The best computer for AutoCAD: workstation or virtual desktop?

The best computer for AutoCAD: workstation or virtual desktop?

First launched in 1982, AutoCAD is the most widely used CAD software in the world. The popular Autodesk software is used by millions of designers, architects and engineers to turn ideas into reality. 

If you plan to use AutoCAD software, you will need an AutoCAD computer which gives you enough power to get the most from the platform. Designers do not appreciate having to continually reboot from crashes!

So, how much power will you need from your AutoCAD computer?

Every year, Autodesk releases a new upgrade of the software, so the minimum specifications for an AutoCAD computer are continually changing. Since the 2019 edition, disk space and memory requirements have been significantly higher than earlier years, so if you are upgrading to a newer version of AutoCAD you may well need to invest in a more powerful machine.

Here are the minimum requirements for an AutoCAD computer (laptop or workstation) for the 2020 edition of the product on Windows:

  • OS: Microsoft Windows 10, 8.1 or 7 SP1
  • Processor:5-2.9 GHz Intel processor minimum (3+ GHZ recommended)
  • Memory (RAM): 8 GB RAM minimum (16 GB recommended)
  • Graphics (GPU) memory: 1GB with DirectX 11 support
  • Disk Space: 6 GB SSD Storage Drive(in practice, of course, less than 100GB in SSD storage is unpractical, as you are running other software on the machine)

Here are the minimum requirements for an AutoCAD computer (MacBook laptop or iMac workstation) for the 2020 edition of the product on Mac:

  • OS: Apple macOS Catalina v10.15, Majove v10.14, High Sierra v10.13#
  • CPU type: 64-bit Intel CPU
  • Memory (RAM): 4 GB of RAM (8 GB+ recommended)
  • Disk space: 3 SSD storage drive available for download and install (of course, in practice you can’t buy a an Apple machine with such a small SSD storage disk).

How much will an AutoCAD computer cost? 

Finding the best machine that meets these requirements for RAM, GPU and SSD storage disk is not cheap. You can normally expect to pay $1,500 as the minimal choice for an AutoCAD computer that will efficiently run the software and not leave your designers tearing their hair out.

That said, for complex models and large files, you are realistically going to be spending around $2,500 or more for a machine that can best meets your teams’ needs.

If you think an earlier version of AutoCAD is best for you, a less powerful machine will normally suffice. This is especially true for students or professionals who only need to produce basic or 2D designs.

Could a virtual desktop be the best option for AutoCAD?

If today were still in the teens, your best bet would be to take those specs to Amazon or your local computer shop. But today, there’s an alternative you should consider.

Technological developments (Nvidia Grid graphics technology, Citrix HD Pro, Intel server-side RAM technology with many cores, Netflix-grade public internet) have made cloud-based workstations feasible for AutoCAD. The COVID-19 pandemic has made them the best option for AutoCAD for most large Architecture, Engineering and Design organizations.   

This is because modern Cloud-based virtual desktops allow you to load AutoCAD onto a virtual  desktop hosted in a specialised cloud environment. You can then use any internet-connected computer to view and work on your models as if AutoCAD was loaded on your desktop or laptop. Or any mobile device, for that matter. So, the performance of the client device - the physical computer on which you run AutoCAD - doesn't matter anymore in the cloud. 

This way of working can be best compared to writing a document with Google Docs, or playing a video game online. You get all full functionality of AutoCAD  on any local computer. You simply need connect to a virtual desktop over the internet to run AutoCAD

Learn more: Why are CAD Workstations moving to the cloud?

Using a virtual desktop to run AutoCAD provides multiple benefits:

Hardware savings

As noted above, a decent AutoCAD computer will set you back at least $2,500 – and you can usually expect to pay much more. On the other hand, CAD in the cloud is charged at a monthly fee. All you need is a basic laptop (even a $250 Google laptop will work) or desktop with low specs (less RAM, no GPU, little SSD storage) and you can remotely access an extremely powerful machine.

Continually updated

A virtual desktop is constantly updated to give you access to the most powerful hardware. This means that you can upgrade to the latest version of AutoCAD, safe in the knowledge that your virtual desktop will be able to handle the software. 

More secure

Given the cost of AutoCAD computers, it is no surprise that these machines can be targets for theft. And this is where virtual desktops  offer peace of mind. Your designs will be stored in highly secure datacenters in the EU or on the US coasts, with 24/7 security and disaster prevention plans in place.

Designair provides cloud-based AutoCAD computers which allow professional designers, architects and engineers, training colleges and students to run AutoCAD remotely. With pricing as low as $16/month, our plans bring you the most powerful NVIDIA GPU technology and high spec computers at a fraction of the cost of buying a regular AutoCAD computer.

Free trial of AutoCAD computer in the cloud

If you have never used a cloud-based AutoCAD computer, you might be uncertain as to whether it can really meet your performance needs. Therefore Designair offers a 3-day free trial with our machines so you can experience CAD on a virtual desktop and see what is best for you..

You will get to use a machine which offers the great performance, with the following specs:

  • Intel processor with 32GB of RAM
  • 8 x CPU cores
  • 4GB of Nvidia GPU Graphics Board
  • 100GB SSD Storage Disk

Begin your free trial of our cloud-based AutoCAD computer to see if this  works best for you!