CAD/CAM System Requirements: An Overview

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Rendering complex parts in CAD/CAM programs such as Mastercam requires powerful computer parts. The processors calculate and implement the results of the user’s commands, the RAM supports the complexity of the program, and the document and video cards render the environment and the three-dimensional image on the screen. Image courtesy of Mastercam.

Error messages and lagging software are the last things a programmer should deal with when creating new parts. Unfortunately, this is exactly what can happen when you use a computer that does not meet the system requirements for CAD/CAM software. System requirements are the set of hardware and software specifications that a computer must meet for a program to run properly, and often come in pairs of “minimum” and “recommended” specifications.

Seven specifications are common to CAD/CAM software: operating system, processor, system memory, video card and memory, storage space, monitor and mouse.

Operating System (OS)

A computer’s operating system (OS) controls its most basic functions and provides the user with a graphical user interface (GUI) with which to access files, folders and programs. The operating system determines how a user interacts with their computer and can only run software designed to be compatible with it. Windows and macOS are the most common operating system types, although other types such as Linux and Chrome OS also exist.

Windows 10 64-bit Professional is the standard system requirement for modern CAD/CAM systems, with Windows 10 64-bit Professional version 1903 or newer generally recommended. A few CAD/CAM systems can run on Mac operating systems, typically requiring macOS Catalina, Big Sur, or Monterey (also known as macOS 10.15, macOS 11, and mac OS 12, respectively). Although software such as Parallels for Mac can emulate different types of operating system, this emulator software is not widely supported by CAD/CAM developers and users may encounter unexpected issues or bugs .

To check which Windows operating system you have, follow these instructions: How to determine your Windows operating system.

To check which macOS you have, follow these instructions: How to determine your Mac operating system.

CPU requirements

A computer’s processor is the electronic circuit that makes it work. Processors execute commands and calculations according to instructions from the operating system. While differing core counts and increasing efficiency between processor generations make direct recommendations difficult, Mastercam says a 64-bit quad-core processor with a base clock speed of 2.0 GHz should be the bare minimum. for CAD/CAM work. Intel and AMD are the major manufacturers of computer processors, each offering several processor configurations that differ in power and price. Intel i7 or i9 processors are the most powerful general-purpose processors of their generations, with Intel Xeon processors being more focused on workstations. AMD Ryzen processors are the comparable processors from this brand, with general-purpose and workstation-focused models.

An important note for macOS users is that Apple’s internal M1 chips are based on a different processor architecture than most Intel and AMD processors. While Apple currently supports the use of its M1 processors to emulate programs written for Intel and AMD processors, older Mac computers with Intel processors cannot run programs designed for M1 processors.

To check which processor you have on a Windows PC, follow these instructions: How to find out which processor you have.

To check which processor you have on a Mac, follow the same instructions for determining your operating system – the same dialog box should show your processor.

System memory requirements

A computer’s system memory stores information that the unit accumulates during operation. The memory can be random access memory (RAM), which is temporary, or read-only memory (ROM), which is permanent. Mastercam lists 8GB of RAM as a minimum requirement, but recommends 32GB – a standard common to many CAD/CAM systems. More RAM means that the computer will be able to support documents of greater complexity and open several demanding applications and documents simultaneously.

To find information about your computer’s memory, follow these instructions: How to check how much RAM you have on a Mac or PC.

Video Card Requirements

A computer’s video capabilities control how easily it can track and display functions graphically. Intel, Nvidia, and AMD make the most common workspace graphics cards, but as with processors, Apple has also started making its own. Intel and AMD cards can be “dedicated” or “integrated”, with dedicated cards being more powerful and integrated cards being tied to the computer’s processor. Nvidia only offers dedicated cards, whereas current Apple computers only offer integrated cards (older Apple computers using Intel processors may have dedicated Nvidia or AMD cards). All computers come standard with integrated graphics cards, with dedicated cards usually offered as add-on parts or bundled into more powerful computer configurations. Many CAD/CAM software vendors require dedicated boards, but recent advances in embedded boards can make these boards up and running in a snap. Mastercam requires cards to support OpenGL 3.2 and OpenCL 1.2 at a minimum.

Since CAD/CAM software is such a visual program, it is important to meet minimum, if not recommended, requirements for optimal programming. Most CAD/CAM software vendors recommend having at least 1 GB of video card memory (VRAM), but recommend 4 GB or more. As with processors, not all video cards with equal amounts of VRAM are equally powerful, and newer cards are generally more powerful. Integrated graphics cards do not have their own VRAM, but instead replace part of a computer’s RAM as VRAM.

If you are having display issues, installing the latest drivers for your video card may resolve these issues. Most computers have built-in software to guide you through installing these drivers, but they are also available directly from their creators’ websites.

To learn more about your computer’s graphics card, follow these instructions: Checking the graphics card specifications on your computer.

Storage space required

Digital data is stored in physical devices like hard drives. These devices offer different amounts of data storage depending on their design. CAD/CAM software generally requires users to have at least 20 GB of free disk space for installation, but additional space is useful for storing large CAD/CAM files. The minimum requirements tend to list a traditional hard drive, but solid-state drives (SSDs) offer better performance. SSDs serve the same basic purpose as HDDs, but are much faster and more reliable, retaining data even without power. Flash drives and external hard drives can be useful for moving documents between computers, but installing CAD/CAM software on these will generally cause slow performance and is not recommended.

To learn more about SSDs, check out this SSD buying guide: What to look for when buying an SSD.

Monitor requirements

Any program’s graphics are limited by what a computer monitor or screen can display. Monitor resolution is measured in pixels. The more pixels, the clearer the image. The industry standard Full High Definition (FHD) resolution is 1920 x 1080, which means the screen will be 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high. These pixel numbers are not tied to any computer screen size. That is, a 15 inch screen and a 24 inch screen can both have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 – the density of these pixels will make the image smoother on the small screen, but larger (if more blocking ) on the larger screen. Higher resolution monitors such as Quality High Definition (2560×1440) or 4K (3840×2160) monitors increase picture smoothness, but require more powerful graphics cards with more VRAM to maintain performance. Users can also connect multiple monitors to a computer to increase workspace size or easily access multiple programs simultaneously.

To find your monitor resolution, follow these instructions: What is my screen resolution?.

Mouse Requirements

All CAD/CAM systems will require a three button mouse and scroll wheel. A 3D mouse is an advanced version of the mouse that most people are familiar with. These mice are specially designed for movement in virtual three dimensions and therefore work well in CAD applications. Although most systems do not require a 3D mouse to operate, a 3Dconnexion mouse may be recommended for optimal (and practical) performance.

Check out the developer’s website

Checking the technical specs of computers against the system requirements of CAD/CAM software before purchasing either can go a long way to avoiding problems and achieving optimal performance. The software developer should have clearly stated system requirements on their website. For more in-depth help, software vendors should be able to provide guidance.

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