How To Build a Budget CAD Workstation

It is possible to build your own budget CAD workstation with the relevant technical knowhow and the correct compatible components.

Is a self-built workstation for you?

It is a tempting prospect to go down the self-build route. The opportunity to buy individual parts from a number of sources alone can help with the cost. You can simply buy each component you want from the cheapest supplier.

In addition to maximising your purchasing opportunities from a cost perspective, a self-built workstation provides you with the opportunity to specify which parts you prefer. This alone may be enough to convince many to take this route. For instance, a company like us may not offer your preferred RAM type or graphics card as a specific option. Building your own PC removes this issue.

Then there is the satisfaction of having completed the project and having a fully working budget CAD workstation which you have constructed yourself.

Should you build your own budget CAD workstation?

Taking into account the points raised above, this is a decision you must make yourself. Without a doubt, there are some very positive reasons for self-build. There are also a number of reasons to avoid this path.

Warranty

Any new Workstation you buy should come with back to base warranty. In our case, this is a 2 year warranty with parts and labour completely covered for year 1 and labour for year 2. In the unlikely event a warranty issue occurs, we have the necessary expertise for a swift diagnosis, fix the problem then have your workstation repaired and back to work as fast as possible.

A self-built computer would only come with the standard 12 month warranty offered by the individual parts manufacturers. You will need to diagnose an issue yourself and then potentially convince the manufacturer it is their part at fault and it was not damaged during installation. When some of the parts retail at thousands of pounds for high-end machines, this can be a risk you do not need to take on.

Efficiency

Building a budget CAD workstation seems like an obvious method of introducing cost-efficiency into your business. IT equipment is a major expense. Reducing that spend as much as possible is a good idea.

Potentially though, the money saved on components can be lost with inefficiencies elsewhere. Do you have the time to build a new PC? You have to ask yourself if there are better uses of your time, keeping customers happy and winning work. Also in the event of a system malfunction, how much is the back up of a warranty worth in terms of downtime?

There are certainly pros and cons for a self-build budget CAD workstation. If you think that route is for you after considering the implications of not having lifetime technical support behind you, here is a budget CAD workstation specification for you to build. You can also buy the parts as a bundle from our store and assemble then yourself.

Case

If you are self-building a CAD workstation, you may decide that the case may not be critical as a way of keeping costs lower. However, you can get a few nice ones for not much money. Some of the bigger manufacturers build low-cost PC cases. If you are prepared to look at smaller brands, you will get a great looking PC case for a budget price.

internals during a PC build

Processor

The engine room of any PC. The decision made here will have a great effect on the speed and efficiency of your DIY CAD workstation. Also, you cannot just buy any chipset and motherboard, you will need to ensure compatibility.

One way of doing this is to buy a motherboard bundle. This will be delivered with the motherboard and the CPU and cooler pre-installed. This will provide you with several benefits. Firstly you will ensure component compatibility. You will save time putting together a crucial element in your build and you will avoid the potentially costly mistakes and damaging a key and expensive component.

The chip and motherboard you choose will depend greatly on the software you intend to run on your DIY CAD machine. For instance, AutoCAD does not support multi-threading. The Autocad exe is a single thread application. In benchmark tests, the 9th generation of Intel processors come out on top, with the i9 9900KF the top performer. However, that doesn’t fit into my idea of a budget processor.

The i3 9350KF ranks in 8th position in the study I looked at, which was based on Passmarks new V10 software. For a sub £200.00 processor this is punching well above its weight. It outperformed quite a few 9th generation i7 chips and everything AMD had to offer, despite being maligned by industry experts on its initial release.

Motherboard

Like many things in life, you get what you pay for. An expensive motherboard will have better components, a better chipset, more USB slots and will generally provide a better overall experience for the user. Based on that, I have kept away from the bottom end of the market for this and gone for one I think is a good middle of the road board. The one I have picked for this DIY build is the Asrock Z390 Phantom. 

RAM

There always used to be a saying to buy as much RAM as you can afford for a PC. Although I believe this still holds true, I think it was something that originated before so many people were educated in the technical specs behind PC builds. In the days of buying a new computer from a store, when the specs were often misrepresented, ensuring you had lots of RAM was a good thing. What you need to make sure though, is that you have the correct RAM. That, generally, means speed.

There is a big difference between a DIY PC build with 16GB of 3000mhz DDR4 and 16 GB 1333mhz DDR3. Just choosing RAM based on the amount is not a good idea. Therefore my advice and how I go about building machines is put as much fast RAM as I can afford into a build, without putting too much. That is just wanted money. Autocad recommends 16GB of memory and an additional 8GB for large datasets such as point clouds. For this DIY CAD Workstation, I have chosen 32GB of 2666mhz. More RAM makes the CPU’s job much easier and fast RAM makes it easier still.

Hard Drive

I can’t think of any particular reason not to use an SSD as your primary and secondary hard drive on a modern PC. Most motherboards come with M.2 and SATA support, some come with more than one M.2 slot. With the relative cost of the faster HDD variants now much less expensive than just a few years ago, a 1TB M.2 is relatively cheap, I can think of no reason to install a hard drive that is not solid state. That may be just my preference.

My everyday computing machine is a Macbook Air. It has just 128GB of SSD storage and even though it is five years old, it hasn’t noticeably slowed down. It even runs Autocad for Mac quite comfortably.

Graphics Card

Without a doubt the most expensive component of a DIY CAD Workstation. The decision to go with a gaming card such a Nividia 20 series or a dedicated workstation card, such as a Radeon Pro is a matter of debate.

You may notice that on all of our workstation systems we install wither the Radeon Pro or the Nividia Quadro. The reason for this is simple. As well as being hardware suppliers, our history is embedded in using CAD all day every day. We know what works and to get the best out of the software, you need a graphics card designed for the task. Professional cards are designed for 3d modelling, design and rendering, where gaming cards and optimised for that purpose.

The mid-level Radeon Pro WX 4100 has 4GB of video memory and is more than enough to run Autocad efficiently.

Power Supply

The components I have used in this DIY CAD Workstation require approximately 272 Watts of power. Therefore I have chosen a 400 Watt PSU based on budget and to provide a bit of headroom and upgrade potential.

Parts List

CPU - Intel i3 9350KF 

Motherboard - Asrock Z390 Phantom 

RAM -  2 x ADATA Premier 8GB 2666mhz DDR4 

Storage - ADATA 240 GB M.2 2280 SSD 

Graphics  - Radeon Pro WX4100 

Power - Be Quiet 400 Watt PSU 

Case - Antex NX220 RGB Gaming Case with Window 

Cooler - Asaka AK 7101KP Heatsink and Fan

If this looks like the kind of build you would like to put together yourself you can buy the components as a bundle right here on our store. If you would rather shop around, that’s fine too and good luck. If you have never built a PC before, it is a thoroughly rewarding experience. I just hope this article has helped you make some decisions on how to build a DIY CAD workstation.

 


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