Nothing goes better with your CAD software than a comfy chair and some good hardware. When we started talking about the Solid Edge ST4 Launch Event (there is still time to sign up), Dell went out of their way to help us with the hardware part. Those of you that are attending will see some nicely equipped Dell Precision T5500 workstations in the class rooms and their new Dell Precision M6600 mobile workstations at the Dell table at the conference. As for the chairs, I’m still hoping to color match some high quality deck chairs to these workstations for the launch event (am I taking my new partnering role too far?)
With Dell coming, I figured this was a good time to talk hardware on the blog. I dropped by our local Solid Edge user forum asking what they wanted to know. Most of us are aware CAD work requires some serious hardware and we are frequently updating our computers and often specing them for others in our design group. I got a few comments about this and shared them with Dell who put together a few specs for me on both Tower and Mobile workstations (see the end of this post). If you are buying, this may be a good place to start (note that I have the Dell Precision M4500 mobile workstation and since there is now an M4600 and an M6600 my whining with my boss will be starting soon :-) )
A few of us CAD folks on the forum are also experimenting with SSD drives since they give fast boots and quick launches of Solid Edge (and most other big software). Unfortunately, they cost more so only a lucky few are getting them. The folks at Dell did point out to me that:
For mobile workstations, the best configuration and for a relatively inexpensive solution, the SSD minicard is a good alternative. The OS (boot) drive is the minicard and a regular HDD is the data drive for application data. With this solution you get the fast boot time of the SSD and the large capacity (and less expense) of the HDD. Also, SSDs, with no moving parts, have the highest durability with up to 15 times more shock and impact resistance than standard hard drives. Hard disk drives (HDDs) have moving parts, which makes them more vulnerable to certain impacts, vibrations and other movements that can lead to drive failure and potential data loss. SSDs, shock-mounted hard drives and free-fall sensor drives can all help reduce the risk of failure.
If being a happier employee doesn’t sell your boss on an SSD drive, working faster while having fewer failures due to accidentally slapping your computer during a slow boot might. :-)
What to Get?
Since high performance, high scalability workstations can cost a bit more than traditional desktops or laptops, people should do some comparison. For example, I'm told by Dell that their entry-level desktop workstation (the T1600) can be both price competitive and still offer many features of traditionally higher priced workstations. .
One thing to consider is that CAD is still mostly a single-threaded application (yeah, there are some places it is not like rendering and FEA and it is slowly creeping into other aspects of CAD) but if you mainly do CAD modeling, max clock speed is the goal. On a desktop workstation, the Quad Core offers highest frequency (3.2 GHz) vs. the dual core (2.53 GHz). While 6 cores are not necessary for Solid Edge, you should consider what other applications you will be running, perhaps simultaneously, to determine the total number of cores you will need. On a mobile workstation though, both the Quad core (i7-2920XM) and Dual core (i7-2620M) processors offer the same frequencies (max turbo), the quad core does so at a much higher price point. The base frequency on the Quad core is lower (2.50 GHz).
Higher power graphics and more memory are both are important for CAD when loading complex models and assemblies and of course manipulating them fluidly. It is the workstation where the delineation between these components (memory, OpenGL graphics and CPU speed) and a normal desktop is most noticeable.
A couple folks on the forum also pointed out they have gotten some good deals at the Dell Outlet store. These are not brand new systems and the inventory can fluctuate but if you are on a tight budget this may be for you. I’d hate to manage a CAD team where every designer has a different model but for an individual or small shop, it might be worth considering.
Just the Spec’s, Ma’am
Lastly, here are a few links to save you searching the Dell site plus some sample configurations I promised you at the beginning.