How to Choose the best PC/Laptop for CAD Software 2021

Today we will talk about Hardware and help you to choose the best PC or Laptop for CAD work.
Firstly, I want to say that I am in no form a hardware professional and everything said here is based on my own thoughts and experiences as a professional working with CAD.

CAD software, in general, is becoming more and more demanding, the tasks are becoming more resource-intensive while at the same time all the additional software that is started on the operating system is getting increasingly more power and memory hungry as well. The Choice of hardware strongly depends on the type of CAD software and the work you do on it.
We are going to look at the minimal requirements and try to choose the best components for the lowest price. At the end of the day, if the price is not an issue, the best CAD PC will be the newest one with the highest numbers and biggest Price tag.

How to Choose the Best Processor for CAD

The processor is the brain of the PC, it does all the computing, which in CAD is quite a bit. The minimum requirements for the processor for the more famous CAD Software are listed below.

  • AutoCAD 2022 – Basic: 2.5–2.9 GHz Recommended: 3+ GHz processor
  • MicroStation – Intel® or AMD® processor 1.0 GHz or greater. MicroStation is not supported on a CPU that does not support SSE2.
  • CorelDraw 2021 – Intel Core i3/5/7 or AMD Athlon 64
  • SolidWorks 2021 – 3.3 GHz or higher
  • ArchiCAD – Intel® Core 2 Duo and later.

As you can see, the minimum requirements officially listed are not that high. This, however, will definitely not be enough if you want a smooth experience with your machine.

Intel processors like i3, i5, and i7 are mainly used in consumer-grade PC and laptops and Xeon is entirely dominant in professional offices. Newer AMD Ryzen and Ryzen Threadripper processors are a great option too!

Mainly, your choice needs to be focused on the CAD program you are using.
If the software you are working with, can utilize multiple processor cores, like ArchiCAD, Maya, or Vray for example, you’d better look at processors like Intel core i7, i9, or Intel Xeon W-2200 series. Alternatively, AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors can be a great choice for more expensive professional workstations.
Or if the Software is not very good at utilizing multi-core processors like for example AutoCAD, you can use processors with higher frequency and turbo boost that way you can save some money. Good picks are even Intel core i3 and i5 as well as the better core i7 processors. Or Intel Xeon E and W-1200 series.

Overclock the CPU for CAD?

If you are on a tight budget and you are searching for the Best PC or Laptop for CAD. You could start thinking of overclocking the Processor of a PC. This may seem like a reasonable option at first, but I would recommend to Never use Overclocking for the PC you use for your Work. The security and reliability of work Computer are far more important than some minor gains in performance. You might not even feel the difference after an Overclock of the processor so don’t risk losing your hard work with it.
In addition, not all processors can be overclocked, so if you are willing to take the risk, do your research before spending time and money on this venture.

The Best Graphics Card for CAD?

It is believed, that CAD software strongly relies on graphics card performance, but is this really the case? Let’s have a look at the minimum requirements for the most well-known CAD software.

  • AutoCAD 2022 –  Basic: 1 GB GPU with 29 GB/s Bandwidth and DirectX 11 compliant Recommended: 4 GB GPU with 106 GB/s Bandwidth and DirectX 12 compliant
  • MicroStation – Video Memory: 512MB
  • CorelDraw 2021 – OpenCL 1.2 capable video card (recommended)
  • SolidWorks 2021 – Minimum: 2GB or more GPU RAM. Recommendation: 4GB.
  • ArchiCAD – OpenGL 2.0 compatible graphics card with on-board memory of 256 MB is required, 512 MB or more is recommended to fully exploit hardware

We can see that the minimum requirements are again quite low. Why then there is such a belief, that a strong GPU is a Must when working in CAD?

Well, GPU is important indeed, especially when working with 3D objects and when rendering complex designs. SolidWorks and Revit are programs that would most likely benefit a lot from better professional-grade GPU like Nvidia’s Quadro and Radeon Pro WX/FirePro.

On the other hand, the Autodesks AutoCAD applications graphics engine is strongly CPU dependent. The performance will increase more by using a CPU with a higher clock speed, than using an expensive CAD-certified graphics card.
Especially, in the current climate, with extremely high prices of the Graphics Cards, due to cryptocurrency mining, I would recommend buying a consumer-grade Gaming GPU like Nvidia’s GeForce GTX series. I would even suggest looking into older versions of the graphics cards in order to get a better deal. As a rule of thumb search for GPU with at least 128 bit Memory Bus and 4 GB of VRAM.

Physical Memory (RAM)

The Physical Memory or simply RAM memory dictates, how many and what size of programs and datasets can run simultaneously on your PC. If the physical memory is not enough, Windows operating system will allocate a portion of your hard drive to emulate physical RAM. This will allow you to continue your work, however, the hard drives use a lot slower Memory than the RAM and your PC will start working more sluggish.

This is why many people believe that the more the RAM memory the faster and better the CAD software will run. This, however, is not the full truth. More Physical Memory means you have more space to run bigger Datasets before the PC starts to slow down.

To increase the performance of your PC by optimizing the RAM, check the size requirements of the software you use by checking the used RAM of your current PC when using the CAD programs or by checking the system requirements of the specific software and adding 50-100% for future-proofing. Then concentrate on buying Faster Physical Memory i.e. DDR4. See below the Minimum requirements for RAM:

  • AutoCAD 2022 –  Basic: 8 GB
  • Recommended: 16 GB
  • MicroStation – Memory: 4GB
  • CorelDraw 2021 – 4 GB RAM
  • SolidWorks 2021 – Minimum: 8GB RAM. Recommendation: 16GB
  • ArchiCAD – 4 GB RAM is required, 8 GB RAM or more is recommended for complex models.

As a recommendation, given the relatively low cost of RAM in a PC Build, I will suggest buying at least 16GB of RAM and making sure that the PC/Laptop allows you to add more in the future. If you, however, will be working with very large models, or plan on having a large number of drawings and other software open at the same time, you may consider upgrading to 32GB or more.

Choosing Storage Hard Drive for CAD

For a long time, Storage devices were not even mentioned when building a PC, as they were all pretty much the same.
Recently this started to change with the introduction of the Solid State Drive (SSD). These new Storage devices use a completely new design. Instead of a rotating disk (like on old HDD Hard Drives), Solid State Drives store the information on flash memory, which consists of individual memory cells that are instantly accessible.
On the other hand, SSD technology is advancing fast, and while before just a few years, the average data transfer rate was around 600mb/s, today the new NVMe SSD can sustain a read-write speed of 2000MB per second.

The question now is, how would that read-write speed affect the performance of CAD Software?
Faster data transfer will help programs to boot faster, this means that instead of waiting 10-15 seconds or more, to open your AutoCAD for example, the program will Start almost instantaneously. A good SSD will accelerate the load time of new drawings and will make auto-saves almost instant. (Why do I need autosave in AutoCAD?)

My recommendation for Storage Device will be investing in at least a good SATA-based SSD with enough Storage Space for all the necessary Software and drawing files.
If the money isn’t an issue then buying the newest NVMe SSD Hard drive will be the best option for storing all the necessary programs on it (the Operating system and the CAD software) coupled with another SSD drive where you can store your active projects.
However, if you are on a tight budget and you need a lot of Storage Space, I would suggest buying an SSD Drive with at least 128 GB for the Operating system and CAD Software and a traditional HDD hard Drive with enough space for your project files.

While on the subject of Hard Drives, another suggestion will be buying a separate drive that will be used for daily backup purposes. It doesn’t have to be the fastest one out there, but having reliable backup storage can save you lots of headaches down the road.

Our Pics for Best AutoCAD (AutoCAD CIvil 3D) Laptops

Best Budget Laptop for AutoCAD – Acer Nitro 5

This great gaming laptop costs only 899USD at the moment of writing and offers all the right specs for most AutoCAD users. It has a 15.6“ FHD IPS Display which will be a good compromise for the price. It rocks the 2021s 11th Gen Intel 6-Core i5-11400H Processor with a maximum turbo frequency of 4.50 GHz and 12 MB Intel® Smart Cache. NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card with 4GB of Memory and 128-bit bus width, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD.

Best Laptop for AutoCAD – Lenovo Thinkpad P17

Even though we are talking about the Best Laptop for AutoCAD, I am staying away from the Ultra Expensive Laptops that cost a fortune. This Lenovo Thinkpad P17 is a Great professional-grade Laptop, which will take every AutoCAD drawing and run it with ease. It has a 17.3 inch Full HD, IPS screen with anti-glare which is gorgeous to look at. The Processor is a 6-Core Intel® Xeon® W-10855M with a Max Turbo Frequency of 5.10 GHz and 12 MB Intel® Smart Cache. The Graphics Card is Quadro T2000 a professional mobile graphics card that is based on the Turing architecture great for CAD Software. The RAM memory is 32GB DDR4 and the Storage memory is 1TB SSD.

Best AutoCAD (AutoCAD CIvil 3D) WorkStations

Best Budget PC for AutoCAD – Dell G5 5090 Gaming Desktop Computer

The Dell G5 5090 is one great example of an extremely powerful desktop PC that won’t break the bank. The price at the moment of writing is 999.00 USD, which for this beast of a Computer is a great price! For the said price you got 10th Generation Intel Core i5-10400F that pushes a maximum frequency of 4.30 GHz and 12 MB Intel® Smart Cache. The Graphics Card is GeForce GTX 1650, based on Turing architecture, having a higher clock speed than the mobile version (for laptops) this makes it even better. The RAM Memory is 16GB DDR4 RAM and the storage device is 512GB SSD.

Best PC for AutoCAD – OMEN 30L Gaming Desktop PC

Even the best PC I can recommend for AutoCAD and AutoCAD Civil 3D is a Gaming PC. This is not by chance, I just can’t recommend something that costs a five-figure. This OMEN is just brilliant, OMEN is the Gaming PC Tier of HP which speaks quality. This 30L comes equipped with mighty 8-Core Intel® Core™ i7-10700KF that has a Maximum frequency of 5.10Ghz and 16M Cache. The Graphics card is GeForce RTX 3080, NVIDIA’s 2nd gen RTX architecture with 10 GB GDDR6X dedicated memory, a performance that can match any challenge AutoCAD throws at it. The RAM memory is 32GB DDR4 the memory can be expanded up to 64GB in the future. It also comes with the fastest 1 TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD.

Our Picks for Best Laptops for 3D CAD Work and Rendering

Best Budget 3D CAD Laptop – Acer Nitro 5

Again the Acer Nitro 5 but this time with a slightly different configuration. This unit costs only 1,189.00USD at the moment of writing and offers some Great specs for 3D CAD Users. It has a 15.6“ FHD IPS Display which will be a good compromise for the price. It rocks the 6-Core Intel Core i7-9750H Processor with a maximum frequency of 4.50 GHz and 12 MB Intel® Smart Cache. NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card based on Turing architecture with 4GB of Memory and 128-bit bus width that should deliver noticeably better 3D performance than the GTX 1650, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD.

Best 3D CAD Laptop – ASUS ProArt Studiobook Pro 17

This Mobile Workstation costs 3,599.99USD and has everything a CAD professional would ever need. 17.0” 16:10 ratio Display with Full HD (1920*1200) resolution, NanoEdge, and DCI-P3 wide color gamut for best viewing experience. The processor is mighty 6-Core Intel® Xeon® E-2276M with Max Turbo Frequency of 4.70 GHz. The GPU is 6GB Pro-GradeNVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000 graphics, optimized for stability and performance with professional software. The RAM memory is 32GB DDR4 and the Storage Memory is 2TB SSD. This laptop also features military-grade Durability which is a bonus that can be very useful if working on the construction site.

matte display Even though we are talking about the Best Laptop for AutoCAD, I am staying away from the Ultra Expensive Laptops that cost a fortune. This Lenovo Thinkpad P17 is a Great professional-grade Laptop, which will take every AutoCAD drawing and run it with ease. It has a 17.3 inch Full HD, IPS screen with anti-glare which is gorgeous to look at. The Processor is a 6-Core Intel® Xeon® W-10855M with a Max Turbo Frequency of 5.10 GHz and 12 MB Intel® Smart Cache. The Graphics Card is Quadro T2000 a professional mobile graphics card that is based on the Turing architecture great for CAD Software. The RAM memory is 32GB DDR4 and the Storage memory is 1TB SSD.

Our Picks for Best WorkStations for 3D CAD Work and Rendering

Best Budget 3D CAD PC – OMEN 25L Gaming Desktop PC

ОMEN 25L is another great example of an extremely powerful desktop PC that don’t cost a fortune. The price at the moment of writing is 1,297.00 USD! For the said price Processor of the PC is 8-Core 10th Generation Intel Core i7-10700F that pushes a maximum frequency of 4.80 GHz and has 16 MB Intel® Smart Cache. The Graphics Card is GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER having a 6 GB dedicated memory and 192-bit bus width. The RAM Memory is 16GB DDR4 RAM and the storage device is 512GB NVMe SSD.

Best CAD PC for 3D – ASUS ROG Strix G35CZ

The best PC I recommend for 3D CAD Work is again a Gaming PC. This time it is the ASUS ROG Strix G35CZ. This beast is equipped with the 10th Generation, 10-Core Intel® Core™ i9-10900KF Processor with a Max Turbo Frequency of 5.30 GHz and the incredible 20 MB Intel® Smart Cache. The GPU is GeForce RTX 3080 with 10GB DDR6X memory and 320-bit bus width. The RAM memory is 32GB DDR4 and the Storage device is 1 TB SSD.

As a whole, choosing the best CAD PC work is quite a hard and time-consuming job, hope we were successful in making it a little bit more easy for you and your company. I would love to hear about the PC you are using at the moment and how would you like to update it.

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