The CAD Workstation Configuration Cheat Sheet

7 Jul, 2015 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: To ensure you've got the computing power your software requires, check these guidelines before you make your purchase.

With all the attention paid to technologies that are not yet in everyday use in many workplaces — such as the cloud and 3D printing — it amazes me how little most CAD managers (and users) truly understand about the workstation hardware available right now to run the software we already have.

I've received a number of questions about hardware in the past few months, so in this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll give you some quick pointers about hardware technology that will help you specify the right machines for your users and get the most from the software you rely on every day. Here goes.

The Processor and Cores

Since most CAD programs run primarily on a single processor core, getting a machine with a high number of cores is actually less important than getting a machine with a processor that is very fast and has a lot of cache on board. Of course, if a user is running CAD plus analysis tools, visualization tools, spreadsheets, and many other tools, he or she may indeed be able to use more than four cores effectively. For most CAD users, however, four cores will do.

The next time you visit a hardware manufacturer's web site, take the time to note the processor speed and cache size and you'll notice the following:

  • Xeon processors outperform i7 processors
  • i7s outperform i5s
  • Xeons have by far the highest amount of onboard cache to support the processor cores.

Conclusion: Buy the fastest processor with the highest amount of cache you can afford, and worry about the number of cores last.


The more RAM, the better, but be sure to install it in the correct manner to get the best effect! In today's market, 16 GB should be considered the minimum — and that goes for laptops as well. That amount will, in fact, serve most CAD users well.

When purchasing RAM, make sure you do the following:

  • Buy the fastest RAM that your processor can support.
  • Buy all RAM modules in the same size and same speed rating.
  • Fill all RAM module slots — do not leave open slots.

Conclusion: If you follow these rules, you'll achieve the greatest possible speed and will take advantage of all available memory channels that link the RAM to the processor cores.

Note: For some practical advice on computing how much RAM you really need, see this edition's CAD Manager's Toolbox.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: The CAD Workstation Configuration Cheat Sheet
by: Engrtech
July 8, 2015 - 3:09pm
"Xeon processors outperform i7 processors" This is not necessarily true. Core i7 processors generally run faster than Xeons, but don't have as much cache. Xeons usually have lower clock speeds than the i7s.
Re: The CAD Workstation Configuration Cheat Sheet
by: neaton
July 11, 2015 - 12:36pm
Very timely article since I am researching for a new computer. Thanks for summarizing the different processors and RAM requirements.