Are Desktop PCs or Workstations Suitable for CAD Work?

Are Desktop PCs or Workstations Suitable for CAD Work?

Published by - On September 26, 2019

As software for computer-aided design, or CAD, is becoming more powerful and useful, it is also increasingly becoming resource-intensive on computers and requiring more and more power and memory for suitable operation. While CAD software has constantly been on the cutting edge of a computer’s capabilities, the power needed to keep pace with the continued updates into 3D modeling, simulations, and more these days is putting a strain on resources on a computer.

This trend towards increasing power and memory needs has many in the engineering and design fields rightfully debating what the best setup is for their operations: desktop PCs or workstations? The ‘right’ answer surely depends on the specific hardware and the desired software needs, but it’s a question that all in the field need to be analyzing and answering for themselves.

Desktop PCs or Workstations

Optimizing hardware and software needs for the best Workstation PC for CAD

Before diving into the question of whether a desktop PC or a workstation is best for your CAD work, you need to catalog and consider your hardware and software needs. While it may be easy to say you want to more advanced and powerful CAD software out there, there are tradeoffs with every decision. The more complex the software, the more expensive the software license will be, and the more computer memory and power will be needed.

For a massive corporation with limitless resources, this can be no issue, but for a smaller company or a one-person operation, this might not be necessary. For these limited applications, you need to take stock of what you need CAD for, what applications are important (e.g., do you need 3D models for 3D printing? Do you need to offer simulation or production modeling?). While having additional abilities is always a plus, if you don’t think you’ll need them in practice then paying extra for the more advanced software and the increased hardware needs is not prudent.

Of course, on the other end, you’ll likely need more than the basic tools available for 2D sketching and drawing. So, you also mustn’t skimp out and get too basic of CAD software, lest you be left without the ability to complete the critical tasks. In the end, discuss with your engineering team, your designers, and maybe even your potential clients to determine what level of CAD intricacy will be necessary for your work and find the right level of software that will meet those needs. From there, you’ll be able to identify the proper hardware, perhaps the best workstation PC for CAD to smoothly, reliably, and accurately run that software optimally.

What to look for in workstations to work on CAD?

Given the computational needs you’ve identified for your CAD work, you may start to look at a CAD workstation desktop rather than a traditional desktop PC. A workstation put, is a computer that’s components are optimized to run CAD software rather than the more general, broad, and in-depth needs that a full desktop PC is designed to handle. Workstations are designed to run CAD, so they maximize the needs of CAD software while putting less stock into the other applications of a desktop PC that are unnecessary for a pure CAD machine.

So, when looking at workstations to work on CAD, what are the key characteristics you’ll want to look for?


The processing power of a computer is defined as the power to do computational work, the very basics needs of your machine. More complex operations and a higher number of computations needed at a given moment, both characteristics common to CAD work, require higher processing power and more advanced processing chips. You’ll want to match your machine’s processing power close to the expected computational needs of your desired CAD software.

Hard disk

Graphics Card (GPU)

Another key consideration is the graphics card or your machine, which will dictate the level of detail that can be easily viewed on your CAD designs and the speed at which your machine can display the visuals of your models. Graphics cards may not be highly important for basic desktop PC functions, but when thinking about a machine that will be highly visual-based (such as CAD machine) then the graphics card is a critical consideration.

Memory (RAM)

RAM stands for random access memory and is the measure of how much memory of your work a computer can hold onto at a given time. The more RAM, the more smoothly it will load and move through models, whereas less RAM means new data will more constantly need to be loaded and it will slow down your CAD work. Like the GPU, the level of RAM is not as critical to basic desktop PC functions but is incredibly critical for CAD work.

Cores and Threads

When a machine must render your design, it must tap into the cores and threads on a computer. Rendering is more complex than simple 3D design and animation, and if your CAD work is going to be applying textures or materials, then the cores and threads become more important to consider.

Overclocking in CPU

The concept of overclocking allows computers to operate at a capacity greater than would be expected based on their computing power, so adding in overclocking capabilities is a great way to get more bang for the buck out of your machine. If you’re on the edge of the right hardware solution for your software needs but don’t want to spend the additional money to move up, overclocking is an elegant solution.

Hard Drive

The hard drive of a computer can take many different forms, from hard disk to SSD to a mix of the two. When considering a machine for your CAD work, an SDD provides the opportunity to save more data, load more quickly, and ensure the fast and smooth operation of your designs. Such a hard drive may not be optimal for a desktop PC, though, which is why analysis of your specific needs is so critical.


Monitors to display your designs are easily swapped in and out, but they should not be overlooked as an option to optimize the ability to meet your CAD needs and display the final product. Multiple monitors may be needed to allow your engineers to thrive in CAD work.



Last, but not least, you must consider the budget of the machine to run your CAD programs. The more advanced you get with each of the previous considerations, the more expensive the hardware will be. When you need to buy multiple computers for a larger team of designers and engineers, each additional cost will likewise add up quickly. So, fine-tuning and selecting the exact right setup is a wise choice.

Is it preferable to purchase a CAD workstation over a desktop PC?

The crux of all of this is to answer the fundamental question: should you be looking to purchase the best CAD workstation instead of a desktop PC? As noted, you should be picking the exact right solution for your needs to stretch your budget as far as it will go and pick the precise computational needs for your project.

Desktop PCs are designed to be multi-functional and operate as a one-size-fits-all solution. CAD workstations, though, can and should be identified and purchased with an eye of delivering exactly what your project needs—no more and no less. And because not all CAD software programs are the same, not all CAD workstations will be the same either. If you want a machine that is customized to your needs, meets the high standards you need for operation but does not make you pay for functions you don’t need, purchasing a workstation instead of a desktop PC is logical. If, however, you want a machine that operates moderate CAD work but also functions in a lot of other ways, as a PC typically does, you might consider the PC to be more suitable for you.

CAD Workstations: What’s the Difference?

At this point, perhaps you’ve realized that a specialized CAD workstation makes the most sense for your business or operation so you can optimize the work of your engineers and designers. But the question remains, how do you choose between CAD workstations? What is the difference between them?

It all comes down to knowing what CAD needs you have and optimizing that. Some of the characteristics you’ll likely want to consider include the following:


As because the CAD work you’re doing on your CAD workstation is so resource-intensive, it’s more important for these machines to have high-level and proper cooling mechanisms than typical desktop PCs. The longer you expect these machines to be working and the more complex designs as you’ll have on them, the better of a cooling mechanism you’ll need to invest in to maximize the life of the machine and prevent anything from going wrong with your files or your workstation.


Hard Drives

The hard drive is another area you won’t want to be cheap or cut corners with, as it will directly impact how quickly your CAD designers can complete their work. A low-quality hard drive will see the workstation slow down, freeze, or even crash. If you want to maximize the amount you’re getting for your engineers’ time, then you want to invest in high-quality hard drives.

Graphics Cards

As noted earlier, the graphics cards are typically designed with given CAD software in mind based on the complexity of the visual display that is expected. A powerful CAD software on a workstation without the proper graphics card to display it will be a frustrating waste of your time and money.


Choosing the right computer, desktop PC, or (ideally) best CAD workstation for your business is a fundamentally important decision. While you don’t want to overbuild and pay more than you need for software or hardware, investing in machines that can’t handle the level of intricacy that you need is an even more costly mistake.

Before purchasing new software or hardware, doing a comprehensive research into what your needs are and optimizing your purchase based on those needs is the most important first step you can take. Once you have your needs identified and optimized, choosing your CAD workstation will be easier, and it will guarantee you to be more successful. Alternatively, you can contact CAD modeling experts who would already have the set up to provide you with the CAD services.

– India CAD works

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