CAD is no longer a software category. It’s no longer committed to mini computers the size of a car. CAD is now an entire discipline. It encompasses masses of hobbyists, engineers, construction professionals, architects and builders of all sorts. This discipline in turn requires a separate category of computers known as Workstations. Welcome to this article discussing how to pick a workstation and reviews of the best CAD workstation products.
The important thing to take away from this article is that different softwares require different workstation specifications to perform at their best hence the intention of this series lies in equipping CAD users with enough knowledge to configure a worthy CAD workstation for themselves.
This is an industrial-grade solution to CAD computing. Among the best and most powerful workstations in the market.
- Intel Quad-Core
- 32 GB RAM, 3TB HDD and 1000GB SSD
- Windows 7 Pro
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|CybertronPC Blueprint||Typical Specifications:|
The machine is able to run all the tools a professional CAD user might need. The 4 core CPU with the 2GB GDDR5 GPU will give more than enough speed and strength.
- Intel A4 Processor 3.50 GHz
- 16GB DDR3 RAM
- 2000 GB 5400 rpm Hard Drive
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|Titan Computers X150 Workstation|
It comes with Nvidia Quadro K620 2GB Professional video card and the amount of RAM will make this machine work perfectly even for those with Autodesk AutoCAD, SolidWorks, or any other intensive software.
- 3.1 GHz Intel Xeon Processor
- 8 GB RAM
- 1 TB HDD 7200 rpm
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How to Choose the Best CAD Workstation
I’m going to talk about Intel processors as a personal criteria. The thing about Intel processors is that their pipelines are meant for longer streams of data, those streams that are most common to visual computation. All my reviews favor Intel architecture specifically because the processors are structured in a way which in turns deals best with all kinds of CAD functionality.
When it comes to building a CAD workstation, CPU is generally considered to be the king. The majority of CAD operations you will find these days are CPU based so the better the CPU clock speed and the high the number of cores the better. This will help reducing the time it takes your software to rebuild and render files. For example, 2D drawing in Solidworks is where it will use multiple cores and assign a core to each drawing view in your active drawing sheet. Hence a quad core CPU with Hyper-Threading will outperform a dual core CPU.
The speed of a processor is frequently listed as its “clock speed” and is measured in GHz. The core count tells you how many cores per CPU are allocated to it. For instance, an i7-4790k GHZ quad core processor has 4 cores, each running at 4.0GHz. Multicore threading technology is a must so more threads can be allocated to the rendering process. The cache sizes need to be in the range of 8MBs if you’re a serious CAD designer. This would enable you to use the largest datasets, no matter how big the header file, the number of caches and their respective sizes will do wonders when the render is underway.
What to get? More Cores or more speed?
The answer to this question depends on what kind of work will you be doing, rendering or CAD design? Rendering is a core churning operation so the more cores you have the faster render times you are expected to get. I have read a lot of posts alluding to the fact that most people believe rendering is performed by GPU when it is primarily a CPU based process. Some modern rendering programs take advantage of the GPU at times but that does hold not true for majority of the programs. This is normally done by utilizing the GPU’s cores to aid the CPU in rendering processes. When we say rendering is a multi-threaded operation that means it will utilize more than one processor at a time. So the more cores you have the faster the render will be hence a quad core processor is able to perform much better in rendering compared to a dual core processor. You can also opt for multiple CPUs depending on the motherboard.
If we talk about modeling with 3D CAD software (such as SolidWorks), it is primarily a single threaded operation meaning that it will use only one core at a time. So if you want to build the best CAD workstations for 3D modelling then the higher the clock speed the faster your designing process will be. It is not surprising to see that a 3.2 GHZ dual core processor faster at modelling than a 2.8 GHZ Quad core processor.
Graphics Card for CAD Workstations
The video card is responsible for displaying your 3D models on the screen and after the processor it is considered the second most important piece of hardware. It has nothing to do with rebuild times, processing, or anything except to offer a refresh rate of the 3D graphics on screen in frames per second (FPS). The graphics card is there for visual display of the model when you roll, pan or zoom. The difference between a high end GPU compared to a low end one is seen when you rotate a model that starts to become choppy since the GPU is not fast enough to compute the hidden and contour lines when the view changes. You won’t feel this difference when you move from a mid-range to a high end card since those cards provide a frame rate of 60 FPS but it is actually your monitor this time that is causing the bottleneck.
AMD Fire Pro
Talking about 3D CAD applications you will need a professional, OpenGL graphics card and not a DirectX one. This is because an OpenGL card will calculate higher detail models at relatively lower frame rates which is opposite to what the DirectX does. The same philosophy applies to graphics card when it comes to CAD, when choosing a graphics card you want to keep in mind the type of work you will be doing. If your work requires you to handle very large assemblies with numerous parts then go for a GPU with more memory otherwise your GPU performance will suffer from lag and stutter. Check out reviews of the best graphics cards here.
RAM amounts need to be 8 GB at the very least if you’re a serious CAD enthusiast or if this is your profession. If your bread and butter comes from CAD, 8 GB’s is the least you can settle with. Autodesk’s AutoCAD requires the most (16 GB for best performance, 8GB for regular) but since that’s an extreme we take 8 GB to be the working average. Any DDR version should do, DDR3 is pretty commonplace within the “premium-grade equipment” circle, and a few entries even have DDR4. Make sure to check out the detailed guide to choosing the best RAM for CAD.
Actually if we talk about Solidworks, assemblies behave the same way as parts do with the CPU but there are two things to be aware of. Your PC should have enough RAM to load all of the parts into memory otherwise it will start consuming virtual memory of your computer and you don’t want that. The other thing which is only now beginning to appear in posts is the effect of having a SSD compared to HDD. Since CAD performance is tangled in the ability of HDD/SSD providing data at a faster rate for the RAM to load, I’m going to cover Storage suggestion here as well.
The widely accepted idea is to have both SSD and HDD since SSDs are extremely fast at loading and transferring data to RAM compared to HDDs. For this very reason people dedicate their SSDs to windows, softwares and projects they are currently working on whereas things which don’t fall in daily routine are kept in HDDs. All I ask of you is to try using SSD one time, trust me you will never go back to using HDDs. Check out this article on reviews of the best SSD for CAD.
Optical drives are not really a point of discussion because they don’t really contribute to CAD development by themselves, instead are means of storage of data which can be CAD related. Since all the CPUs and GPUs are pretty high-end and power is a necessary resource, an 850W power supply is a good option. Almost all the systems review will have this. Anything less is risky and anything greater is a waste.
Best CAD Workstation Reviews
- Haswell Intel i7 4790K 4.0ghz Quad Core
- 32 GB RAM, 3TB HDD and 1000GB SSD
- FirePro V7900 w/2GB, Windows 7 Pro
This beast of raw power is hardware in its prime, an industrial grade solution to all CAD commitments. At ~50 pounds (22 kilos) this behemoth box holds a 4790K i7 Quad core processor clocking 4Ghz. With 32GB of DDR3 SDRAM and 1TB on SSD, everything from saving files to CAD development quick and responsive. Following this, a FirePro 2GB GPU handsomely accompanies the rest of the assortments with a whooping 2GB GDDR5 of visual throughput and a max resolution output of 2560×1600 @ 60Hz. With four different HDMI ports any combination of flat screens or LEDs would lush your workspace.
Empowering this mammoth of technology is an 850W power supply and a water cooled mid tower CPU casing. 10 USB ports give you extra room for peripheral connectivity and two audio out ports means your friends can join in to listen to whatever your listening. 8 of the ports are USB 2.0 with a variation available in the USB 3.0 ports, depending on the board's make. One make supports 6 whereas the packaged board supports 2. The SATA ports are 6 in total with a 6.0 GBps transfer rate.
The Haswell based system is a CPU Solutions glamour/model product highlighting the high-end box with a pumped up array of assortments squeezing out the kind of juice any Hollywood professional or skyscraper construction company needs for development and production. It’s the basket you want to put all your eggs in, because even the most high-end software, requires 16 GB of RAM. This system has double. The processor requirements start and end well before the included processor is capable of. The tower is a linear cuboid with sharp edges and vertical side vents. The sleek look makes it look like a tower-shaped UFO with a smooth front. And yes the smooth front means no optical drive comes included. With the buttons on the top edge, the buttons, audio/USB ports are easily reachable and that’s the extent of frontal accessibility.
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|Multicore processor||Only 8 parallel threads|
|32 GB RAM, 1TB SSD||Expensive|
|Water cooled casing, sleek design||Limited frontal access|
|Extra USB, display ports, PCI Express slots||AMD GPU on Intel architecture|
|6 SATA ports @ 6GBps||No optical drive|
CybertronPC Blueprint CAD1194E Desktop
- 4th Gen. Intel Core i7-4770K 3.5GHz
- 16GB DDR3| 2TB HDD
- NVIDIA Quadro K2000 2GB Video Card
Another solid middle weight entry is the CybertronPC Blueprint CAD1194E Desktop for a middle-weight price tag of USD 1,499.99. At almost 20 lbs in weight the Intel Quad-core i7 clocks 3.5 GHz with a max of 3.9 GHz in turbo. A 64-bit architecture for 8 cores and 16 parallel threads promises a visible boost in multi-core CAD simulation software. SolidWorks due to its resilience is an unofficial benchmark. If SolidWorks runs well, the machine’s good enough, hence run a SolidWorks simulation/render and you’ll see the difference.
The AVX (Advanced Vector Extensions) and VT-d (Virtualization technology for directed I/O) are Intel products amongst others which maximize performance for rendering.
And of course, the GPU. The 4 core CPU goes well hand in hand with the 2GB GDDR5 GPU. Coupling off the due gives a maximum resolution of 3840 x 2160 at 60Hz, accelerating all rendering tasks by taking on greater datasets with its 64.0 GB/s memory bandwidth. With this kind of power, the question is what are you going to design?
Click here to see reviews and prices for CybertronPC Blueprint desktop workstations on Amazon.com
|Multi core, more threads||All benchmarks are average, except processor|
|Virtualization technology||Ordinary design/bleek look|
|Premium CPU||Gaming GPU|
Titan Computers X150 Workstation
- Intel Xeon E3-1220V3 Haswell
- 8GB of RAM, Nvidia Quadro K620 2GB
- 1TB 7200 RPM HDD, Windows 8.1 Pro
This product is also high-end, just a notch below the Cybertron. Packing in 3.1Ghz (3.5 in Turbo) the quad-core chip is a Haswell V3. It’s of Xeon make and use the ASRock Z97 overclooking Formula. With 8 GB of DDR3 RAM and 1TB of storage, the tower is meant to perform for those looking for performance when they have some free time. The processor is well known to be the least expensive of the quad-core line ever but doesn’t fail to deliver.
The amount of RAM covers the requirements easily for all kinds of software, even those for Autodesk AutoCAD and its platinum suite. I mention this software here because the amount of RAM and processor throughput required by this software is the maximum anywhere in the software arena. The first system reviewed surpasses these requirements easily and this one is just spot-on.
Click here to see reviews and prices for Titan Computers X150 workstation on Amazon.com
|Relatively cheaper||Third position in terms of performance|
|Quad core, Xeon||Will need upgrades within a year|
|Windows 8.1||RAM is 8GB, half way on our benchmark|
At the end, I’d like to leave you off with a last note. A personal opinion, because if I had the extra cash, I’d definitely go for the first listing, hands down. Per core it’s 4.0GHz, but the other systems have fewer cores hence fewer threads. The GPU is a better suited to the Intel architecture. 3TB of HDD is good. Minor pluses considering the overall price comparison are always a bargain. Choosing the best CAD workstation can save you time in designing and headaches!