Solidworks can be very demanding even for a dedicated PC. That makes it problematic if you want to keep your budget low. Also, Solidworks is designed to take advantage of professional CAD graphics cards which introduce even more variables when looking for a proper laptop. Despite this, I’ve decided to take up the challenge to find the best laptop for Solidworks even if you have to keep your spending tight! So without further ado, let’s jump right in..
In this post, I’ll attempt to reverse engineer the best laptops for Solidworks from various use cases and general Solidworks experience. Down the road, you’ll also get to know what is and what isn’t essential for a great Solidworks laptop. I’ll also identify the corners you can cut if your budget is limited but you still want a solid workstation.
At the second part of the post, I’ll list a few top-notch suggestions according to your specific budget. Finally, if you’re in doubt – drop a comment. It was my pleasure to personally answer roughly 50 of you in the AutoCAD post.
What should be your top priority for any Solidworks laptop
The Essentials for Solidworks are the same. However, the priority of these bread-and-butter requirements depends on your particular type of work. You can also evaluate this list depending on what you have to deal most often or even what part of your work frustrates you.
Processor and Memory
Modeling, Drawing and Simulations
Quad-core Processor @3GHz+
Modeling, a single-threaded task, relies heavily on a sheer clock rate your processor can provide. That’s why You should consider only processors that can offer at least 3Ghz frequency. At the same time, drawings and simulations will benefit tremendously from any additional cores/threads you can throw at them.
It gets better – processors with 4 cores and Hyper-Threading have become a standard even in budget laptops. The real question is whether you can afford ones with a higher clock rate and more internal cache.
Good reference points for a processor:
- under 1000$: Intel i5-6300HQ (4 Cores @3.2GHz)
- 1000$ – 2000$: Intel i7-4810MQ (4×2 Threads @3.8GHz)
- 2000$ and up: Intel i7-4980HQ (4×2 Threads @4GHz, vPro)
I would not recommend going below 4th-gen processors. Right now you can get great options with Broadwell/Haswell Intel CPUs like i7-6700HQ, i7-6820HQ or i7-5950HQ.
A lot of memory for Assemblies
Solidworks has ramped up its memory consumption in the past years and I’d be surprised if in the next 2 years it won’t start recommending 12 GB as a starting point. That’s why it’s the starting point for us apart from a few budget options.
To note, you could technically get away with getting an 8GB MacBook Pro model. But if you like to multi-task or you like having a lot of tabs open in your browser – you’ll regret not getting, at least, 12GB. Recently, I have upgraded my laptop from 8 to 12 GB and it was definitely worth it.
If you’ll need to do that often – consider investing in a separate small mini-ATX PC? Yes, laptops these days are a lot better than they used to but desktops are still far superior when it comes to CPU/GPU performance.
There are two main options you’ll need to choose from:
- Certified cards for SolidWorks – more stable + RealView
- Consumer grade (gaming) cards – cheaper
The choice becomes even less clear when considering that you can enable RealView in Solidworks via RealHack (basic Windows registry editing) even if you don’t have a certified card. At the same time, you might not even need RealView anyways (or at least not as often as you’d expect).
The choice comes down to budget and purpose.
If you can’t go over 1500$ – just go for consumer grade card. End of discussion. This includes most students, part-time freelancers, and hobbyists.
If you’ll be working full-time or your part-time gig justifies getting 2000$ – 3000$+ laptop – a certified Quadro/FirePro chip might be exactly what you need.
By now you might be wondering what’s so magical about these cards. Quite bluntly, there’s no fairy dust behind them. They’re based on the same architectures and chips that gaming cards have.
The main 2 differences are:
- stability – the most stable chips are reserved for Quadro/FirePro lines
- custom drivers for Solidworks* that are specifically tweaked and tested to work with all the features Solidworks can offer
*and other professional software
What’s the bottom line?
Under $2000, consumer-grade GeForce/Radeon card will be mostly fine. There are some easy ways to enable RealView or a non-certified graphics card (a.k.a RealHack). Quadro/FirePro cards cost so much more that on a limited budget you end up having a low-end card or every other component in your laptop being sub-par.
I recommend these GeForce/Radeon cards:
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M
- AMD Radeon R9 M370X
For a laptop over $2000, a certified video card is a better choice. These are the cards I recommend:
- under 2000$: FirePro M6100, Quadro M2000M
- under 3000$: Quadro M3000M
- 3000$+ : Quadro M4000M, FirePro W7170M
- 4000$+ : Quadro M5000M
SSDs have become a must for almost any type of professional. The real question is whether you can use SSDs as your only storage. That would be ideal – having multiple SSDs and preferably the main one running via M.2/PCIe for unmatched performance.
To quickly make a judgment on a laptop’s storage refer to its size and its type/port:
- PCIe/M.2 SSD (best)
- SATA SSD (good)
- HDD (bad)
And here are my recommended storage requirements according to your budget:
- small SSD (250GB)
- medium SSD (500GB)
- small SSD + 1TB HDD
- small M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
- small-medium M.2 SSD + 1TB HDD
- large SSD
For simplicity’s sake, when mentioning M.2, I also refer to PCIe drives and I assume NVMe support on both ends.
If you’ll looking for a large 3000$+ laptop, you could consider getting some sort of a RAID setup. RAID can be used to either increase performance (i.e. RAID0) or stability (i.e. RAID1).
I would advise against performance setups in this particular case. SSDs, especially those going straight through PCIe, will offer more than enough performance as it is. At the same time, you can’t expect to have 4-5 hard drives on one laptop (though that’s certainly possible). And even if you had them, they would cut down battery running time dramatically. That leaves RAID1 as the only viable option unless you’re absolutely certain you need a different setup.
Essential requirements were all about maximizing the potential of the laptop. And now I’ll describe what you should be looking at to maximize usability and general experience of using Solidworks and other professional software.
No surprise here. Most of you’ll be staring at your screen for 6-10 hours a day (and sometimes more if you’re anything like me).
Quality of a screen can be broken down to:
- type of panel
- luminosity a.k.a brightness
- color gamut
Follow these 5 metrics and you’ll be able to judge quite accurately ~90% of screens on the market.
Now, what I should be looking for and where do I find it?
- panel – IPS
- resolution – Full HD (1920×1080)
- luminosity – average of 280 cd or more
- contrast – 800:1 or greater
- color gamut – 95%+ sRGB
If a laptop has an IPS panel – it will be a part of the description. Some laptops will have a “wide-angle” or some other gizmo, which means they made something similar to an IPS panel and didn’t buy a license from LG for the use of IPS.
Sadly, even Solidworks 2016 has problems with high-resolution screens (above FHD). Solidworks uses a lot of fonts and custom padding/margins which bug out even when using Windows scaling. That means getting a 2K/4K might not be worthwhile after all. From my position, Full HD is enough for Solidworks. Though that might change in 2017/18 as the number of 4K/Ultra HD displays is shooting up.
My recommendations for a screen:
- non-IPS, Full HD, 250 cd, 800:1
- IPS, Full HD, 300 cd, 1000:1
- IPS, Full HD, 320 cd, 1000:1, mostly accurate colors
The sky is the limit when it comes to additional monitors. Or 6… 6 is also a good limit.
Additional monitors are not a part of the laptop itself but knowing ahead of time how many you might need will help to refine our requirements.
If you’re OK with 0-2 external monitors, any laptop with a basic HDMI port will be good enough.
Meanwhile, wide-angle enthusiasts should look out for:
- DisplayPort or HDMI 2.0 (or even both)
- Quadro/FirePro card (recommended)
High Capacity Battery
This one comes down to your workflow.
For example, I almost always work in a place where a power socket is nearby. In my particular scenario, I can dodge this problem without a worry. Though, it would be nice if my laptop wouldn’t die after watching one episode of Game of Thrones…
If you’re working on-the-go – your laptop will need a lot more juice than I do.
There’s quite a few metrics that are used to judge a battery but luckily for all of us – only 2 matter at the end of the day.
First and foremost, you need a long battery runtime.
Secondly, a good battery should have a long lifetime. There’s no full-proof way to measure it but the number of cells is a good indication of battery lifetime. The main takeaway – prefer batteries with more cells – 6 or more.
And if you want to be ready for the worst case scenario – know what will happen when a battery fails. Can it be easily removed and replaced? If it can, how much will it cost? If it can’t – what are manufacturer’s guarantees and policies?
If you need a solid battery and you’re not tight on your budget – you need either 8+ cell battery or an ability to easily replace it. Best case scenario – 8+ cell battery which can be replaced and is still in production.
Selection Process for finding the best Solidworks laptop
Now that the research is done and we have requirements in front, it’s time to find some specific models!
There’s nothing special about the process:
- Research potential options
- recommended laptops in SolidWorks/CAD communities (those tend to be rather old)
- best sellers & hot releases
- latest releases in established product lines
- Select best suiting models/builds
- Measure up every laptop against requirements
- Read reviews and scrutinize small details
- Mercilessly narrow down to a handful of best options
Since we got our theoretical part done, it’s time to show what exact models are the best laptops for SolidWorks.
Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK is the cheapest yet still pretty good model you can get for Solidworks.
It comes with Quad-core Intel i5 processor capable of reaching 3.2GHz, which should match a lot of more expensive notebooks when it comes to modeling performance. Solid GTX 960M graphics card, and a small SSD.
You could even upgrade the modest 8 GB of RAM it comes with up to 16GB of RAM for just under 35$.
This particular model has been selling like hotcakes as it nails down most of the recent trends in the laptop market. Close to all notebooks in this range, cheap out on 1-2 specs to keep their price tag low. Somehow, Dell managed to get performance and usability just right.
Of course, don’t expect business class build quality or a long battery life, but even in those areas, Dell does not stay behind other similarly priced models.
HP ZBook packed in a good certified Solidworks graphics card under 2000$. How did they do it? By making an underwhelming compromise and skipping on SSD drive entirely.
But no worries, you can get 250 GB Samsung EVO SSD while still staying under 2000$. Ofcourse, you can buy a larger SSD instead.
Now that we got this out of the way – this laptop is generally a good choice if you want to get a professional laptop while still maintaining a tight budget.
This is a great option for those who are starting to make money off SolidWorks and are in need of a more professional laptop for official RealView support, additional ports rarely found on consumer-grade laptops and a long-lasting battery.
This Dell Precision definitely takes the crown when it comes to looks. I know, it took some time for manufacturers to understand that just because a laptop is a workstation, it must be bulky and heavy.
Want to know the best part?
The screen looks even better. 5510 comes with an IPS Full HD screen by default and if you want, there’s a 4K option which manages to cover the whole sRGB range for outstanding colors.
This laptop covers all the bases with maybe one exception – limiting graphics card. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certified and will support RealView and high model size and complexity but you’ll have to limit visualization and simulation settings. If that’s OK with you – you won’t find a better option.
This laptop has a great processor and a certified mid-range graphics card. It also doesn’t lack memory and it has a decently fast SSD with built-in data encryption to enhance security and privacy. Lenovo also did not cheap out on connections – it has plenty of USBs, Thunderbolt, HDMI and mini DisplayPort, which should be sufficient to connect up to 2-5 monitors depending on their resolution/refresh rate.
It gets even better – it packs a solid 90Wh battery. If you’re not going to buy this model from Amazon, check if you’re getting 90Wh and not a 66Wh battery.
Though it has some caveats that may concern you:
- limiting screen color gamut which can be a deal-breaker if you also have to do photo/video editing
- some reported problems with Intel Turbo Boost which might limit its performance.
- steep fall in performance when working not plugged in
- no RAID support
It sadly has a rather underwhelming color space which can be an issue if your particular line of work depends on exact color representation and visualization.
For this custom build, there are 2 viable options for a graphics card:
- AMD FirePro W7170M
- Nvidia Quadro M4000M (for 400$ extra)
Nvidia Quadro M5000M might be an overkill for most as Solidworks sadly can’t fully take advantage of best graphics cards. But if you’re planning to work with very large assemblies, that might pay off in the long-run.
Apart from that, this is an absolutely great laptop. There’s plenty of storage and it’s blazingly fast due to M.2 PCIe interface.
HDMI and mini DisplayPort are enough to connect more than a healthy amount of monitors (heh) for all your productivity needs.
If needed, this particular setup can be easily upgraded upwards and with the right setup, it will be the best laptop for SolidWorks 2016.
Finally, you can explore some custom Lenovo builds for a 17″ workstation. They’re similar to what Dell offers and I simply did not want to include a section for both of them as they can be customized to have practically the same parts.
That’s about it, folks! I think this is all you need to know to get the best laptop for Solidworks or even find your own. Don’t forget to share, leave a comment or ask a question down below.