continue to provide me with samples for testing. Since I mentioned it, I have not been compensated in any way by any manufacturer described anywhere in this post. Unfortunatly, they do make me return their hardware after testing...


Boxx computers are great, because they are overclocked, yet very quiet, and still come with a regular 3-year warranty. They are very well built machines, and their hardware looks nice. Their computers are more quiet than most desktops, yet outperform them by a significant margin.


Boxx 4150 Xtreme

This really is the best SolidWorks computer you can buy pre-built. It is more expensive than Dell/HP/Lenovo, but you get 20-26% better performance for that money.


Core i7-4770K @ 4.3 GHz


180 GB SSD

NVIDIA Quadro K600


Box 4920 Xtreme

This is the absolute fastest SolidWorks computer ever. If you want the best, this is your computer. It screams for rendering and FEA, as well as being more than 5% faster than the 4150.


6-Core; Core i7-3970X @ 4.5 GHz


180 GB SSD

NVIDIA Quadro K600



If you buy an @Xi, please tell them you read about them here. They have provided me with test machines for benchmarking, and your feedback will ensure they continue to provide me with samples for testing. Since I mentioned it, I have not been compensated in any way by any manufacturer described anywhere in this post. Unfortunatly, they do make me return their hardware after testing...


@Xi computers are known for building high performing overclocked machines. They use similar components to what you can buy yourself if you build a DIY machine. The difference with @Xi is you get known hardware and the support you need to build it correctly. They also offer a 3-year warranty on their hardware, so you can feel safe knowing your investment is solid. They do not build very specific machines like Boxx, so all configurations are not tested as well. This means you have to be careful when specifying a machine, so my summary for @Xi is much longer than my other summaries.


@XI Mtower


See this product quoted here:

Intel® Core™ i7-4770K @ 4.3GHz Hi-Perf. Sealed Water Cooling

16GB DDR3 1866MHz

Xi® MTower™ CM-HAF 922 Case

ASUS® Z87-C Motherboard

AMD® FirePro™ W5000

250GB Solid State Drive Samsung® 840 EVO

Windows 7 Professional


So for the same price as the Dell/Lenovo/HP website price, you can get a machine that is 26% faster, actually has the SSD, and even has the nicer AMD W5000 video card.



As I say in every post like this: CPU is King. Always has been, and it will be for a while. Don't get dual CPU setups for SolidWorks modeling; that is a horrible mistake. Get the highest frequency Intel CPU you can, then an SSD second, and a better video card third. Make sure you have enough RAM for whatever your models require by doing a test and looking at your task manager. The real way to get ahead today is to buy a machine that is overclocked, and there are safe and reliable ways to do that.