What computer should I buy to run OpticStudio?

This article explains how to choose a workstation for running OpticStudio.

Authored By Don Dickinson


One very frequently asked question is: "I am going to buy a new workstation, which will mainly be used for running OpticStudio. What are the optimum specifications?"

Well, it is not necessarily the case that bigger and better hardware always traces rays faster. OpticStudio will run on quite modest hardware (see the minimum specification here). But it is also a big number-crunching application capable of handling extremely large problems, so there are sensible choices you can make to spend your budget wisely.

Choose the 64-bit version of Windows

OpticStudio 16 and above requires the 64-bit version of Windows, as it can take advantage of additional RAM and CPU cores. We recommend Windows 8.1 / Server 2012 or higher. These newer operating systems have better graphics subsystems, memory management, and compatibility with new hardware. They also offer ongoing bug fixes and security updates that earlier releases are phasing out.

CPU cores

OpticStudio is extremely well multi-threaded, which means many operations can split calculations up over multiple CPU cores in your computer. As of September 2019, OpticStudio is capable of using up to 64 CPU threads simultaneously. We may extend this in the future as CPUs with more cores become available and they can be tested thoroughly. Note that if you have more than 64 cores / threads , Windows splits them into multiple groups. At that point OpticStudio is forced to make use of the first group. For example, if you have 72 cores, Windows would create two processor groups, so OpticStudio would use 36 cores. More information on CPU groups can be found on Microsoft's website.

Note that Intel's Hyperthreading adds virtual cores for the operating system to use. If your CPU has 36 physical cores, hyperthreading doubles that to 72. So be sure to count the hyperthreading cores when determining if your system falls under the 64 core limit. If you have questions on maximizing your CPU usage with OpticStudio, contact Zemax Support

At this time, most raytracing operations can use up to the maximum supported cores. Depending on the optical system, optimizations typically get the most performance increase between 8 and 32 cores. See the OpticStudio hardware recommendations page by local computer vendor Puget Systems. It has some useful benchmarks.

Graphics and memory recommendations

Each core needs a copy of all the data needed to trace rays, so the memory required scales linearly with the number of cores. We recommend 1 to 2 GB RAM per core in high-performance applications. In general, 16-64 GB should be sufficient for even complex optical systems or those with CAD parts. 

Use a graphics card with DirectX 11 support and 512 MB VRAM minimum. OpticStudio offloads many data presentation tasks (such as the 3D shaded model) to the GPU, but most ray tracing and optimization is handled by the CPU. We have been researching GPU calculations for future releases so this may be added in the future. A low to mid-range AMD Radeon / Radeon Pro / FireGL or NVIDIA Geforce / Quadro card will be adequate now. You may want to invest in a graphics card with raytracing support such as Nvidia RTX cards to ensure future compatibility.

Note that Intel graphics cards are not recommended currently. The drivers for some models have some bugs or performance issues that affect OpticStudio, though we have workarounds for many of them. If you have a laptop with both an Intel and another graphics card, you can configure your system to use the other card. See "Setting OpticStudio to use an advanced graphics card" for more information. If you must use an Intel graphics chip built into your CPU, see this list to see which Intel graphics chips support Directx 11.

No matter which card you have, we recommend it be on the Windows Hardware Qualified List.

Disk space

The minimum free space to install OpticStudio is 3.5 GB. However, we recommend having a few hundred gigabytes of free space available on your primary (C:) drive. This allows room for OpticStudio's temporary files, working files, and the Windows page file. A Solid State Drive (SSD) is also very useful as it makes all of Windows much more responsive. Of course, it's also recommended to regularly backup your Opticstudio data files to another drive or online storage. That ensures you can avoid losing work due to a drive failure.

Other Suggestions

OpticStudio also supports the 3DConnexion SpaceMouse, and these are recommended for the most efficient experience in interacting with Zemax OpticStudio's 3D modeling capabilities.



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