Requesting Build/Desktop Advice for “budget” CAD/Design Workstation

Thank you in advance for reading and this excellent resource!

I’m looking to start my own freelance business thanks to “timely” COVID “restructuring”. In the past, I’ve graciously had use of workstation class laptops from work and I’m looking to recreate that functionality in a desktop.

My budget is $1000-$1500.
I am capable (hopefully) of doing the build myself if cheaper.

Needs: Being able to smoothly run AutoCAD and small Revit (BIM) projects as well as do moderate Photoshop and Illustrator work.

Nice to haves: Being able to do at least moderate renderings and some moderate video editing work. Additionally larger 3D modeling and design/photoshopping projects.

Thank you again for any input. I’ve spent a day looking through various builds and pre-built machines with little clarity gained. With the vision/options somewhat fogged by “deals” going on today and my somewhat rusty computer knowledge, I keep getting returned to square.

Any and all advice appreciated!!


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I put this together… I think it would meet your needs. Now is REALLY not the right time for this, new AMD CPUs come out Nov 5th and new AMD GPUs come out some time very soon (announcement Oct 28.) With this caveat, this is a very nice PC, IMHO.

EDIT: I did not include an OS. I presume AutoCAD requires Windows, but perhaps it runs on Linux these days? If you need Windows, you will need a license if you want to be legit, unless you have one from a previous PC that is portable to a new PC. If you need a new license, factor in another $100 to $150 depending on if you need Pro or not. (Basically if you intend to do BitLocker encryption or you intend to use Windows Remote Desktop.)

The big question is, how big are the models? For AutoCAD, you should be looking at nVidia Quadro or AMD FirePro graphics cards, with certified drivers. But if you are working on complex models, you can quickly run to 3 - 4 times your budget just for the graphics card.

If stability and lack of support from AutoCAD, if you have problems are okay, then a normal consumer card will work, but will be slower and might show artefacts. If you are using it professionally, I would go with a certified card (look at the AutoCAD website for a list). If you are studying or using it privately, you can risk a consumer card - with the “pro” cards, you are paying for the certified drivers and the additional features and guaranteed stability they bring.

The rest of @PHolder 's recommendation seems good enough. Depending on the models, I’d probably recommend a smaller SSD for the system drive and the SSD in the list for AutoCAD/models.

This is great.

I think I can get away with some patience to see what’s coming out. If nothing else, it may drive prices down elsewhere.

Thank you!

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Yes. That makes perfect sense given the history of modeling I’ve seen even on a more expensive computer from work.
While freelancing, I’m hoping to be able to just be forthright with the complexity of models I can handle until the budget allows for something better suited.
Due to this, I’ve considered trying to look down the line towards future upgradability and/or support of a more advanced eGPU for supplementation.

My previous area of expertise is cleaning and properly formatting CAD files so luckily I’ve got a few tricks to simplify them for actual further work. It’s the handling of the initial file that was always a challenge. Some begin quite complex with multiple errors.

Thank you!

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It seems you know what you are doing and what you say sounds like a plan. Therefore I’d say that @PHolder 's spec is a good starting point, with room to expand.

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Just to have some fun with you, check out this video (warning it’s Reddit and I have no idea if all comments will remain SFW)

The case is from iBuyPower. I could see where having system info (like temps or CPU load) or render progress (time to completion, etc) on the case could be a useful extra, if the case is visible when in use. A company logo could also work well in that way if customers visit and can see the case.

That is hilarious!

Interestingly enough, having render time/status time on cases would be nice. Though I’d there’d be more practical ways of course lol

One of the companies I worked far, we did a lot of large 3D point cloud work. To the point that someone (often me) would come in after hours and split one project across all the desktops in the office to process. This made me think of that. Jumping back and forth between half a dozen workstations to get good registration on a big building in 4 hours instead of 40. Having a readout would have been great!