Recommend an Autocad System Build?
February 6, 2011 10:28 PM   Subscribe

An architect friend has asked me to build her a PC for autocad. $1350 is her price cap, including monitor but she'd love to come in under.

It's been a while since I built a system, and the guides I generally use are targeted towards gamers. I'd love a list of parts I could just order from Newegg, or a link to a good guide, but I'm also interested in any tips and recommendations for specific components.

posted by Manjusri to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This TomsHardware thread covers the basic principles -- it's nearly a year old, so many of the components have been superseded, but the takeaways: a "workstation" graphics card is a better deal than one aimed at gamers; the choice between multi-core CPUs really depends on how much rendering she wants to do, and will dictate the budget to some degree; start with a good chunk of RAM (6Gb min) and have room to expand.

It's also the kind of build where a SSD is likely to help, but would take a big chunk out of the budget.
posted by holgate at 10:59 PM on February 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Might it be possible for her to find a good used monitor? That would allow a little more flexibility for the other components.
posted by aniola at 11:14 PM on February 6, 2011

We need some additional requirements. Does she run renderings on this machine, or simply cad drawings? For just cad you don't need much, an ssd will make things nice, everything else can be low-mid spec parts honestly. At work all I've got is a 5 year old pentium 4 (with hyperthreading!) 1GB ram, and it does 2d and straightforward 3d just fine, though forget any rendering (where you just want max cpu horsepower, I'm not sure if any packages use GPU for rendering)
I would get her a decent size and resolution monitor, an SSD, and fill out the rest of the budget with the fastest cpu, 4-6gb ram and midrange video card.
posted by defcom1 at 11:44 PM on February 6, 2011

She seemed set on a 19" monitor which strikes me as a bit small for visual work, but are fairly cheap.

I haven't used autocad myself but I'll run any questions by her tomorrow. She mentioned doing "client walkthroughs" so I take it that means rendering.

Is the SSD for fast loading of the os/autocad software?
posted by Manjusri at 11:58 PM on February 6, 2011

Yeah, more detailed requirements required. Also, if she's doing client walkthroughs surely that requires a decent monitor? Clients aren't going to be very impressed with a tiny cheap thing.

SSDs make loading code and data very fast, but if the models are small enough to be cached in RAM then it may be better to spend the cash elsewhere.
posted by pharm at 12:06 AM on February 7, 2011

SysReqs from Autocad's site
* Intel Pentium 4 processor or AMD Athlon, 3 GHz or greater; or Intel or AMD dual-core processor, 2 GHz or greater
* 2 GB RAM or more
* 2 GB hard disk space available in addition to free space required for installation
* 1,280 x 1,024 true color video display adapter 128 MB or greater, Pixel Shader 3.0 or greater, Microsoft® Direct3D®-capable workstation-class graphics card

You could build a bitchin setup for around ~700-800 if you base it on an AMD Phenom II CPU, and get a lower-level 5000-series ATI card as graphics. Don't skimp on the motherboard; Gigabyte or Asus are very popular for good reason.

I think a 22-24" monitor would be within reason. Asus also makes nice, economical monitors in the $150-210 range.
posted by ijoyner at 12:39 AM on February 7, 2011

A 19" monitor feels like a false economy when very good 23" models are available for under $200. (23" seems like a sweet spot right now.) Like the keyboard and mouse, it's one part of the computer that she's going to be constantly aware of, and if it feels cramped, it'll irritate her far more than, say, a slightly slower CPU.
posted by holgate at 1:29 AM on February 7, 2011

Is the SSD for fast loading of the os/autocad software?

Yeah. Is that important though? Magnetic Hard drives are dirt cheap these days I mean 250gb hard drive is $42, and that's more then enough space for a windows install. I would spend money on a graphics card first, then CPU and RAM, and sacrifice the SSD to get a more expensive graphics card.

I have no idea what the difference is between a "workstation" and a "gaming" graphics card is supposed to be (I think the difference is mainly in the drivers, not the hardware) but according to this blog post gaming cards now work better for CAD (Specifically AutoCAD) in windows 7

Also I think you could get a > 19 inch monitor.
posted by delmoi at 1:32 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The first thing I'd do is spend a lot of time reading the charts on the recommended graphics card list. Note that even if the card seems to be okay and approved (it has a checkmark beside it) once you dril down into it further, there are often conflicting and contra-indicated details.
posted by sardonyx at 1:52 AM on February 7, 2011

Another question: if she's doing design work does it need to be colour correct? Probably not, but it might be worth checking.
posted by pharm at 1:58 AM on February 7, 2011

I have one of the cheap Asus monitors mentioned above and it's been great.
posted by sesquipedalian at 3:53 AM on February 7, 2011

Just on monitor reccomendations - the HP ZR22w is a really solid 22" IPS monitor for a great price. Probably the best thing within £100 or so of it's price.

There's also an excellent 24" version if your dosh will stretch. (here's a review)
posted by Magnakai at 6:21 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should probably put in a dual monitor graphics card because that is pretty standard especially using smaller monitors. Most CAD gurus will refuse to work with a single monitor.
posted by JJ86 at 7:49 AM on February 7, 2011

Focus on quality input and output, she will using/staring at this machine for hours every day.

I'm 2nd'ing the use of a IPS monitor, a quality monitor is worth every penny.

For input, I recommend the Logitech MX mouse

Buy these two items first, and don't get too hung up on specs and cpu's, any contemporary hardware combination will run AutoCAD and Revit just fine.
posted by limited slip at 8:04 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, an IPS monitor has a much wider viewing angle than a cheap TN monitor. If she's going to be showing clients stuff on the monitor, does she really want only one person to have a view of the image that isn't colour shifted all over the place?
posted by pharm at 8:48 AM on February 7, 2011

Seconding doing multiple monitors. A lot of CAD work is going to be digitizing existing drawings or making corrections from scanned markups. It's helpful to be able to display those in one screen while doing the drawing in the other.
posted by electroboy at 9:18 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most CAD gurus will refuse to work with a single monitor.

Well, that's overstating things a bit. In all the offices I've ever worked in, no one, not even the CAD gurus (which has sometimes been me), got two monitors. It would be nice, but it's not a mandatory thing. Getting a dual card is probably a good idea, but I wouldn't put the budget towards getting two monitors just yet. I'd rather have one really good monitor than two lesser ones.

I'm working right now on a 19" monitor. It would be very nice if I had one just a bit bigger, but what I've got works OK.
posted by LionIndex at 10:02 AM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

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