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Compared: The Best Graphics Cards for CAD

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.


Table of Contents


Are Nvidia leading the pack?

Chart Nvidia vs. AMD GPU Market Share

Comparing Nvidia’s vs. AMD’s market share for the PC graphics card market. Source.

The short answer is yes. There is little doubt that if you’re comparing graphics card options, an Nvidia product will be in the shortlist. The dominant brand’s strategy has been to focus purely on the 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 provide the chips for many graphics cards manufacturers who could be classed as their competitors, but, in reality, are their partners. See our list of graphics cards 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!


What do the model numbers 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 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 which 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 being the highest growth market in GPU sales.

In 2017 Nvidia increased their revenues 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 is 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 which 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.


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 which 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

AutoCAD

Autodesk

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.


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 5 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 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. Yes, you could purchase a phenomenal graphics card for $1,500, but adding that option to our comparison wouldn’t help most readers and it would be overkill for 99% of CAD work.

So, without any further ado, let’s dive into our top 5 graphics cards for CAD!

 

PNY Nvidia Quadro P2000

Nvidia Quadro P2000 graphic card

A very popular 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 P2000 is not the highest spec model in the range but it should be suitable for most CAD work.

GPU Manufacturer

Nvidia

Graphics Card Manufacturer

PNY

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to Nvidia)

Price

~ $450.00

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon

 

Asus Geforce Turbo GTX 1080

Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics card

Though this is a comparison of graphics cards for CAD, we’ve decided to go rogue and make things a little more contentious. Yep, we’ve added a gaming graphics card to the list. The GTX 1080 by Nvidia is a very powerful and widely respected GPU, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be suitable for all CAD work. It should handle AutoCAD with ease but we have read warnings of the card’s suitability for SolidWorks.

Bear in mind that this GPU will be offered by many graphics card manufacturers. As previously mentioned, these manufacturers typically partner with Nvidia for their GPUs. We have picked the GTX 1080 from Asus as they are a widely respected brand.

GPU Manufacturer

Nvidia

Graphics Card Manufacturer

Asus

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to benchmarks)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

No (According to the community)

Price

~ $590.00

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon

 

AMD Radeon Pro WX 7100

AMD Radeon Pro WX 7100 graphics card

Our top 5 picks feature offerings from both AMD and Nvidia. There isn’t a realistic third option for CAD. Although Nvidia are leading the market in GPU sales, do not discount AMD. AMD’s Radeon FirePro range offer a range of very powerful graphics cards for CAD. The WX 7100 boasts very impressive performance for SolidWorks in Visualization and Simulation.

GPU Manufacturer

AMD

Graphics Card Manufacturer

AMD

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to AMD)

Price

 ~ $630.00

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon

 

Nvidia Quadro K1200

Nvidia Quadro K1200 graphics card

This is my graphics card of choice for my CAD PC. This card offers a great balance of cost vs. performance. The K1200 should not falter with 2D CAD rendering (e.g. AutoCAD or Draftsight), but if you predominantly work in 3D, you may experience some performance issues. We have found vendors offering the K1200 as a recommended graphics card for SolidWorks, but I can’t vouch for the performance as I wasn’t able to find benchmark tests for this GPU.

GPU Manufacturer

Nvidia

Graphics Card Manufacturer

PNY

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to Vendors)

Price

~ $299.00

Availability

 → Check availability on Amazon

 

AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100

AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100 graphics card

Probably my favourite of the bunch. The AMD Radeon Wx 5100 is a healthy chunk cheaper than many other similar options and still offers support for relatively heavy 3D CAD rendering according to AMD. Additionally, this certainly shouldn’t cause you any issues for general 2D CAD work.

GPU Manufacturer

AMD

Graphics Card Manufacturer

AMD

Suitable for AutoCAD (2D)?

Yes (According to Autodesk)

Suitable for SolidWorks (3D)?

Yes (According to AMD)

Price

 ~ $400

Availability

→ Check availability on Amazon


Bonus: List of graphics card brands

We’ve collected a list of the most popular graphics cards 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
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5 Responses to Compared: The Best Graphics Cards for CAD

  1. Ivy Sok Feb 8, 2018 at 3:42 PM #

    Thank you! . I am an industrial designer and am using a lot Rhino, Cinema4D, Photoscan (Agisoft) and all the adobe suite. When everything is running at the same time , my CAD, my rendrings, my photo editing I need a very powerful machine and am looking to replace my macbook pro 2013.This helped so much!

    • luke
      Luke Kennedy Feb 8, 2018 at 4:33 PM #

      Hey Ivy! I’m pleased to hear this helped.

      Yes, each of those apps would be heavy on the visual processing. I would expect things to slow down a little if you had them all open.

  2. Tom Chadwick May 3, 2018 at 5:07 PM #

    We use Carlson Software running in InteliCAD 8. Carlson reports, and I’ve experienced problems using the Nvidia Quadro K2000. Any recommendations for the IntelliCAD/Carlson users? Carlson recommends GeForce but no specific one.
    Thanks.

    • luke
      Luke Kennedy May 3, 2018 at 5:16 PM #

      GeForce are gaming graphics cards. As this post explains – I would be very wary of a gaming GPU for CAD work. It could work but you’ll need to test with your setup.
      Perhaps Carlson is designed to use the same rendering as in gaming but if so, the same GPU may not perform well with IntelliCAD.

      In this post we recommend trying out the GTX 1080 – (see the links above) a bit of a wildcard but it might suit your needs.

  3. Vincenzo Gentile Jul 18, 2018 at 11:53 PM #

    Hi, I wanna ask if a gtx 1060 is suitable in next years for 3D works(not heavy) with Autocad,or could work better an RX 580??

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