May 142013
 

Corsair Carbide Series 300R - Workstation Case

SolidWorks 2013 Workstation Build

Building a cost effective workstation for SolidWorks 2013 is a great DIY solution to save you money while maintaining uncompromising performance.  I have used SolidWorks on almost a daily basis for the last two years and have always wondered why the IT department at my day job wasted so much money on our workstations. Our lead designer (btw..he has an awesome tutorial site) has a Dell T7400 that is getting long in the tooth and originally cost around $8,000-$10,000.  This workstation has dual quad core Xeon X5482’s @ 3.2 GHz, 16GB of ram, and a massively overpowered Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 video card. We do not work with large assemblies, do little to no rendering, and only run the occasional basic simulation. I still shake my head over the waste of energy and capital on a workstation that is only utilizing about 10-20% of its potential performance. If the IT department had done a basic technology audit and learned how the software worked a lot of money could have been saved in hardware and productivity.

With this story in mind I would like to review how SolidWorks functions before getting to our build so we can rationalize our component choices.

A Peek at How SolidWorks Functions

A capable SolidWorks workstation doesn’t have to be a monster and can run on fairly low power components. At first glance one would think that the video card could be a very key component.  This assumption would be wrong however as the CPU does the “heft” of the calculations. So let us review each critical hardware component in what I believe to be the order of importance.

  • Processor – SolidWorks is mainly single threaded except for saving, rendering, and running simulations. When a document rebuilds the program must read the feature tree in a linear fashion. Brute core power is more important than number of cores for most users.  A quad core should be more than enough for the typical user.
  • Storage Drive – Any modern workstation should be equipped with an SSD for the OS and program drive.  An SSD is tremendous in order of magnitude faster than a traditional hard drive. Spinning disks should only be relegated to mass storage and if you are working on a file it should be on the SSD to garner any benefit.
  • RAM – The larger the assemblies that you intend on working with the more ram you should plan for your build.  Most workstations can get away with 8GB but for larger assemblies at least 16 GB or more are needed.
  • Video Card – With most of the work occurring on the processor the video cards main purpose is to display and render the visual aspects of the work. As of right now SolidWorks does not make use of GPU computing. I hope to see this change in the future as this feature could definitely speed up calculations. Save your money and get an entry to mid level workstation card.

The Cost Effective Workstation Build

The build I share below should provide more than enough power for even an advanced user.  I will also list optional components for workstations that will be rendering and doing heavy simulation work.

 

COMPONENTDESCRIPTION PRICE
PROCESSOR-CPUIntel Core i5-3570K Quad-Core Processor $  219.99
VIDEO CARDATI FirePro V4900 1 GB DDR5 $  149.99
MOTHERBOARDGigabyte Intel Z77 ATX Motherboard GA-Z77X-UD3H $  139.99
SSD-BOOT DRIVESamsung 840 Series 2.5 inch 120GB SATA III SSD $  100.25
POWER SUPPLYRosewill CAPSTONE Series 450W 80 Plus Gold $    74.99
HARD DRIVE – STORAGESeagate Barracuda 1 TB HDD SATA 6 Gb/s NCQ 64MB $    70.82
MEMORY – RAMCorsair Vengeance 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3 1600 MHz $  124.99
CASECorsair Carbide Series 300R Case $    79.99
OPTICAL DRIVEAsus 24xDVD-RW Serial ATA Internal Drive $    20.99
TOTAL $  982.00

OPTIONAL COMPONENTS:

For heavy rendering and simulation, substitute the CPU with the one below. The other items listed just make life a bit easier when working.

MONITORDell UltraSharp U2412M 24″ LED LCD Monitor $  275.00
MOUSE3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator 3D Mouse $    92.77
CPUIntel Core i7-3770K Quad-Core Processor$  314.86
OSWindows 7 Professional SP1 64bit $  135.98

 Conclusion

This workstation configuration for SolidWorks 2013 should last the average user quite some time.  It has a stylish, functional case, and components that can be upgraded if your needs change.

Update! The IT department at my day job has built a workstation following this build with a few changes. The case was upgraded to a Corsair 400R and they used the upgraded i7-3770K with a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo. It has been overclocked to 4.5  Ghz and everyone is very happy with the performance and cost savings!

 

Comments are welcome!

 

 Posted by on May 14, 2013  Add comments

  4 Responses to “Build a Cost Effective Workstation for SolidWorks 2013”

  1. Your assessment is spot on. I have been designing race cars and molds with
    Solidworks exclusively for over 5 years now and other CAD systems all the way
    back to 1990. The most important part of my station is the SSD, every time I “cntrl-s”
    the save is instant. The next most important thing is the CPU. Opening the
    files requires a rebuild as you said and every “cntrl-Q” as well. Most people
    will find 16g ram to be all they need.

    Well done TechNutz.

  2. Thank you both for your comments! SSD’s are getting faster and more reliable and should be at the heart of any build. The IT culture where I work is backwards driven through ignorance and shunning of new technologies. The cost/benefit ratio on an upgrade to an SSD is a no brainer for any workstation.