Before You Purchase SolidWorks

SolidWorks from Dassault Systems bills itself as: "A powerful 3D design solution for rapid creation of parts, assemblies and 2D drawings with minimal training." Well, it certainly is a powerful system and it includes remarkable 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

Believe it or not, "more" is not always better, particularly when it comes to design software. Consumers - and software developers - might labor under this impression, but in most cases you're better off getting a package that does only what you need to do and does it well. The more complex a design package becomes, the more time you will need to spend training and struggling with excessive design parameters to accomplish what should be simple tasks.

SolidWorks is a very complex system, with extensive parametric design capabilities and parts cataloging, costing, and tolerance controls but 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 its tools in a tightly integrated heads-up display that's user-friendly. Best of all, the same editing tools are applicable for both complex and simple designs.

This approach, positions SolidWorks as a design package for users at all levels.

    The Learning Curve

    The time it takes to become productive in any design program is a key factor in deciding whether or not to buy it. SolidWorks claims it requires "minimal training" and features a wonderful product demonstration video to show how you can design a set of pneumatic pincers, complete with dimensioned fabrication drawings, parts list and enlarged details -- in less than eight minutes!

    If you believe that one, I have this lovely bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

    It's not that SolidWorks isn't simple to learn, but there is a definite learning process involved. The demo video does a great job of showing a lot of tools the software has to simplify your design process, just keep in mind that it was scripted, edited, and the work done by skilled professionals with years of experience using SolidWorks.

      Personal vs. Corporate Usage

      SolidWorks is an extensive program meant for the large production, corporate environment . If you're a private user, looking to do some modeling for your latest invention, or a prototype 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/manufacturing companies can access parts from built-in databases and even 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 re-draw it in each file, you just link to it through the library and if the widget is updated, the changes are automatically pushed out to every linked component.

      One of the most powerful add-ins to the 2012 version of SolidWorks is its "Large Design Review Mode" feature which, according to this Develop3d review, is a leap forward in making the " . . . handling of large datasets more efficient." The Large Design Review Mode is meant for integrating large components into a single on-screen entity that can be viewed/manipulated much easier, making use of the latest 64 bit architecture in modern computers.

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

        Software and Hardware Costs

        SolidWorks is sold in three separate versions: Premium ($7,995.00), Professional ($5,490.00), and Standard ($3,995.00) -- not exactly personal use pricing. The costs involved take it out of the range of most common users but Dassault Systems does offer a reduced price ($150.00) Student Version for high school and degree seeking college students that can give you the opportunity to learn an amazing CADD system without breaking the piggy-bank.

        The Professional Edition comes with all features included in the Standard Edition, with the added benefit of a large component library, task scheduling, and photo-realistic rendering. The Premium Edition has all the features of Pro, plus tolerance analysis, motion simulation and structural validation components. You're not going to run SolidWorks on your standard home desktop. It's a high end graphics program and that means you'll need some power to run it. Here's a basic outline of what you'll need:

        Minimum Requirements:
        Operating System: XP, 32 Bit
        RAM: 2 GB
        Free Disk Space: 5 GB
        Processor: Intel or AMD Core2 Duo, 1.8GHz

        Recommended Requirements:
        Operating System: Windows 7, 64 Bit
        RAM: 8 GB
        Free Disk Space: 40 GB
        Processor: Intel or AMD with SSE2 support. 64-bit

        You'll also need a high end graphics card, particularly if you are doing renderings. There are too many on the market for me to make a recommendation but SolidWorks has a helpful site that will give you a list of their approved video cards and associated drivers based on the make of your computer and the OS you're using.

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