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Configure Your Workstation for CAD, Step by Step

Like placing one foot in front of the other, the continuous advancements in hardware and software are what move engineering productivity forward. Lose the balance between them when configuring your workstation for CAD, and you’ll be tripped up by overspending on hardware or underperforming on critical software tasks.

The Dell Precision Tower 3420 and 3620 are configurable for CAD and ISV certified. Image courtesy of Dell.

The Dell Precision Tower 3420 and 3620 are configurable for CAD and ISV certified. Image courtesy of Dell.

Configuring a workstation for CAD today is different than just a few years ago because CAD software has changed to keep pace with design engineers’ evolving workflow. For example, being able to run simulations or perform rendering without leaving the CAD program is now a standard feature. Complexity has gone from 2D to 3D to modeling systems of systems. CAM and design for 3D printing functionality is also baked into most popular CAD platforms.

The typical CAD user’s computing workflow extends beyond a single CAD application. Many design engineers are proficient in multiple CAD programs, viewers and translators to ease collaboration. Some also take advantage of stand-alone simulation and visualization tools geared toward design engineers, such as COMSOL Apps or the new ANSYS Discovery Live. Topology optimization and generative design tools are also becoming increasingly common in design engineers’ workflow. And, of course, there are the office applications, such as email, Excel and web browsers, all of which must be considered when determining the best workstation configuration for the best productivity.


The Precision Workstation Storage Classification paper provides an in-depth description of the different types of SSDs and how Dell classifies them via benchmarking. It can be downloaded here.
Thankfully, workstation hardware continues to advance on a number of fronts, exceeding the needs of CAD users in many cases. It’s gone from fast solid-state drives that have increased in storage while dropping in price, to new CPUs and GPUs, to monitors with high enough resolutions to make your eyes forget you’ve been cleaning up part geometries for 10 hours.  And, because technological and workflow disruptions seem to be happening at an increasingly faster pace, CAD users need to decide what will be the best computing configuration two years from now, when next-generation technologies like augmented or virtual reality may be added to their responsibilities.

Whether you need help determining the right components, or help justifying why an engineering workstation needs to be configured differently than the PCs used in the accounting department, the steps below will guide you through the process.

Step 1: What is Your Workflow?

Step 2: Pick Your Processors

Step 3: Speed and Storage

Step 4 & 5: Memory & Peripherals