You've invested in SOLIDWORKS for your 3D designs, now what? You want to know what the best hardware is to optimize your investment and get the most out of your software. Learn what works best for your specific needs in our blog.
Not a One-Size Fits All Solution
Finding hardware recommendations from an official SOLIDWORKS source is difficult. A quick web search reveals a single page on the SOLIDWORKS site with minimum specs but doesn’t provide as much detail as some of us would like. SOLIDWORKS is an extremely versatile tool used by a wide range of customers in various industries. It’s flexibility and depth of features makes SOLIDWORKS a great solution for 3D mechanical design but different companies need different hardware depending on the tasks they are performing. Where can you find the right information to get the hardware you need without breaking the bank?
The first thing to consider is the task at hand. Will you be regularly creating and modifying large assemblies with thousands of parts? Or will you be creating simple parts, assemblies and drawings? Your day to day use of the software dictates your performance needs. The hardware requirements lie on a spectrum but it’s recommended to start by purchasing the best processor you can in your price range.
This is the single most influential component in your workstation. In general, faster CPU speeds are better for parametric modeling. This is because parametric models must be solved linearly. However, SOLIDWORKS can make use of multi-core processors when rendering images (PhotoView 360 and Visualize), running simulation analysis (Simulation and Flow), processing UI activities, rendering 2D drawing views, and even opening files in some cases.
At a minimum, start with the Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5; these CPUs are perfect for simple parts, assemblies and drawings. If you’re working on large assemblies and/or geometrically complex parts you may want to move up to a Core i7 or Ryzen 7 for a mid-range workstation. If you’re looking for a high-end machine, focus on processors with high clock speeds AND multiple processor cores like the Intel Xeon or AMD Naples.
The graphics card is simply responsible for displaying your 3D content on screen. More specifically, it generates the visual display when you pan, zoom or rotate. It doesn’t improve rebuild times, processing, loading of files, etc. There are only a few officially supported cards types:
- Nvidia Quadro
- AMD Radeon Pro (previously called FirePro)
- Intel Iris (or “HD”)
You can use other graphics cards but your performance will suffer greatly and you may even see artifacts on the screen as well. To make sure that the card is running its best you must use the SOLIDWORKS certified driver. A driver is software that allows your Operating System (e.g. Windows) to communicate with your hardware.
The most important thing to remember is that the latest driver may not be the best driver – even if you download it from the manufacturer’s website.
It’s very common for our Technical Support team to get calls from customers experiencing poor performance after they’ve upgraded to the latest driver (or Microsoft Update upgraded for you) instead of the certified driver from the SOLIDWORKS Graphics Card website.
A final consideration for graphics cards and photo rendering with SOLIDWORKS Visualize. This tool is not only limited to using your CPU to render but can also use your GPU – as long as it’s a CUDA capable card. There are a few cards available that support this processing mechanism and they all come from nVidia, so if rendering with Visualize is important you should purchase one of these cards.
System Memory (RAM)
Another consideration is RAM – Random Access Memory. This is the temporary storage location for files that are opened in SOLIDWORKS. Purchase plenty of RAM – it’s relatively inexpensive. Start with 8GB if you’re only creating simple parts, assemblies and drawings. If you’re commonly working with large assemblies go for 32GB or more if you can. The reasoning is simple: increasing RAM doesn’t speed up your system but acts as a ceiling for data you can work on at once. So, if you are working on a large assembly you’ll need enough of a ceiling to open the document as well as keep all other processes running such as your Operating System, working documents, web browser, email client, etc. One last caveat; even computers with relatively low RAM should be able to open a large assembly if it contains few errors, SpeedPak & Large Assembly Mode are used, and all other best practices are in place.
A high performance hard drive is commonly overlooked because it’s just “where your files are stored” – but when you consider its role in your day to day workflow, you’ll see just how important it is. SOLIDWORKS pulls files from your hard drive into RAM and works on them from there. When you save your work, it overwrites the previous data. It’s important to have a hard drive with the ability to read and write quickly: I/O speed.
In the past, a RAID array (multiple hard drives linked together for greater speed) was required to maximize your workstations potential because the I/O speed of a drive was limited by the physical spinning of a disk. In recent years, solid state drives (SSDs) have become the standard. These types of drives use storage media similar to RAM but it has been adjusted for permanent storage of data. SSDs can read and write at significantly higher rates than traditional hard drives which means your computer will open and save much more quickly and, as a bonus, power on and restart with lightning speed.
Keep in mind that even if you are working in a collaborative environment with centralized storage (e.g. NAS, server, or SOLIDWORKS PDM), you will still benefit from having a high performance hard drive. Working directly over the network to open and save files is not a recommended workflow because it increases the chance for corrupting files and increases the risk of overwriting previous work. Therefore, each file must first be downloaded from the server to your local drive and then pulled into RAM. This might sound daunting, but there is a solution: let SOLIDWORKS PDM manage this workflow for you. If you aren’t using SOLIDWORKS PDM right now, you probably should be and it comes free with most licenses of SOLIDWORKS. For more information reach out to your VAR.
Peripherals like monitors and mice typically don’t make it on these lists but they are critical to every productive CAD session as they are the interface between you and your design.
A good monitor (or two) satisfies two requirements: size and clarity. It will be large enough to provide enough screen real estate while physically fitting in your design space. It must also have high resolution and sharp image which reduce strain and fatigue. You may want to consider dual monitors which enables you to run SOLIDWORKS on one monitor and any supporting documents on the other. SOLIDWORKS supports spanning displays for those large projects that could benefit from more screen real estate.
If you’ll be using PhotoView 360 or SOLIDWORKS Visualize for photo-realistic rendering, make sure you get an IPS monitor to accurately reproduce color and improved brightness. IPS monitors also increase viewing angle which comes in handy during collaborative design reviews where the design team is huddled around a single workstation. SOLIDWORKS also supports 4K monitors for the highest in resolution and clarity although these typically cost more.
A proper CAD Workstation wouldn’t be complete without a good keyboard and mouse. This might seem like the best place to save some money but this is how you physically interact with your 3D environment. Using a keyboard with squishy keys or a mouse with poor tracking would be like driving a car with a Playskool© steering wheel. Appropriate tactile feedback is critical and, if you’re planning on modeling for hours at a time, a low-end mouse and keyboard will increase fatigue and stress. Purchase these items from a well-known brand.
Honorable mention for 3D Mice like the 3Dconnextion SpaceMouse wich can improve your ability to pan, zoom and rotate your project and gives you useful hotkey commands.These devices can improve your ability to pan, zoom and rotate your project and gives you useful hotkey commands. If you’re looking to take your productivity to the next level I would consider purchasing one of these.
Finding More Information
For more information about recommended hardware for your SOLIDWORKS workstation, reach out to your VAR. As a subscription service customer, you may be entitled to a hardware recommendation guide with more detailed information on the above mentioned hardware as well as information on supported operating systems, product specific hardware recommendations, network requirements, 3rd party software and suggested desktop and laptop models for your specific needs.
If you’re a TriMech client you can reach out to our Technical Support team at 888-TRI-MECH to download the 16-page “TriMech Recommended Hardware Guide.” It goes into much more detail on these topics.
Here’s a sample of the guide’s ‘new computer recommendation’ page:
 SOLIDWORKS now offers limited support GeForce series GPUs in special cases. As of this writing the new Microsoft Surface Book is the only special case. You can find the latest tested – not certified – driver from the same SOLIDWORKS graphics card drivers page. Under the “Driver Status” dropdown make sure you select “tested.”
 Intel HD series cards are integrated in the CPU which means that they typically offer lower performance than a dedicated card.