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Demystifying Solidworks GPU Requirements: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Mar 14

Introduction

Finding the system requirements for SOLIDWORKS is typically straightforward, but GPU specifications can be elusive. The official website mentions certified cards and drivers, leaving users questioning the compatibility of gaming graphics cards.



SOLIDWORKS system requirements is missing details on GPU requirements
SOLIDWORKS 2022- 2024 system requirements

This article aims to demystify SOLIDWORKS GPU requirements and clarify the often ambiguous information surrounding the most crucial component in your PC.


Tip: To gauge your SolidWorks performance, track frames per second (FPS) using the following registry key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\SolidWorks\SOLIDWORKS 201x\Performance\OpenGL Print Statistics


Change the default value from 0 to 1 to enable FPS monitoring.


FPS shown below viewport to gauge GPU performance
FPS enabled in SOLIDWORKS


Which Workstation GPU to Choose?

Understanding the role of a graphics card, often described as its ability to "draw triangles," is pivotal in selecting the proper GPU for SOLIDWORKS. In the context of SOLIDWORKS and similar CAD software, "triangles" refer to the basic building blocks used to create three-dimensional models. Generally, the complexity of a model is reflected in the number of triangles it comprises. The more intricate the design, the higher the triangle count, requiring more GPU power for smooth rendering and manipulation. You can check your model's number of triangles by saving it as an STL file.


Total triangles shown after saving a part file as STL
Example of total triangles shown after saving as STL

Therefore, when selecting a workstation GPU for SOLIDWORKS, it's crucial to consider the GPU's capability to handle a higher triangle count, especially in more recent versions of SOLIDWORKS. In earlier versions (pre-SW 2019), discrete GPUs like A5000, A2000, T1000, etc., had minimal impact. However, in later versions, especially after 2019, the Performance Pipeline significantly enhances FPS performance when using a discrete GPU. Enable this feature in SOLIDWORKS (SW 2019 or later) by navigating to Options > Performance and ticking the box for Enhanced graphics performance (requires SOLIDWORKS restart).



Various settings in SOLIDWORKS to enable Performane Pipeline
Where to click to enable Enhanced graphics performance

Considering what GPU to buy, Digital Engineering 247 suggests that an NVIDIA RTX A2000 should suffice for most use cases. This is corroborated by Puget Systems, which conducted extensive hardware testing and found that the RTX A2000 can run medium-sized assemblies at 1080P and small assemblies at 4K at a rate exceeding 30 fps.



PCIe Matters

PCI Express (PCIe) is a high-speed interface standard used for connecting various hardware components inside a computer, primarily focusing on connecting GPUs, network cards, storage devices, and other peripherals to the motherboard. PCIe functions as a data highway, facilitating the rapid exchange of information between the CPU and these components.


In GPU performance, the PCIe connection plays a vital role. It determines how quickly data can travel between the GPU and other system components. Faster PCIe connections, such as PCIe 4.0, allow for quicker data transfer, influencing the overall performance of the GPU.


When it comes to optimizing SOLIDWORKS performance, it's important to take into account not only the GPU but also the motherboard specifications. The benchmark results below show that a slower Laptop GPU installed in a Dell Precision 7760 with PCIe 4.0 can outperform faster desktop GPUs that were only equipped with PCIe 3.0.


Benchmark showing PCIe 4.0 equipped GPU having much better performance than older PCIe equipped GPUs
Source: 3DExperience World 2022 Webinar

This emphasizes the significance of considering both the GPU and motherboard specifications for maximizing SOLIDWORKS performance. You can determine the PCIe connection of your motherboard by following the steps here.


Post Processing: CPU vs GPU Requirements for SOLIDWORKS

The choice between SOLIDWORKS PHOTOVIEW 360 and Visualize impacts post-processing. PHOTOVIEW 360 is limited to CPU rendering, while SOLIDWORKS Visualize can utilize both CPU and GPU. The latter is significantly faster on GPUs, especially for ray tracing and rendering, thanks to CUDA cores processing.


CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) cores are a specific processor core designed for parallel processing, primarily used by NVIDIA GPUs. In SOLIDWORKS, CUDA cores are crucial for tasks like ray tracing and rendering in post-processing. For instance, ray tracing simulates how light interacts with objects in a scene, producing realistic shadows, reflections, and lighting effects. CUDA cores enable parallel processing, allowing multiple calculations to coincide. This parallelism significantly accelerates rendering times and enhances the overall performance of tasks that benefit from parallel processing, such as those in SOLIDWORKS Visualize.


Generally, the more CUDA cores your GPU has, the faster the rendering will take.


Benchmark showing different GPU performance in SOLIDWORKS Visualize
Source: 3DExperience World 2022 Webinar


Tip: You can check your NVIDIA GPU's CUDA core usage for rendering from Windows Task Manager.


Showing Cuda usage in Task Manager
Enable Cuda under GPU in Task Manager

AMD: Turn Off the Performance Pipeline

Turning off AMD's performance pipeline is a precautionary measure based on specific issues that might arise in SOLIDWORKS. Sometimes, certain features or settings related to AMD's performance pipeline may not align seamlessly with SOLIDWORKS requirements or functionalities. By turning off this pipeline, users can potentially avoid compatibility issues and ensure a smoother experience with the software.


Non-Workstation GPUs

The age-old debate: non-workstation vs. gaming graphics cards. Many prefer gaming graphics cards due to their much lower cost. However, there are some cases where workstation GPUs vastly outperform gaming GPUs, as demonstrated in the benchmark below where the 'Shaded w/Edges' view mode was enabled. This emphasizes the need for careful consideration when selecting a GPU for your SOLIDWORKS tasks.



There are other factors to consider as well, such as only workstation cards come with ECC RAM, crucial for CAD. ECC RAM (Error-Correcting Code Random Access Memory) is a specific type of memory that can detect and correct common data errors. This provides an additional layer of reliability in data storage and processing.


In non-workstation GPUs, such as gaming graphics cards, ECC RAM is typically not included, which can result in data errors. These errors may lead to inaccuracies in models or unexpected behavior in CAD applications like SOLIDWORKS. Workstation graphics cards, on the other hand, are equipped with ECC RAM to ensure data integrity, which is crucial in CAD work where precision is paramount. Additionally, workstation GPUs undergo more stringent testing and validation processes, reducing the likelihood of bugs or compatibility issues.


In addition, driver support is a crucial factor to consider as gaming GPUs may not be supported for an extended period of time if any bugs are detected. This can be illustrated by a specific example that was posted in our forum, which is linked here. Despite several SOLIDWORKS patches and GPU driver updates, the issue depicted below has not yet been resolved. Therefore, we have recommended a workaround to address it here.



Considering all these factors, opting for a workstation GPU is a wise decision for those who prioritize reliability, data accuracy, and a lower risk of encountering software bugs in a professional work setting.


Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the nuances of gaming vs. workstation GPUs, PCIe importance, and considerations for post-processing is crucial for navigating SOLIDWORKS GPU requirements. Choose wisely based on your specific needs for optimal performance and reliability.


For more tips and tricks on getting the most out of your hardware and building a better PC for SOLIDWORKS, consider watching the video "Achieving Extreme SOLIDWORKS Performance" here. This video provides valuable insights and practical guidance to further enhance your SOLIDWORKS experience.



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