Budget CAD workstation


I thought about putting this in the CAD section, but it seems like responses in those threads are few and far between......and this concerns a new, ground-up homebuilt system. I need a workstation-level system but I can't afford a Xeon machine at the moment. I primarily work in AutoCAD 2D, but will also be working in Revit MEP before the year is out. Please note my issues that I am having with my current machine that I discuss below my existing system specs, and my proposed system. I would especially appreciate fellow 2D AutoCAD drafters to weigh in on these specific issues. Thank you.

Current PC:

CPU - i5-2500K @4.5GHz

Motherboard - ASUS P8Z68-V Pro

HDD - Samsung HD103SJ 7200 RPM

RAM - 8GB (2x4) Kingston HyperX 1333 1.5v

Graphics - EVGA GTX-570 2560MB RAM, stock clocks

Air cooler - CM Hyper 212+

PSU - Antec Earthwatts 650

Case - Fractal Design Arc Midi (mid-tower)

Proposed new PC: Budget - preferably under $1,200 (or lower if there happens to be sales on some items)

CPU Option 1 - i7-2600K (probably will overclock it)
Option 2 - i7-3820 (probably will overclock it)

Motherboard Option 1 - some z68 or z77 mobo; I really like my Asus so I might just get the same board
Option 2 - some x79 mobo (probably Asus) with 8-RAM slots

SSD - I figured I would use an SSD for the boot drive and to hold my apps like AutoCAD, don't know which one to pick at the moment, I have heard good things about the Intel models, and also the Samsung drives. Capacity - 120GB, but would like +200 GB if the price is right.

HDD - Probably reuse an existing 500GB HDD that I have laying around - for data storage

RAM - Option 1 - 16 or 32 GB - depending on prices of 8GB modules; 1333MHz, 1.5v
Option 2 - 32 or 64 GB - depending on prices of 8GB modules; 1600MHz, 1.5v

Graphics - Re-use my GTX-570 to start with

Air Cooler - Something better than the Hyper 212+ for a little more money, looking at some of the Zalman coolers in the $50-$90 range

PSU - Antec, Corsair or Seasonic 750 or 850 watts, minimum Bronze 80+ rated, preferably silver or gold rated if pricing is right; modular or normal

Case - Corsair 550D mid-tower; or - Fractal Design Define R3; or - Fractal Design Define XL

Okay, now to the issues that I have that I hope to improve upon with a stronger build.

My current i5 setup is used for gaming, general purpose entertainment, internet, streaming, etc. It also serves as my AutoCAD workstation for the time being. I have the processor at 4.5GHz, so I can't really push that too much harder. I notice performance issues while drafting in 2D AutoCAD, and just to make sure it wasn't some corrupted file related or something, I created a few "test dwgs" from scratch by just drawing some circles with a bunch of lines (like a spiderweb); these I copied a gazillion times. I ended up with dwg files of varying sizes, from ~1MB to ~8MB. I tested a few simple commands like window selecting all objects, erasing, etc.

Test results - not very "scientific", but might give a decent idea of the slow-ups that I experience and wish to improve:

- 8MB file: 10-12 seconds to open; selecting ALL objects takes ~3 seconds; zooming and mouse cursor movement is extremely slow and choppy (as if I had the grid snap turned on, but I don't); erasing all the objects - ~500,000 separate objects - REALLY hangs up, says "not responding" and takes over a minute to complete.

- 4MB file: 3 seconds to open; 2 seconds to select all objects; 10-12 seconds to erase all objects - 236,000 separate objects; cursor movement and zooming are not as slow when all objects are selected, but still intolerable.

-2MB file: This is the file size point where it seems the lag time for selecting a bunch of objects, erasing, zooming, cursor movement becomes acceptable to me.

- I guess I need to hear from other AutoCAD users to determine if these are typical performance issues with varying file sizes, and no amount of overclocked CPU and memory power is going to improve them - or - if it is related in part to memory speed, type, etc. and improvements can be made. I realize the opening and saving of the files is mostly a HDD speed (or lack of) issue, that I plan to improve by running apps off of a reliable SSD. I have done all the usual tricks of adjusting WHIPTHREAD variable, enabling hardware acceleration, etc. Is this pretty much as good as it gets?

So, given all that, I need some input on my near-future workstation upgrade. I was planning to build a system around the i7-2600K (Option 1) regardless, because I got one for $200 at Micro Center. However, if running quad-channel RAM at higher stock clocks and perhaps SLI'ing two 570's or 680's together with the full x16 lanes available to both cards (Option 2) would improve some of the issues I am having (which seem to be graphics or memory speed/bandwidth or both), then I would consider it worth selling the 2600K and spending a little more for the 3820 and more expensive motherboard.

Any links to benchmarks or performance comparisons between these two processors and the type of RAM they run, related to AutoCAD and other design software would be appreciated. I have searched, but only found conflicting reports on the advantage of using RAM in a wider bandwidth-capable motherboard for CAD applications; some say it makes a significant difference, some say it doesn't.

Sorry for the extremely long-winded and loaded post, but I really need help here - I am basically working on my own for one person, attempting an amount of work that would normally be divided among several CAD techs and one managing engineer. I need to be able to draft fast, without cursor lag - those seconds add up to minutes, and hours lost over time (and frustration).
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  1. Best answer
    DISCLAIMER this discussion is based on a $1200 budget and the OP already has a i7 2600K.

    things I have gleamed about AUTO CAD for ENTRY (value minded) level workstations (this will start a discussion I'm sure even with the above disclaimer):

    A fast efficient quad core CPU (sandybridge) is better than AMD 6 core or 8 core running at lower clock rate or has less effiecent architecture (at price point).
    SLI is for Gaming, not AUTO CAD and such
    Proffesional CAD GPU's are better than Gaming GPU's even when build on the same chip design becuse of the Drivers that go with them, though a GTX 570 would be better that a entry level pro card. most CAD type programs are more CPU dependent the GPU dependent (2D for sure)
    SSD's rock for loading software and increasing productivy in workstations.
    16GB of Ram is a good minimum:
    from that thread:
    "I would point out that my CAD team is regularly above 16GB of RAM and have hit the 24GB limit we have in our T7500's every so often. Not saying you will but some people here don't believe that CAD can actually use that much at times. If those machines were due for replacement I would be considering 32GB for them with minimal thought. 2GB Quadro cards also helped them a ton.

    Point is: don't underestimate AutoCAD's memory usage....

    As a side note AutoCAD is still pretty single or "minimal" threaded so picking a faster CPU with less cores may produce better results. We used 3.46ghz Quad i7's rather than the 6 core because we found that AutoCAD rarely was using more than "30%" CPU on Windows 7 (IE 1 core was pegged and another was running around 25%, task manager would show a pegged core on a quad cpu as '25%' CPU.)"

    SLI not a good option for Auto CAD
    Revit doesn't need a lot of GPU power or Professional cards.. for the most part:

    SSD in workstations:,3114.html

    As much as you need/use this for work, I would save your money up for a real dual CPU workstation. I would spend some just upgrading your current system.

    My advice:
    Pop the i7 2600K in and OC it.
    remove your ram and put in 16gb of PC1600 ram 4x4gb or 2x8gb dont get ram with tall heatsinks as your Hyper 212 will block the first ram slot $100
    add a 128-256GB SSD (Samsung 830 or Crucial M4, these aren't the fastest, but are very fast and reliable and at a good price/performance point) $144-$300
    I usually recommend 2 SSD's one for the OS and APPs (64GB-128GB) and then one for the "work" 128GB to 512GB.
  2. Thank you for the thorough reply. I have some more information. I forgot to mention that my current i5 build would be moved to gaming/entertainment duty, in other words, this will be a fresh build from the ground up. I will have more budget up front than I thought, because my employer has authorized a lot of overtime pay over the next month or so. So, increase the budget to around $2,000 (I already have operating system, monitors, etc.). I am now thinking that a 3930K is the way to go (setting aside the Xeon path for a moment). The 3820 is a real good price right now at Micro Center, but everything that I have read indicates that if investing in the x79 platform, then anteing up for the 6-core is a better idea. Would that not be a good intermediary step for a solid workstation/multi-purpose machine between the "normal" SB i7 system, and the more expensive Xeon platforms?

    A dual CPU Xeon platform is out of the question; a lower end E3 Xeon platform may be comparable in price to a 3930K system, but then you have a processor that is much slower clocked. I don't think you can easily overclock a Xeon chip, right? With the 3930K, you have more cores for future-proofing against software utilizing more threads in the near future, and you can overclock the hell out of it (with good cooling), therefore it seems well-rounded for both 2D AutoCAD, and other modeling programs like Revit that are increasingly adding multi-threaded support. Add that to the ability of the x79 platform to upgrade to enormous amounts of RAM with a huge bandwidth; that is good future-proofing for around $2,000, non?

    Thanks again for your reply.
  3. it looks like microcenter has a good price on the 3930k @$499 $100 less than newegg. I think you could definitely build a descent workstation around that for 2K and even get a Quadro 2000D or FirePro V5900 or 5800 GPU if you wanted.
    I would definitely water cool it with a corsair H100 (its a dual 120mm radiator) but you will need a case to fit it.
    Also go with this MBL ASRock X79 Extreme6, it is much more stable and give you 8 ram slots :-)
    let me know if you want some specifics on a system at 2K, I need to know what microcenter you are near so I can look at their sales.
  4. Well darn, I had just talked myself out of that option, and was seriously considering your initial advice - that of building around my 2600K (that I just got for $200), and saving up the money to assemble a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners dual Xeon monster in ~14-16 months.

    Micro Center!!! Y U TEMPT ME!?

    Well, as tempting as it is, I don't NEED a six-core RIGHT NOW, so what to do? Go for the 3930K now, and spend a moderate amount, and not upgrade for another 3-4 years -


    - Build the less expensive but almost-as-good-in-most-things 2600K rig, then spend a large amount in a little over a year on something that will last for 6+ years after?

    Edit - You have any more links handy of examples of CAD design work on the 6-core extreme processors vs. work on the typical Xeon build? Is a Xeon machine silly to use for anything else besides high-end rendering and server duty? I'm trying to get a sense of which build would be more flexible, yet powerful enough for medium to high end design work; it sounds like a 3930K rig would be cheaper but still almost as future-resistant as a Xeon?
  5. Best answer selected by ebalong.
  6. A few more articles. you would think with all the questions about AutoCad they would do some more benchmarking of processors and video cards (Cuda cores) to show whats what.,3090-7.html
    the only note here is that the OC'd 3930K and 3820 only had 8GB memory to work with which hampered them in one of the tests.
    AUTOCAD is not tested, but 3ds MAX is, and its doing rendering and a OC'd 3930K tops the chart. you can also see how your current 2500K and the 2600K placed (not over clocked)

    Sandy bridge xeon E5 / Xeon Westmere/Nehalem / i7-3960X BenchmarksL,3149-8.html
    I find it interesting how close a i7 comes to the Dual Xeon -Nehalem's in alot of the benmarks

    If you do decide to go with a i7 -3930K system for $2K here is how I would do it

    ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS Black SATA 24X DVD Burner - Bulk - OEM
    Item #: N82E16827135204

    Fractal Design Define R3 Black Pearl w/ USB 3.0 ATX Mid Tower Silent PC Computer Case
    Item #: N82E16811352013

    CORSAIR Professional Series HX750 (CMPSU-750HX) 750W ATX12V 2.3 / EPS12V 2.91 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS SILVER Certified
    Item #: N82E16817139
    -$20.00 Instant
    $10.00 Mail-in Rebate Card

    PNY VCQ2000D-PB Quadro 2000D 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 Workstation Video Card
    Item #: N82E16814133382
    -$20.00 Instant

    COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R2 Continuous Direct Contact 120mm Sleeve CPU Cooler Compatible with latest Intel
    Item #: N82E16835103099
    $5.00 Mail-in Rebate

    SAMSUNG 830 Series MZ-7PC256B/WW 2.5" 256GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
    Item #: N82E16820147164
    -$100.00 Instant

    ASRock X79 Extreme6 LGA 2011 Intel X79 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
    Item #: N82E16813157289

    CORSAIR Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model CML16GX3M4A1600C9
    Item #: N82E16820233197

    -$10.00 Instant
    -$13.00 Combo
    $1385.93 + $30 shipping

    Intel Core i7-3930K Sandy Bridge-E 3.2GHz (3.8GHz Turbo) LGA 2011 130W Six-Core Desktop Processor BX80619i73930K

    you will probably also need WIN 7 64bit Proffessional which is about $140 OEM

    I didn't look at MC prices other than the 3930K, so you might find some deals there on some of the same stuff. I would add a few fans to the Fractal R3. A 120mm and 2 or 3 140mm's so the air flow nicely thru the case. I used these cases in my wife's and son's gaming builds I did a few months back very quiet cases.
  7. I'll preface my post by stating I don't do CAD but I do build business and gaming computers and have a practical question. I see every one mentioning that whether for rendering with more cores or cad design with less cores that either way speed is king regardless of number of cores for whichever taks you do more of but on all the builds listed I believe the fastest processor mentioned is the i7 3.8 with a price of $499.99 which isn't exactly low budget...

    Why is that suggested over something like an AMD FX-4170 Zambezi 4.2GHz (4.3GHz Turbo) which is 400+mhz faster per core and costs under $150? Is there a reason that all the suggestions are i5 or i7 is intel significantly better for cad etc or could you just as easily build a cheaper workstation based around AMD?
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