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Review: Don’t forget the CAD guy
By Nick Martin | The FABRICATOR | February 25, 2015


When you’re thinking about shop upgrades, don’t forget the CAD guy. A new system can help him do his job much more efficiently.

New system—the Beast.
Photo courtesy of Barnes Metalcrafters.

Software today has become more and more resource-hungry, especially 3-D CAD systems.

Small shops like ours usually get by with a cookie-cutter computer purchased every three to four years from one of the big-name computer manufacturers. Although they do work great, they have their limits. We’ve seen this trend at our shop. The decreased speed is very noticeable when we upgrade to the newest version of our CAD suite from Autodesk®.

You can get by with a minimum-requirement machine, but your productivity and frustration level suffer. If you are the boss or purchasing manager at your shop, give the design guy a break and buy him a beast of a machine that will last him or her a while.

If your shop is like ours, most of your machines have some type of CNC. Whether it is a plasma, laser, press brake, or robot, a computer program is manipulating the controls. I can almost guarantee, at least in our small shop, that a CAD drawing is within 10 feet of one of these machines.

At the end of 2014, my computer was beginning to show its age while multitasking with my dual-monitor setup. (Eventually I would like to have three, but that is for another day.)

I decided to Google my Yahoo and look for some machines that CAD people are using nowadays. Everyone basically said to get a lot of RAM and a good graphics card.

I reached out to a CAD guru I got to know on Twitter, Kevin Ellingson @Kellings, to ask his opinion on a good machine to upgrade to. He is out in the field a lot and has some exposure to what people currently are using in their design departments.

Kevin gave me some really good insight and pointed me toward Xi Computers. The company builds custom computers that are made to be workhorses. Creating large assemblies, multitasking, and generating quality renderings had become really sluggish for me, so I was ready to make the jump.

I did a couple of configurations on the website and figured I had better call to make sure I got what I needed. I’m glad I did, because a lot of the stuff I had customized would not have worked correctly.

The guy on the phone was busy punching numbers and clock speeds to ensure that I would get a quality system. This is not my specialty, so working with this guy on the phone was pretty impressive. By now I am starting to sound and feel pretty nerdy, but I knew this machine was gonna be a beast when it arrived.

Side-by-side comparison of the old and new systems.
Photo courtesy of Barnes Metalcrafters.

A few weeks had passed when I saw the FedEx guy pull up. I didn’t think anything of it until I saw him struggling with a dolly, getting my computer through the front door. I was like “Oh, man, that is my computer.”

Ellingson had warned me that the casings of these computers are quite a bit bigger than people expect. He was right. I scrambled to get this thing in my office before I cut the box open. It definitely was a beast! I stared at it for a few minutes before I went back to my desk. Reality sunk in, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to use it for a few days because of my current work load.

A few days passed and I set my files to transfer overnight. The next day I spent a few hours downloading and installing my programs. The new machine was really getting the job done. Every click of a file or program was nearly instantaneous compared to my old machine.

Autodesk Inventor® now opened in eight seconds compared to three to four minutes previously. No garbage programs were bogging it down. It was just the meat-and-potatoes computer that I wanted.

A few specs on the new computer:

  • Intel® Core™ i7-4820k @ 4.2 GHz Hi Perf Sealed Water Cooling

  • 32 GB DDR3 RAM

  • NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX™ 980 4GB GDDR5 VRAM PCI3

  • Supports up to 4 Monitors

  • 250 GB Solid State Drive

  • 1 TB Secondary Hard Drive

  • Thor White Case with 2 Fan Speed Controls

I have been using this computer for a few weeks now and have been nothing but happy ever since. My dual-monitor setup, a SpacePilot Pro mouse, and this beast by my side have made my job a little easier.

It is nice to have a machine like this and know that I have the foundation for a very upgradable machine. The only downside is that the tower is way too big for my desk, so I am going to have to build a new desk. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

In the end, it is just a computer, but it’s the tool I use to get my work done. If your computer is a little sluggish when working with your go-to programs, maybe you should think about beefing things up. It’s easier said than done, but it really does make a difference in how efficiently your CAD guy is doing his job.






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