In my 20-plus years of working in the high-tech industry, I’ve attended hundreds of tradeshows and industry events. One of the most common questions that comes up is, “What hardware do I need to successfully run a professional engineering or design application?”
I’m always happy to provide suggestions based on user needs, and I always recommend that you purchase the best workstation you can afford. But instead of waiting until the next industry tradeshow, I thought I’d share a few tips on how to purchase the right workstation. Obviously, I can’t tell you what system to purchase in this blog, not knowing your specific needs. But I’ll provide some general advice on items to consider when purchasing a workstation.
First and foremost, invest in the best workstation you can afford based on total cost. According to industry surveys, the average fully loaded cost of an engineer is about $100,000 per year. So a small investment in a better workstation that could increase productivity by 10 percent would essentially save $10,000 per year in labor costs. As you can see, this is a tremendous savings and doesn’t even consider the other benefits of better product quality, faster time to market, and reduced cost due to fewer physical prototypes.
Build a balanced system that will give you the best overall performance, including processors, RAM, graphics, and storage. Don’t skimp on one to the detriment of the system. Intel® Xeon® or Intel® Core™ i7 processors are recommended.
Consider all software applications that you will be running on your workstation.
Build the system to meet the most demanding application and use cases.
Remember that you may be running multiple applications simultaneously.
Consider components that help meet your future requirements (the average workstation has a three-year replacement cycle).
Consider both interactive and batch job performance requirements. Many workstations are used for interactive sessions that do design work such as a CAD application and batch job processing for analysis and simulation.
Here are some basic guidelines:
Minimum of four-core CPU from the Intel® Xeon® processor family. Even though most CAD applications are single threaded, a typical user will have more than one application running even if it’s an office productivity tool or browser. Also, the operating system will require some CPU cycles.
RAM is fairly inexpensive, so purchase the right amount for all applications. Not doing so can dramatically decrease performance. For most CAD applications, I suggest starting at 8 Gbytes of RAM and 32 Gbytes or more for simulation and analysis.
The right certified professional graphics card can provide optimum interactive performance and extreme performance benefits for GPU accelerated analysis applications. Recommendations are: 2D CAD = entry-level graphics; 3D CAD = midrange graphics; and advanced 3D = high-end graphics card.
When not traveling, my Precision laptop is connected to a 24" IPS monitor. That way, I can, for example, keep a part number spreadsheet displayed on the 17" laptop monitor and the models/drawings I am working on, displayed on the 24" monitor.
The other way to have your cake and eat it, too is to use a docking station, making it unnecesary to plug and unplug multiple cables. Of course, if you never or seldom travel/work at home, having a Xenon processor in a full desktop is the way to go.
I saw a demo of SolidWorks 2013 on a Dell laptop running Windows 8 today at SolidWorks World. It was quite impressive. I'm not sure exactly why you'd be running it on a screen that size, unless you have to do something in the field or at a customer site. But if that's your application, it was impressive.
Scott, Excellent post. My company is in the process of purchasing (or investigating the purchase of) additional computer equipment and your article is very very timely. I am amazed at the variety of comments we get from various vendors--all wanting to sell equipment and software. Your information is greatly appreciated.
At my previous place of employment, our IT department would always wait until all software was compatible with the latest operating system, since there were many in-house programs that needed to be updated when time permitted.
However, as luck would have it, Solidworks just release their 2013 version as I was picking out a Dell Precision laptop. I'm happy to say that SW 2013 works very well with Windows 8 Professional. All other programs I use, like Word, Excel, and Outlook work seamlessly as well. By the way, there are occasionally some excellent deals in Dell's outlet section of their website. That's where I found my 17-inch Precision M6600 at a great price.
Just went through this process myself with no sucess. All of my development tools require the MS Windows OS. With the recent release of Windows 8, you will be hard pressed to find a system that does not ship with Windows 8 unless you get an older, inferior architecture. In my case, not all of the tools are compatible with the newer OS yet.
I purchased a Windows 8 system in the hopes of running my applications in "compatiblity mode", but that failed. I even tried replacing the boot drive with another drive and installing Windows 7 Pro on it, but the newer architectures have UEFI, a security mechanism for thwarting viruses. Windows 7 is not compatible with this, so, ultimately I had to return the machine and must wait for the CAD vendors to catch up to the new OS.
The next time you're churning through simulation models, manipulating 3D designs in real-time, or rendering a beautiful photo-realistic image, take a moment to think about all the work that goes on behind the scenes and be glad you don't have to worry about it.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.