SolidWorks on a Mac

Last week my old mobile workstation laptop decided not to support me any more. I had some problems brewing, but it was still workable... However, after losing some work again I decided to invest in a new laptop.

I had my eyes on the MacBook Pro 15" with retina screen, but since I need to be able to run SolidWorks for my work (I am a self employed 3D engineer/consultant, see Luminize). I needed to be able to use SolidWorks from my future laptop-to-be. Not as before where my laptop was my main computing power because I have another workstation (big one, not mobile) to help me with the necessary CAD/FEM.

First I searched the Internet to see if there is experience with this, but it is hard to find some info on performance of SolidWorks on a Mac and the difference between Bootcamp and/or Parallels. After some reading I decided to take the plunge...

The Retina screen is absolutely fantastic. The display really is sharp as a knife, it almost makes your eyes bleed! OSX works so good and natural that while removing some files from my old laptop (I only used the MacBook for a few hours) I noticed the difference immediately. Also the flash disk is so fast that the startup from zero takes about 10-15 seconds...

But enough about this. I wanted to tell how I got SolidWorks running.

I downloaded parallels 8 and with that it installed the Windows 8 release preview automatically. I installed SolidWorks 2012 (no problems) and noticed that the display was slow in reacting. (if you hover over the front plane normally the edges show immediately, this was the case, but it was noticeably slow. I knew I would get irritated by that.) The reason for the lag is because Parallels acts as a video card, it works as an in-between, at the cost of the graphical performance. SolidWorks was setup to use "Use software OpenGL" and I wanted it to be hardware accelerating as fast as it could.

I made a backup of the Mac (DO IT, DO IT, DO IT, normally I don't, but really DO IT) before installing Bootcamp. I unknowingly made the mistake of not removing the external USB disk used for the backup when installing windows via Bootcamp. The result was that the Windows 7 installation(not Windows 8 because I need to be able to run older SolidWorks versions for some customers) failed because of the formatting of the Windows partition. Also I could not reboot to OSX... hot... cold... adrenaline... Luckily i had made the backup! Within 20 minutes I was back.

So if you have stayed reading until here, if you try this yourself, make the backup before attempting to install Windows 7 with Bootcamp and as a bonus also remove all USB devices except the USB thumb which has the Windows installation files.

Attempt 2 was successful, Windows 7 was up and running with full hardware capabilities. Installing SolidWorks went smooth. Pas de problèmes!

Booting in Windows to use SolidWorks to the max in my situation only takes 10-15 seconds before I can start modelling. Because of Bootcamp you must reboot if wou were working in OSX. I think if you look at the boot-up time versus the use of the hardware it is a good tradeoff to work from Bootcamp in these situations.

Don't be afraid to use your Mac without OSX. When you are modelling you don't need the programs that OSX offers? Don't let the excuse of email rule your (digital) life. You also have your phone or iPad for checking mail. If it is really important people can still use the phone, and checking your mail can still be done also from Windows. Or.... Do a re-boot when you go for a coffee. Good reason to press CRTL+S and save your work :) It's soooo fast you won't be annoyed by it.

The only drawback comes from SolidWorks itself. The icons in the are very, very, very small (not command manager icons, but the toolbars and menu's). I like small icons, but this is a little bit too much (or actually, too little).

Next post I will give you a performance comparison between my MacBook Pro with Windows 7 and SolidWorks 2012 + 2013 and my workstation with XP 64 Pro and SolidWorks 2012. I will use the benchmark files from SolidMuse: Punch holder, Scooby Doo Surface model and the Photoview 360 benchmark files.