FAQ: What laptop should I buy for SOLIDWORKS?
We are frequently asked "what laptop should I buy for SOLIDWORKS". So, we've made a FAQ to answer some of these queries.
We would always suggest visiting the SOLIDWORK's own requirement page first.
(Last Updated on 16th Feb 2020; we'll update this article frequently & add similar articles, e.g. for AutoCAD, Sketchup, etc in the future)
Starter: What CAD Laptop Brand should I consider?
These are the popular workstation laptop product lines:
Lenovo ThinkPad P Series (formerly the W series):
- A popular workstation range, available in the 14/15.6/17.3" form factor (P43/P52/P72). The latter 15.6"/17.3" chassis tends have more powerful GPU option. They're know for their excellent warranty support, especially if you intend to travel. The black rubberised build & their keypad are often award-winning. Moreover, these machines do not feel excessively fragile. When you take out a ThinkPad Workstation Laptop, people will know that you mean business. Between the ThinkPad W701 (2010) & the P70 (2015) - Lenovo did not have a 17.3" workstation grade product (hence a lower supply of their 17.3" models, which will ease over time). The recent higher-end models have the stunning 15.6" 4K & 17.3" HDR options. ThinkPad series has a very active following, especially among the owners.
Fun fact: you could see Lewis Hamilton spraying Champagne onto a ThinkPad P7x Laptop (1:04mins) after a challenging victory at the Monaco race (the laptop appears to be fine*).
HP ZBook range (formerly the EliteBook W Series):
- Also available in 14/15.6/17.3" size. ZBook is the modern interpretation of their EliteBook range. HP loyalist might recall the wonderful premium "DreamColour" display option on the EliteBook 8760W (which was significantly better than the competition, the gap has narrowed in the recent years). Good screen & docking support. Plenty of graphics card & storage upgrade options. The recent ZBooks (since the G3 in 2016) - have gradually moved away from the G1/G2 Gen's more rugged chassis design. They'll look great in a design studio / indoors, though you might feel that a decent laptop bag is needed - before carrying them for on-site jobs. Since the ZBook 15/17 G5 - the speakers have noticeably improved.
- Interesting fact:120 ZBook 15 laptops were sent to the International Space Station (where each kilo of payload costed around $50,000; it takes a remarkable trust to put laptops robust enough into the space to do mission critical workload). To be clear, HP ZBooks which you could buy does not have on-site support coverage in space.
Dell Precision range is also very well known:
- Some companies runs wholly on Dell hardware. The Precision range is available in the 15.6/17.3" build & like its competitors are used by professionals, from contractors, all the way to larger design/engineering departments. The previous design as seen on the Precision M4600 / M6600 (through to M4800/M6800) has had a very robust mainly metal casing. The line has had a major redesign in 2016, consisting of more rubberised casing, when the Dell 7710 has launched. The more recent 7530/7730 model is still share much of the same design language.
- Fact: between Lenovo (25.1%), HP (23.7%) and Dell (17.9%) - the trio controls 66.7% of the PC market share (according to IDC, July 2019).
Fujitsu CELCIUS Series:
- It is more rare to find. Though H970 / H980 make for alternatives to the top tier options from the other brands. The casing may be heavier though. The top end models would have passed the extensive MillSpec test, the recent versions of the Dell / Lenovo may give more reassurance to use in a more rugged environment. Fujitsu has a noteable business market & as result the support quality tends to be decent.
- Odd fact: Lenovo owns a majority of Fujitsu's PC business through a joint venture.
MSI is entering the workstation space:
- With the RTX Workstation range. However, compared to Dell / HP / Lenovo, which has spent many years building their support infrastructure / consumer financing / leasing, MSI remains consumer focused & their products may not be as rugged as some of the competitors. An active focus is on the "Content Creators" - which has some crossover with the CAD users, but may have less need for the Quadro product specifically.
*To be clear, many ThinkPad keyboards are liquid resistant, not spill proof, especially if the liquid spilled is corrosive; the standard warranty do not cover for liquid/accidental damage, so perhaps don't try this at home.
1. What Operating System do I need?
In terms of operating system:
Windows 7 SP1 64-bit & Windows 10 64-bit both support SOLIDWORKS 2018, 2019 & 2020.
- However, Windows 7 has now reached its end of its product cycle as of 14th Jan 2020. An upgrade to the latest Windows 10 (perhaps through a laptop upgrade) might make sense. The laptops from CruiseTech are supply our machines with Windows 10. Moreover, Windows 10 has a "compatibility mode" which lets one run the other legacy apps which may otherwise not run on Win 10.
Windows 8.1 64Bit could only supports SOLIDWORKS 2018, newer versions are no longer supported.
2. How fast does your processor need to be?
What's Required? SW 2018/2019/2020 have a processor frequency (speed) requirement of 3.3GHz. It should be compared to the processor's "TurboBoost" speed (rather than the base speed); this technology lets the processor run faster than the base speed (for a burst of time). It helps to manages the temperature (Intel has yet to make a laptop CPU with a 3.3Ghz base speed).
Dual-Core, Quad or more? SOLIDWORKS tends to favor faster single-core performance. This makes workstation laptops a great choice, because the they are normally able to run fewer cores faster. SOLIDWORKS is not yet focused on needing more than Quad-Core. Keep in mind: dual-core should be able to get the work done, it might be helpful to consider a minimum of Quad-Core processor in 2020; as it might enable you to get through your other work faster (same is true for Quad vs more Cores, but to a smaller extent as the developers needs time to optimise for multi-threading).
What Processor Generation? See above for our recommendation. We would suggest a 4th Gen Core i7 at the minimum for SOLIDWORKS 2016/17. The earlier Core i7 processors (from the 3rd Gen) could have met SW's 3.3Ghz requirement. However, the more recent processors could run cooler & marginally have more performance. Core i5 6th Gen processors lineup was refreshed, where the processors ending in "H" or "HQ" have refreshed Quad-Cores (they lacked the hyper-threading feature, as result had 4 Threads; instead of the 8 Threads on the Core i7; this does not significantly impact the SW performance). From 8th Gen onwards, Core i5 then have had 4 Cores / 8 Threads, effectively taking the position of the 7th Gen Core i7.
Intel or AMD? Intel's Core processor series has been popular during the last decade & has benefited from this status (it is an optimisation target for many developers). Between 2020-2025, we'll see more laptops running on AMD based hardware (this is exciting). However, as of early 2020 - Intel option are still what we would recommend due to the track record / stability (for SOLIDWORKS).
3. What graphics card do you need? (important)
Q1:What graphics card range do I need?
A: SOLIDWORKS (SW) requires a laptop with a professional graphics card which they've certified (the recent SW version requires a more recent graphics card). Take a look at SOLIDWORKS's requirement page for yourself. Integrated graphics will not be sufficient. You'd normally need: NVIDIA Quadro P Series for SW 2019/2020; Quadro M Series for SW 2017/2018; Quadro K Series for SW 2016/2017.
NVIDIA's Quadro range is the preferred graphics card for many working with CAD (AMD's FirePro range is an alternative). We generally recommend the NVIDIA Quadro option (as the drivers are maintained well). The naming of a Quadro card reflects its performance. To understand more, let's start with the "NVIDIA Quadro P2000": the "P" refers to the generation (K, M, P refer to the older to more recent gen respectively). A P2000 card will be more powerful than the M2000M (which it replaces, which in turn is faster than a K2000M). The 15.6" sized workstation laptops tends to supports "600/1000/2000" cards of its generation; the 17.3" sized laptops additionally supports the more powerful 3000/4000/5000 options. A higher number reflects an increasing performance.
Many customers opts for a Quadro 2000 (on 15.6" laptop), and 3000/4000 on the 17.3". Refurb Quadro K series laptop remain popular in 2019/2020 UK. 15.6" laptop with higher than a Quadro 2000 series card became possible in 2019 (still carries a noticeable premium & runs more warm); the Quadro 3000 and above may remain better for 17.3" laptop (better cooling capability). Likewise, the 4000/5000 option tends to carry a significant cost premium regardless of the screen size.
Q2: NVIDIA Quadro vs the consumer graphics card for SOLIDWORKS?
A: A professional graphics card, such as the NVIDIA Quadro card, are designed specifically for the professional workload (such as CAD/CAD & are pre-requisite to a CAD system). It is expected to be noticeably faster than the GeForce cards in SOLIDWORKS workload. For context, the entry-range Quadro P1000 is known to outperform NVIDIA's own consumer flagship GTX 1080 card on shading performance in the SOLIDWORK. NVIDIA works with independent software vendors (ISVs) to ensure that Quadro graphics cards are certified & benefits in the CAD applications (through specifically optimised drivers). Additionally, the Quadro version of the graphics cards often have larger video RAM. By contrast, the GeForce range is NVIDIA's consumer line which are not be as suitable for the CAD/CAM workload (they're are more gaming focused) because they have not had the benefit of the optimisation & as result performs less well.
Q3: Could an older NVIDIA Quadro card run the newer than supported SOLIDWORKS version?
A: Some forums/articles online might indicate that you will be able to run a newer SOLIDWORKS version (than what your graphics card has been certified for), simply by installing the latest NVIDIA driver. This might work some of the time (as the NVIDIA Quadro graphics are generally quite powerful). However, the drawback is likely to be that some of the feature on the new SOLIDWORKS versions will not run as fast/as stably on non-certified hardware* (this will be apparent, the more gap there is between your SW version & the graphics card you're running). As result, we would always recommend on using the appropriate hardware for the job, especially if it's in a production environment. You're welcome to test & experiment with your own workload.
4. How much RAM is needed?
16GB RAM is normally the minimum needed for SolidWorks. The assembly file takes a significant amount of RAM. Another 8-10GB is needed for Windows & SolidWorks themselves (this will become a smaller percentage of the total RAM when you have more).
- Windows: will use consume some of the available RAM (it normally uses 3-4GB RAM on a fairly fresh Windows install).
- Running Solidworks: another 5-6GB RAM is needed for SolidWorks to load (depends on the SolidWorks version you’re running).
- SW assembly file related: the assembly file size will consume around 20-22.5x multiple of its size in RAM.
Add these together - you’ll have a basic idea on what you’ll need. Example workload:
- On an assembly file size of 250MB - your system will need around 15.6GB RAM (0.25GB x 22.5 multiplier + 4GB Windows OS + 6GB SW).
- On an assembly file size of 750MB - your system will need around 26.9GB RAM (0.75GB x 22.5 multiplier + 4GB Windows OS + 6GB SW).
What's available on the workstation laptops?
- Core i7 powered workstation laptops before Intel's 6th Gen processor could usually support upto 32GB RAM (Quad-Core & 4x RAM slots needed, e.g. Dell Precision M6800/HP ZBook G2/Lenovo W541).
- Workstation laptops from the 6th Gen on will support upto 64GB DDR4 RAM (ThinkPad P50 & P51; HP ZBook 15 G3/G4; Dell 7510/7520/7710/7720).
- From 8th Gen Intel Core i7 onwards, 128GB DDR4 RAM is supported on workstation laptops (ThinkPad P52/P72; ZBook 15 & 17 G5/G6; Dell 7530/7540 & 7730 &7740).
5. Is it necessary to have SSD?
We would say so (it makes opening/saving assembly file, booting & opening app much faster). Most of the laptops we offer include SSD anyway.
6. Do you need a Xeon CPU?
The Xeon processor branding is traditionally associated with the use case in workstations, servers/larger data-centres for business/enterprise workload. Since the Xeon processors appeared on the laptops around 2019, they've remained very similar to the Core i7 processor (of the same generation). They additionally support ECC memory (error correcting memory) which minimises the data corruption). The ECC support benefits some workload: in this context, it not appear to noticeably help in SOLIDWORKS.
Moreover, Xeon CPU's brand positioning tends to be similar / marginally higher than the Core i7 (as result, the laptops with Xeon may be more expensive). However, keep in mind, a laptop with Xeon + ECC RAM may be helpful for other workflow you may need to run.
Regardless if you choose Core i7, or Xeon - a workstation laptop will run at a noticeably reduced speed on battery - this is especially true for laptops with dedicated Quadro Graphics. It is also better when your power is plugged in, ensuring higher performance.
Laptops we recommend for SOLIDWORKS:
Here are 4 popular models that our customers request (suitable for different SW versions). There are other capable CAD / engineering focused laptops. We'll aim to produce a recommendation table by early March (to cover the popular models by Dell / HP / Lenovo). In the meanwhile, if you'd prefer a personalised recommendation based on your budget & workload, simply hop-on the Live Chat, or give us a call during the office hours.