CAD Manager's Newsletter (#378)

21 Feb, 2017 By: Robert Green

How to Choose Workstation Components That Can Handle CAD

Which processor, memory, and GPU options will support your CAD software — and your users — most effectively? Learn how to make smart choices when specifying your next purchase.

If the e-mail and Facebook messages I receive almost daily are any indication, there's still a lot of confusion among CAD managers about which hardware components are required to run CAD applications effectively. A related request I hear frequently is, "Please help me convince my IT/senior management staffs that we need to buy better hardware."

In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll strive to clear up CAD hardware confusion as I explain the technical basics of workstation components and explain the financial advantages of buying the right hardware — not the cheapest. Here goes.

The Processor — Feeding the Need for Speed

Most commercial CAD software programs today still process the bulk of their task load on a single core. This means that it isn't the number of cores on the processor that determines how well your software will run, but the maximum speed of the processor that matters. Even software applications that handle large data sets, such as Revit, Inventor, SOLIDWORKS, and MicroStation, fit into this single-core operation paradigm.

So, unless you're running massive parallel analysis processes or rendering motion picture–level videos, the processor best suited to your purposes will almost always be the processor with the highest frequency, known as the clock rate. For typical CAD tools and workloads, it is better to have a 4-core processor running at 4 GHz than an 8-core processor topping out at 3 GHz, for example.

Purchasing recommendation: Workstations with the fastest processors only cost a little more than their slower counterparts, yet deliver substantially better CAD performance — so max out the clock rate.

Senior management note: Buying anything less than the fastest 4-core processors we can afford is a false economy. If we can invest an extra $200 in a workstation that will save countless processing hours during its three-year lifespan, we're getting a great return on our investment.

RAM and Disk Subsystems — Maximizing the Essential Support Staff

But having a fast processor is only part of the answer, because all the other systems in the workstation have a role to play in making sure the processor can operate at its maximum speed. Just as you wouldn't buy a race car with a go-cart engine in it, you shouldn't buy a fast processor without putting the appropriate supporting components into your workstation as well. Consider the following:

Memory. If the processor doesn't have adequate random-access memory (RAM), then it must go back and forth to the system disk to work with data. The data channel speed from the processor to the RAM is optimized to feed the processor at maximum speed; the disk speed may be way, way slower in comparison. Read more »

Tools and Resources

New Cadalyst Tip Sheet Covers Input Devices for CAD
Cadalyst has published Cadalyst Pro Tips #7: Which CAD Input Device Is Right for You? to help simplify the choice between standard mouse, gaming mouse, 3D mouse, trackball, and more. Every tip sheet in the Pro Tips series is now available for immediate download, with no registration required. Pro Tips provide tips, advice, and overviews in a simple, easy-to-read, one-page format.

What's New at

SOLIDWORKS World 2017, Part 2: What to Expect from SOLIDWORKS 2018
In addition to modeling and user interface enhancements, Dassault Systèmes plans to launch applications for CAM, project and process management, and nonlinear simulation this year. Read more »

SOLIDWORKS World 2017, Part 1: New Products and Services for SOLIDWORKS Users
Virtual reality, 3D printing, and much more are highlights of this year's Partner Pavilion. Read more »

Tyme Wear Designs Breath-Monitoring Shirts in SOLIDWORKS
Startup envisions clothing that helps wearers better understand — and care for — their own bodies. Read more »

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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