What goes into meeting the workstation requirements for CAD systems

JAN 13, 2019

Workstation requirements for a Designer


Workstation requirements for CAD systems like AutoCAD, Revit, Civil 3D, and Solidworks.

One of the more frequent questions we get from our customers is what are the computer workstation requirements for CAD systems like Autocad, Revit, Civil 3D, Solidworks, Inventor, 3Ds Max, and others? Let's find out. 

In a previous blog post, we tackled the best cad mouse and recommended what works best for us.

In the current installment, we will talk about the best CAD workstation. This is the computer itself.  This blog post applies to a median CAD software like Civil 3D, which will have a requirement much higher than AutoCAD, but lower than modeling and rendering packages like Solidworks, 3Ds Max and such. So you will need to adjust the requirements a notch higher or lower, depending on your CAD software.

There are several important factors in choosing a workstation to run Civil 3D. 

Desktop or Laptop Computer for CAD?

Desktops are still the most dominant form of office computers. Even though laptops and tiny forms are becoming more and more common, you still get more bangs for your bucks with a traditional desktop. This is simply because their frame allows you to host more power.

 So, what goes into the workstation requirements for CAD systems? Let's see the most important factors.

CAD Operating System

The operating system is the most obvious one. Civil 3D can run on most recent operating systems. You should just get the latest you can afford. At a minimum, we recommend window 7, with the most recent office software and browsers for online help.

CAD CPU or Processor

Workstation CPU requirements for CAD systems

The CPU is the Central Processing Unit. This is really the computer brain. It takes all input orders and allocated the necessary resources within the computer to get the task executed the more efficiently possible. So, it is obvious that to get an efficient working computer to need a well-performing CPU.

When it comes to AutoCAD, Civil 3D, Revit, Solidworks, and other CAD software, The CPU needs to meet workstation requirements for CAD systems. The two main factors of the CPU are the clock speed and memory. Again, like humans, some of the best performers are those who think fast and retain a lot. See a trend?

The Clock Speed

We recommend a minimum CPU clock speed of 3MHz. You maybe get away with a little under that threshold, but for any serious CAD productions, this is the minimum we recommend. This probably is one of the most important factors. The clock speed is how fast a computer can execute a task. The higher the better. For heavy-duty CAD jobs, we recommend at least 3.5MHz of speed. Small 2d tasks can be executed just fine with 2.6MHz and up.

Memory (RAM)

For the memory, we recommend 16GB to 32GB. 

Anything above that is probably overkilled, and the cost-benefit gets less justifiable.

Autocad products are notoriously narrow-minded in terms of using available memory. The reason is that Autocad was initially designed as a sequential execution program. This means that one task needs to be executed first before another one starts. For that reason, AutoCAD itself doesn't use all the CORES. Unless you want to run other programs simultaneously, there is no need to go bonkers on the number of cores.

GPU

The GPU is what is most commonly referred to as the Graphics Card. This is the Unit that allows you to display information on the monitor. 

Workstation GPU requirements for CAD systems

Typically, Autodesk has recommended NVidia brand graphic cards, most notably Quadro or GeForce cards. Even though there is more and more push back from enthusiasts of gaming computer graphics cards. Indeed, more and more users are getting very good performance from gaming cards. Alternatively, you can settle for the GTX series cards, especially from the 1050 and above series.

However, we always recommend using a Quadro card when possible. The P2000 has proven to be a sweet spot when combining performance and cost.  This graphics card provides enough power for almost any kind of CAD design environment. It seats right on the boundary of CAD and VR ready computing.

For a typical 2D plan drafting, a less expensive graphics card such a K600 or equivalent should get the job done.


Display Resolution

CAD people are known to stay long hours in front of monitors.  So, you should do your best to make those hours comfortable and easy on the eyes. 

The bare minimum to meet workstation requirements for CAD systems should be an HD resolution 1920 x 1080 with True Color. However, if you can afford a 4K Display (3840 x 2160) resolution, you should do it.

Storage

You will need at least 520 GB SSD (Solid State Drive). An SSD drive provides so much speed compared to traditional HDD (Hard Disk Drive).

Memory or RAM (Random Access Memory)

The RAM is the memory that is available on an as-need basis; Autodesk products are known for their inefficient usage of available memory. Most CAD products don’t use multi-thread computing. This means that most of the time anything more than a 4-core processor is a waste. A 16GB RAM is most of the time more than enough to meet workstation requirements for CAD systems.  In the most extreme of the cases, a 32GB RAM is the higher end. You can go higher for something like 64GB if you plan to use other software simultaneously with your CAD package. 

So, what Workstation do you recommend?

Workstation requirements for CAD systems

Well, there are plenty of computers on the market that meet the above requirement. However, the question is which one can you get for the best price. Some known CAD workhorses are the HP Z series, the Dell Precision series, the Lenovo ThinkStation, and others.

Among these workstations, our best experience is with the Lenovo P320 Tower workstation which meets the workstation requirements for CAD systems. This computing beast can be had, for less than $1,800, with the following specs. If it's currently out of stock, you should simply look for the equivalent successor.

  • i7-7700K Processor 
  • 3.60 GHz
  • NVIDIA® Quadro® P2000 8GB
  • 32 GB (4 x slots)
  • 1TB SDD *via PCI-e add-in-card

If it's currently out of stock, you should simply look for the equivalent successor.