CAD Workstation Xeon vs i7 vs i5 Processors

When choosing a CAD workstation a question that is often asked is what is the difference between a CAD Workstation with a Xeon vs i7 or perhaps even an i5 processor? So below is a quick outline to give you a fairly generic overview of some of the principal key differences (technical source Intel).

Xeon-versus-i7There are of course further differences but the purpose of this document is to give you a usable overview as opposed to being a technical whitepaper.

Additionally the CAD workstation cost will also be in question, but this needs to be seriously deliberated giving consideration to business productivity needs and cost differences, which should also be split down over the life of the workstation.

It also goes without saying that the i7 processors range does offers excellent performance which is not in doubt, but we are considering here the difference between Xeon processors versus i7 processors, so let us take a closer look.

Xeon Versus i7 Processors Explained

Supported Memory

A factor that is often overlooked is the amount of memory supported by particular processors, for example, a typical desktop/mobile processor (depending on version of course) will only support a limited amount of memory (i7 32GB/16GB/32GB mobile dependent on memory type).

Therefore if you need to have upgradeability going forward (future project requirements) or are using large/complex data sets or perhaps point cloud data, CAD workstations with Xeon based processors (maximum memory support of 375GB plus depending on processor) will be your best choice.

Cad Workstation Stability

Hardware stability is far better than it has been in previous years as a general rule of thumb, but that said in the Xeon vs i7 debate stability goes to deeper levels.

If you tend to work with large/complex data sets or are involved in lengthy computational workflows such as Finite element Analysis (FEA) for example or structural analysis, stability will be very important to you as a failed calculation or program crash could result in many hours or even days productivity loss at significant cost or even caused missed project deadlines.

Xeon processors support error checking and correcting memory so are more stable and less prone to data corruption due to memory errors, whereas i7 processors do not, so in this scenario a Xeon based workstation will be far more preferable than an i7 processor based one.

Memory Bandwidth

Prior to being processed, data has to move from the hard drive (hard drive access and read write speeds are another issue) into memory and then in to processor cache before finally being computed.
It goes without saying therefore that the faster this can happen as a general rule of thumb the better performance will be.

The current i7 range of processors (i7 - 3770k for example) are limited to 2 memory channels, and a maximum memory bandwidth of 25.6GB. However Xeon processors reach far beyond this with 4 memory channels in total and subsequently an excellent 51.2GB memory bandwidth so Xeon processors can move significantly more data to cache.

Processor Cache

Once data moves out of memory the quicker it can move into the processor the better, so processors have different levels of cache (bigger is better) to aid the speed of data transfer.

Intel i7 processors have a maximum of 8mb of cache (only 6mb in i5 processors for example) whereas Xeon processors have much larger on-board cache than i7's and start at 10mb – 30mb for high end Xeon processors.

Working With Multi-Threaded Applications

If the CAD software you are working with supports multi-threading then chances are the maximum number of processor cores you can use the more productive you can be.

Intel i7 processors are currently available with up to 6 processor cores, however i7 processors currently do not support multi socket configurations.

Xeon processor however do support multi socket configurations (an HP 820 CAD workstation for example supports up to 16 processing cores) so businesses who work with multi-threaded applications (i.e. Max, Rendering apps and computational applications) will undoubtedly favor Xeon processors versus i7.

So as the need for more than four or six processor cores is often a major requirement in order to massively increase productivity and reduce rendering bottlenecks, Xeon processors score very favorably here.


Of course in the final analysis there are unquestionable differences between i7 and Xeon processors, but a question that should also be coupled with this should also be what am I going to be using the CAD workstation for? as this is also fundamentally important.

You don't want to waste money over spec'ing your new CAD workstation, but at the same time you shouldn't under spec it either or aim for minimum requirements as you will have to live with low levels of productivity until you replace the workstation.

If you have any question regarding buying a CAD workstation or specifying the best one please give us a call on (281) 445-6161.

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