“What hardware do you recommend to get the most out of SolidWorks?” This is a question that I am asked at least a few times a week, and to be honest it is a hard one to answer because “it depends.”
It depends on quite a few variables such as:
-What is the complexity of the CAD data that you will be working with?
-Are you looking for a stationary or mobile workstation platform?
-Are you tied down to a specific brand due to purchasing departments or company standards?
-What is your budget?
These, as well as numerous other questions, all come into consideration when choosing the best hardware for you. Before we jump into some recommendations, I want to share a story that Jeff Sweeney, another Applications Engineer handling our PDM Enterprise and DriveWorks accounts out of Columbus, OH told me today:
“Yesterday I attended the Advanced Manufacturing & Technology Show in Dayton, OH. I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a most beautiful specimen in front of me:
(2) XEON Quad Core X5355 2.66 GHz w/ 8MB Cache CPU
8 GB DDR2 667 MHz ECC FB Memory (4 x 2GB)
(6) 73 GB SAS Drives 15k RPM (RAID 0)
Windows XP 32 Professional
Keyboard, mouse and two 22” LCD monitors
All weighing in at just a little more than $6,000!
She wasn’t a server; she was designed to be a SOLIDWORKS Workstation! Dual quads…eight CPUs and 8 GB RAM. <sigh>
However, I had the opportunity to do some informal benchmarking and it didn’t perform a whole lot better than my M90 laptop.”
Why did this machine not surpass his obviously high expectations? Let’s break down the key hardware components directly contributing to SOLIDWORKS performance:
This machine was definitely well equipped in this category. Will these 8 cores all running at 2.66GHz equate to insane SOLIDWORKS processing performance? Well, “it depends.” Some commands in SOLIDWORKS take advantage of all these processors at the same time, and some don’t. Cosmos solvers, PhotoWorks rendering engines, SOLIDWORKS drawing view creation, as well as many other specific SOLIDWORKS commands do take advantage of multiple, simultaneous processing. Other commands and functions only utilize a single core at a time though, so the benefits over a single processor will not be realized in all situations.
Again in the RAM category, this machine seems to be well equipped. The problem here is not the RAM but the operating system that is addressing this RAM. Windows XP in the 32bit flavor is only able to access 4GB of RAM. The additional RAM is not taken advantage of, and using the out of the box settings, XP will only let a specific application access 2GB of RAM, reserving 2GB for Windows functions. There is the ability to enable a 3Gb switch that will allow an application (such as SolidWorks) to take advantage of 3Gb instead of the default 2Gb as mentioned. Details can be found at Microsoft.
So what could have been set up differently to better suit this PC’s hardware? The operating system should have been Windows XPx64. The key difference is that this 64-bit version can use more system memory (128Gb of RAM.)
This machine has a RAID 0 configuration managing multiple, fast, SCSI hard drives. This set up should provide very fast performance, but is it practical? Well, “it depends.” Do you work on files saved on a network? If so, then this added storage performance will be felt minimally. If you do work locally, how are you backing up your data? RAID 0 provides no data replication, so if a single drive fails, all data is typically lost. Having 6 drives in RAID 0 seems excessive and begging for failure.
So there are quite a few aspects of this above mentioned machine that crippled its performance, validating Jeff Sweeney’s (standing at 5’6”) often stated sentiment that “size does not matter.”
Some other notable areas of hardware interest that should be considered are video card and optical drive. SOLIDWORKS 2008 has taken the user interface and Real View graphics to the next level. Make sure that your video card of choice is up to the task. Video card and driver testing can be found on the SolidWorks web site. The installation media of choice for SOLIDWORKS and CosmosWorks 2008 will be DVD, so make sure that you have this drive option specified.
So, obviously there is a lot that goes into choosing the right hardware. Please do your research and feel free to contact one of the highly skilled specialists at 3D Vision Technologies for further information and recommendations.