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SolidWorks Hardware Advice and Requirements

When specifying a machine for SOLIDWORKS many factors need to be considered.

A compromise has to be met between speed and cost. This page covers the major hardware and software decisions.

We generally recommend that a machine be replaced after 3 years. A good idea is to reallocate older machines to less demanding users, elsewhere within the company. A machine that has become too slow for SolidWorks can still be a fast general purpose machine.

The very fastest PC’s can be very expensive. The fastest machines available may be 2-3 times the price of a machine that is just 10% slower. We recommend buying a machine a little slower than the fastest available and use the money saved to replace the machine more frequently.

This guide takes a look at all the system requirements needed to run SolidWorks, as well as offering useful information on hardware needed to run SolidWorks. You can also look at our Dell Hardware page where Cadtek have teamed up with Dell to offer Desktops and Laptops to cater for a range of needs.

Operating Systems

Windows 10 Professional

SOLIDWORKS 2015 SP5 and SOLIDWORKS 2016 SP0 onwards are supported on Windows 10

There are no 32 bit versions of SolidWorks supported on Windows 10.

Windows 8 Professional
No 32 bit version of SOLIDWORKS is supported on Windows 8. Available as two 64 bit versions:-

 

Windows 8          SOLIDWORKS 2013 SP0 -> SOLIDWORKS 2014 SP0

Windows 8.1      SOLIDWORKS 2015 & 2014 SP1 and above

If you are currently on Windows8/8.1 there is no pressing need to upgrade to Windows 10.

However we would recommend purchasing any new machine with Windows 10.

This operating system is designed for tablet as well as desktop users and can seem radically different in look and feel from previous releases.

Windows 7 Professional
Still a supported operating system.

Supports all SolidWorks versions back to 2010 including SolidWorks 2016 (64-bit).

If you are currently on Windows 7 there is no pressing need to upgrade to Windows 10.

However we would recommend purchasing any new machine with Windows 10.

Windows XP Professional

You cannot install SolidWorks 2014 upwards on this operating system.

The operating system is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Any SolidWorks issues caused by the operating system will not be fixed as Microsoft no longer supports this operating system. You are unlikely to get drivers for new peripherals (printers or plotters).

It is also worth noting that SolidWorks 2015 upwards will not install on Windows Vista Professional.

Should I Change/Upgrade My Operating System?

Generally speaking the decision to change the operating system should be made when you purchase a new machine. Upgrading the operating system on an older machine often causes more problems than it solves. Most big manufacturers test all the components in a machine against the operating system they install. Upgrading an operating system means you are running an untested combination of drivers on your machine with possible stability issues. The operating system must be Windows 7 X64 and above to be able to install SolidWorks 2015 and later.

X64 or X32 versions of the operating systems and Memory

Having enough memory is critical for SolidWorks to run well.

From SolidWorks 2015, the software is only available for X64 operating systems, so it is advised that you upgrade any X32 system to X64.

For most users 8GB RAM will be sufficient but if you are working with large assemblies (300 + complex components) 16GB or more may be required.

Users solving large FEA or Flow problems can also benefit from more RAM, 16 GB or more is often considered optimal.

Fortunately, memory prices are constantly falling and this can be a relatively inexpensive upgrade for an existing machine.

Graphics Cards

SolidWorks only supports a limited number of graphics card.

There are two main manufacturers/ranges of cards supported “NVIDA Quadro” and “ATI Fire”. The majority of the cards used by SolidWorks users are NVidia Quadro cards and historically the drivers for these cards have been better and more stable than ATI Cards.

Card Class Speed TFLOPS Aprox cost
NVIDIA QUADRO K620 Low End 0.8 TFlops £160
NVIDIA QUADRO K1200 Mid-Range 1.1 TFlops £325
Nvidia M2000 High End 1.8 TFlops £450
Nvidia M4000 High End 2.5 TFlops £820
  • Typically K620 or K1200 are suitable for most users
  • The M4000 card is only really justified if you do a lot of rendering in SolidWorks Visualize
  • Typically NVIDIA provides drivers for the cards for 3-4 years after their first release. It is false economy to buy older cards (on special offer) as you may not be able to get a driver to support the latest release of SolidWorks in a few years time
  • Note the speed does not increase dramatically when you spend a lot more. Historically you needed to spend a lot of money on a 3D card. This is no longer the case. Even the Low End card provides reasonable performance. Only large assemblies 2000+ component assembly justify the high end cards
  • SolidWorks provides a list of supported CAD cards. Check this to ensure any proposed Card is certified and without any “known issues”
  • Unsupported graphics cards are notoriously unreliable and will almost certainly cost you more money in lost productivity (due to crashes lost work etc.) than you will ever save on the initial purchase price
  • Remember that even if the graphics card works okay now it may not after you upgrade to the latest version of SolidWorks. If it’s not a supported card, you may not be able to find a stable driver for the latest version of SolidWorks. Basically the extra you pay for the card is reflected in the effort the card manufacturer puts in to ensure the card works reliably with future releases of SolidWorks
  • Don’t be tempted to buy SLI or Crossfire versions of these cards (This uses two graphics card rather than one) as SolidWorks does not support this configuration
  • The Quadro NVS range of cards are not supported on SolidWorks, as they are designed to drive multiple displays instead of being used for CAD
  • The Quadro K620 and K1200 are the latest NVIDIA cards and these cards are suitable for all but the most demanding of users.
  • If you are planning on driving two displays we recommend a minimum of a Quadro K1200

Previously if you were planning on creating rendered images we would have recommended a more powerful processor. With the introduction of SolidWorks Visualize, which can utilise GPU rendering, it is worth considering a high-end graphics card as they will drastically improve render times.

4K Support

SolidWorks 2016 introduced support for 4K resolution monitors. If you are planning to work on a 4K display we recommend at a minimum a Quadro K1200 graphics card to run at such a high resolution.

Processors

Providing you have adequate memory it is the processor speed that controls  SolidWorks speed.

The clock speed (measured in GHz) used to be a good guideline about the relative speed of processors but that is no longer the case. It is extremely difficult to get decent, reliable, performance figures for processor speeds.

AMD processors generally under perform compared to the Intel processors. Currently the best processors for performance/cost are Intel’s i3, i5 and i7 processors. They are available with between 2 and 8 processors per chip. SolidWorks is essentially a single threaded application (i.e. it can’t do the next calculation before it calculates the last) and it will struggle to use more than 1.3 processors, so there is little point in paying extra for six/eight core processors.

If you do a lot of  CPU based PhotoRealistic rendering or FEA the extra cores can be utilised and six/eight core processors can  be worth the additional cost.

Newer Intel processors support a feature called “Turbo Boost”. Any unused processors are shut down and the processor speed is raised on the remaining processor.

Two core only. Does not support the “Turbo Boost” feature. Spending a little extra on the I5 is worthwhile. Only consider if your budget is very tight.

 

Mainly two cores but some quad core versions are available. Supports “Turbo Boost” but over-clocked speeds are lower than an equivalent I7. It is cheaper than the I7 and has higher clock speeds per pound.
Mainly quad core but can be bought with two or six cores. Supports “Turbo Boost” and is capable of higher clock speeds than the equivalent I5 processor. The I7 suits users who do a lot of rendering, FEA or who like to run lots of other applications at the same time as SolidWorks.

 

 

These are beefed up versions of the I7 processors with more onboard memory (cache). They are more expensive than an equivalent I7 processor.

Xeon processors are recommended for tasks that cause the processor to run “flat out” e.g. solving FEA studies or running a PhotoView render. They generally run cooler than the equivalent I7 processor.

Generally for the same money the I7 processor outperform the equivalent Xeon processor. Typically Mid/High end cad workstations from Dell/HP are only available with Xeon processors though.

 

How many Cores do I want?

For typical SolidWorks users, 4 core processors offer the best value for money. The cost of 6 or more cores can only be justified for FEA or CPU Rendering use.

SolidWorks is generally considered a “single threaded” application as it is a “history based modeller”. It can only calculate each feature after the preceding feature has been calculated. This leaves little opportunity to utilize multiple cores. CPU based rendering is a “multi-threaded” application and can make use of all the cores, so if you are doing a lot of rendering the more cores you have the faster your renders will be done. FEA and CFD make better use of extra cores and a reasonable case can be made for 6 cores for intensive FEA and CFD. If you are rendering the more cores the better.

Hard Disks

Hard disk performance is the least significant element of a machines performance.

The RPM of the disk gives a good indication of its relative speed.

SSD drives are now a great choice. They are expensive per MB however. We recommend keeping you programs and operating system on a SSD drive. This means your machine and SolidWorks start up quicker.

For most users a 250Mb SSD drive is large enough for your programs and operating system. Larger capacity SSD drives getting progressively more expensive.

Most users store their SolidWorks files on a server but you will probably still have a requirement to store some data locally.  SATA drives are better value per MB than SSD drives, so buying a second SATA drive (with a speed of 7500 RPM or more) is a relative cheap way to add additional storage.

If funds are tight SATA drives are only slightly slower than SSD drives when loading large SolidWorks files. If you have funds for only one drive, buy a SATA drive. SolidWorks and your Operating systems will be slow to start up, however once started, the speed of single SATA drive system is comparable to that of a SSD when running SolidWorks.

Many manufactures are offering combined drives containing SATA and SSD drives in one unit.

We are here to help...

Finally, remember support is there to help you with your choices. Processors, graphics cards and memory prices can change monthly. We will happily review any proposed machine and suggest any changes that would provide better value for money. Give us a suggested budget, let us know how many components are in a typical large assembly and we will suggest any improvements needed.

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