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Archive for July, 2012

Optimizing Your Revit Workstation for Point Clouds

July 25, 2012 3 comments

Reality capture is a boom business for the building industry. With roughly 5 million existing commercial buildings in the United States alone, it’s easy to understand why. Laser-scanner-based reality capture is the dominant methodology used today to accurately capture the 3D state of an existing building. However, the typical laser-scan-based point cloud is in the hundreds of millions of 3D points, sometimes even going into the billions of points. With this additional data overhead on top of an already dense Building Information Model, it’s important to optimize your workstation hardware to deliver a productive user experience.

Point Clouds in Autodesk Revit 2013

Point Clouds in Autodesk Revit 2013

Finding the Bottleneck

Under the hood, Autodesk Revit utilizes the PCG point cloud engine to rapidly access the 3D points contained in point cloud and retrieve points to be displayed in the current Revit View.  Since the typical point cloud dataset is so large, a workstation’s RAM is insufficient to be used as the means for access by the PCG engine in Revit.  Instead, the disk drive is used for access, while a small amount of System RAM and Video RAM is used for the current Revit View.  Thus, the hard drive is commonly the limiting factor for point cloud performance, rather than system RAM, CPU, or GPU.

Learn the Options

With data access a common limiting factor to the performance of the Revit point cloud experience, let’s discuss the options available to deliver the best experience. There are two primary types that are found today: spinning platter and solid-state drives.

  • Spinning platter drives are the traditional hard drive technology, and are found in most computers today, as they deliver the best balance of storage capacity, read/write access speed, and cost.
  • Solid-state drives (SSDs) are relatively new technology, contain no moving parts, and are generally much faster at reading and writing data than typical spinning platter drives.

In a structured comparison completed by the Revit product team, we found the following results when comparing typical versions of these Disk Drive types:

Revit Point Cloud Performance Comparison

Revit Point Cloud Performance Comparison

Reap the Benefits

Based upon this investigation, we would highly recommend that those looking to optimize their Revit workstations for point cloud use install an SSD for at least the local storage of the point cloud data.  While you will also achieve additional benefits from running the entire OS on your SSD, a significant performance boost can be achieved through the retrofit of a ~$200 SSD to an existing workstation.

Author: Kyle Bernhardt, Product Line Manager, Autodesk Building Design Suite

Are Intel’s CPU-integrated GPUs Good Enough for CAD? (Part 2)

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Last week, I talked about why Intel’s latest generations of graphics-enabled CPUs might make CAD professionals think twice about paying extra dollars for a discrete graphics card on their next workstations.

As I mentioned previously, the low-cost Entry 3D segment has seen steady gains over the years, for a logical reason … as average street prices fall and capabilities climb, the Entry class satisfies more and more of the workstation community. But then right around the start of 2011 — precisely when Sandy Bridge comes out of the chute in workstations like HP’s Z210 —Entry 3D shipments start to flatten and then decline (albeit modestly).

Professional Graphics Class

Professional graphics unit share history, by class. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)

Why are Entry 3D sales more indicative than other segments of a possible erosion from integrated Sandy Bridge graphics? Well, if recent buyers were to opt for Sandy Bridge graphics, the discrete card they’d most likely be opting against would be an entry-class product. Those shopping for a mid-range or better card aren’t going to be enticed by CPU-integrated graphics. Such buyers have both the need for performance and the dollars to pay for it. So if Intel’s new push into professional-brand integrated graphics were to have an impact, we would logically see the effects first in Entry 3D. And that appears precisely to be the case, albeit at a far-from-dramatic rate.

Don’t expect the impact of CPU-integrated graphics to be either dramatic or fast-paced. For the near term, while Intel’s “good enough” graphics performance can satisfy a big chunk of the mainstream, it will be an appropriate choice for only the most budget-conscious professionals. Still, the trend line, as it was in mainstream graphics, is pointing just one way: up. Sandy Bridge’s successor, Ivy Bridge, has just recently begun shipping in the market, and it again provides a substantial bump in performance and features over its predecessor.

Give it time, and integrated solutions will eventually hold significant share among CAD pros … not to the extent it does in mainstream PC markets, but significant share nonetheless.

Author: Alex Herrera

Are Intel’s CPU-integrated GPUs Good Enough for CAD? (Part 1)

July 11, 2012 1 comment

Intel had been promising that its latest generations of graphics-enabled CPUs would make CAD professionals think twice about paying extra dollars for a discrete graphics card on their next workstations. And it appears those promises are holding true … not in dramatic fashion, but valid nonetheless.

The thought of CPU-integrated graphics is a new proposition for buyers of professional-caliber looking to speed their CAD workflows. Prior to Intel’s Westmere generation, released in early 2010, virtually ever workstation shipped with a professional-brand graphics add-in card installed. The vast majority have been Nvidia Quadro models, with a minority share of units bearing AMD’s FirePro brand.

Westmere’s CPU+GPU combination first raised the question — could integrated graphics perform well enough for CAD duties to allow buyers to save some cash on the add-in card? The answer in 2010 was generally “no.” Performance was not up to snuff, even for entry-class CAD use, and as a result, most workstation OEMs still required the presence of a Quadro or FirePro card in any machine leaving the factory. That choice made sense, as the last thing HP or Dell would want for their professional customers is a poor graphics experience that might turn them off workstations altogether.

But then came 2011 and the launch of the Sandy Bridge generation of die-integrated graphics. With Sandy Bridge, Intel more than anything else focused performance improvements in graphics. And for the first time, the company began actively marketing its graphics for professional use (the “P” prefix in the P3000  signifying “professional” grade). The combination of Intel’s posture and Sandy Bridge’s substantially improved graphics were enough to get OEMs like HP to (for the first time) allow buyers to choose integrated graphics and pass on the graphics add-in card.

Now, Sandy Bridge’s graphics can’t compete head-to-head with Quadro or FirePro … it’s not intended to. What it is intended to do is provide competent graphics for CAD professionals who don’t have the highest demand for performance and whose budgets are especially tight. How did Intel do on its goals? Well, a look in the past few quarters at the add-in card attach rates for low-end systems and the distribution of the add-in cards sold should give a clue.

Professional Graphics Class

Professional graphics unit share history, by class. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)

Anecdotally, OEMs are reporting that, while attach rates remain quite high, they have dropped with Sandy Bridge. And those reports seem to be validated by shipment numbers seen for professional graphics add-in card segments, specifically the low-cost Entry 3D segment. That segment sees steady gains over the years, for a logical reason … as average street prices fall and capabilities climb, the Entry class satisfies more and more of the workstation community. But then right around the start of 2011 — precisely when Sandy Bridge comes out of the chute in workstations like HP’s Z210 —Entry 3D shipments start to flatten and then decline (albeit modestly).

Next week, I’ll continue this discussion by explaining why Entry 3D sales more indicative than other segments of a possible erosion from integrated Sandy Bridge graphics.

Author: Alex Herrera

Vectorworks Cloud Services: Reduce CPU Computing Times, Improve Collaboration in 3D Workflows

July 4, 2012 2 comments

When people think of cloud computing, benefits such as convenience and portability often come to mind. After all, the cloud may or may not deliver a faster experience for users of CAD solutions when compared to desktop processing. With this in mind, why then is cloud computing garnering so much attention these days?

It’s simple. The real benefit lies in the significant speed gains that emerge in your workflows. So if you find yourself twiddling your thumbs and monitoring your desktop CPU as it churns away at processing complicated client presentations, a cloud-based workflow could drive some needed improvements.

For example, under normal circumstances, if you want to generate a set of construction documents in PDF form, containing 10, 20 or even hundreds of sheets, sections and details on your local machine, this process can tie up your desktop for a considerable amount of time and lock you out from working. This forced downtime will vary, depending on the complexity of the viewport update and render.

Utilize the cloud, however, and the steps are basically the same, but you gain the benefit of being able to use your desktop during the process. This is because the calculations needed to generate sections, elevations, renderings and Building Information Modeling (BIM) data shift from the desktop to the cloud.

Cloud Services From Vectorworks

To synchronize and compute presentation and construction documents in the cloud, simply drag your Vectorworks file to the Cloud Services Desktop App’s project folder on your CPU, and wait for a connection. The file may reside temporarily in a queue based on load. Next, the remote server processes your file just as your desktop would, and results are automatically downloaded to your desktop or mobile device.

Vectorworks Cloud Services Portal

Cloud servers are very capable from a hardware standpoint, and can manage multiple file instances at once, meaning uploads won’t interrupt your workflows. Additionally, the Vectorworks Cloud Services sync can be automated to occur based on a user-defined schedule —sort of like a “set it and forget it” option.

Vectorworks Cloud Services users have up to 5 GB of storage capacity, and files are transferred over a secure HTTPS connection to and from the cloud, encrypted with AES-256, a U.S. government adopted security standard. Stored files are similarly encrypted. We also use Amazon Web Services for our cloud infrastructure, which enhances reliability and availability by providing redundancy and multiple data centers worldwide. (Read more about cloud security at http://aws.amazon.com/security/).

Leveraging Mobile Devices

Another benefit of the cloud is that it lets people use iOS hardware they already have to be more productive. For example, our cloud product features the Vectorworks Nomad app, which lets users browse through and share their designs from any computer or web-enabled device, such as an iPhone or iPad. So whether you’re at your desk, in a meeting, on the job site, or on vacation, you can view, mark up, share, and synchronize Vectorworks files across your devices and with your colleagues. The app runs on any iPhone or iPad that has iOS v5.0 or later, and an Android version will debut later this year. (The Vectorworks Cloud Services desktop app requires OSX 10.6.8 or newer and Windows XP SP 3, Windows Vista SP 2, or Windows 7.)

Vectorworks Cloud Services

Today’s iOS hardware relies on Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G data networks, which makes them a perfect conduit for communicating files processed in the cloud.  So just imagine the possibilities as these mobile devices become more powerful and as the services to match these capabilities also grow.

Vectorworks Cloud ServicesIn the meantime, CAD software users can take advantage of their iOS hardware to access files in a practical way. And from a project management perspective, it’s all about increasing the efficiency of employees to do more. Embrace cloud services and you’ll make your workflows and your teams more efficient.

Author’s Note: Vectorworks Cloud Services is currently available for free to members of Vectorworks Service Select, a subscription program that provides customers with the latest product releases and updates, as well as priority technical support, and VIP access to downloads and a growing library of on-demand learning tutorials. Visit www.vectorworks.net/cloudservices to learn more.

Author: Jeremy Powell, Director of Product Marketing, Nemetschek Vectorworks, Inc.

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