What to Know Before You Purchase SolidWorks

SolidWorks is a high-end, corporate-level 3D design solution

SolidWorks in action

Loscapos123/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

Dassault Systems bills its SolidWorks products as "Intuitive Solutions for All Aspects of Your Design Process." It offers a powerful 3D design solution for rapid creation of parts, assemblies, and 2D drawings with minimal training. This high-end software is powerful, and it includes functionality for developing just about any type of physical component that you can dream up. Before you grab your wallet though, here are a few points you'll want to consider.

Your software needs

More is not always better, particularly when it comes to design software. In some cases, you're better off getting a package that focuses only on a few core functions that you need and performs them very well. The more complex a design package becomes, the more time you will spend learning the software.

SolidWorks is a complex system with extensive parametric design capabilities and parts cataloging, costing, and tolerance controls. The developers have made a concerted effort to keep the user interface as simple and dynamic as possible. It provides only the needed level of complexity for your design and keeps all the tools in a tightly integrated user-friendly display. The same editing tools are applicable for both complex and simple designs. 

SolidWorks consists of several components. You can buy them separately or together. They include:

The learning curve

The time it takes to become productive in any design program is a key factor in deciding whether to buy it. SolidWorks claims it requires minimal training. SolidWorks is not overly complex, so the learning curve is moderate. 

Personal versus corporate use

SolidWorks is an extensive program meant for a large production environment. If you're a private user who is looking to do some modeling for your latest invention or prototyping for a one-time concept, this is probably not the software for you.

The real power behind SolidWorks is its integration with extended industrial parts libraries, material specifications, and data management functions. Design and manufacturing companies can access parts from built-in databases and add to or customize their own parts libraries in order to use a single component in multiple designs. If your firm has a standard widget that you use in 200 different components, you don't need to redraw it in each file, you just link to it through the library. When the widget is updated, the changes are automatically pushed out to every linked component.

The extended controls aren't necessary for the casual user; most users at home aren't likely to be developing hundreds of mechanical components in their spare time. For small-scale design and development of a few components or a single product, you'll be better served with a smaller, more affordable design package like DesignCAD 3D Max or TurboCAD.

Software packages

SolidWorks is sold as components. You'll need to contact the company through the website for a price on a configuration tailored to your needs. The cost involved takes it out of the range of most smaller organizations and individual users, but Dassault Systems offers a reduced price student version for high school and degree-seeking college students that offers them the opportunity to learn the CAD system without breaking the bank. 

Hardware requirements

You need a powerful computer to run SolidWorks packages. For example, the 3D CAD package requires Windows 10 or Windows 8.1, 64-bit architecture, a minimum of 8GB of RAM, an Intel or AMD processor with SSE2 support, a high-speed internet connection, and a company-certified video card and driver.

You need a high-end graphics card if you are doing renderings. SolidWorks has a helpful site that lists approved video cards and associated drivers based on the make of your computer and the OS you use.