Like most software packages, there is a list of system requirements (including a detailed list for video cards) that can be used to help ensure the hardware in your system will work with their software. However, most "system requirements" lists tend to cover only the very basics of what hardware is needed to run the software, not what hardware will actually give the best performance. In addition, sometimes these lists can be outdated, list old hardware revisions, or simply outright show sub-optimal hardware.
Because of how inconsistent those lists can be, we've taken the time to perform testing to determine what hardware runs Solidworks the best. Based on this testing, we have come up with our own list of recommended hardware for Solidworks.
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 high frequency or high core count CPU is better depends on how well a program is designed to take advantage of multiple CPU cores (often referred to as multi-threading). For most tasks in Solidworks, the answer as to whether you want a high core count or higher operating frequency is very straight-forward. Simply put, most modeling tasks (including rotating and viewing models) and even launching Solidworks itself are single threaded so core count is largely irrelevant.
There are a number of tasks within Solidworks that are multi-threaded such as opening/saving files, FEA simulations, and flow simulations, but our testing has shown that the parallel efficiency of these tasks is poor to the point that the latest quad core, high frequency CPU like the Intel Core i7 6700K (4 cores, 4.0-4.2GHz) will perform roughly equivalent to a high core count Xeon E5 CPU that costs five times more! If you are looking for an ultra-reliable CPU, the Intel Xeon E5-1275 V5 (4 cores, 3.6-4.0GHz) will be slightly slower than the Core i7 but still provide excellent performance.
The only exception to this is rendering which, unlike the rest of Solidworks, is actually very efficient at using multiple CPUs. If you do very heavy rendering to the point that you need a machine dedicated to rendering, you will get the best performance for your money with a dual Xeon system. To give you an idea of how much better performance you can expect compared to an Intel Core i7 6700K, the chart below should be an accurate estimation of how long it would take to render the image used in our Solidworks 2016 Multi Core Performance article with the dual Xeon CPUs we would recommend:
Keep in mind that any dual Xeon system is going to have worse performance for the majority of Solidworks tasks besides rendering, so we would not recommend using dual Xeon CPUs in a system that is not going to be dedicated for rendering.
Also, we do not offer overclocking on our recommended systems for Solidworks. In our testing, we found that overclocking only introduced a marginal improvement in performance that is not enough to outweigh the risks associated. We can overclock by request, but to handle the cooling and power requirements a configuration different than our recommended systems is required.
Video Card (GPU)
Having the proper video card is critical to working efficiently in Solidworks. While the video card is not used for any calculation work, using the correct card ensures that you are able to rotate and view models smoothly. Currently, Solidworks only officially supports NVIDIA Quadro and AMD FirePro discrete video cards so if you want to be able to use the full range of features you will definitely want a workstation card. Also, we found in our testing that GeForce cards give significantly lower performance in Solidworks when using "Shaded w/ Edges" which means that we highly recommend using only Quadro (or possibly FirePro) video cards.
As for selecting the exact model, your choice is going to be dictated by the resolution of your display, the complexity of models you work with, and your target FPS (typically either 30 or 60 FPS). For a 1080p display a Quadro K620 2GB should be able to give you >60 FPS for models up to about 1-1.5 million triangles, although for larger models you may need a Quadro K2200 4GB or even a Quadro M4000 8GB.
For 4K displays, one of the main limiting factors is often not the horsepower of the video card, but rather the amount of VRAM (video card memory) the card has. 4K requires significantly more VRAM than 1080p so the 2GB on the Quadro K620 is simply not going to be adequate. Instead, we recommend at least a Quadro K2200 4GB when modeling with a 4K display and upgrading to a Quadro M4000 8GB or even higher if you want to have a ~60 FPS on very complex models.
Note that for some larger models, you may run into the situation where you become CPU limited (even with the fastest CPU available) before you become GPU limited. In those cases, upgrading the video card will not give you any higher performance as Solidworks needs to wait on the CPU rather than the video card.
While the exact amount of RAM you need is going to depend on your particular models, Solidworks generally needs between 4-8GB of RAM for tasks such as rotating models, simulations, and renders. Due to this, we recommend having 16GB in your system to give you plenty of free RAM for other programs you may have running.
A general rule of thumb is that you need about 5GB of RAM for Solidworks itself, then at least 20 times the largest assembly size you work with. So if your assemblies are all about 200MB in size, you would need 5GB + 20x.2 which works out to 9GB of RAM. However, RAM comes in fixed amounts, so this would need to be rounded up to 16GB of RAM. Also keep in mind that any additional software you are running (whether it be for simulation, rendering, or even web browsing) will require RAM as well so if it looks like you will be at all close we highly recommend upgrading to a larger capacity.
For most SOLIDWORKS users, 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 and the installation of Solidworks. The high speed of SSDs allows your system to boot and launch applications many times faster than any traditional hard drive.
To determine the best drive to use as a secondary storage drive, we performed benchmarks (using an Intel Core i7 6700K CPU) to time how long it took to save and open both assembly and drawing files in Solidworks:
The files used were Vertical Twin Steam Engine with Reverse Gear (by Ridwan Septyawan) for our assembly file and the punch_holder file from the Solidworks Performance Test dataset for the drawing. The size on disk of these projects is roughly 60MB for the assembly and 13MB for the drawing.
As you can see, the speed of the drive makes no impact on the time it takes to open either a drawing or assembly file. Even though the Intel 750 NVMe drive has more than 10x the read performance of the WD RD+ drive, both drives opened the files at exactly the same speed. Instead, we found that the single core performance of your CPU is usually going to be the limiting factor when opening files.
For saving files, we again saw no difference between the drive with a drawing but when saving a large assembly we did actually see an improvement. The performance increase doesn't exactly match the advertised write performance of each drives, but it works out to be about a 20% decrease in the time it takes to save a large assembly every time you double a drive's write performance. So if you often save an entire assembly, having a drive with a high write performance may be a good idea.
One last factor that should be taken into consideration is the time it takes to simply start Solidworks. As long as Solidworks is installed on an SSD it should launch in a matter of seconds, but we have discovered that Solidworks performs a check of every drive in the system during the startup process. Normally, this check does not greatly impact the time it takes for Solidworks to launch - unless you have a traditional platter hard drive in your system that has gone into it's low-power state (which by default happens after the drive has not been accessed for ~20 minutes). If that is the case, Solidworks has to wait for the drive to spin up which can take as long as 10 seconds. In other words, each platter drive in your system can potentially increase the time it takes Solidworks to launch by about 10 seconds. For this reason, unless you need large amounts of cost-efficient storage we highly recommend using an SSD for both your primary drive as well as any secondary storage drives.