The Optimum Hardware Setup for Running SOLIDWORKS Simulation

Don’t waste money on extra cores but maximize memory and storage.

The inside of a workstation optimized for SOLIDWORKS Simulation.

The inside of a workstation optimized for SOLIDWORKS Simulation.

We’ve all been there. The dreaded SOLIDWORKS Resource Monitor is popping up in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen like it was warning you of impending doom. It’s an awful feeling. But take heart. You have some options—doom is far from certain.

The Resource Monitor pops up because you are running out of computer resources while you are running SOLIDWORKS. Of course, you know workstations running SOLIDWORKS are more capable than little laptops that others may use for Facebook, shopping, and other tasks. The minimum and recommended requirements of a workstation are posted on the SOLIDWORKS website. The recommended requirements are a great starting point. But when a process takes minutes and hours, as do simulations, you will benefit from tweaking your workstation.

Rather than assuming that every user knows computer basics, let’s cover them here.

There are five main components to a computer: the motherboard, the processor, the random access memory (RAM, also simply “memory”), the hard drive and the video card. We won’t get into the weeds with the motherboard, other than to note that any given processor has a form factor (socket) that allows it to only go into certain motherboards (same socket mate). All of the big names in computer workstation manufacturing have already done this legwork for you. If you’re building the computer yourself, you’re going to want the newest PCIE x 16 motherboard to handle the fastest hard drives (we’ll get to that later). The processor, RAM and hard drive work hand in hand to run the simulation you are working on. Think of them as the manager, manager’s office and warehouse of your simulation computer. If you have a great manager in a small office with a huge empty warehouse, well, things aren’t going to get done too fast. A bad manager in a huge office with a full warehouse will have the same result. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s safest to err on the plus side. The manager (processor) can never be too good. The office (RAM) can never be too big. The warehouse (hard drive) can never be too large. But all those pluses come at a price.

Task Manager of optimized workstation for SOLIDWORKS Simulation.

Task Manager of optimized workstation for SOLIDWORKS Simulation.

The Processor

SOLIDWORKS is a linear solver software. That is to say that the software solves its calculations one at a time and sequentially. Because of this, multi-core processors do not reduce the solution time for SOLIDWORKS simulations. There are diminishing returns on the number of cores (over four) to the point that it is not worth making the investment in more cores. It has been argued extensively that the four cores are not individually helping SOLIDWORKS, but rather Windows is parsing its functions to the other three cores, thereby freeing up the fourth core to dedicate to SOLIDWORKS. You can actually assign a core to only run SOLIDWORKS in the Windows settings if you are so inclined.

So if the number of cores doesn’t matter, what does? It turns out the processor speed (currently valued in the gigahertz range) is the most important specification of a processor running SOLIDWORKS. The number of calculations that can be solved in a second increases with the increase in processor frequency and corresponds to a decrease in total time to solve. All other things being equal, that cheaper mid-grade processor with a higher frequency will actually solve SOLIDWORKS simulations faster than the top-of-the-line 40-core behemoth that costs the same as a nice used car. If the speed of solution is the game, then it makes sense to “overclock” the processor to squeeze every little bit of juice out of it.

A handful of computer companies will overclock their processors for SOLIDWORKS workstations. If you’re going to overclock your computer, be warned that you need to accommodate the additional heat that your processor is giving off. It would be wise to consider a “liquid cooling system.. Think of this as a radiator in your computer that keeps the processor cooler just like a radiator in your car keeps the engine cool. These liquid cooling systems have come a long way in the last two decades. It is even possible to get one with a warranty.


Having 16 Gigabytes (16GB) of 10-year-old RAM is more than enough to run SOLIDWORKS CAD software on any workstation—but not enough to run simulations. Ironically, there isn’t really a general guideline or rule of thumb that encompasses the multitude of simulations to suggest the correct amount of RAM. It’s important to understand what simulations you are running in order to understand how much RAM you need. Even then, when you run out of RAM, your solver will overflow to your hard drive, using it as a local cache. This slows down your solution time.

Your simulation workstation purchased from a big-name manufacturer has already matched the type of RAM (DDR type and RAM frequency) to your processor and motherboard, so you only really have to be concerned with the amount of RAM. For a SOLIDWORKS simulation static analysis, the number of degrees of freedom (DoF) directly relates to the amount of RAM that will be used. A 10 million DoF study can take upwards of 40GB of RAM to solve. For SOLIDWORKS Flow simulations, each iteration solves in RAM before “save outs” to the hard drive. If it is a 4 million fluid cell study, it will take 32GB of RAM before your SOLIDWORKS Resource Monitor dings. If you are doing simulations like this and you can afford it, put 128GB RAM in your workstation. Even if you don’t use all of it every day, that day will likely come.

The Hard Drive(s)

The hard drives. Ten years ago, hardware geeks told us solid state drives (SSD) were the wave of the future for SOLIDWORKS and it was the single most important upgrade (from disk drives) that you could make to your computer to solve SOLIDWORKS simulations faster. They were right. There are numerous white papers supplying hard proof of this. However, hard drive technologies kept advancing and the message was not updated. SSDs are still the greatest, but you want the latest and greatest SSDs: M2 NVMEs. And you want two of them. The first, smaller drive is your main drive. It has your operating system on it along with SOLIDWORKS and your other software. These days, you can get a 500GB or 1TB drive for a reasonable price. The second drive is bigger one. That’s where you store your SOLIDWORKS files. If you have SOLIDWORKS PDM, then you’re going to want to direct your PDM’s path to this drive. This one should be 2TB at minimum. Larger simulation files can be upwards of 2 GB each. If you run 10 or so simulations per project, well, you can see that it starts to add up. Flow simulation files are even larger. And 200 GB “.fld” files are not unheard of if you’re running a multi-fluid thermal analysis with a fine mesh. And that is per “.fld” file. If you save your simulation incrementally, you could have upwards of 50 “.fld” files for a single simulation.

On a side note, be mindful that if you have PDM, don’t allow repeating file names, and be aware that you’re going to want to keep your simulation result files off of PDM.

Read speeds are important. Write speeds are fantastic. The name of the game for simulation with respect to hard drives, though, is IOPS (input/output operations per second). If you’re upgrading the hard drives yourself, then be mindful of IOPS. The higher the IOPS, the better. The purpose for two hard drives is actually because of these IOPS. SOLIDWORKS, being on the operating system drive, is “outputting” directly to the “input” of the second drive. It happens imperceivably fast for one operation. However, a million of these improvements add up to real seconds and minutes (and rarely hours) saved over the course of an entire simulation.

The Video Card

The video card can be argued either for or against. Yes, you need a video card. However, none of the SOLIDWORKS simulations use video cards for the solution like some of the high-end simulation applications. If you’re familiar with render farms, then you know there are servers in data centers that have 20 graphics cards, each with 1,000 CUDA cores, that are creating megapixel renderings in minutes.

None of that works with SOLIDWORKS; however, if you’re running a simulation on a larger, complex assembly, then your post-solve analysis could benefit from a supposedly better or newer video card. Raytracing is changing the game and the more onboard video RAM your card has, the better. These are aspects of a better video card for general SOLIDWORKS use that trickle over into the simulation side. A higher frame rate (measured in frames per second, or FPS) during animations can be beneficial when you are demonstrating your results to a coworker, manager or customer. Higher-end video cards can double the price of your workstation, so this is one of those areas where you can examine the justification in greater detail. In the meantime, an entry-level workstation graphic card from two generations ago will still function as the graphical interface with SOLIDWORKS while you set up, run and analyze your simulations.

When all of these things come together in the right combination, the SOLIDWORKS simulation you are running ends up being the quickest solution it can be for a given project. The processor calculates as fast as it can. It pulls from RAM and then returns to the RAM through the motherboard. The data files are then transferred to the hard drives as fast as possible. Finally, there is a visual output to the screen through the video card. Optimizing these hardware components as described will maximize your SOLIDWORKS simulation performance. The end result is a quicker solution time for your simulation.