Mini CAD System
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.
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.