Engineering your own kick-ass CAD workstation build on a budget

An engineer is particular about his/her tools, and there's no more important or personal an engineering tool these days than the CAD workstation. While you could just fork over your hard-earned cash for a turnkey CAD configuration designed for corporate sensibilities, you want a PC engineered your way. You want serious CAD power, but at reasonable prices. We can build it. We have the technology.


Quit acting like you've never seen the CEO of Nvidia holding a graphics card in front of Castle Grayskull before.

Since we're talking DIY builds, we're leaving laptops at the curb and focusing on desktops for now. While it's certainly possible to crank out a custom laptop, it's much like building a Hackintosh or a steam-powered giraffe: intellectually stimulating yes, but also ultimately pointless. We'll hit the highlights today, and can deep dive into your favorite topics in future posts.

Choose your own path in the certification labyrinth

What often causes the most confusion in spec'ing or upgrading a custom CAD rig is defining performance requirements that lead to choosing the right gear. While minimum CPU, RAM, and OS requirements are both easily discovered and rather universal, the moment you bring graphics cards into the mix, you plunge into the confusing quagmire of CAD hardware certifications. CAD software traditionally has been very sensitive to perturbations in the graphics pipeline, and the solution has been rather low-tech: vigorously test specific configurations. You'll discover that vendor certifications are based on specific graphics cards, on specific driver versions, and on specific operating systems (all of which are often not the latest and greatest). Furthermore, some certifications focus only on particular workstation models provided by named hardware partners. Considering how quickly everything changes, it's enough to make you go blind. Need a migraine?

Have a look for yourself:






So what's all this certification brouhaha mean for us DIY chickens? Exactly nothing. No one's necessarily going to certify your particular build, and that's the price of putting together your own rig. In many cases, you'll be <cue dark organ music> unsupported. Meaning if you run into problems with the software, you're likely on your own. Consequently, if you want to feel safe and warm, and make phone calls to tech support 3 times a day, then by all means, go get yourself a certified workstation instead. Last I checked, however, most of you are engineers. Let's not forget signs you're an engineer #3456: Warranties are meaningless. With that in mind, let's get to choosing components.

CPU: clockspeed ain't what it used to be

When it comes to CPUs, there was a time when all you had to do was pile on the Ghz, it was all about the Pentiums, baby. With Moore's Law under assault, and Intel stuttering on their ticks lately, the push toward ever-smaller die sizes and higher clocks are taking a physics beat down. Performance gains are more subtle, the real reason people aren't buying new PCs every year anymore. The good news is this means your wallet will thank you; getting a respectable CPU has never been more affordable.

Microprocessor performance, however, is now a non-obvious fusion of clock speed, process size, and architecture. Take, for example, the Intel i7-5820 which outperforms the i7-4790 on most benchmarks, despite a 700Mhz dearth in clock speed, and the same 22nm process, the difference being the Haswell-E architecture. The current sweet spot for value is around the i5-4690k, with strong single-core performance which matters most in a CAD universe that is still overwhelmingly single-threaded. Poor AMD has been playing second fiddle for the last 3 or 4 songs, and the nearest equivalent, the FX8350, doesn't fare as well. While you'll find most vendor CAD workstations are equipped with Xeon procs, the Xeon's larger memory address space and hyperthreading capability is going to be of marginal value for most of you, unless you're doing hardcore FEA or rendering most of the time.

Graphics card hunger games

So you've heard when it comes to CAD graphics, you must cough up the coin for the professional workstation cards (Nvidia Quadro or AMD Firepro). You can't use gaming cards, it'll unravel space-time, and possibly dissolve your kidney. Do not pass Go, do not collect 200 CUDA cores.

Professional cards are specially binned for enhanced reliability and benefit from dedicated driver support and optimizations for your CAD applications. The gaming cards are exempted from these optimizations, not because the hardware is necessarily incapable, but due to how the driver support has been coded. Truth be told you can run CAD (say AutoCAD or SolidEdge) on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with the rather homely Intel HD5000 (which is certified FYI). At that point most of the load is on the software renderer, but today's CPU's make it quite tolerable. You'd have a similar experience with a gaming card. It's not the best experience, mind you, but for most reasonably sized assemblies with the right graphics settings, it works. Going with a pro card is a smoother experience and certainly more costly, not because of hardware superiority, but just how the market's structured. Complicating matters, if you're an engineer, and have a PC, you're also no doubt a member of Gaben's glorious PC Master Race, and want to squeeze in some GTAV, Witcher 3, and Arkham on the side.

Ah, first world problems. What to do? Choose thy path:

  • Play it safe: Get the fastest Quadro/FirePro you can afford. Play FTL and Sanctuary RPG
  • Combo Breaker: Get two graphics cards. Multiple graphics cards with different drivers coexist just fine in Windows 7 and up. Get a lower end pro card (something like the Nvidia Quadro K620) to ensure stability and use the optimized driver, and supplement with a gaming card to ensure happiness. Yes, you can have your cake and render it too.
  • Crazy go nuts: Throw money and cares to the wind, pickup a TitanX with its floating point potential and general disrespect for normalcy, and blame any graphical glitches on solar flares.

Storage: save all the things

In the past SSDs were an optional enhancement if you had the extra loot. These days they're mandatory; anyone not using an SSD for their boot drive ain't right in the head. Early concerns over longevity and reliability of SSD technology are ancient history. They've also become extremely cost competitive, considering the significant speed advantage over magnetic hard drives. SSD's ramp up in cost as size goes up, the sweet spot being 250G.

If you need more space consider buying two identical drives: one for the OS, and one for your programs. It also makes good sense to supplement your SSD with a sizable magnetic drive, to store larger, less performance-sensitive data, like your totally legitimate 200G music collection.

Remembering about memory

Memory is plentiful these days, 8GB should be your minimum entry point for anything CAD related. 1600 Mhz DDR3 is the sweet spot for price to performance. If you have a few extra bucks, don't bother with getting faster RAM, just get more RAM. You'll also notice the vendor workstations come equipped with ECC RAM. Do you need it? Nope.avi

Don't forget the mobo

It's easy to overlook the motherboard, as it won't be responsible for dramatic performance gains. You'll need to pay attention to memory slots (4+), maximum addressable memory (32GB+), number of SATA ports (6+) and available PCI 2.0 and 3.0 slots to accommodate your graphics card(s). I'm partial to Asus, but EVGA and MSI make solid boards too.

You have the power

You need some electric juice for all this PC glory. Typically, a power supply in the 700-1000W range is what you need. Larger PSUs run more efficiently at lower loads, plus it buys you margin for that day when you decide that popping a couple TitanX's isn't nearly as insane as it sounds right this moment.

A place for your gear

Part of the fun of building your own rig is injecting a bit of your own personality. The best place to do so is via the case, a welcome improvement over the lifeless, boring black boxes indicative of a purchased workstation. Personally, I tend to err on the land-a-plane-on-it case size. Because you never know when you'll decide to cram 6 drives, 4 video cards, and a liquid cooling reservoir in it.

So let's lay it all out on the table and compare what we've got to the purchased equivalent:

A reasonable self-build (July 29, 2015):

CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K LGA 1150 $239.99

Mobo: Asus Maximum VII Hero Intel Z97 ATX $209.99

Graphics: Nvidia Quadro K620 $159.99 + EVGA Nvidia GTX 980 Superclocked $487.99 (With $20 Rebate)

SSD: Crucial MX200 6G Sata III $99.19

HDD: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7200 RPM $76.99

RAM: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 $45.99

Cooling: Stock

Case: Cooler Master Cosmos SE $169.99

PSU: EVGA 220-G2-0750XR: $129.99

OS: Windows 7 Pro: $134.95

Keyboard: Use what you got.

Mouse: Use what you got.

TOTAL: $1755.06

Dell Precision Tower 5810:

CPU: Intel Xeon E5-1620

Mobo: A Scooby-Doo mystery

Graphics: Nvidia Quadro K620


HDD: 2TB 7200 RPM HD

RAM: 8GB (2x4GB) 2133Mhz DDR2 RDIMM ECC

Optical: DVD+/-RW

Cooling: Stock

Case: Generic Dell Sadness

PSU: Whatever they threw in there.

OS: Win 7 Pro / 8.1 Pro

Keyboard: Dell KB212-B Quiet Key

Mouse: Dell MS111 USB Optical

TOTAL: $2004 (After $668 Instant Savings)

Final words

Building certainly has its advantages. We built something respectable without breaking the bank, managing to squeeze a bonus GTX 980 in there, and still saved $250 over the turnkey equivalent. Not bad, eh? You're more than welcome to send me the difference in Steam gift cards.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like this content: PDM Part II: How to manage CAD files without Product Data Management Software

  • Ryan

    A very timely article as I was just swapping out RAM and hard drive on one of our HP Z210 workstations. I was concerned with ECC RAM or not and found a great deal at Microcenter for EVGA Superclocked DDR3 16GB (2×8) and a lifetime warranty for $90! And guess what it is ECC and did I say lifetime warranty! Want to guess what the box people want for memory? Go look. It will floor you.
    Hey, you will want to get more than a stock cooler since you are putting an overclocked CPU into the box. The “K” on the end means you can overclock it.
    And I like the K620 since it can run 4 monitors using DP 1.2. Down with DVI and VGA and HDMI! Old tech get out of the way.
    And the case you chose can serve as a night light and jack-o-lantern at Halloween.
    Personally, I like the Samsung 850 EVO SSD better since it comes with the cloning software!

    • Peter Gebruers

      You CAN overclock this CPU but you don’t have to…

    • Hey Ryan, as Peter mentions, kept the stock cooler in the build since we weren’t bothering to overclock the bump probably wasn’t going to be worth it, but that’s the beauty of a personalized build – the choice is yours! Thinking of a followup that goes into the ins and outs of Overclocking and also more exotic cooling solutions, either for OC’ing or ‘just cuz.

      Display port is indeed good stuff, though 1.3 will quickly become important as 4K comes into its own. Are you running 4 displays? I’m starting to feel inadequate at 3.

      As for the jack-o-latern, I have a Cosmos S on my main build, always loved the lines on this thing. Check the pic.

      • Ryan


        No. I’m not running 4 monitors. Technically my stand-up/sit down Ergotron unit is a single monitor unit. Although I’ll grab the spare U2414 from time to time to show off what I can do with a “simple” Surface Pro 3. Here I’ve got SolidWorks with EPDM and Solid Edge up and running along with Outlook (desktop version). That would technically be 3 monitor running on a single mini-DisplayPort cable out and Bluetooth mouse. The SE assembly is 1,500 component assembly and the SW assy is simple one but hey it all works!
        Makes you wonder what Small Form Factor actually is nowadays.
        The Quadro K1200 (SFF build only) has 4 DP outputs!

  • Faster Than Light (FTL) is such an addictive little game. And it even plays well on my Surface Pro 3.

    And for the desktop workstation I built myself? My advice is to plan for expansion.
    After a couple years, I dropped in a new CPU – the max that would still fit on my existing motherboard socket. I also doubled the memory.
    A couple years later, a new graphics card. Like before, technology changes that at some point you end up capping out performance due to a non-compatibility with hardware. In my case, PCI-Express 2.0 motherboard doesn’t take advantage of the latest PCI-Express 3.0 graphics cards. I could upgrade the card, but I wouldn’t get much performance increase.
    Just this year I had to replace the CPU fan.

    In other words, I paid less for the desktop initially and rather than having to buy a whole new rig in 2 or 3 years, I upgrade components for a fraction of the cost. This desktop is around 6 years old, still runs all my applications wonderfully, and I think I have another solid year before I need to consider replacing it. Blame that on having to upgrade the OS.

  • Tomasz Szewczyk

    Bought a Refurb. M6600 with a FirePro M6100 for… wait for it… 500 bucks with a year warranty 8 gig ram spent 50 bucks on a toshiba mSATA 256 ssd and runs the withcher 3 1080p all ultra xcept hairworks (NVIDIA) no probs… Inventor… nocomment. ;P Thats budget thats bang beat that anyone ;p I should be writing those articles here

    • You could go the refurb route, but where’s the fun in that? That’s a whole lot less machine, but it might be fun to see how far down we can push the concept of a budget CAD workstation if we take the cash is king approach.

      • Tomasz Szewczyk

        Dont be so but hurt you spent more on one RAM module than my entire system and I still have a better graphic card. And less machine… pff now you just talk rubbish. FirePro6100 vs entry level graphics driver hell combo he proposed… and I can play Witcher 3 1080p steady 60 frames… ;p with 20s bootup time ;)

      • “you spent more on one RAM module than my entire system…”
        Wait…so your workstation cost $23? But can it run Crysis?

      • Tomasz Szewczyk

        What you dont have a 500 bucks self correcting unobtanium laced UberProRam and you spite a refurb that eats your setup for brekfast… and on a serious note (some here seem to not be eable to take a joke) for the money you are asking to spend on a driver/maintenace/power hunger/idiosynchricy one can pick up a well ballanced MXX00 station from dell with their awesome 3 year waranty and a weekend on town worth to spare. Added portability (rough they are worry not) And! it would eat your setup for breakfast.

      • Rick Jender

        Sorry, I’ll never go Dell again. Their tech support botched some (admittedly) difficult troubleshooting on high-level officers’ laptops. I’d rather build my own.

  • Nutral

    I disagree on the cpu, single core performance is everything so you would better put some money in the best single core performance, comparing the i5 4690k and the i7 4790k, the 4790k has 4,4ghz turbo clock while the i5 has 3,9ghz, so that’s about 10% more clockspeed on the same cpu. a lot of times you are waiting on the cpu to finish processing something in cad software so this would really benefit into less “waiting” time.
    For the ssd I would go for something a bit higher performance, something like the Samsung 850 pro would have more performance even with smaller files (which cad usually is) although the difference isn’t that large.
    The PSU is a bit too large for this setup, something about 550w would be enough for this system.
    As for graphics cards, cad software works differently from each other with graphics cards. With autodesk workstation gpu’s aren’t really needed, they run off of directx (same as games) while the workstation graphics cards are optimized for opengl. Heres my list for now:
    Inventor > directx gaming graphics cards work fine on this
    AutoCAD > directx gaming graphics cards work fine on this, although it isn’t that demanding.
    Solid edge > Workstation graphics cards should work better, but I’ve been running it with a gaming graphics card and it does run fine. But if I’d have a choice i’d pair this with a quadro/firegl
    Teamcenter visualisation > workstation graphics cards, very large performance gap.
    Siemens NX > Workstation graphics cards,
    Solid works > runs off opengl, so should be workstation gpu’s. but I have no experience with this.

    • cadman777

      I agree w/Nutral.
      Other considerations are:
      1. Quad channel ram is faster than dual channel ram (4 sticks vs. 2 sticks of ram) – a mobo issue.
      2. Quadro works much better than GeForce for larger models.
      3. 15k rpm sas drive is the much better than anything else for storage.
      4. Quality ram is everything.
      5. No mention of a cpu cooler, which is necessary.
      6. No mention of HOW to make all the right settings in the bios, overclocking, etc. That’s the key.

      • Nutral

        a good ssd will outclass any 15k rpm sas drive though. the new intel 750 ssd’s are even better because they are on nvme. they have about 2600mb/s read performance and 300k iops.
        quad channel would only be possible on x99 motherboards which you can’t get the high turbo cpu’s from, tops out at 3,8ghz.
        As I said, quadro doesn’t always work better, depends on the cad software.

      • cadman777

        True about the ssd vs 15k. However, unless something’s changed since last year, the stats i read say the ssd’s degrade over time, which is why i prefer a hd for storage, due to drive access demands. If that’s changed, i’m all ears.

        True about the x99’s vs x79’s. Do you know of a mobo that has both?

        I found quadro to work better w/these cad softwares: Inventor, Rhino, SW. Never tried it w/SolidEdge. I’ve no clue about high-end modelers or steel detailing software. I don’t render so i’ve no opinion on that.

        One more thing:

        If using FEA, get as fast a cpu w/as many cores as possible.

      • Hi cadman777 and Nutral, thanks for the input! You’re absolutely right about DirectX, expect to see more of the CAD world revisit DirectX in the future.

        The i7-4790K just isn’t worth the $100 price premium, especially considering it’s a poor overclocker, with so little margin available.

        True, the PSU is oversized for the build, but the premium is small, and allows room for expansion. Ideally, you’d like to hold on to a PSU for as long as it will last. Efficiency peaks at about 50% load.

        1. The quad channel boards aren’t worth the current tradeoffs for this application IMHO
        2. Agreed, hence the two-card setup.
        3. Not a chance. 15k drives are being phased out. The right SSD will exceed 15k performance, no moving parts. Now if you want to talk extreme dedicated flash banks… The concern over SSD degradation is indeed old news – and mechanical drives degrade as well. The failure mode for SSD’s are more sudden – but you should be making backups regardless. That being said, I’ve had two SSD’s in daily service for 5 years – not a burp. Over the same time period, I have amassed a graveyard of mechanical drives (see pic). Going to make wind chimes out of those.
        4. In a server, absolutely. But for CAD work Lower quality RAM is of surprising quality. Good times with market segmentation. We can deep dive into this with a future post about the intricacies of ECC.
        5. The spec’d proc is retail, and hence comes with a stock CPU fan.
        6. Agreed! We can dive into this in future postings.

      • cadman777

        Nice pics.

        What do you have that I can read about the fixes made to SSD’s so that they don’t degrade any longer?

        The 15k sas’s I have are almost a decade old. Haven’t had many hd’s die over the years. Maybe I’m just lucky??

        I’ve always had problems w/cheap ram. But I’m not saying that you need EEC. “Doesn’t pay to buy cheap.”

        Thanx for the input ….

      • Nutral

        most ssd’s support trim, so they do automatic garbage collection while idle or under utilized. even under trim a current ssd, especially an nvme will blow any 15k drive out of the water.

    • Bun-Bun

      i7-4790k are enthusiast chips. They do not run at stock clocks without some decent cooling. All of mine I have forced to stay at 4.0GHz as they do not run 4.4GHz reliably enough without serious aftermarket cooling that is simply not worth the hassle at work.

      • Nutral

        you will hit the 4,4ghz reliably when using only 1 core, which is exactly what you need in cad software. turbo boost is intended to speed up when only on 1 or 2 cores.

        What is the hassle about ? the cpu will just run at 4 or 4,2ghz when it can’t sustain 4,4ghz. why would you cripple the cpu?

        btw an aftermarket cooler would be about 35€ that would even be overkill if you’re not going to overklock.

      • Bun-Bun

        None of the ones I have had will even do single threaded loads at 4.4GHz reliably. I have had too many errors and/or seen the CPU being throttled due to temps. Easier to manually set it to 4.0GHz and drop the voltage for better temps so that no throttling occurs. The performance gain from 400MHz is insignificant anyway. This isn’t the days of the northwoods anymore.

        Besides, when is a workstation under a true single threaded load? Mine sure never is.

  • Paul Hammerstrom

    I wholeheartedly agree with Scott. I am on the same upgrade curve as him and I do some pretty heavy lifting on the FEA side. My machine is 4 years old now and still has some life left in it. I have always gone for stability and upgrade potential over blazingly fast out of the gate. I typically use Xeon or Opteron Processors with ECC Micron memory. It is more expensive but I typically go for dual processor motherboards. This allows me to run FEA/CFD and still have room left to work on CAD modeling simultaneously. Tyan makes some very good quality, and stable motherboards in this regard. As for power supplies I swear by Seasonic. For cooling, I use quality air cooled cpu heatsinks and Noctua fans throughout my rigs. I don’t go for liquid cooling as there are too many things that can go wrong over time and with more parts there is more maintenance. I also tend to use cases that have good air filtering and easy access to the filters. For graphics cards I always have been partial to Nvidia, so I originally bought a Quadro for this rig. The motherboard can handle SLI so I was toying with the idea of getting another matching card and seeing how that goes. My last build cost me under $2,000. I just upgraded the CPU’s and memory.

  • LT Rusty

    I’d like to also point out here that the whole video card thing becomes far more interesting if you’re running a CAD package like Inventor that uses Direct3D instead of OpenGL. Your video card options open up a lot more, and you DEFINITELY don’t need to waste your money on a Quadro or a FirePro. I ran all the way up to Inventor 2015 using a Radeon HD 4870 with 512MB. Only reason I upgraded (to an R9-270X) was because the drivers were discontinued. Performance with Inventor was still top notch.

    Edit to include rest-of-system specs:

    i7-4770k w/stock cooler
    Asus Z87-Pro MB
    Corsair 1000W PSU
    16GB Corsair Vengeance (soon to be 32)
    256 GB Samsung 840 Pro
    Total of ~8 TB of platter drives
    Sapphire R9-270X
    HP 27″ 1080p monitor
    Acer 22″ 1080p monitor
    Steelseries Apex KB
    Logitech MX Revolution Mouse
    SpacePilot Pro (that I need to bring back home from work when I clean my desk off)


    Autodesk Product Design Suite Ultimate 2014 / 2015 / 2016
    Autodesk Simulation Moldflow 360
    Autodesk Inventor HSM

  • Ryan

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen a comment that says, “Save all your money and work in the cloud with Solid Edge, Onshape or Fusion. Buy a $600 tablet or my preference is the SP3!

    • LT Rusty

      Because most of us posting here are professionals, and we use professional tools.

      • Ryan

        OH…that hurts..You have to remember that systems like Solid Edge, NX and now SolidWorks are now running in VDI and I would say those are “professional tools.” That means you don’t really need this type of hardware but a virtual/display device.
        We are starting to see the “off shoring” of the CPU and/or GPU calculation! Whether that is a full cloud solution or private cloud it’s going that way.
        Yeah, this really takes the fun out of the building your own rig but my rig I take to the lake and even mirracast my CAD session to the 50″ TV. Now we are talking another whole sort of fun! ;-)

      • LT Rusty

        I thought I was making a sarcastic response to someone else’s sarcastic suggestion. Now that I find you were actually serious … gimme a minute to stop laughing insanely.

        Okay, that’s better.

        To me, building my own rig is more of a necessary evil than anything else, but cloud-based CAD work? That’s an UNnecessary evil.

        I’ve done a LOT of testing on these things, in a variety of both public and private clouds. There is absolutely no circumstance in which I’ve found that the trade-offs in convenience vs performance were acceptable. Lag and poor responsiveness are the order of the day when you offload stuff to a server a bazillion miles away. Try as you might, you CANNOT break the speed of light for communications through a wire, and when you figure switching and bandwidth into it things get pretty slow at a distance.

        The one shining example that everyone points to of how cloud software should work is Adobe … and everyone conveniently ignores the fact that it’s not actually cloud-based. It’s just network-based licensing for a software package that is still 100% installed on your local machine. Cloud is just a buzzword there.

        And, let’s face it, the convenience is a drawback, too. You like to take your work with you to the lake? Good for you. I like to take my fishing pole, a book, my dog, and a six pack. If your lords and masters get the idea that you’re going to be accessible 24-7, then guess what? You’ll have to ACTUALLY be available 24-7, and I’m not willing to play that game.

        Additionally, when you try and run everything over a cloud, you’re constantly at the mercy of your network service provider. If Sprint has an outage in your area, your team is shut down completely, and how much money does that cost you every day? If that happens to me, the only thing I lose is a little bit of frustration when I type my emails on my phone. All my data and models and drawings are still sitting right here on my desk, and I’m still up and running.

        As far as a Surface Pro goes? Seriously? Your favorite way to work is on a screen that size? Shrink down most CAD programs to that size, and even if you CAN still read the button labels, your finger is going to cover three buttons at the same time. Oh, carry a keyboard and a mouse around with you? Why not just take a laptop in the first place?

        No, thanks – I’ll stick to software tools that actually offer genuine productivity, and a hardware solution that takes the best advantage of those tools.

      • Ryan

        I don’t disagree with anything you said about the cloud based issues- not a single one. Honestly. My point was that we have options now and that hardware and infrastructures have improved enough that we can run CAD on tablet form devices. I run CAD local on my SP3 not in the cloud.
        FYI- No I don’t run CAD solely on the SP3. I can and yes it is a bit tedious but the pen is nice for precision work. I normally hook up to the 24″ monitors at work with a single cable or my other monitor at home. Yes, I take work home…as an Sys Admin that is the penalty I pay for…even the lake!
        I will comment that I have used my fingers to zoom up text or try and rotate a model on my 24″ monitor. For some reason that doesn’t work. ;-)
        I don’t want hijack the thread but thought I’d throw out the mobile capabilities of current hardware.

      • verplanck

        that sounds kinda tough out here in the sticks where d/l speeds can be 10 mbps or less

  • One option to consider in regards to video cards is to buy a used Nvidia OEM brand video card such as a Dell Quadro 5000 2.5GB. On Ebay, a 2-3 year old card which was top of the line at at initial cost of $1000-$1200 can be purchased for less than $200. The Dell Quadro cards have a plastic assembly at one end which is easily removed to fit most cases. I made this sort of purchase (Quadro FX 4800) and have not had any problems with my system. This allows you to have the advantage of a professional video card at a fraction of the cost. Yes, the technology may be a few years old but there is more than enough power and capability for most applications.

  • Bun-Bun

    Liked the article. Though wish more attention was spent on the graphics cards.

    Professional cards have their place. But there is a lot of misconception about them. You are paying for higher binning and driver optimizations. But for a lot of CAD work these simply don’t matter. Lots of CAD software is using Directx now instead of OpenGL. OpenGL is the API that the optimizations are made for. Directx runs just the same on either. So the only difference is the certification that they will work.

    For less money you can get a better performing consumer card and spend that money on an SSD or ECC board and RAM.

  • Paul-Stefan du Toit

    Seeking the much needed help of the pros: (also if this is the wrong place: “Sorry, I must be lost)

    I’m looking for a engineering laptop. I’m piss poor, but need somthing that will last for arround 6 years and run engineering programs adiquatly. What specs do you reccomend ? I’m looking at a dual core i5 4th gen, 8gb 1600 ram (upgrad later to 16gb), 7200 rpm 1TB HDD and nVidia 2gb GTX 950 dedicated graphix. I realise laptops are a whole different game, but any nudge in the right direction will be much apreciated.

    I’m deciding between the Asus F555U i7 (6th gen),ASUS ROG GL552JX i5 (4th gen) and the ASUS FX550JX i5 (4th gen).

    Apreciate it :)

  • Tajs

    Put your money more in to CPU’s bendwidth not in to fency useles gtx980TI SLI GPU’s. Strongly recomend LGA 2011 and cpu’s frequency could be pulled out of overclocking.

  • Tajs

    i7- 4790k/ cooling enermax ETS-T140
    Asus H97 pro gaming
    32Gb DDR3 RAM
    Samsung EVO 850 250Gb
    Asus STRIX gtx970
    PSU corsair VS550

  • R. Soares

    Hello. I’m kinda new to the 3D modeling. I understand the Quadro/FirePro are more appropriate for that purpouse, but i noticed that you had both a Quadro and a GTX on the frist build. Do they work simultaneously when you are modeling or you need to “shut down” the GTX? And for gaming do you need to do the inverse?
    I bought a desktop (self-made) last year, intended for gaming and occasionally some modeling, but when i open larger (not huge) models the graphics card just doesn’t keep up. This is the build:

    GTX960 Strix 4Gb
    (Don’t know the motherboard reference, but it’s a MSI)
    16Gb RAM DDR3
    256Gb SSD

    My question is, am i better of upgrading the graphics card to a GTX980Ti or adding say a Quadro K1200 (if both the GTX960 and the Quadro work together).

    I design moulds for plastic injection on NX.

    Sorry if i’m making this somehow confusing or if it’s just garbage that i’m saying…

    I appreciate any help possible, if you need any more info on the hardware, please let me know.

    Thank you!

    • Welcome to world of 3D modeling, R.S. !

      While Nvidia drivers allow asymmetrical graphics cards to work together (for example assigning a specific card for PhysX duty) that won’t be an option here. The drivers between the Geforce cards and the Quadro cards are very different, so they’re not going to work together, especially on the same application. But you don’t have to shut them down, just make sure your software is using the correct card through configuration. Multiple graphics cards live together happily in Win 7 and up.

      A high end gaming card will still suffer optimization issues in CAD (thanks mostly to driver support) and a reasonably priced Quadro won’t get you the frame rate you need to keep your gaming alive. Using two cards gives you the best of both worlds at a reasonable price.

      So in your specific case, I’d recommend picking up a Quadro to keep your NX session behaving optimally, while keeping your 960 so after work is done you can go play some Overwatch.

      • R. Soares

        Thank you very much for the welcoming and the reply!
        Still i thnik i’m going to test the 980, because it might hold the models (they won’t be too large), if i’m not happy with th result, i still have 2 weeks to return it and get a full refund, allowing me to buy the Quadro.

        Again, thank you!

      • Tainted Saint

        Please make an updated version of this @edwardlopategui !!!

  • AJ

    I just came across this nice blog for design engineers looking to upgrade their workstations. It is further enriched by 37 comments from other experts.
    However the whole thing is almost two years old and I would much appreciate if Ed could revisit and update us with his comments on the latest 7th gen processors, GPUs and options on cloud computing. Thanks in advance.

    • Jordan Bamber

      I agree!

    • Tainted Saint

      I also would love to see this happen. An updated version of this article would be extremely helpful for people just now getting into the field of CAE design (that also share your love of gaming).

      Please make an updated version of this @edwardlopategui !!!

  • Dave Speller

    I’ve built 6 computers with Gigabit MB’s and they are all still going strong.

  • Yudha Christian

    Hi, I am planning to get a professional gpu for my existing PC and still wondering what kind of card should I get. Hope you can help me as I just found this great discussion.
    My build was from 2013 with these parts :
    CFCPROC processor cooling fan
    DDR3 VGEN 4GB PC12800 x4 (16GB)
    GeForce GTX 660 OC 2GB DDR-5
    MB Biostar TPOWER RX79
    500GB hdd 7200 rpm
    optical DVD burner
    550W PSU
    5 cooling fans and it is just a usual fans not something fancy.

    Planning to add :
    SSD 250GB
    and a professional GPU

    hope you can recommend me a good profesional GPU as I was hoping the 2 GPUs can be run together. And what part should I replace or add again like power supply or something else

    It is mostly for 3D CAD use for product design and a bit of rendering

    Thank You