Mini CAD System

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

At Beatty Robotics, we love building custom computers. Our latest computer project is a “Mini CAD System” for doing Computer Aided Design. Our goal was to build a small, but very powerful computer for running Solidworks and our CAM software HSMWorks. The computer required a super-fast CPU, a discrete Solidworks-approved graphics processor, plenty of RAM, a SSD hard drive, and the ability to run Windows 7 or 8 (Solidworks requires Windows). We also wanted to be able to customize the computer and overclock the processor to maximize its speed. After doing the necessary research to make sure everything was going to fit our requirements and work together without compatibility problems, we selected these components:

Intel i7-4790K CPU (4.0 Ghz / boost to 4.4 Ghz)


Asus Z971-PLUS Mini-ITX motherboard

16GB RAM (Crucial Ballistix)

512GB Transcend M.2 Solid State Drive (SSD)

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but this “hard drive” is TINY, just .86″ x 2.36″ x .088″. It fits into a slot on the underside of the motherboard. Incredible.


Sapphire AMD FirePro V4900 PCIe Graphics Processor

Intel CPU Fan

Streacom ST-NANO150 Power Supply

We have the computer assembled, configured and running. Here’s what it looks like so far. We’ve mounted everything on a sandwich of metal plates that we machined. In order to reduce the overall height of the computer, we mounted the graphics card horizontally beneath the motherboard and used a long PCIe “riser” cable. We’ve never seen this done before, but we’re hoping it will work. Everything seems to run fine, including SolidWorks.

Mini CAD Computer back

Mini CAD Computer

So far, so good. It’s 6.7″ square, which is very small for a fast, powerful CAD system. The next step is to build a case for it. There are many excellent commercial cases available for Mini ITX motherboards, but most of them have lots of extra space for a large power supply, conventional hard drives, and an optical drive, all of which we’ve eliminated from our design. The cases that are very small don’t have space for the graphics card. So, we decided it would be fun to design and machine our own small case using our CNC. We haven’t started that part yet, but we’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Comments (6)

  1. Todd S.
    October 19th, 2014

    Great project (as expected from BR).

    What is missing? 😉 A universally recognizable object (such as a Coke can) placed next to the final product to clue everyone to its relative size.

    Also, no barrier against dust?

    And here’s my contribution: Wikipedia link to the PCIe standard:

    October 2nd, 2015

    Thanks to stumbling upon your website, I found the Bryne miniature table saw ,par excellance.

    Plastics usually loose their plasticizers so an all metal fabricated machine of obvious high quality appealed to my choosing Jim’s little ‘gem”

    I just recommended to a friend Clocksmith in Raleigh , who makes and beautifully restores clock dials the same extended saw for ease of work on a larger table.

    I am so impressed by your meticulously designed work “lab’. I enjoyed her TED talk!

  3. Andrew Petelin
    December 1st, 2015

    Good job!
    But how did you provide enough power to the system? It should be more than 500W … and Streacom ST-NANO150 Power Supply is only 150W?
    Can you share your results in maximizing processor’s speed?

  4. Camille
    December 1st, 2015

    Andrew: It has been running fine on the 150W. It could be because I don’t have any peripherals attached to it, such as traditional hard drive and optical drives.

  5. Andrew Petelin
    December 2nd, 2015

    Thanx for your feedback. Now I see that FirePro card has only 75W power consumption. My option is Nvidia gtx960 with 150W (and strange recomendation min 400W for system). I will try another card with lower power consumption.

  6. rohan kumar
    February 14th, 2017

    Good job
    So doesit run on dc power source …..????and if not then can it run on dc amd how ….??? Need help !!!

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