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Configuring a PC for Architecture & CAD

Published 26th Jul 2023, updated 19th Oct 2023 - 9 minute read

Covering Autodesk AutoCAD, Autodesk Revit, Autodesk Inventor, and SOLIDWORKS, there is certain hardware that you'll want to consider for your machine. While a powerful and fast PC can be costly, we know that buying something that is not equipped for the task will end up being more frustrating and costly in the long run, so take your time and get it right!

Which CPU to pick for CAD?

With CPUs there are two main specifications that define how it is likely to perform:

  • The frequency (clock speed, measured in GHz) directly affects how many operations a single CPU core can complete in a second (how fast it is).
  • The number of cores denotes how many physical cores there are within a CPU (how many operations it can run simultaneously).

Whether a CPU with higher frequency or higher core count is better for a particular use case depends on how well a program is designed to take advantage of multiple CPU cores.

In Autodesk AutoCAD, Autodesk Revit, Autodesk Inventor, and modelling in SOLIDWORKS most of the tasks are single threaded meaning a processor with a high frequency is an optimal choice. With currently available CPUs in mind, Intel's i7 is a great choice, or for those with more budget available Intel's i9 is of course a higher performing option. Autodesk's software does not seem to benefit from more than a few cores, so a CPU with a high core count is not necessarily a better choice.

With regards to simulation in SOLIDWORKS, clock speed is still important but simulation workloads will scale with increased CPU cores, and can benefit from more system RAM too. Because of this, Intel's Xeon, or AMD's Threadripper PRO CPUs can be considered, but if this is a small portion of the work you do then a consumer-grade CPU will still perform quite well at a substantially lower cost.


How much RAM is enough for CAD?

Keep in mind that while RAM requirements can vary per application, Windows itself and any background applications will use up varying amounts of RAM, so if you are the type to have a lot of programs running at once as part of your workflow, you will want to factor this in to some extent.

  • Autodesk AutoCAD
    • Varies depending on complexity & size of models you will work with, but a minimum of 16GB is recommended. With the relatively low cost of RAM though, 32GB would be a safer choice.
  • Autodesk Revit
    • Depending on your projects it can vary, but a general recommendation is 32GB which should allow you to work on a single project up to 1GB without issues. If you work with larger models and/or run Revit in addition to other demanding applications you may want 64GB.
  • Autodesk Inventor
    • 16GB for most users which supports assemblies up to ~1,000 parts in size
    • 32GB for larger assemblies or heavy multitasking
    • 64GB for heavy rendering/simulation workloads
  • SOLIDWORKS
    • Considering the general rule of thumb where Solidworks uses 5GB for itself + 20 times the largest assembly size you work with, the following recommendations apply.
      Assembly size Less than 500MB 500MB - 1.25GB 1.25GB - 3GB
      RAM recommendation 16GB 32GB 64GB

What Video/Graphics card (GPU) is optimal for CAD?

We still recommend using a professional class GPU from Nvidia as opposed to the GeForce range. While mainstream GeForce cards will usually get better performance per dollar, the downside is they are not officially certified for use in professional environments. As such, we highly recommend sticking with a Quadro/professional series card to ensure you can get full support from software publishers should you ever encounter an issue you need assistance with.

Sadly, in the relatively small market that Australia is - we do not always get the full choice when it comes to models Nvidia offers. We offer what is somewhat readily available at any given time, if you have any questions just contact us!

GPU - Autodesk AutoCAD

The GPU will be responsible for displaying the 2D and 3D models on screen, with only 3D models requiring anything more than a basic GPU so if you only work with 2D models you would be better served by spending more on a faster CPU, RAM, or SSD.

As typically expected, the faster the GPU the better the performance you get - however, it seems there is little to no benefit to using anything greater than a mid-range Nvidia professional card, such as the RTX A4000 which for some users may already be overkill. AutoCAD is also light on VRAM usage, so there's little reason to chase after cards with lots of VRAM.

GPU - Autodesk Revit

The GPU is solely responsible for displaying the model on screen. Whilst more powerful GPUs can allow the model to be drawn at higher FPS (frames per second) when zooming, rotating, or panning, the GPU requirements for Revit are relatively low.

For most, the mid-range Nvidia professional card like the RTX A4000 will be more than enough. If you intend on using a GPU-based rendering engine within Revit you can consider the more powerful RTX A5000 or A6000, or potentially multiple GPUs.

GPU - Autodesk Inventor

The GPU will be the key component to offering performance in terms of frames per second to your 3D models and assemblies, with higher performing GPUs being capable of higher FPS.

In general, Nvidia's professional RTX A4000 is a great choice for small and medium assemblies. If you work with large assemblies, you can consider the RTX A5000, with the top-end RTX A6000 being overkill for all but the largest projects.

GPU - SOLIDWORKS

Before Solidworks 2019 there was little performance difference between the range of Quadro GPUs except at the very high end. Thankfully however, there is now a new feature: "Enhanced graphics performance" which when enabled has the GPU takes on much more of the work involved when displaying parts & assemblies. This also leads to a much greater difference in frame rates across the Quadro GPUs.

With the goal of smooth frame rates (30 frames per second or more), our recommendation is as per the table below:

Assembly size 1080p (1920x1080) 4K (3840x2160)
Small (less than 1 million triangles) Nvidia T600 or higher RTX A2000 or higher
Medium (more than 1 million triangles) RTX A2000 or higher RTX A4000 or higher
Large (more than 10 million triangles) RTX A4000 or higher RTX A5000 or higher

What storage drive(s) should I use for CAD?

With the CPU, RAM, & GPU often taking so much of the focus when it comes to configuring a PC for CAD, the storage configuration can get left out, or is an afterthought when most of the budget is already spent... this can be a huge and costly mistake! If the storage is not able to keep up with the CPU, RAM, & GPU - it will create a bottleneck and then it will not matter how fast or capable other hardware is.

There are a few main types of storage options on offer today, and they all have their pros and cons, so it makes sense to know & understand them, and often use a combination of storage drives in the video editing PC.

  • SATA HDDs: Traditional spinning hard disk drives, the one that most people are likely familiar with already. While these the slowest storage option we offer, they are extremely affordable compared to the SSD counterparts, and also come in much larger capacities than SSDs can. They make for very good long-term storage solutions, for archival purposes, etc. but in most instances are not ideal to work off directly. Speeds max out at around 150MB/s.
  • SATA SSDs: Operating on the same protocol as the above HDDs (SATA) these Solid-State Drives contain no moving parts and are multiple times faster than HDDs, but are more costly for the benefit. These max out around the 540MB/s range.
  • NVMe M.2 SSDs: These currently come in two flavours on our website. As it stands we have Gen4 drives, and Gen5 drives. Gen4 NVMe M.2 SSDs generally top out at around 7,000MB/s while the Gen5 NVMe M.2 SSD drives start in the 9,xxxMB/s range and go up to 14,000MB/s.
    These M.2 drives also connect directly to the motherboard (which may limit the amount of M.2 drives you can have in total as some may only support 2-3) which frees up the case/chassis drive bays for future additions that you may want.

Don't forget, it's important that you are in control of your data backups at all times!

For professional CAD work, we encourage a two-drive setup with the capacity and type of each depending on your desired budget and performance level.

  1. OS & Applications (SATA SSD or NVMe M.2 SSD) - Should be large enough to house your operating system plus any other applications you require as part of your workflow (eg: 500GB+). An SSD of either type will allow the OS and programs start up fast, which makes the overall operation of the system feel snappy.
  2. Project files (SATA SSD or NVMe M.2 SSD) - Having your projects on their own drive ensures that in case your primary drive has an issue that requires an OS reinstall you won't need to worry about also losing the projects you need to work on. Opening & saving to an SSD will be multiple times faster than a HDD too! Using either an SSD of either type for your project files, with the decision coming down to your budget.
  3. Optional (SATA SSD or HDD) - If data hoarding is your thing, it will likely be necessary to have additional drives. These can go towards organisation of your work, backup, archiving, etc. so at your discretion, and according to budget constraints, you can safely pick either an SSD or HDD.

External drives are a cause for concern as they are known to contribute to performance and stability issues. External drives should therefore only be used to move data to the PC - then work on it - and move it back onto an external drive if needed, but you should not be working directly from an external drive.

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