SOLIDWORKS is the leader in professional CAD modeling software and each year brings new features and capabilities to their suite of products. However, all that power can come at a cost in system performance, especially when working with large assemblies. The bright side is there are quite a few things you can do to help speed things up in your workflow besides drinking more coffee.
In this first part of a two-part series, we’ll focus on the components and specs of your system environment that affects the performance of SOLIDWORKS on your machine. This includes improvements and tweaks to your computer’s hardware and software. The following installment will cover modeling techniques which yield better performance.
Keep in mind that every system has its unique limits. There’s only so much you can do with antiquated hardware or massive assemblies with tens of thousands of components. Whatever your system’s limits may be, whether you consider a large assembly to be 500 components or 5000 components, something here will help you achieve better performance out of your computer.
As you would probably guess, getting the best hardware possible will have a large impact on system performance. You need plenty of memory, a fast processor, a SOLIDWORKS certified graphics card and a fast hard drive for file storage. System requirements change with every new release of SOLIDWORKS, so we’re going to cover how different hardware components contribute to performance and the best guidelines for each.
Adding more RAM to a slow system is a cost-effective way to boost performance. Having insufficient RAM creates a bottleneck for processes and acts as a sort of speed limit on your system. If a system often uses close to 100%, then adding more will boost performance. Adding more to a system that already has plenty won’t help, but it also can’t hurt.
SOLIDWORKS, like other parametric modelers, primarily relies on linear processing. This means that one core will be doing most of the work. Multiple cores are utilized for some tasks, add-ins, and other Windows processes. Adding cores will help, but you will reach a point of diminishing returns. That said, a quad core processor is a good thing to have. (Overclocking can boost your processor speed but it can also cause overheating issues, so make sure you know what you’re doing if you decide to go this route.)
Graphics Card (GPU)
SOLIDWORKS relies heavily on graphics, and nothing will hamstring your system faster than a graphics card that is not up to snuff. SOLIDWORKS 2019 and later supports OpenGL 4.5 hardware acceleration. A compatible SOLIDWORKS certified GPU will help tremendously here. The SOLIDWORKS Hardware Certification page helps you find supported hardware and up to date drivers. If you can't find your GPU on the list, it may still work but you won’t get the best possible performance.
Solid-state drives (SSD) read and write data much faster than old style hard disk drives (HDD). Using SSD’s instead of HDD’s for file storage will speed up SOLIDWORKS when opening and saving files. Unfortunately, SSD’s are much more expensive per GB of storage space than HDD’s. The good news is SSD prices have dropped steadily in recent years.
The SOLIDWORKS Rx application, launched either from the Task Pane in SOLIDWORKS or as a stand-alone application, can help you determine how your system is performing and what hardware you have. The Diagnostics tab will give you information about your current system and warnings about potential problems. The Benchmark tab lets you test your system and see how it scores compared to other users. The results can help point you in the right direction if system performance isn’t what it should be.
Working across a network can also slow your machine down, which depends entirely on your network environment. Additionally, inadequate hardware or software problems can contribute to network lag issues. This is something most users have no control over. If you’re in that boat and suspect your network is negatively impacting performance, try working entirely from your machine’s local storage when possible. If it helps, check with IT to see if it’s something that can easily be fixed. It might be as simple as excluding SOLIDWORKS files from anti-virus scans.
One of the advantages of using SOLIDWORKS PDM for file management is that it keeps files safe in the network vault while allowing you to work from copies in a local cache. You can get the benefits of an office network along with the benefits of working from local file storage.
Software Settings and Options
Over the years the SOLIDWORKS Research & Development Team have provided many options to help improve performance. Those listed below do not require special preparation of your documents beyond changing some settings or using readily available options.
Users often hold off on upgrading SOLIDWORKS until they are a few service packs behind, or even a few years behind. There are many reasons this can sometimes be necessary. But each year’s release of SOLIDWORKS includes ‘under the hood’ improvements to the file formats themselves. Working with documents saved in a more recent format is an easy way to speed things up a bit.
This is especially true of SOLIDWORKS 2021 , which is noticeably faster than 2020 at opening, updating, closing, and rebuilding documents. It’s also faster when opening files with many configurations, creating new configurations, or switching between them. I ran a test on two copies of an assembly with 247 components, one with all files pre-saved in the 2020 format, and the other in 2021 format. SOLIDWORKS 2021 opened the assembly 31% faster than SOLIDWORKS 2020! When opening the assembly in Lightweight Mode, 2021 was about 17% faster. This was just one test with one assembly, but it made a believer out of me.
Turn Off Unused Add-Ins
There are many Add-in products for SOLIDWORKS. Some will only load when you activate them, and others load every time you launch SOLIDWORKS. This adds to the load time. Go to Tools > Add-ins… to bring up the Add-ins dialog box. Look in the Start Up column and uncheck whatever you don’t want loaded by default. Just make sure you don’t turn off something important you are using, like SOLIDWORKS PDM.
I suggest always opening assemblies in Lightweight Mode instead of Resolved Mode. Rather than loading all the data for every component’s feature tree into RAM (fully resolved), only the data needed to work with the components in the assembly is loaded. You can still do just about anything in Lightweight that you can do in Resolved Mode. In SOLIDWORKS 2020 and earlier, if you need to access the full Feature Tree of a component, you right click on it and pick the ‘Set to Resolved’ option. In SOLIDWORKS 2021 and later, you don’t even have to right-click. Just expand the component's tree and it automatically resolves it for you! Your workflow is the same as if you had fully resolved the entire assembly, but you won’t clutter up your RAM.
There is an option to always open assemblies in Lightweight Mode at Tools > Options > System Options > Performance > Automatically load components lightweight.
Use Large Assembly Settings
When you open an assembly from the Open dialog box, or when you already have an assembly open, you have the option to use Large Assembly Settings. This toggles a collection of system settings to ON or OFF to improve performance. The most noticeable one to me is changing the Shaded with Edges display style to Shaded. Displaying those crisp black edges on models helps the items on the screen ‘pop’ for human eyes, but it’s a fair bit of extra work for the computer.
You can set a threshold number of components beyond which SOLIDWORKS will automatically open assemblies by accessing this dialog box: Tools > Options > System Options > Assemblies > Use Lightweight mode and Large Assembly Settings when the number of components exceeds. The default is 500 components. If you're having a lot of trouble with your assemblies, try setting it much lower.
Unload Hidden Components
By default, hidden assembly components are loaded into memory just like visible components. Clearing the Load hidden components checkbox in the Open dialog box will save that bit of memory.
Large Design Review Mode
This mode isn’t one you’re likely to use daily. Its primary purpose is to open large assemblies as quickly as possible by loading very little data into RAM. This seriously limits, but does not eliminate, your ability to make changes to the assembly if you use the Edit assembly option. As the name implies this can be helpful during design review meetings so attendees don’t have to twiddle their thumbs while SOLIDWORKS resolves a large assembly. This can also be useful if you only want to a make a few simple changes or just looking for something. You still have the option to go ahead and load the components Lightweight, or Resolved, if you need to.
SOLIDWORKS 2020 introduced Detailing Mode, which opens large drawings quickly by not loading the model data. It's kind of like Lightweight for drawings. You can still work on annotations, notes, dimensions, etc. while in Detailing Mode and still have the option to Resolve the drawing later if needed.
Quick View Mode
If you don’t intend to make any changes and just need a quick peek at a file, part or drawing documents, they can be opened as read-only in Quick View Mode. A drawing opened this way can then be resolved by right-clicking the sheet tab and selecting Load Sheet. If there are multiple sheets, you can load one at a time or all of them at once. If you’re working with a large multi-sheet drawing and opening it in Quick View Mode, only loading the sheets you need to edit can save you a lot of time.
Disable RealView Graphics
Introduced way back in SOLIDWORKS 2013, RealView allows supported graphics cards to display much better-looking graphics than the default display. Personally, I’m a big fan of RealView. Especially when I apply a shiny material, or appearance, to a part. But all of that ‘pretty’ comes at a high cost in processing power. If your system is being sluggish, bite the bullet and turn RealView and other ‘special effects’ like Shadows in Shaded Mode and Ambient Occlusion OFF.
SOLIDWORKS does not really display curves. It represents them as a series of linear segments which look like a curve when there are enough of them. Image Quality controls how large, or small, those segments will be. A low setting displays ‘circles’ that look like polygons. A high setting fools us into thinking that we actually see 'circles' on the screen. As with everything, quality comes at a price. The higher the Image Quality setting is set at (the more graphical data that needs to be saved), the larger the file size is and the longer the load time will be. Go to Tools > Options > Document Properties > Image Quality to turn down the resolution.
Assemblies have the option Apply to all referenced part documents, which allows you to change the resolution of all the components in one step instead of having to set each part independently. Also, be sure to check the Image Quality settings when using downloaded components. Some companies turn the quality up to make their parts look as good as possible. A simple piece of mounting hardware which appears dozens of times in your top-level assembly can be a real performance killer.
There are several settings at Tools > Options > System Options > Performance which have an impact on speed. Some are automatically toggled as part of the Large Assembly Settings, therefore, I won’t cover them individually here. For detailed information on these settings check the Performance Options Help page.
Customize Windows Visual Effects
Most of us are running SOLIDWORKS on Windows 10 these days. Various visual effects make the operating system look really nice. Little animations, fades, slides, shadows, etc. contribute to the ‘feel’ of the environment but do have an impact on performance. Most of the time it’s not enough to matter, but if your whole system is really sluggish you might want to turn those cosmetic niceties OFF. You can access these settings at Control Panel > System > Advanced system settings > Advanced tab > Settings…
The default option is Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer. If you select Adjust for best performance all the listed effects will be turned OFF, or you can select Custom and choose what to disable.
This sort of customization is also available in older versions of Windows and will no doubt be available on future versions.
If we could all have the absolute best hardware available there would be little need to worry about optimizing SOLIDWORKS for performance. Unfortunately, the sky is not the limit for most of us. Our budgets are. So we need to make the best use of the systems we have. What we’ve covered here is the first step in doing just that. Optimizing your environment for speed can help save you a lot of time and frustration dealing with your existing models. Boosting SOLIDWORKS performance even further requires utilizing efficient modeling techniques, which we’ll cover in part two.
For even more detailed specifications and suggested hardware specifications for the current SOLIDWORKS release, download our complete recommendations guide.