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Let’s Talk Hardware

Have you ever felt like “that guy” in the office? We’ve all been there, working away and finally hitting a good stride for the day, when all of the sudden something starts to go strangely wrong. Your display begins to freeze, windows won’t switch, the screen fades, and you begin to feverously click the mouse. Maybe the harder you click, the faster everything will return to normal, right?  Before you know it, you’ve become “that guy”… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtTUsOKjWyQ

You might want to blame whatever you are working in (Excel, PowerPoint, SolidWorks), but sometimes the hardware is the culprit. I wanted to take a moment to discuss a few of the hardware related questions I get about processors, ram and graphics cards with regard to what is best for SolidWorks as it relates to system performance. So here is a breakdown:

Processors: A decent dual core is fine for most users. They come standard in most machines these days as well. I have owned, and never had any issues with Intel or AMD. If you run FEA analysis, Photo Rendering or CAM software I would recommend upgrading to a quad core processor. These operations take advantage of multi-core technology. You will also see gains in these fields running hyper-threading. Core SolidWorks does not yet take full advantage of multi-thread technology. Some customers have been interested in multiple processors. I do not see a benefit for SolidWorks in having multiple processors currently, as it only uses one. It would allow for some serious multi-tasking though.

RAM: How much? I would recommend no less than 2GB DDR2. If you are running a 32 bit OS, I would recommend 4GB (windows will only use around 3GB). With a 64 bit OS, you can add (and use) more RAM. For FEA and large assembly users I would recommend 8GB of RAM. You could also upgrade to DDR3 speed, but make sure your motherboard will support it. Along those lines, I highly recommend doing some homework on your motherboard to see what type and speed it can take before making any purchases.

NVIDIA Quadro 4000Graphics Card: There are two major options here: NVIDIA Quadro series and ATI Fire series cards. Please be sure to use the recommended graphics card driver for your machine. You can likely find it here: http://www.solidworks.com/sw/support/videocardtesting.html. If you do not see your card listed on this page it is not supported. That does not mean that you can’t use it. It just means that you will not have the full graphics features SolidWorks is capable of. It also means that you should probably have the “use software OpenGL” option checked under tools, options, performance. This option bypasses the graphics card (because of instability) and uses the RAM to render the graphics instead (which is not optimal but generally more stable).

The real question boils down to how big (expensive) of a card should you get? Well it depends on what you are doing with Solidworks. Personally I have found the 512MB cards to be fine for normal use. When getting into Large Assemblies and 3DVia Composer, I found them to be a little lacking. Stepping up to a 1GB or higher card will remedy that. One word of caution before buying a card: Make sure your hardware supports it! The newer cards require a lot of power… check to see if your power supply has enough watts and cables available.

Lastly, a quick word about laptops… When it comes to workstation laptops, there are currently only a few brands that offer approved cards. This is important because, unlike a desktop, the video card on a laptop cannot easily be replaced. So if you’re looking for a mobile workstation I would recommend getting the extended warranty! If the video card goes out (which they are known for) the warranty covers it. Let me know if you have any further questions with your CAD computing needs.

For more advice, attend tomorrow’s webinar titled: “The Foundation of SolidWorks Performance”. Register at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/251692056.

John MacArthur

John MacArthur
DASI Solutions

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