Three Ways to Get the Most Out of Your CAD Workstation

12 Mar, 2014 By: Thomas A. Salomone

Hardware configuration may not be a top-of-mind concern, but making educated choices when you choose your next workstation can substantially improve your productivity.

For CAD professionals, productivity is fundamental to the success of the business. Your company’s ability to generate revenue is dependent upon delivering design work in a timely manner, and you simply can’t afford to be hindered by underperforming applications. As a result, you need to not only find the best-performing technology to run your applications, but also ensure the hardware is optimized for maximum productivity.

This is easier said than done. Workstation technology is expensive and ever-changing, and users have countless other things to think about on a daily basis, with hardware configuration low on the priority list. Many users develop simple rules of thumb for purchasing their workstation — e.g., buy the fastest processor, get plenty of memory, and choose a fast graphics card — but in reality, the decision is more complex than this. Too many users shortchange themselves and unintentionally limit their performance, only to end up paying for it in reduced productivity.

In this article, you will find simple ways to identify your CAD workstation needs, determine the best configuration, and ensure that your machine is optimized for your workflow.

Determine Your Application and File Needs

The first step in choosing a workstation is to understand approximately how much time you spend with each major application. With new equipment, the goal should always be to maximize productivity. For example, if you spend most of your time in a particular CAD application, you need to ensure you’re getting the best performance possible during those hours. Other applications, such as e-mail and web browsers, are not as demanding of computer processing resources, but it’s important to keep additional applications in mind when calculating your overall production time.

Once you’ve determined your main application usage, the next step is to understand your typical maximum model size, and its impact on your workstation memory. This is not as easy as just looking it up in your document file — you need more information than just the size in megabytes. Start by loading your largest file; this will load the data, plus pull in associated software libraries from the OS and the application. Next, pull up the Task Manager, look under “Performance,” and note how much memory you’re using. Regularly exceeding your memory limit will have a substantial negative effect on performance. If this is the case, you won’t be able to see your actual usage. You can estimate the amount of memory needed in your workstation by multiplying the stored memory by 12. This multiplier is an estimate of how much the file expands when brought into main memory.

Equip Yourself for Success

Now that you’ve identified your primary applications and determined the largest file sizes you typically use, you are ready to specify your equipment needs, beginning with the processor. For CAD users, there are some unique considerations. The first is that CAD applications have what is referred to as a kernel — the part of the application that calculates the shapes you draw so they can be precisely established. This entails complex mathematical calculations, and every time you change a shape or property, you’re putting the kernel within the CAD application to work. These kernels are single-threaded by nature, and in many cases limit the productivity of the system. Therefore, when considering a processor for CAD, you need to ensure you’re getting the most powerful processor available to compute these highly complex calculations.

But it’s not as simple as saying, “Just give me the fastest processor you’ve got.” You should also look for the Turbo Boost feature, indicating Intel processors that have the ability to operate faster than the rated speed for short intervals. In CAD applications you will use this mode often, so you’ll want the processor with the best Turbo Boost rating. Once you get your system, make sure the Turbo Boost setting is turned on; otherwise, you’ll miss a critical opportunity to bolster your performance and productivity.

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About the Author: Thomas A. Salomone

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