Compared: The Best Workstations for CAD

Updated Feb 12, 2023
HP Z4 Computer With Monitor

If you work with CAD software, you’re probably always on the hunt for ways to make your workflow more efficient. Central to that search is finding the best workstations for CAD. With so many impressive machines on the market, however, that’s not always an easy task.

It’s for this reason that we here at Scan2CAD have put together this rundown of some of the best workstations for CAD, specifically desktop computers. If you’re looking for more mobile options you can see our article on the best laptops for CAD. We’ll also include the specs and stats you need to make an informed decision. Let’s jump in!

History of CAD Workstations

Fans - Thomas Kvistholt

Once upon a time, a workstation was a radically different concept to a standard PC. In their earliest incarnations, workstations were single-user minicomputers. As such, a machine’s computing power—which was intended to support several users—was instead used by just one person. Over time, manufacturers began creating dedicated single-user workstations, but whilst they came to physically resemble PCs, they were far more powerful.

Workstations in the 1980s had the objective of meeting the three Ms: a Megabyte of memory, a Megapixel display, and a MegaFLOPS computing performance. Though these targets no longer seem remotely ambitious, they far outstripped the capabilities of standard PCs of the time. With high performance came high prices, however—it wasn’t until 1986 that Sun released the first sub-$10,000 workstation.

Despite the steep cost, workstations proved invaluable for CAD professionals. Their reliability, high computing performance and support for graphics made them perfect for work on 2D drafting software and, later, 3D modelling software. PCs, meanwhile, had very limited capabilities, and were not suitable for CAD use.

Over time, however, workstations and PCs have grown closer together, to the point where it can sometimes be hard to tell what the difference is between them. The two classes of machine now share technology—and, as a result, the price difference between the two is significantly smaller.

What is the Difference between a CAD Workstation and a CAD PC?

Apple workstation

Nowadays, PCs and workstations look superficially largely the same. Indeed, CAD workstations are, essentially, a subset of PCs. As such, the distinguishing features of a workstation are found at the component level. Workstations are built to last, with faster processors, a greater number of cores, more memory, and, crucially, a better graphics card.

This durability is necessary to cope with the strain of coping with CAD work, and ensures that users will not have to frequently replace their entire machine. After all, a workstation’s intended user will make their living from what they do with their computer—so, it needs to be reliable.

As you may expect, these higher standards mean that workstations are costlier than consumer PCs. However, the price gap is far less pronounced than it once was. Rather than a workstation costing orders of magnitude greater than a standard PC, the difference may now be as little as $100. The price can be even lower when you build your own workstation, rather than buying a pre-built machine.

What to Look out for

There’s plenty of competition in today’s workstation market, ensuring that manufacturers have gone all out to produce some truly terrific workstations for CAD. But this also leaves consumers with the dilemma of working out which machine is worth their hard-earned cash.

When buying a workstation, therefore, you need to know which factors to pay attention to. Luckily, we’ve put together a quick shopping list of features you should look out for in a great workstation:

  • Budget. An easy one to start off with, but it’s worth mentioning: be sure to stick to your budget. This doesn’t just mean looking at the price of a machine as a whole, but also knowing what to prioritize. Is it worth having a touchscreen if you can spend the extra money on better processing power instead, for example? Be aware of what you actually want your machine to do, and spend money on that.
  • Memory. Most CAD applications demand a lot of RAM—particularly those that perform complex rendering, simulation or analysis tasks. This means you’ll need a machine that puts plenty of memory at your disposal. Some machines also offer tools that correct memory errors, which can prevent major issues from occuring further down the line.
  • Graphics. CAD is all about design (it’s in the name!), which means that you need to be able to see your models in their full glory. Workstation-class CAD graphics cards are generally the way to go thanks to their preference for greater levels of detail. NVIDIA Quadro and AMD FirePro are the market leaders in this field.
  • Processing. There are plenty of issues to consider when it comes to choosing a processor, from the number of cores and threads through to the clock speed. The former is certainly tricky—some applications want more cores, whilst others can’t handle multiple threading. Check the requirements of the CAD program you use before committing.
  • Operating System: Windows is the most popular operating system for CAD. Our top 5 workstations for CAD are suitable for both Windows and Linux operating systems. And if you’re a MacOS user, you will need a dedicated Apple workstation, we’ve 

These are some of the most important factors to check out—but they only just scratch the surface. There are other things to consider, such as the best keyboard for CAD and the best mouse for CAD. Let’s dive in and see what these machines are really made of!

Buying a pre-customized machine isn’t your only option. Thinking of building your workstation from scratch instead? Check out our guide to building the ultimate CAD PC.

Desktop Workstations for CAD

Here are the big beasts—top-of-the-range workstations for CAD for those in need of some serious power. Bear in mind that all machines featured here are customizable, giving you the opportunity to include and exclude components as you see fit to create your ideal CAD machine. Therefore, we recommend that you pay close attention to the specifications of the products we have recommended, do not assume that all workstations with the same model name will contain identical specifications.

We have worked to ensure each of the chosen workstations includes graphics cards fully certified for AutoCAD, as well as a good processor and other such required hardware. We have also opted to list mid-range to higher budget options which should be suitable for both 2D drafting and 3D model rendering. 

If you’re a MacOS user, don’t despair. We’ve added our best Apple Mac picks at the end of this post.

The vast majority of CAD users are still on Windows. As such, all of our recommendations are computers which ship with the Windows operating system. However, if you’re you’re looking for the best Linux workstation for CAD, any of our top 5 picks will be fantastic. You can simply install Linux – instead of Windows – on our picks. 

Here are the 5 best workstations for CAD:

  1. Dell Precision 3630 Workstation
  2. Lenovo ThinkStation P340 Workstation
  3. HP Z4 G4 Workstation
  4. HP Z2 G8 Workstation
  5. Dell Precision T3640

These top picks are suitable for both Windows and Linux operating systems.

Be sure to keep reading below for details on each of our picks.

Quick comparison chart

Product Graphics Card (all certified for AutoCAD) Processor Price Availability
Dell Precision 3000 3660 Workstation NVIDIA Quadro T1000 ‎2.1 GHz Intel Core i7-12700 (12 core) ~ $2,079.99 → Check availability on Amazon
Lenovo ThinkStation P340 Workstation NVIDIA Quadro P1000 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7-10700 (8 core) from $1,709 → Check availability on Amazon
HP Z4 G4 Workstation NVIDIA Quadro T1000 4.1 GHz Intel Xeon W2225 (4 core) ~ $2,335.08 → Check availability on Amazon
HP Z2 G8 Workstation NVIDIA T1000 ‎2.5 GHz Intel Core i7 (8core) ~ $1,839 → Check availability on Amazon
Dell Precision T3640 Nvidia Quadro P2200 ‎3.8 GHz Intel Core i7 (8 core) ~ $3,970 → Check availability on Amazon

The 5 Best Windows and Linux Workstations for CAD

1. Dell Precision 3000 3660 Workstation

Dell Precision 3000 3660

Memory 16GB DDR5 RAM (2,666MHz)
Storage 512GB NVMe SSD 
CPU 2.1GHz Intel Core i7-12700 
GPU Nvidia Quadro T1000 8GB
Price ~ $2,079.99
→ Check availability on Amazon

The Dell Precision 3000 3660, simply known as the Dell Precision 3660, replaces the now-discontinued Dell Precision 3630 tower workstation but extends the legacy attached to Dell’s lineup of 3000 series workstations. Sporting the 12thGeneration of Intel’s Core i7 processor, which boasts a clock speed of 2.1GHz and has 12 cores, the Dell Precision 3660 is well suited for CAD. It is, however, an overkill if you solely wish to use it to run CAD software. This is because CAD applications often only require a single core. For this reason, the Dell Precision 3660 is best suited for multitasking.

The Core i7-12700 is paired with 16GB DDR5 RAM and the powerful Nvidia Quadro T1000, which has an 8GB GPU memory and a peak memory bandwidth of 160GB/s. The workstation’s speed is not called into question, thanks to the fact that it comes with a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD). You get to interact with this hardware through the Windows 10 Pro operating system, which comes pre-installed.

It is worth noting that this particular model is configurable on Dell’s website. So, if you are willing to trade off the convenience that comes with buying on Amazon, you can check out Dell’s online store. Here, you can choose among various options, from the processor, GPU (from both Nvidia and AMD), memory, and storage to the operating system, power delivery unit, and thermal cooling.

2. Lenovo ThinkStation P340 Workstation

Lenovo ThinkStation P340

Memory 16 GB RAM
Storage 512 GB SSD
CPU 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7-10700 (8-core processor)
GPU Nvidia Quadro P1000 4GB
Price From $1,709.00
→ Check availability on Amazon

Lenovo markets its ThinkStation P-series workstation family as workstations that foster creativity for professionals across industries. The Lenovo workstations have earned acclaim and a reputation that, combined, have seen Lenovo workstations being used by prominent manufacturers such as Aston Martin, which uses Lenovo workstations to design and create its cars. And a recent Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR) PC Reliability Study established that Lenovo workstations have the lowest rate of repair among other top competitors.

The Lenovo ThinkStation P340 is no different. In fact, according to Lenovo, it boasts ISV (Independent Software Vendors) certifications from CAD developers such as Siemens, Dassault Systemes, PTC, Bentley, and Autodesk. As a result, the P340 is an excellent choice for CAD design, among other applications in education, finance, and healthcare, thanks to its myriad features and capabilities.

A part of the P-series workstation family and the Lenovo stable, the P340 is powered by the 10th generation octa-core Intel Core i7-10700 and Nvidia P1000 4GB GPU, which are paired with 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB SSD.

If these specs do not tickle your fancy, however, you can check out the Lenovo online store for the US market. Here, you can choose a different processor from a lineup that includes (up to) the Intel Xeon W-1290P or (up to) the Intel Core i9-10900K. You can also select the operating system, memory (up to 128GB), and graphics card (only Nvidia GPUs are available).

3. HP Z4 G4 Workstation

HP Z4 G4 CAD Workstation

Memory 16GB RAM
Storage 512GB SSD
CPU 4.1GHz Intel Xeon W-2225 (4-core)
GPU Nvidia T1000 4GB (although you can also select among other GPUs such as among Nvidia T400 2GB, AMD Radeon Pro WX 3200, Nvidia T1000 4GB/8GB and more)
Price ~ $2,335.08
→ Check availability on Amazon

HP says that “the Z4 is ahead of its time with more standard features than any other single processor HP workstation.” And although it is only fitted with just one CPU, the workstation can handle optimized design processes that require high-frequency processing and multiple cores as well as high-powered GPUs.

The HP Z4 G4 comes with the quad-core Intel Xeon W-2225 capable of executing instructions at a speed of 4.1GHz. The graphical processing is carried out by the Nvidia Quadro T1000, which has a built-in memory of 4GB. The workstation also sports 16GB DDR4 RAM and a 512GB SSD.

If you google the workstation’s name, you will notice that HP also sells this workstation on its online store. This time, customizable. The manufacturer allows you to select different configurations that will give you the choice of Intel Core i9 or Intel Xeon processors. You can also select a workstation that supports dual graphics cards from either Nvidia or AMD and up to 512GB DDR4 RAM.

4. HP Z2 G8 Workstation

HP Z2 G8 CAD Workstation

Memory 16GB DDR4 RAM
Storage 512GB SSD
CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i9-11700 (8 core)
GPU Nvidia T1000 4GB
Price ~ $1,839.00
→ Check availability on Amazon

HP markets the HP Z2 G8 workstation as the new benchmark for entry workstation power. Built in such a way that allows expansion, this workstation is future-proof, with one of the drawbacks being the fact that it uses Intel processors, whose motherboards, unlike AMD, are not cross-generational. You see, while you can install the latest AMD CPU on an AMD motherboard from a few years/generations back, the same cannot be said of Intel GPUs. Even so, you can still upgrade the storage, graphics card, and memory.

The HP Z2 G8 we have identified is powered by a single 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-11700 and Nvidia T1000 4GB GPU. Additionally, it boasts 16GB DDR4 RAM as well as 512GB SSD for unmatched speed.

Compared to the HP Z4 G4 workstation, the Z2 G8 has another key drawback, which could be attributed to the fact that it is cheaper and an entry workstation. For one, you cannot configure/customize this particular workstation on the HP store – it is available with the same spec.

5. Dell Precision T3640

Dell Precision T3640 CAD workstation

Memory 32GB DDR4 RAM
Storage 512GB SSD + 2TB HDD
CPU 5.1 GHz Intel Core i7-10700K (8 core)
GPU Nvidia Quadro P2200
Price ~ $3,977.77
→ Check availability on Amazon

Lying at the top end of Dell’s impressive Precision range of workstations is the 3640. At the heart of this workstation is its 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-10700K, which has up to 8 cores and can be boosted up to 5.1GHz. This is a machine packing plenty of firepower. As such, it’s a great machine for anyone carrying out CPU-intensive rendering or simulation tasks. To further boost its capabilities, the Precision 3640 has an Nvidia Quadro P2200 GPU, 16GB RAM, as well as 1TB HDD and 512GB SSD.

Plenty of workstations have fantastic processors, GPUs, memory, and storage, though—so, what can Dell bring to the table that’s unique? Well, there’s Dell Optimizer for Precision, for starters. This handy tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) to adjust your system settings based on the applications you use most frequently, allowing you to get the most out of your machine. Likewise, its ExpressResponse tool, which also uses AI, launches your most used applications faster. Meanwhile, there’s also Dell’s Reliable Memory Technology (RMT) Pro. With this tool, issues with bad memory will become nothing more than… well, a bad memory.

If it weren’t already clear that this is a great workstation for CAD and BIM users, its extensive list of certifications from some of the industry’s biggest players put it beyond any doubt. ISV certifications from Dassault Systèmes, Autodesk, PTC, Siemens, and many others make this an ideal choice across a range of design sectors.

It is important to point out that though this particular model is available on Amazon, Dell discontinued it. In its place, the manufacturer sells the Dell Precision 3650. If you are looking for an even higher-end workstation from the Precision lineup, you can also go for the Precision 7820. Both of these workstations are available on Dell’s online store.

The Best MacOS Workstations for CAD

Whilst the most popular operating system for CAD continues to be Windows, there is a growing percentage of macOS CAD users, owing in part to the evolving sophistication of macOS-dedicated versions of popular CAD applications. However, keep in mind that some CAD programs, such as SolidWorks and CATIA, are not available for Mac. To use them, you first have to run Windows on the macOS device via a virtual machine/parallel. That said, other CAD applications, such as AutoCAD and SketchUp, are available on macOS and work perfectly with Apple’s ARM-based chips. 

It is worth pointing out that Apple also offers a good range of macOS laptops so if you prefer a more mobile option check out our comparison of the best laptops for CAD. However, we will continue to keep this post focused on the best workstations for CAD. On the macOS front, you have four great options.

1. Apple iMac 24″

Apple iMac 24" CAD workstation

Memory 8GB RAM
Storage 256GB SSD or 512GB SSD
CPU 8-core Apple M1 CPU
GPU 8-core Apple M1 GPU
Price from $1,499.00
→ Check availability on Amazon

Apple introduced the M1 ARM processor in 2020. And though a majority of the CAD software applications were not compatible with this new chip right off the bat because of the differences in the underlying architecture, developers got working. Their efforts resulted in compatibility, either through Rosetta 2 or directly. Known for its performance and efficiency, the M1 has proven to be a hit among Apple enthusiasts, which is why our list includes the Apple iMac 24”, which spots the M1 System-on-Chip (SoC).

The M1 chip delivers powerful performance with an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU. It also comes with 8GB RAM and up to 512GB SSD. (However, you can configure it to add the storage, with the maximum configurable storage being 2TB SSD.) Paired with the macOS, this hardware takes the iMac to a new level of performance that sees applications and even the heaviest software launch in a flash. The system is snappy and smooth. (As at early 2023, Apple has yet to update the iMac with a new generation of its powerful SoC.)

As with other Apple products, the screen does not disappoint. It is an immersive 24” 4.5K Retina display with a P3 wide color gamut and a peak brightness of 500 nits. In addition, it has a thin design (11.5mm) and is lightweight.

2. Apple Mac Studio

Apple 2022 Mac Studio

Up to 128GB 
Up to 8TB SSD
10-core Apple M1 Max CPU or 20-core Apple M1 Ultra CPU
Up to 32-core Apple M1 Max GPU or up to 64-core Apple M1 Ultra GPU
Price from $1,999.00
→ Check availability on

The Mac Studio is a compact macOS desktop (although it is not as compact as the Mac Mini – see below). Its processing capabilities are powered by either the M1 Max or the M1 Ultra, with the latter being the more powerful.

According to Apple, the M1 Max boasts up to 2.5x faster CPU performance than Intel Xeon W-powered Mac Pro and Intel Core i9-powered iMac. In addition, its GPU is up to 3.4 times faster than the AMD Radeon Pro W5700X card in the Mac Pro and the AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT card found in the iMac. On the other hand, the M1 Ultra demonstrates up to 3.8 times and 4.5 times faster CPU and GPU performances, respectively, than the aforementioned Intel CPUs and AMD GPUs.

3. Apple Mac Mini

Apple 2023 Mac mini

Up to 32GB
Up to 8TB SSD
8-core Apple M2 CPU or up to 12-core  Apple M2 Pro CPU
10-core Apple M2 GPU or up to 19-core Apple M2 Pro GPU
Price from $599.00
→ Check availability on Amazon

In 2023, Apple revamped its Mac Mini lineup by supercharging it with the M2 chip and the all-new M2 Pro. With a starting price of $599, this is the cheapest macOS workstation in our lineup. But the fact that it is not as costly as other Apple products on this list does not mean it lags in terms of performance. In fact, the current M2 and M2 Pro-powered generation of Mac Mini is faster, than the previous generation of Mac Mini, which was powered by the first-generation M1 chip.

According to Apple’s tests, the M2-powered Mac Mini is 5 times faster than a Windows desktop powered by an Intel Core i5 CPU with integrated graphics. Similarly, the M2 Pro-powered model is up to 14 times faster than the fastest Intel-based Mac Mini, which has a 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 chip with integrated graphics.

The Mac Mini is for users who want compactness; after all, it has a smaller form factor than the Mac Studio. But its compact size does not in any way impact performance. In fact, one Mac Mini review showed that the CPU does not overheat even when all its cores are put to work. You, therefore, do not have to worry about thermal throttling. If you are looking for a macOS computer with the latest generation of Apple SoC, then the Mac Mini is your best bet.

4. Apple Mac Pro

Apple Mac Pro CAD Workstation

Memory 32GB DDR4 RAM (up to 1.5TB)
Storage 512GB SSD (up to 8TB SSD)
CPU 3.5GHz Intel Xeon W Processor
GPU Radeon Pro W5500X 8GB with option to also choose from a list that includes: AMD Radeon Pro W6800X Duo, Radeon Pro W6900X, Radeon Pro W6800X, Radeon Pro W5700X, and Radeon Pro W6600X
Price from $5,999.00
→ Check availability on

A review noted that the modular, high-performance Apple Mac tower that professional Mac users had been asking for years is one of the most “precisely and cleverly engineered desktop computers ever made.” The Mac Pro tower is, quite simplistically, a workstation desktop designed to give the buyer as much leeway as possible to configure.

Buyers, therefore, have the option to select from different processors starting from an 8-core Intel processor that has a base clock speed of 3.5GHz and can be boosted to 4.0GHz, all the way to a 28-core 56-thread beast capable of executing instructions at a base speed of 2.5GHz or 4.4GHz when boosted. The tower deals with all the heat generated from the processor through a thermal cooling solution that incorporates a massive heat sink and heat pipes.

To facilitate the seamless operation of the multicore processor, Apple has designed the workstation to accommodate lots of memory. The Mac Pro tower features 12 physical DIMM slots and six channels of ECC memory, which can be populated with up to 1.5TB of memory. Regarding storage, buyers can select up to 8TB of SSD storage. In addition, the tower has an Apple T2 security chip that encrypts all the data stored therein, protecting it from being tampered with.

In the same way Apple lets users choose among different processors, so too does it allow buyers to select from an assortment of powerful AMD graphics cards. These include the AMD Radeon Pro W6800X Duo, Radeon Pro W6900X, Radeon Pro W6800X, Radeon Pro W5700X, Radeon Pro W6600X, and Radeon Pro W5500X.

Powered by an x86-architecture processor, the Mac Pro tower does not require you to use Rosetta 2. Instead, it makes easy work of CAD programs, most of which are optimized for x86 processors. So, if you are willing to spend several thousands of dollars on this workstation, it is definitely worth your while.

What About Building A Custom CAD Workstation?

A workstation is just one piece of the puzzle if you are looking to build the ultimate CAD PC. You need to consider peripherals such as a keyboard and mouse, in addition to a monitor. As we have detailed in our article, the best mouse for CAD offers comfort, has high sensitivity, and has several programmable buttons, just to mention a few factors.

If you are looking for the best ergonomic mouse for CAD, for example, the Logitech MX Ergo is your best bet. Conversely, if you are looking for a high-precision CAD mouse, you can go with the Razer DeathAdder V2. Check out the article for a more comprehensive list.

We have also covered the best keyboard for CAD as well as the best monitor for CAD. Check out these detailed articles for inspiration and guidance on what to purchase.


Finding the best workstation for CAD is not easy as some manufacturers can make promises that sometimes are just that… promises. And since workstations pack more power and are designed to effectively handle the heat generated by the processor and GPU more effectively, they are more powerful than their laptop equivalents. To help you in your journey, we have compiled a list of the best workstations for Windows and Linux, as well as the best workstations for macOS. And to recap, here are the best workstations according to category.

  • Best macOS tower workstation for CAD: Apple Mac Pro
  • Best Windows/Linux workstation for CAD: Dell Precision 7820

If you found this article useful, you may benefit from these other popular comparisons on the best hardware for CAD:

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