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Buying a computer capable of running CAD software such as Fusion 360, Inventor, or SolidWorks doesn’t have to break the bank. You will find a wide variety of computers capable of effectively running CAD and CAM software at varying price points. While searching for the perfect CAD workstation to meet your needs, there are some things to consider before you buy. Let’s take a look at the different components that make up a PC for some recommendations on what to look for and what to stay away from.
The CAD Workstations we recommend:
This eGPU is offered by Apple, and contains a Radeon RX 580 GPU that is not interchangeable.
Razr Core V2 eGPU
Unlike the Blackmagic, this eGPU is simply an enclosure. You pick a card yourself, and mount it in the Razer to link with your laptop. A sleeker, updated version of the Core X which can hold larger cards.
The Hardcore Technical Specs:
Most processes in Fusion 360 and other CAD programs are still single core, so lean towards clock speed over the number of CPU cores. A 3.5 GHz Core i5 is better than a 2.4 GHz Core i7. CAM, however, is able to make use of multiples cores and thus certain CAM processes can benefit from not only higher clock speeds but also having multiple cores.
The best bang for your buck is to buy a computer or laptop with a solid state hard drive (aka “SSD”). A 128gb SSD is much better than a 512GB traditional platter hard drive. The speed increase is incredible! CAD and CAM are constantly reading and writing. SSD’s are, in short, awesome. For laptops, they offer additional benefits: less power consumption (no hard drive motor to spin!), more drop/abuse resistant, and quieter operation. If you must buy a traditional platter hard drive, look for one with a 7,200 RPM drive (versus the slower 5,400 rpm).
A consumer level gaming card is highly recommended. We prefer Nvidia GeForce over AMD Radeon, but either is acceptable. Programs like SolidWorks use OpenGL drivers and require higher end cards like Nvidia Quadro. Fusion 360 is a DirectX compliant graphics program, so it does not require the a high end graphics cards. Avoid integrated graphics options.
For RAM: Minimum of 4GB. You’ll be better off with 8GB and 16GB is ideal.
Fusion 360 will run natively on both Windows and Mac OS. For both operating systems, only the 64 bit versions of those operating systems are supported. The good news is that the majority of computers sold today are 64 bit. Currently, Fusion 360 on Windows is supported on Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10. So which version should you choose? Most new PCs will be sold with Windows 10, and Windows 10 is my recommendation for a Windows OS. You will also see variants of Windows 10 such as Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Professional. Fusion will run equally well on both Home and Professional.
The OS version choices on the Mac will be fewer. Mac OS Sierra, Mac OS El Capitan, and Mac OS Yosemite are the supported MAC operating systems for Fusion 360. The upgrade from an older version to a newer version of Mac OS is free. Mac OS Sierra is my recommended OS for Mac users.
You may wonder if you should go with a Mac or a PC. It has been my experience that Fusion 360 runs equally well on both Windows PCs and Macs. Generally, Macs seem to be more expensive for their models that offer a built-in video card. I find that I get much better battery life running Fusion 360 on my Mac compared to my PC. If not being connected to a power cord is important to you, this may be something to consider.
While it is true that some commands found in Fusion 360 are multi-threaded, the majority of the commands are still single threaded. As Moore’s law continues on, instead of CPUs getting faster, manufactures like AMD and Intel are increasing performance by adding cores to the CPU. Since the majority of the commands in Fusion 360 are single threaded, the multi core processors from Intel like the Core i7 series or the AMD Ryzen line may not increase the performance of Fusion 360.
I recommend selecting a processor based on CPU clock speed instead of the number of cores. For example, if my choices were a quad-core CPU running at 3.0 GHz or an eight-core CPU running at 2.4 GHz I would choose the faster clocked quad-core CPU over the eight-core.
GPU (Video Card)
When shopping for computers, you will see two different graphics options. These options are usually referred to as integrated, and discrete. You will want to avoid integrated graphics chips and instead choose models that offer discrete graphics cards. Please note that some computers will offer both integrated and discrete graphics in the same computer. These systems can automatically switch between the integrated chip and the graphics card. The integrated chip is preferred when doing tasks such as email, surfing the web, or doing word processing and will provide better battery life. Computers that offer both integrated and discrete graphics are fine for Fusion 360.
The primary manufacturers of discrete graphics cards are AMD and Nvidia. Both of these companies produce a gaming card series and a professional series of graphics cards. The professional series of GPUs for AMD are called FireGL and for Nvidia they are called Quadro. The gaming series of cards for AMD are named Radeon, and the Nvidia gaming cards are called GeForce.
You may think that because Fusion 360 is a professional level CAD program that you should be looking at the FireGL or Quadro series of GPUs. However, the cards that I want you to look for are the AMD Radeon or Nvidia GeForce GPUs. You will find a wide range of both AMD Radeon and Nvidia GeForce GPUs. It isn’t necessary to buy the very highest end model made. Budget will be the biggest deciding factor as to how high end you go for your purchase here.
Exceptions to the rule:
While computers with dedicated GPUs are preferred, there are a couple of exceptions. Intel’s line of integrated graphics (Intel Extreme and Intel Iris) have been sorely lacking for many years. These integrated chipsets are OK for surfing the web, video playback, productivity tasks (Word, Outlook, Excel) but they have never been good at things like 3D CAD. Recently, Intel has partnered with AMD to use AMDs integrated graphics technology. AMD currently outperforms Intel on its integrated graphics technology. This Intel/AMD partnership can be found in computers that use Intel’s 8th Gen Core™ mobile processor with Radeon RX™ Vega M graphics. Systems that use these chips can switch between the Intel onboard graphics for basic tasks like web surfing and productivity apps and switch to the RX Vega M graphics for things like CAD giving a great combination of battery life and graphics performance.
You can also find computers that support eGPUs, or external GPUs. These eGPUs are connected to the computer through a Thunderbolt 3 port. The use of an eGPU allows a user to get the maximum portability when on the go or connecting to the eGPU when more graphics performance is required. The drawback to an eGPU is that they aren’t very portable, so they will usually remain in a fixed spot like a work desk.
You can find computers that support eGPUs running both Windows and macOS. Be sure to check the manufacturers website to ensure a computer supports eGPU if you are looking for that option.
One other option to look into is AMD’s Accelerated Processing Unit, or APU series of processors. Actually known as “Fusion” for a period of time, the processor line has now been rebranded as the A-series. These processors combine multiple CPU cores with GPU cores built into the processor – thus accelerating the graphics performance when paired with any other integrated graphics or GPU.
Budget will again dictate the amount of RAM the computer you purchase will include. 8 GB of ram is a solid starting point. If you can find a system with 16 GB of RAM and can afford the price bump, that would be my recommendation. It will be easier to find desktop machines that have 16 GB of RAM or more compared to laptops. If you absolutely have to, you can get by with 4GB of RAM but you may run into performance issues when doing things like FEA analysis or toolpath simulations.
You will see storage options listed as either HDD or SSD. HDDs are a mechanical spinning drive where SSDs are flash memory. SSDs offer far better read and write speeds when compared to HDDs. CAD/CAM programs such as Fusion 360 continually read and write to the storage drive. You will see some of the biggest performance gains from using a SSD instead of a HDD. The storage size for SSDs has increased in recent years while at the same time their price has come down. HDDs are still cheaper than SSDs and will often be found in budget computers. If you have to purchase a computer with a HDD, the RPM rating for the HDD will be important to pay attention to. Often systems with HDDs will spin at 5,400 RPM and will slow your system down. If the computer you are looking at has a HDD, I recommend finding a 7,200 RPM HDD.
In summary here are my recommendations for a computer capable of running Fusion 360:
- Faster clocked CPU over slower clocked CPU with additional cores.
- SSD Drive
- Discrete graphics card
- 8 GB of ram.
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