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Compared: The Best Graphics Cards for CAD in 2022

Updated May 4, 2022
Graphics Cards for CAD

So, you’ve decided you need to purchase a graphics card for your CAD work. At first, you may have thought that you could purchase any graphics card as long as it is powerful—only to realize that the GPU market is more complex than that!

That’s why we’ve created this post as the ultimate reference for purchasing new graphics cards for CAD. We’ll walk you through what you need to know and end with our top 5 picks on the market right now.


Is Nvidia leading the pack with graphics card development?

Chart Nvidia vs. AMD GPU Market Share

Comparing Nvidia’s vs. AMD’s market share for the PC graphics card market in 2013 to 2015. Source.

For a long time, in recent history, the short answer to this question would be ‘yes’. There is little doubt that if you’re comparing graphics card options, an Nvidia product will be on the shortlist. If comparing market-share alone, Nvidia is the dominant brand. Their strategy has been to focus purely on GPU technology by partnering with Intel for their CPU requirements. In comparison, AMD directly competes in both markets by producing CPUs and GPUs.

Nvidia also provides the chips for many graphics card manufacturers who could be classed as their competitors, but, in reality, are their partners. See our list of graphics card manufacturers for an insight into Nvidia’s stronghold in the market.

However, this doesn’t mean you should skip the rest of this guide and purchase an Nvidia card. The market is more nuanced than that. 

Nvidia’s domination has forced companies such as AMD to focus on solutions for specific user requirements—CAD being one of them. And, in many like-for-like comparisons, AMD has come out on top for certain uses. This muddies the water and justifies a lengthy post on the best graphics cards for CAD. So, let’s delve in!

And as I’ve updating this post over the years, I have seen how AMD have set a standard for high-spec CAD graphics cards such as those compared later in this article.


What do the model numbers on graphics cards mean?

numbers on notepad, pen and laptop on desk

You have probably noticed that many graphics cards have a number in their product names. Let’s look at the below table showing 4 graphics cards from 4 different manufacturers, all of which use the same number in their model name.

Manufacturer

Model Name

Further Details

Asus

GeForce GTX 1080

Product specification

EVGA

GeForce GTX 1080

Product specification

Gigabyte

GeForce GTX 1080

Product specification

MSI

GeForce GTX 1080

Product specification

So, why do all these cards reference the same model number? In the above list, all products are using the same GPU produced by Nvidia: the Nvidia 1080 GPU. Therefore, they use the same model number to inform the users of what’s under the hood.

Many brands will use the GPU chips of the market leaders, packaged in their solution. This gives smaller graphics card manufacturers the option not to compete with Nvidia or AMD on-chip performance, but instead to offer their customers another option in how it is presented.

Some companies may simply offer a preferable cooling system to that of Nvidia. Meanwhile, the GTX 1080 by Gigabyte, for example, uses Nvidia’s GTX technology but is unique in being much smaller in overall footprint than the Nvidia equivalent.

Do higher graphic card model numbers mean better performance?

If purchasing a motorcycle, we would know that a 700cc engine is more powerful than a 300cc engine. The cubic centimeters measurement can’t be gamed; the engine is either the stated volume or it isn’t. Unfortunately, the numbers used in most GPU model names do not relate to any real-world measurement.

As the Logical Increments blog explains, it isn’t always as simple as a higher model number being faster than other lower model numbers. For example, Nvidia’s GTX 680 is faster than the GTX 760 as it has ‘“more raw performance” than the 760.’ Confused? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

These numbers should be thought of as nothing more than part of the product name, which in some cases identifies the GPU being used.

Therefore, this is a case of buyer beware! Do not assume that the number indicates the same specifications as other manufacturers. Always carefully read the specifications of the graphics card you’re considering.

Gaming graphics cards for CAD

Computer games controller and PC Monitor

The popularity of gaming graphics cards is difficult to ignore. However, whilst they often come with impressive specs, there are several key factors that differentiate them from workstation graphics cards for CAD. We’ll take a quick look at why they have become so prominent, and the reasons why they may not be a great choice for CAD.

Why are there so many gaming graphics cards?

You will notice that many of the brands you come across will have a prominent offering of gaming-focused graphics cards. This is a simple case of supply and demand; it is an indication of gaming is the highest growth market in GPU sales.

In 2017 Nvidia increased its revenue from gaming products by 49% compared to 2016. They now take roughly $1 billion in sales per year purely from gaming GPUs.

Due to the growth in eSports and the interest in Virtual Reality gaming, the prominence of gaming graphics cards is unlikely to be a fad.

Moreover, this growth in gaming graphics cards should be considered good news for any GPU shopper. With massive investment in R&D and tight competition between manufacturers, the improvements in GPU technology are beneficial for gamers and CAD users alike.

Could I use a gaming graphics card for CAD?

Yes and no. You can use a gaming graphics card for CAD work but be warned that not all gaming graphics cards will be suitable. Software such as  SolidWorks, for example, will typically only work well with an Nvidia Quadro or AMD FirePro card.

If you need a GPU suitable for both gaming and CAD, the ideal solution would be to have a separate gaming machine from your CAD machine. For many users, however, this simply isn’t practical. Unfortunately, though, graphics cards specifically designed for CAD do not tend to be suitable for the required rendering in gaming.

The better path to follow is to research which gaming graphics cards have been reported to work well with your CAD software.

For example, the Asus Strix GTX 1070 reportedly works well with AutoCAD—and it is also fantastic for shooting zombies.

I can tell you that my graphics card of choice, Nvidia’s Quadro K1200, has been a great CAD graphics card, but it would not be able to handle relatively simple 3D games.


Will my graphics card be ‘future-proof’?

girls wearing virtual reality headset, Nvidia chip, graphic simulation

The definition of ‘future-proof’ is a piece of technology that is ‘unlikely to become obsolete’. Therefore, this question is subjective. Whether or not you consider your graphics card to be obsolete will be dependent on how you wish to use it.

For example, a 10-year-old graphics card may still be fantastic at browsing the web, but perhaps not so great if you wish to do anything graphically strenuous. 

When it comes to ensuring your CAD PC is as future-proof as it can be, the best advice is to purchase the best model you can afford. The higher the specifications, the longer the GPU is likely to serve you.


Graphics cards benchmarks and why they matter

Our guide on graphics cards wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention benchmarks. Benchmarks are automated tests run by specially designed software. This software will perform specific tasks whilst measuring the performance and workload of the GPU.

These benchmarks are important because they avert subjective discussions on the best graphics card for a particular use. Instead, you can find empirical data on a GPU’s performance. You can even run a benchmark yourself thanks to software available from Cadalyst.

Benchmark tests can regularly highlight surprising results. Tom’s IT Pro ran benchmark tests on Nvidia’s Quadro M6000 graphics card. They found that whilst the M6000 outperformed competitors for 3D rendering, the same GPU came third for 2D rendering. These results are demonstrated in the below charts.

Chart benchark results for Nvidia Quadro M6000

Benchmark test results for the Nvidia Quadro M6000 with 2D and 3D AutoCAD rendering. Source.


Certified graphics cards for CAD

A number of the most prominent software developers have made life easier for us by publishing their list of graphics cards that have been tried and tested with popular CAD software. These are often referred to as ‘certified devices’ by the software developer.

If the graphics card you’re considering is supported by the software you intend to use, you will have much more confidence with your purchase.

We’ve collected a list of these published certified devices below.

Software

Developer

Certified Devices

Ansys

Ansys Inc

Search supported devices

ArchiCAD

Graphisoft

Search supported devices

AutoCAD

Autodesk

Search supported devices

Bentley MicroStation

Bentley

Search supported devices

CATIA

Dassault Systèmes

Search supported devices

Chief Architect

Chief Architect, Inc.

Search supported devices

Creo

PTC

Search supported devices

FreeCAD

Open source

Search supported devices

Inventor

Autodesk

Search supported devices

Revit

Autodesk

Search supported devices

Siemens PLM

Siemens

Search supported devices

SolidWorks

Dassault Systèmes

Search supported devices

Are we missing software that you’d like to see? Let us know in the comments.

Note: FreeCAD does not have their own list of specific model recommendations but their software is based on OpenGL. Therefore, we have linked to the OpenGL supported devices from Nvida.


Don’t neglect the rest of your PC

There will be little point in investing in your ideal graphics card if the rest of your PC isn’t suitable for the required workload.

We created a popular post on how to build the ultimate CAD PC, in which you’ll find tips on what to consider when shopping for all PC components. It can take some time to research compatibility with all your PC’s components but the extra work is worthwhile.


Comparison: Our top graphics cards for CAD

So, here’s our pick of the bunch. We’ve chosen to make a shortlist of graphics cards that would be suitable for both 2D and 3D CAD work. As a way of stating their suitability, we have referenced whether they are suitable for AutoCAD (2D) and SolidWorks (3D). We have sourced their statement of suitability from the official hardware recommendations of AutoCAD and SolidWorks

We assume that you’re not too concerned about support for technology such as virtual reality. This isn’t yet a widely accepted requirement in CAD, but I’m sure we will need to update this article in a few years to account for that.

We have also tried not to go too high on the pricing scale whilst still focusing on professional-grade options. All options are below $1,000. Yes, you could purchase a phenomenal graphics card for $4,000, but adding that option to our comparison wouldn’t help most readers and it would be overkill for 99% of CAD work. And remember, whilst we give a rough guide for the price of each option, there are various specifications within each option which can increase or decrease the price.

We have also created separate lists for the top GPU manufacturers, AMD and Nvidia. Therefore if you are loyal to a specific brand, you have direct comparisons for their best options.
To finish off, we have combined what we think are the best Nvidia and AMD options overall.

Comparison: The top AMD graphics cards for CAD

AMD graphics cards for cad

Here are the best AMD graphics cards for CAD

 

Product Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)? Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)? Price Availability
AMD Radeon Pro WX 3200 Yes Yes ~ $220.00 → Check availability on Amazon
AMD Radeon Pro WX 3100 Yes Yes ~ $470.00 → Check availability on Amazon
AMD Radeon Pro W5500 Yes Yes ~ $490.00 → Check availability on Amazon
AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100 Yes Yes ~ $650.00 → Check availability on Amazon
AMD Radeon Pro W5700 Yes Yes ~ $930.00 → Check availability on Amazon

Comparison: The top Nvidia graphics cards for CAD

nvidia graphics cards cad

Here are the best Nvidia graphics cards for CAD:

Product Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)? Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)? Price Availability
NVIDIA Quadro P600 Yes Yes ~ $180.00 → Check availability on Amazon
NVIDIA T600 Yes Yes ~ $210.00 → Check availability on Amazon
NVIDIA Quadro M2000 Yes Yes ~ $250.00 → Check availability on Amazon
NVIDIA T1000 Yes Yes ~ $380.00 → Check availability on Amazon
NVIDIA Quadro P2200 Yes Yes ~ $700.00 → Check availability on Amazon

Comparison: The top 5 graphics cards for CAD

top 5 graphics cards for cad

At this point, you’ve seen our best picks from the individual GPU manufacturers. To finish up, here are our top picks from AMD and Nvidia combined. 

Here are the best graphics cards for CAD

  1. Nvidia Quadro P600
  2. AMD Radeon Pro WX 3200
  3. Nvidia T1000
  4. AMD Radeon Pro W5500
  5. AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100

Be sure to check the detailed descriptions for each option below the list to learn more about our selections.

Quick comparison chart

In order of ascending average price.

Product Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)? Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)? Price Availability
Nvidia Quadro P600 Yes Yes ~ $180.00 → Check availability on Amazon
AMD Radeon Pro WX 3200 Yes Yes ~ $220.00 → Check availability on Amazon
Nvidia T1000 Yes Yes ~ $380.00 → Check availability on Amazon
AMD Radeon Pro W5500 Yes Yes ~ $490.00 → Check availability on Amazon
AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100 Yes Yes ~ $650.00 → Check availability on Amazon

Nvidia Quadro P600

GPUs for CAD, Option 1

Kicking off with a budget choice for CAD users, Nvidia’s Quadro range is known to work solidly for most CAD applications. Reportedly, Dassault Systèmes design the graphic rendering of SolidWorks with Quadro graphic cards in mind. The P600 is not the highest spec model in the range, as such you should consider its suitability for heavy CAD rendering (although the P600 is cetified by for SolidWorks). But if working solely in 2D drafting, this should be suitable choice.

GPU Manufacturer

Nvidia

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to SolidWorks)

Price

~ $180.00

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon

 

AMD Radeon Pro WX 3200

GPUs for CAD, Option 2

AMD acquired the Radeon GPU technology from ATI Technologies in 2006. Since the acquisition, the Radeon range has played an integral part in AMD’s GPU market growth. 

The Radeon Pro WX 3200 comes in at just over $200 (dependent on the specification you choose) and offers great performance for the relatively low price.

GPU Manufacturer

AMD

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to SolidWorks)

Price

~ $220.00

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon

 

Nvidia T1000

GPUs for CAD, Option 3

Although this graphics card is named as though it’s the next Terminator, it’s not going to ask for your clothes, boots and motorcycle. The T100 is described by Nvidia as being ‘power and performance in a small form factor’. As with all options presented in this article, the T1000 is certified by the respective developers for use with AutoCAD and Solidworks.

GPU Manufacturer

Nvidia

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to SolidWorks)

Price

 ~ $380.00

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon

 

AMD Radeon Pro W5500

GPUs for CAD, Option 4

For our fourth graphics card, we bring you another great option from AMD’s Radeon range. The Radeon Pro W5500 comes at a higher average price to the Radeon Pro WX 3200 (depending on the specification you might choose). AMD boasts the W5500 as superior to Nvidia’s Quadro P2200 for power efficiency when running AutoCAD or SolidWorks. 

GPU Manufacturer

AMD

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to SolidWorks)

Price

~ $490.00

Availability

 → Check availability on Amazon

 

AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100

GPUs for CAD, Option 5

We end our list of top 5 graphics cards for CAD with the highest-priced, yet still very budget-friendly,  Radeon Pro WX 5100 from AMD. The WX 5100 offers some impressive specifications which are reported to serve graphic-heavy CAD applications smoothly.

And for those running OpenGL-powered applications, such as FreeCAD, AMD lists the WX 5100 as having ‘comprehensive support’ for these graphic technologies.

GPU Manufacturer

AMD

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to SolidWorks)

Price

 ~ $650.00

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon


Bonus: List of graphics card brands

We’ve collected a list of the most popular graphics card manufacturers. You may not have heard of many of these brands, but some of these lesser-known names are producing impressive products.

View the full list

 

Manufacturer

Description

Learn More

AMD

AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) is certainly one of the leading lights in GPU manufacturers. Under the leadership of Lisa Su, the company has doubled down on building market-leading GPUs.

Learn more

Colorful

A Chinese brand producing gaming graphics cards with highly desirable specs. Colorful is not a widely adopted brand in the US and UK. Some users have commented on their apparently higher price tag for specifications available from other, cheaper brands.

Learn more

EVGA

Like Colorful, EVGA is focussing on the growing gaming market. According to some commentators, the EVGA products are highly rated by their customers due to the company’s focus on excellent customer support and warranty service.

Learn more

Gainward

Headquartered in Taiwan, Gainward’s products are regularly compared to their AMD counterparts. Gainward is known to offer overclocked GPUs that have been tested thoroughly by the manufacturer.

Learn more

Gigabyte

In 2017, Gigabyte released what was billed as the ‘world’s smallest GTX 1080—approximately 9cm smaller than Nvidia’s equivalent.

Learn more

Inno3D

Formed in Hong Kong, Inno3D’s iChill range has been well received by many. Notably, Inno3D has produced a product specifically for the significant resources required to mine digital currencies.

Learn more

MSI

As well as producing their own graphics cards, MSI produces high-specification laptops and desktop computers. This brand has a strong footprint in the UK and US.

Learn more

Nvidia

Arguably the leader of the pack, with the largest market share in the graphics card market. Producing GPUs for many ‘competitors’ in the market.

Learn more

Palit

Palit manufactures its graphics cards in China and has offices in Asia and Europe. They are not a widely known brand but, according to some forum discussions, their quality is impressive at a cheaper comparable price.

Learn more

PNY

Like MSI, PNY manufactures a wide range of products from external storage drives to charging cables. They also produce a range of popular graphics cards.

Learn more

Zotac

Zotac describes itself as the creator of the original Mini PC. Their range of graphics cards uses Nvidia GPUs. Zotac states that their cards ‘perform up to 15% faster than Nvidia reference design’.

Learn more

 

Are we missing a notable brand producing graphics cards for CAD? Let us know in the comments.

Conclusion

When choosing a graphics card for CAD, first consider the specific list of applications you will use in your CAD work. From there, you can quite easily narrow-down a list of graphics cards which would be suitable for your CAD work by looking at the list of certified GPUs recommended by the software developers. 

Most importantly, as mentioned earlier, don’t assume that one good graphics cards will be suitable for all types of graphics rendering.

If you’re unsure which models to choose, I’m confident the above list will be a big help to you. Both NVIDIA and AMD have some great options for under $1,000, for example AMD’s Radeon Pro WX 3200 and NVIDIA’s T1000 are both under $500 and have been officially certified for use with SolidWorks and AutoCAD. If you are able to significantly increase your budget, AMD’s Radeon Pro W5700 at ~ $930.00 packs a real punch for relatively heavy CAD 3D rendering.

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