So you want to CAD?

Updated: Dec 15, 2018

For students interested in computer aided design (CAD), they will need a computer capable of running a CAD program such as SolidWorks, which requires more capability than a typical laptop or a low-end desktop. The team was awarded a grant in 2018 allowing the team to provide four suitable desktops at Make-It-Here for CAD work and some graphics/media work as well.

One of our students working on a CAD model on one of the team’s work stations at Make-It-Here.


SolidWorks is available for students at no charge. We require that our students use SolidWorks to develop their CAD models so the models can be shared.


Hardware requirements for SolidWorks can be found here. In short, we recommend:

  • Windows 7 or later with updates installed, but Windows 10 is preferred.

  • Processors with at least 4-cores operating at 3.3 GHz or higher. Low-end laptops generally only have 2-cores. When in doubt, look up the specifications for the CPU.

  • 16 GB of memory is specified as the minimum. 8 GB will work, but not as well.

  • Discrete graphics. The graphics do not have be high-end gaming capable. Low-end discrete graphics such as an nVidia GT 1030 will be sufficient. Our desktops at Make-It-Here use nVidia GTX 1050 graphics cards.

  • 1080 vertical display resolution.

  • A drive with at least 10 GB available. A solid-state drive (SSD) is recommended, but a hard drive is sufficient, just somewhat slow.

For families looking to acquire a computer with the above requirements, there are several options:

  • Look at refurbished computers. A moderate to high-end computer a couple of years old may be a bargain and sufficient.

  • A mid- to high-end laptop. We’ve found laptops on sale for less than $700 which meet the above recommendations, albeit with a hard drive instead of an SSD. Laptops have the advantage of portability. A separate display can be hooked up to them, if desired. A separate mouse is recommended.

  • A mid- to high-end desktop. We’ve found desktops for less than $800 which meet the above recommendations, albeit with a hard drive instead of an SSD. A mouse, keyboard, and display would also be required, but they’re relatively cheap. Although not portable, a desktop has the advantage of being more easily upgraded.

  • Assemble your own desktop. Some students have built their own desktops. Parts to assemble assembly a complete laptop can be obtained for less than $1000 meeting the above recommendations with additional memory and an SSD. Assembling a desktop is relatively easy. However, care must be taken to ensure parts are compatible (downloading and reading the manual for the motherboard before ordering parts is a good idea) and will fit in the case. The team CAD desktops at Make-It-Here were assembled from separate components.


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