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Compared: The Best Workstations for CAD

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. We’ll also include the specs and stats you need to make an informed decision. Let’s jump in!


Table of contents


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 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.

These are some of the most important factors to check out—but they only just scratch the surface. 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

Let’s start off with 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.

HP Z8

HP Z8

HP claims that their Z8 workstation is “the world’s most powerful”. Image source: HP.

Memory Up to 3 TB
Storage Up to 48 TB
CPU Range of Intel Xeon processors available
Cores Up to 56
GPU Range of AMD Radeon Pro and NVIDIA Quadro GPUs available
Price From $2,439.00
Buy it on the HP Store.

Previously featured in our September 2017 news roundup, the HP Z8 has certainly merited a place in our lineup. HP have named the machine “the world’s most powerful workstation”, and it has the chops to prove it, running on Intel Xeon processors with up to 56 cores. With the Z8, HP are aiming squarely for the market’s power users, with the machine’s intended uses including 8K video editing, machine learning and simulation.

This customizable machine is compatible with a range of professional AMD and NVIDIA graphics options. Meanwhile, it’s also one of the most secure workstations around, and includes the SureStart self-healing BIOS. Prices for the HP Z8 start at $2,439 for a model featuring an Intel Xeon Silver 4108 processor, 8 GB of memory, a 1 TB hard drive and AMD Radeon Pro WX 1400 graphics. However, the machine’s wide range of customization options means you have the ability to create the ultimate workstation for your needs—provided you’ve got the cash.

If you’re working at the forefront of CAD, BIM and animation, then this is the pick for you. Those seeking something a little more affordable, however, have plenty of other great options.

CPU Solutions CEV-5169

CPU Solutions CEV-5169 workstation

CEV-5169: the AutoCAD-ready workstation. Image source: CPU Solutions.

Memory Up to 64 GB
Storage 3 TB
CPU Intel Core i7 7700 4.2 GHz
Cores 4
GPU NVIDIA Quadro P4000
Price From $2,488.99
Buy it at CPU Solutions.

Next on our list, we move to a company who specialize in custom computers for businesses across a range of sectors. Amongst these are a range of workstations for CAD and video editing which rival those from any of the market’s major players. That company is CPU Solutions, and the machine we’re featuring here is the CEV-5169.

Before building the CEV-5169, CPU Solutions didn’t underestimate the task ahead of them. They realized that the ideal workstation for CAD/CAM would need to aim far higher than the minimum software requirements—after all, no CAD professional should settle for average. This is where the CEV-5169 excels, with specs that make it ideal not only for CAD, but for video editing, too.

Under the hood, you’ll find an Intel Core i7 4.2 GHz processor, auto overclocked to 4.5 GHz. Meanwhile, the basic configuration of this machine features 32 GB of RAM, with a maximum memory of 64 GB. If you’re looking for a workstation that, well, works, you can’t go too far wrong with CPU Solutions.

 

Dell Precision Tower 7910

Dell Precision Tower 7910

Dell’s most powerful workstation. Image source: Dell.

Memory Up to 1 TB 
Storage Up to 20 TB
CPU Range of Intel Xeon processors available
Cores Up to 22 per processor
GPU Range of AMD and NVIDIA graphics available
Price From $2,079.00
Buy it at Dell.

Lying at the top end of Dell’s impressive Precision range of workstations is the 7910. At the heart of this workstation are its Intel Xeon dual processors—and with up to 22 cores per processor, 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.

Plenty of workstations have fantastic processors, though—so, what can Dell bring to the table that’s unique? Well, there’s Dell Precision Optimizer, for starters. This handy tool will adjust your system settings based on the applications you use most frequently, allowing you to get the most out of your machine. 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 will 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.

Laptops and tablets for CAD

Once upon a time, we thought of workstations as fixed behemoths. But the way we work today is more flexible than ever before—so our workstations need to be, too. Thankfully, there are plenty of companies redefining what (and where) a workstation can be. Here are a few of our picks.

HP ZBook 17 G4

HP ZBook 17 G4

A workstation for the road. Image source: HP.

Memory 16 GB
Storage 4 TB
CPU Range of Intel Core/Xeon processors
Cores 4
GPU Range of AMD Radeon Pro and NVIDIA Quadro GPUs available
Price From $1,332.00
Buy it on the HP Store.

If you thought that going mobile meant compromising on the quality of your machine, then HP are setting out to prove you wrong. Their ZBook line of workstations come with Intel Xeon processors, plus professional graphics, with AMD Radeon Pro or NVIDIA Quadro GPUs featuring up to 16 GB of video memory. Differentiating it further from other workstations for CAD is the availability of VR-ready configurations.

A further bonus to the machine is its 4 TB of storage, which, as well as providing ample space for large files, also offers fast booting and file transfers. You can even boost your speed with optional dual HP Z Turbo Drives. As an added plus, the ZBook series has undergone hundreds of thousands of hours worth of testing, and come with a three-year onsite limited warranty.

It’s also worth noting that this machine isn’t just durable on the inside. HP has also tested the ZBook series for its dependability, with the machine proving resistant to movement, drops, temperature changes and even dust. Okay, so most designers will be more likely to work from their home office, but it’s nice to know that the option of working in the Mojave Desert is there if you want it.

Razer Blade Pro

Razer Blade Pro

Is it worth trying out a gaming laptop? Image source: Razer.

Memory Up to 32 GB 
Storage Up to 6 TB 
CPU Intel Core i7-7820HK
Cores Up to 4 
GPU NVIDIA GeForce GTX 10 Series
Price From $1,799.99
Buy it at Razer.

We know what you’re thinking: isn’t Razer a gaming company? The answer is yes—but hear us out. The Razer Blade Pro aims to hit that sweet spot between the worlds of work and play, and pulls it off with some flair.

As you would expect, the machine doesn’t feature typical workstation components, including an Intel Core (rather than Xeon) processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX (rather than Quadro) graphics. Its focus on delivering an excellent experience for gamers, however, has had the happy side effect of offering a powerful set of tools for workstations, too. The 4K screen is a key selling point, featuring brilliant color saturation.

Completing tasks is a breeze with the Razer Blade Pro’s high performance mode. Selecting this will overclock your machine’s processor to 4.3GHz, making intensive tasks a cinch. Additionally, this is a machine built for high-performance graphics—perfect for BIM software.

HP ZBook x2

Memory 32 GB
Storage Up to 2 TB
CPU Intel Core i7 processors
Cores 4
GPU NVIDIA Quadro graphics
Price From $2,160.00
Buy it on the HP Store.

Yep, we’re already heading back to HP—but with good reason. This machine stands apart from the others in our list as the world’s first detachable workstation: the HP ZBook x2. We already gave this machine a shout out in our October 2017 news roundup, but we’re more than happy to provide an extra rundown here.

Tech specs for the ZBook x2 include a 4.2 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, and professional NVIDIA Quadro graphics. In terms of visuals, this machine competes almost pound-for-pound with the best workstations for CAD on the market thanks to its two 4K screen options. Then, of course, there’s the killer blow: the ability to use the ZBook x2 as either a laptop or a tablet.

There’s a strong focus here on Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite of products, making this a good choice if you’re looking to manually vectorize your image using Illustrator. The machine also holds ISV certifications for a range of workstation applications, though, making this a great all-rounder.


Mini workstations for CAD

Big things often come in small packages, and that’s certainly the case for our next group of machines: mini workstations for CAD.

Lenovo ThinkStation P320 Tiny

Lenovo ThinkStation P320 Tiny with Pencil

With the ThinkStation P320 Tiny, Lenovo pack CAD-ready specs into a diminutive machine.

Memory Up to 32 GB
Storage Up to 2 TB
CPU Up to Intel Core i7-7700T
Cores Up to 4
GPU NVIDIA Quadro P600
Price From $944.10
Buy it at Lenovo.

When most people hear the word ‘workstation’, they’ll likely think of a bulky tower, such as those featured in the list above. The word is much less likely to evoke a machine that’s shorter than a #2 pencil—yet that’s exactly what Lenovo have delivered with the ThinkStation P320 Tiny.

Weighing in at under 3lbs, Lenovo have cut the workstation down to size without reducing its potency. Users can expect industry-standard NVIDIA graphics, with support for up to six independent displays. As well as this, the workstation also comes with fast Intel Core processing. Meanwhile, the machine has received ISV certification, meaning that users of a range of CPU-intensive applications can allay any fears they may have before buying.

Lenovo have also gone to great lengths to ensure that this small machine is no pushover. In fact, they’ve put the ThinkStation P320 Tiny through the wringer with 12 military-stress tests, including temperature changes of 80°C. Who says small machines can’t be rugged?

Apple Mac Pro

Mac Pro on Desktop

Could an Apple Mac Pro find its way onto your desktop? Image source: Paul Hudson.

Memory Up to 64
Storage Up to 1TB
CPU Intel Xeon E5
Cores Up to 12
GPU Dual AMD FirePro D500/D700
Price From $2,999.00
Buy it on the Apple Store.

Criticisms have been leveled at the Mac Pro, which is the only Apple option to feature on this list. But packed within this 9.9″-tall cylinder are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t disregard the machine which, even today, remains the defining example of a workstation.

The dual GPUs that feature in this machine are one of its key selling points. It’s up to you to choose your configuration between two AMD FirePro GPUs: either the D500 units, which feature 3 GB of VRAM each, or the D700s, with 6 GB of VRAM each. On the processing side of things, you’ll find an Intel Xeon E5 CPU, configurable with up to 12 cores.

Additional features that are likely to convert buyers to the Mac Pro are its number of expansion ports and up to 64 GB of memory—as well, of course, as the design of the machine, which, in true Apple style, is sleek and stunning. Be prepared to fork out—Apple products rarely come cheap, after all—but also to expect great performance.

HP Z2 Mini G3

HP Z2 Mini with mouse

An HP workstation—just smaller.

Memory Up to 32 GB
Storage Up to 1 TB
CPU Range of Intel Core/Xeon processors
Cores Up to 4
GPU NVIDIA Quadro M620
Price From $820.00
Buy it on the HP Store.

HP’s Z2 Mini G3 machine sports an appearance closer to an Xbox than a traditional workstation—but appearances, as the adage goes, can be deceiving. Though it’s 90% smaller than a typical tower, it still includes everything you’d expect from a great workstation.

Crack open the hood, and you’ll find professional NVIDIA Quadro Pro graphics: ideal for 3D modeling applications. Meanwhile, you can configure the machine to include either Intel Xeon or Core processors depending on your budget and requirements, with options to use either Windows 10 Pro or Linux. And there’s HP Z Turbo Drive, featuring up to 1.5 TB of fast storage.

With these specs, it’s clear that HP created the Z2 Mini with CAD in mind. Thankfully, their hard work has paid off, with the machine receiving certifications for Autodesk software such as AutoCAD, Revit and Inventor, as well as Dassault Systèmes software, including SolidWorks. 

 

Budget workstations for CAD

Sticking to a budget doesn’t mean you should have to settle. There are plenty of workstations for CAD at friendlier price points than you might expect—and they still offer users a tremendous experience. Check out our favourites below.

Dell Precision Tower 3620

Dell Precision T3620

Professional performance at an affordable price. Image source: ZDNet.

Memory Up to 64 GB
Storage Up to 11 TB
CPU Intel Core i5/i7 or Xeon E3-1200 processors
Cores 4
GPU Range of NVIDIA and AMD graphics
Price From $599.00
Buy it at Dell.

If you liked the look of the Dell Precision Tower 7910, but not the price point, then Dell have an alternative option: the 3620. This machine is one of Dell’s most affordable workstations for CAD, but it still comes with plenty of useful components and features.

The 3620 is a mini-tower machine that offers users plenty of space for expansion—space that can be used for two 3.5″ SATA, or four 2.5″ SATA. You’ll get professional Intel Xeon processing, with Intel Core i5 and i7 options also available. As for graphics, you can choose from a range of professional 2D cards, or entry and mid-range 3D cards—the latter is, obviously, the better choice for any 3D CAD users out there.

Dell also note the security of their machine, which includes optional Dell Data Protection, Security Tools and Dell Control Vault. Meanwhile, self-encrypting drives can help to ensure that your files remain yours and yours alone.

HP Z240 SFF

HP Z240 SFF

Space-saving and cash-saving. Image source: HP.

Memory Up to 64 GB
Storage Up to 1 TB
CPU Intel Xeon/Core processors
Cores Up to 4
GPU Range of integrated Intel, NVIDIA or AMD graphics
Price From $958.00
Buy it on the HP Store.

Standing 57% smaller than an average tower, this workstation from HP could easily have made it into our mini workstations section. However, there’s a reason why we’re featuring the HP Z240 SFF in our budget section: it’s one of the most affordable options on our list.

Though an entry-level machine, the Z240 manages to fit Intel Xeon or Core processors, 1 TB of storage space and even 20 connectors and expansion slots into a tiny frame. Its range of graphics options aren’t at the highest end of the market, but it still represents a great choice for anyone who needs to complete serious CAD work without spending serious cash.

This small machine is speedy, too, coming with the HP Z Turbo Drives we’ve come to love. Plus, with ISV certification on hand, the HP Z240 SFF offers workstation performance at consumer desktop prices.

Lenovo ThinkStation P320 Tower

Memory Up to 64 GB
Storage Up to 4 TB
CPU Intel Core i3/i5/17 or Xeon E3-1200v5
Cores 4
GPU Up to NVIDIA Quadro M4000
Price From $746.10
Buy it at Lenovo.

We return to the Lenovo ThinkStation series of workstations for the final entry in our list: the P320. The bigger brother (literally) to the P320 we featured earlier, this is one of the most affordable workstations for CAD today. But can it deliver where it counts?

You may have guessed from its inclusion on our list, but the answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes. Though it comes in well below the $1,000 mark, the ThinkStation P320 Tower is a superb entry-level offering for CAD use.

Within this small tower, users can get up to 4 TB of storage space and 64 GB of memory. Additionally, you’ll get NVIDIA graphics, ranging up to the professional NVIDIA Quadro M4000 model. True: if you’re looking for the highest-end machine on the market, then the Lenovo ThinkStation P320 is not what you’re looking for. But if you’re looking for fantastic performance for just a few hundred dollars, then this machine will deliver in spades.

Important note: For CAD workstations, it is just as important to have the best graphics card for your CAD needs. Check out this comparison of the best graphics cards out today

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