Like most software developers, Autodesk maintains a list of system requirements for various versions of AutoCAD that can be used to help ensure the hardware in your system will work with AutoCAD. However, most "pc requirements" lists tend to cover the required hardware, not what hardware would actually give the best performance. In addition, some lists can be outdated, list old hardware revisions, or simply outright list sub-optimal hardware.
Because of how inconsistent those lists can be, we've taken the time to perform testing to determine what hardware runs AutoCAD the best. Based on this testing, we have come up with our own list of recommended hardware for AutoCAD.
When it comes to CPUs there are two main specifications that define the capability of a CPU:
- The frequency directly affects how many operations a single CPU core can complete in a second (how fast it is).
- The number of cores is how many physical cores there are within a CPU (how many operations it can run simultaneously).
Whether a higher frequency or higher core count is faster depends on how well a program is designed to take advantage of multiple CPU cores. In the case of AutoCAD, the vast majority of the software is only single threaded so it is only able to utilize a single core of the CPU. For this reason, our general recommendation when choosing a CPU is to simply go with a model that has a high frequency. For current generation CPUs, the fastest CPU for general AutoCAD use is the Intel Core i7 6700K which operates with a base clock of 4.0 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost clock of 4.2 GHz. If you are looking for an ultra-reliable workstation, the Intel Xeon E3-1275 is slightly slower with a maximum Turbo Boost clock of 4.0GHz, but allows for the use of technology such as ECC (error correcting) RAM.
The only exception to the single thread limitation in AutoCAD are 2D Regeneration and Mental Ray rendering (source). 2D Regeneration is not an especially intensive task (so it should not really be a consideration when choosing a CPU) but if you do even a moderate amount of rending using Mental Ray you may want to consider choosing a higher core count CPU. In this case, we recommend looking at our CPU-based Rendering workstations which are specifically designed for rendering engines such as Mental Ray
Video Card (GPU)
For AutoCAD, the video card is what handles displaying the 2D and 3D models on the screen. However, typically only 3D models require anything more than a basic GPU, so if you will only be working with 2D models only then you are better off saving money on the GPU and putting that money towards a faster CPU, SSD, or more RAM.
If you will be working with 3D models, we recommend using a workstation NVIDIA Quadro card. Mainstream GeForce cards can technically get you better performance for your dollar, although the downside is that they are not officially certified for use in AutoCAD by Autodesk. Because of this, we highly recommend using a Quadro card in any professional environment to ensure that you will be able to get full support from Autodesk if you every have a software issue.
In most situations, the faster the video card the better performance (in terms of frames per second) you will get when working with a 3D model. However, we have found that except in extreme situation, there is little to no noticeable benefit to using anything faster than a Quadro M4000. AutoCAD is also very light on VRAM usage, so there is no reason to get a card that has more than ~2GB of VRAM for strictly AutoCAD use.
While the exact amount of RAM you need is going to depend on the size and complexity of the model you will be working with, we generally recommend a minimum of 16GB for all our systems. AutoCAD (including Mental Ray rendering) is actually fairly light on RAM requirements and Autodesk only recommends 8GB of RAM. However, given the relatively low cost of RAM - and the fact that most users tend to have more than just AutoCAD running on their system - we feel that 16GB is a great starting point. If you will be working with very large models or having a large number of files open at the same time, however, you may consider upgrading to 32GB or more.
For most AutoCAD uses, ECC memory (which can automatically detect and fix minor memory errors) is not required, although if you need the most reliable workstation possible the small price increase is likely a good investment. However, be aware that ECC memory requires an Intel Xeon processor - such as the one found in our Xeon E3 workstation - which for general AutoCAD use will not be as fast as the Intel Core i7 CPU that is in our Core i7 recommended system.
Storage (Hard Drives)
With the falling costs associated with SSDs, we almost always recommend using an SSD for the primary drive that will host your OS, AutoCAD itself, and any active projects you are working on. The high speed of SSDs allows your system to boot, launch applications, and load files many times faster than any traditional hard drive. However, SSDs are still more expensive than traditional drives per GB - so for long term storage we recommend having a secondary traditional hard drive in addition to a primary SSD. If you can afford it, having multiple SSDs (one for the OS and AutoCAD and a second dedicated for active projects) along with a larger traditional drive for storage is even better.