Best Type of Graphics Card for CAD Laptop (Solidworks)

Hello, my team is looking for a budget-friendly laptop (Preferrably a 2 in 1) that we can easily use Solidworks on as well as Adobe Products. We know that it probably has to have a dedicated/discrete graphics card in it. So I guess it would need either an Nvidia, AMD, or Intel Iris graphics card. Is one better than the other for engineering and graphics purposes? Does anyone have any recommendations? We probably want a minimum of 16gb RAM and 512SSD. Our budget is around $1,200 per laptop and we would like 2. Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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Costco usually has good options, though apparently not a 2-in-1 with discrete graphics and 16 GB of RAM this year.

I’m only familiar with traditional gaming laptops, so I can’t recommend any 2in1s with dedicated graphics. Here are some options though

If you’re willing to go refurbished, here is a laptop with an rtx 2070, which is pretty solid: Refurbished: Gigabyte AORUS 15-X9-RT4AD 15.0" i7-8750H 16 GB 512 GB 1TB RTX 2070 8GB Laptop - Newegg.com

However, if not, this laptop is pretty solid for your budget: Gigabyte Aorus 5 - 15.6" 144 Hz - Intel Core i7-10750H - GeForce RTX 2060 - 16 GB DDR4 - 512 GB SSD - Windows 10 Home - Gaming Laptop (Aorus 5 KB-7US1130SH) - Only @ Newegg - Newegg.com

might be a good idea to get a laptop with a certified graphics card
https://www.solidworks.com/support/hardware-certification

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All the GPUs I see are workstation GPUs, whose laptops only start at around $1500, unless there are some good deals out there. I personally wouldn’t go for anything lower than an Nvidia Quadro 3000 RTX. I also really don’t like the pricing of mobile workstations, they look to be geared towards companies with too much money. Though, if you can find a good deal, there’s nothing wrong with getting a mobile workstation.

A possible option might be to buy refurbished or used workstation laptops, which tend to be able to run SW quite well but are also often cheaper.

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I would personally recommend anything with a Ryzen CPU, especially 4000 series, since they’re ridiculously powerful as well as very power efficient. GPU doesn’t matter nearly as much as CPU for Solidworks in particular - I run Solidworks really well on my Ryzen 7 2700U with Vega 10 (integrated) graphics.
For reference, here’s the laptop I’m using right now: Dell Inspiron 5575 - 15.6" - Ryzen 7 2700U - 16 GB RAM - 512 GB SSD - English Specs - CNET
I do not recommend newer Intel CPUs at all, but older Intels are decent. Try asking a sponsor if they have any old business laptops they’re getting rid of that you could get.
I don’t believe you can get many laptops as 2 in 1’s that are powerful enough to run Solidworks.

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Our team uses The Lenovo Thinkpads (I7 Quad Core) for CAD work in Inventor. They run it just fine and don’t even spin the fans up while doing so. I would highly recommend this laptop even more though: Lenovo ThinkPad X13 | 13 Inch AMD Business Laptop | Lenovo US It has an AMD six core which always is great for any type of CAD work and Amd’s Integrated graphics are marginally better than the offerings from intel at the moment. Had these laptops existed at the time we bought ours we probably would have went with this one. Hope this helps!

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There’s a nice deal for a i7 16gb ram 512 gb ssd 15" HP Spectre x360 with a Nvidia mx330 that is available for 1100 dollars at best buy. Mx330 isn’t the best gpu but I think those specs should be able to handle any robot cad and the quality of the laptop and included accessories is really top notch.

https://www.bestbuy.com/site/hp-spectre-x360-2-in-1-15-6-4k-ultra-hd-touch-screen-laptop-intel-core-i7-16gb-memory-geforce-mx330-512gb-ssd-nightfall-black/6406695.p?skuId=6406695&irclickid=1g4QAvxe0xyLWTKxTSQPxVT4UkE2B5TNR3FwQU0&irgwc=1&ref=198&loc=Ziff%20Davis%20-%20Black%20Friday&acampID=0&mpid=75107

At my workplace, many of us have Dell Inspiron laptops. My coleagues and I in the electrical group run various electrical CAD software such as Mentor and Altium no trouble. The Mechanical group use the same laptops to run Solidworks with models much more complex than a typical FRC robot. They might not be as fast as a desktop workstation.

If you do get a used workstation laptop, I would recommend replacing the mechanical HDD with a SSD. The SSD’s are not much money now and it is difficult to know how much life is left in the HDD. The HDD in my work laptop died a couple of months ago so they gave me a new laptop.

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Workstation laptops will definitely be your best bet. These generally will be more expensive then you’d like to pay for; for FRC teams I highly recommend finding some companies in your area that likely uses workstation laptops and see if they have any older ones they are no longer using. Many companies get their employees new ones every 2-3 years, so especially larger companies will constantly have older laptops they are getting rid of, and would likely be happy to help out a robotics team and donate them to you. Even a 3 year old laptop that is built for CAD use etc will do very well for FRC stuff.

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This is a HUGE factor in speed. It takes windows, in my experience, about 15-20 minutes to boot on an HDD. However, it’s a few seconds on an SSD. Especially now that you can get SSDs for almost no money, this is easily the best way to upgrade a computer.

Has anyone tried eGPUs with Solidworks? That might be an okay compromise if you get a workstation class eGPU to use at the shop with a cheaper laptop with faster CPU.

We bought these for $500 about a year ago and they can handle opening our full robot models with only minor delay. From what I’ve read single threaded CPU performance is the biggest driver in SolidWorks workloads. If you can find something refurbished with a ballin CPU you’ll be doing well.

Pretty much all “workstation” laptops will come with a workstation level graphics card (like Quadro), though I’m not sure how much a better GC impacts performance. My 2018 work laptop (~ $1,700) has a Quadro P2000 (better than the laptops we got for the team) and I don’t notice any difference between them.

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That is the product family many of us have at work, including the mechanical designers who run Solidworks.

IMO, unless you’re doing heavy-duty rendering with your CAD models, pretty much any laptop with a dedicated GPU (yes, even gaming GPUs) will work fine for creating CAD models and assemblies in for FRC uses.

Obviously if you had an unlimited budget, you could drop $5k+ on a laptop with a Xeon processor and a Quadro graphics card, but as you already stated, you’re looking for something under $1200, and as I mentioned above, you probably don’t need that much performance anyways.

Instead of recommending a specific laptop, here’s some specs I would look for:

CPU: Intel i7 - 9 or 10-series
You should be able to get something with 6-8 cores (12-16 threads) in your price range no problem. i5s are an option too but aren’t as good of a value for CAD work. In general, 10th-gen chips are preferred, but you might be able to find a good deal on a laptop with a 9th-gen chip without sacrificing much in the way of performance. AMD processors are an option too, though they tend to perform a bit worse when running on battery, and I’ve found most of the laptop offerings with AMD processors this quarter tend to be quite underwhelming.

RAM: 16gb DDR4
Keep in mind that even if a laptop doesn’t come with 16gb of RAM, RAM is usually pretty easy and inexpensive to add (check the product reviews and they’ll usually tell you if the RAM can be upgraded or not, assuming the description doesn’t). RAM speed (2800Mhz, etc) is mostly irrelevant for this type of workload, though faster never hurts.

Storage: ≥512gb SSD (NVMe SSD preferred)
The amount of storage isn’t super important for most CAD work (I keep my entire 8+ year CAD library on a 32gb flash drive), but the speed is, since this will affect both the boot times of the laptop as well as how quickly large assemblies load. That said, for your price range, 512gb shouldn’t be an issue.

Graphics: nVidia GTX 1060 or better
While there is a lot of hype about RTX cards these days, the kind of work you’re looking to do probably isn’t going to take advantage of their main feature (real-time ray tracing). The GTX cards are a much better value and still offer excellent performance. A GTX 1060 would be a bare minimum for CAD work (the performance of nVidia cards drops drastically when you go below their “xx60” level cards), but you can usually get some good deals on GTX 1070s or GTX 1660 ti’s which will have better performance. That said, if you see a good deal on an RTX 2060 or 2070, feel free to go that way too. Avoid graphics cards that are not GTX or RTX, nVidia has a few cards they make just for laptops that are NOT good for CAD work.

Other Considerations:

  • Display features - 17", 60hz; While this comes down more to personal preference, I personally find it much easier to work on CAD with a larger screen. Refresh rate is basically irrelevant for CAD work, don’t pay extra for it if you don’t have to.

  • Keyboard/Numpad - Again, while this is mostly personal preference, a larger, more spaced-out keyboard tends to be easier to work with, and if you’re like me, having a keypad is a must for CAD work. You can sometimes find 15" laptops with numpads, but these tend to be a bit more “squished” in than a 17" laptop will be.

  • Brands to look for - ASUS “TUF Gaming”, MSI “GL/GS-Series”
    While both ASUS and MSI do have fancier gaming-focused lines of laptops, I find these tend to have great specs for the price, but minus the flashier features of their more expensive cousins. Sometimes HPs Omen series has some decent deals too, but otherwise the more mainstream brands have been pretty underwhelming in recent years.

  • Extra Gimmicks to avoid- Touchscreens, folding screens. While these might be neat to have for other kinds of work, I’ve literally never seen anyone use either of them for CAD work (and for that matter, even for the kind of work they’re designed for they barely ever get used). Both of these features will also generally add $150 or more each to the price of a laptop.

Overall, while your budget may be $1200, you should be able to find something new that more than meets your needs (and checks the boxes above) in the $650-$1000 range. Personally I avoid refurbished computers (bad experiences in the past), but to each their own.

Also, for reference, this is the $1000 laptop I bought for CAD work back in 2018. It handles whatever CAD projects I throw at it just fine (and even some gaming on the side too).

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Single thread CPU performance is more important than graphics card for Solidworks, especially if you’re just learning & accidentally are throwing questionable mates at it.

My seven year old workstation laptop does great - 2.9Ghz i7, both integrated Intel & discrete nVidia Quadro K2100M options seem to work fine. I’ve noticed that sometimes this machine forgets the card and runs the integrated graphics, and I have only noticed performance issues related to that on the largest assemblies.

I have a new ~$800 Lenovo 2-in-1 that I also run Solidworks on… it’s Ok. Honestly wouldn’t recommend consumer-class laptops. It works, but there’s dumb things going on like the stylus only kind of works and it bluescreens whenever I unplug the power supply, and I have zero expectation of any of that getting fixed. It’s a 2018 model, already “too old” to get any real consumer-grade manufacturer support.

Workstations generally don’t have that problem - they’re bought by larger corporations who will put the boot down (halt Accounts Payable) on Lenovo/Microsoft if their employees get frequent bluescreens, and the engineering moves a lot slower in that world to match that greater risk aversion.
I’ve routinely bluescreened the Lenovo 2-in-1, and had four or so on my custom desktop after moving to win10. Nothing on my company Dell workstation, despite it being a dinosaur with several layers of IT Department Nanny-ware slowing it down.

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I suspect that some issues here have more to do with thermal design vs the product being consumer-class. Computers, especially laptops, with the same nominal hardware can have substantially different intermittent and sustained performance based on thermal budget (How long does it take to reach throttling temperature? Are the components underclocked or undervolted by default? Etc.)

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The bluescreens on the 2-in-1 are due to unplugging a USB-C device, particularly one that was charging the laptop, and throw either a “PCIe_als;dkjasdl;kg” or another thread exception code on the bluescreen. It’s a hardware/software interface bug related to losing the power/charge connection, and Lenovo has no incentive to fix it on a two year old consumer model. I’ve already paid a used vendor for the laptop, I have no leverage.

Thermally… There’s no built in fan, but if I have it on a desk with some air circulation underneath, SW runs fine for hours. On my lap it gets a bit warm and starts complaining and slowing down.

We bought basic Lenovo prosumer workstations last year for the team, which have worked fine. Ryzen, discrete graphics card of some kind, 15" screen, $550 new from… Costco iirc?. They have the dot-mouse, which I think marks them as the workstation line?

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Actually, Xeon processors and quadros are in reach. I’ve purchased both my recent ones for $1100 and $1500 when they came up on the Lenovo factory outlet. There is a P53 there now that is very similar to what I purchased and they want $1800. Keep your eyes open and you can find even better deals, however it is first come first serve.

Part number:20QNX017US
Processor:Intel Core i9-9880H Processor (8C / 16T, 2.3 / 4.8GHz, 16MB)
Operating System:Windows 10 Professional 64 - English
Memory:16GB DDR4 2666Mhz SoDIMM Memory
Hard Drive:512GB M.2 Solid State Drive
Warranty:1 Year Standard Depot Warranty
Graphics:NVIDIA Quadro RTX 4000 Max-Q
Battery:6 Cell Li-Ion Battery (90Wh)

The only difference was that my P52 $1500 one had a larger battery, xeon, and a second 1 terabyte HDD. My son’s $1100 dollar one was identifical to mine but had an I7. I believe he had a P51 or P52.

I also want to point out the repairable nature of a business workstation like a Lenovo T-series or P series versus others. I’ve had multiple gaming laptops, and they are all short-run production individual models that have obscenely expensive replacement parts or can’t even be taken apart without breaking off plastic tabs and holders.

Our team uses T-series, and I use P-series at home.

The Lenovos, aside from being durable to begin with and having features like splash proof keyboards (for when you spill your pop…) are also very repairable. Last year I replaced a motherboard during a 1 hour team meeting when it failed due to serious mistreatment. To top it off, because Lenovo makes these machines in bulk and doesn’t change their models every 3 months to be cool, replacement parts can be had for reasonable prices and are easy to find.

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