Like most software developers, Autodesk maintains a list of system requirements for various versions of AutoCAD that can be used to help ensure the hardware in your system will work with AutoCAD. However, most "system requirements" lists tend to cover the required hardware, not what hardware will actually achieve the best performance. In addition, some lists can be outdated, list old hardware revisions, or simply outright list sub-optimal hardware.
Because of how inconsistent those lists can be, we've taken the time to perform testing to determine what Mac Pro hardware runs AutoCAD the best. Based on this testing, we have come up with our own list of recommended hardware for AutoCAD.
2D architectural design with AutoCAD, while not as demanding as 3D based tools like Revit, can still be accelerated with the right hardware. At its core, AutoCAD is a single threaded application. The ability to interact and manipulate large datasets can be improved with higher CPU clock speeds, fast storage and adequate memory.
When it comes to processors, there are two main specifications that define the capability:
The frequency directly affects how many operations a single CPU core can complete in a second (how fast it is).
The number of cores is how many physical cores there are within a CPU (how many operations it can run simultaneously).
Whether a higher frequency or higher core count is faster depends on how well a program is designed to take advantage of multiple CPU cores. In the case of AutoCAD, the vast majority of the software is only single threaded so it is only able to utilize a single core of the CPU. For this reason, our general recommendation when choosing a CPU is to simply go with a processor that has a high speed frequency. For the Mac Pro tower, the fastest CPUs for general AutoCAD use is the Quad-Core 3.33GHz and 6-core 3.46GHz. For the Mac Pro cylinder, the fastest speed frequencies are the Quad-Core 3.7GHz and 6-core 3.5GHz.
While the exact amount of RAM you need is going to depend on the size and complexity of the model you will be working with, we generally recommend a minimum of 16GB for all our systems. AutoCAD (including Mental Ray rendering) is actually fairly light on RAM requirements and Autodesk only recommends 8GB of RAM. However, given the relatively low cost of RAM - and the fact that most users tend to have more than just AutoCAD running on their system - we feel that 16GB is a great starting point. If you will be working with very large models or having a large number of files open at the same time, however, you may consider upgrading to 32GB or more.
With the falling costs associated with SSDs, we almost always recommend using an SSD for the primary drive that will host your OS, AutoCAD itself, and any active projects you are working on. The high speed of SSDs allows your system to boot, launch applications, and load files many times faster than any traditional hard drive. However, SSDs are still more expensive than traditional drives per GB - so for long term storage we recommend having a secondary traditional hard drive in addition to a primary SSD. If you can afford it, having multiple SSDs (one for the OS and AutoCAD and a second dedicated for active projects) along with a larger traditional drive for storage is even better.
Hard Drive = Standard spindle technology @ 7,200rpm
Hard Drive Bay = ~175MB/s
Solid-State Drive - connectivity via SATA3 controller
Hard Drive Bay = ~250MB/s
PCIe Slot = ~500MB/s
Flash Storage = connectivity via PCIe controller
PCIe Slot = ~1250MB/s
For AutoCAD, the video card is what handles displaying the 2D and 3D models on the screen. However, typically only 3D models require a performance GPU, so if you will only be working with 2D models only, then you are better off saving money on the GPU and putting that money towards a faster CPU, SSD, or more RAM.
If you will be working with 3D models, we recommend using a workstation NVIDIA Quadro or GTX card in the Mac Pro tower. We recommend the higher performance D500 3GB and D700 6GB graphics cards for the Mac Pro cylinder.